Annie Liebovitz: American Music

When a book combines multiple things that I feel powerfully about, it’s hard for me to contain my excitement and Annie Liebovitz’s American Music, is one such example. There are few things that I love more than photography and music. Add in the fact that my favorite photographer has photographed my favorite musician and I’m sold. Leibovitz’s work with Rolling Stone is what inspired me to take up photography to begin with.

When I got behind my camera, all I could think about was how badly I wanted her job. And how I wished I could be as good at it as she was. There’s something inexplicable behind her ability to capture a portrait and, to me, that talent only increases when she’s capturing a musician. They say that to be a successful portrait photographer you need the ability to make your subject trust you so that they become completely comfortable with you. I don’t think there is another photographer out there with the ability to do that as she has.

 

I somewhat lost touch with the world of photography during my beginning years of college, there were a lot of distractions on my plate, but this book eventually drew me back in. I originally bought it, because she included photographs of Mike Ness, the lead singer of the punk/rockabilly band Social Distortion.  Social D has been my favorite band for many years and missing out on this work was unthinkable.

Annie Leibovitz’s work is still leaving me spellbound decades later. I may no longer be a sixteen year old girl photographing local bands, but her work still touches on a powerful desire in me to reach back to my dream.

 

Edward Weston 1886-1958 Covers Weston's Growth As An Artist

Edward Weston 1886-1958 is a handsome, large and extensive collection of the seminal 20th century photographer’s work, published by Taschen in 1999.  The publisher has rereleased much of the book’s contents in their Icon series, including an essay from Terence Pitts, the director of The Center for Photography in Arizona, but in a much smaller size.  For those interested, its advisable to track down the larger collection.

Weston’s early work, drastically different from his most famous photos, consists of theatrically lit, dreamy portraits in soft focus.  The 1920’s, the decade that birthed Dada and Freud’s The Ego and The Id produced photographic work that was supremely cerebral.  Weston’s work in the early 1920’s is no exception to this trend, ghostly figures position themselves at odd angles obscured by misty focus or stark shadows.

As Weston progressed into the decade the trademarks of his style began to emerge.  Soft focus is turned to its extreme opposite, exchanging obscurity with hyper-real texture.  Weston’s subject matter turns from dreamy to real.  Weston’s genius begins to fully form in his late 1920’s work.  Photos such as Shells manage to turn ordinary objects into new, surreal artifacts from another world using elegant compositions with complex, organic lines.

Weston continued to refine his artistic vision in the 1930’s.  Using natural subjects, such as vegetable and scraps of wood Weston highlight’s the beauty of the natural world, ever present if one cared to pay attention.  1930 saw Weston produce one of his iconic photographs Pepper No. 30, a sensuous, even erotic photo of a pepper, its halves seeming to embrace one another.  Another photo Cypress Root and Succulents. Point Lobos transforms wood grain and desert plants into an energetic, painterly composition that starkly resembles van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Oddly Edward Weston 1886-1958’s scope doesn’t stretch in the later years of Weston’s life, its contents end in 1944.   Weston’s later years are the only oversight in this amazing collection.

Walker Evans Decade By Decade Examines Photographer's Unknown Work

Walker Evans, best know for his work with the Farm Security Administration documenting the horrendous effects of The Great Depression, had a long storied career after his fall from the public eye, much of which has never been seen or exhibited publicly.  The story of Walker Evans: Decade By Decade, published by Hatje Cantz, is of Evans unknown works and the journey of his 47-year career.

By the 1950’s Evans had fallen out of fashion and favor with The Museum of Modern Art in New York, especially with Edward Steichen, the head of the Department of Photography, whom Evans had smeared publicly.  Evans career had gone from cutting edge to corporate sheen as he had held a longtime position at Fortune magazine, or at least that has traditional been the assumption.  Decade By Decade successfully refutes this assumption “by showing a small fraction of this output, seeks to readjust our notions of what Evans was about as an artist.” 

The even-keeled, meticulous and atheistically balanced methods of Evans that served him so well in his Depression Era photos as well as his corporate work in the 1950’s served him equally well in the advancing decades.  Evans body of work, when viewed as a whole, is a line connecting America to its mythical, stoic past.  The cityscapes from the 1970’s look just as dusty and atmospheric as Evans most famous work from the 1930’s; the portraits just as somber and teary-eyed.  For this reason, Walker Evans: Decade By Decade is an essential book documenting the career of one of America’s most prolific photographers.

Walker Evans: American Photographs, shown at The Museum of Modern Art in 1938, was the first exhibition dedicated to the work of a single photographer.  Walker Evans: Decade By Decade rounds out the art world’s examination of Evan’s work.  It’s long overdue.

Shadows of the Fleeting World pays homage to the Seattle Camera Club

Created in the early 20th century, the Seattle Camera Club was unique to camera clubs in America at that point in history.  Their core members were mostly Japanese immigrants and women.  They combined the techniques of the Pictorialists, a group of photographers who used soft lighting methods to make their photographs look like paintings, and combined them with Japanese artistic traditions.  The name of the recently published book Shadows of a Fleeting World: Pictorial Photography and the Seattle Camera Club by David F. Martin and Nicolette Bromberg references both the evanescent nature of the light in the members’ photographs as well as the short-lived nature of the club—most of the members were confined to internment camps during World War II.   

