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Wednesday, 28 May 2008


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Interesting your comment about Eggleston. What I've seen (too little, really) I like very much for what it is, and also what I think it might be. The thing I've always wondered, though, is why the tricycle became the iconic one?

I can see an Americans order coming soon, too.

Americans not shipping? I got mine last friday (mostly thanks to your notice a while back), and it's a very impressive piece of work in a package that fits my photobag perfectly (and is therefore available to me on busses and other long commutes.. :-)


Bruce Davidson's "Circus" pictures got a new issue (maybe it was the first, but the pictures are long famous) last year. Is it still available?


Great little list, and I noticed that I already own a few of these.

Nerd alert: I take exception with Eggleston's "snapshot" aesthetics. People categorize him like that because they don't see the point, and think his photos are just dadaist banalities.

Eggleston is much more in the line of Walker Evans or Cartier-Bresson in the craft, but with the politics way under the surface, when there are any. He shares with Stephen Shore (and Evans and HCB) an "exquisite eye for framing." To a certain extent I would say that Eggleston takes more risks, while Shore limits himself to having stuff that works reasonably.

Eggleston's compositions are incredibly solid and understated; also, he is a "real" color photographer, I mean someone who can construct an image with only color as a composition tool.

Of course, there is a spontaneity in some of Eggleston's pictures that can make his photos look casual or easy. But when was the last time someone took snapshots with a Mamiya Press?

A nice start to the list, to which I would add:

Winogrand's Public Relations and Animals
Larry Fink's Social Graces
Susan Meiselas' Carnival Strippers
Arbus' Monograph
Avedon's Portraits
Walker Evans' Many Are Called
Joel Sternfeld's American Prospects

All of these have been reissued in the past 5 years and are readily available

Thank you for the time & effort you've expended on this list Mike - not tempted to buy any of the books but found your explanations educational.

Eureka! A phrase you used "Shore really does have an exquisite eye for framing." has helped me to finally answer a question you told us to ask ourselves a while back "where are you coming from?". There is a great disparity in the subject matter of my photographs but I now realise that the common thread holding them all together is my attempt to attain "exquisite framing".
Now all I need is Shore's luck.......

Cheers, Robin

does the third edition of alec soth's "sleeping by the mississippi" count?

I think "Bound for Glory - America in color 1939-43, " the FSA/OWI collection from the Library of Congress is worthwhile.

Maybe Ansel Adams' fantastic trilogy, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print? Amazon has each one going for $16.50- probably not gorgeous reproductions, but certainly one of the staples that anybody interested in building a library should consider.

Book: Deng Nanguan

issue: Taipei Art Museum
amount: government's book, only printed 600 books, only sold 200 books on the local exhibition.


Mr Deng Nanguang (1907-1971) - First Documentary Photographer in Taiwan.
First Photography Museum in Taiwan will be opened at the end of 2008, the museum called
Deng Nanguan Photo Museum

Deng Nanguang was born in 1907 and died in 1971. This year marks the one-hundred year anniversary of his birth, and the museum is mounting the Deng Nanguang Photography Retrospective as well as producing an accompanying art catalog to celebrate this pioneer of Taiwanese photography. Deng Nanguang received affirmation for his work early in his career. From the 1940s, he along with Chang Tsai and Li Ming-tiao were known as “The Three Musketeers” and were considered the top photographers in Taiwan. But more importantly, Deng left an indelible mark on the development of this art form. He increased appreciation for photography by programming The Open Photography Exhibition, and founding The Photographic Society of Taipei, The Taipei Photographic Salon and The Taiwan Provincial Photographic Society. He devoted himself to publishing photography, promoting new technology and styles, and popularizing photography in general in the 1950s and 60s in Taiwan. Although Deng Nanguang was an important catalyst in the evolution of photography, he was hindered by the limited opportunities to show work in the under-developed exhibition system of his time. It was not until the early 1980s that an enormous number of Deng’s unseen works were revealed and the contours of his artistic career were clearly drawn. As we continue to study Deng’s works, the value of his aesthetic contributions to Taiwanese photography have become even more apparent, and his position in Taiwan photography history has become even more stable.

