Top Art Books of 2012: Part II

Who needs a tablet under the tree anyways — I want photo books! Here are 7 works that I read in the second half of 2012 that were an artistic inspiration. And here are more art books from the first half of the year.

Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse
I saw Richard Mosse’s book Infra when browsing the photo section of The Strand book store in New York last month. My only real association with color infrared is the classic Beefheart and Zappa album covers. Mosse has pulled off an amazing accomplishment. This book contains amazingly beautiful large format war photos from the Congo shot on expired color infrared surveillance film. Lying somewhere between photojournalism and art, Infra is hypnotizing. Hands down the must see book of the year.

William Eggleston: Chromes
While in New York, I thought I was saving money by crashing with photographer Gabriel Biderman for a couple of nights. On top of his excellent collection of photo books was a fresh copy of William Eggleston’s Chromes. The lost scrolls of contemporary color photography? Beautifully produced by Steidl, Chromes is 3 hardcover books in a case. It’s like having 3 more Eggleston’s Guides. The current $345 price tag is steep, and will only get steeper. After spending an evening with this amazing series of photos, there was no doubt that I needed a copy. Hey, $345 is about what 2 nights in a New York hotel would have cost me — so thanks, Gabe!

Bruce Davidson: Outside Inside
Did I mention that Gabe also had a copy of Steidl’s 3 volume set of Bruce Davidson photos? Over 800 images chosen by Davidson. And at $195, this set is reasonably priced compared to Chromes.
John Bartlestone: The Brooklyn Navy Yard
Also on the shelf at Mr. Biderman’s was John Bartelstone’s black and white documentary look at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York’s oldest industrial facility. If you’re interested in the history and transformation of World War II military facilities, this book is a must see. Bartelstone is an architectural photographer, and the compositions are very clean. The book shows a great feeling for the location. Highly recommended, especially if you’re interested in this type of subject matter.
In Camera: Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting
In Camera takes a deep dive into how one of the greatest painters of the 20th century used photography as an inspiration. In addition to the interesting biographical details that emerge from this look at Bacon’s process, we are treated to some insights into how images can trigger feelings and memories. I picked this book up from the returns cart at the library, and it’s a sleeper. Highly recommended, whether you’re new to Bacon’s paintings or already a fan of his work.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Camera
Less plot, more character. Hinting at something. Making you think a little bit. Very subtle comedy — this description of Toussaint’s book could very well substitute for what I’d like my photographs to do.
Chris Ware: Building Stories
Let’s just get this out of the way first — Chris Ware’s 14-piece graphic-novel-in-a-box is a wonderful but melancholy work of art. Building Stories is also a riveting story, and amazingly designed.
Viktor Pelevin: Omon Ra
What if you dreamed of entering the Soviet Space program and going to the moon. And what if you got your wish. And what if it turned out to be something very different than you expected. Life’s funny that way. If you like black humor and space travel, this is your book.

Top 10 Art Books of 2012: Part I

What follows is a list of the top 10 books that have inspired me in the first half of 2012. The list is in no particular order except for Robert Irwin interviews (#1), which is one of the most thought provoking art books I’ve read in a long time. Have you read anything outstanding this year? Feel free to add a comment or connect on goodreads.com.

  1. Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees – One of the most inspiring books about an artist that I’ve ever read. Robert Irwin has had a lifelong interest in creating art that asks questions about perception. Reading about the evolution of his work from abstract expressionism to altering space itself will change how you see the world. Highly recommended for all visual artists.
  2. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – A new translation of the classic 1972 Russian sci-fi novel that was the basis for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. A really compelling story, even if you don’t typically read sci-fi. Some key plot differences from Stalker make this a really fun read if you’ve seen the film. In the afterword, Boris Strugatsky talks about how one of the original words for the stalkers was prospectors — a great metaphor for those interested in exploring mysterious ruins.
  3. Talking Heads’ Fear of Music – Jonathan Lethem has been on a roll lately and his homage to Fear of Music is no exception. At times the album is really just a point of departure for Lethem to wax poetic about growing up in New York in the late 70′s, and the joy of finding music that speaks to you.
  4. Blue Desert – Charles Bowden has a deep understanding of the effects of development on the Southwest. Recommended reading for desert rats.
  5. Reframing the New Topographics – Don’t be put off by the seemingly academic trappings of this book of 8 essays. There is some very insightful and accessible writing here, and this book is an excellent companion to the book that accompanied the 2010 re-staging of this landmark show.
  6. Daniel Clowes: Conversations – Fifteen interviews over a 20 year period. If you’re a fan of his work, and especially if you draw, this book is a really interesting read. Clowes is sarcastic, funny, and has some great insights into the evolution of his style over time.
  7. The Pond – John Gossage’s book is considered by some to be one of the most important photo books in the post-New Topographics continuum. I find Robert Adams’ landscape work to be too subtle sometimes, but The Pond speaks to me. What a unique sense of framing, sequencing, and ultimately place.
  8. Lee Friedlander: Self Portrait – I don’t like self portraits as a genre. This book is the one exception. Friedlander expresses the pure joy and amusement of making shape, line, shadow, and reflection into a picture.
  9. First Pictures – A collection of 140 photos in 4 bodies of work made by Joel Sternfeld between 1971-1980. It would be easy for this book to be overshadowed by Sternfeld’s next phase that culminated in American Prospects. But First Pictures isn’t just early work that’s interesting when considering the development of an important and influential photographer – there are some amazing, raw, exciting photos here. The printing on the NY street work that was shot with open flash is especially fine – lushly dark, with no midtones. And the photos of people at malls holding up their purchases are hilarious for a child of the 70′s. Highly recommended.
  10. Headlands: The Marin Coast at the Golden Gate – If you’ve hiked around the bunkers and seacoast fortifications in the Marin Headlands, this book is a must see, and can usually be picked up for under $10 used. The historic photographs of the batteries being built are amazing. Mark Klett’s black and white Type 55 photos are wonderful, and some of the other contributors include Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel.

