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
Photo by Edouard Boubat
Perhaps we should begin our roundup of the season’s coffee-table books from a lordly, even astral height — this is, after all, a time of year much preoccupied with the heavens. We should begin, in other words, from the stunning perspective of outer space revealed in the new Illustrated World Atlas(Weldon Owen, 352 pages, $30). I’m not a connoisseur of atlases, but this one is big, seems reasonably thorough, and includes marvelous satellite photographs of the world as seen from space at night. Heavily populated areas manifest themselves through the sheer power of their wattage. Western Europe and the eastern half of the United States, for instance, are ablaze with illumination, a mad scrawl of spinning fires, like van Gogh stars and suns dripping over an ultramarine canvas. The photograph of Europe, in particular, is utterly thrilling to look at — a cosmic view of earthly urbanization that’s unforgettable. But Africa and Australia are almost equally beautiful in their somber, unpopulated darkness.
EarthsongPhoto by Bernhard Edmaier
More aerial views can be seen in photographer Bernhard Edmaier’s Earthsong (Phaidon, 232 pages, $60), which offers strangely painterly, full-size color images of lava fields, mud pools, coral reefs, glaciers, canyons, ice floes and forests — in other words, all those unpopulated, electricity-free areas of the world that are dark in the satellite photographs mentioned above. Human (DK, 512 pages, $50), a visual encyclopedia of human life crammed with facts and figures and thousands of photos, takes care of the areas of human settlement.
Oscar Night: 75 Years of Hollywood Parties From the Editors of Vanity Fair(Alfred A. Knopf, 384 pages, $75) brings us gently down to earth. The story begins with Irving Thalberg, Mary Pickford, Lewis B. Mayer et al. at the first Oscar get-together in 1929, and goes on from there, revealing more flesh and cleavage with each passing decade.Oscar Night Photo by Dafydd Jones
The best demonstration of increased skin quotient is probably the photograph of a leering Tony Curtis squeezed between Anna Nicole Smith and the almost equally bodacious Jill Vanden Berg — a sandwich in which the filling is nothing, the bread everything. There’s also a terrific photo of Courtney Love posing for a pack of photographers in a shimmering, form-clinging sequin gown, looking ravishing and completely mad.
I was initially drawn to Paris Mon Amour (Taschen, 240 pages, $15), but then immediately felt embarrassed: Corny!Still, this book is pure nostalgia, filled with classic black-and-white prints by the usual suspects (Doisneau, Kertesz, Brassai, Bresson), along with some less familiar shutterbugs. There are a few surprises — particularly the inclusion of photographs of the student uprising of May 1968, though I suppose for all those graying soixante-huitardsthat is nostalgia now, too. Mostly this is just page after page of lapidary photographs confirming what we already knew: Mid-20th-century Paris was an amazingly beautiful place, and it’s pretty hard to get sick of looking at it.
As opposed to, for instance, the United States of the 1970s, of which this year’s crop of books yields two contrasting views. The first, James Lileks’ Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes From the Horrible ’70s (Crown, 176 pages, $24) is a hilarious tour of a decade’s worth of astoundingly poor taste. A collection of photographs culled from interior-design magazines of an era "when even rats parted their hair down the middle," this book is guaranteed to make you laugh, or at least go blind. A different view (not many interiors, thank God) illuminates Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places: The Complete Works (Aperture, 180 pages, $50), a collection of giant photographs taken during a trip around the country in the mid-’70s by a young photographer who had trained with Andy Warhol and was thinking along the epic pictorial lines laid out earlier by Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Despite its title, Uncommon Places is a catalog of the utterly banal — tattered street corners, grimy parking lots, plain motel rooms, nondescript houses. Yet these deep-focus, full-color images are often magical in their effect. All photographs stop time, but Shore’s halt that slippery medium in its tracks so thoroughly that he ends up imbuing his work with the air of a mortuary. The old man in "West Fifteenth Street and Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 15, 1974" — he can’t possibly still be alive. What of the young black man confidently setting out across the street — is he around? And if so, does he even know this photograph exists? What a pity if he doesn’t.
Classic Book Jackets: The Design Legacy of George Salter (Princeton Architectural Press, 200 pages, $35) will appeal to any reader who loves books not just for their contents but for their look and feel as well. Novels that affect us profoundly sometimes do so even more because of the photograph or painting that happens to be on their cover and which is transformed, in our minds, into a symbol of all that lies within. Salter, a Berliner who emigrated to the States in 1935, worked for most of the major publishers and turned out hundreds of remarkably evocative and striking book jackets over the ensuing decades. Their style is of their time, but they still beguile. This handsomely produced volume shows what he did with classics (Brighton Rock and Lie Down in Darkness) as well as with the forgotten (East of Midnight and Juggernaut Over Holland).Film Noir Courtesy of Taschen