A photobook trend

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on March 3, 2010

The four books below were produced between 1948-1953. They all follow a similar formula of a leading question followed by a comic photographic response. Know of any other books that follow this trend?

The Frenchman, 1948

The Stenographer, 1950

The Candidate, 1952

Oh, Dr. Kinsey!, 1953

24 pieces by Allen Ruppersberg

Posted in narrative photography, Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on February 21, 2010

Since listing Allen Ruppersberg’s fantastic exhibition catalog in my list of Top 10 Photobooks of 2009, I’ve been doing more investigation on Ruppersberg. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he experimented with the way banal images, once combined, create narrative. Ruppersberg published three books juxtaposing pictures of motel rooms with other ordinary pictures sometimes containing narrative clues (ketchup drizzled on a table, a picture removed from a wall). These three books were called 23 Pieces (1968), 24 Pieces (1970) and 25 Pieces (1971).

I was able to track down a copy of 24 Pieces. See the whole thing here.

Note the colophon: “Design and Photography by Gary Krueger.”

Dissection table writings

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on February 14, 2010

For Valentines Day, Nurse Rachel gave me a copy of  Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. It might not seem romantic, but it sure is interesting. In the 19th century, anatomy professors had a hard time legally obtaining bodies for their students. So they hired “resurrectionists” to dig up recently buried bodies from graveyards. The process was shrouded in secrecy. Professors and janitors guarded the dissection room and students were expelled if they divulged the identity of their subjects.

Despite all of this secrecy, there was a strong compulsion to document and commemorate the process. As photography became more accessible in the 1880’s, medical students across America began posing for group portraits in front of their cadavers. Through the 1920’s, this genre of medical photography became a quasi-ritual. Of the hundred or so pictures compiled in Dissected, many share remarkable consistencies. To me the most fascinating stylistic attribute is the phrases students would write in chalk on dissection table:

Happy Valentines…

Italian treasure

Posted in narrative photography, Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on February 7, 2010

I’m back from the Italian leg of the Little Brown Mushroom World Tour (next stop: Lincoln, Nebraska). I was hoping to track down some vintage fotoromanzi, but didn’t have enough time. Nonetheless, I still picked up a couple of treasures. I spent most of my time in Milan with the curator Francesco Zanot. Francesco is a raving book nut and, at only thirty years of age, one of the most knowledgeable and exciting photo curators I’ve met. Francesco gave me a copy of Vedove/Widows, a book he recently produced with Takashi Homma (more info here).

At a signing at the excellent Mi Camera Bookstore, I’m embarrassed to report that I bought more books than I signed. After some frantic browsing of the shelves, I discovered the flat files behind the front counter where they keep the little vintage books and ephemera. Treasure trove!

Followers of this blog know that I have a keen interest in narrative photo books. In the flat files I found a truly stellar example by Franco Vaccari. I’ve been curious about Vaccari since picking up a survey of his work, Exhibitions in Real Time, last year. Vaccari is a conceptual photographer that Francesco Zanot accurately described as ‘the Italian Baldessari.’ But what I love about the book I found in the flat file is that it isn’t a conceptual or performance exercise. This sweet, staple-bound booklet, Viaggio sul Reno, Settembre 1974, is nothing more than a travelog. But the text is funny, lyrical and works with the images extraordinarily well:

See the whole book here.

How To Avoid Corner Corner Love

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 29, 2010

I’m currently in Ann Arbor, Michigan as part of the Little Brown Mushroom World Tour. Tonight my host dropped me off at Dawn Treader Book Shop. The treasure for the day was ‘How to Avoid Corner Corner Love and Win Good Love From Girls.’ It isn’t a photobook, but it has an excellent photographic cover and only cost me $6.50.

The book comes from Onitsha, Nigeria. It isn’t dated, but probably comes from the mid-1960’s. It exemplifies the genre called African Market Literature. It represents Africa’s first popular literature and is closely tied to their oral storytelling tradition. Part of the pleasure of this genre is what the African Market authority Kurt Thometz calls ‘Mad English.’ Note some of the other fantastic titles in the series (click to enlarge):

Photo Novellas

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 25, 2010

I’d like to compile a list of quality photo novellas and photo comic books. Can you help?

