Category Archives: Books

Photography books, woodcuts, and walking in ice

 

Below are 8 books I’ve really enjoyed so far this year: 5 photo books, 2 books of woodcuts, and one non-fiction selection. Buying books through affiliate links helps fund more book research on this blog. If you’re an avid reader, feel free to stay in touch on goodreads.com.

Of Walking In Ice

On the extra features of the Fata Morgana DVD, Herzog says Of Walking in Ice is more important than any of his films. An incredibly intense 68 page winter walking journey from Munich to Paris, and into the mind of one of the great heroes of cinema.

Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts

Lynd Ward’s woodcut novels are a revelation. These wordless, graphic novels from the 1920s-1930s are one picture per page created by carving a story out of darkness with hand tools on a piece of wood. A must-see for designers and comic book aficionados.

Protest Photographs
Protest Photographs is a huge book of large format wide angle portraits of working people in their homes in the 1960s and 70s. Not only are the photos intense, Chauncey Hare’s transformation from engineer to photographer to psychologist is a spellbinding story.

Winogrand 1964

Yes, Winogrand 1964 went out of print very quickly and now sells for $300. And now after having to return the copy I borrowed through interlibrary loan, this will be the most expensive photo book I own. It’s that good.

Phantom Shanghai

Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai is an essential read for anyone interested in night photography.

For Now

For Now is the result of Michael Almereyda’s year long foray into the Eggleston archives, and he did a superb job.

Shooting Gallery

Number 7 in Erik Kessels’ in almost every picture series, Shooting Gallery is a series of photos of one woman, triggered by a shooting game at a fun fair. From age 16 to age 88, with a gap during WWII, she hits the target and gets a portrait. It’s the history of her life, and the history of 20th century photography all in one. Pure magic.

Fortress Marin

Sleeper alert. If you live the Bay Area and have explored Mount Tamalpais, Tom Killion’s Fortress Marin is definitely worth a look, and typically available for under $1 used + shipping.

Night photography in China: Greg Girard

Neighborhood Demolition, Fangbang Lu, 2006 -- by Greg Girard

Neighborhood Demolition, Fangbang Lu, 2006 — by Greg Girard

Just got an email from photo-eye newsletter featuring a new book called In the Near Distance by photographer Greg Girard. The book chronicles his wanderings from 1973-1986, and reportedly features quite a bit of night photography shot on color slide film. Last year In the Near Distance was featured on Conscientious. I’ve just requested his 2007 book Phantom Shanghai from the library. Greg Girard’s website features a beautiful gallery from this body of work, mostly shot at night. I own a well used copy of the book City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon City, which chronicles four years of Girard and Ian Lambot’s explorations of the mindblowing walled city area of Hong Kong that was demolished in 1992. I’ll also be on the lookout for Girard’s recent book Hanoi Calling. In 2008 he shot a story for National Geographic on the architecture of Beijing. There is also a 24-minute documentary video about Greg Girard available to watch on Amazon for $2.99 (there is a free 2-minute preview).

Book review: Night photography: Finding your way in the dark

I am a dedicated night photographer and photography workshop instructor who has written extensively on the topic of night photography. I own or have read most books published on night shooting, and at long last there is a book I can recommend wholeheartedly — Night Photography: Finding your way in the dark by Lance Keimig.

This book covers the technical aspects of night photography with great clarity and understanding, and includes many beautiful example images. Lance also touches on the more elusive why of night photography and mentions two key points: night photography is an experience that can lead to a heightened sense of awareness, and is a pursuit that often contends with a great deal of mystery.

Chapter one contains a very informative and well written history of night photography that includes some superb images. Even those of you who know your photo history quite well will likely learn something new and find photographers you’d like to further investigate.

The second chapter proceeds to a discussion of gear, including a list of key digital camera features for night photography. There is an excellent discussion on using manual focus lenses for easier focusing and perspective control. The night photography equipment checklist is a great resource for packing your gear. The tripod section is short, and I recommend Thom Hogan’s guide to tripods as a supplement. The chapter concludes with a well-written essay on the important topic of location access issues by my friend and legendary night photographer Troy Paiva.

Chapter three is an overview of the basics of night photography technique, including the most in-depth discussion anywhere on how to focus at night. Focusing is one of the most frequently asked questions at my night photography workshops, and the information in this chapter is superb. Other important topics include controlling dynamic range, lighting types, color temperature, and how to minimize flare.

The next chapter covers film-based night photography, and will be of particular interest to those who shoot black and white. Lance’s many years of experience with film are apparent in his excellent advice on film choice, reciprocity failure, and contrast control techniques. The chapter concludes with an essay by Tom Paiva on the merits of shooting color film in a large format camera at night.

The zone system technique of exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights has strong parallels with digital night photography, which is the topic of chapter five. The explanation of histograms and optimizing night exposures to achieve the maximum tonal range is particularly lucid. This discussion also includes important information on white balance and camera settings for minimizing noise. The chapter finishes with an essay by Christian Waeber on shooting night scenes with people at high ISO settings.

Chapter six covers post-processing, and is primarily focused on Adobe Lightroom. If you use a Photoshop/Bridge workflow instead, most of the Lightroom information can be easily adapted to working in Adobe Camera Raw. The Lightroom workflow contains a nice balance of information that’s geared towards adjusting night images.

