Early Color has been a book that has shaken the photography world, as well as the latter years in the life of Saul Leiter. now in its 6th printing, one can hope it remains in-print forever, and perhaps begin to rival Robert Frank‘s The Americans in terms of influential books. after perusing All About Saul Leiter, from the recent Japanese exhibit, there was some hesitation that a “greatest hits” book on Leiter would be a let down (as other books have been). then, it is also paperback. but… but… it works wonderfully. perhaps, I think, it is the book to get initiated with Leiter. in American terms, “a Christmas stocking stuffer”. I think the range and selection are great, but the little detail I truly love to wrap everything nicely? quotes. the quotes do not directly affect the view of the next photo, but it affects how a humble point of view is also revealed in them.
to break with tradition of these posts, there are some selected quotes that are good to places here.
- « there is a tremendous advantage to being unimportant »
- « I didn’t walk around feeling that I was important… I had not spent my life feeling important »
- « the important thing in life is not what you get but what you throw out »
- « photographs are often treated as important moments but really they are little fragments and souvenirs of an unfinished world »
- « his lab assistant once remarked in boredom: “not umbrellas again!”
to which Leiter replied, “I love umbrellas!” »
- « a window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous place »
- « it is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it »
- « I take photographs in my neighborhood. I think that mysterious things happen in familiar places. we don’t always need to run to the other end of the world. »
- « I like it when one is not certain of what one sees. when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of the sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion. »
NB: yeah, Miles Davis‘s Bitches Brew was a strange pairing, but once absorbed into the NYC state of mind, it works nicely.
the appeal of Street Photography still alludes me, and while I truly admire some of the work/ideas from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, I do not find much that captures my appreciation**, never mind the “I wish I could do that”. then there are two books from Alex Webb that hold my attention, and appreciate that Decisive Moment and/or the use of shadows. one such example is shown below, and example of the use of geometry and shadow at the link below, where everything is right… and what finally makes me connect with me is the hand in on the tree. the sails and other hands pointing seem to play on the tree, as other forms of limbs/leaves, and while there are other people in the frame, it is the hand that offers the biggest clue of a human essence. I think that moment, and all else about the photo, which makes it quite brilliant. it was hard to choose one photo, as with his book on Mexico called « La Calle ».
** yes, Saul Leiter is definitely street photography, and my favorite photographer, yet with him, the street is a canvas, not so much within what Street Photography usually conveys with the luminaries in the field.
link: Alex Webb at Magnum Photo, with 120 sample images from The Suffering of Light.
HAITI. Etroits, La Gonave. 1986 by Alex Webb
at least the way that I manage to find out about photographers, the Czech contingency is quite the blind spot. luckily, because of first discovering Josef Sudek, and the instant connection it made with me, then I was suggested to look at the work of Jaromír Funke. surely, there is a feeling of German Expressionism to his work, mainly through the work of light and shadows in his still life. though I think the resulting “flattened” perspective of the resulting image has me thinking of Italian Futurism— as the lines in the photo below demonstrate. while his books/work are not easy to find, thanks to the reissues and/or retrospectives, his book Between Construction and Emotion is a favorite one in my collection. I also love this aspect about his short life: « He studied medicine, law, and philosophy at the Charles University in Prague and the University of Bratislava but did not graduate and instead turned to photography. » perhaps a projection of a wish for my life’s path.
links: Between Construction and Emotion (at ArtBook) & Jaroslav Rössler‘s Czech Avant-Garde Photographer (at AbeBooks). a photo gallery and noting the exhibit now in Frankfurt (at L’œil de la Photographie)
by Jaromir Funke
like many industries, it is difficult to accept changes in fashion photography. yes, fashion is about quarterly/yearly changes to the clothes, though we can see that fashion photography was pretty stale for many years— and that stale view can still be found today. it seems that that Deborah Turbeville was not a fan of the fashion world, still, it may have been this disdain that propelled her to be subversive, in a way, with her photographic work within that industry. « It is the psychological tone and mood that I work for… », she said, and thus it is not only a “lo-fi” approach to otherwise saturated/sharp (and stale) fashion work that was subversive, but also what the fashion photograph should convey: as if she wanted to integrate the scene, and not just differentiate the clothes. in my view, an integrative view of composition and presentation can produce a stronger work, rather than concentrating on equipment and photographic rules/clichés (such as “rules of thirds”, sharpness, small or large DoF gimmickry, and the fads in post-processing). Deborah Turbeville took an assault on fashion photography norms from many different angles which reverberate through today.
info: her fashion photography has been compiled onto the book The Fashion Photographs. for a look at integration versus elimination (differentiation), the article from Malcom Gladwell, for The New Yorker, on the advertising targeting via psychological integration vs differentiation classification can be found at [ summary ]
link: 14 photographs at Last Shot: DT, and an interview with DT on her last book.
by Deborah Turbeville
there seems to be a flood of Polaroid books in recent years, and I personally, have been lowering my threshold of what is a good book to buy. it is not a “pass”, rather, it has to do with an attempt to understand a distortion/transformation (or two). that is, there is the transformation that Polaroids shifts in color relative to the real world, and there is the transformation on the photographer/subject by using the Polaroid equipment. among the early books, themed on Polaroids, that I obtained was from Sibylle Bergemann. I watched the video-review (by Jörg Coldberg), and was hooked— and no, it didn’t require for me to lower my threshold on photo books that I would own. I am glad to see that more of her work is being given a book release, as her talent, demonstrated in The Polaroids, gets an immediate spark of interest on how she saw the world. further to this interest, and despite the fact that I have not taken that many Polaroid photos because I completely avoided it when the company was viable— heck, I even worked a summer at Polaroid near Boston and was not interested in the camera— then, it is strange how much it influences my perception of color in presenting a photo… and perhaps, if I get to understand the second transformation: what a portrait should convey.
link: more photos at Luz. an essay on Polaroids I wrote a few years ago:
« For the love of something absent: Polaroid Books »
sometimes, luck strikes. for Saul Leiter himself, I am not sure, as he was dismissive of praise, but lucky for us, because it is the rare instances in art when a talent makes it through despite how they approached a road to fame. since Early Color was released in 2006, and now on its 6th printing, the embracing of Saul Leiter has been one of those rare moments of happiness in art that a deserved talent has a reach. we can realize this rise by noting how people have come to identify the indelible Leiter style: misty windows, big negative spaces, and more importantly, a big room for the imagination by cropping. (mind you, this is cropping by elements in the scene, and not some André Kertész style cropping of the negative.) aside from the obvious taste in composition and elements that have made Leiter such a favorite among many, it is the cropping that makes the biggest impression on me. below is, perhaps, my most favorite photo from him.
link: Gallery 51 (Antwerp), an early proponent of his work.
by Saul Leiter from Early Color
unlike the previous post, in that I am very familiar with Michael Kenna’s work, I am not familiar with Nancy Rexroth. thus, I cannot say what her style, if she has one, is like. however, I can glance at her work in the magnificent re-print of her book IOWA, and know that it is a plastic “toy” camera: in this case, a Diana. this is exemplified by the photo below, which I think it is exemplary of the use of a plastic camera. for example, the increased contrast in the center is nicely utilized to accentuate geometry/form, along with the lower contrast, vignetting, and blurring on the edges to include the subject of the photo.
links: at ASX and Robert Mann Gallery
by Nancy Rexroth, from her book IOWA