Book of the Year: ‘Riley & His Story’ by Monica Haller

Soon after posting my Top 10 list, I learned about Monica Haller’s book, Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us.’ Published in November by Onestar press/Fälth & Hässler, the book consists of hundreds of photographs by Riley Sharbonno, an army nurse who served at Abu Ghraib prison from 2004-2005. But it’s Monica Haller’s stunning methodology for organizing these images that makes this the book of the year.

→With only a thousand copies in print (and most of them in Europe), I’d recommend purchasing this pronto before it sells out.

Since Monica happens to live in Minnesota, I quickly contacted her. She graciously agreed to an impromptu interview in my bunker library.

[vimeo w=600&h=452]

To see this video a little bit larger, go to the LBM A/V page.
For more information about Riley and His Story, go here.

Before the cave.

Hey, Les. I’m gonna get a bit philosophical with you here, so hang on.

Just before Plato launches into his cave allegory in his Republic, he talks about divisions of the soul. Here’s a quote I found really interesting:

There are four such conditions in the soul, corresponding to the four subsections of our line: Understanding for the highest, thought for the second, belief for the third, and imaging for the last. Arrange them in a ratio, and consider that each shares in clarity to the degree that the subsection it is set over shares in truth.

Here’s how a kind person laid it out in a diagram, more tree- than line-like, with understanding=intellection, belief=trust/confidence, and imaging=imagination/conjecture:

too long in the cave

You may think I’ve been in the cave too long. Or I got some kind of fever from all the damn bugs that bit me while I was working in the south. You may be right; I’ve also got a bloody eyeball that I can’t explain. But I’m trying to break it all down and get my head in order for the new year. The direction of all these philosophical meanderings is toward the notion of “goodness” (see it, modestly lowercase, in its little box up top?) and an understanding of how images and imagination play a defining role in realizing the good. And what is a good image, really? Effective propaganda, or something eternal and true?

So sue me if I go astray.


The Plan

p.s. This book, in Alec’s list, about the hyper-collectors (momma called ’em packrats) and the people who come to bail them out? Maybe I should check in with that guy Schmelling, find out what he knows about it all…

Alec Soth’s Top 10 Photobooks of 2009

You and Me and the Art of Give and Take
by Allen Ruppersberg (Santa Monica Museum of Art)
Holy information overload. One of the coolest exhibition catalogues I’ve ever seen.

Greater Atlanta
by Mark Steinmetz (Nazraeli)
Steinmetz goes 3 for 3. Now I just wish Nazraeli would make a nice box to protect those sensitive white covers.

l by Raimond Wouda (Nazraeli)
A Technicolor teenage riot.

The * As Error
by Shannon Ebner and Dexter Sinister (LA County Museum)
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right
It’s all right

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry
by Leanne Shapton (FSG)
Categorized as ‘Fiction/Graphic Novel’ by the publisher, this little book seems to have missed the photo universe entirely. But with hundreds of images by Jason Fulford and Michael Schmelling (who has his own entry on this list), this book should be categorized under ‘Narrative Photography.’

…all the days and nights by Doug Dubois (Aperture)
‘Narrative Photography’ at its finest.

The Plan
by Michael Schmelling (J&L)
If your home is getting cluttered, this book could change your life. But what if your home is getting cluttered with photo books?

Summer Nights, Walking
by Robert Adams (Aperture)
I used to be embarrassed that the 1985 edition was one of my favorite photobooks. The book was almost too sweet and the cover was an 80’s design nightmare. But there is nothing embarrassing about this reprint. Along with the incredible printing and understated cover, Adams has added some tougher pictures to the mix. Breathtaking.

Open See
by Jim Goldberg (Steidl)
Complex Goldbergian discourse on the subject of dislocation.

Protest Photographs
by Chauncey Hare (Steidl)
I haven’t had time to wrap my head around this tome, but it only takes a quick glance to know that this book is a killer.

→Looking for copies of these books? Visit the Photobook Link Page.


Hey, Les.

I might be out of touch for a few days. Nothing personal. I’ve got some business to take care of down south. Kinda like Santa, but not nearly as many houses to break into to get the job done. Between the chimneys, I don’t know how much web access I’ll have. But I hope to find a way to weigh in now and then.

Be sure to see my last post, which was a response to your phallocentric-castrophobic Capon jumble. I’m not sure if this blog thing communicates about non-new posts.

Yrs, with seasoning.


Dear O. Gelder,

I think this fear and disgust comes from the fact that mushrooms are so clearly alive but, as you say, feed on death. As Martha Nussbaum said in last Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine, “The common property of all these primary disgust objects is that they are reminders of our animality and mortality.”

Look at the names in these mushroom diagrams: Volva, Annulus, Flesh, Spines, Warts…mushrooms remind us of our own bodies.

Mostly, of course, mushrooms are phallic. We fear and disgust them in the same way we do a horse’s penis. Speaking of which, I’m a little worried that your last name refers to someone who performs animal castration.

What exactly are you doing over at Gelder Head Productions?


ps. I didn’t know Mr. Sultan. I only have two friends.

Fun guy.


Hey, Lester.

Did you like mushrooms when you were growing up? To me, they were like, the essence of fear food (not to mention how creepy they were, squishing underfoot and popping up in the lawn after rains). Kept me at the table way after everyone else finished their dinners. Almost as hard to choke down as liver, even hidden in mashed potatoes. Kind of uncanny, really.

They are still eerie. And deathly. Often little and brown. Something edible you better not eat unless you know your fungi. I mean, it grows from death, and decay. No photosynthesis. But they grow in some of the most beautiful places in the forest, and the best ones taste like meat and peat.

I sometimes say that I feel like a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

Speaking of death, I wish I’d known this guy Sultan. Sounds like a fascinating person; I like what I saw of his pics. Maybe he was fun. (Get it? “Fun guy”? haha)

Yrs truly,

Glad to be here.

Thanks, Lester, for opening the door for me to write in your space.

Or were you showing me the way out?

By the way, did you know that a door can be a jar? I know your friend Alec is interested in jars.

I’ve been thinking about mushrooms. I’ll share those with you in a while.