The image grid below shows the best books that I read in 2016. The list is heavy on graphic novels, and also includes some amazing photography and art books. Most images are linked to Amazon, but maybe your local bookstore or library has a copy. Special thanks to Mike Emmons for turning me on to so many weird and wonderful works of art that are disguised as comics. Check out Goodreads to see what I'm reading in 2017.
The 40 best books that I read in 2015 in alphabetical order. Some titles are recent, and some are older. Most of these books were new to me, but a couple were re-reads. My top picks are in bold. Links go to Amazon. Enjoy!
Thanks to J.E., J.L., J.J., M.E., S.M. and C.S. for the book recommendations.
Check out Goodreads to see what else I'm reading.
A really weird, so-bad-it's good, early 90's Hong Kong movie based on the Street Fighter video game. Worth watching just for the opening scene. Featuring Andy Lau, Simon Yam, and Jacky Cheung.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
"The movie looks like it was lit by lava lamps, scored on Moog synthesizers, written between bong hits and acted underwater. None of this is meant as praise." - Miami Herald
Life Itself [Amazon, Netflix]
Most of us just would have given up and died. Watch the difficult end to Roger Ebert's interesting life in this painful, intense documentary. The vintage footage of Siskel and Ebert arguing on and off camera is amazing. The love of cinema shines through the hubris at times. This one stayed with me for weeks after viewing.
For $7.99 per month, there are 900+ Criterion Collection movies available streaming on Hulu with no commercials. Kurosawa. Fassbinder. Ozu. Fellini. Antonioni. Godard. The best entertainment and art education value that you can buy anywhere.
Powr Mastrs 1 - C.F.
"It reads like the dream of someone who spent all night copying art out of the Dungeons and Dragons manuals while watching Yellow Submarine over and over." Volume 1 is out of print, and due to be reprinted in December of 2015. Very unique. Worth seeking out.
Drive - Andrew Bush
Bush took the passenger seat out of his car and replaced it with a tripod. He put a flash in the back seat, and photographed people driving next to him in Southern California. I've always enjoyed seeing this work online. Seeing the whole project in book form is a treat.
The Dog of the South - Charles Portis
A young guy's wife runs off with her ex. He tracks them to Mexico in a crazy road trip in a 1963 Buick. A cast of eccentrics populates this hilarious, meandering journey. Couldn't put this one down. Great fun.
Chewing Gum and Chocolate - Shomei Tomatsu
An amazing body of work documenting occupied Japan. The essays are excellent, too. On many best photo book lists for 2014, including mine. Highly recommended.
Asylum of the Birds - Roger Ballen
Ballen keeps evolving. He started as a photographer, moved into a mix of photography and installation, and this book pushes the work even further away from straight photography. A unique, singular, dark vision.
Megahex - Simon Hanselmann
Well, this ain't Three's Company. A stoned witch, her cat boyfriend, and their often pranked owl roommate have some every day adventures. Sometimes Werewolf Jones shows up and things get really out of hand. Beneath the demented, gross, and weird situation comedy are some deeper truths about relationships that may get under your skin.
Sunburn - Chris McCaw
McCaw uses large hand-built view cameras with aerial photography lenses to take extremely long exposures of the sun on paper negatives. The results are often astonishing. If you're into long exposure photography, this book is essential.
South of Market - Janet Delaney
Large format portraits of San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood in the 70's and 80's, accompanied by short interviews. A wonderful document of a neighborhood that was about to undergo some dramatic socio-economic changes. This work is on view at the de Young in San Francisco until July 19, 2015. Highly recommended for those interested in Bay Area culture and history.
RPM OOP - An amazing blog that features high quality transfers of out of print jazz, free jazz, and free funk records. Don't know where to start? Check out James Blood Ulmer's Tales of Captain Black featuring Ornette Coleman. There are a lot of gems on this wonderful site.
75 Dollar Bill - What if you took Mauritanian music from the Sahara, mixed it with the raw boogie of Hound Dog Taylor, and then added a sprinkle of jazz and improv influences? Maybe some Velvets and No Wave, too. 75 Dollar Bill's Wooden Bag blends all of this stuff up into a great album that'll make you nod your head and stomp your feet.
The Valley Junkyard Night Photography and Light Painting Workshop was a lot of fun. Below is a little planet time-lapse video of the photographers who attended. About 60 360º stills were shot with a Ricoh Theta, one every 5 seconds. The resulting images were processed in Lightroom and output as TIFF files. The TIFFs were batch converted to little planets in PTGui Pro. The little planets were brought into Photoshop, where the animation was created and timing adjusted. This one looks best in HD full screen.
Frances Ha [Netflix, Amazon] - Not as dour as Baumbauch's previous work, this film explores a dancer coming to grips with not making the cut. Along the way, we get a wonderfully shot exploration of that time in your late 20's when relationships change, living situations change, and you may have to decide who you want to be when you grow up.
Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson did Thomas Pynchon proud with his screen adaptation of this hilarious novel. The Big Sleep meets the Big Lebowski is still an apt one line description. Wonderfully wild and woozy, this opens in wider release on 1/9/2015.
Redheaded Peckerwood / Christian Patterson - This was on a lot of best of lists in 2011, and I was just able to get a copy of the third printing. Documents Charlie Starkweather's killing spree that was the inspiration for Terence Malick's Badlands. Astonishing and essential.
A Criminal Investigation / Watabe Yukichi - A press photographer follows a murder investigation in 1958 Japan. The photography, editing, sequencing, and book craft are all superb. One of the best photo books that I've acquired in the last few years.
The Cage / Martin Vaughn-James - A precursor to the modern graphic novel, this 1975 cult comic from Canada was out of print for a long time. Very surreal, mysterious, and haunting. A book that I still think about long after I finished reading it. Highly recommended.
Annihilation / Jeff Vandermeer - Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. Many of the expeditions into this zone have not returned...this is the story of the 12th expedition. The first book in a trilogy that was universally applauded by my book club, which is unusual.
Hard Rain Falling / Don Carpenter - A story of being down and out in Portland and San Francisco with a great cast of lowlifes and outlaws. I couldn't put this one down. A hard-boiled classic.
Nijigahara Holograph / Inio Asano - Like David Lynch's best work, something unsettling is lurking just beneath the surface. Wonderfully drawn, elegant storytelling with a dark and twisted feel.
Pikin Slee / Vivian Sassen - Pikin Slee takes the photographic language that's so familiar, and rearranges everything into a different blend. Art and documentary. Color, and black and white. Light and shadow. People and still life. Texture. Mystery. And a short 1 page essay at the end that doesn't ruin that mystery. The editing, sequencing, and printing are all superb. Highly recommended.
Live in Paris 28.05.1975 / Fripp & Eno - My favorite music purchase of the year. These concerts were often bootlegged, but not officially released until 2014. Eno's original loops were found and painstakingly synched to the best available bootleg. The first track has a lot of crowd noise, but beyond that the fidelity is pretty great, as is the performance. And the original loops are included on disc 3. I could listen to these discs on repeat for a long time. Highly recommended.
Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything / Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra - I have mixed feelings about the evolution of this group. I'm a big fan of GYBE, but sometimes Efrim's vocals are a little bit much for me. That being said, the song What We Loved Was Not Enough really struck a chord, and seemed to nail the zeitgeist of 2014.
IAO Chant from the Cosmic Inferno / Acid Mothers Temple - A 51 minute album length tribute to the band Gong for 99 cents, and a nice entry point into the rather prolific catalog of Acid Mothers Temple.
Hello, faithful readers. I'm sure all 2-3 of you are wondering when I was going to talk about weird things to watch and read and listen to again. Well, wonder no more. It's time for another installment of WRLD.
Nikkatsu Studios in Japan produced some of the coolest gangster films of the 60's. I noticed that Seijun Suzuki's Detective Bureau 2-3 was available streaming on Amazon, and always enjoy watching Jo Shishido in action. ***
I went back and watched Tokyo Drifter, and this film is still one of Suzuki's best. *****
For No Good Reason is a documentary that profiles the artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson. Watching Steadman paint and draw is cool, and there is a little bit of great HST footage. The talking head style interviews are a bit dry at times, and the film is marred by crappy, invasive graphic overlays. Worth watching if you're a big fan. **
Terry Gilliam's new film The Zero Theorem was released on streaming at the same time as the theatrical release. The plot and cast sounded promising. Unfortunately, the writing is not great, and neither is the CGI. Tilda Swinton's bit part as a virtual shrink is hilarious. The look of the film is wonderful, but when that thrill wears off the story and characters just don't feel cohesive. Worth watching, but not worth buying. **
A few people have recommended the film Frank, starring Michael Fassbender as a musician who never removes his giant fake head. Planning to watch this one in the next few days.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a documentary co-directed by Werner Herzog that profiles a hunting community in remote Siberia. Seeing how other cultures live can be a nice reminder that our day-to-day worries are definitely first world problems. ***
To the Wonder is Terence Malick's latest film and the only good things I can say about it are that I enjoyed the cinematography at times, and that I was really happy that Ben Affleck barely has any lines. A disappointing mess, and that's coming from a huge fan of his other films. *
Yuichi Yokoyama's Color Engineering is an amazing mix of abstract comic book narrative, paintings, drawings, and photographs. Wilder in stylistic scope than his also quite enjoyable book Garden, Color Engineering touches the abstract edges of how we comprehend and digest art and storytelling. Reading this book requires simultaneously decoding 4-5 art forms at the same time, which is very stimulating. Highly recommended. *****
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is Haruki Murakami's latest novel, and everyone in my book club thought it was sub-par when compared to the rest of his work. **
Gringos is a hilarious 1991 novel by Charles Portis involving a cult, some UFO freaks, and archaelogical hustlers. Highly entertaining. ****