1) I think Mike has the perfect take on Stephen Shore. His framing and technical skills are spectacular, but the subject matter is consistently banal, for good or ill. Jeff Brouws does work in a similar vein that I find a lot more visually compelling.

2) Bruce Davidson's Circus just showed up at my local B&N, so it should be available just about everywhere.

Ther German edition of Robert Frank's book (Die Amerikaner) has reached the bookstores. It's great!

Hi Mike,

You know I’m a big fan, but ...

“Apotheosis”, “demotic”, “iconoclasm”, “didactic”? I have to have two windows open to read T.O.P.: T.O.P. and Merriam-Webster Online. Do you have a great vocabulary or have you just been giving your Thesaurus a workout? ;~)

In any event, great list. I am looking forward to parts two and three and making more money.


If you mention Robert Frank's Amerikans again I think I will scream! I love the photography, though I disagree with the premise and conclusion.

As a long time reader of your posts (going all the way back to the Compuserve Photo Forum days) I don't need to be reminded of Frank's Amerikans again.

Don Bryant

I have most of the books on the list, including Friedlander's Self-Portrait, which is an interesting one. Mike, you should get it...i'm surprised you haven't got it already.

About Eggleston, he is still alive yet all the photos we ever see from him are from the 70's and early 80's. What happened to him? Did he retire or quit photographing or is his newer work just bad? I'm always curious about iconic photographers from the past that I find out are still alive decades after thier last well-known work was done.

"Do you have a great vocabulary or have you just been giving your Thesaurus a workout?"

I'm officially high-vocabularied...have tested that way all my life. I actually make an effort NOT to use little-known words. (I once used a word in an essay I later learned is known to .2% of English speakers, which is not a very good way to communicate.)

I also have this weird faculty that when I need a word to express an unusual idea, a word I don't consciously know will pop into my head. I then look it up only to find that it fits. I'm sure that comes from a lifetime of reading and learning words in context, but it's always just a touch spooky. [g]


P.S. I also often disagree with dictionaries, many of which just aren't very good. If your browser has a Google search feature, type a word into Google and see if a link that says "definition" shows up in your web results bar. Click on this, and a whole list of salient [oops] definitions pops up, almost always beginning with the entry from AHED, which is the best currently maintained dictionary that's available online. (Real dictionary lovers also need the OED and the peerless Webster's Second, the last of the great prescriptive dictionaries). That will give you a better take on any given word than using just one dictionary as a source.

"About Eggleston, he is still alive yet all the photos we ever see from him are from the 70's and early 80's. What happened to him?"

His most recent original monograph was published in 2003. You can learn more at Egglestontrust.com.

Mike J.

I just picked up "Helen Levitt" from Amazon for about $38 and was well pleased, though the credit for Walker Evans was misplaced, given the 2 paragraphs by him that appeared more as a frontispiece adornment (OR BLURB)than a true preface.

re delivery of The Americans: I ordered in mid-May (after reading your long treatise on book collecting, Mike) and noticed that the publication date in the Amazon listing was May 30, while the expected ship date (at more than one vendor) was mid-June. I assumed the delay (vs Europe) was a result of both distribution time and hedging.

I agree that both Eggleston and Shore took extraordinary photos of the commonplace, and from fairly ordinary perspectives, "like it or not". For what it's worth--and I'm no art critic--I feel that their work shows strong affinities with certain contemporary developments in painting, literature, film, music and other arts.

Mike, I appreciate and enjoy these wonderful essays and guides about books and collecting, but I fear they might be distracting you from finishing your camera recommendations, which is unfortunate because I'd planned for this to be the week I finally go digital. Perhaps you'd consider procrastinating on the next installment by writing about hardware? (I kid, mostly--I'm actually leaning toward used SLR's from a previous generation or two, but I expect your assessment of the current models might help me narrow it down to a system, or even convince me to go new).

Hi Mike,
Hope you are well,and your son too, still haven't got over your story about him in Black and White mag.
I check your blog daily, just to check I still disagree with something.
Imagine my dismay when I found I owned or coveted all the titles in your top eight list.The Bill Owen book is outstanding and a must for any photographer.
If it were a top ten I would nominate something from Minor White, Harry Callaghan or Eugene Smith, er all black and white pho tographers.
Allan Allison

"I once used a word in an essay I later learned is known to .2% of English speakers..."

