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Monday, 30 September 2013

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My late wife was pretty good at everything she did -- she had a degree in art, and was an excellent draftswoman; eventually got a PhD in immunology from the University of Minnesota; and a black belt in karate, which she taught at St. Thomas University. But -- she couldn't sell her stuff, when she was doing art. She was shy, and afraid of galleries. Eventually, because she was good at math and science, she turned away from art and focused on the science, because she was quite comfortable in that cloistered laboratory environment. I've seen this in a lot of artists -- they just can't do what it takes to put their work in front of the public. Think of those two Chicagoans, Vivian Maier and Henry Darger.

Then you have Jeff Koons (for whom I have a weak spot.) Before he was selling art regularly, he worked as a cold-calling salesman of junk bonds, in a Wall Street boiler room. He has no trouble selling.

Talent is one thing, but public success is quite another. With both Maier and Darger, the salesmanship came after their deaths.

Perhaps Steidl's impulse is to make money, and that's most eaily done with work from a well-known name.

A selection of less than great images by a famous and excellent photographer may be quite a boost for an unknown and competent photographer.

The Peabody-Essex Museum had a 'big' Ansel Adams show last fall. There were only a handful of originals of his best/most famous images and a few others were blown up huge on wall/ceiling, possibly because they didn't have originals to show.

The bulk of the show was early and lesser work, quite a number of which I'd not seen before. Much was work I doubt one would see on museum walls on its own merits.

(There was lots of publicity, treating it as a major show, and the place was very busy.)

It was quite empowering to see where he's done little or no better than I on a sort of subject I've found difficult to master.

It was also enjoyable to see some youthful work and see in some lesser (to my mind) work the roots of later masterly images.

I also got a sense that some later work was less than successful attempts to achieve the greatness of his prime period, without copying himself. Hard to say, though.

There can be value in the lesser work of the greats. Not that I need books of it.

Moose

This is where self-publishing comes in Mike. Self-published books are never going to get the publicity of books published by companies like Steidl, but it has never been easier to design, print and disseminate your work in the form of zines, booklets or pamphlets (as you like to call them Mike!).

There are some really well printed and presented self-published books out there - I have been collecting them for a couple of years now and at around a fiver each they don't break the bank!

" Seems much more logical that you'd say "enough, already" to the people who've already been showered with recognition"

You clearly don't have young teens who are compelled to listen to popular radio. I say this with the chuckle of a defeated man.

Regards,

Thank you! Genius as some of these major artists may be, and are, not everything they create is kissed by the hand of god.

I can't count the number of Robert Frank 'reissues' consisting of his greatest hits, and discards, cut, drawn over and otherwise mutilated and thrown between two book covers without the slightest forethought. Not to mention all the other major names whose 'almosts' are compiled into some motley collection along with their scribblings, meal receipts, parking tickets and other miscellanea for an up close and personal look into their inner creative psyche.

I guess someone buys it...

Stuff like this is like a jam band to me. I see why the musicians enjoy doing it but not why anybody would want to stand there and listen. When I was in a band we jammed all the time in practice - but we played 3 minute songs on stage. I take cloud photos and things like that but for myself - or for flickr viewing, I wouldn't expect anyone to pay for it.

I fully agree. As much as I love the work of Anton Corbijn (hey, even my son is called Anton :-), I never understood the rationale behind publishing the book "A. Someone", containing some 40 pictures of himself (badly/grossly) dressed up as various famous musicians.

I understand that this project was important for him in order to understand parts of his childhood, but I feel that this "journey" should have been taken on his own.

Feel free to link to Amazon, though :-)

The talent most artist need to create their art is the ability to be alone, to write, to paint or just wait for the ideas to come visit. This talent comes from the introverted side.

However, to sell their work, artists need to do a complete about-face and become extroverts. Finding those two tendencies in one person is extremely rare.

I suspect that the extrovert with less artistic talent will fare better in the art world than the introvert with more talent.

And what you wrote about Eggleston is exactly how I feel about Warhol.

Back when I used to haunt art book stores it was very frustrating to search in vain for a single book about a minor artist I admired and yet see volumes of Warhol images clogging the shelves...

