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The Coffee Table

At 16 inches across, 9 pounds and $195, architectural photographer Tim Street-Porter’s Los Angeles (Rizzoli, 240 pages, $195) is a big book for a big subject. Clear the coffee table — you’ll need 3 feet to lay the thing flat, 5 to support the foldout spreads — and take some time: This is one to be savored slowly, page by heavy, silken page. After a short essay by Diane Keaton, it’s all photographs, more than 300 of them, documenting the buildings and spaces that make Los Angeles great, especially if you’re rich enough to live in one of them. (If not, there’s plenty of publicly accessible greatness too: the Disney Concert Hall, the cathedral, the Getty, Hollyhock House, the Griffith Observatory, the Sunset Strip, the beaches, the movie palaces, and so on.) All sunshine and sparkle, sans smog, traffic jams and strip malls, it’s a flattering but nonetheless spectacular portrait of a city just coming into its own, and a worthy indulgence for any lover of Los Angeles architecture. A very different side of the city emerges in Camilo Jose Vergara’s How the Other Half Worships (Rutgers University Press, 283 pages, $50), a sociological exploration of inner-city Christianity here and around the country. Combining photographs with text drawn from interviews and Vergara’s own observations, gathered over a 30-year period, the book is a poignant meditation on faith, ritual, class, race, architecture and folk art, offering a refreshingly evenhanded consideration of the power of religion at a time when few seem capable of approaching the subject reasonably. Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews For those who like their sociology a little racier, here are two fascinating volumes devoted to the complicated intersection of sex and technology. WebAffairs (Eighteen Publications, 144 pages, $40) is a travelogue of sorts in which an artist who goes by the online name of Show-n-tell shows and tells her own journey into the world of adult-video chat rooms. The book is a dizzying mess of low-res video stills, snippets of online conversation, and passages of the author’s own commentary. Despite the copious genitalia, however — this is definitely not a book for young readers — the journey turns out to be as much about friendship, community and the evolving nature of domestic space as it is about sex. Timothy Archibald’s Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews (Daniel 13/Process, 112 pages, $24.95) is a surprisingly touching glimpse into the “mom-and-pop” sector of the sex industry, profiling about two dozen independent inventors and the machines they’ve developed, usually in their own garages. From the self-described “divorced Christian guy, not promiscuous at all” who requires proof of marriage from all prospective clients, to the Virginian couple who commissioned a machine to maintain their otherwise “open and ambitious” sex life after the husband developed multiple sclerosis, to the 45-year-old voyeur who uses his machines to entertain hired 19-year-olds in his Kansas City home (because at his age, he says, you “gotta have a hook”), they’re a diverse lot sure to challenge any blanket presumptions. And while we’re on the subject, might as well throw in The Playboy Book: Fifty Years (Taken, 448 pages, $40), a dense pictorial history of this peculiar American institution on the occasion of its 50th birthday. On its 25th, Hugh Hefner reportedly declared to his playmates (with “undisguised emotion,” the book notes): “Without you, I’d have a literary magazine,” and that just about describes what you’ll find here. Smart, sleazy and corny in relatively equal measure, the book commemorates the brash, winking spirit that’s made the magazine such an enduring force. Camilo Jose Vergara’s How the Other Half Worships How many times can a hip cultural phenomenon be repackaged before it becomes tiresome? If the phenomenon be the Beat poets, perhaps indefinitely. Can you imagine ever seeing too many pictures of Neal Cassady? So here he is again, in Beats & Pieces (Photology, 249 pages, $75), with Kerouac, Burroughs, Corso and the others, seen through the lens of Allen Ginsberg and paired with the entertaining, if gossipy, commentary of Italian writer Fernanda Pivano. This isn’t the first book of Ginsberg’s photographs to be published, but it is one of the most comprehensive, with 133 images dating from the 1950s into the 1990s (the “Beat” focus consumes only the first half; the younger artists scattered through the second — Iggy Pop, David Byrne, Bono — are presumably the “Pieces”), and it makes a particularly strong case for the poet’s considerable talent as a photographer. The Beatles: 365 Days (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 744 pages, $29.95) is a dense little doorstop of a book documenting the cultural phenomenon transpiring on the other side of the Atlantic around the time of Neal Cassady’s lonely demise. Assembled by pop-culture writer Simon Wells from a cache of old press photographs found languishing in a London archive, the book is a frenetic tour through the frenetic life of the 20th century’s most