Book Reviews

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I’ve often referred to photo books as investments. When you think about it, a decent photo book is an investment. You invest your money and your time. The reward is the book, with pleasing images and, at the very best, inspiration.The inspiration to become a better photographer. The inspiration to push yourself to new limits. The inspiration to challenge yourself to new levels.

Like all investments, investments in photobooks are not without risk. Akin to the financial world, there can be safe investments and risky investments. It comes down to dollars and cents, really. There’s enough work from published photographers out in the webland, where a potential investor can get a pretty good idea of what they’re likely to get when they purchase a photo book. So, considering you’ve done at least a little research, a little homework, the only risk is in how much dough do you want to lay down for a book. Are you getting a good deal? That’s to be determined isn’t it? You can find great books under $40 USD, like Walker Evans’ American Photographs or Ed Templeton’s Wayward Cognitions. When you venture north of $50, a photo book best bring the goods. In both quality and quantity. Good examples here are Josef Koudelka’s ‘Exiles’ or the massive Garry Winogrand catalogue.

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The zines of Sean Maung - Cover photo

Introduction

In the previous installment of Streethunters’ Bookshelf, I sang the praises of the photo zine with my review of Hamburger Eyes #18. I likened the photo zine to the punk zines that I was so fond of. However, Hamburger Eyes is a compilation of various photographers’ work. A hedging of the bet, if you will. And it paid off. Hamburger Eyes was a smorgasbord for the eyes. Different photographers. Different styles. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly, highly recommended.

I had been bitten by the zine bug and was eager to further explore these printed dispatches. After further exploring the photographers featured in Hamburger Eyes, I was reminded that one shooter I had already been following on social media had his own zines available. That being said, it was an easy decision to reach out to Sean Maung and see if he had any zines available for sale. Maung was quick to respond and he did. A literal handful of them were in my hands within a few days.

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HAMBURGER COVER

Introduction

When I was a teenager, my friends first turned me on to “underground” music. By underground, I mean the music you didn’t hear on the radio. Punk, metal, new wave. And for that, I am forever grateful to them. The exchanging of cassette tapes, tape trading, buying records and going to shows were activities on the short list of the things we cared about. Being from a relatively small town, we had to rely on word-of-mouth to learn about new music. No internet then. It was discovery via mail or phone. Or by going to the record store. We would have to call clubs in the bigger cities to listen to their “concert line” messages to find out what bands would be coming. But the single greatest resource for discovering new music, outside of a friend’s testimony, was ‘the zine.

The zine was a wealth of information. Independently published, almost exclusively in black and white and on newsprint or Xeroxed. It was packed with record reviews, features on bands, editorials, “letters to the editor” and photographs. There were ones that were circulated nationally, mostly via record stores, and there were smaller, regional ones. Zines were a foundation of the scene.

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Cover of Joseph Koudelka's Exiles

Introduction

I’ve had Josef Koudelka’s Exiles in my possession for almost a month. And even after that time, after dozens of viewings, I’m struggling to find what would be the adequate words, much less the organization of them, to “review” it. In my short time collecting photobooks, I found this to be, simply put, perfection. Exiles commands respect.

As much as I dislike putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, I’m well aware I just did with that introduction. But I did it with good reason. Exiles (Aperture, 2014), now in its third and final edition, is one of the most highly praised photo books that I’ve shopped for. Previous editions, with the first being published in 1988, fetch hundreds of dollars for decent copies. This edition, with ten more images than previous ones goes for close to $50 USD on Amazon, and that is my budget ceiling for books. So I bought Exiles with confidence. I had seen just a small sample of images and I brutishly expected to be impressed, considering the book’s pedigree and price. I didn’t expect to be absolutely awed. Needless to say, I was. And still am.

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Invisible City book cover

Introduction

Invisible City has popped up on my radar quite a few times. When purchasing books on Amazon, it always seemed to be in the “customers who viewed this also viewed” section. I saw it again on Time’s list of top photo books for 2014. I saw a few sample images and added the title to my ever-growing wish list. The photographer’s name, Ken Schles, appeared yet again when I was researching Lisette Model’s work as a photographer and a teacher just a short time ago.. I took it as a sign, and made the purchase.

Invisible City seemed like a low-risk investment. Despite knowing little about Schles, the book had received heaps of praise. Along with making Time’s list, a quick search revealed much press and platitudes from sources like The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, The Wall Street Journal and many others. Also, Invisible City had a track record. It was originally published in 1988 by Twelvetrees Press and sold out quickly. To be resurrected in late 2014 by master printer and publisher Steidl… well, that meant it stood the test of time.

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Gordon Lewis - Street Photography

“We should all acknowledge that it’s one thing to recognize the qualities of a great photograph when you have one in front of you; it’s something else entirely to produce one yourself.”