Cheers.


I can think of a photographer who seems to release way too many books, and yet I find all of them worth poring over: Lee Friedlander. Other than that, I agree with Mike -- let's see less of the usual names and more fresh names.

When people are willing to pay for someone's work, they're usually paying for the vision of the artist. I think At Zenith looks interesting, as it is kind of a palate cleanser, or maybe a musical bridge, between Eggleston's usual, more intense work.
Sure, I could probably take my own pictures of clouds and display it in a nice book.. but I didn't. As a studied musician, I can also play most any song one would hear on the radio, but, again, I didn't.

p.s. Mike, you should still link to the Amazon listing for this item, so that a few of us crazy readers of your blog can buy the thing.

Instead of publishing this book I'd be extremely grateful if Steidl decided to reprint Joseph Koudelka's Exiles.

Mike, I'm surprised that you didn't include an Amazon link for the At Zenith book. I'm not being facetious. It seems that it may be of interest to some folks here, even if not on your list of books needing promotion.

Patrick

Given this is a Steidl book I'd strongly recommend the German documentary "How to make a Book with Steidl". You'll see how much effort Gerhard Steidl puts into his books.

Plus an amzing number of photographers appear and talk in it: Martin Parr, Ed Ruscha, Robert Adams, Jeff Wall and Robert Frank.

http://www.howtomakeabookwithsteidl.com/

It's on DVD.

That said I rather agree with Mike about this book.

I must agree with this piece. I have three Eggleston books, including the two mentioned. All are superb. Yet I don't see any way in getting this new reprint, or even other Eggleston books unless they offer something exceptional and such that I don't already have.

Truth is, my time and memory is limited; I only have time to see so many photos, I can only actively remember a few. So my focus has become to buy select high quality books, especially when an exhibition is not available. A well-made monograph is a beauty to behold and something I can spend time enjoying. But it should offer something special; completeness for me is a variety views and styles, not getting to the bottom of a single photographer.

What if every photographer that wants to exhibit would make one monograph for a website, it could be browsed on the Web, could be recommended and a print copy could be ordered? Just a crazy thought, but I think it could make many photographers focus on the core of their work and I like to think that it would lead to some interesting work coming forward.

Mike,

Great article once again. But I dunno. B-sides are usually B-sides for a reason, but they often reward the discriminating listener (viewer?) with a glimpse at the flaws of the artist. In doing so they often reveal a rewarding look at the human behind the work. I've found this very rewarding for artists I'm particularly taken in by.

I think we've got to have it both ways.

In a similar vein, has anyone ever done an experiment to see whether people react differently to a photo depending on who they think took the photo?

See, e.g., Long Odds for Authors Newly Published for an example in book publishing:

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” became the publishing sensation of the summer when word leaked that its first-time author, Robert Galbraith, was none other than J. K. Rowling, the mega-best-selling creator of Harry Potter.

Mystery solved? Maybe not. It’s no surprise that “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a detective story set in a London populated by supermodels and rock stars, shot to the top of best-seller lists once the identity of the author was revealed. But if the book is as good as critics are now saying it is, why didn’t it sell more copies before, especially since the rise of online publishing has supposedly made it easier than ever for first-time authors?

I share your sentiment, especially about seeing everything diluting the artist. Although the only one good point about seeing all the crap from a great artist is that it makes them seem human. At least we know they are just like the rest of us.

Steidl does what Steidl wants to, and that is his prerogative. I recently saw a movie on the photobook magnate and found it interesting, but also found Mr. Steidl to be extremely dull himself. I once read that Steidl received 2,000 maquettes one year and did not publish a single one! I know what it takes to create a dummy book. If these artists thought their work was good enough to send to Mr. Steidl, then I have to assume that 10% of those maquettes were pretty darn good and that 1% were probably incredible. That means he may have passed on a couple of dozen amazing books because he wants to work with only established big names, which once again is his right and probably a very good way to turn a profit...

Hi Mike,

Could not agree more. It does take a certain degree of blind pig-headedness and self belief to keep going to the point where you finally get accepted. I think most people don't have it in them.

