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Monday, 06 January 2020


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"We are shifting to books for a few days. No more gear for a while, much of books"

Music to my ears!*

*Nothing wrong with gear, but books are another level of joy

Terrific choice, Mike! I’ve not seen it yet.

I have a problem with the idea that setting up a camera with a motion trigger counts as being "a photographer" much less an artist. Traffic cameras do that to catch those who run red lights. Are we going to laud a bunch of photos of scofflaws dashing through intersections and occasionally bashing others in the process?
I have a wildlife camera but I would never have the hubris to present the results as anything but random images of animals that tripped the sensor by passing through, a 'sensor' that knows only motion, no differannt than the sensor that opens the doors of the local Walmart, utterly devoid of any understanding of the significance what it is doing.
For me photography is a disciple of observation and connection. Setting up a machine and walking away, taking my attention to the proposed ssubject with me isn't art. useful for science perhaps, but it isn't art.

Take a good look at THIS LAND, An American Portrait - by Jack Spencer.
An excellent photographer with vision and personal technique that shows well with his images. It isn't the usual travelogue, but an interpretation of feeling. Different from the work and books he did before - it is a book worth having in the collection.

Sure, there are some very nice photos in The Pillar, but crediting Gill as a photographer, rather than as an editor, hardly seems to be appropriate in these circumstances.

As for Johannson, I have been a huge fan of his photography for more than a decade, as his photos always seem to resonate with me.

But even so, I have to agree that a more-of-the-same quality has started to creep into his work, and going forward, I'm not sure I will automatically buy all his future books, as I have done in the past ... sorry, Gerry!

For me, the best book of 2019 was A Detroit Nocturne by Dave Jordano. (Yes, it was published in April 2018, but I didn't learn about its existence until a year later.)

Being a late-night photographer of urban street scenes myself, I find his photographs of Detroit to be sublime.

It was also the top book cited by various ‘experts’ and artists polled by Photo-Eye...


[I hadn't seen that, but it's on several other lists, as I mentioned. --Mike]

Yes, books! A few others:

Americans Parade- George Georgiou's detailed miracles of Americana; Somewhere Along The Line- Joshua Dudley Greer's great American road trip where the road actually dominates the glory and folly along the way; Arena- Jeff Mermelstein is still stretching how to see the miraculous in the mundane; Imperial Courts- Dana Lixenberg's life affirming portraits documenting a much shunned portion of America: The Island Position- John Lehr's delightfully dynamic and geometric depictions of roadside storefronts.

Thanks for the recommendation! I'm pleased to hear you're shifting to books for a few days, but I'm concerned for my bank account. Photobooks are a weakness of mine.


Why is it that mirror portraits always have a sameness about them? Is it because they include the camera?

I was trying to buy this book about a week ago and found the price had increased to unaffordable. Saw the reviews on Photo-Eye website and I just procrastinated too long. I also tried Gill's website but the shipping cost to the US is another 27 GBP which, again, makes it too expensive for me. I'm sorta into Daido Moriyama right now so guess I'll wait for the second printing of "The Pillar".

In re: the link "Decide for yourself", in endnote "*". The self portrait that grabbed my eyes was the one by Helena Bonham Carter. Nicely composed, even though the fluorescent light at the right couldn't be "removed" very easily without drastically changing how the window to the left appears. That photo makes me think she is better than the average photographer.

"Ideas are intermediary, and subservient to the work."
So true. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you for stating that, and with such elegant concision.

Am I allowed to be alightly amazed that someone/anyone went with a purely linguistic variation on 'Mein Kampf'? Who'd have thought... If ever there was a theme to steer clear of, I would have thought that would be high on the list.

I can't help thinking that a Norwegian who titled a book Min Kamp has to have expected his readers to know and have strong feelings about the older and more famous book of a very similar title (originally in German). But I can't tell what the reference is supposed to mean; perhaps due to not being Norwegian, not knowing Norwegian culture at all well. This is is the country from which the term "quisling" comes, after all.

Yay for more book posts instead of gear stuff! Also I just ordered the book, and noted that I found it through TOP.

"P.S. A heads up: We are shifting to books for a few days. No more gear for a while, much of books"

That's great Mike, I loved this post and the book you recommended looks interesting. Looking forward to you next books posts

We had a renown bird photographer come to our photography club and make a presentation of technically wonderful “bird on a stick” photos. He took us on a virtual tour around the US, describing in detail the differences between sub-species of birds from various locales / regions. I love birds, I’m fascinated by them. But with rare exception, “bird on a stick” is a dead representation of something that is the ultimate expression of life, design, beauty and function. By the time we were half way around the country on our “tour, “ I wanted to poke my eyes out with a stick.


Since the bird(s) triggered the camera, shouldn't it/they own the copyright, credit and profits?

