Sunday, March 7, 2010

15 of my favorite books

Consider this an addition to my previous post on collecting photography books. It's my my own personal list of favorites from books I have purchased in the past 6 months. The purpose of the post is to get you thinking about the variety of books out there—at least out there online, if not in most bookstores. My next post will be a masking tutorial, but today, let me share a few books.

Let me start with some of the more accessible books (i.e. crowd pleasing—and I don't mean that in a snobby way):

1. Abelardo Morell.
I absolutely love this monograph of Morell's work, and I can't believe you can get it for around $20 (I paid $50 with no regrets) on Amazon. In my opinion, Morell succeeds in finding beauty in the everyday better than anyone out there. Some works you appreciate on an intellectual level, others you appreciate on an emotional level. This one resonates equally well on both.

2. The Life of a Photograph, Sam Abell.
Another steal (only $26.40 on Amazon). A very accessible, honest, unpretentious book, this time from a National Geographic photographer. A variety of photographs from assignments all over the world, but this is nothing like a National Geographic magazine issue. Abell allows the reader into his thought process, which I always appreciate.

3. Retrospective, Michael Kenna
I saw the exhibit and was moved by the quality of Kenna's work. I told my students about it, they went and were equally moved. This is an absolutely beautiful catalog that now seems to have limited availability, so get your hands on one if you can. You won't regret it.

4. Doisneau. Paris.
After seeing "Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville" too many times at college art poster sales, I became an anti-Doisneau snob. This book reminded me that he had a great eye and a witty perspective. Another crowd pleaser.

5. Edouard Boubat.
Probably not even on most people's radar, Boubat was a contemporary of Doisneau with a tender, poetic outlook. The book itself is just beautiful. It's weighty, well printed, elegantly designed. As I type there is only 1 left in stock at Amazon (none at Photo-Eye). I'd grab it if I were you.

6. La terre des paysans, Raymond Depardon.
Equal parts text (often hand-written) and image, this book is like a diary of the rural culture that France values so much. In French.

7. Atget: Photographe de Paris.
If you don't already know about the "Books on Books" series, but it's genius. I want them all, but this is the only one I have right now. The idea is to make out of print and inaccessible books available to a wide public by reproducing the original page-by-page (not a facsimile, but it contains the book as well as useful critical information and a bibliography). Errata Editions also has a fantastic blog.

8. Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans.
This is one of the must-have books of 2009. This hefty tome, put together as part of a major exhibition, examines one of the seminal works of photographic history. Read all about it in the links. I'm moving on...

9. Prenez soin de vous. Sophie Calle. (also available in English)
I did a post on this back in September. This probably marks the beginning of less-accessible territory in my book list, but accessible or not, most people will relate to the theme of breaking up. In this case, Calle offers up satisfying revenge by letting 107 women interpret (often brutally) the break-up letter. And with its shiny metallic pink binding, it will look perfect next to your Barbie's Dream House (pardon me, but bloody hell, $329 for a tacky plastic doll habitat? really? Forget what I said about collecting photobooks.)

10. American Power. Mitch Epstein.
Some people won't like the politics of this book. Others might not care to see photos of power plants and refineries. Nevertheless, this book makes it into a lot of "best of 2009" lists. The "BookTease" feature at Photo-Eye will help you see if it's right for you.

11. William Eggleston, 2 1/4.
This book falls into the not-so-accessible part of my list because I can imagine that the cover alone will leave some people indifferent. My copy is a 4th edition (2008)—an impressive number of printings for a photo book. I say, go ahead and judge a book by its cover. If you like it, the inside is even better. If you don't, I'm not sure you'll like my next suggestion either.

12. Lewis Baltz.
I'm a sucker for good packaging, so this was a favorite before I even opened the book. The clean black and white slipcase for this 3-volume set is so appealingly minimalist that I hate to hide it in my bookcase. On the inside, you will get classics from the "New Topographics" movement (incidentally, a new edition of the 1975 "New Topographics" exhibition catalog will probably make its way onto 2010 "best of" lists, but I prefer the Baltz set. I don't expect everyone to appreciate photo of tract houses and industrial parks, especially when done with a kind of aesthetically neutral objectivity, but for me, the photos make my neurons fire the way they do when I read a Borges story.

13. Pure Beauty. John Baldessari.
Not strictly photography, but rather contemporary art. A gorgeous book packed with images and critical essays, published to accompany an exhibition that I unfortunately missed by only two weeks at the Tate. I first encountered Baldessari's work on the Contacts dvd where he talks about (among other things) a project inspired by a map of California. He went to the spot pinpointed by each letter along the map (C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A), made the letter out of found objects on the spot, and photographed it. That's my kind of crazy project.

14. Dictionary of Water, Roni Horn.
And speaking of crazy about making a dictionary of water on the Thames? No essay. No explanation. Just page after 11x14 inch page of water. This is the kind of conceptual piece that makes people say "How in the world does one get to publish a lavish book of nothing but water?" Be Roni Horn, that's how.

15. Paris. New York. Shanghai. Hans Eijkelboom.
Three separate books stuck to each other with velcro. In the words of the official write-up, "a witty comparative study of three major contemporary metropolises, each selected for having been the cultural capital of its time--Paris during the nineteenth century; New York, the twentieth; and Shanghai, the twenty-first." The grids of people wearing the same striped shirt, the same camo pants, and so on, are hilarious and frightening. A biting satire of globalized culture.


laura said...

Thank you for these!! I'm excited to start collecting these fabulous catalogs.

michelle said...

I am especially intrigued by that last one!

Markus Spring said...

Marc, just to today I took delivery of my Abelardo Morell book, which I ordered following your recommendation.

It is a wonderful book, the images in a style that I really do cherish. Thank you for passing on your knowledge about such a treasure.