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Friday, 19 March 2010


Looks great, Mike, and sturdy enough to hold the big Robert Frank Looking In book sitting on the middle shelf. Enjoy your re-filing of books. It'll be a long but enjoyable day.

Since you bought the Panny, are you testing on loan that Oly?

Truth to tell, if I go for a µ4/3, I would get the Oly. I require IS since the stroke. And I would buy that CCTV f/0.95, which is only available in that mount.

Remember in the '70s Zeiss made a 50-f/0.65? Kubrick used one in Barry Lyndon for the candle lit scene. I still wonder who machined the mount adapter.

I'm a low light maven.

Wait for it...wait for it... Books aren't made like they used to be... And there's the good ol' curmudgeonly Mike we all know and love :-D

That's a sexy shelf you've got there, Mike. And it must be the first time I've ever uttered that combination of words.

That looks very nice. The doors are a good thing; wish I had better display bookcases (the three in the downstairs living room, for things we're showing off).

Well done, I think its quite handsome.

Congrats on the new shelf!
What kind of lens is on that camera? The camera is a new Olympus?
If you decide to toss the book, I'd bet that someone here would buy it from you instead.

Thanks, love this site.

I must have lugged 1000's of book cases when I was a removal guy. Used to tape the glass with an X as a kind of shock absorber and to prevent the glass from shattering, Never lost a one. From what I can see of yours it doesn't split in two and it looks well made. I would have handled her like a baby

Two of my shelves have collapsed. Every time I hear the house creek I expect another one to go. Steve McCurrys looking East is lay flat on its back, it's one large book to accommodate

so...how much?

I see you also have the new edition of The Americans!

Enjoy your bookshelf, it looks very nice!

The glass doors are to protect the books from dust.

Good thinking. My books get pretty dusty, particularly since they are mostly paperbacks and stacked two-three rows deep.

That is one big book, BTW. But tell me, what's that lens on the Pen? :) With that vented hood? A Leica? Or a Voigtlaender?

Off topic - what lens is that on the EP-1 in one of the pics ?? Cheers, Rob

Just need Barbie's furniture for the tiny camera(s), then you're done.

I think that Zeiss Kubrick used was a 0.95. I'd have to look it up....


"wait for it... Books aren't made like they used to be... And there's the good ol' curmudgeonly Mike we all know and love :-D"

And, to be honest, my statement isn't really true. Fact is, there have been good and bad books made in most eras. I have supurb older books and superb newer ones, and for sure there has never been any shortage of cheap S#@$t, as well as almost-not-quite quality. So I take it back.


So who was the vendor? That bookcase looks like it would solve my photo book catastrophe, except for the glass doors. They look nice, but wouldn't last through the next earthquake---during the 2001 Nisqually quake, both of my tall bookcases did a full gainer across my apartment.

Yaay for Sammallahti! One of my all-time favorites. I have two original prints from him, which are nice.
But what IS an "unfinished furniture store"? Is it just made-to-order or...

I have to ask: what lens is on the camera in the 'House Hunting' book picture?

I´m happy to see that you mentioned Sammallahti in your post as he happens to be one of my favorite photographers aswell. At the same time I´m a bit proud (as a Finn) that a finnish photographer has reached international audiences. Last fall he was acknowledged with a state award for his achievements.

Thank you for an interesting blog, I´m an active reader, even though I don´t comment that often.

Greetings from Finland.

My largest book is Photographs from the Gilman Paper Collection (about 16x18.75). It comes with its own protective slipcase, and sits neatly on top of one of the custom wooden cases I designed years ago. Can't believe I've had it for 25 years, sustaining moves to 5 houses across 4 states.

The book is marvelous. It includes incredibly realistic reproductions of 200 photos from the collection, printed by Richard Benson, each on their own inset paper. Here's a link to one...http://www.ursusbooks.com/item37462.html. It's a lot bigger, and heavier, than it looks.

Many of these were sold to museums, but were also offered for sale to the general public. I couldn't resist.

Enjoy your new case, Mike.

I tend to lay my hardbound books flat on their side. Otherwise the pages aren't being supported so they make the top of the spine binding sag inward and push out on the bottom of the spine. And it seems like sooner or later that makes the binding break. The down side of laying them on their side of course is that pulling the book out of the bottom of the stack can be a problem, and you're more likely to scuff the cover. I suppose I could put something soft between them, but mostly I just try to be careful.

Apropos the ripped binding, this is not uncommon with large texts in which the paper weight can damage the binding. I lend to lay my biggest books flat to avoid this. (Go to any major archive, and you will see the old books laying flat on the shelves.)


