Bob Mosher’s top 10 Photo Books

The following list of reviews is reproduced from the “Grain Newsletter” by permission from photographer Bob Mosher. “Grain” is “an alternative newsletter for traditional photography” that Mosher has created. At the Grain site you can also view portfolios of photography by Mosher. Book Beat stocks (or can order) all the titles on the list and I’ve included links if they have been currently entered online. Here now is Bob Mosher’s annual top ten holiday photography book list:

This years crop of photography books and (films) does not disappoint with some steadfast older photographers’ plus a few new and unusual titles to choose from, here is a handful for your consideration. ….read on good friends, happy holidays. –-Bob Mosher
1. The Americans by Robert Frank
2. The Complete Film Works by Robert Frank
3. RFK by Paul Fusco
4. Unknown Halsman by Oliver Halsman Rosenberg
5. Life-Time by Jock Sturges
6. Land 250 by Patti Smith
7. A Certain Alchemy by Keith Carter
8. Somewhere There’s Music by Larry Fink
9. Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric-The Lost Manuscripts by Barry Feinstein & Bob Dylan
10. Frezno by Tony Stamolis
 

The Americans
The Americans (Hardcover)The marketing banner wrapping the cover says it all, “Few books in the history of photography have had as powerful an impact as The Americans”.  Yes, The Americans is 50 years old and many – (most) photographers own it and many have learned how to see photographically and use it as a point of inspiration for their work.  Stiedl, the publisher has reproduced the original Grove,
Aperture versions at least as good with heavy weight paper and fuller toned reproductions. Frank personally supervised the printing of this book, so here you have the opportunity to purchase the output that the photographer placed his stamp on.  If you have anyone in your circle of influence that is seriously interested in or becoming a photographer, this book is a must.  The reason the book hit the American public as idiosyncratic and even un-American at the time in 1957 was we were still in the aftermath of WWII America with McCarthyism and the cold war as realities.  Most people grew up with Life, Look and Saturday Evening Post magazine brand of
visual vocabulary as opposed to Frank’s casual but steel edged ironic images of America.

The Complete Films of Robert Frank 
Frank’s output of nine + films since 1959, when he and Alfred Leslie produced ‘Pull My Daisy’, is not as well known as his still photography.  But the films have a real following among indie-film afficianados.  Pull My Daisy’, started Frank’s path of making nine films in 15 a year span from 1959 to 1975. Pull My Daisy’, 28 min., Vol. I dialogue and narration over by Jack Kerouac with the beats, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Peter Orlovsky, Alice Neel and Pablo, Frank’s young son.  A hillairous story of a railroad
brakeman and wife (Neel) who invite a clergyman over for dinner and the beats crash the party and the fun continues.  This is a masterful mix of seemingly camera verde and improvisational dialogue until Leslie revealed in 1968 that the whole film was carefully planned and executed by he and Frank.  Editor’s note, After seeing Pull My Daisy’, at least 10 times, it is one of Frank’s best films.  While a graduate student at the Institute of Design,Chicago,  Aaron Siskind invited Frank to visit in 1970 and show several films to us as a private viewing and give his thoughts on film and photography in general.  I have been a street photographer and a Frank fan ever since.           

