Some of the photo-related books we* enjoyed the most in the past year.
Lewis Hine, by Allison Nordsröm et al., D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
I hemmed and hawed before biting on this new Hine book because I have some excellent older ones already, and in a limited library I try not to expend resources of space and money too disproportionately. I'm happy I didn't overlook this. Brought to us by the excellent Alison Nordström, Curator of Photographs at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, it's a very characterful piece of fine bookmaking and a sumptuous visual feast—engaging, informative and great to look at. And it covers every major area of Hine's accomplishments. The chapter headings are "Ellis Island," "Tenements," "Child Labor," "Chicago and New York," "Pittsburgh," "Europe," "Black America," "Empire State Building" and "New Deal." The essays are particularly good as well—I like the non-snooty way Alison writes, and I've always found Hine's story somewhat poignant.
The layout is excellent, varied in size and page placement but with nothing running across the gutter. Enlarged details are used full-bleed as chapter headings, but the same images are included later in complete form with margins. The book also contains a complete, bound-in (albeit reduced size) facsimile of the only book Hine produced in his lifetime, Men at Work. A nice, and unusual, touch. In another nice touch, the book includes a contemporary 1938 critical appraisal of Hine by Elizabeth McCausland of the Photo League.
Alison Nordström is the author who brought us the book TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art, 1845-1945, about the Pictorialist movement, a book that was popular with our readers a few years ago. That book went out of print, skyrocketed in value, and has recently become available again in a second edition. You don't even have to be particularly interested in Hine to enjoy and appreciate her Lewis Hine—she's very good not only at making these earlier photographic movements come alive, but at making them feel relevant to today as well.
Waikiki, by Henry Wessel. Steidl.
A personal favorite of mine this year. A superb selection, one of my favorite photographers, and an amenable theme. Presented very elegantly. It's a slight book, good-sized but slender, overpriced for the page count, but it's also a great pleasure to look at. I've enjoyed it many times already and look forward to returning to it again.
Here Far Away, by Pentti Sammallahti. Dewi Lewis Publishing.
I haven't actually seen this yet, so I can't say it's a book I've enjoyed, and I can't even recommend it. I'm quite excited about it, however. I've been chasing it for half of 2012, and have had my orders for it cancelled not once but three times by different vendors. However, Amazon not only lists it as being in stock at the moment, but I've received a notice from them that mine has actually shipped this time!
The Pentti Sammallahti titles I already have are especial gems, and his books are damnably hard to get. They seem to be fugitive, appearing before you and then flitting away. In print, out again. Phantasmagoric. Just try to lay your hands on the slipcased, long-format Sammallahti by Candace Perich Gallery and Nazraeli Press from 2002, and you'll see what I mean. Talk about unobtanium. (Very thankfully I was able to get that one, more or less by accident.) I'm now hopeful of actually getting Here Far Away in my hands. I'll try to remember to report again once I've actually seen it. If it actually comes.
Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. CityFiles Press.
One of the signal titles of 2012. The second book of Maier photographs, this one drawn from the Jeffrey Goldstein holdings. Expertly done by two experienced bookmen, and reviewed in depth on our site by Kenneth Tanaka. Very popular with our readers, and deservedly so.
Walker Evans: American Photographs: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition, by Walker Evans. Museum of Modern Art.
Without question, our 2012 Book of the Year. I'll explain why.
Sadly, it is beyond the scope of this website to survey and evaluate original books of new photography in any meaningful way, principally because our 'Steamed Editor (moi) lives in a backwater and doesn't have access to books past what can be seen in more or less proximate stores and museums, and what we can afford to buy and have shipped to TOP World Headquarters, a.k.a. my tiny Waukesha ranch house. This means that of the thousands of new books published every year, and the hundreds of those that deserve close attention, I see relatively few—too few to fairly single any one of them out as being the best.
At the same time, I've defined the mission of TOP as being "to help connect today's photo enthusiasts to photography's culture: its tradition, history, industries, best practices, accomplishments, literature, theory, legal issues, and current events." We give a lot of weight in book recommendations to books that plausibly wouldn't be out of place in most intelligent, educated enthusiasts' libraries.
It's a bit awkward on the surface to annoint any book published 75 years ago as the "book of the year" of 2012. However, American Photographs is also arguably one of the two most important books in the history of American photography, and surely deserves a place in any good generalist personal library of photo books. The new edition is readily available, inexpensive, well made, and as beautiful as this book ever was.
But all that aside, our readers have emphatically spoken, and to them we must defer. To date, more than twelve hundred copies of American Photographs have been bought by TOP readers through our various links, far and away the best-selling single title of the whole of TOP's 7+ years of existence.
That settles the matter.
(Or maybe not. To be continued....)
-*This is both the "editorial we" and a literal one. A number of writers contribute book reviews to the site.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Rens Horn: "The beautiful exhibition that goes with the Lewis Hine book can be seen in the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, until Sunday! P.S. Allison Nordsröm gives a lecture on Sunday to end the exhibit!"
Rodger Kingston: "I agree with you about Alison Nordsröm; she is a great curator with amazing energy, and she is a pleasure to work with. In 1996, when she was Director of the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, she curated 'Fifty Years On The Mangrove Coast,' an exhibition of photographs of the west coast of Florida by Walker Evans in 1940 and myself half a century later.
"As to Lewis Hine, I have a great eBay story to tell. In 2003 I bought two vintage Hines on eBay, 8x10 enlargements of the construction of the Empire State Building. One was a variant of the cover illustration of Allison Nordsröm's Lewis Hine book. They were attributed in the eBay auctions not to Hine, but to the picture agency stamped on the back, and nobody else noticed them, so I got them both for their opening bids of $15 each. I couldn't believe it (and still can't entirely to this day).
"I couldn't really afford to keep them, since my collecting dollars have always gone to my anonymous vernacular collection, so I sent them to Daile Kaplan at Swann Galleries. In addition to being Vice President in charge of Photography at Swann, Daile is a well-known Hine scholar. She chose my 'Sky Boy' for the cover of the catalog, and both photographs were well presented and described.
"Now, this was during the time of a major scandal involving counterfeit Lewis Hine prints when everyone was extremely leery of Hine enlargements, so it was good timing for these two unquestionably genuine vintage Hines. In their favor was age 'silvering' oxidation in the surfaces of the ferrotyped prints, frazzling around the edges from handling over many years, and the stamps on the backs of the prints.
"They sold at auction to a European bidder for $13,000 each, a cool $26,000 for the two of them."
Michael MacLean: "I received the Pentti Sammallahti Here Far Away book for Christmas and have been enjoying it immensely since. You are in for a treat when it does arrive. Happy New Year."