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2017 Best Books: Laura M. André


Books Laura M. André : 2017 Best Books Laura M. André Selects Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, Arbus Friedlander Winogrand: New Documents, 1967, and Reading Raymond Carver as the Best Books of 2017
Laura M. André
Laura M. André received her PhD in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at the University of New Mexico before leaving academia to work with photography books. She is the manager of photo-eye’s book division.






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Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals 
By Mandy Barker. Overlapse, 2017.
 
Beyond Drifting:
Imperfectly Known Animals

Photographs by Mandy Barker

This conceptually rich photobook is the sleeper of the year. Think Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species meets Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes of British Algae. From the faded and stained cover to the facsimile pages of creased, mold spotted, bleed-through paper, Mandy Barker's brilliantly conceived, designed, and executed faux-Victorian photobook deftly addresses the contemporary, global environmental crisis of plastic ocean debris. While Mathieu Asselin’s outstanding Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation addresses an equally destructive and urgent environmental calamity, I think Beyond Drifting—a wholly different kind of book—deserves greater recognition than it has received. To see all the reasons why, read my full review on photo-eye blog.

Building on rock-solid research, Barker’s book combines scientific and artistic precedents with imaginative evidence of “imperfectly known animals”: plastic plankton making their way up the food chain. That Barker has chosen a 19th-century form to address a 21st-century problem speaks to both the power and futility of the old notion of photography as proof. Her presentation of this work recalls the era of positivist science, which held that if something could be seen — in a photograph, perhaps — it therefore existed. Ironically, Barker's constructed images provide a kind of positivist proof that plastic-infused plankton exist. At the same time, despite ample visual evidence and data that warn of this and other contemporary ecological and environmental crises, far too many people — some of whom wield the power to mandate positive change — have chosen to remain in denial of what is, in fact, perfectly known.

This book is a knockout!

Read the full review on photo-eye's blog

Purchase Book Here

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals By Mandy Barker. Overlapse, 2017.

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Arbus Friedlander Winogrand: New Documents, 1967. 
Text by  Max Kozloff and Sarah Hermanson Meister.
The Museum of Modern Art, 2017. 
 
Arbus Friedlander Winogrand:
New Documents, 1967

Photographs by Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander

Fifty years ago, in February 1967, the New Documents exhibition opened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Curated by John Szarkowski, the show featured three relatively unknown photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand, whom — despite the obvious differences in their work — documented the extraordinary in the commonplace. As Szarkowski put it, “these pictures might well change our sense of what life is like.”

The influence these artists went on to have, and their importance in the history of American photography, was not obvious at the time. MoMA did not even go to the trouble of publishing an exhibition catalog. Lucky for us, MoMA has addressed this lacuna, enabling us to experience a kind of exhibition time travel with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Most importantly, the book reproduces all 94 photographs in the exhibition, including the best and most iconic examples from each artist, as well as photographs that, for various reasons, have not been seen since. Installation shots reveal the show’s modest and minimal presentation.

Along with this central content, the book is a gold mine for anyone who — like me — delights in the intimacy of studying archival material. Contact sheets from the opening reception show Winogrand holding forth, cocktail glass in hand, while Friedlander mugs for the camera; another frame captures Szarkowski, MoMA Director René d’Harnoncourt, and Doon Arbus mid-conversation. Among the book’s supporting illustrations, a Diane Arbus drawing instructs Szarkowski how to crop a large reproduction of her 1963 Teenage Couple, Hudson Street, New York, which decorated the exhibition’s title wall; and another image shows Winogrand’s children posing in front of the same image on the title wall, as if they were part of the photograph. The book also reproduces gems such as Arbus’ typed list of proposed invitees to the opening reception, including Saul Leiter and Leonard Bernstein, and her hand-written revisions to that list: “No. Let’s not invite them”; “She is a snake charmer”; “A slimy prince”; “He’s a young Jewish giant I am pursuing to photograph. Very touching boy.” She ends her notes, “I’m not greedy. I just want it to be a good party.”

Every time I look through this book, I feel like I was there.

Read the full review on photo-eye's blog

Purchase Book Here

Arbus Friedlander Winogrand: New Documents, 1967. Text by  Max Kozloff and Sarah Hermanson Meister.The Museum of Modern Art, 2017.

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Reading Raymond Carver By Mary Frey 
Peperoni Books, 2017.
 
Reading Raymond Carver
Photographs by Mary Frey

A teenaged girl hunches over an 8-track player, probably straining to hear a back-masked message on her Led Zeppelin tape, while other cartridges and a disco album rest on the bed she's sitting on — a typical scene from a middle-class, white adolescent of the period. Except it's not. The cover image for this intriguing book exemplifies the strangeness of the images within.

The photographs, from Mary Frey's series Domestic Rituals (1979–1983), fascinate me with their details (at the same time mysterious and telling) and the stories they suggest (simultaneously inviting and impenetrable); I find myself returning to them again and again. Popular magazines and family snapshots were Frey’s inspiration, but her images are instead carefully constructed examples of what A.D. Coleman was then beginning to define as photography’s directorial mode. In contrast to the medium’s long association with documenting reality, these photographs instead demand the same suspension of disbelief that literary fiction writers ask of their readers.

Frey’s images, like Raymond Carver’s short stories, evoke familiarity and unpretentiousness. But they are teeming with heightened drama. Just when you think nothing of consequence is happening, the most crucial and important things are happening. But you have to pay attention.

Selected as Book of the Week by Laura M. André

Purchase Book Here

Reading Raymond Carver By Mary Frey. Peperoni Books, 2017.

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