Chapter seven includes three High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging techniques: manual Photoshop layer blending by Christian Waeber, a overview of Photomatix with HDR expert Dan Burkholder, and a brief look at the Enfuse plugin for Lightroom. Enfuse allows you to create natural looking HDR images right inside Lightroom.

The following chapter covers moonlight and star trails, and is an extremely valuable resource for photographers interested in creating long exposures away from the lights of the city. The discussion of exposure determination through high ISO testing is particularly useful. There is also excellent advice on capturing star trails and strategies to keep noise at bay by stacking multiple star trail images. The final chapter covers light painting and includes some wonderful example images, along with information on light sources, color temperature, and gels.

The night photography book that I always wished I could suggest to my workshop students is finally a reality. Night photography: Finding your way in the dark is highly recommended. Congratulations to Lance Keimig, Scott Martin, and the other expert contributors for a job well done.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I also purchased an additional copy for students to refer to at my night photography workshops. I hope you enjoy the book!

New Topographics: Show review and selected books

Lewis Baltz -- North Wall, Semicoa, 333 McCormick, Costa Mesa 1974

Lewis Baltz — North Wall, Semicoa, 333 McCormick, Costa Mesa 1974

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opened yesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and runs through October 3, 2010 along with the companion exhibit, Picturing Modernity. I visited the museum yesterday, and really enjoyed the show. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the superb New Topographics book — viewing the actual prints was exciting.

Most of the exhibition contains small silver gelatin black and white prints with an open, low/medium contrast style of printing that is befitting of the subject matter. A few of the Lewis Baltz prints are a notable exception, with very deep blacks and stark high contrast printing. Stephen Shore’s photos are the only color images in the show.

Seeing the Joe Deal aerial subdivision views all together on the wall gave them a lot more weight than in the book. There is so much tension in not having any sky or horizon line. My eye wants to see something in the image as the horizon, which gives an off-kilter feeling to some of the images.

Finding a photographic approach that deferred and complexified meaning rather than specifying it, is what made these pictures interesting to me. — John Schott

John Schott’s work was also better on the wall than in the book. His accompanying audio segment is especially poignant. I’m still puzzling out how Nicholas Nixon’s Boston rooftop images fit into the show – they’re dense with the detail of the city skyline. Gohlke’s irrigation canal image is a deceivingly simple image that reflects the man vs. nature theme of the show so well with the beautiful sky and reflection balanced by weeds and tire tracks in the mud.

After seeing large prints of the Becher’s Industrial Landscapes a few years ago, the smaller prints in this show seemed lackluster, and a few are in need of conservation. This re-staging of the 1975 exhibit really shows the modest scale of the prints in the current era of giant 10 foot prints that are trying to compete with painting. After spending a considerable amount of time contemplating these intimate black and white prints, the large scale of the work in the Fisher Collection seemed rather ostentatious at times. Perhaps you’ll want to save that exhibition for another day.

Tip: Pick up the free audio tour to the left of the staircase as you walk into the museum. The New Topographics exhibit features about 2 minutes of commentary from most of the photographers.

Books from the Photographers in New Topographics

The New Topographics book is outstanding. Published by Steidl this year, the title seems to regularly go in and out of stock with each press run. I recommend reading the essays before seeing the show. The reproduction of the original catalog in the book is very cool. Below is a selected book list of photographers in the show, some with brief commentary. If there are photographers in the show that you’d like to investigate further, hopefully this list will save you some time.

Robert Adams

Lewis Baltz

Bernd and Hilla Becher

Joe Deal

Frank Golhke

Nicholas Nixon

John Schott

  • No monographs other than inclusion in the New Topographics book.

Stephen Shore

Henry Wessel

Essential Reading: New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape

Last year my favorite photography exhibit, and essential accompanying book purchase was Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans (Expanded Edition).

This year there will likely be no suspense in these matters. I’ve just received the Steidl publication of New Topographics, and it’s brilliant. The traveling exhibition opens next week at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, and then comes to SFMOMA in July. The show is a restaging of the seminal 1975 exhibit that marked a major shift in modern photography, and continues to be an influence 35 years later.

….curated by William Jenkins, who brought together ten contemporary photographers: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel, Jr. Signaling the emergence of a new approach to landscape, the show effectively gave a name to a movement or style, although even today, the term “New Topographics”– more a conceptual gist than a precise adjective — is used to characterize the work of artists not yet born when the exhibition was held. Although the exhibit’s ambitions were hardly so grand, New Topographics has since come to be understood as marking a paradigm shift, for the show occurred just as photography ceased to be an isolated, self-defined practice and took its place within the contemporary art world. Arguably the last traditionally photographic style, New Topographics was also the first Photoconceptual style. In different ways, the artists thoughtfully engaged with their medium and its history, while simultaneously absorbing such issues as environmentalism, capitalism and national identity. In this vital reassessment of the genre, essays by Britt Salvesen and Alison Nordstrom accompany illustrations of selected works from the 1975 exhibition, with installation views and contextual comparisons, to demonstrate both the historical significance of New Topographics and its continued relevance today.

If you buy one photography coffee table book this year, put this high on your list. The book is $36.50 at Amazon and currently in stock, and is also available at photo-eye, or perhaps even your local bookstore. And if you missed the expanded edition of the Robert Frank book, then clear some extra room on your coffee table.