"But what IS an 'unfinished furniture store'? Is it just made-to-order or..."

For the most part I think they are outlets for wooden goods made by Amish, Mennonite, and other old-order communities. There are actually a lot of such communities in the American Midwest, mainly Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, but in many other states as well. A lot of them sell custom made wooden furniture to make ends meet, help pay property taxes, etc.

Although the store I got the bookcase from sells a lot of Amish furniture, my piece was actually made in California by a company called Skog. They are not Amish. You can read about them at their website, skogfurn.com.

The furniture is custom-made and then finished at the dealer as an option, or you can finish it yourself. I chose a wood and a style for the shelf unit, then specified all the measurements I wanted. You can order solid doors (in several styles), glass doors, or no doors. It took I think 3 months from the time I ordered it to yesterday, when I took delivery.


"My largest book is Photographs from the Gilman Paper Collection"

I know that book. An absolute treasure, and basically a photography library in and of itself! I would keep that one through however many moves myself, and it would be worth building a special bookcase for that book.


To answer the lens question, it is a Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2.


"I think that Zeiss Kubrick used was a 0.95. I'd have to look it up...."

You are talking to Mr. Memory, which fortunately the stroke did not affect.


In actuality, it was rated at f/0.65.

One more link:


And one more link:


Goodness gracious and other words of mild astonishment. I have here a sketch of a bookshelf design I drew a few weeks ago that I'm going to get made to deal with a similar big book problem. It is near identical to your design in form and size, even with the wider lower shelves. No doors, though (but that's a great idea).

Really nice looking wood.

But, Ah Me!

If I might ask a couple questions and offer a suggestion or two.

The case looks wonderful, actually, I am somewhat impressed with it. Your design is both unique and quite functional looking, almost arts and crafts in nature.

I build A&C furniture and my eye was instantly drawn to your shelves. Please check them and determine if they are a veneered chip board, plywood, or solid wood.

If the first two, due to their width and depth, you need to immediatly reinforce them. The simplest way is to simply double up the shelves, the best way is to insert a set of vertical standards running from the bottom upwards. This can be a simple wood panel or insert about 1/2 inch thick and about 1/2 the depth of the shelf) finished to match the unit and popped into place with a bit of glue on the bottom of each standard. Otherwise the dreaded "bows and sags" will be setting in within the month.

If the shelves are solid wood and a full inch or better in thickness, you have some time, but...given the weight load that books generate...I still advise reinforcement.

The fact that shelves are permanently joined to the sides (assuming that's the case) will not stop the sag, only delay it, and any attempt to fix the problem AFTER it shows up will pop the shelves loose. Loose shelves will start to sag almost immediately if the total load over 3 feet exceeds 40 pounds.

Most people never consider how heavy a full load of books really are, nor the fact that the load is constant and torqued toward the middle of the shelves. There is actually an engineering load calculation table available in the better furniture construction books that describes how much bow and sag can be expected from the various dimensions, types of stock, and total loads.

Enjoy the case (and your books) and take care of it!

By the way......good design job.


So where are you going to put Helmut Newton's 'Sumo'? (20x27.5 inches)

Very very cool. Looks great.

I am afraid you just discovered the reason for more shelves... Some books are best kept laying flat on their back. You can safely put 10 books on them, but it is easier if there are not too many books stacked on top of eachother. So it might be best to have a few large shelves with very little hight between them, say 4 or 5 inches. Those are for the biggest books...

"...your shelves. Please check them and determine if they are a veneered chip board, plywood, or solid wood. If the first two, due to their width and depth, you need to immediately reinforce them."

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm taking what you say seriously. The shelves are veneered 3/4" plywood with a solid facing strip on the front. However, I have spaced the shelves so far apart that there are two extra shelves--enough, when cut to the appropriate lengths, to run vertical supports under the one shelf in the bottom section and the two shelves in the top section.

The back is also veneered plywood, but the rest of the unit is solid wood.

Thanks for your input--


Kubrick used a Zeiss 50mm f/0.7 in Barry Lyndon, as described here. Ed DiGiulio reworked it and attached an adapter to give it a focal length of 36.5mm on cine film, which I believe is a half-frame format. (So I don't know what that would mean for full frame equivalents.)

Apparently Kubrick knew a lot about still photography. I think that site has the American Cinematographer article that describes how he used projected (!) backdrops shot with 8x10 view cameras for part of 2001.

Dear Mike,

I echo the request for knowing what these bookcases cost. Of course, with bookcases being a local commodity, those prices aren't going to directly translate to anything else anywhere else in the country, but still I'd like to have some idea. Spoken as someone who buys most of their bookcases at "Tar-Jay."

