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Wednesday, 30 December 2009


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An excellent counterpoint. I'm inspired to find a book, a drink, an egg timer, and have at it.

Oh, you can stay. [g]

But here's one thing you might want to consider. Bookbinders are usually individual artisans who, like artists, are trying to find enough amenable work to make ends meet. I knew several good ones in DC when I was there. Any decent bookbinder could repair those three books more or less good as new, using whatever is left of the old covers and reconstructing what isn't. It needn't be precious or super-expensive--just a good solid cloth case-binding reconstruction. It would make the books easier to handle and share, and (I think) respect the contents you value by protecting them and preventing further damage.

Just something to think about. Those are probably worth the effort on several levels, from the practical, through the personal, to the spiritual.



The natural censorship of time and use seems a most sensible approach. If I were close, I'd supply the nachos, pizza, and beer.

This reminds me of a calendar I encountered at a chain bookstore last Christmas; the legal text indicated that the artist's work could not be used in any way outside the calendar itself (so no framing a selection for personal use, for example).

I was quite astonished at her chutzpah; copyright law may be increasingly pernicious, but it's not quite that pervasive. Yet.

Book is for reading and camera is for use.

Well, we have heard the Leica for collection. "Luckily for the camera", even for storage sake, as least a Leica camera need to have a roll of film per year to keep the shutter working. Unless of course you really go for it, you just not even open the box (with X ray to prove that there is a real leica inside the box).

For book, it would be preferable to have at least some access by others -- the idea of Google scanned book but somehow combined with iPhone / iTune would be ok for old / rare books.

For those who would the physical part, keep and collect it. For some, have a chance to read those pictures / comments would be nice if it is not costing a fortune.

Anyone no one can help the camera case, but books.

Books are meant to be read.

The French edition of The Americans has no dust jacket. Easier to pass around. [g]

I generally agree with the approach, to a point. I just ask friends to be careful. There's joy in the sharing, especially when you can see that someone gets that special feeling.

I'm in your camp, Joe. But I have an even more destrictuve habit: if I discover a particularly interesting book, I will often give it to some friend who I think will also enjoy it. Thus my bookshelves become filled with my prestine but 2nd-tier books, while the good stuff is either used to death, or gone forever.

Keen points, Joe. I agree with you. The value of ANY book, and certainly good photo books, lies in their consumption, not their preservation. Financial appreciation considerations be damned. I'd wager that you created a far greater appreciative value from these books by generously sharing them with young minds. Bravo, Joe. Bravo.

Mike, I just got a Helmut Newton's Sumo (small edition) for a present. All your late writing got me into thinking that it is the worst book for readers/watchers. It is probably collectible item, bragging point, but it is not something you can just casually take a look at. The problem is not only the size of the book, but also huge size of the prints inside, some of them printed through the gutter, and print quality is just average. I love Newton's work and happy that someone gave me this book. Most likely I would not get it myself. But I almost feel I have to shrink wrap it back again and store it for a decade or two.

I save myself from being tempted to see books as an investment by buying cheap used ones. I have found worn cheap versions of many books that, in pristine condition would be very expensive. The lack of a dust jacket or having the corners bumped does not seem to affect the pleasure of actually looking at the book.

I can't really argue. I do seem to handle my books more gently than most people, so I get upset when other people do 5 years' damage to one of my books by reading it once. But books definitely are made to be read (or at least the pictures looked at :-)).

Your presenting them to students is particularly heavy use, but also particularly important.

Still makes me sad to see them reduced to such shreds.

I really appreciate the sentiment of this post. If I had a photo book out there in the world, I'd much rather see a well-worn, trashed-looking copy in someone's hands than a shrink-wrapped copy on a shelf.

To go semi off-topic, my favourite read (Samuel Pepys's diaries, the eleven volume Latham/Matthews edition), contains what I confidently believe to be the most comprehensive collection of red wine deposits ever committed to paper. I notice that next to one particularly spectacular entry I pencilled '4 June 1996: not even drunk at time!'

That is a sympathetic look at books, although I would have a hard time seeing them fall to pieces; I crinch when the first thing my wive does with her new paperbacks is break the back so they will lay flat on the table.

What would you do in the situation I'm in right now?
I ordered one of the last available copies of 'An inner Silence, The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson', which is now sold out. I received it yesterday, love the content and the quality, but discover pages 147 through 158 are not bound and lay loose in the book.

Return it and not have those pictures or keep it anyway, accepting the nagging feeling you've been had by Amazon?

Best, Nick

right on. can't disagree. books are meant to be read; the more worn they are, they more they have fulfilled their function in life. of course, i know of people who have copies of three of their faves -- one for personal enjoyment; one to share and spread the word with; one to be sealed for posterity. sound outlook, if you have the funds.

i find with most things, cameras to books, the preciousness of new acquisitions wears off after a bit, and then one really ought to live and let live.

Personally I think it's a crime to not read books. I couldn't possibly wrap them up for investment purposes. I want to submerge myself in them, treat them like old friends. Books are definitely for reading, I think Gutenberg would turn in his grave at high speed at the thought of people buying books and not using them.

Who cares for the material holder of ideas and aesthetics, it's the contents that counts. Ray Bradbury knew this as did - to point to a good film - Francois Truffaut in adapting Bradbury. That's one point were Nazis, Stalin and many other totalitarians went wrong, making pyres out of books does not extinguish the ideas.

I am completely with Joe, books are not for investment, they are for looking into them, reading them. But then, I never got into the collector's mind [and good for them!] ...

