By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Next came Height of Fashion, wherein friends — and then friends of friends of friends — were asked to send in pictures of themselves at what they believed was their personal fashion apogee. “We had no idea the kind of response we’d get,” Eisner says. “We basically sent out this letter that said, ‘Send us a picture of yourself at the exact moment in your life when you knew you were the most magical person in the room.’” The result was a kind of yearbook, sentimental and maybe even a little haunting, each image imbued by a sense of self-mythology and the fleeting nature of a moment.
The first four books Greybull did were with friends (the fourth, Human Nature, was a collaboration between the writer Glenn O’Brien and the artist Richard Prince), “which turned out to be a really good thing because we had no idea what we were doing and we figured that working with friends was a way of hopefully putting ourselves into a slightly more forgiving scenario,” Alonso says of Greybull’s initial offerings.
Following that pattern, Alonso was on the phone with friend Marin Hopper when he suggested that she put together a book of her father’s images (the Greybull Three were all fans of Dennis Hopper’s photo album Out of the Sixties). “I had worked on this project for the Whitney about the Beats,” says Wild. “And we would talk to people and they would be like, ‘Hopper?’ And yet everybody knows his images, and I think especially with people out here in Los Angeles when they see the book, they see it not only as this great book of pictures but also as this visual history of cultural L.A. during that time.”
With 1712 North Crescent Heights, Greybull produced another cult favorite. Between Hopper’s ex-wife Brooke Hayward’s old-world L.A. roots, Hopper’s art-world past, and their life together with the Easy Rider/Raging Bull film crowd, the book captured in pictures a life in Los Angeles that managed once again to be intimate, sexy and at the same time iconic. With the momentum gathering behind Rodeo Girls, Crescent Heights, and Dewey Nicks’ Kustom — a bizarro meditation on the me-culture of Southern California — it was clear that the budding press was establishing its own take on the West Coast aesthetic.
“Los Angeles is untapped,” says Eisner. “The flea market here is a perfect metaphor. You go to the flea market, and there are amazing things. In New York, you go to a flea market and it’s all crap and everybody’s been through it already. It all feels picked over. Out here, you can still find untouched things.”
And untouched things are exactly what excite the Greybull trio. “There is no greater joy for us than sitting together over a stack of contact sheets and just for hours on end discovering something,” Alonso says. Eisner likens the process to perusing the pages of someone’s diary: “Anything intimate, that’s what we love. Going into somebody’s mind. We’re not into the whole general thing.”
Greybull’s current release is Teenage by Joe Szabo. Several years ago, Arcana bookstore’s Kaplan turned Eisner on to Szabo’s original photo book, Almost Grown, a bittersweet paean to early ’70s high school years on Long Island shot by Szabo. (Szabo taught photography at Long Island’s Malverne High from 1972 to 1999; his work was selected for the Venice Biennale in 1975.) Drawing from material in Almost Grownas well as from the years that followed up into the early ’80s, Teenage exists in the days just prior to the consumer blizzard that buried individuality under the excesses of fashion branding, piercing, tattoos and the Uzi. It is a glimpse back to an era when how you wore the Lee jeans your mom bought you said much more about who you were than Gucci or Prada ever could.
Anchoring the book is an essay by Cameron Crowe that includes a poignant song list the author psychically gleaned from a flip through. True to form, Teenage has the Greybull buried treasure/time capsule quality about it. Even if you weren’t there during those years, Teenage’s evocation of your own delicious, treacherous teen longing will more than likely visit you in a melancholy daydream like a good song did before MTV co-opted your imagination.
All nine Greybull releases to date have printed between 3,000 and 5,000 copies, and several of the books have also come out in limited-edition box sets — typically editions of 100 — that include actual prints of an image from the book. Gotta Have ’Em by R. Crumb came out last spring, with a magnificent signed 14-color serigraph of Crumb’s wife, Aline. The idea is to keep the runs manageable and somewhat exclusive.
“There are a lot of other, bigger publishers like the Taschens of the world that will give you the soup-to-nuts, everything-that’s-ever-been-done-on-it version of a book,” Alonso says. “We feel that what we want to do is give you the version that has our point of view. Working with the kind of budgets we work with, it would be silly to try and compete with those bigger companies, and a waste of everybody’s time. We wouldn’t even know what it would mean to make a book that sells 50,000 copies.”