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Wednesday, 19 July 2017


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Congratulations on the successful sale, Mike. I suspect Yale is delighted, too.

Do I have a book collection specialty? Good question. Yes, come to think of it, I guess I have a few. The one that jumps forward first is Japanese photography, especially post-war. This was largely the result of several years spent studying for the project that would become the Provoke show I mentioned in a comment to an article last week. (Comically, I cannot read some of them. )

I probably have more Stephen Shore books than anything else. In an ideal world, I'd scoop up William Eggleston's multi-book editions of The Democratic Forest, Los Alamos Revisited, and Chromes.

I live in a small apartment, and don't have enough space to collect any sort of books. I threw out most of my books the last time I moved. It was sad throwing out so many books. After that, I made a commitment not to acquire any more physical stuff, and so far I've kept pretty well to that. So I'm sorry that I'm not a customer for photobooks.

This does raise a bigger philosophical question about photography, whether photos really need to be printed, or whether photos exist just fine as a stream of ones and zeros.

Does two count as a collection? One of the reasons I bought Friedlander's family book is I really like another photo book I've had for years, called Flesh and Blood: Photographers' Images of Their Own Families. I can probably add Sally Mann's memoir to the group as well, even though it's mostly text.

I have a fair number of railroad photography books in my library but I've got a complete collection of the books of the late Don Ball, Jr. I've also started adding signed copies and various editions of the titles that had multiple printings.

When I was young, my father introduced me to the hobbies of railfanning and photography. After receiving my library card, I promptly proceeded to look into books about both subjects with a special focus where they intersected. My local library had a copy of America's Railroad's, the Second Generation by Mr. Ball. I wish I knew how many times I checked that title out. It must have been at least several dozen.

Interestingly, I always seemed to gravitate towards the work of other photographers that Mr. Ball featured in that particular title. While I liked Ball's photos, I loved some of the work of Don Boyd and T.J. Donahue. Much later, however, I discovered Rails and Railroads which featured Ball's work exclusively. Additionally, they featured a more artistic approach to railroad photography than his previous works, which were of a more documentary flavor. I doubt that any pair of books has caused a more emotional reaction within me while I paged through them. I was all at once incredibly joyed to find these somewhat forgotten treasures (Rails and Railroads are among the lesser known volumes from Ball), ashamed that I had so underestimated the author's photographic abilities and incredibly melancholic to think that Mr. Ball passed away at the young age of 48.

Much of Ball's work was something of a lament over the loss of the steam locomotive and the eventual acceptance of the diesel. I'd be curious to see what his take on modern railroading would be. Since his passing in 1986, the caboose has disappeared, the number of Class 1 carriers have dwindled to a handful, motive power has become far more homogeneous and railroad signalling is likewise becoming incredibly similar due to PTC requirements being imposed by the government. I've heard more than one railfan bemoaning the current environment. Indeed, I'm often tempted to join in their chorus. Whenever I feel that way, though, it's easy enough for me to pull out one of Ball's books and remember that the railroad environment has always been changing. Learning to accept current changes as Ball accepted the change from steam to diesel helps me to see what is possible. Railroading is still a dramatic and fascinating industry to photograph. And that is precisely why my Don Ball, Jr. collection is one of the prizes of my personal library.

My photo books are a little like my music; eclectic and more notable for what they lack than the jumble of stuff they contain. Pop music after about 1980? Nope. Ansel Adams? Nope, or at least not recently. Friedlander, Argentinian Polka (don't knock Los Hermanos Cardozo until you have tried them), Hass, Miles Davis, Gregorian Chants, Mel Torme, and Irving Penn? Yup. Eric Whittaker, Joni Mitchell, Richard Avadon, Nicholas Nixon? Yup. Head spinning yet?

For me, what unites these things is a desire to be taken out of myself by the work: that eclat of forgetting that my knees hurt because I see or hear something amazing. If the work is constantly demanding that I confront it . . . it stops being fun. I remember (or even am distracted) my knees (or whatever). So I tried some Eggleston, I really did, but I never had that feeling of "I want that on my wall and want to see it every day." One of his books is around here somewhere. Shallow? Maybe. Or perhaps this is how we develop taste? I'll be interested to see what others respond.

BTW, I organize my photography books by . . . (wait for it). . . size. Yup. All the tall books together, all the shorter ones, and so on. Hey, they all have to fit on the shelves and my carpentry skills and available shelf space (an increasingly scarce commodity around here) do not play well with the random (if useful)category of alphabetization.

I've been collecting photo books (and prints) for several decades, including a good subset of very fine condition first editions, some in multiple languages. Among these is a fairly comprehensive set of books by Strand and Kertesz, two of my favorites. And thanks to you, my Strand collection just increased by one, a well produced overview.

