A while ago we acquired a copy of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places: The Complete Works. This book was to be our first tentative step towards building a vibrant collection of photography books: a solid, assured archive of significant works in the history of photography. Books that have contributed something new to the way we see and record the world around us, books that demand to be leafed through slowly and with great attention to detail.
So perhaps, at face-value, Uncommon Places appears a strange first choice: why Stephen Shore? Who’s he? Well, for starters, one of our Book Birds is a great admirer of the American photographer’s work. ‘Look at this,’ she said, ‘isn’t it just the perfect mixture of the uncanny and beautiful and lonely?’ American playwright Tennessee Williams described Stephen Shore’s images as, ‘exposing so much, and yet leaving so much room for your imagination to roam and do what it will,’ and we’re inclined to agree. Empty parking lots; lackluster window displays; hotel rooms from the 1970s; billboards advertising the very thing that sits behind the billboard: Stephen Shore’s photographs are a little bit funny and a little bit sad. ‘Yeah, alright then,’ we thought, ‘let’s give this book a go.’
Well, geez. It’s done well. We’ve had to reorder it three times. Buoyed by your appetite for these wonderous photography books, we have added some new titles to the category. Each of these titles has been thoroughly researched and handpicked by our resident photography enthusiast, Charlotte.
- All About Saul Leiter: Saul Leiter (1923 – 2013) came to photography through painting. An early adopter of colour art photography, Leiter first studied Jewish theology, then, leaving his religious studies behind, moved to the East Village in New York where he began documenting the streets, buildings and people around him. What’s interesting about Leiter’s photography is the impressionistic, painterly use of the medium. He utilises reflections, rain, shadows, and glass to layer his images – to bounce light, bleed colour, blur, obscure and transform his subject matter. He uses doorways and windows as framing devices, peering around corners and into private worlds. What we love about Saul Leiter is the way he creates mood through subtle shifts in tone and texture. This book features over 200 of Leiter’s work and gives the reader a sense of the breadth of his practice – from nudes and street photography to advertising, All About Saul Leiter will encourage the reader to look, then look again.
- William Eggleston’s Guide: If Saul Leiter was a pioneer of colour in art photography, then William Eggleston was one of its legitimators. Eggleston (born 1939) is all about colour: his photographs are a celebration of the richness in everyday life, such as the vibrancy of fruit, the saturation of a glass of tonic, the brilliance of an old car parked in the sun. There is a kind of optimism in Eggleston’s work, even when shooting the mundane and downtrodden, and often an undercurrent of humour. Eggleston’s Guide includes all the photographs exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art’s first one-man colour photography show in 1976, a landmark event in the history of photography. Eggleston taught himself composition from photography books, and we love the idea of the next generation of photographers doing the same with his Guide.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: One of the photographers Eggleston learnt from (by looking at prints and books) was Henri Cartier-Bresson. In fact, Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) has connections to Saul Leiter too, as he also came to photography though painting, though his leanings were more towards Surrealism than Impressionism. During the war, Cartier-Bresson was taken prisoner, but managed to escape in 1943 and photographed the Liberation of Paris in 1945. Cartier-Bresson is best remembered as the inventor of street photography and photojournalism. This sizeable monograph by historian Clément Chéroux was published to commemorate France’s major retrospective exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s work after his death in 2004. It brings together decades of work and words by the photographer and instils in the reader a belief that photography is a way of life, a means of aligning ‘the head, the eye, and the heart.’
- Diane Arbus, An Aperture Monograph: Ah, Diane Arbus! This book sends a little jolt to our hearts whenever we leaf through it. Her work is renowned for seeing and valuing the overlooked: intimate portraits of marginalised people taken with sensitivity and respect. Burnt out from doing commercial work during the 1940s, Arbus (1923 – 1971) took to the streets of New York and documented the city through its citizens, paying special attention to those on the fringes. Arbus was interested in secrets, playing with revealing and concealing in a visual medium. Her work is also about story. It’s about lived experience and hard lives. Arbus herself struggled with depressive episodes, and, in 1971, committed suicide, aged only 48. The year following her death, the Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective of her work. The 80 images that made up the exhibition are collected in this book.
- Levison Wood’s Encounters: We have some die-hard Levison Wood fans at The Book Bird who will be thrilled to know he’s recently released his first photography monograph. Wood is best known as an adventurer and author of books about exploring. His previous title, Incredible Journeys: Discovery, Adventure, Danger, Endurance, was a hit with both young and adult readers alike. Encounters takes his output in a different direction, focusing on remote places and the people who live there, photographed over a ten-year period. This book is less to do with the history of photography than the history (and future) of our planet, and is one for the photojournalism, documentary, and travel lovers out there.
This list barely scratches the surface of the world of photography, but it’s a good start. We hope to be able to add to this collection with more books over time, and perhaps become a bit of a destination for unusual, thoroughly considered titles on this subject. A passion project, if you will. Tell your camera-obsessed mates to pay us a visit!