By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
An alternative to the typically sweeping, weighty, all-inclusive coffee-table books that tone your biceps as you lift them is Virginia Comer’s “Urban Details, Los Angeles” series (Balcony Press, 59 pages, $15), sweet, pretty little books that zoom in on architectural details around the city. Each title covers one topic: 50 pages of streetlights or stairways or fountains, with bits of history woven around black-and-white pictures pasted into photo corners, as in a family album. The three together are part living-room accessory (elegant, cloth-bound titles with a satin ribbon to mark your place) and part guide book (offering directions to points of interest). At $15 each they are a bit pricey, especially given that some of the blurbs are quite brief (two lines on the Rodeo Drive staircase) or presented without accompanying photos. Still, these books are a nice, historical and aesthetic resource.
Tiny, barely perceptible, horizontal arrows grace the cover of I Am a Bullet: Scenes From an Accelerating Culture (Crown, 192 pages, $35), and they multiply on the inside cover, suggesting the subtle, increasing acceleration of our lives. This edgy book, by Dean Kuipers and Doug Aitken, combines photography, kinetic graphics and text to convey individual stories, from around the world, about how speed transforms human identity. The nine essays move from the mounting desire to be heard as a unique voice among youth in Japan, to the sudden, rapid invasion of gang violence -- filtered via the media -- on an isolated reservation in Wanblee, South Dakota. The concept of I Am a Bullet is slightly confusing, and the high-tech layout -- crowded pages with computer-typeface superimposed over busy photos -- makes the journalistic pieces difficult to read, which is a shame, because some of the interviews are gripping. The book‘s design quickly evokes a sense of vertigo, but perhaps that’s the point.
One of the single most important cultural factors responsible for the acceleration of pop-culture and the “quick-cut” aesthetic on television is, of course, MTV. Steve Reiss and Neil Feineman‘s Thirty Frames Per Second: The Visionary Art of the Music Video (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 272 pages, $40) showcases more than 400 color and black-and-white stills from legendary music videos, accompanied by short profiles of the directors. Given the premise -- that the music video as a “hyper-global mass media artform” has influenced all aspects of pop culture, from sports and ad copy to fashion -- the brief commentary leaves the reader wanting more about the director’s vision. Its scope is fairly comprehensive, but in the end the book is mostly eye candy, a visual testament to the power of these minimovies.
Drawing on a more classical tradition, artist Kerry James Marshall documents the African-American urban experience in striking, politically charged paintings, enveloping graceful, jet-black figures -- often juxtaposed against images from newspapers, history books, pulp novels, comics and film -- in a world of bold, primary colors. Raised in L.A., Marshall moved on to New York and Chicago, and now his work is a rarer sight here. A new collection of his paintings, Kerry James Marshall (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 128 pages, $30), makes that fact a little less troubling. A running conversation between Marshall and fellow artist Arthur Jafa breathes life and depth into this slim book.
Perusing American Edge (Arena Editions, 199 pages, $60), a fat book of photojournalism from the ‘60s and ’70s printed on thick, porous, cream-colored paper, one wonders when, if at all, photographer Steve Schapiro got any sleep back then. His 90 black-and-white, documentary-style pictures originally appeared in major magazines -- portraits of Al Pacino, Marlon Brando and Truman Capote from the covers of Life magazine are now considered classics in their genre -- and as he travels the country capturing migrant workers in Arkansas, Andy Warhol in New York or Martin Luther King Jr.‘s Memphis hotel room hours after the civil rights leader was shot, Schapiro emerges as an omnipresent shadow cast onto the political and social turmoil of that decade.
Star Culture: The collected interviews from Dazed & Confused Magazine (Phaidon, 303 pages, $30) is a wonderfully dizzying book, both visually and content-wise (the cover itself looks like a giant tab of acid). There are a few photos dropped throughout the book, but mostly it consists of columns and columns of text from the pop-fashion magazine that started in 1993 “as a direct assault on the tired excesses of the British-style press,” as editors Mark Sanders and Jefferson Hack write. Interviews with Iggy Pop, Damien Hirst, Oasis, Kate Moss, Noam Chomsky and Ice-T appear alongside lesser-known personalities such as the mysterious South African performance artist Bruce Louden, who, it has been reported, severs his own body parts and showcases them in galleries around the world. (His interview in this book was conducted over the Internet, as Louden had allegedly cut off his tongue.) It’s a bit frustrating that there is no introduction beyond a few paragraphs printed in tiny italicized text over slanted blue pinstripes (nearly impossible to read!), and one wishes there were more contextual information about Dazed & Confused. But in this way, the “situations in print” (two-way interviews, fax interviews, self-interviews, even invented interviews) stand alone as an “alternative voice to challenge head-on the vagaries of modern star culture.”
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