Sébastien Girard: Nothing But Home

Those following Little Brown Miscellanea know that I recently acquired Sébastien Girard’s book, Nothing But Home. There has been a lot of buzz about this book lately. Markus Schaden listed it in his Top Ten list. And Jeffrey Ladd recently wrote an enthusiastic review. I too was really taken with this book. It reminds me of another recent favorite, Michel Campeau’s Darkroom. Just as Campeau explored the cramped jerry-rigging of darkrooms with the eye of a longtime user, Girard photographs his home renovation with the homeowner’s mix of affection/exasperation.

The remarkable thing about Girard’s book is that it is, in fact, homemade. Self-published by Girard and printed in his hometown of Toulouse, the production value is exceptionally high. But with an edition of only 500 (and a special edition of 100 with print and red cover), this book retains a true homespun spirit.

More info about the book here.

Birthday Book, part 4 (Slot Catalogue)

I recently described the making of my Las Vegas Birthday Book (and sculpture). Soon after I traded it away to the rare book dealer, Harper Levine. My timing was excellent as Harper was just beginning his Annual Book Sale (ends this Thursday, January 14th).

For poetic reasons, the key book I acquired was a 1940’s trade catalogue by a slot machine manufacturer. What I like about the book is the way the machine workers look like weary gamblers while the company owners resemble casino fat cats.

I left Vegas feeling like one of those tired machinists. But back home with new books, I’m starting to feel like Steve Wynn.

More images of the casino book here.

Birthday Book, part 3 (Bedrock City)

Lost all your money in Vegas? You can pick up Todd Oldham’s Bedrock City used on Amazon like I did for $6.80. Located somewhere between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City will appeal to fans of caveman architecture (Lester?). Real architecture fans might like it too – Michael Graves contributes an essay. Is it a great book? Nope. The photography is forgettable. But the design is really cool. The dust jacket folds out into a poster and the book comes with three postcards.

There are three other book in the series that Oldham calls a ‘magazine monograph.’ See them here.

Birthday Book, part 2 (Las Vegas Studio)

Last week I made a video about my birthday trip to Las Vegas and my failure to acquire the book Horsemeat, by Charles Bukowski and Michael Montfort. As a consolation, I recently acquired the book Las Vegas Studio, Images from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. (Thanks to 5b4 for bringing it to my attention in this review).

What makes the book work is the washed-out blankness of the pictures combined with a spare and sophisticated layout.

So less is more, right (Lester)? Ironically, it was Venturi who said that “Less is a Bore.”

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 http://www.vimeo.com/8415834 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.

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.

Larry Sultan, Pictures From Home

Like so many others, I was heartbroken to learn of the death of Larry Sultan. (Read obits here, here, here, here). I met Larry in 2004. He and I were showing concurrently at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery.  I was totally green and nervous as hell to be meeting one of my photographic heroes. But Larry didn’t disappoint. He was gentle, generous and real.

I ran into Larry a couple of other times over the years. In Munich we were in a group show together. We cracked jokes during a long press conference in which neither of us understood a word being said. We also talked about photography. Larry was incredibly smart about the medium. I’ve always said that there is nobody whom I’d rather have had the chance to study under.

In the wake of his passing I reread Pictures From Home. Unbelievable. Has there ever been a photographer who writes better than Sultan? I’m certain that nobody has done a better job combining text and pictures. In this regard, Pictures From Home is the absolute zenith.  Plainspoken, smart and brutally honest, it is a masterpiece of narrative photography.

A spread in Chapter Five shows this picture of Sultan’s father:

This is the text:

“I’m married and have two kids, own a house, shop in the malls, read the business section of the newspaper, take my shirts to the laundry, catch myself continually calculating my savings, and worry about dying from various terminal illnesses. Was it that different when he was forty-four? Did he feel the same intensity of doubt and confusion as I do? Was he haunted by all of the things he was unable to be?”

At the end of Chapter Six we get his father’s take on the picture:

“I don’t mean to sound so critical. I’m just trying to understand what you see in certain pictures. Like that one you took last time you were here. I can’t figure out why you asked me to dress up in a suit, write on a piece of backdrop paper as though I was giving lecture and then photograph me standing there with a pen in my hand looking confused, like I didn’t know what I was talking about? I didn’t even spell that word correctly: “it’s empathize,” not “empathy,” a verb rather than a noun.

And then Larry goes on to transcribe his conversation with his father about the picture.

Larry Sultan: That’s what I like about the picture. I thought that the error is an important detail, one that reveals a basic human quality. Do you think it diminishes you, makes you seem foolish?

Irving Sultan: I wouldn’t go that far. But that’s not the way I would have set it up. My image of someone giving a lecture is to have them project confidence and knowledge. In your picture, I look frightened by the very point I’m trying to make.

Larry Sultan: Exactly. That particular picture was inspired by the Dale Carnegie course, and by all the lectures you gave me when I was a kid. I can’t name it, but some emotion has seeped into the self that you wanted to project and caused a disturbance. I didn’t notice it when I was taking the picture, but when I saw the print, I was reminded of something you once told me, that your success and efforts have been primarily motivated by fear. Maybe there’s a little of that in the photograph. It’s like a tear in the image that shows both who you think you should be and who you are.

I was twenty-two when Pictures From Home was published. Now I’m forty (and have two kids, own a house and shop at the mall). Time marches on. Thinking about all of this and thinking about Larry, I look at the one picture I have of him. It is from Mike Mandel’s series of photographer baseball cards. Here’s Larry looking like an angel at age 29 (note the back of his card, which hauntingly echoes his father’s comments about fear):

The thing about Pictures From Home is that it is fearless. Or more accurately, Sultan faces his fears with fearlessness. From what I’ve heard, he faced his death with a similar spirit. He also left with a beautiful piece of writing. In a letter to friends, he wrote:

“After hellish days and nights in hospitals, I have chosen not to be medicalized, but, instead, be here at home. Here in this house with my family, full of sleeping kids and wrestling dogs, and French toast cooking while next door in my studio, Dru is laying out a box of prints to edit. This is where I want to be. I realize whatever grace I’m ultimately leaving with is directly linked to my deep understanding that I have led a charmed life. So many charms, and the more there are, the easier it is to let go – at least today while I write this.”