Glass doors aside, it's also a good design for earthquake country. The slightly back-set second-tier moves the weight to the back of the case, meaning it's much more likely to try to fall into the wall than away from it. Other good tricks for seismically unstable locales: slip a thin shim (0.5-1 cm thick) under the front edge of the bookshelf, so the whole thing is tilted back a fraction of a degree. Improves stability amazingly. And, if one has enough flexibility in positioning of bookcases, position the bookcase in front of a stud in the wall, as so one can add a heavy angle bracket to the top of the case (where it's invisible) that is screwed into the top of the bookcase and screwed into the stud.

Also, if one has the floor space, connected bookcases in an "L" or "T" arrangement are almost impossible to knock over and lets you pack an amazing number of accessible books into a fairly small library.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


You can easily repair this book. A simple strip of linen tape will pull the cover against the folio sheets. For a less noticeable job, select a tape color that matches the current binding.

But basically, any archival, acid-free tape that's flexible and durable will do the trick.

"I echo the request for knowing what these bookcases cost."

The receipt reads $1150, plus $190 for finishing (which seems a bargain for three coats of stain and two of polyurethane).

And $75 tax.

Unfortunately the main number does not break out the cost of the doors, which I remember as being a substantial part of the cost, like a few hundred dollars. So if you don't need doors, and/or finish it yourself, it could be considerably less.


Dear Mike,

So I was trying to envision how large House Hunting was and went to check out the largest books on my bookshelf. Ansel Adams Images, 1923-1974 (published that same year) in its slipcase is 14.5" x 17.5." Yeah, not a coffee table book, a coffee table in itself.

Next to it on the shelf is Shirakawa's Himalayas (1971) at 13.5" x 17" in its wrap-around sleeve.

And, so, of course, I had to pull the books down and start leafing through them again. Which is not merely a very pleasant way to waste some time and avoid doing work I should be doing, but also reminded me how much print reproduction has improved in a third of a century.

When Himalayas came out, aside from being the most expensive mass-market photography book ever produced, the repro was considered quite excellent. Today, it looks good but not exceptional. As for the Adams book, it was the definitive volume when it was produced and I'm really glad I have a copy. But Yosemite and the Range of Light, which came out five years later, completely blows it away in terms of reproduction quality. What looked like an "A" in 1974 is merely a "C" when compared to the later book.

The difference is computers. Adams' 1974 book was the best single-pass halftone reproduction money could buy. The 1979 book was a duotone printed from what we then referred to as "laser-cut" plates. I *think* it was the first mass-circulation photography book to use computer-driven film writers to produce the halftones instead of conventional photographic techniques. I could be wrong about it.

But, man, does the difference show up in reproduction. Not just richer blacks, but much more accurate and delicate rendition of detail in the highlights and shadows, and it's sharper to boot.

Some things about books have gotten better with time.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

That's a beautiful piece of furniture, congratulations. Just to my taste, dark, simple, tasteful.

I was once told that the way to store books for a long time is flat. I guess your unfortunate example is why. (Though I do agree that's not a well-made book.)

Hmmm, I was under the impression that plywood is actually stronger than solid wood, due to the crossing of the grain, and the glue, which is stronger than the wood.

Ah... Wikipedia says: "A common reason for using plywood instead of plain wood is its resistance to cracking, shrinkage, twisting/warping, and its general high degree of strength."

Opening a thick art/photo book carefully and reading it flat won't help too much. The problem is in the book's design, specifically the flat, rigid spine.

The spine of a properly designed book is flexible. When you open it, the spine will absorb the force and fan the pages.

A stiff spine on a book transfers the force of opening directly to the book's hinges, the seam where the block of pages is attached to the covers, usually by just a thin layer of paper that covers the joint.

The hinges are mechanically weak and the flat spine sets them up to rip at an early point in the book's useful life.

Why do book designers and art directors do this? They don't read much, is my guess.

As a follow-up to my foregoing comment about flat spines, you can often do yourself a favor by buying the paperback edition of a book whose hardcover version features a flat stiff spine. (This holds only for the cases where the paperback edition is sewn, not held together with hot glue as is the typical mass-market paperback.)

I have a paperback copy of the Camera Portraits volume, and it is sewn like the hardcover version. However, the spine is simply paper glued to the gathered signatures and it flexed nicely the first time I opened the book. As a result, the spine hasn't cracked, the hinges are intact, and after many years of reading and browsing, the cover remains firmly attached to the block of pages.

An additional thought about book designers — I think they are occupationally more prone to seeing a book as an objet d'art (emphasis on the objet) rather than as a manufactured product which needs to function in a particular way to fulfil its purpose as a book.

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