Books On My Desk: Klett, Parks, and Aufuldish

It’s possible to have too many books, especially art books. I’ve got shelves full of them, piles on the floor crowding the furniture. Every so often I swear I’m going to stop buying art books then I do and then I don’t. I do–I’ll go a month or two without buying. But then I don’t–they start sneaking in the house, a few laying on my living room table, a few in the family room, a few in my office, dispersed throughout the house to disguise their number.

It’s not a collection. My books, aside from being largely books on photography, do not cluster around any certain subject or period. It is not curated. I buy whatever catches my interest and I buy to research photo projects of my own, looking at other photographs to avoid doing what has already been done and, failing that, to steal intelligently.

I buy books of photographs to see museum exhibitions of shows I cannot attend. I buy books of photographs to re-see museum exhibits that I did attend (although my iPhone images–I routinely shoot every piece in an exhibit that I want to remember–are so much better than the reproductions in the books). I buy books for reasons carefully considered, I buy books on impulse. I just buy books.

Here are a few sitting on my desk now. I hope to get to them soon.

Mark Klett: Seeing Time

Rephotography is an awkward work, looking more like a misprint than an idea. The idea is to find old photos and then go shoot them again. Not an original idea but Klett has made it into something far beyond what you’d find in a “then and now” paperback. When I say that Klett “rephotographs” an image by Carlton Watkins or Timothy O’Sullivan, for example, I don’t mean that he just shows up in the area of the original photograph and frames up the mountain or the river the same as Watkins or O’Sullivan and takes the picture. I mean to say that Klett carefully researches the photographs and does everything he can to find the exact location of the camera when the image was made. And I mean exact. I’m talking about trigonometry, piles of reference photos, research on the history of the site and changes to it. The result can be surprisingly powerful, with the changes that have occurred to the land between times made visible, insights into the work of the original photographer, and just some sort of primal attraction in comparing two images and marveling over the differences.

Seeing Time is a heavy book, weighing in on my postal scale at seven pounds, three ounces, is the sort of book demands you read it as an occasion, that you clear a spot at the table, ready a drink, and open the book as a sort of event. You almost need to schedule a time for it.

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957

I’ve never particularly liked Gordon Parks’ work, although I know that is something that people never say. I don’t like most photojournalism, I guess, although some of it can be very powerful indeed. It’s not that I think Parks wasn’t a good photographer. Not at all. I think he was a very good photographer. My lack of favor comes from the way his work–and the work of most photojournalists–seems to all blend together.

There is no doubt in my mind that this blending comes from my own ignorance of the work of photojournalists, my inability to discern differences in style that are clear to others. And that is why I bought this book. To try again.

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 is based on a set of images Parks made for a Life Magazine story on crime in the United States. Parks went to several major cities over a six week period to make the photographs published with the article. This book contains those and many more from the same trips. It’s a slim book and weighs a third of Klett’s book.

Bob Aufuldish: 100 Days Walking {in Solitude} (Extended Remix)

What do book designers do when they do their own books? Whatever they want, I suppose. Bob Aufuldish, the designer for my own book, Computational Photography, has put together a printed project to document his pandemic walkarounds, posted each day for one hundred days to Instagram. I enjoyed seeing his photos as they appeared, endlessly quirky, slightly off vignettes from what I guess is the neighborhood near his home.

The book, available from Blurb, comes in two versions, a slimmer one and the one on my desk. At three and a half pounds it is a hefty book and may contain more images than what he posted to Instagram, we will see.

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