‘The Sin of Jesus’, 37 min.Vol. I. produced in 1961. About a woman working at a chicken plucking factory and her listless husband.  An off the wall subject but it must be remembered that Frank is first and formost a still photographer and not that comfortable with spoken or written words but must be viewed as part of his ouervre.
‘Me and My Brother’, 85 min. Vol. I b&w & color with music, feature length film, a rich story
of a man who is trying to help his catatonic brother in a plot that twists and turns.  This is a film
that must be seen more than once to fully appreciate.
‘Ok End Here’ 32 min. Vol. II 1963, Frank’s first attempt at a different format and approach, seen as a work in progress type films and interestingly he did not make another until 1969. ‘Conversations in Vermont’, 32 min. Vol. II 1969 b&w a film with Robert and his daughter and son, Pablo.  The pain comes through loud and clear regarding some miss steps that many of us experience in marriage and child rearing.  By this time, Frank had divorced Mary and   Frank does not sugar coat anything, you really feel his angst in this film as he endeavors to come to grips with his situation.
‘Liferaft Earth’, 37 min. Vol. II 1969 b&w a film championed by Stewart Brand, the founder of the ‘Whole Earth Catalog’, a late 60’s to mid 80’s.  It was a compendium of ecological discussions in the form of articles, books and energy saving hardware of the time.  Brand
retained Robert to make the film of 100 people who enclosed themselves in a plastic enclosure for a week long starve in to heighten awareness of our dying planet.  Sound familiar?  Maybe we should get Al Gore to speak with Mr. Brands’ heirs to do another similar film considering ‘Liferaft Earth’ was made almost 40 years ago.
‘About Me: A Musical’, 30 min. Vol III. 1971 Autobiographical, portrayed through a young woman who as Frank, is placed in sketches that depict Franks’ life. ‘S-8 Stones Footage from Exile on Main St.’8 Min. Vol III. 1971.  As it turns out,1971 was a very prolific year for Frank, (Editor’s note: I spent a week at a workshop with Robert in June, 1971 and he had just returned from touring with the Rolling Stones and had left them abruptly because as he said, “—to not know what city you are in along with the other degrading stuff
going on, was over the top”, to him, so he left them early.).  The Stones successfully blocked Frank from using the 1972 film, ‘Cocksucker Blues’.  However, bootleg copies exist and Frank is allowed to show the film no more than 5 times per year to audiences and only if he was present.  The Exile on Main Street film was made as a promotion for the Stones album, of the same name.  The album cover, by Robert Frank, is worth obtaining for the pictures alone but the music is from the Stones most prolific and arguably, their best from ’68 to ’72 period.  Even though, Mick Jagger liked, Cocksucker Blues and said, “It’s a fucking good film, Robert, but if it
shows in America we’ll never be allowed in the country again”.  A court order has prevented its wide spread viewing, ever since.
‘Keep Busy’, 44 min. Vol. III, 1975.  “I am filming the outside in order to look inside,” Robert Frank once said about this film, made in part in Frank’s home in Nova Scotia, is more light hearted than some of the others.  It is reminiscent of ‘Pull My Daisy’, in its parody of the middle class world.

Paul Fusco: RFK

Paul Fusco: RFK  Aperture, New York, 2008. 224 pp., 120 four-color illustrations., 11¾x9½”.

Fusco, a Look magazine staff photographer was given the enviable assignment of photographing the entire 1968 Robert F. Kennedy funeral from New York to Washington DC.  This is a tour de force of what the books marketing calls, documentary photography.  I prefer just, photography on thehighest level, it reminds one of Walker Evans ‘Subway Photos’ of the 1940’s, in its unvarnished starkness and simplicity.  The thousands of people of all ages and nationalities, mostly standing, some saluting and all exhibit the decorum that is displayed in a funeral home of a deceased loved one.  The book is interspersed with RFK’s quotes like this one, “What we need in the US is not division; what we need in the US is not hatred; is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another”.  Fusco in a recent interview of what he saw when the train slowly moved out from Penn station to make its way to Washington DC,on June 8th.  Fusco was not prepared for the breathtaking spectacle that occurred on that day he was rather thinking about the funeral the next day at Arlington cemetery and was stunned and overwhelmed by the people at the side of the train tracks in silent vigilance.  He opened the train car window and photographed the people all day and is sharing 120 photographs in this publication.  Also, there are 70 never before published photographs, that were not in Fusco’s earlier out of print book, RFK Funeral Train, published in 2000.This book is highly recommended.

Unknown Halsman

One of the of the most striking things of this book is its bright yellow cover with a self portrait of Halsman under a dark cloth,
taken with Halsman’s own large format twin lens camera designed and built by him in 1936. Book design and edited with
the  forward written by grandson, Oliver Halsman Rosenberg.  Halsman, one of the twentieth centuries premier portrait
photographers is well known for his many photographs of artists, celebrities and famous persons’ of the 40’s through the 70’s.
Who can forget the great ‘Dali in space photographs’.  The Dali photographs are not highlighted in this book but grandson Halsman gives us a view of Halsman that we may not have considered before as a witty photographer and inventor of cameras.  Halsman was a former engineering student before he became a photogapher .  There are outtakes from his magazine work and contact sheets, showing a glimpse of how Halsman worked as a photographer.  The book is like a well put together family album that in part gives its appeal.
This book is a must if you are a Halsman fan.  Halsman is a guy that has been around forever and is in all of the photo history books but still deserves a look by some doubting folks.


