Books for Christmas

menatsea1One of my major weaknesses is photography books, to the point where my mother won’t let me store any more at her house. Mostly they’re not rare, and plenty were off bargain racks from used stores. Sometimes I seek them out, more on this in a second, other times I just stumble upon gems. My first real photography book was Black Star: Sixty Years of Photojournalism… and it eventually led to an internship at the agency Black Star.

So it was with conflicting emotion earlier this week when I was at the half-price book store in Seattle, thumbing through the mix-and-match photo section, when I came across a little christmas miracle. Certainly, its rare to find photojournalism books on shelves like these, much less really good ones. Of course.. if a books is really good or rare it surely isn’t going to be on a marked-down shelf. But here was a less-than-pristine copy of a book I hadn’t ever seen in person, and I had to have it. Jean Gaumy’s masterpiece Men at Sea was $8.

Especially since I’m about to leave Seattle for an extended time, indefinitely really, it really makes no sense for me to buy any more big books for myself. I still haven’t figured out how to bring my library with me, or if that is even a smart idea. So I was wandering the store trying to figure out an excuse to take the book home. Then it hit me: I should give the book to my brother, a young fisherman, for Christmas.

Jean Gaumy. On board of the French trawler "Koros".

Both he, and a dear family friend who has worked on boats his entire life, adore the book. Beyond terrific pictures the story, the design, the accompanying documents and illustrations create an amazing piece. The friend, Bob, was especially impressed with the photographer’s understanding of life on the boats. A good compliment.
It has got me (and Scott, when we discussed this) about the ‘cross-over’ quality of certain photographers and projects .. that get non-photographers and photography fans excited. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but it seems that most of the photography that is popular with a wider public is incredibly cliche, cutesy or photoshopped. It makes me so happy to see something like this work making people excited.
As Scott told me: ‘I was just going to mention that Heidi’s cousin (not a photographer) has that book. I don’t often see really good photo books in non-photographers’ collections, but I’ve seen that one in a few places.’

And it has me obsessed anew with Gaumy, especially with this work. Incredible dedication and vision. And what a visual signature.

Oh, how about some of those books that I haven’t found yet. These would be in the category of searching out in every store I go to (looking for that deal) or on site like bookfinder.com. Beaufort West by Mikhael Subotzky, Belgrade Belongs To Me by Boogie, Off Broadway soon to be released by some Magnum fellows, No Man’s Land by Larry Towell, Americans We by Eugene Richards (oh this is a dream) and of course some Telex Iran and Farewell to Bosnia by Gilles Peress. Someday. (I swear I enjoy books from photographers outside of Magnum! these are just the dream ones off the top of my head..). The holy grail though might be Insomnia from Antoine D’Agata.

If you’re into books too, there are a couple of great places to read reviews and see what’s coming out … firstly 5b4 and then Buffet by Andrew Phelps (who himself is a photographer, I’ve got to look more at his work). And don’t forget Dashwood Books in New York. Mecca. When I finally self publish I See A Darkness, I’m headed there first.

Have you found any good photo books for gifts? Or any suggestions on things I should be lusting over?

8 Responses to “Books for Christmas”

  1. M. Scott Brauer

    I love it. As I mentioned when we were talking earlier, I’m really interested how the general public interacts with good photography. So much of the photography we look at doesn’t get seen by many people outside of the usual photo circles, and sometimes it’s a mystery when certain projects/books/photos make the jump to the mainstream. Remember when I left that copy of Girl Culture in the college newsroom? There was always somebody looking at it.

    When I was studying in Voronezh, Russia, I had a copy of Depardon’s “Voyages” that became what you’d call a “well-thumbed copy” by the end of my 5 months there. With no internet, and some weak Russian magazines, that was the extent of my photo viewing for the first 5 months of owning my f3. Such a good book.

  2. M. Scott Brauer

    Oh, and glad you mentioned Insomnia. I’ve got Telex Iran and look through it every chance I get. Might as well add Wonderland to your list.

  3. Tom Leininger

    You might want to check out the work of Thomas Roma. http://thomasroma.com His newest book. House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD is great and small. The book my kids have always liked is Erwitt’s Dog Dogs, and it is a tough little book too. I wish there were more books like these. I would put Luc Delahaye’s Wintereise in this catagory.

  4. M

    Tom – thanks for the comment, especially for reminding me about Delahaye’s book. As soon as I went to bed after posting this last night I remembered that that book was another ‘miracle find’ on the used shelves .. only 7-8$. What a fantastic, chilling book. Unfortunately, in some moves, I cannot for the life of me find my copy! Sad days..

    But yes, I dream of these small books. Majoli’s Leros is small, but not like Wintereisse. Franks’ original Americans is pretty tidy too (see the new reprint, which is pretty great).

    I need to start another thread about peoples’ prized books .. I think mine are Koudelka’s CHAOS and Daido Moriyama’s ’71-NY . mmm, might have to go pull those out now..

  5. M

    Oh, and that reminds me of one more thing. my friend Boogie is doing a series of small books (not sure of the exact form factor, but they’ll be tidy) from different cities around the world. This book (https://www.upperplaygroundstore.com/catalog/item/sao_paulo_353) may or may not be in that series. Keep on the watch for his stuff, he has some fun projects and books coming down the pipe …

    And Scott … I do remember that copy of Girl Culture. That definitely is a ‘cross over’ hit that I’ve seen a lot of places. I’m trying to think of some more… none coming to mind. anyone?
    I also just saw Scout Tufankjian’s new book on Obama ‘Yes We Can’ at a trendy (Urban Outfitters) store on Capitol Hill last week .. but granted, that’s really Obama doing the cross over thing.

    And I still hate you for that Telex Iran copy .. I seem to remember sending you the link to the used book (for something like $30!) and you picking it up? jerk.

  6. Tom Leininger

    I got Boogie’s Belgrade book, I am in the middle of Heat by Bill Buford, which is very good. When I am done with that I am diving into Boogie. I picked up a copy of Telex Persan for $30-40 a long time ago, when you see things like that, strike. But you know that. My copy of Winogrand 1964, same situation. Both very hard to find now. I have too many books. Seriously, check out Roma, most of his books are reasonable priced and sized.

  7. Stephen

    Glad you mentioned Gaumy, Men at Sea is one of the great photography books of the last 10 years and I remember seeing it at Powell’s in Portland a few years ago for similar bargain basement price.

    This year I’ve been enjoying Joshua Lutz’s The Meadowlands, Chris Usher’s One of Us, Hawaii by Daido Moriyama and The Blue Room, Gene Richards’ new book.

  8. xmd

    if ur in belgrade, i’ll gladly let u borrow larry towell. telex iran and farewell to bosnia are very tough to find in my own experience. as for d’agata, i’ve had it in my hands, but i’ve also had an empty wallet at the time. check out http://www.kowasa.com, a great photo bookstore in barcelona – it costs only 90 euro to fly there from belgrade and back dude…

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