Gordon Lewis writes this at the beginning of the sixth and final chapter, “What Makes a Great  Street Photo?” in his book, “Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment”(Rocky Nook, 2015). As a street photographer, I know this is true. I’ve looked at so many street photographs, and so many great ones, that I used to think going out and taking a great street photograph would be a piece of cake. That somehow I had picked up the skills and eyes of great photographers through some kind of absorption. Just go out and do it. But reality smacks hard. It’s not that easy. And, like Lewis writes in his conclusion, “greatness is the exception, not the norm.”

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Day and Night - GUT2

Introduction

A big component of what makes street photography so appealing to me is the punk rock feel of the genre. Punk was a big part of my life and creative development. But it wasn’t just the rebellious and communal nature that was alluring. It was the DIY (do it yourself) methodology. Recording and putting out your own records. Writing and printing your own zines.

That being said,  I was anxious for the arrival of Day & Night, a joint DIY photo book from the two Minneapolis photographers, Kevin Horn and Kevin “Shakes” O’Meara. Very anxious. I was already turned on to Shakes’ work via the Elephant Gun collective and found out about this project from keeping an eye on his feed. And from a few “teaser” shots I saw, his work in this project was going to be in color. I was excited about this, because I was only familiar with O’Meara’s monochrome work. Work that was the visual equivalent of rough nights that would lead to the most glorious hangovers. And after hearing about Horn, I began following him as well. I took to Horn’s work immediately. Being both a street photographer and a cinematographer, his work demonstrated fantastic storytelling abilities. Wider, dramatic shots that looked like they could be stills from a movie. In a wonderful coincidence, both Horn and O’Meara were voted by www.streethunters.net readers as two of the top 20 Most Influential Street Photographers of 2015!

I jumped on the pre-order of Day & Night because the idea of the book was terribly intriguing. These two shooters, with different styles, working in two different cities, photographing fifty “subjects” from a pre-determined list. Horn, with his cinematographer’s eye would shoot during the day in New Orleans, and O’Meara, with his raw and up-close style would shoot at night in San Francisco.

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Brooklyn+Klein cover

Introduction

At 86 years of age, it would be quite easy for William Klein to ride off into the sunset. To rest on his laurels and let his impressive catalogue of work stand pat. Klein, as a photographer, really has nothing left to prove. He’s an icon and the creative havoc he’s wreaked on the world of photography is still felt today.

Starting with his first book, Life is Good & Good For You in New York, Klein showed total disregard for the rules of photography, but with that he created his own legend. But it wasn’t just the rebelliousness nature of his photography that  made him a legend. His work was against the grain and good. Damn good. Anyone can be a rebel, but not everyone can be good at it. But just how influential has Klein been? Look no further than the great Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, who has cited Klein as one of his biggest influences. That’s a pretty big feather in the cap… legend begets legend. Rebel begets rebel.

Surely this octogenarian could be satisfied with what he’s accomplished in photography and let history do it’s work, holding his work and name in high regard for the years to come?

Well, William Klein isn’t done yet.

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Wayward Cognitions Frontal

Introduction

Building a collection of photobooks, for most of us, is a slow process. It’s not cheap. With that in mind, I made my first few purchases sure-fire investments. They were collections from greats. Winogrand, Evans, Maier. The books were safe bets. They had been in print for some time, reviewed positively, sold well and contained a good amount of images that I had seen before.

So it was time for something new, something fresh. I made the decision to make the next purchase one that was work from an active photographer. Ed Templeton immediately came to mind. I had recently stumbled across his work online and was just beginning to dig for more. Wayward Cognitions(Um Yeah Arts, 2014) is his latest collection available and it became the next one to arrive on my doorstep.

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Andrew Sweigart holding the book

Introduction

To say I’m a fan of Garry Winogrand is putting it mildly. In my opinion, I believe his name is the one most synonymous with street photography. Not to diminish the exemplary work of all the other great street photographers, but damn it,  Garry Winogrand was street.

That being said, “Garry Winogrand”(Yale University/ San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, 2013) is a long look at one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century. And by long, I mean long. This beast of a book arrived at my doorstep weighing over six pounds and containing 448 pages. For a Winogrand fan it’s a must. For someone unfamiliar with him or street photography, it’s an excellent introduction to the genre and one if it’s pillars.

About Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand(1928-1984) was one of, if not the most prolific street photographers ever. He left behind over 35,000 prints, 22,000 contact sheets and over 40,000 color transparencies. He also left over 6,000 rolls of unprocessed film. Consider that for a few seconds. That’s an incredible amount of images. Now imagine going through that archive and the unprocessed rolls and putting on an exhibition. “Garry Winogrand”, in all it’s majesty, is the retrospective catalog accompanying the expansive exhibition that debuted at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art in 2013. It also made stops in Washington, DC, New York City, and just wrapped up at Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris.

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