Posts Tagged “books”

Paul Ickovic. Kafka’s Grave & Other Stories: Photographs. New York: Okapi Editions, 1986. Print.

BOOK REVIEW by Stephanie Robb, PRC Intern, Fall 2011

“Go down to the library, select a book, any book,” Julie gestures a wide arc, “and write a review for our blog.” She is smiling when she says this. “Great, okay!” I reply, enthusiastic about the opportunity. Moments later, I stand in the middle of the library wondering how on earth I can choose just one book. If you’ve been to the PRC library, you’ll understand my dilemma. The collection is widely varied and every single book is full of pictures—and I love picture books. Having said that, I am also a devoted lover of stories and I have developed a passion for words.

I decide to begin my search with titles. If the words on the spine of the book catch my attention, I carefully pull it from the shelf and decide if the contents capture my imagination in the way a good storyteller can. After glancing through several books and tearing myself away from several more, a familiar name catches my eye. Ever since Renée Zellweger said his name while pushing a vacuum wearing Granny underwear in Bridget Jones’ Diary, and much more frequently in the last year, the name Kafka has nagged at me. It is a familiar name, one I ought to know, whose work I have somehow managed not to have read yet. In the last few months, I have heard his name mentioned more and more regularly. I’ve always been a person prone to find meaning in numbers and repetitions. “What does all this have to do with photography?” You might be asking.

One particular book, tucked on a shelf that is difficult to access, reads Kafka’s Grave and Other Stories / Ickovic, printed in black on a cloth spine. I think it is out of place and, therefore, most enticing. I press my finger on the top corner, tip the book so I can pull it out. It’s much wider than I expected. At this point in my library assignment, I am speaking aloud to myself, “Oh, it’s wider than I expected!” I thumb through and read the forward by David Mamet, which lures me in further. His words are concise and they speak to my life experience in our increasingly globalized society. He writes:

“…I have always felt like an outsider; and I am sure that the suspicion that I perceive is the suspicion that I provoke by my great longing to belong. I would like to live a life free of constant self-examination—a life which may be ruled by the processes of guilt, remorse, hope, and anxiety, but one in which those processes themselves are not foremost in the mind. I would like to belong to a world dedicated to creating, preserving, achieving, or simply getting by. But the world of the outsider, in which I have chosen to live, and in which I have trained myself to live, is based on none of those things. It is based on observation….”

I have decided. This is the one. So begins my adventure into the photography of Paul Ickovic.

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Click to see images from Extraordinary Boston on Dunwell's site.

Extraordinary Boston is Boston at its finest. Photographer Steve Dunwell does well to capture the eccentricity and uniqueness that is this city. In the book’s introduction Dunwell writes: “This is a special place in America. Here, at the confluence of powerful natural, historical, commercial, and cultural currents, a unique metropolis has risen, sculpted by these forces and expressing their interplay.” Dunwell’s photographs showcase all these bits and pieces of Boston.

Boston is a city of contrast. It’s a city of neighborhoods. While it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, sometimes you forget you’re in a city. There’s something about Boston. It gets to you; it gets in you. I’ve lived here for a decade, and I still can’t cross the Charles via the Red Line without needing to see it.

Dunwell showcases Boston in all its glory: in all four seasons, in all times of day. He highlights what this city is about, mixes the modernity with the Colonial architecture. He shows Boston for how it is.

He photographs Frog Pond in the summer, the East Boston Harbor, and Nantasket peninsula. He shows Copley Square covered in snow, and the narrow streets of the North End. Two of my favorites, the Freight Yard skyline, Brighton and Turnpike Toll Station, Allston, come early in the book. He photographs the people who live here, and the fireworks celebration on the 4th of July. He shows the Charles River at sunrise, the busy morning at Haymarket, Bunker Hill Monument at sunset, the lighthouse on Little Brewster Island, and of course, Fenway Park.

He shows Boston, which in the end he says “is, indeed, illuminated by a special light. As the sun clears the horizon by the nation’s oldest lighthouse, it shines on a tiny gem of urban imagination set in a dramatic harbor of history.”

Which perhaps sums this book and this city best.

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From the photographer's web site.