What was it, "European"? 8-)

Where are the German, French, Italian and Russian photographers? Come to that, how about the Japanese?


The Americans, ordered from the publisher arrived today in the UK shrink wrapped. I wondered how much a copy in that condition will bring in a few years? Mine lasted 2mins, the quality, outstanding, the inspiration still so great after 50 years.
Apologies to Don Bryant btw for mentioning this one again.

Any photography books not from the US or about the north American continent? I really, really don't want to sound snarky or anything but this list really feels very, well, "provincial" (don't really know a good word; this feels more negative than necessary). Any conclusion I can get is that 1) either no people other than Americans are good photographers, and no motive is worth photographing unless it's in north America; or 2) you have for some inexplicable reason chosen to ignore most of the world in your quest for photography. Or 3) some other reason? I mean, there _has_ to be a reason why you seem so uninterested in most photography?

The list is provincial simply because I'm an American, I was educated in America, and until recently I bought books mainly from American bookstores. I'd be happy to write about Japanese photography, but I'm not Japanese, I've never been to Japan, I know relatively little about Japanese photography and I'm not conversant with the great Japanese books of the past 50 years. For that information I'm just not a good source, is all.

The list of current titles will be more international.

Mike J.

Steidl has brought out a Saul Leiter edition that is wonderful, with both black and white and color, plus some interesting background text.


Demotic, you know, the word that describes what it is not. Almost as much a fave as hapax legomenon which describes what it often is.

...'A picture is what it is,' Eggleston says when I ask him why he no longer wishes to talk about individual photographs, 'and I've never noticed that it helps to talk about them, or answer specific questions about them, much less volunteer information in words. It wouldn't make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them. People always want to know when something was taken, where it was taken, and, God knows, why it was taken. It gets really ridiculous. I mean, they're right there, whatever they are.'... The Observer - Out of the Ordinary

full article: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1268540,00.html

i like that passage.

i'm always suprised at the amount of thinking, interpeting, translating etc that goes on regarding pictures.

"Almost as much a fave as hapax legomenon which describes what it often is."


Mike J.

"The list is provincial simply because I'm an American, I was educated in America, and until recently I bought books mainly from American bookstores."

Of course. And in addition you've worked a lot with American photo magazines, and thus with American photographers; it's only natural.

But now, with the Internet and all, it's probably easier than ever to delve in to new areas of photography or other regions of the world as source of inspiration. I know I would never have heard of most people you bring up had I not had your blog to read. If there has ever been a good time to stretch oneself - in photography or in any other way - then this is it.

I can't give you any specific recommendations; my interest in photography is materially different from yours, and I'm pretty sure that what most appeals to me will not perk your interest in the same way.

Agh, OK, just one recommendation on a photographic classic, from my home country no less - Lennart Nilsson's "A Child is Born".


I would include something by Eliot Erwitt such as "Snaps" or "Personal Best"

+1 on the recommendation in an earlier comment for Larry Fink's "Social Graces". One of my favorites, and not as well known as it deserves to be, IMHO.

I recently picked up a book simply called "Paris-New York-Shanghai" by Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom. It's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's a fascinating anthropological look at three cities, circa early 2000's, with each spread dedicated to a single theme (plaid skirts, grocery bags, babies being carried, etc.). Second, the design of the book itself is ingenious. It's divided into three sections dedicated to each city, and it has two spines so that the book articulates outward. Hard to describe, but fun to play with as the accordian design lets you see all three cities side by side.


How about Gypsies by Josef Koudelka?

Saul Leiter's "Early Color" is a real inspiration for those who love to shoot the street in a way that is more meditative than documentary. Digital types who enjoy a photo that's been hyper-saturated-sharpened-and tweaked to within an inch of its pixelated life will probably not be excited by Leiter. And the price is not always astronomical. I found it one afternoon 6 months ago at Arcana Book Store in Santa Monica, Cal. for $145. And i wasn't even looking.

Speaking of Arcana, an incredible book store if you love photo books. I visit them every Thanksgiving weekend, it's my one birthday gift to myself. http://www.arcanabooks.com/ If you don't find what you're looking for online, they have over 100,000 books in stock so write them and ask.