But how much have we missed?

I love his work. I also grew up in Mississippi, and as much as Eggleston says his work is not regional, I embrace it as such. But I have seen all these before. I would love to see some new photographs. This is the first Eggleston book I will definitely not buy.

It's the weird intersection of art and commerce, Mike. Two cogs that don't always fit together properly.

Like.

Hi Mike,

Great post! You hit on some universal points that bother me as well, a couple of key ones are:

- "Another weirdness is that the culture tends to pay attention to people who have already gotten lots of attention..."

- "...that is, they stay private and reticent—and others push relentlessly and aggressively to publicize themselves. It creates an unnatural imbalance..."

In addition, unfortunately, currently most editors don't know what they are doing or have any idea of what is a good photograph, or what would create a good layout or narrative. This is unfortunate, because there is a lot of good work being done these days.

Thanks
Sam

Mike, you clearly do not understand the "Art World."

Kenneth is right: the 3-volume Chromes is a real find. I owned it only to sell it for scratch when the recession came knocking (along with my Nikon D3 kit, Leica M9 kit, Zeiss Contax 645 kit, and most of my high value library...yes it was that bad). However I must agree that we need the same level of commitment by Steidl, or someone, to illuminate and print and bind the works of another generation.

Eggleston, Shore, etc. all truly great and gifted film photographers. Can we pass the torch now? Perhap you will dear TOP editor in your new publishing endeavor. Meanwhile I dearly miss 'Chromes' and am certain someone made a chunk of change on my misery but I hope someone else found a side to Eggleston not known. Perhaps that is what Stiedl intends as well in publishing 'At Zenith.' Lord knows he does not make the profit margin of someone like Taschen. Production values only go so far in the age of Amazon and printing in China.

"At Zenith" is easy. Where's that reprint edition of "Images a la Sauvette"?

Who is currently the best photographer in the world and who is the most famous photographer currently photographing. Why are these 2 people not the same person.

Celebrity="famous" for being famous.

I just bought the latest book from a photographer I admire, and I can't help thinking that this book would never have been the one that made his name. Does that mean the works not good enough? I don't know, but it's certainly not his best.

I have several Eggleston titles but passed on this myself. It's hard not to get a little cynical about the rate at which some big names keep pumping out new books.

To Steidl's credit, they do have a huge and pretty varied catalog. If the more commercially safe projects help to fund some riskier ones, then good for them.

We are in a photobook craze lately and I think there are more books by lesser-known artist coming out now than ever. Take a look at Photo-Eye's Publisher Showcase. The are more than 150 publishers listed.

I don't understand this 'glass half-full' post, at all. Maybe you should sleep on it and reconsider?

I'll add that I love Robert Adams. His "New West" is a keeper, among others. His writing about photography is consistently interesting and insightful. His exhibits are always enjoyable. His prints are worthy of close study. But his recent book "Skogen" should be subtitled "Celebrating the Forest by Wasting Trees." I can understand why a publisher wants a Robert Adams book in his catalog but I find it difficult to understand how an otherwise great artist can miss so badly.

I'd like to amend a few remarks to my earlier comments.

Gerhard Steidl is one of the few publisher-printers willing and able to follow an artist to the very end even when the late-career tailings may seem trivial at the time. Thank goodness for such a devoted publisher! I am occasionally asked to research photographers for exhibition, a task that often begins on the Internet but ultimately takes me deep into the library. I can tell you that the number of photographers who have had good career-long publication coverage beyond exhibition catalogs is relatively small.

Also, as Gary suggested above, Steidl (and other major publishers) do use safe hits to support riskier projects. That's how the business works...if you're successful. There are millions of square feet of warehouse space being rented around the world to store unsold copies of art books.

So I did not want to seem petty and critical of Steidl's publishing of this small Eggleston book. I actually loudly applaud his commitment, usually with my hands slapping my wallet, to certain artists, particularly living artists. (In fact I just pre-ordered Robert Frank's Household Inventory Record.)

