The shelf: Pictures speak louder than words

You’d think that three months of holidays would have convinced us of picking up a ‘proper’ book  – you know, fiction, philosophy or what not – and finally get into some ‘adult’ reading. Not really, still very much into fine art photography books, although we did give the selection a slightly more, lets say, educational lean this time – just to keep the intellectuals happy.

Photographer Yana Foqué

Places, strange and quiet (2011) by Wim Wenders – Hatje Cantz

At times intriguing, at others downright hilarious, Wim Wenders’ photography captures the everyday absurdities he encounters on his many travels – everything from oversized cowboys sporting Wrangler denim skirts to windowless backyard sheds and deserted former submarine assembly plants. With characteristic wit, the celebrated filmmaker creates visual statements on non-descript places which draw meaning not from their subject matter but, rather, from Wenders’ watchful gaze, and the notes accompanying each photograph. Opposite a photograph depicting a Bavarian policeman looking onto Italian activists running amok through a field for example, the sentence reads: “The G8 in Germany…Protesters ran through the fields, Italian activists carrying a sign PACE. A Bavarian policeman turned to his colleague: “Look, these idiots don’t even know how to spell PEACE.””  It’s simple, self-explanatory and works wonders. Pure Wenders.

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Behind the zines: Self-publishing culture (2011) – Gestalten

However limited their print run, the impact self-published fanzines have had on the growth of certain counter-cultures and musical movements make them the undeniable and ultimate voice of independent thinking. The precursor to blogs, what really distinguished these homemade, low budget boutique publications was their approach to art direction, graphic design and production. Antiquated print presses were preserved merely to achieve a particular finish, paper stocks mixed-and-matched to rainbow effect, 3D typefaces created out of pure ‘zine zeal and binding techniques so advanced even the Japanese couldn’t catch up. An exhaustive, well put together and, above all, accurate survey of the culture in itself, Behind the zines manages to succinctly capture the movement’s essence without reading like a how to guide.

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In a lonely place (2011) by Gregory Crewdson – Hatje Cantz

Best known for his highly staged, film-like photography, Crewdson also has a more intimate and intuitive side to his work, one which somehow seems more improvised and less restrained. Although the celebrated photographer shot to prominence with his sometimes glacial series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Crewdson manages to counter his tendency towards the pre-determined with rather more personal series such as Sanctuary (2009), a black and white documentary which captures Fellini’s famed Cinecitta studios in Rome, or Fireflies (1996), which reflects the artist’s interest in nature. In each of the series though, Crewdson’s ability to contrast an overriding sense of sadness with an unquestionable and somewhat naïve beauty remains the unsettling element that makes of his visual aesthetic one of the most innovative in contemporary photography today.

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From Polaroid to Impossible (2011) – Hatje Cantz

Along with the demise of the Polaroid Corporation came the realisation that its legendary Polaroid Collection housed in New York and Europe would need to be auctioned off to pay off angry creditors and administrators. Aghast, a movement made of artists, museums and photography lovers and led by the Polaroid-perfected artist Chuck Close came to life, mobilising itself to ensure preservation of the 16,000-strong collection which includes instant photography by the likes of Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton. The group succeeded in its quest to avoid a sale, and this book is the result of their perseverance.

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Global Denim (2011) by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward – Berg Publisher

The dominance denim enjoys over other textiles in the fashion industry is unparalleled. It’s a natural monopoly of the global uniform, one which has rarely been investigated. From the streets of Mumbai and the back alleys of Mexico City to the urban townships of middle America and the rural villages of central Africa, nothing says effortless cool the way a pair of jeans does – be they boot cuts, slim fits or baggies. But what, exactly, makes them so ubiquitous? What is their anthropological meaning when taken in their local contexts? At times a heavy read that can make you feel like you’re back at college, Global Denim uses the Great Depression, Bollywood screenings and Rio de Janeiro’s funk balls to reach a set of conclusions explaining the unquestionable rise of denim as the global garment of the world.

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Jeff Wall, The Crooked Path (2011) – Bozar Books and Ludion

The accompanying book to the Canadian photographer’s monumental exhibition of the same name currently on show at Brussels’ Bozar, The Crooked Path represents Wall’s attempt to make sense of his body of work in a very public manner by contextualising it, confronting it even, to the works of his contemporaries and icons. Using as starting point a simple picture of a landscape, Wall proceeds to historically reference his work – large-scale photography framed in light boxes for the most part – opting for total transparency as far as inspiration goes: he makes no secret, for example, of having taken inspiration from Delacroix’s La Mort de Sardanapale for The Destroyed Room, his 1978 depiction of a ransacked room. And that is the beauty of Wall’s work: conscious of its debt to the past, but keen to translate it for the future.

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(first published in the blue album)