From hand-colored picture postcards to Jack Nicholson at home, this summer's best photo books mine the cool past and look to the future
By Anastasia Taylor-Lind
In February, English/Swedish photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind traveled to Kiev to document the swelling crowds protesting the Ukrainian government’s refusal to establish closer relations with Europe, and brought with her a portable portrait studio. The images she made in the weeks leading up to President Yanukovych’s flight isolate participants against a black square, framing them apart from the larger drama. Her cast is divided into two camps: mostly male fighters who wear motorcycle or green army helmets with their puffy winter coats, and mourners, young and old women who carry tulips and roses to symbolize the hundreds killed. Separated from the crowd, each subject tells an individual story.
Martin Hyers & Will Mebane: Empire
Text by Karen Irvine
America, reduced to objects and buildings, has a cool, alien glow in these photographs. Hyers and Mebane envisioned their project as a kind of photographic time capsule, making most of the images on several cross-country road trips undertaken during the Bush administration. Like the photos of William Eggleston or Stephen Shore, these images can’t help but discover visual pleasure among the surfaces of vernacular culture—in old movie theater chairs, hamburger meat in Styrofoam trays, taxidermied hooves, and liquor bottles. Photographed with a hand-held 4×5-inch film camera with a camera-mounted flash, even these banal objects are lovely. More chilling are the single-story houses shot a few years later. Made at night with a strobe light attached to the roof of the photographers’ car, each lonely façade is frozen in the dark like a deer caught in headlights. Together the two series add up what our country has amassed.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here and Now
By Clément Chéroux
Thames & Hudson
It’s been ten years since the death of the father of The Decisive Moment, long enough to make sense of his legacy of more than 30,000 photos. Beginning with an image he made as a 14-year-old boy scout with his Box Brownie (a tent and campers artfully framed by branches) and ending with his late pencil sketches, this book of more than 400 plates provides a broad view of Cartier-Bresson’s long career. Its essays explore his time spent in Africa and France, with Surrealists and Communists, and at Magnum, tracing his life as an activist, journalist, and artist.
Shomei Tomatsu: Chewing Gum and Chocolate
Edited by Leo Rubinfien and John Junkerman; Text by Leo Rubinfien and Shomei Tomatsu
Shomei Tomatsu was a teenager in 1945, when his hometown of Nagoya was firebombed and then occupied by US forces, and the memory of the experience echoes throughout his gritty black-and-white photographs of Japan’s postwar collision with modernity and the West. Published two years after Tomatsu’s death, Chewing Gum and Chocolate collects for the first time images he made at American military bases from the 1950s to the ‘70s. With both admiration and disgust, Tomatsu depicts US soldiers drinking in the bars and red-light districts that sprouted around the bases, finding evidence of the brutal, exhilarating culture they brought with them. As Leo Rubinfien writes of the occupiers, “The chocolate and chewing gum they showered from their Jeeps may have been paltry stuff, but the ideas, styles, and manners that they disseminated were not, and these invigorated two generations or more of younger Japanese.”
The Way We Were: The Photography of Julian Wasser
Edited by Brad Elterman; Text by Julian Wasser
“There were no reserved VIP areas in clubs, no bodyguards or security men, no hordes of paparazzi,” writes Julian Wasser about photographing in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ‘70s. “Everyone was approachable.” Wasser depicted the casual glamour of California’s rich and famous for magazines including Time, Life, and People. In his breezy black and white pictures, celebrities lead regular lives: Jayne Mansfield dances at Whisky A Go Go; Henry, Peter, and Jane Fonda lounge on a Bel Air couch; 14-year-old Jodie Foster poses in her Lycée Français uniform; and Joan Didion leans tentatively against the Porsche parked in the driveway of her rented house.
An American Odyssey
By Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué
A pastel gathering of Zuni Indians, vegetable sellers on New York’s Mulberry Street, the Grand Canyon in pinks and greens—these are some of the scenes published by the Detroit Photographic Company, which, between 1888 and 1924, issued 100,000 color photochroms of life in North America. The early lithography process made intensely colored images from black-and-white negatives, turning sober views of architecture and landscape into sometimes lurid pictures. Sold as postcards (which could be mailed for half the cost of a letter), the images were immensely popular, and included thousands made by William Henry Jackson, who brought his archive of negatives to the company after his photography business fell on hard times. In the fanciful coloring of turquoise water and rainbow sunsets, 19th-century America is a romantic wonderland.
Poetics of Light: Contemporary Pinhole Photography: Selections from the Pinhole Resource Collection
By Nancy Spencer and Joanna Turek
Museum of New Mexico Press
By turns quirky and haunting, the highlights from the Pinhole Resource Collection were made using photography’s most basic components: an enclosed box pierced with a tiny hole. The collection was amassed by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, who published Pinhole Photography Journal in the 1980s and ‘90s. The artists were relentlessly experimental with the pinhole’s primitive parts—there are images made with a seashell or a can of Campbell’s Soup as a camera body and a bullet hole or a crack in the Berlin Wall as aperture. Without a lens or viewfinder, pinhole photography allows for less control over exposure and focus, and the proto-camera itself seems to create the image, bypassing the artist and offering a strangely non-human view of the world.
Postcards from the Road: Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’
By Jonathan Day
Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press
Robert Frank’s enduring photo book The Americans was first published in 1958, the year Jonathan Day was born, and Day has felt the book’s Beat influence in his own life. Postcards is his attempt to understand it by combining three threads woven from the original: Day’s own analysis of Frank’s photos, his free-form descriptions of places he visited in his quest to find what remains of that “little snow globe America,” as he calls Frank’s world, and his own color photographs made in the spirit of Frank’s. The result is a complex and poetic mixing of text and image in search of a certain American quality that is equal parts bravado, tragedy, and dreamscape.
The Nude in Photography
By Paul Martineau
J. Paul Getty Museum/Getty Publications
The first photographic nudes might have been studies of plaster statues made shortly after the medium’s invention, but real human flesh quickly followed as a subject. Drawn from the Getty’s extensive photography collection, the images here trace the history of the idealized and usually female body from the medium’s invention in 1839 to the present day. The images range from an early erotic daguerreotype of two women to Herb Ritts’s 1990 supermodel pile-up, from Julia Margaret Cameron’s cherubic child to Timothy Greenfield Sanders’s clothed and unclothed porn star diptych. Together they form a sexy history of photography, where bodies appear as portraits or allegories, as objects of desire or vehicles of commerce.