Culture: The scarlet letter

After spending the better part of winter buried in horror fiction, pulp magazines and crime novels, these childhood classics, monumental monographs and stunning photography volumes sure are a welcome alternative.

Photographer 354 Photographers

From left, clockwise: Urban Interventions (Gestalten), Gang Leader for a Day (Allen Lane), Bankrupt (Twin Palms Publishers), Anish Kapoor (Phaidon) and The Red Balloon (Doubleday)

Bankrupt (2004) by Phillip Toledano – Twin Palms Publishers

Bankrupt presents no foreword nor summary, its subject matter being quite self-explanatory. A handful of anonymous termination emails are featured as the only textual elements, eluding to the sense of incomprehension or disbelief their recipients might have felt upon first read. New York-based photographer Phillip Toledano started taking pictures of recently abandoned offices in 2001, documenting what he referred to as “economic archaeology”. The oversized dimensions of the book and Toledano’s large-scale prints emphasise the desolate character of these vacant offices. Page after page, we are faced with empty drawers, dying plants, the mess and chaos of desks that have been hastily abandoned, piled boxes, coatless hangers, lifeless rooms, ending with its most moving and ironic image: a cleared desk above which a blue sticker on the wall reads “We’re all in this together”.

Available from Amazon.

Anish Kapoor (2009) by David Anfam – Phaidon

From its beautiful and rich cover reminiscent of the textures of his wax works to the colour pictures that capture the intensity of pigment sculptures, this book – prefaced by art historian David Anfam – is a useful resource for understanding Anish Kapoor’s highly rated oeuvre. Famed for his larger-than-life pieces that involve trompe l’oeil and site-specific installations, the British sculptor has rapidly become one of the most respected artists of his generation. With hundreds of images ranging from reproductions of his work, photographs of Kapoor in his workshop, as well as sketches from his most ambitious projects, this weighty volume certainly lives up to its promise of being the most comprehensive monograph ever published on the artist.

Available from Amazon.

Gang Leader for a day (2008) by Sudhir Venkatesh – Allen Lane

When American sociology student Sudhir Venkatesh infiltrated a gang to gain an in depth understanding of urban poverty in early 90s Chicago, he certainly had no clue of how far it would take him and how drawn he would become to the subjects of his interests. Spending nearly a decade in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, one of the worst ghettos in America, he quickly found himself in the midst of a crack dealing crime ring. Recounting his trials and tribulations with an unexpected candour, this book tells the tale of a curious young man that ended up getting far more than he had bargained for.

Available from Amazon.

The red balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse – Doubleday

Based on the French movie of the same name, The Red Balloon tells the story of little Pascal, a lonely only child whose vivid imagination leads him to befriend a large helium filled red balloon which he manages to tame and turns into an obedient pet. The pair embarks on a series of adventures through the streets of Paris, until a gang of jealous schoolmates “burst his bubble” by throwing rocks in its direction. The minimal amount of colour stands out amongst the beautiful black and white photographs taken during the filming of this 1956 children’s classic. As heart-warming as it is poignant, this naive tale will bring out your inner child, a few smiles and possibly even tears.

Available from Amazon.

Urban interventions: personal projects in public places (2010) by Robert Klanten – Gestalten

Part street art, part agitprop, urban interventions have become a permanent feature of cities’ landscapes in recent years, gaining both in notoriety and interest. Whether artists, that chose to make use of public spaces for creative expressions, or activists, who go to the street to spread political messages, both use the city as their personal drawing board. The results are often amusing, and whether political or simply aesthetic, always thought provoking. This book showcases the projects of over 70 individuals and collectives, who operate throughout Europe and America, taking art out of white cubes and into the agora.

Available from Amazon.

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