Disclaimer: I'm not sure that the "monkey selfie" is settled law yet.

A similar technique for pulling cats out of the landscape is to put out a small cardboard box. Works every time. If you use a large cardboard box, you'll catch children.

"The Pillar ... is this past year's special book for me"

This just goes to show how subjective art and photography can be and how we can all look at the same thing and see wildly different things.

That said, I am also glad the discussion is shifting away from gear towards photography.

I get Bullard’s point regarding motion triggers; not to get into a debate about what constitutes art, but how much creative credit should we give Google Street View? On the other hand, good is good, irrespective of how the product arrived. Which is sort of how I approach viewing photography, whereby I just try to appreciate the photo for itself. If accompanied by an interesting backstory, great but unnecessary. And undoubtedly, originality or a signature look can potentially carry a premium, but with roughly 1.2 trillion photos reportedly taken yearly, I’ve given the whole endeavor a little bit more leeway in contrast to other artistic mediums. As for myself, I shoot ‘street photography’ with black & white film; I’m a living cliché. I would hope to offer something new, but I ultimately capitulate to my enjoyment and visual interests, no matter how rehashed it might all seem in the greater scheme of things. What I do find fascinating is discovering great photographers from the first half of the 20th century (or earlier), learning how much had already been done decades ago.

I actually read 5.5 of Knausgård's 6 memoir/fiction books. He’s brilliant on the personal but only so-so on the philosophical and political, so I just couldn’t finish the last one. This bird book does look interesting, so thanks for the recommendation.

I was a little underwhelmed by "The Pillar" when I saw it back in September. Too minimal for my taste. Too brainy. Too transparent the intention. At the same time, I'm a huge fan of Gerry Johansson, and bought and enjoyed "American Winter". But I completely understand what you say about it. And even almost agree with you. The thing is, I approach each Johansson book as I do a new Woody Allen film, knowing I will not get anything new, but an additional variation on some tune he has played before.

I hadn't heard about the Dave Jordano book that JG recommends. Have just been to his website, don't know about the book but the pics look beautiful.

My recommendation for something from 2019 would be Alan Huck, published by MACK. The title: "I walk toward the sun which is always going down". It is both pictures (excellent BTW) and words, and in a beautifully designed small book.

These words rang like a bell for me:

"Too many people taking the same sorts of pictures, and, in that way, the pictures become unoriginal and lose their incantatory frisson. Not their fault, but ours, because we're saturated."

You've given me pause for thought. I've fallen out of love with photography. Maybe it's because I've seen and am seeing too much of the kind of photographs I once adored.

It's also a very good indicator of the way forward. I should go and look at something completely different, maybe even photography I don't like (or don't think I'll like).

There will be plenty of that too, of course. But it will be fresh to me—for a while, anyway.

Yay, book review time. My only quibble is that the timing is wrong. Why not November so we can put them on our sparse Christmas lists so that our spouses and children stop bugging us?

On Huw Morgan’s idea of November as the cut-off date: Brad Feuerhelm of American Suburb X agrees. He reckons photobooks published and available by the close of Paris Photo / Polycopies / Offprint should be included in that year’s list. Those only available after that floating date in November would go into next year’s haul.

We have a photographic festival in the town where I live each year. It tends towards the conceptual art area of photography. They also set up a bookshop.

The two books you show here seem to fit into the pattern of the photo books that seem to be fashionable right now.

How can I put it; these books seem to be more about picture and book layout and sequencing rather than about showing strong photographs. The pages you show of the birds on a post are a perfect example for me. The images work paired but not singularly.

Who really cares about birds sitting on a pole? What is interesting about these pictures?
The photo book market seems to have drifted away from books showing strong individual photographs towards collections of frankly uninteresting photographs that are perhaps made interesting by snazzy layout games.

Where have the photo books like “Land” by Fay Goodwin or “The Gentle Eye” by Jane Bown gone?

I always love the book talk here. You really should do it more often.

I read two photo books recently that I got from our library interloan system. However they are not from 2019.

The first one is a classic by Joel Meryerwitz called Cape Light. It is a compilation of 8x10 shots he did of Cape Cod over two years in the 1970's. You can look at a number of photos from it here; https://www.joelmeyerowitz.com/cape-light Amazon review; https://www.amazon.com/Joel-Meyerowitz-Cape-Light/dp/1597113395

The second book I read was the history of matte paintings used in movies called The Invisible Art by Mark Cotta Vaz. Since it is about how paintings were incorporated into film images I consider it to be a book about photography. It was very facinating. https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-Art-Mark-Cotta-Vaz/dp/0811831361

Just let me say thank you for posting this. There is nothing I love more than a good photobook, and there are a lot of them today, which is just fantastic. I've been on the, um, fence about this book, but you pushed me over the edge and I bought one.

It may not be my favorite of 2019, but I'll certainly enjoy it.

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