Photo Books

Annie Leibovitz, Duane Michals, William Wegman, Stephen Shore, Henry Gruyaert

BY Vince Aletti, November 3, 2017

It’s the season for big, ambitious books – and a few more modest titles that should not be missed. I’ll start with one of the heftiest, Annie Leibovitz’s Portraits 2005-2016 (Phaidon), a collection of more than 150 pictures of famous people (Barack Obama, Caitlin Jenner, Joan Didion, LeBron James, etc.) that never feels like a greatest-hits package. Leibovitz is known for her elaborately staged set pieces, and there are plenty of them here, including the knockout, and oddly touching, cover images (front and back) of James Franco and Marina Abramovic as Adam and Eve. Spontaneity is still rare in her work, but the control freak has learned to let it be, especially when her subjects are other artists and photographers. Her pictures of Sally Mann, David Hockney, Kara Walker, Jasper Johns, and Susan Rothenberg are among the book’s most empathetic and unexpected images. And then there’s a naked Jeff Koons in his gym. Duane Michals’s Portraits (Thames & Hudson) includes some of the same celebrities and artists Leibovitz shot, but the mood is more informal, almost intimate, and the photographer’s charm and impish wit always enliven the results. Michals has had a long career of editorial and personal work, so the book is exceptionally wide ranging, from a 1962 shot of Veronica Lake laughing in a diner booth to a 1991 picture captioned “John Cheever was a flirt” (an understatement considering the author’s gaze and condition), with Streisand, Truffaut, and Madonna in between – and plenty after. With these subjects in the lens, it’s not all whimsy and delight; a picture titled “Mother After Father Died” proves Michals knows how to frame a tender, unguarded moment. But the photographer clearly enjoys his encounters with fame and talent (probably because he’s rarely outmatched), and even the fraught work glows.

 William Wegman says he “made a conscious effort to avoid” anthropomorphizing the dogs in his photographs, but when a new collection of his Weimaraner work is titled Being Human (Chronicle), the issue is hard to avoid. William A. Ewing’s edit of the series is the most extensive and engaging to date, with a slew of newly published Polaroids of the malleable, effortlessly chic animals, in and out of people clothes. But as a section titled “Nudes” makes clear, human outfits don’t make Man Ray, Fay Ray, and the gang any more relatable (or stylish) than they already are. Wegman’s dogs are us: patient, put-upon, and waiting for a treat.

In anticipation of Stephen Shore’s MoMA retrospective (opening November 19), Aperture invited Ed Ruscha, Wes Anderson, Paul Graham, Taryn Simon, Thomas Struth, and ten others to choose up to ten unpublished pictures from Shore’s Uncommon Places archive. The result, Selected Works 1973-1981, is fascinating, if not revelatory. Shore’s eye for the profoundly ordinary is hard to beat, but many of these photographs didn’t make the first cut for a reason. Still, with Shore himself taking another stab at it, and particularly canny choices by Guido Guidi and An-My Lê, among others, this is far more than a footnote to a contemporary classic.

Spread from Stephen Shore: Selected Works 1973-1981 (Aperture)

Though newly published, Henry Gruyaert’s East/West (Thames & Hudson) has the look of a rediscovered classic. The Magnum photographer’s super-saturated Kodachrome landscapes from Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1981 and Moscow in 1989 are not just great social documents – they’re among that period’s best color photographs. Gruyaert’s L.A. and Vegas work is terrific; he was new to both cities, so his take is fresh, immediate, and knife sharp. The Moscow series is just as finely observed, but the city looks stifled and out-of-date. Although these were taken nearly a decade after the Vegas pictures, there’s no future here; Russia is still stuck in the dusty past.