Amen! Books are meant to be handled. The feel of a well made book in one's hands is part of the sensory enjoyment of reading and looking.

"Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air"

Thomas Gray.

My modest collection of books gets passed around when friends visit and my wife stresses about it. My pal had been flicking through Don McCullin's In England just before we had ribs, the minute the ribs arrived she took the books off. She mentioned it to me the next day. Be careful, she said... Tony would have left prints all over that book. I've got my very own Nostradamus.

Excellent post, Joe.
It was right here at TOP, not too long ago, that the concept of cameras being treated as "precious" was made clear to me.
I'm (waaayy....) guilty of this practice myself, and not just with cameras.
In fact, though I do not set New Year's "resolutions", I do compile a working list of these sorts of ideas and concepts and make major edits around the new year...and, based on that post a while back (probably about a Leica), I added "objects are not precious" as a reminder that if anything is most important to save, its memories and experiences.
To illustrate, the first photograph I ever made is still displayed at my parents' house...a snapshot from Christmas Eve, 1976, of my parents and my baby sister, my father permanently pointing to my sister, showing me where to aim. Because of that one photo, I remember very specific details of that one evening and that holiday very clearly. ...one little click and a 4"X4" square of paper. As I recall, that camera didn't last long...nothing is quite so precious when you're six years old.

My favourite books - tatty old paperback that have been read a dozen times and done many airmiles.

My favourite cameras - old, scruffy and well used.

My cars - both over 20 years old, well maintained, driven hard.

Exactly my feeling about books (not necessarily only photobooks) as well as cameras (mine are full of scratches - not on the optical surfaces, of courses) as well as, more in general, all objects. Objects are meaningful as long as they perform their primary function: being used.

Thumbs up!

"An unshared book is not worth keeping" )))

That's really a tough one.

I can only make the "weak" suggestion that you call Amazon customer service (if there's even a number for that, I don't know) and see if they might actually have a few more copies or if they'd be willing to give you a credit for a partial refund. I admit there seems to be no good solution to your dilemma, though.

Sorry you've experienced the trouble.


Agreed. Books are meant to be read, and cars are meant to be driven, but the most controversial of all is... lenses are meant to be used without protective filters :)

Joe, just excellent.

Let me go further. One of the defining characteristics of a photograph is that it be seen. I would argue that a photograph that is not seen is not actually a photograph. Ink on paper, silver on paper, valuable collectable item, maybe. But NOT a photograph.

You can pile on the philosophy and vocabulary to this argument but it comes down to something pretty simple. Pictures are made to be looked at.

Thank God I didn't throw away that Solomon Butcher book that our basset puppy chewed on.

It's the same with cameras, they're built to be looked through not looked at.

that doesn't prevent people from locking them away only to be shown to a selected group of people. In my opinion this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it is just another way of appreciating a camera/book/xy.

Michael Walker

Nick: Absolutely return the book for an exchange! Amazon makes the process utterly painless! They don't inspect books before they ship them, so there's no way they could have detected this defect. They'll just return them to the publisher as defects and receive full credit.

I once bought a book about weight training. In the introduction, there was writen something like: Please trash this book. Sweat on it. Use it while working out. Don't make us depressed by keeping it pristine.

“Who cares for the material holder of ideas and aesthetics”

I do. Don’t get me wrong, I think the content of a book is important, of course (and I probably occupy a middle ground between what Joe suggests and the '50s encased-in-plastic ethic). However I also like books as objects. I like the feel of them, their heft, the way they smell (the strong chemical smell of some modern books, not so much). I like the materials used, the cloths and the papers, especially the less slick papers in nicer (and oddly, cheaper) books. And I like the beauty of the various crafts that make up the bookmaker’s arts. If only the content—the ideas or experience being expressed—mattered, and the artifact created to contain it didn’t matter at all, might that not apply to art as well: Why value a Robert Adams print, or Ensor’s “Christ’s Entry into Brussels”? They are simply the conveyors of ideas. Pass them around until they are destroyed, worn out. Take a photo of them so that can then be passed around when the original is no more. Perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but a book as artifact can have as much intrinsic value as any other artistic artifact.

Ken, there is no exchange, it's sold out, it's this one or my money back, that's my dilemma. Maybe I'll cut out all the pictures and use them to decorate my toilet. That way I can enjoy them every day, as can anybody else visiting.
Best, Nick

Second the recommendation on Rene Burri's 'Die Deutschen'.

It's an excellent book and useful to compare to 'The Americans', if only to show the subtle difference between excellent and great. (And that subtle difference is found in a tighter edit and the emphasis on sequence.)

Ha, glad to know someone else thinks like I do. I love my books, but the more battered they are, the more I treasure them.

Although, oddly enough, I dislike buying used books. Go figure.

I think Socrates said this first, didn't he: "The unexamined book is not worth printing."

I'd love some books to be more accessible. I've been searching for a copy of Winogrand's 1964 for a while! Not to buy, just to see the photographs... Sadly, I haven't found one here yet (Netherlands)..

A quick follow-up; my dilemma is solved because 'An Inner Silence...' is now back in stock at Amazon. I can, after all, exchange the faulty copy for a new one. Thank you Mike and Ken for sharing your thoughts.

late to the party on this one - but I never got a chance to thank Joe (much less any of the other teachers I had that would share books with me at the Corcoran). Without these teachers extended gifts I would never have seen Wisconsin Death Trip among many others.

The true beauty of books - to me, is in the reading (or looking). But sharing is right up there...

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