Notable Books 2018

  By John Veldhoen

 

When I have written a list of the notable books that have come to us at The Camera Store, some part of me is always tempted to make a splenetic declaration, a remonstrance against simplifying, and paring down, and uncomplicating what to me is nuanced beyond measure. So, no list form, more than ten books, internet unfriendly, but, if you come by and see me, I promise to smile broadly, and share whatever I know with you, and help you find the perfect book for Christmas, or for whatever other reason you may be looking for a book of photographs.

Right at the start, I want to mention a book included for purely selfish reasons, Manuel De Landa’s “Ism Ism” (J&L Books/Anthology Film Archives) contains frames from film works made in the 1980’s of De Landa’s graffiti works in New York City. De Landa went on to academia, writing an influential book on epistemology, and history. Lately, my own photographs and share-fest on Instagram and Twitter have verged towards documentation of graffiti. I like to photograph small graffito, bordering on nonsense, markings less than writings, avoiding bigger, more professional looking murals, eschewing scale in favour of slight, furtive, vandalizing deformities scratched on the surface of the city. To me, these types of marks are reminiscent of the forms of graffiti that Brassai photographed, sometimes like cave drawings, through a more or less ethnographic lens. Similarly, photography taken out of the studio has always appealed to me. Ed Templeton’s “Tangentially Paranthetical” (Um Yeah Arts) is made of a lot of straight-up street photography, which is why I like it so much. Even because I think man is a spirit, and know that I am not the “right” audience for this book, I love it. I feel like a visual, nonjudgmental (for lack of a better word, objective) view of the passing scene of civic life is invaluable. Templeton’s work is totally gross, and occasionally poignant (or both?) Thinking of a photo of a girl holding the hair back for her vomiting girlfriend… Templeton’s pictures of teenage smoking does the same thing, he wants to establish that there is nothing vulgar; there is just chubby kids sharing a turkey drumstick. I have a deep affection for this book, you have to see it.

2018 has been a year of backwards looking, and historicism, for me. In the spring and summer reading classics/communications/economics from Canada in the 1950s, and reading Loeb editions. In the late summer and fall I slipped into this present-mindedness, as I picked up my own camera to photograph again, but at the same time, a series of books appeared at the store, that I would also have to classify as being historical, or books inheriting the traditions of classification. I wrote about William Wylie’s “Pompei Archive” (Yale), Ellie Ga’s “Square Octagon Circle” (Siglio Press) and Matthew Craven’s “Primer” (Anthology Editions). As I wrote earlier this year, Robert Gardner’s “Still Points” falls close to this ambit, though I think it is different from what classicism, or classification, interlines. In Vancouver many years ago, I saw a passionate, intelligent exhibition sharing a title from a film by Edmund Snow Carpenter and Harald Prins, which I only discovered very recently (both the exhibition and the film are entitled “Oh What a Blow that Phantom Gave Me!”). The approach visual ethnography provides is richer for documentary practice, or at least compared to the motives present in fine-art photography today (ie. f-ing around with shapes and colour, being coy with fashion, formalism using high ISO colour film and overexposing everything by a stop of light). Take my word for it out there art student of the future: Be curious about everything, don’t worry about the camera, take interesting pictures by being interested. Listen. Read old books.

Quite a surprise to me also this year was “Tao Canyon” (RMB) by Pat Morrow, Jeremy Schmidt, and Art Twomey. Not sure at all how to classify it, I worked an event for the book and saw that the aesthetic intentions were literally sublime. Waiting for several months, I recently received a copy of Robert Desjarlais’ “The Blind Man: A Phantasmography” (Fordham University Press) that I promptly bought. It is a work of great interest and complexity, analogies spring to mind: it is a little like a novel by W.G. Sebald, or a movie by Agnes Varda? Whenever I see examples of work like this, I think of how more books should combine photography and writing this way, and how near-documentary form, and the book, go hand-in-hand so perfectly. This book called to mind the figure of the blind-man Bartimaeus in the New Testament to me within two pages, which feels transcendent.

I am fairly convinced that modern photography has had a larger effect on literature than the other way around, besides those photographers who read a lot. This year we also have Rodney Graham’s “Lightboxes” (Kehrer Verlag/Museum Frieder Burda). It feels like Jeff Wall aping Cindy Sherman, all the while cleverly meditating on personae. One of those photographers who has obviously read a great deal, I first saw Graham’s work in a NY gallery years ago, in a well-curated group show themed around MTV’s “Jackass”, and ever since I have loved his work. I wrote about Joshua Lutz’ book “Mind the Gap” (Schlit) which is motivated by internal states, and interrogation of states-of-mind, that it is more subjective, but I don’t think the result Lutz achieved is that dissimilar from the outcomes of the bodies of work above. There was a marvelous collection this year called “Photo RX” (Damiani) that I was tempted to write about under the heading pharmakon… It is a book of pictures of pharmacies, which is funny enough that is where people also used to go to get cameras, prints, film developed, and etc. Photography is a mental health exercise, for sure, but I don’t think it is just making photos that is helpful. Viewing them has some healing potential too, but famously there is a catch: “En Grèce Ancienne, le Terme de pharmakon désigne à la fois le remède, le poison, et le bouc-émissaire.” Photographs are remedy, poison, and scapegoat, all at the same time. Photography can be a transitional object (a comfort object). It can be an aid to memory, or a succor to an anxious child, at the same time. Adam Pape’s powerful and terrifying book “Dyckman Haze” looks like the infernal magnification of the other side of a cure. As does Trevor Paglen’s “Sites Unseen” (GILES). Paglan visualizes a less openly acknowledged aspect of American life, at least, the co-dependence of violence and secrecy. Again, the photograph is as a kind of cure. If I wanted to see healthy pictures, Santle Sory’s joyousVolta Photo” (STEIDL/Art Institute of Chicago) would be my pound of cure. Tender, enthusiastic, a visual analogue to music. I’ll connect it to “Shomei Tomatsu” (Editions RM), which is a masterwork of changing intensities. A lot of photographers find a style that works or brings them success, and then they wring it to death. Tomatsu’s fearless style-changing is tantamount to the constantly changing rhythm and visual styles of life itself.