Carl Johan De Geer

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 25, 2010

At a recent visit to Dashwood Books I picked up their lovely self-published book, Carl Johan De Geer’s Long Live the Large Family. I was excited to feature this excellent book here, but 5b4 beat me to the punch.

So instead I’ll show another book by De Geer: Pengar Eller Livet (Money or Life). I purchased the book because of my interest in photo novellas, but unfortunately can’t read Swedish. Nonetheless, I’m a sucker for this kind of loosey-goosey comic book design.

More images here.

The Charitable Photobook

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 20, 2010

In Martin Parr & Gerry Badger’s History of The Photobook, much attention is given to Corporate Photobooks and Propaganda Photobooks. Thinking about Sergio Larrain’s charitable photobook, I’m wondering if this might not be another interesting subset of photographic literature. Can you think of other books that would fit into this catagory?

Sergio Larrain’s untitled ‘Home’ book

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 20, 2010

In Jeffrey Ladd’s review of Nothing But Home, he mention’s my recent book, Allowing Flowers (also reviewed by Jeff here). Soon after, Sébastien Girard emailed me. He wrote:

Reading about Allowing Flowers, it immediately made me think of an unordinary book I found in Santiago de Chile. An unknown book by one of your Magnum colleagues: Sergio Larrain. A few years ago I decided to go on a trip to Chile to meet him without knowing exactly where he was living, without appointment…A very hazardous trip. On my way I found this charity book! A good sign for the journey. Amazing layout! Amazing photographs! Something close to your project. I look forward to see your reaction.

Well, my reaction was half excitement, half jealousy. What a find!

See more images here.

Sébastien Girard: Nothing But Home

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 20, 2010

Those following Little Brown Miscellanea know that I recently acquired Sébastien Girard’s book, Nothing But Home. There has been a lot of buzz about this book lately. Markus Schaden listed it in his Top Ten list. And Jeffrey Ladd recently wrote an enthusiastic review. I too was really taken with this book. It reminds me of another recent favorite, Michel Campeau’s Darkroom. Just as Campeau explored the cramped jerry-rigging of darkrooms with the eye of a longtime user, Girard photographs his home renovation with the homeowner’s mix of affection/exasperation.

The remarkable thing about Girard’s book is that it is, in fact, homemade. Self-published by Girard and printed in his hometown of Toulouse, the production value is exceptionally high. But with an edition of only 500 (and a special edition of 100 with print and red cover), this book retains a true homespun spirit.

More info about the book here.

Birthday Book, part 4 (Slot Catalogue)

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 11, 2010

I recently described the making of my Las Vegas Birthday Book (and sculpture). Soon after I traded it away to the rare book dealer, Harper Levine. My timing was excellent as Harper was just beginning his Annual Book Sale (ends this Thursday, January 14th).

For poetic reasons, the key book I acquired was a 1940’s trade catalogue by a slot machine manufacturer. What I like about the book is the way the machine workers look like weary gamblers while the company owners resemble casino fat cats.

I left Vegas feeling like one of those tired machinists. But back home with new books, I’m starting to feel like Steve Wynn.

More images of the casino book here.

Birthday Book, part 3 (Bedrock City)

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 11, 2010

Lost all your money in Vegas? You can pick up Todd Oldham’s Bedrock City used on Amazon like I did for $6.80. Located somewhere between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City will appeal to fans of caveman architecture (Lester?). Real architecture fans might like it too – Michael Graves contributes an essay. Is it a great book? Nope. The photography is forgettable. But the design is really cool. The dust jacket folds out into a poster and the book comes with three postcards.

There are three other book in the series that Oldham calls a ‘magazine monograph.’ See them here.

Birthday Book, part 2 (Las Vegas Studio)

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on January 11, 2010

Last week I made a video about my birthday trip to Las Vegas and my failure to acquire the book Horsemeat, by Charles Bukowski and Michael Montfort. As a consolation, I recently acquired the book Las Vegas Studio, Images from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. (Thanks to 5b4 for bringing it to my attention in this review).

What makes the book work is the washed-out blankness of the pictures combined with a spare and sophisticated layout.