Atlas: Recent additions to the digital clippings file

I’ve been perusing Gerhard Richter’s Atlas over the last few days — an overwhelming collection of snapshots, newspaper clippings, photos from books, photographic experiments, and family photos from 1962-2006. I used to cut photos out of magazines and make collages. Now I just right click when I see something interesting that I think I’ll want to see again.

Occasionally I’ll browse through these images when I need inspiration, or run them as my screen saver. After spending some time with Richter’s collection of photos in book form, perhaps I’ll be inspired to group some images by theme and print proof sheets. How do you organize and review the images that catch your eye? I prefer to group images together instead of using the one-at-a-time approach on Tumblr. Perhaps I’ve answered my own question with this gallery of 15 photos that recently went into my digital atlas.

23 epiphanies: Ramblings on artistic influences

Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer

Power plant accoutrements — by Joe Reifer

My presentation at last week’s Mono Lake Night Photography Festival was about the value of cultivating a diverse set of artistic influences. You are already doing this informally. The idea is to talk or write about your artistic input, as a playground for better understanding how these things are influencing your artistic output.

I had 45 minutes to talk, and spent just under 2 minutes talking about how each of these artists has influenced my night photography. As the presentation was both fast and media intensive, I’ve reproduced the list of artists below for those who attended the conference.

I encourage you to make your own list of influences. This could be a desert island list of your favorite films, photography books, novels, museum exhibits, dance performances — whatever you’re into. Making a list is the first step — the epiphanies are born out of process of articulating why you love this work, and how the work has influenced you. The writing doesn’t have to be lengthy — start with one sentence for the why, and one for the how. Have fun, and feel free to share your list.

  1. Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect [video on UbuWeb] [photos & bio on artnet]
  2. John Divola: Vandalism Series [photos on divola.com]
  3. Roger Ballen: Outland | Shadow Chamber | Boarding House
  4. John Pfahl: Altered Landscapes
  5. Draw on your image: To be discussed in a future blog post
  6. Gaspar Noe: Enter the Void [Netflix]
  7. Matthew Barney: Cremaster Cycle
  8. Werner Herzog: Of Walking In Ice
  9. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s Rooms [Netflix]
  10. William Vollmann: Imperial
  11. Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert [Netflix]
  12. David T. Hanson: Waste Land
  13. Flotation Tanks
  14. Haruki Murakami: A Wild Sheep Chase
  15. Ikeda Carlotta: Butoh Dance
  16. Yasujiro Ozu: Tokyo Story [Netflix]
  17. Master Musicians of Jajouka: Apocalypse Across the Sky | Pipes of Pan
  18. Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Netflix]
  19. Caspar David Friedrich [friendsofart.net]
  20. John Hind: Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight
  21. Chris Verene: Family | Chris Verene
  22. Jacques Tati: Playtime
  23. Erik Kessels: In Almost Every Picture #9 Black Dog

Note: Book and movie links go to Amazon, and help put a few extra pennies into the epiphany research jar.

Hi-Fructose Magazine #18: Billboard Liberation Front

Second generation operatives of the BLF ponder their next mission in an outtake from Hi-Fructose Magazine #18 -- by Joe Reifer

Second generation operatives of the BLF ponder their next mission in an outtake from Hi-Fructose Magazine #18 — by Joe Reifer

Issue 18 of contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose hit the streets recently, and features a 6-page piece on the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF). I’ve been a huge fan of the BLF’s advertising improvements for a long time, so it was a big thrill to photograph 3 generations of BLF operatives for Hi-Fructose. BLF honcho Jack Napier found this amazing empty warehouse location, which I scouted a few days before the shoot. I was really fortunate to have friend and talented photographer Riki Feldmann on this assignment to help with the lighting.

We used the huge 86″ Alienbees PLM with a diffuser on the key light, and then kicked a bare-bulb fill light off the floor from the other side. A Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70/2.8L was tripod mounted for the group shots, and a second 5D II with a 70-200/2.8L was used for the individual portraits. PocketWizards were used to trigger the strobes, and everything worked without a hitch. The shooting time was about 2 hours for 25 portraits and 4 group shots.

As expected, the BLF was a rowdy and hilarious group to photograph. Riki and I were about to mark where to stand for the portraits with tape on the floor, and then someone spilled some whiskey. When people asked where to stand for their portrait, we told them “between the puddle of water, and the puddle of whiskey.” In the large group shot in the magazine, there is a dead bird on the floor. One of the BLF members made an amazing disguise out of a bucket and a cardboard box while he was waiting to be photographed.

In addition to the piece on the BLF, issue 18 of Hi-Fructose features some really amazing art — I was particularly blown away by the eerie, futuristic ruins of Jean-Pierre Roy. The interview with Mr. Roy is superb — he speaks very eloquently about his work, and I found some interesting artistic parallels to abandoned places night photography (more on that later). Attaboy and Annie Owens put out a really fine publication — look for Hi-Fructose at a bookstore, gallery, or museum near you.