Out of hundreds of photo books, I seem to have a LOT of Friedlander's books even that Cray one that was never sold, also a lot of the "new topographics" and Dusseldorf School. I also have a lot of portrait books by Avedon, Penn, and that big boxed set of the complete August Sander. I swear they were cheap when I bought them! except for the Avedon/Baldwin and Avedon/Capote collaborations that I got at an auction. Seem to have a lot of Eggleston, including three copies of the the first version of "The Democratic Forest" but I can't remember how that happened.

The rest are mostly conceptual or questioning the nature and meaning of photography with a few overlaps like Arbus, Winogrand, Ed Ruscha, Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan (the Mike Mandel and the Larry Sultan shows at SFMoMA are outstanding by the way, went yesterday}

So I guess taken as a whole they are about what photography means as opposed to what the individual photographs mean. The Mandel, Sultan book "Evidence" is kind of an extreme example, I mean what the hell are some of those photographs of anyway?

Oh, and can I plug my big book project here?

or click on my name down there

The Strand book is good enough that you don't really need more of his than just that one. Collections...yes, I am making a street photography collection. Please find a hidden treasure trove of Garry Winogrand books and have another book sale.

Coincidentally I just inventoried my photo book collection two weeks back, as our adult kids were visiting and we were ruthlessly culling the house of all their stuff along with anything else dumpster-worthy.

I was mildly surprised to find it stands at close to five hundred titles. Perhaps 80 of them we summarily tossed because they were obsolete digital technique-oriented books. The rest could be divided into mini-collections.

The biggest chunk of my library is comprised of individual monographs, heavily weighted toward landscape photography. And I guess I do have an organizing principle. The great majority are carefully composed and crafted intimate landscapes that extract formal beauty from chaos, particularly forests. So I have pretty much everything in print from Elliot Porter, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Christopher Burkett, Charles Cramer, Bruce Heinemann and the like. Also a smattering of European work on the same subject, like Michael Lange's exquisite Wald. I also have a pretty sizable collection of prairie landscape photo books, which is an esoteric subset.
To my surprise, I have also accumulated a substantial collection of post-modern, deadpan landscape monographs by folks like Jeff Brouws, Stephen Shore, Todd Hido, and everything in print by Edward Burtynsky. The common thread remains formalist pictorial beauty that transcends the chaotic or even mundane subject matter. The latest is a monograph on Buffalo's decaying giant grain elevators, American Chartres by Bruce Jackson.

Looking through my library I also noticed that I have too many books that I don't like very much. Most of them I think struck me as important to a collection of photo books, but they just don't do anything for me. This includes monographs on Richard Avedon, Dave Heath, and a goodly number of other icons whose work I just don't get. I probably should bite the bullet and 'de-accession' these.

I used to be Larry Williams assistant doing a lot of stuff for Rolling Stone and CBS Nashville. Often I would trip the shutter, focus and load while he moved the lights around because it's surprisingly hard to tell rockstars turn their head into the shadow.

Once we shot a cover for Charly McClain out in Montauk and after I spent an hour driving the car back and forth to get the blurred tail lights, and in fact all the lighting except for an on camera vivitar 283,

I shot off the end of the roll for clip tests (120 film so tails out) with Larry wrapping his arms around the artist. CBS liked the clip test so much that they used it for the back cover and changed the LP title to match it.

CBS wanted to give me a photo credit but they couldn't without paying* me so for the next few records the gave me an assistant credit which was pretty unusual at the time.

Photos "stolen" from ebay, but if they want to bug me about copyright......

*pay was terrible anyway but they would pay for anything you could get a receipt for within a week of the shoot

My Vincent Munier and Michael Kenna books seem to be increasing, much to the detriment of my decreasing bank balance...

I've been buying up photobooks with a textual component for awhile now. It started with Paul Kwiatkowski's and every day was overcast (one of the standouts), and includes Rosalind Fox Solomon's Got to Go, Nick Nostitz's Patpong, and, most recently, Teju Cole's Blind Spot, among many others. All in all, they comprise about 1/4 of my ~120 photobooks. I hope to one day produce a book that combines photography and text in an interesting way, and at one point, I considered these as research for that effort. Now, though, I fear it's become more of a collection.

I suppose I'm fascinated by "the human condition" in its many facets. So I mostly photograph people and the situations they find themselves in and collect books in the social documentary, street, and photojournalistic (Magnum) traditions. Aside from that, I seem to have amassed sizable sub-collections of books about New York City (photographic interpretations, not travels) and about U.S. photographic road trips that explore American identity (Robert Frank, HCB, Hoepker, Stephen Shore, Holdt, Justine Kurland, etc.). I also buy a lot of photo books from colorists such as Eggleston, Haas, Meyerowitz, and Fred Herzog. It's a great thing having these categories to help channel my passion for photography books because they help me avoid buying books I would probably love, but would kill my budget.