So less is more, right (Lester)? Ironically, it was Venturi who said that “Less is a Bore.”

Instax Reviews

Posted in Instax Reviews, Photobooks (general) by ethan on December 31, 2009

Book of the Year: ‘Riley & His Story’ by Monica Haller

Posted in Photobooks (general), Videos by Alec Soth on December 28, 2009

Soon after posting my Top 10 list, I learned about Monica Haller’s book, Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us.’ Published in November by Onestar press/Fälth & Hässler, the book consists of hundreds of photographs by Riley Sharbonno, an army nurse who served at Abu Ghraib prison from 2004-2005. But it’s Monica Haller’s stunning methodology for organizing these images that makes this the book of the year.

→With only a thousand copies in print (and most of them in Europe), I’d recommend purchasing this pronto before it sells out.

Since Monica happens to live in Minnesota, I quickly contacted her. She graciously agreed to an impromptu interview in my bunker library.

To see this video a little bit larger, go to the LBM A/V page.
For more information about Riley and His Story, go here.

Alec Soth’s Top 10 Photobooks of 2009

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on December 21, 2009

You and Me and the Art of Give and Take
by Allen Ruppersberg (Santa Monica Museum of Art)
Holy information overload. One of the coolest exhibition catalogues I’ve ever seen.

Greater Atlanta
by Mark Steinmetz (Nazraeli)
Steinmetz goes 3 for 3. Now I just wish Nazraeli would make a nice box to protect those sensitive white covers.

l by Raimond Wouda (Nazraeli)
A Technicolor teenage riot.

The * As Error
by Shannon Ebner and Dexter Sinister (LA County Museum)
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry
by Leanne Shapton (FSG)
Categorized as ‘Fiction/Graphic Novel’ by the publisher, this little book seems to have missed the photo universe entirely. But with hundreds of images by Jason Fulford and Michael Schmelling (who has his own entry on this list), this book should be categorized under ‘Narrative Photography.’

…all the days and nights by Doug Dubois (Aperture)
‘Narrative Photography’ at its finest.

The Plan
by Michael Schmelling (J&L)
If your home is getting cluttered, this book could change your life. But what if your home is getting cluttered with photo books?

Summer Nights, Walking
by Robert Adams (Aperture)
I used to be embarrassed that the 1985 edition was one of my favorite photobooks. The book was almost too sweet and the cover was an 80’s design nightmare. But there is nothing embarrassing about this reprint. Along with the incredible printing and understated cover, Adams has added some tougher pictures to the mix. Breathtaking.

Open See
by Jim Goldberg (Steidl)
Complex Goldbergian discourse on the subject of dislocation.

Protest Photographs
by Chauncey Hare (Steidl)
I haven’t had time to wrap my head around this tome, but it only takes a quick glance to know that this book is a killer.

→Looking for copies of these books? Visit the Photobook Link Page.

Link Bonanza

Posted in Photobooks (general) by LBM on December 20, 2009

A massive list of photobook & zine publishers and stores here.

Oh, and the usual blog roundup here.

Larry Sultan, Pictures From Home

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on December 16, 2009

Like so many others, I was heartbroken to learn of the death of Larry Sultan. (Read obits here, here, here, here). I met Larry in 2004. He and I were showing concurrently at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery.  I was totally green and nervous as hell to be meeting one of my photographic heroes. But Larry didn’t disappoint. He was gentle, generous and real.

I ran into Larry a couple of other times over the years. In Munich we were in a group show together. We cracked jokes during a long press conference in which neither of us understood a word being said. We also talked about photography. Larry was incredibly smart about the medium. I’ve always said that there is nobody whom I’d rather have had the chance to study under.

In the wake of his passing I reread Pictures From Home. Unbelievable. Has there ever been a photographer who writes better than Sultan? I’m certain that nobody has done a better job combining text and pictures. In this regard, Pictures From Home is the absolute zenith.  Plainspoken, smart and brutally honest, it is a masterpiece of narrative photography.

A spread in Chapter Five shows this picture of Sultan’s father:

This is the text:

“I’m married and have two kids, own a house, shop in the malls, read the business section of the newspaper, take my shirts to the laundry, catch myself continually calculating my savings, and worry about dying from various terminal illnesses. Was it that different when he was forty-four? Did he feel the same intensity of doubt and confusion as I do? Was he haunted by all of the things he was unable to be?”

At the end of Chapter Six we get his father’s take on the picture:

“I don’t mean to sound so critical. I’m just trying to understand what you see in certain pictures. Like that one you took last time you were here. I can’t figure out why you asked me to dress up in a suit, write on a piece of backdrop paper as though I was giving lecture and then photograph me standing there with a pen in my hand looking confused, like I didn’t know what I was talking about? I didn’t even spell that word correctly: “it’s empathize,” not “empathy,” a verb rather than a noun.

And then Larry goes on to transcribe his conversation with his father about the picture.

Larry Sultan: That’s what I like about the picture. I thought that the error is an important detail, one that reveals a basic human quality. Do you think it diminishes you, makes you seem foolish?

Irving Sultan: I wouldn’t go that far. But that’s not the way I would have set it up. My image of someone giving a lecture is to have them project confidence and knowledge. In your picture, I look frightened by the very point I’m trying to make.

Larry Sultan: Exactly. That particular picture was inspired by the Dale Carnegie course, and by all the lectures you gave me when I was a kid. I can’t name it, but some emotion has seeped into the self that you wanted to project and caused a disturbance. I didn’t notice it when I was taking the picture, but when I saw the print, I was reminded of something you once told me, that your success and efforts have been primarily motivated by fear. Maybe there’s a little of that in the photograph. It’s like a tear in the image that shows both who you think you should be and who you are.

I was twenty-two when Pictures From Home was published. Now I’m forty (and have two kids, own a house and shop at the mall). Time marches on. Thinking about all of this and thinking about Larry, I look at the one picture I have of him. It is from Mike Mandel’s series of photographer baseball cards. Here’s Larry looking like an angel at age 29 (note the back of his card, which hauntingly echoes his father’s comments about fear):

The thing about Pictures From Home is that it is fearless. Or more accurately, Sultan faces his fears with fearlessness. From what I’ve heard, he faced his death with a similar spirit. He also left with a beautiful piece of writing. In a letter to friends, he wrote:

“After hellish days and nights in hospitals, I have chosen not to be medicalized, but, instead, be here at home. Here in this house with my family, full of sleeping kids and wrestling dogs, and French toast cooking while next door in my studio, Dru is laying out a box of prints to edit. This is where I want to be. I realize whatever grace I’m ultimately leaving with is directly linked to my deep understanding that I have led a charmed life. So many charms, and the more there are, the easier it is to let go – at least today while I write this.”

The Future of the Photobook

Posted in Photobooks (general) by Alec Soth on December 13, 2009

Miki Johnson has initiated a crowd sourced blog post over at LiveBooks. The topic of the discussion is the future of photobooks. Coincidentally, I’ve just launched the blog for my little DIY publishing venture, Little Brown Mushroom. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately, so I figure I might as well throw in my two cents.

What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years?

While most print media is dying, the photobook is going through a renaissance. I can only hope the vibrancy and appreciation of this medium will increase. If we’re lucky, maybe by 2020 The New York Times Book Review will give photobooks the same attention they give, say, graphic novels.

Will they be digital or physical?

They’ll be physical in my house. But then I’m getting old.

Open-source or proprietary?

Um, really old.

Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone?

I suppose, whatever. But there will also be physical books. All I care about is physical books. When I’m not making them, I’m buying them. I have zero interest in making or buying a digital book. That said, I am truly excited about the potential of new media for photographers. I’m currently experimenting with online audio slideshows and the like. But I see this as a new medium, not a book. For me, a book is a physical object.

And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?

Part of the photobook renaissance has to do with the increased ease of DIY printing and distribution. Just as musicians no longer require professional studios to cut an album, photographers have the ability to make their own books. Lately I’ve been dipping my toes in these waters. One of the things I’ve learned is that the options are really vast. New technology will only offer more options. But I should be clear that this doesn’t make publishers obsolete. Gerhard Steidl has devoted his life to learning the craft of bookmaking. I’ll never compete with that.