Shirana Shahbazi: Accept the Expected
Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneve and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, 2005
A combination of brains and beauty, thanks to its Swiss designers, Shirana Shahbazi’s Accept the Expected is both an excellent exhibition catalogue and impeccable piece of merchandise. Published in 2005 for her exhibition at Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneve, the hardcover publication includes a number of parallel texts categorised under the simple subjects of still life, portrait and landscape. I was drawn to the indexical quality of Shahbazi’s photography, represented in the book as ‘figures’ illustrating the essays and seemingly non-art. The work and the layout of the book reminded me of John Berger’s 1972 Ways of Seeing, as the images can also be read as diagrams or stock photography.
Bede Morris, Images: Illusion and Reality
Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 1986
Published to accompany the art-science photographic exhibition, Images; Illusion and Reality, this book contains a refreshingly francocentric array of rare historical photographs, mainly from the collection of the Société Française de Photographie.
The photographs affirm the extraordinary contributions made by the medium’s pioneers not only to its technologies but also its aesthetics. Fusing discovery with artistic inspiration, these early researchers pursued open-ended questions of a kind unlikely to pass science’s current peer-review processes.
Hand of a Banker 1860 by Nadar and Bunch of Grapes 1844 by Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (who conceived the marvellous pendulum in the Panthéon, Paris) are personal favourites.
YF: My favourite book this year. Protest Photographs by Chauncey Hare. Have you got it? Rough looking photos. Brilliant compositions. So sad.
PG: Got it a few weeks ago and love the opening statement! When we catch up for dinner at yr place? H and L. R, me and G! Moomba!
YF: Another favourite. Jacob Holdt. United States. 1970–1975. His web site is crazy. http://www.american-pictures.com/english/jacob/index.html
YF: Holdts book is good. What is happening with yr book Yanni? And can you name your top ten photographic books?
PG: what thee be doing Paris, Yanni T’morrow?
PG: Jacob Holdt’s web site is very strange indeed! What are you up to?
YF: Thinking. Have been asked by the editor of FLASH to write about my favourite photo book. ??? What is your fav?
PG: Solitude of Ravens, Fukase; Learning to Dance, JH Engstrom; Tulsa, Larry Clark; Bye Bye Photography, Daido Moriyama; In Flagrante, Chris Killip; Dogs Chasing My Car In The Desert, John Divola; The Ballard Of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin and of course The Americans, Robert Frank…
PG: Oh and add – Outlands, Roger Ballens; In the American West, Richard Avendon; Ray’s A Laugh, Richard Billingham…
PG: Add Immediate Family, Sally Mann and Portraits, Diane Arbus
YF: Nice choices. I might respond with the books I wish existed. The complete photographs of Lewis Carroll (including the missing albums). The Bunker. Photographs by Eva Braun of the last days of the Third Reich. She was after all a photographer’s assistant.
PG: Perhaps LC’s photographic illustration of Alice with Alice Liddle? I’m dreading Tim Burtons version. Have u seen Sarah Moons Little Red Ridinghood photo book? The Eva Braun idea is a brilliant fantasy book unless they look like Leni R’s. What would they look like?
YF: Frauline Braun was by all accounts a narcissistic dullard so I expect the photos would be in line with that. Lighting would be crude. Flash maybe with heavy shadows. I expect she would hide from or be oblivious to the horror of the situation. Photos of her birthday party, dancing etc would be chilling. The Nazi elite party goers posing in front of the camera in that context is an horrific thought. Anyway on a lighter note, I could go with the family album but maybe that’s too easy and not that interesting to others? I’m thinking of that Wallace Berman book. Apart from the fact he died about when I started to take photos, that book was a huge boost for me when putting “self-conscious” together. Big thanks to RS for putting me onto that one.
PG: Here’s a book I own and you fantasise about at one of my favourite book dealers:
YF: I have it now too – maybe my Fav now?
Edward Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip
Los Angeles, 1966
This book is significant for me as I project personal nostalgia onto it, having had the opportunity to live in Los Angeles for a couple of years. Apart from this I find it a playful work that carries telltale signs of conceptual art.
Ruscha drove his pick-up truck down a small section of the 24 mile long boulevard with a motorized camera on the tray. Eventually assembling the images, with the use of inexpensive offset printing and standard paper, to create an artist book that was intended for commercial distribution.
Academic & Writer
James Agee/Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Houghton Mifflin, 1941
One among many photography books that I endlessly admire is the Walker Evans/James Agee collaboration Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 1941. Ostensibly an exposé of poverty in the rural South of Depression-era USA, but actually a crazy experiment in the genre of realism and the relationship between image and text, this book (which started life as a rejected magazine article), divided critics then as much as now, nearly seventy years after its original publication. Specifically, Agee’s writing is variously described as ‘a deeply felt examination of what it means to suffer” and ‘overheated, confessional and patronizing’. But every time I look at Evans’ unassuming photographs, positioned uncaptioned up the front, some overlooked detail or logic emerges. And while the text may be ‘overlong and indulgent’, it’s precisely this flaw that makes it so fascinating. In the end, Agee’s relentlessly self-conscious and descriptive prose offers a fascinating contrast to Evans’ cool and mute photographs – and the whole thing becomes an object-lesson in the myth of ‘photographic objectivity’.
Image: Cover of my 1960 edition
Nacio Jan Brown, Rag Theatre: The 2004 Block of Telegraph Avenue 1969-1973
Grey Star Press, Berkeley, CA, 1975
One of my favourite photography books is Nacio Jan Brown’s Rag Theatre: The 2004 Block of Telegraph Avenue 1969-1973. It was published by Grey Star Press Berkeley in 1975. Nacio photographed major anti war and protest movement activities in the San Francisco Bay area from the mid 1960s. Although his photographs have been published in books, magazines and the underground press this is his only book. This book covers the same subject as Richard Misrach acclaimed Telegraph 3A.M.; the street people of Telegraph St at a time when the protest movement was dying and the junkies, runaways and Jesus freaks were taking over. I like the way his photographs capture the people and chaos of the street in a natural and causal way.
Edward Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
I came across this book by chance, many years ago when I worked for my Dad at Sainsbury’s Books. I was unpacking a pallet of books from America, a huge ‘pot luck’ box with hundreds of art and photography books inside. About half way through I saw the silver slipcase of this modest little book and thought it can’t be. But it was – all 27 feet of it – the book I had heard so much about but never seen, Every Building on the Sunset Strip.Tags: Daniel Palmer, Eve Sainsbury, Issue 4, John Sainsbury, Rebecca Ann Hobbs, Rebecca Chew, Susan Fereday, Yanni Florence