Life Time, photographs by Jock Surges,
  Steidl  192 pp., 134 color illustrations., 12½x14″
It is noticed that most of the distributors for this book are currently out of stock, not surprising given the subject matter that this book is chock full of, nubile young nude girls and women with a few stoic young guy’s thrown in.  I am being facetious I must confess and
really, Mr. Struges has earned his reputation as a serious artist in (b&w), now color photographs of the female form.  For Sturges devotees this book will not disappoint with 134 color plates of the most scrumptious color photographs ever assembled in book format.
Really, as a coffee table book this book is destined to become, it will not embarrass anyone’s mother-in-law when she comes to visit.  The photos are more frontal showing full genitalia but not sexually suggestive in the least. As a matter of fact, it is noticed Sturges goes to considerable trouble to have some of the youngsters shown with skinned up knees and elbows, now there is wholesomeness for you.  Jock, in a statement at the end of the book regarding ‘why are the models nude’, he emphasizes his long standing trust, friendship and
involvement with the families  perhaps, avoiding any potential issues with American book censors.  But frankly, the censors should concern themselves with the material that has no redeeming merit to it whatsoever.  Sturges lives in Seattle, WA but has to travel to France and the Netherlands to freely photograph his subjects without getting labled, or worse arrested for child molestation.
Leave this one open for your consideration.

Patti Smith: Land 250

The pictures in the book are from pieces made from 1967 to 2007 a 40 year span of work.  It is interesting to see a person who has earned their chops at one creative venue and then turn to another as in this case with Smith’s work, sometimes it works out, as with this book.   What is refreshing here is, Smith used photography to illustrate how she felt at various  times in her life, not follow a theme or subject based series of photographs.  In Patti Smith’s work, the editor is reminded of another fabulous photographer, Sally Mann and her ‘What Remains’, body of work presented at the Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington DC in ’02.  Mann’s work shown in glass plate format is haunting and mysterious also unforgettable.  Not sure Smith comes up to to this mark but the book is worth an examination.


A Certain Alchemy by Keith Carter

The book is filled with contrasts, yin and yang, for example a photogram of a bat juxtaposed  on the opposite page with a stretched out lace handkerchief.  Carter, no novice at sequencing his photographs into book format, ‘A Certain Alchemy’, is no exception.  The photographs in the book are toned, as his originals and that gives them a sumptuous quality.that matches his themes drawn from the
animal world, popular culture, folkore and religion.  Interspersed with the photograph are quotes by Carter, ie: “the photos that work the best for me are the ones grounded in grace and intelligence”  I believe this statement would fit for most photographers’ working today, as well.  Also, reminded of the 1970’s era work by Nickolas Nixon and Richard Avedon’s sequential photos of people dying day by day with incurable diseases.  Carter photographed his mother in her last year of life stricken with Alzheimer’s disease.  One can only think that these photographers’ are going through some things emotionally to show this side of their personal lives.  The pictures are not easy to look at when you know the ultimate outcome of the person being photographed but they are beautiful and tender images, just the same.  The only criticism that can be leveled at this book, is its glossy (clay-coated) paper, even though the printing quality
is high.  Of course,content and printing quality should win out over paper type, in making a decision regarding purchasing this book.