Geoff Wittig,

I second your comment about Jeff Brouws work in comparison to that of Stephen Shore.

While we are on the subject of photography books, it may be of interest to the readers here to take a look at Liz Jobey's blog in the Guardian:

She is really just reviewing an exhibit of photo books, but in the process offers some food for thought (and inspiration for photo book buyers). Here is an excerpt:

"The history of photography lies in its books. This has been, for over a century and a half, one of the principal ways photographers have presented their own work: edited, sequenced, printed to exacting standards, contextualized by captions and essays which situate them in their own place and time."


PS - Mike, your command of the Greek language is outstanding. My favorite: "aesthetically peripatetic". Truly an hapax legomenon...

Saul Leiter sits up there with Robert Bergman as one of the true colourists ......sorta makes Martin Parr look like a B&W photographer dabbling in colour ...................... hmmmn!!

As a few others did, I immediately noticed the extreme US-centric character of your list, Mike. I respect the effort you put into this, and I think your comments on the book you did select are well written and interesting.
However, being educated in America is no excuse for such a narrow viewpoint – after all, you are writing for an international audience here.
I certainly hope that Mr. Bush is not one of your regular readers. Just think how he would use such an excuse: “How could I know that everything would go wrong in Iraq? Oh, somebody suggested that, allready before the invasion you say? Might be, but they were Europeans and I'm born and educated in America...."

Yours respectfully ;-)

"How about Gypsies by Josef Koudelka?"

Hasn't been reissued that I know of, at least not in the U.S.

Believe me, if it ever is, I'll be yelling at people to buy it.

Mike J.

"...no excuse for such a narrow viewpoint...."

The topic is reissues of previously unavailable great books that people can purchase now for no more than retail price. Why don't you propose a list of such reissues by European, African, Asian, South American, Pacific Rim, and Australian photographers?

I'm all ears.

Mike J.

Gypsies by Koudelka is not within reach I'm afraid.

How about Josef Sudek? European and getable.

And I am too waiting for the "it-which-we-must-not-name" book.

Joe McNally was the guest writer on Scott Kelby's blog yesterday, and he gave his list of "best books" there - seems to be a common theme lately. His was pretty extensive, including some names I've never heard of. The one that seems most intriguing is titled "Steam, Steel and Stars" by O. Winston Link. Stop over to http://www.scottkelby.com/blog to read his post and get all the titles.

Most of the comments seem to have confused this list with a "favorite books" list, which it is not. These are favorite books which have been printed, become hard to find, and then been reissued.

I think this applies to the comments on Saul Leiter's Early Color. Although the photos were shot long ago, they were only recently collected into a book, so it has not really had time to become a classic. However, perhaps ironically, the book has recently gone into a second printing, so you no longer have to pay an exorbitant sum for it. Also, two other books about him have been recently issued. They are all worthwhile. He was a wonderful photographer.

"I once used a word in an essay I later learned is known to .2% of English speakers"

Well I, for one, am dying to know what that was.

Hello Mike,

One photographer that we almost never heard of is Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Yet, this photographer has sold more photography books than any other.

His "Earth From Above" series is one of a kind.

Most of his books are still available at Amazon's in french, english and german.

YouTube has several videos of/about him.

Always a pleasure to read you Mike.


One book that absolutely blew me away is Nick Brandt's "On This Earth". It came out in 2005, and it is still a book I return to often. I've never seen such beautiful animal portraits that pack so much emotional punch. I think it deserves more critical attention than it got. It is most definitely a must-have in my eyes.

Huh; if there's nothing subtle or special going on in Eggleston's photos, then I guess I just dislike them a lot.

The vocabulary here seems mild to me for discussing art (admittedly a topic area that's gotten huge numbers of weird words thrown at it over the years; most of which I don't know). The particular list that was questionied -- I'll use a couple of them in an average week and see most. I live in a house with at least 4 unabridged dictionaries -- and multiple copies of some of them, including at least 3 OEDs. High-verbal people around home! I tend to forget *I* qualify that way, because a lot of my friends are professional writers, editors, and such, far *more* good with words than I am.

Perfect!!! THanks!!

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