Called “one of the most important photobooks in the history of the medium,” Ravens, by Masahisa Fukase, was initially published in i966. With small editions, this book has long been in demand. Mack Books republished this work last year, in a lovely slipcased edition.
As the publisher says:
Fukase’s haunting series of work was made between 1975 and 1986 in the aftermath of a divorce and was apparently triggered by a mournful train journey to his hometown. The coastal landscapes of Hokkaido serve as the backdrop for his profoundly dark and impressionistic photographs of ominous flocks of crows. The work has been interpreted as an ominous allegory for postwar Japan.
When we think of Paris and photography, we often think of the black and white street photography of Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, and even Erwitt. These photographers found quirky subjects, yet managed to express the quotidian elements of life in a big city.
Mark Steinmetz’s 2013 monograph Paris in My Time offers the feel of those older street photographs of Paris, yet is much more recent. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) Shot between 1985 and 2011, many of the 43 photos in this oversized book look as though they could have been taken in any post-war decade. With a wonderful sense of humor, and the ability to capture quirky moments, Steinmetz’s collection (nearly out of print) shows a Paris that is both timeless and alive.
Wim Wenders was long a fan of the Polaroid, reveling in the instantaneous nature of these photos, and their uniqueness, the fact that there was only one copy of them. He shot lots of Polaroid photos, and his foundation recently went through many boxes of old photos to organize them. This book is the result of that organization, and also serves as a catalog of an exhibit held in London at The Photographers’ Gallery. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
But you won’t buy this book for the quality of the photos; this isn’t a book of photos, but a book of stories with photos as illustrations. Wenders recounts his early film career, from the first film he was involved in, an adaptation of Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, through the 1980 film, Lightning over Water, after which he stopped shooting Polaroids.
Garry Winogrand was a well-known street photographer who from New York who died in 1984. His work was notably exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967, together with photos by Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, and these three photographers transformed photography.
In this new book (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), author Geoff Dyer selects 100 images by Winogrand and discusses them. For each one, he gives some background, relates them to other photos or films, and contextualizes them in Winogrand’s career, or in the history of photography. But his texts are not dry academic commentary; they are often wry extrapolations about what is happening in the images, inventing characters, imagining what they were doing before, during, and after the photos were shot. Dyer makes up a lot; he creates characters, some that re-appear in other photos; he creates situations; he turns these photos into little bite-sized stories.
Much of what Dyer says – about related photographers – is useful as criticism, but it’s the made-up parts that make this book so interesting. It is not intended to be factual, but rather to be one writer’s imagination of what the photos are about.
Nevertheless, his observations about composition and context are all incisive, and he clearly knows a lot about Winogrand’s work, having had access to a large number of unpublished photos (some included in this book). This is a fascinating journey through the work of a great photographer with an interesting guide who tells fascinating stories.
I’ll note that Dyer is the author of a wonderful book about one of my favorite films, Andrei Tarkovski’s Stalker. His book Zona breaks down the movie into 142 sections for each of the 142 shots in the film.
Here’s a video created by the publisher, with Dyer discussing the book, and showing some of the photos.
And here’s a podcast episode where Dyer discusses the book.
When people talk about books, they often characterize either the genre (science fiction, romance) or the feeling the author strives to impart (a thriller is, presumably, thrilling). But there are, to my knowledge, only a handful of geographically specific kinds of reads. There’s the “beach read,” a phrase we all hear often come every summer season. There’s the notoriously disposable “airplane read.” And for getaways in the woods, you’ve got the “cottage” or “cabin read.” And that’s about it.
Nearly all of these designations are pejorative. The designation of a “beach read” suggests a book that’s frothy and engrossing, but ultimately ephemeral — one that you can sink into as you slump in a folding chair in the sand, but you won’t miss too much if you forget it at the hotel. The term “airplane read” is even more of a dismissal, the idea being a book you can breeze through in the time span of an average flight, and then discard. (The one and only Mack Bolan adventure novel I’ve ever read was one I discovered in a seatback on a puddle-jumper from Toronto to Harrisburg, Pa.) The “cabin read” has a bit more prestige: It implies the kind of pleasurable literary project you lug on an isolated retreat and tackle over an uninterrupted week or two.
To my mind, this list is missing one important geographical location: the subway. Lots of people read on the go, of course; there are entire websites devoted to capturing commuters and the books they’re reading underground. As a New Yorker, I’m on the train all the time, my nose constantly buried in a book. But what makes for a perfect “subway read”?
The first time I read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past was on subways and busses in New York. There’s no need to dumb down “subway reading.”