Sometimes, the point of photography is to be controversial. Photographs share something of the world which we see around us, and sometimes, that world is not pleasant. In the 1960s South, photographer James R. Holland traveled to different Klan rallies, often photographing up-close and personal. “The fondest goal of every photographer,” he writes in the introduction of his book Klan Rally: A Photographic Essay, “is to produce photographs that are so powerful and clear in their meaning that even the simplest captions are not necessary.” In allowing the photographs to speak for themselves, he lets viewers develop their own interpretation of the photographs. His feelings and emotions are not what we are seeing here; rather we are seeing only what he is photographing. These raw images, whether or not we agree with the context, show only what Holland saw in those moments he took them: men and women in white robes, burning crosses or sitting down to lunch, or preaching their ideals to a rapt audience.

In this way, the photographs speak volumes. There are the required photographs of a cross-burning, including two photographs of only the sparks against the blackness of the night. There are portraits taken in shadows of the men involved in the organization, and one of a Klanswoman, face uncovered, unaware she’s been photographed, caught in a candid conversation. As a stark contrast, another woman, not dressed in white robes, head in her hands, the diamond in her engagement ring startling. She might be mourning, or she might be praying.

There are also photographs of the police officers there to see order is kept, of the Wizards and Grand Wizards, and of the protesters standing on the sidelines, holding their signs reading “Does a white sheet make a man?” or “The Klan Best Manure So… Bury Them Deep.” Here, you can see the officers standing between the protesters and the Clansmen, only their back lit profiles protecting each group from the other.

Cars stopped on the highway to see the flames in the sky, but were waved on by the police. People signed up at alarming rates. Klansmen mounted horses, and rode deep into the fields, waving American flags.

In the book’s afterword, Holland includes two articles he wrote detailing his experience photographing the rallies. He clearly states he did not photograph these rallies with an open mind; he wanted photographs which would reflect as negatively as possible on the Klan. But likewise, the Klan did their best to control their media coverage, referring to the cross as a means to purify the world, and wrapping themselves in American flags.

No matter his personal feelings, Holland is able to create life-size portraits of these men and women. While certainly controversial, at least this is one book which will not go quietly, its meaning powerful and clear.

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Portraits from Martha’s Vineyard – Photographs by Stephen DiRado (self-published, 2010) link

Politics: Puns & Parody – Photographs and writing by James R. Holland (A Bit of Boston Books, 2010) link

In Eastern Light: Diptychs of Downeast Maine – Photographs by Steven D. Keirstead (published 2009 via Blurb) link

Surviving Cambodia – Jim Krantz (Paper Mirror Press, 2007) link

Moonpies: Mardi Gras, Mobile, AL – Photographs by Warren Thompson (self-published, 2009) link

All of these are welcome additions to the Library. Please note, too, that these and other independent and self-published books donated to the library over the coming months will be considered for the fall 2011 exhibition of the Indie Photobook Library (iPL) at the PRC.

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Wide Open: Photographs by Linda McCartney was an exhibition on display from June 4 to July 2, 1998 at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York. McCartney never saw the exhibition, having passed away April of that year, although she had been involved in the preliminary processes. “Last September, I spent time with Linda, in England,” writes gallery owner Bonni Berubi in the book’s introduction, “and quite literally looked at every photograph she had made in the past thirty years.”

Very different from her early years spent photographing the “swinging sixties” music scenes and Rolling Stone stories, Wide Open is a series of nature photographs, just a small microcosm from a lifetime of work. Published to correspond with the exhibition of the same name, the book is divided into four section—platinum prints, photogravures, silver-bromide prints, and Polaroid transfers. Subject matter includes garden variety photographs, desert scenes, forest glades, and flowers. The flowers, and my personal favorite Several Autumn Maple Leaves, 1996, are featured in the Polaroid transfers section, also the only color photographs in the book.

In their simplicity and starkness, McCartney’s photographs showcase a beauty more elaborate images never could. Sand Sea Sky, a platinum print from 1995, is a photograph of the horizon. Sand, sea, and sky all continue forever, meeting at a point in the distance, only to keep continuing. That it’s photographed in black and white only further illuminates the extending horizon, drawing the viewer in. Staring at this photograph—into this photograph—one can almost feel the sand between toes, waves lapping at ankles, sunlight warming skin.

John Lennon once said of Linda McCartney, “she has an eye for an eye.” While he was speaking specifically about her uncanny ability to capture people’s emotions, one can argue he was referring to her other photographs as well. Wide Open is a slice of life as its best, the wide open spaces we’ve long forgot, only to be reminded when we least expect it.