As Fred Stenson notes in his introduction to George Webber’s long-term project “Alberta Book”, George Webber is a listener, and a storyteller. Each individual photograph is always a metaphor, together working a little like a sentence in a long sequence. Narrative time and the time of discourse seem to whisper to each other, durations elapse and the familiar seems strange and new again. A photo of a campaign sign for politician Don Getty seems utterly immemorial to me looking at these pictures, a picture from the last century looks as distant and ancient to me as the bust of a Roman Senator. Sometimes I wonder if the comparisons to novels are more appropriate for someone like Webber. Looking at this book I am overwhelmed by his concentration on the subject of Alberta. The traces of places, the small, seemingly unremarkable structures of small towns on the evidently not barren prairie become verdant, entwined expressions of hope, resilience, and edgenuity. Rosemary Griebel’s exquisite introductory poem does what good poems do, it creates a clearing in the thrush of relations and meanings, revelatorily exposing how “a graveyard documents a library of lives”. Place-names, signs, buildings, all the small, seemingly trivial details are evidence of how, glossing the philosopher Wittgenstein, the limits of language mean the limits of our world.

“Cypher” by Alvin Parangit was self-published this year as part of an exhibition of the same work. Images of break dancers, one photographer who also has a copy made the comparison to William Klein’s photos, and used the phrase “manic energy” to describe the pictures in this book. Captured using many of the same techniques that Parangit uses on the street as a prolific and accomplished street photographer. Some of these pictures that show so much movement as a result of a slow shutter, or some artifact compromising what would appear like eyesite, are interesting because they don’t follow the path of least resistance. What did Bresson say? Sharp photos are bourgeois? Maybe. My favorite image is a sharp one, taken of a set of broad shoulders clothed in a sweatshirt that says “Onto Logic”. I love this book as a means of access to a world that I didn’t know existed, that is still part of the world. I am looking forward to getting a few of these to sell from the shop, hopefully sometime in the new year.    

I was speaking to a local gallerist about how, as I get older, when I am looking at photographs (something I have been given the task to do with a lot of my life), I am getting to become a little bit less open to concepts in art, and enured to my idea of the beautiful… Alex Prager’s cine-tableaux in “Silver Lake Drive” (Chronicle) are less beautiful to me than the colour photos of Hannah Starkey’s “Photographs 1997-2017” (MACK), but both groups of work are delightful. Individual images in Vanessa Winship’s life-work “And Time Folds” (MACK) are of incomparable beauty. As well, her book “Sweet Nothings”, reprinted here in part, is possibly the most beautiful set of pictures that I have ever seen in my life. Garry Winogrand offered once with the title of a book that “women are beautiful”. I think it is the cupula, the word “are”, linking gender to some state of sublimity… coming from a man who took pictures of women… it is not dishonest, but it is short of what women are. But who am I to summarize that? “Sweet Nothings” is subtractive, minimal, apophatic. Winship’s tender gaze reflects back to reveal everything about being a girl that I cannot know, but have longed to understand as the beauty of simplicity, grace, and what Winship has called “their closeness to one another”. The truly superb “Marie Goslich” (Kettler Verlag) displays pictures Goslich made through the turn of the last, last century of ordinary scenes of German life for daily newspapers. Her education, and publishing in magazines like Bote für die christliche Frauenwelt were indicative of a shift in Protestant theories of education towards a sort of nascent Feminism, the introduction explains. Now degraded from the passage of time, the images remind me of those beautiful stills taken from movies like Decasia, or Lyrical Nitrate. It is exceedingly sad that NY-based, Dutch-born photographer Jacqueline Hassink passed away this year, she made a wide and varied body of work, and recently we received her newest work, “Unwired”. That book has to do with places in the world that are non-networked, places free from the internet, deserts of the virtual that appeal to me deeply, despite the irony of writing this on the internet. Maya Rochat’s “A Rock is a River” (SPBH Editions) was the most pleasurable book to behold as a book this year, and seems somehow very wild to me, and exciting. I bought a copy of “3D: Double Vision”. It comes with different 3D glasses, and I would say has the highest level of cool factor on this list. Britt Salvesen is a prolific and engaged contemporary photographic curator, I own a few books of shows curated by her for the LACMA museum, and the store has sold a few others, as well.

One of my clients, as I finish writing this, bought Ruth Kaplan’s “Bathers” from me, a great photographer herself, she had Kaplan as a teacher at Ryerson. I would have forgotten about it! I got it six months ago, and I feel like I have been living with the images for longer, a cure for the dysmorphic blues we seem to have here in North America, especially. It a beautiful book, and maybe the first book I have seen in a long while that would inspire me to go see Kaplan’s printing, from what my eye can see from the reproductions, my bet is that they are extraordinary, I love all their tones (I use the possessive form of they on purpose, these pictures are challenging, I can’t separate these photographs from the persons depicted as subjects as easily as with many other photographs). Emblemizing empathy as the body, sharing with the viewer a deeper sense of what is meant by personal.

 

John Veldhoen

John Veldhoen

In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.