Photo Books

Garry Winogrand, Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, Brandt Nudes, James Welling: Monograph, Imogen Cunningham, Impossible Reminiscences, Damaged Negatives, Object, Teenage Precinct Shoppers, Amateurs & Lovers

BY Vince Aletti, May 1, 2013

The season’s Big Books — the ones no photography enthusiast or collector can ignore — are almost all monographs. Top of the list are two catalogs for important exhibitions reviewed elsewhere in this issue: the hefty Garry Winogrand (SFMOMA/Yale), shrewdly edited by Leo Rubinfien, and Sarah Hermanson Meister’s slimmer but no less substantialBill Brandt: Shadow and Light (MoMA), both of which deliver new material (several books’ worth in the case of Winogrand) and sharp insight. The ideal companion to Meister’s book,Brandt Nudes (Thames & Hudson), focuses on the photographer’s most innovative and influential series. If, as Lawrence Durrell writes in the introduction, Brandt “is to photography what a sculptor is to a block of marble,” it’s due primarily to his dramatically skewed perspective on the female figure. Other essential (and smartly designed) exhibition catalogs include James Welling: Monograph (Aperture), James Crump’s thorough investigation of the brilliant career of a Pictures Generation artist who refuses to be pinned down to one stylistic approach (on view through May 5 at the Cincinnati Art Museum before it goes to Fotomuseum Winterthur), and Imogen Cunningham (TF Editores/D.A.P.), an eye-opening survey of the exemplary modernist’s subtle, seductive work over 70 years (continuing through September at Kulturhuset, Stockholm).

Another heavyweight contender: Rene Burri’s Impossible Reminiscences (Phaidon), the 80-year-old Magnum photographer’s first book of color work, much of it previously unpublished. Best known for his portrait of Che Guevara with an erect cigar, Burri avoids iconic subjects here in favor of everyday people and landscapes from a lifetime of travels to Moscow, Beirut, Jaipur, Mexico City, and beyond. Although many of the pictures were taken while on assignment, most are asides — more spontaneous, atmospheric, and poetic than strictly reportorial. Shuffling chronology, the book is organized by color, from green to red, in a sequence that feels genuinely intuitive, and nearly every image is annotated in an index of diary-like “reminiscences.” Many of Burri’s anecdotes are brief — pinned down by a hurricane in Havana, caught and injured between student rioters and police in Seoul — and not always to the point, but they all give a sense of the adventurous life that went into this rich, wide-ranging, and entirely surprising work.

But there’s something to be said for small packages, and David Strettell’s Dashwood Books has been putting out some of the best. A prime source for new, rare, and foreign photo books in New York, Dashwood issued Vol. 1 of its Book Series in 2011, including titles by Ari Marcopoulos, Sam Falls, Andreas Lazlo Konrath, and Janette Beckman. Seven more softcover titles, each about the size of a small composition notebook, make up Vol. II, and it’s another remarkably varied (and affordably priced) batch. Among my favorites:Damaged Negatives, the gorgeous ruins of Glen Luchford’s personal pictures, salvaged from a flooded storage space (Kate Moss and John Lurie survive the black splotches);Object, a collection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s elegantly raunchy early ‘70s collage work, much of which incorporates gay porn or religious iconography (Patti Smith, a frequent collaborator, writes, “I would trade all the coffee in the world to watch his hands at work”);Teenage Precinct Shoppers, Nigel Shafran’s terrific, real-life fashion photographs, taken at British malls in the early ‘90s, some of which originally appeared in i-D; and Amateurs & Lovers, Nikolay Bakharev’s irresistibly vivacious black-and-white portraits of Russians — couples, families, friends — on vacation and girls in bed, relics of the old Soviet Union that haven’t lost a bit of their erotic charge. Slated for Vol. III, sometime next year: Rinko Kawauchi, Bruce Gilden, and Viviane Sassen.