“UNCATALOGUED” contributor Stefanie Maclin is a published poet and recent graduate of Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library Science. Currently, she’s organizing the “uncats”—books on the shelves in the PRC’s Siskind Library yet to receive Library of Congress catalogue records. Stefanie will regularly be highlighting books from this collection for BPF.
Editor’s Note: The code ‘UM78’ following the title of McCartney’s book indicates that it is the 78th title in the series of uncatalogued books by photographers, authors, or editors whose last name starts with ‘M.’ This system, reflected here and in subsequent titles in the UNCATALOGUED blog entries, is how nearly 1,500 uncatalogued volumes were arranged on the Siskind Library shelves before we secured an internet connection in the library (late 2010) to enable our librarians to look up Library of Congress call numbers for books that were published without that information. GS.

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This book was published by the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation, Inc. in 1978, to acknowledge the recipients of its fellowships in three years of the program. Susan R. Channing was the editor, a natural fit given her role as the Artists Fellowship Program Director. Estelle Jussim wrote the Introduction, “Looking at Winners,” and one of my favorite designers, Katy Homans, did the graphics and layout. It was printed by Thomas Todd Company in Boston.

Title page of "Art of the State"; click here to go to Google books' page

I was struck by a number of things when I read through this modestly-scaled paperback book, which spotlights the period in which the PRC was emerging on the Boston scene.

First, the panelists. The three panels consisted of: Berenice Abbott, Ben Fernandez, Charles Harbutt, Lotte Jacobi, Syl Labrot, William Larson, Joan Lyons, Nathan Lyons, Mary Ellen Mark, Ray Metzker, and Barbara Morgan.

Second, the 18 fellowship recipients. The list is almost as impressive, in retrospect, as the panelists: Ken Brown, Carl Chiarenza, Stephen R. Elston, Chris Enos, Benno Friedman, Ruth Green, Bruce Kinch, Kipton Kumler, Jerome Liebling, Wendy MacNeil, Chester Michalik, Kevin Monaghan, Jonathan Morse, Thomas J. Petit, Nancy Rankin, John Rizzo, Lauren Shaw, and Jim Stone. Each artist is represented in the book by a compact biography and four nice duotone reproductions. (A nifty surprise to see Chiarenza, Enos, and Liebling all awarded in year one. Within a couple of years they were all involved with the PRC.)

The competition for the awards was fairly tough. The first year, five recipients were chosen from 450 applicants. The second year, six from 305. In year three, seven from 485. When I ran the McKnight Photography Fellowships program in Minnesota, we typically had about 120 applicants for four $25,000 awards. Clearly, there are a lot of photographers who considered themselves eligible for this support in Massachusetts.

The first paragraph of Jussim’s introduction was prescient, if a bit premature. It began:

Photography is in its hey-day. It has reached the apex of its popularity, its influence, its critical acclaim. It is chic. It is fashionable. It is produced, exhibited, purchased and pursued with the same modish flamboyance which once erupted over abstract expressionism and pop art. It is perhaps the only visual art which demonstrates such vigor, such exuberance, such accessibility. Schools of photographic practice, university programs in the history of photography, journals devoted to photographic criticism, books about, by, and for photographers proliferate in all languages, all countries, on all levels of quality.

The apex of photography’s popularity certainly hadn’t been attained in 1978. If anything, the chic quotient of photography continues to rise, however inexplicable or mysterious that phenomenon may be. Like the housing bubble—when will it burst, and what will the fallout be?

I do like the pleasures that Jussim celebrates in the work chosen for these awards; her writing is very thoughtful, but always deferential to and respectful of the experience of direct encounter with images. Especially when she writes the following about a hero to both Massachusetts and Minnesota photography: “A new conception of what constitutes a collision with reality emanates from the work of Jerome Liebling, where the outer realities are unflinchingly squeezed by a fierce individual perception which has the willingness to confront the painful fragilities of humanity, to press hard against the meaning of objects.”

The amount of the grants? $3,000. Enough, today, to buy a pretty decent digital camera, or a computer with enough oomph to process its images, but not both. Times have changed. Ever present, though, are those who question and doubt photography’s qualifications, its rights to be considered an enduring medium worthy of attention. Jussim sensed their presence thirty years ago. “It seems obvious,” she wrote toward the end of her introduction, “that the doom-sayers who have recently begun to prophesy the imminent demise of photography have been entirely too pessimistic.” Indeed.

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I brought a few books with me on my last trip back from Minnesota. Having discovered early in my time here that for some inexplicable reason the PRC’s otherwise impressively thorough Siskind Library was missing some books I’ve contributed to, and having realized that I had extra copies sitting around my house in St. Paul, I felt compelled to contribute a few pieces of my publishing history to the collection here. I trust no one will consider me overly self-serving in this.