Yes, it's romantic and noble to imagine that there are countless great photographers going unpublished while a few same-olds get yet another title. But technology and economics have made self-publishing more accessible than ever. Anyone can build books of their work today. The fact is that there are very, very few photographic artists that have had, or are having, career arcs that merit top-level publishing attention. Personally I'd much rather see (and buy) unpublished works by long-established artists* than little self-important one-and-done books by last year's crop of MFA grads. (I rely on Jörg Colberg to call-out the best of this crowd.)

* And for another splendid example of Gerhard Steidl's penchant for fully exposing some of the best photographers in history take a look at their upcoming The Unknown Berenice Abbott. Expensive? Yes. But absolutely irresistible to me and far more attractive than ... well...you know.

Kenneth- I think the term "self important" is much better applied to a book just like At Zenith. Definitely not ground breaking or anywhere near his best work and important only to those who are collectors or followers.

I would rather see my few dollars go to some unknown upstart who may only be allowed (financially) to keep photographing long enough to make that one book. If the quality of that work displays the potential for work of equal or greater caliber in the future- I'd much rather lend a person of limited means whatever support I may give them.

I have to agree 100% with Bill Pierce's comment - why do we need rehash - other than perhaps for a publisher's benefit?

I'd have to disagree with Kenneth's comment - if you change the examples here from photographers to musicians and photobooks to albums...do you really need/want some rare unreleased b-sides from the most famous artist (Rolling Stones, U2, etc)?

I'd much rather buy a book not just of the recent MFA artist, but the excellent book that comes out of the non-great artist than the completist material from the most famous artist ever. Jazz is an example of this, and I say this as somebody that purchased most of the expensive Miles Davis box sets. Years after owning these, I don't think they increased my understanding of Miles' work that much beyond the original releases. Not that I didn't listen to them or enjoy them, but now I find that I get more pleasure out of the first few listens of some of the less popular musicians with just a few Blue Note releases. Or the countless excellent new jazz releases that happen each year. I want my diet of art and music to have a lot of different artists, regardless of "career arc."

For Eggleston specifically - I've spent some time with the "Chromes" set and while the quality of the books is excellent (as most Steidl releases are), my sense of Eggleston's work being original decreased a bit, as many of the frames reminded me so much of William Christenberry during the same period.

@ Wayne: "...my sense of Eggleston's work being original decreased a bit, as many of the frames reminded me so much of William Christenberry during the same period."

Well there ya go, Wayne! That's exactly the point of going deep on an artist. Chromes is drawn from Eggleston's way-back color work, going back to when he first met another Southern artist with whom he struck a long and admiring friendship...Bill Christenberry.

I am not discouraging bumblebee photo book collecting. Buy whatever you like! I am merely asserting that publishers, such as Steidl, who are willing to deeply mine an artist's career over many years provide tremendous long-term scholarship value in the broader art world.

In my humble opinion, I am not an artist. People who care about me agree. People who know my work sometimes don't - but I am a top notch vintage car photographer, perhaps one of the best, and in 40 years of training and shooting I've become an adept generalist - just not portraits, and I have no fondness for landscapes. Obviously lacking some self promotion skills.

Having said that, and not being a critic or expert or judge of other people's skills, I have a few questions, all based on personal observations, maybe personal ignorance, perhaps the results of an un-cultured taste.

I'm adding these folks to the "Emperor also needs Pajamas" list.

Why is Eggleston a "great and gifted" photographer? Is it the Seinfeld syndrome?

Why is Joel Peter Witkin, a ghoul of a collage assembler of disgusting parts, considered a photographer in any way?

Andreas Gurski /(Gursky?): "Naaah - move the river".

Terry Richardson king of ??. And apparently he's powerful in the shmatte industry !!

Cindy (Selfie) Sherman; "Sorry Cindy your model quit".

Warhol with his five assistants: "You -hold the camera, you - push the button, you - pull the film, you - put the Polaroid in your armpit for a minute, and you - run it over to Vanity Fair, and wait for payment.

Talented new people need to be discovered and exhibited - the big guys and big mags won't do it, galleries won't take a chance, but people using the Internet creatively can. And should.

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