Tree Finder: A Manual for Identification of Trees by their Leaves

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"Guide to identifying native (and some widely introduced) trees of U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Organized as a dichotomous key, the book leads the user through a series of simple questions about the shape or appearance of different parts of a tree. Includes 161 species. Illustrated with line drawings. The small (6" by 4") format fits in pocket or pack to take along on a hike."

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Techniques for Marbleizing Paper (Other Paper Crafts) [Paperback]

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"Noted expert provides detailed instructions on every aspect of the marbleizing process: selecting a workplace, tools, paper, colors and glue, more. Also, specific techniques for creating 12 striking papers: Turkish, Japanese, comb, wave and zigzag patterns, others. Ideal for decorating books, boxes, lampshades; creating wallpaper, greeting cards, wall hangings; framing pictures, lining books, many other arts and crafts uses. List of suppliers."

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What's Different? (Dover Little Activity Books)

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"Young puzzle fans who like the challenge of identifying the differences between similar pictures will enjoy this little activity book. Children are asked to spot differences in 27 sets of brain teasers, among them 2 pictures of a dog and his friend and backyard scenes of fluttering butterflies."

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Breaking News: A Stunning and Memorable Account of Reporting from Some of the Most Dangerous Places in the World [Hardcover]

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"Martin Fletcher doesn’t claim to be a hero. Yet he didn’t flinch, either. During three decades covering wars, revolutions, and natural disasters, Fletcher worked his way from news agency cameraman to top network correspondent, facing down his own fears while facing up to mass killers, warlords, and murderers. With humor and elegance, Fletcher describes his growth from clueless adventurer to grizzled veteran of the world’s battlefields. His working philosophy of “Get in, get close, get out, get a drink,” put him repeatedly in harm’s way, but he never lost sight of why he did it. In a world obsessed with celebrities, leaders, and wealth, Fletcher took a different route: he focused on those left behind, those paying the price. He answers the question: Why should we care?             These extraordinary, real-life adventure stories each examine different dilemmas facing a foreign correspondent. Can you eat the food of a warlord, who stole it from the starving? Do you listen politely to a terrorist threatening to blow up your children? Do you ask the tough questions of a Khmer Rouge killer, knowing he is your only ticket out of the Cambodian jungle? And above all, how do you stay sane faced with so much pain?"

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Chasing the Flame: A Gay Narrative in Photographs

From teen, to (drag)queen, to author and everywhere in between.

"Chasing the Flame: A Gay Narrative in Photographs: A Gay Millennial's Progress from Shunned Student to Drag Star" is pending publication on Amazon Books and Kindle, and will be available this February for all those who are interested. After getting a death threat 5 years ago, suing the school and then eventually leaving, Michael Mangus, aged 19 is now coming out with a new book that chronicles his life in photos. 

The author of the book has been living the past few years as an "alter ego" of sorts - a miss Anita Waistline, who travels all of the country - and Canada - to perform.

MOCP in Chicago: John Baldessari (Part Two)

We all function in a society that demands order in one form or another. Even if one totally rejects what’s commonly accepted as the norm, that person is still defining themselves in contrast to a pervasive, cultural concept and needs it to define him/herself. Baldessari might not have been consciously doing that, but achieved that end. He’s defined himself as an artist working against art. And the vast many photo-collage (or however one might characterize those works from the eighties’ onward) images he’s used work to obscure the identity, or at least alter it, by obfuscating the whole.

Is he challenging the viewer through obscuring portions of the image? Or is he obscuring himself. Being removed from the practice of painting and now working with collage, Baldessari precludes criticism of a portion of his current art practice as well. Critics can’t say the images or well construed or shoddily contrived. Beyond even that, though the technical aspects of his work – transferring an image, altering its size, composing the work and settling on colors –seem less personal then grasping a brush and dashing a canvas with color by moving one’s arm (wrist or fingers). It all comes down to whether or not a viewer perceives the whole as a worthwhile endeavor to take in or for it to have been made in the first place.

In the series of photographs concerned with three balls being suspended in air, the focus, again, isn’t on how the image is rendered, but what the image might mean about space, time and chance. It’d be impossible to track down each word spilled on those images, but it’s easy to guess that there’s as much, if not more consideration, of what it all means as a thing as opposed to what it means as a photograph. Guessing at that, removing the work from a tradition of fine art practices, it functions to negate the necessity of skill. It’s just a depiction of balls in the air (but balls in the filthy air of California).

So, from now until he runs out of ideas, Baldessari’s set to always be characterized as a conceptual artist. He probably doesn’t have a problem with concocting new ways to weird out potential viewers. And most likely, since he’s been working in that mode for almost forty years, Baldessari has no problem with being one of the lumpen mass of conceptual artists. His last great gesture, though, would be to remove himself even from that and soldier on towards something detached from over-thinking a work.

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