Robert C. Jones writes ghost town books they way they oughta be. How to get there, a little bit of history, and most importantly - what kind of ruins are left to see. The Mojave Preserve is a beautiful, underrated place to explore, and Ghost Towns of the Mojave National Preserve is an excellent resource. ****
Fine Art Printing for Photographers is the third edition of Uwe Steinmuller's highly technical book on inkjet printing. If you want to make better inkjet prints, this book is an excellent resource. While I didn't know him personally, I followed Uwe's site outbackphoto.net, and was saddened to hear that he passed away last month. He will be missed. ****
Every year I try to read a big, challenging book. This year, I finally read The Recognitions by William Gaddis. A huge, complex story that centers around art forgery, The Recognitions is the literary bridge between James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. At times difficult, erudite, hilarious, complicated, and astonishing. ****
The Wes Anderson Collection features an essay on each of his films through Moonrise Kingdom, combined with extensive interviews, and behind the scenes photos. The supporting artwork is fun, too. The discussions about Anderson's influences and working methods are really interesting. Essential reading for fans of his work. ****
Chester Brown's review of Ant Colony nails it: "Michael DeForge is that rare sort of cartoonist, a genuine artist with a unique vision and a teeming imagination. He’s not trying to create sentimental pap for a mass audience. I love his work, but I do wonder why any sensible, profit-minded publisher would release this crazy book." ****
Someone pointed me to a 2013 Slate article on Mike Mandel's Making Good Time. Mandel covers an early 20th century industrial photography team called the Gilbreths who put pulsing lights on workers and took long exposures. The photographs were then analyzed in order to improve worker efficiency. Mandel then provides his own modern update on this style of photography. A wonderful intersection of industrial photographic history, light painting, and humor. ****
Matthew Young's 1982 album Recurring Dreams was reissued by Drag City earlier this year. Subtle, wonderful headphone listening. ****
Some how Van Der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts has escaped me all of these years. Wow. This album hurts my head, but tickles a little bit at the same time. ***
Still, if the only goal were to attain quick visibility in the art world, the formula (at least on paper) is absurdly simple: devote ten percent of your effort to artmaking, and ninety percent to marketing and self-promotion. But that gambit works (when it does work) only as long as you keep sprinting down the fame & fortune treadmill -- pause for an instant and it's a straight drop into oblivion. The fact that cultivated fame has little substance behind it, however, hardly slows the stampede. In our media-dominated culture it's an open question whether fame is the result of accomplishment, or whether fame -- all by itself -- is the accomplishment.
Page 90, The view from the studio door: How artists find their way in an uncertain world / by Ted Orland.
1-800-MICE is bonkers. Blurbed by Daniel Clowes and Matt Groening among others, but none of them get it quite right. Surreal, absurd, extraordinary, and utterly unique. Highly recommended.
I've been a fan of Renee French since 90's comic books Grit Bath and The Ninth Gland. H Day tells parallel stories on facing pages without words. One side is about migraines, and the other is about an ant invasion. Mysterious, weird, and quite enjoyable.
With a cover photo from the Pearsonville Junkyard, night photography workshop alum Tong Lam presents well crafted photos of some world class ruins. Tong doesn't like the term ruin porn, and instead makes a case for the history of ruin lust. Abandoned Futures contains some of the best writing on the symbology of ruins in recent years, and is highly recommended.
I've read quite a bit of Haruki Murakami's work, but hadn't read Ryu Murakami until my book club selected Coin Locker Babies. This novel is the story of two orphans who are abandoned at birth in a coin-locker, and are raised in the shadows of a ruined factory town. While the violence was a bit graphic for my taste, there were some hypnotizing sections that gave me new insight into why I photograph abandoned places.
Satellites is the result of an amazing 7 year journey exploring the forgotten outposts of the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately this book is out of print, but it's definitely worth seeking out at your local library.
The Exploding Star Orchestra takes a wild journey through large ensemble jazz improv with a wide array of field recordings. A wild but engaging sonic ride. Here's a nice review on Dusted.
- A wonderful English artist is producing a marquetry version of one of my photos. I'm excited to see how this turns out, and will share photos when it's done.
- I've switched from using a Really Right Stuff pano-head to a Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2. More on this decision later.
- My office is loud. I tried a lot of noise-cancelling headphones. All marketing hype aside, the Bose QC 15 really do work the best. Audiophile magazine Sound & Vision nails it in this Bose review. If you need to shut out the world, this is 300 bucks well spent.
- I'm shooting video at work. It's way harder than shooting stills. But fun. I'm learning Premiere, too.
- A couple of my Holga images are in a recently released color grading book. More info when I get a copy.
- I'm online less and less these days. I still like looking at pictures on Tumblr. That's about it. You wanna talk? Send me an email. And don't be surprised if my online presence becomes a bit more sporadic this year.