In my stumble through contemporary landscape photographers I recently found Alec Soth, and particularly his recent photo book ‘Songbook‘ in which he is exploring physical social interactions in a world of social media.
I’m still digging into the rich world of Alec Soth, there’s lots to go at! His self published book ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi‘ caught the attention of the curators of the Whitney Biennial in 2004 and his inclusion in the exhibition launched him on a larger stage. The image above from his ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ project was used for the poster for the exhibit. He became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency in 2004 and a full member in 2008. Since his first book in 2004 he has produced over 20 others, including Songbook, and a number in collaboration with writer Brad Zellar. He founded the publishing company Little Brown Mushroom in 2008 to publish his own books and those of others interested in a similar narrative approach to telling visual stories. A very busy guy!
See Alec talk more about his work in the videos below.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about, and continue to think about, book design. What are the elements of a good photobook? I have lots of photobooks to look at and I continue to work through them identifying the elements that work and don’t seem to work.
Chapa has a number of interesting things to say about his philosophy of designing books. The most pertinent for me was his assertion that you shouldn’t see the design. If the book is well designed you just see the images. You don’t see the design, you don’t notice the quality, you just see and remember the images. It’s all in support of the content. Check out the video below for more about how Arturo Chapa thinks about book design and manages the process of getting the book printed to the standard that he demands.
When I was poking around on Bainbridge Island recently I did a quick tour of most of the interesting shops on the main drag, Winslow street. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, my bags were perilously close to the 50lb limit imposed by the airline as it was, but rather looking. Looking for inspiration, looking for things that I could use later. In Bainbridge Arts & Crafts I came across a book by Mary Randlett called Landscapes that I thought was amazing.
Mary’s photography came to the notice of the public as the person who took the last photographs of the noted poet Theodore Roethke. She then went on to photograph Roethke’s students and other Northwest artists (including one of Johsel Namkung who I’ve written about previously), their artwork and architecture. As I understand it (from one of the essays in the Landscapes book) Mary’s landscape work was ‘personal work’, photographs that she made for herself and shared with friends as christmas cards. These photographs eventually were published in the Landscapes book.
What particularly appeals to me about Mary’s work is that there is little of the grand landscape here. The feeling is much more of someone who had spent time with the landscape, enough time to let the landscape reveal itself.
To see more of Mary Randlett’s Landscape work I highly recommend the Landscapes book. The University of Washington has some of her work online in their digital collection. As always let me know if you find a good resource that I missed.
In doing research for my trip to the Olympic National Park one name that came up in a couple of places was that of Pat O’Hara. I’ve found it tough to find out about Pat. He seems to have been most active before the internet kicked into high gear and so there isn’t a big Pat O’Hara web footprint. There is some material – this page on the Nikon website gives a nice biography of Pat and gives a sense of his path to photography from his military service days in Vietnam in the 60’s escaping into photography during his R&R time to his photobooks that serve his passion for the environment and conservation. The gallery of images on this page is also a good resource giving a good overview of Pat’s work – a mix of both the grand and intimate landscape.
There is more information about Pat on the Visionary Wild website, largely because the principal there, Justin Black, seems to have coaxed Pat into teaching a workshop a year or two ago. I actually looked at this workshop which was based in the Olympic National Park with a special extension in Pat’s studio but passed on it because I had too many other commitments and thought, foolishly, that I could go to the next one. I haven’t seen another offered but would of course jump on it given the chance.
Given the relative small footprint on the web we are then left to look at Pat’s books. Fortunately many are available on amazon.com. Click here to see a list. The first of his books to arrive from amazon was ‘Olympic National Park‘ which has the perfect subtitle ‘Where the mountain meets the sea’. It’s a delightful tour through the park, especially since every image is a unique perspective that I have yet to see elsewhere, plus there is a blend as a mentioned above of grand and intimate landscapes. His work really makes me realize that there are unique images to be made in even the most well visited places if you just take the time to go beyond the postcard shot.
If you find a good source of Pat O’Hara’s work, let me know I’d love to see it.
I quite enjoy looking at photobooks whether they are produced by friends or by icons of photography or both. While I may not be able to own the great works I can live with them through the books.
The quality of photo books has certainly evolved in recent years, the color reproduction being an area of most significant improvement. For instance, some of the Eliot Porter books I have do not come close to the colors of the original prints, I was blown away when I saw an image of his at the Farnsworth Museum, or even to images in the more recent books of his work (see here and here). On the other hand black and white reproduction seems to have been consistently of a high quality, certainly amongst the books that I own.
Even with the relatively high bar that I have for black and white photobooks I was pleasantly surprised with Paul Caponigro’s ‘The Wise Silence‘ that I found recently. A former library book, my copy is a little battered and grubby, clearly having been enjoyed by many before I found it! It is however a great collection of Paul Caponigro’s images, perhaps my favorite of the books of his that I own, printed on a nice heavy textured paper (Mohawk Superfine) and the text is letterpress on the same paper. All this makes for a great package – I wish there were more books like this and perhaps there will have to be if books are to exist as physical objects.
As we move increasingly towards digital formats it seems to me that there will be a real reason for books to exist in a physical format. Physical books will need to have something that sets them apart from their digital counterparts. That something could be size, or high quality fine art paper, a vehicle for letterpress printing, but will need to be sufficient to move people towards paper rather than sticking with there electronic devices.