There are essays of mine in Todd Deutsch’s Gamers (FPEditions, 2008) and Priya Kambli’s Color Falls Down (photolucida, 2010), both of which are now part of the Siskind holdings.

More to the Minnesota point, I did an introduction to Home: Tom Arndt’s Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), writing for and about a good friend and a great photographer, and sharing the stage, book-wise, with a foreword by Tom’s old friend Garrison Keillor.

Way back in the mid-1990s, I got involved with a documentary photography project at the Minnesota Historical Society, which ended up as the “Minnesota 2000” project. Twelve photographers were commissioned to carry out self-designed projects on various aspects of daily life and change in the state at the turn of the millennium. They did their work in 1997, 1998, and 1999, and in early 2000 the MHS Press published Minnesota In Our Time: A Photographic Portrait. I edited and contributed text to it. The book, along with 360 prints by 12 photographers, project notes, and related research materials, form a searchable archives at the Minnesota Historical Society’s History Center in downtown St. Paul.

One major inspiration for the Minnesota 2000 project was John Szarkowski’s book, The Face of Minnesota, published in 1958 by the University of Minnesota Press. Szarkowski, who was working at the Walker Art Center as their photographer at the time, was hired by the Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission to create the photographs. I had an extra copy (signed, even, though lacking a dust jacket), which I brought out, only to discover that PRC’s library already had one catalogued and on the shelf. Well they should have; it’s a gem, and it describes Minnesota in visual language that is eloquent, economical, and as loving as a Wisconsin native could make it. (There’s a newer reprint of it, too (UM Press, 2008), but I’ll let someone with shallower Minnesota roots donate that one.)

Links to: Deutsch Kambli Arndt Minnesota 2000MN2K Archives Szarkowski

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[Reviewed by PRC 2010 summer intern Chris Maliga]

Victorville, by J Bennett Fitts. Used with permission of the artist.

No Lifeguard on Duty, J Bennett Fitts’ first catalogue (published by Paul Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles, in 2006), explores the built environment within California city-scapes, using the Pacific urban background to suggest the limits of the American dream. Fitts has taken a fixture of twentieth-century American life, the swimming pool, and depicted it in varying states of decay, typically behind seemingly vacant and unappealing motels.

In several of Fitts’s photographs, the pool is juxtaposed against a background of natural serenity, with the sun setting over the ocean. Los Angeles’s omnipresent palm trees move with the wind as they grow out of the ruined concrete fixtures that are no longer a source of entertainment for visitors to the city.  Fences surround every one of the pools, apparently to shield them either from the intrusions of nature or the rest of the urban environment. Despite this barrier, nature finds a way to reclaim these spaces, and there is a sense that these supposedly private places are never entirely separate from their surroundings.

The color palette Fitts uses comes from his choice of shooting near sunset combined with the dismal smog that creeps in from the city. This suits his idea of examining the pools as artifacts of the prosperity of twentieth-century, post-war America. The setting sun, the swaying trees, and the mostly vacant motel settings indicate a time of transition away from this prosperity. The dinginess of the water and extensive decay of many of these pools and their surroundings indicate that this transition is not a positive one. Save for the last photograph, there are no people present in this series, despite lights being turned on at a lot of the motels. This final view of Grand Junction, with a tired figure staring at some sort of ghostly presence in the water with the sun setting overheard, leaves the viewer wondering what has become of a luxurious past and what the future might hold in this time of uncertainty.

Grand Junction, by J Bennett Fitts. Used with permission of the artist.

No Lifeguard on Duty is a slender volume, containing twenty-one identically sized photographs. The pool is always present in the foreground, with the background varying between images. This repetition places the emphasis of the work firmly on the pool as a symbol, not of the activities and experiences typically associated with pools in American life, but of their absence.

Links: J Bennett Fitts; Paul Kopeikin Gallery

[Note: This book, and most others reviewed on the Boston Photography Focus blog, are available for reading (no loans, sorry) in the PRC library.]

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PRC friend and Boston College professor Karl Baden recently curated an exhibition of books and book covers that feature photographs at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition runs through December 31st.

The show is based upon Karl’s amazing endeavor and resource, the Covering Photography archive and web site. This effort, as stated on the site, is a ” resource for the study of the relationship between the history of photography and book cover design.” In essence, he is collecting book covers that feature or riff upon famous and not so famous images. Poke around, it’s fantastic!

Congrats Karl! We can’t wait to see it.

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