Last week I blogged about a couple of my favorite photography books, neither of which have any pictures. This week I am thinking about photography books that actually have pictures in them. What got me thinking about these books is how the authors each bring something special to their projects. I am not writing about the books because the photographers are my friends (though some are.) I am writing about them because each of the photographers in question has done one or more things to make their books interesting and distinctive.
Though I look at a lot of photography books, I want to blog about a few that caught my eye. These are not necessarily potential best sellers. In fact they may not make the authors much money at all. But each one is a book to be experienced, as each takes you on a journey into the author’s life, heart and mind, but not so far that you get lost or bored. Each book is an interesting balancing act between the personal and the public. And by definition, since each book is also being published and is for sale, each one is trying to find the sweet spot between the narrowness that can come with distinctive authorship and the broadness of the larger publishing marketplace.
In no particular order, there is Al Satterwhite’s new book, “The Racers“, which he says is being “…published as a 98-page limited edition of 100 books using the new ‘layflat technology’ that makes the many 2-page spreads look fantastic with no gutter to ruin the viewing experience. It comes in a custom laser-etched black aluminum box with (2) 8×10 archival prints; the book and the prints are all numbered and signed.” It is s available directly from Satterwhite and via several galleries. It’s also available as an e-book with audio commentary to make the viewing experience even richer.” By limiting the edition and ratcheting up the printing quality, Satterwhite is aiming for a higher priced, lower volume target market. Not a bad idea with a topic like car racing.
Satterwhite wisely dug deep into his historical archive and created a book that he describes as: “… unprecedented collection of images of the races, the cars, the drivers and behind-the-scenes poignant moments which are available in his latest fine art collector edition book.” Another book borne of his archive is Titans which one writers says “showcases Satterwhite’s brilliant black-and-white chronicles of Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their prime. “ It is published by Dalton Watson Fine Books. Both books offer insight into another time, in the world of auto racing and in the lives of two major sports figures respectively. No matter what you think of Ali or Schwarzenegger, to see them when they were first starting out is almost magical. Equally magical is the access that Satterwhite had when he was photographing. Whether he was afforded unusual access or if the culture back then simply afforded better access is almost irrelevant.
The self-employed photographer part of me marvels at the fact that Satterwhite kept all that material over the years, never selling it off in the kind of shortsighted, all-rights consuming contracts that dominate so much of the publishing market these days. His experience, and to a smaller degree my own similar experience reminds me of the importance of each photographer owning their work, a quaint notion that will be nothing but a memory in another twenty years.
Speaking of getting past the facade to see the essence, the work of Rhode Island photographer Scott Indermaur does that in a different but equally interesting way. His project (and now his book) are called simply “Revealed.” The work is a series portraits of people who “reveal” themselves through a process Scott describes on his site as: “I presented my subjects with a small wooden box and asked them in advance of the photography session to bring items that represented their spiritual experience in which to fill the space. The concept of identity and the awareness of a higher existence quickly evolved into a vessel of self-exploration and quiet confession.“
Scott raised some of the money for the book through a KickStarter campaign. The great thing about Kickstarter in general and Scott’s campaign in particular is that it is the purest test of an idea. You put the work in front of strangers and if they get it, they part with money to support it. Living in Rhode Island it is also amazing to see how hard Scott has worked to promote the work, including most recently a show at the Newport Art Museum.
Another friend, Jon Plasse, mined his own childhood memories of Yankee Stadium in New York City (the OLD stadium) to photograph a body of work that has since become a book called simply, “The Stadium.” As he describes it: “The Stadium brings to life the emotional and visual experience of the original Yankee Stadium, recalling a special time when children and their parents, joined by thousands of other fans, spent a joyful afternoon or evening together, watching their local heroes. Interspersed among Plasse’s black-and-white images of the original Yankee Stadium are the recollections of individuals whose lives were intimately connected to the ballpark: an umpire, an usher, a vendor, a souvenir merchandiser, and a fan. Together, photographs and text combine to invoke a fan’s memories of the sights and sounds of this beloved ballpark.” The book was published by SUNY press (A note of disclosure here, I was involved in editing for this book.)
Brown University graduate and photographer Lucas Foglia has a new book titled “A Natural Order” from Nazraeli Press. As it notes on the Nazraeli site: “ … Lucas Foglia set out to photograph a network of people who had left cities and suburbs to live off the grid in the rural southeastern United States. Many were motivated by environmental concerns, others were driven by religious beliefs or predictions of economic collapse. While everyone he photographed was working to maintain self-sufficiency, none lived in complete isolation from the mainstream. Instead, they chose which parts of the modern world to embrace and which to leave behind.” The subject matter is especially interesting as is the approach Lucas takes. The book is an extraordinary reflection of the way Lucas sees the world and wants the rest of us to see the world.
Another book, by Paola Ferrario, sits right at the intersection of her two passions, cooking and photography. The book is neither a cookbook, nor a memoir exploring her passion for food, but something wonderfully in between. As Paola describes it, the book, titled 19 Pictures 22 Recipes, “…is a meditation on food, photography and human capability. Selecting from a personal archive of pictures found at flea markets and antique shops around the world, Ferrario attaches to each image a brief story or memoir, and concludes each entry with a recipe. Mainly family recipes gathered from Ferrario’s Italian childhood, these are simple foods that anyone with the wish to do so can prepare. In her texts, Ferrario compares cooking and photography, fashioning a highly personal account of the matters that most consume her.
Every one of these photographer/authors has done a few things right, to make their books of interest. They have played to their strengths, in terms of the topic they photographed and how they created the work. They have tried hard to balance their approach to the subject with that of the general public’s interest in that same topic. If the respective projects were too personal, the rest of us wouldn’t “get it.” If their approaches were too ‘market focused’ the work would have no soul (though it might sell better.) The hard part, finding a balance is what each photographer did best, and that’s a lesson to any photographer, especially one aspiring to have their work become a book.