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book binge

just the latest iteration

Thomas Gudzowaty, CLOSER: I'm a bit ambivalent about Gudzowaty. On the one hand, the man clearly has talent and passion in spades, as well as this most crucial ingredient, curiosity and sensitivity to people and the world around him. On the other hand, his heavy-handed, frequent use of thick grain and very high contrast sometimes begins to look like a self-indulgent gimmick. And an annoying one at that for example in his book Keiko on the ship-dismantling yards in Chittagong. In that particular book, the contrast is sometimes so strong that the picture just falls apart before your eyes. Closer happily doesn't suffer from this affect, and I find the grainy, contrasty B&W images work really well, especially some of the ones shot in Antarctic snow-storms. The book itself is a beautiful object, wonderfully printed (by Steidl - who else ?!) on mat, textured paper, with a fantastic smell to boot ! Still looking at the pictures, whilst a number of them are admittedly stunning, you can't help but a) find them to become a little repetitive (this is one substantial tome) b) wonder if it would have worked as well in more pedestrian color or standard B&W (is the form to some extent patching over a lack of substance ?) and, when you reach the end, c) wonder with a little bewilderment at the pseudo-philosophical epilogue. Whilst I'm glad I got this book, in spite of its fairly hefty price-tag, because it contains some genuinely stunning images, I can't rid myself of the nagging feeling that altogether, as we say in French, it's farting a little higher than its arse. Mind you I'm keeping an open mind and I'd happily listen to anyone arguing I might be missing something.

And this book also raises another interesting question, i.e. to what extent can form (increasing grain and contrast in this case, though with modern software it would really be anything you might care to do with your photo in post-production) legitimately ameliorate a photo once taken, or claim to play, in the final product, an equal part beside the content and composition. I'm personally minded to answer no, but accept this is ultimately a tastes-&-colours issue.

Frans Lanting, EYE TO EYE: this is, or was, a classic book of wildlife photography; I more or less remember when it came out, in 1997 apparently. I bought it because of that, and the fact that it's one of those really excellent value Taschen re-editions. Inside, it's a curious mix of some exceptional pics, and a lot of quite boring ones you'd expect to find in a brochure for safari trips. This is actually a sign of how wildlife photography has been re-invented since. Either that or I've (or we've) become really blasé...

Actually brings to mind a book I bought a couple of years ago,Elliott Erwitt's New York, NY street photography by the great man. Whilst some of the pictures remain fresh, arresting and relevant, a number of them haven't aged particularly well, and simply hark back to the beginnings of street photography, where simply being there and taking the shot was just about enough. Rather like the touching naiveté that we might see today in classical philosophers. It was all brilliant at the time, an an important stepping-stone to what we know today, and perhaps an interesting historic document - but that's about all really.

Christian Vium, Ville Nomade: beautifully published by Actes Sud, from the winner of the Prix HSBC pour la Photographie. I really love this book format when it's not overdone, combining great pictures with an assortment of documents, archival photos, maps etc., in this case about the city of Nouakchott in Mauritania, to give you a fuller, three-dimensional feel for whatever the particular subject may be.

Yan Morvan, Blousons Noirs: love it ! in the line of Danny Lyon's Bikeriders, and some of Dennis Hopper's photography, and also perhaps, though n a bit of a different way, Anders Petersen. B&W pics from rebellious, black-leather-jacketed youth in 70's France.

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