Friday 22 November 2019

Book Club 2019

I've managed to keep a tight rein on my book-buying habit this year – just, you know, the odd one, plus essential purchases, the occasional lucky impulse buy, a few shrewd investments, and one or two completist and curiosity items, so nothing too extravagant – but nonetheless I do have some recommendations, if you're in the market for some outstanding books in the run up to Christmas. I've provided links to the publishers, who, in most cases, will sell you a copy direct.

Altered Ocean, by Mandy Barker. What an outstanding and timely project this is, creating beautiful but unsettling constructed simulacrums of animation out of strictly inanimate oceanic plastic pollution. A truly handsome book, and endorsed by David Attenborough, no less. It's a more satisfying, more purposeful approach than her previous, much-acclaimed publication, Beyond Drifting, in which items of plastic debris are presented as if microphotographs of plankton (work which I thought was overpowered by its presentation, the fastidious mocking-up of a battered old scientific textbook). Category: Curiosity purchase.

O Hanami, by Paul Kenny.  Greg Stewart's Kozu Books is producing some wonderful books with exemplary production values. You can read an interview with Greg here. If I could persuade Kozu to publish a book of my work, I'd be a very happy man. Like Mandy Barker, Paul Kenny's work is also poetic and constructed (I believe he mainly uses a scanner, not a camera) but psychologically darker, creating compelling imagery from natural and man-made flotsam and jetsam. His previous volume from Triplekite, Seaworks 1998-2013, is unobtainable and highly sought-after: I couldn't believe my luck, a couple of years ago, finding a used copy for a very modest price. This one is likely to suffer the same fate. Category: Shrewd investment.

Abstract Mindedness, by Doug Chinnery. Really compelling work, this, also from Kozu. It is actually one of the most inspiring books I have bought in a long time: I love Doug's use of an astringent natural colour palette against dark backgrounds. Check it out. Doug Chinnery is something of a "name" in the British alt-landscape photography world, but deserves to be more widely known. His work is unconventional but camera-based, using layered multiple exposures and "ICM" (intentional camera movement) [1]. Category: Lucky impulse buy.

The World's Edge, by Thomas Joshua Cooper.  The summation of a major project by a major artist; practically a life's work, and certainly one that has caused him to risk his life several times over. I shared my own thoughts on TJC's project in a previous post, which also includes a link to a video of him presenting the work. This man is the photographic equivalent of film-maker Werner Herzog i.e. a certifiably-sane giant in a world that prefers bite-sized mediocrities. Category: Essential purchase.

Des Oiseaux, by Pentti Sammallahti.  What to say? A well-presented, well-chosen selection of the outstanding work of one of the world's outstanding photographers, all of which happen to feature a bird or birds somewhere in the frame. It's a clever idea for a series, and Éditions Xavier Barral have brought out similar, uniformly-packaged, bird-themed volumes from Graciela Iturbide, Michael Kenna, Bernard Plossu, Terri Weifenbach, and Yoshinori Mizutani. I believe only the French version of the Sammallahti is still available, but come on, who reads the text in photo-books? Category: Completist purchase.

And what about a couple of non-photographic books?

Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by David Hockney.  I have already described these illustrations and the impact they had on me as an impressionable 16-year-old. This is a lovely, tactile edition from the Royal Academy, cloth-bound and printed on good paper, small, but not as absurdly tiny as the original Petersburg Press edition: it would make a perfect present. Category: Essential purchase.

City Works Dept., by Philip Hancock. A book of poems published by CB Editions, a "small" (as in, one-man) publisher, run by Charles Boyle. Charles has a gift for talent-spotting, and Philip Hancock is no exception. It's not often you find poetry written out of a white-male, working-class sensibility (Philip Hancock earns a living as a painter-decorator for a local authority). These are not raps or performance-poetry rants, however, but quietly crafted, original, and insightful poems: the real thing. There's a good review of the book here. They remind me powerfully of old home-town friends, or indeed the person I would have been, had I left school at 16 for employment, rather than pursuing higher education. Category: Lucky impulse buy.

To finish, it would be foolish of me not to at least remind you of two of my own recent productions, wouldn't it?

First, Standdescribed here (with link to my Blurb Bookstore). A "magazine" of just twelve tree-based digital images. Very slim, very cheap, very desirable. Any comparison with its author would be invidious. I am definitely not a tree, for a start.

Second, Prestidigitation, a "best of" selection of my digital imaging, described here (with link to my Blurb Bookstore). Intended as a gallery or publisher calling card – something to leave behind when I am ejected from the premises – it's also quite a satisfying overview of my constructed work of recent years. It, too, is in the slim, bendy Blurb magazine format, so will present very little challenge to any overcrowded bookshelves. I really should put something similar together for my "straight" photographs: a project for the weeks when we are snowed-in over Christmas, perhaps (I'm hoping that's just a first, feeble, seasonal joke, obvs – It don't snow here / Stays pretty green... – but in these days of uncertain climate, you never know).

1. I have to say, in the wrong hands, which is most, I tend to find "ICM" images unsatisfactory and even annoying. The insistence on "in-camera" effects, as opposed to good, honest photoshoppery, seems a contradictory blend of the desire to disrupt the conventions of photography, while wishing to stay firmly within the bounds of the conventional photographic process. The resultant, uncontrolled effects very quickly become their own clichés. I confess I also find the po-faced "ICM" monicker hilarious. Personally, I generally prefer HHI (hand-held instability).

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