Books, books, books! I have way too many. I hired a contractor years ago to build bookcases into the walls of my study to maximize the space for all my books, but it does not end there. I have mini libraries of some of my favorite photographers including Michael Kenna, Edward S. Curtis, Alfred Stieglitz, Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, and others. I have a lot of technique books too, some very outdated (polaroid techniques anyone?). And then there are lots of topical type photography books and books from photographers that are not well known, but I enjoy looking at their work as well. My collection of 50+ Lenswork magazines (I consider them mini books) is perhaps the best printing quality of all my books.

Recently I stopped buying books because I made the decision to downsize and plan on travelling for a couple of years with photography projects in mind (not your typical vlog travel stuff). In the end, the books I will miss the most are not photography books at all, but are art books. Photography books can be inspirational to me, but the art books are where I find my creative muses, and they have taught me more about being a visual artist than any other books have.

My collection within the collection is Josef Sudek. Fell in love with his work when there was an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts! Have several of the Czech books, and newer US-published ones.

Salgado, Bresson, Eugene Smith, Mary Ellen Mark, Fan Ho are my weakness.

Hi Mike,
A slightly battered Paul Strand book just arrived down under in Australia this week (paid for the 4-6 week shipping option). Is there any way to pass on some "constructive criticism" about the packing? It was abysmal - oversized box into which loose bubble wrap and book appear to have been summarily tossed. Along the way someone kindly put the box into a shipping bag to stop the box being completely disintegrated from the inside out by the book bouncing around. Looking forward to working through my birthday present to me :)

The book collection - outside of the technical side - is still embryonic, but I enjoy Galen Rowell and David Ward. Sontag on Photography may be a tad out of my depth yet :)

I don’t have many photobooks and I am mainly interested in landscape photography.
Looking at the books I see a number of landscape books that contain images that do not “pop” to the eye: they are quieter images and I suppose that non anybody would like them. As my wife said looking at Woodlands: “I might have taken those photos!”.

Some of those books are

Jem Southam “The River Winter” (https://vimeo.com/56903732)
Bernhard Fuchs “Woodlands” (https://vimeo.com/103810791)
Daniel Rohner “Dialog mit Mi Fu” (https://vimeo.com/208844568)

Do you mind posting a snapshot of "the little half-shelf of books of snapshot photography" at some point in the future? it piqued my curiosity.

[Alas, I can't, not right now. Most of my books are in storage yet, since my last move. No bookshelves in this house.... :-( --Mike]

Jim Marshall book "Proof" got me started looking for books of proof sheets. So far it's just a start though.

At the moment I am cleaning up my library. Do I have mini-collections within my collection? To be honest if I encounter a title that doesn’t fit in a group I have a problem. Maybe I should make a mini-collection of books that don’t fit in any group?
Without being aware of it I recently seem to have made a mini-collection of photography books about (ex) communist countries. North Korea, Soviet Union, East Block and so on. Here are some examples:

My local public library has a good collection of photography and art books, but a poor collection of books in another area of interest: railroad history, photography, etc. Thus I have a good collection of books in that area. Now I'm short of space so, when available, I acquire books as PDF's - unless I have reason to know a book of interest exhibits superior production values. That's why I've bought every book as a physical book offered at TOP since I started following TOP.

I have three mini collections in my modest library, and they are mini. Two books each. The first is two books by Jay Maisel.

Two by O.Winston Link, by far my favorite photographer. While I like the history of steam railroading I do not consider myself a rail buff. I simply like Mr Links style and technical skill especially at night.

And finally I have a couple of of books by Ralph W. Andrews chronicling the work of Darius Kinsey who photographed the logging operations of the Northwest US from about 1890 to 1925 or so.

If I keep reading Top and falling for Mikes book deals that number may increase! Thanks Mike

I don't know what would count as a big collection. I have quite a few, maybe 100 in all. But usually only one or two by any one photographer.
I will also buy every photographer biography I can find. Not too many of those as I only buy from bookshops.

Like many of your readers I have small groups of books that reflect my photographic interests in various areas. But the group of which I am most aware are the pile of maybe ten or twelve as yet unread. In a weird way that's both an admonishment and a comfort.
It's an admonishment because I know I should try to find more time to read them and a comfort because of their promise of delights to come.

I have a very small mini collection of conflict photography. It's not fun to look at but powerful and compelling.

Over the years I have collected books on the old Russia, the former Soviet Union, and the new Russia as well as books about the new Russia's near abroad. Some very good work coming out of those areas.

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