Larry Fink: Somewhere There’s Music 

Fink is a great photographer and has been photographing for decades.  Couple of Gugenhiems and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, along with a few large shows at MOMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art.  Also, he is shown heavily in European
museums.  In other words, this guy knows where to stand when he is photographing anything.  He seems to have the
beat with this book of jazz greats.  The photographs are mostly unpublished b&w photographs from the 50’s to the ‘70’s.  Many performance photos but quite a few that show the artists’ behind the scenes, practicing, jamming and hanging out in clubs.  A sequence of the late great John Coltrane, showing his saxophone, another with Coltane’s back to the camera and finally a photo of Coltane
sleeping or passed out on a couch, not one with Coltrane’s face. This book should be considered if you are a classic jazz fan but doubly so if you collect or appreciate Larry Fink’s work.
Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript text by Bob Dylan. Photographs by Barry Feinstein. 141 pages, 10”x9 1/2”.
Feinstein was a travelling buddy of Dylan’s in the mid-60’s when Feinstein drove Dylan around and hung out with him while he attended to various gigs all over the world.  Feinstein is no lackey, his photographs are just as strong as Dylan’s poems and Feinstein has a flair for juxtaposing disparate photos a melding of photographs and poetry.  With the photographs depicting the tackiness of mid-sixties
Hollywood and Dylan’s words, this is a fun book.  The collaboration between Dylan and Feinstein was just recently unearthed by Dylan and contains 23 poems and many photographs by Feinstein showing a decidedly unglamorous side of Hollywood, with over the hill stars like bloated Jayne Mansfield, a gaunt like Judy Garland and Bette Davis with tons of make up on and many others.  Bob Dylan is a great artist and he immediately resonated with Feinstein;s photographs of the Hollywood world before committing it to his poetry.  In this way, it is much like Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank’s ‘Pull My Daisy’, 1959 independent film of narration and visuals.  It must
also be noted that Barry Feinstein went on to be a photographer of 60’s and 70’s rock and roll legends for many magazines.
Even though, ‘Hollywood-Foto-Rhetoric’is not printed well, it is highly recommended for your consideration.

Frezno by Tony Stamolis

Tony Stamolis is a 38 year old contemporary NYC photographer returned to Fresno to spend time with his ailing mother a few years ago.  In coming back to Fresno, Stamolis realized that everything had changed, now the scene to him was a visual goldmine just waiting for coherency.  Although, photographer returned to Fresno to spend time with his ailing mother a few years ago.  In coming back to Fresno, Stamolis realized that everything had changed, now the scene to him was a visual goldmine just waiting for coherency.  Although, Fresno could be anywhere in the USA that we have all seen, piled up shopping carts, posing young people of all stripes,
donuts and guns in the same shop it is all Americana.  The leitmotif is familiar in this work but Stamolis has the advantage of being from Fresno and many of the photographs feel like a personal album, as well.  The photographs are edited with care and well paced
throughout the book, the size is a bit small and the printing is not up to say a Steidl publishing house but for a first book effort, it is hoped Stamolis keeps working in this vein. Recommended for your consideration.

Other notable books:

1.Berenice Abbott 2 volume set published, 2008.  This is the definitive and beautifully reproduced book on her 60 year career in photography.  A collectors special and should not be missed.  Go to http://www.steidlville.com/books/781-Berenice-Abbott.html for more information.

2.  Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power  published 2008. Here it is, Avedon’s great portraits of the well known revered figures such as, W.H. Auden juxtaposed against Bob Dylan, poets, artists, politicians, celebrities, royalty and all public people of every stripe.
Go to http://www.steidlville.com/books/796-Richard-Avedon-Portraits-of-Power.html

3.  Richard Avedon: Performance published, 2008. 205 plates, some in color.  Another portrait book by Abrams housed in a good sized Avedon photographic treasure tome with an interesting cover fold over.

4.  Michael Subotsky: Beaufort West published 2008. by Boot publishers.  This is an eye opening book dealing with West South African struggles with apartheid with all of its complexities.  For more go to, http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/2008/newphotography/mikhael.html

5/ Kenro Izu published 2007. Nazraeli Press. The DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts) in their newly opened deSalle Gallery of Photography featured Izu’s work with many of the photographs in this book.  Not only are the photographs made from a 14 x 20 inch view camera, which is remarkable in itself but the prints are of the Platinum process, as well.  In September, this year Kenro gave a lecture at the DIA to discuss his modus operandi and sign books.  I had the pleasure of hearing him speak which was much like the work, subtle and
full of meaning.

I am not including the myriad of websites that sell ‘most’ of these books, however, the internet browser is a good source of consultation for them.  It is also suggested that we support our local book stores rather than the online outlets.

Have a healthy and peaceful holiday season.

~B

, ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *