More signs of the Apocalypse: I tend to hate Annie Leibovitz like the worm hates the plow. Some of her stuff is just so horridly schlocky; and I maintain a standardized stance of genial contempt for celebrity photography; and the rest is sour grapes, all sour grapes.
But on the other hand, I'm not one to hold back credit where credit is due, so I have to admit that Annie Leibovitz at Work is a pretty fine little book. Ms. L. turns out to be thoughtful and articulate, so the copious text makes for good reading: it's undeniably fascinating to read about such high-profile shoots. And lots of the good, early* work is here, and even some of the ewww pictures look pretty good printed small. I think it would be the rare photography buff (of which I am assuredly one) who would not either learn something from this, or enjoy it, or (like I did) do both.
In short—hold yourself—I bought this. I paid Own Money for it. Seriously.
So now if you encounter a skeleton on horseback brandishing a sickle, you can say, "Well I'll be darned, there goes another one."
Parts and sums: Sometimes one can have a good idea, take good, fashionable pictures around that idea, put all the good fashionable pictures together in a nicely-made and well-designed book, and—it still won't amount to much. That, unfortunately, is my take on Andrew Bush's Drive, which is getting a lot of attention and no doubt causing excitement in galleries with a need for work that is safely edgy. To my eye, the pictures not only don't add up to much, they actually diminish each other, and this (popular) book is one that for me is less than the sum of its parts.
Then there are times when the opposite happens. If you told me somebody had put out a whole book consisting of pictures of sky and sea taken on one single stretch of beach, my involuntary snort would probably be audible from a little too far away. Yet Debra Bloomfield pulls off a sort of minimalism-with-variations sonata with Still, a sleeper of these holidays. (Nobody's talking about this one, except me.) It's not like any one of these pictures takes the top of your head off, but one after another the oceanscapes (some of which are nearly entirely sky) start to seem like figurative Turners, trompe l'oeil Rothkos; you feel alone looking at them, as the photographer must have been alone on the beach. The colors seem as endless as the sky, and the pictures take on a cumulative power that's peace-inducing while not being sleep-inducing. (Don't look at online thumbnails; they don't convey. Even the JPEG of the book cover, below, is not nearly as nice as the book cover actually looks.) A lovely, quiet book you might otherwise miss—and this week's "Recommended by M.J."
*cf. record-store-clerk opinions about Woody Allen, the Rolling Stones, etc., etc.
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "A few years ago Robert Weingarten published a superficially similar book called 6:30 am, comprised entirely of early morning photos of the ocean taken from his home on the shore. Like Bloomfield, he used a Hasselblad exclusively. He had an associated exhibition at George Eastman House; very large inkjet prints, all square, consistently orange/red color palette. Yet the book and exhibition seemed less than the sum of their parts; more repetitive than consistent. It was hard to escape the impression that Weingarten was saying, 'don't you wish you lived here too?' Bloomfield's Still: Oceanscapes has a lot more range. She shows the ocean demonstrating all sorts of personalities, most of them beautiful. Kind of like Michael Kenna in color, in a good way."
Featured Comment by Randy Cole: "Mike, If you've lived in LA and recognize the woman in the pink Corvette, you will probably appreciate Drive. If not, you probably won't. A book of photos of random people driving? Sounded like stupid hype to me, and then I started looking at the photos. Now I think I'll buy the book. A book of more or less random photos of beach and sky? Now that one doesn't do much for me. No offense, but we're out of synch on these. Keep up the good work anyway! (Note: The woman in the pink 'Vette is Angelyne. Haven't heard of Angelyne? Just Google her name. Only in LA....)"