famous rock band. It may not tell you anything you don’t already know, but with 430 mostly unpublished images, it’ll give fans plenty to chew on. A quieter, more intimate portrait emerges in John Lennon: The New York Years (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 176 pages, $29.95), a collection of images taken by Lennon’s personal photographer Bob Gruen in the decade prior to the artist’s death, 25 years ago this month. Love and work are the abiding themes, and between them one glimpses the blossoming maturity of the rock star — a fact that makes the abrupt end on December 8 all the more tragic. Dylan fans will find much to entertain themselves with in The Bob Dylan Scrapbook 1956–1966 (Simon & Schuster, 64 pages, $45), a curious creation issued as a companion piece to the recent Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home. In addition to text by Robert Santelli, a lively collection of archival photographs and an audio CD of interviews, both historical and contemporary, the book includes a plethora of Dylan paraphernalia — facsimiled news articles, programs, concert tickets, press materials, handwritten notes, song lyrics and so on — all printed loose and tucked into the Scrapbook’s many hidden folds and envelopes, or else attached to the page with masking tape, as if compiled in an actual scrapbook. It would be kitschy if it weren’t so cool. Or maybe it is kitschy and I’m too smitten a fan myself to know it. In either case — it’s cool. Art Photography Now Shifting to the realm of the visual arts, this year saw two notable surveys of photography from Aperture. Art Photography Now (224 pages, $50), edited by Sarah Bright, a former curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, profiles 80 mostly Western photographers who’ve helped to make the field as dynamic and vibrant as it is today. One of its artists, Katy Grannan, has a handsome monograph of her own with Aperture, Katy Grannan: Model American (120 pages, $40), compiling the strange and increasingly unsettling portraits she’s made over the past seven years, as does David Hilliard (David Hilliard: Photographs, 96 pages, $50), who wasn’t profiled in Bright’s book but should have been. Nazar: Photographs From the Arab World (Aperture, 251 pages, $40) is the catalog for an exhibition organized in New York this fall by Dutch curator Wim Melis, and bills itself as “the largest collection of Arab photographs ever seen in the West.” Combining the vintage and the Nazar: Photographs From the Arab World contemporary, documentary and fine-art photographs, works by Arab and Western photographers, it is a broad, almost overwhelming, selection and a powerful introduction to a branch of photography little seen here. Closer to home we have Masters of American Comics (Yale University Press, 328 pages, $45), the hefty catalog for the exhibition running now at both the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Combining reproductions from each of the exhibitions’ 15 featured artists with more scholarly commentary than at least the earlier of these artists could have ever imagined their work meriting, it’s both a useful companion to the exhibition and a satisfying work in itself, offering the added benefit of being able to hold the comics in your hand, linger over them, and give them the sort of time and attention that’s hard to manage standing around in a museum. In a similar vein, though very different stylistically, The Three Incestuous Sisters (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 176 pages, $28) is “a novel in pictures” by Audrey Niffenegger, the author of the traditional novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. A fairy tale–ish story of love, death and birth, jealousy, violence and redemption, told through a series of spare, muted, wonderfully delicate and beautifully reproduced aquatint prints, the volume is an ideal gift for anyone with an interest in the art of graphic fiction.

 

Becoming Animal: ContemporaryArt in the Animal Kingdom Other notable titles: The Book of Shrigley (Chronicle Books, 221 pages, $25), a packed collection of random, scrappy, strange and often hilarious drawings from Scottish artist David Shrigley; Becoming Animal: Contemporary Art in the Animal Kingdom (MASS MoCA Publications, 140 pages, $25), an exceptionally creepy exhibition catalog devoted to artists whose work explores the ties between humans and animals; more quirky animals in a collection of Jay Ryan’s art, 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels (Punk Planet Books/Akashic, 120 pages, $21); The Age of Adolescence: Joseph Sterling Photographs 1959–1964 (Greybull Press, 133 pages, $65), a beautiful volume of documentary photography devoted to teenagers during the first explosion of American youth culture; Esther Bubley: On Assignment (Aperture, 128 pages, $35), a worthy, if abbreviated, introduction to an underappreciated postwar photojournalist; Anthony Hernandez: Everything (Nazraeli Press/JGS, 80 pages, $65), a gorgeous monograph showcasing an evocative body of new work; Linger (Perceval Press, 104 pages, $35), a quiet, contemplative book of photographs by the ever-restless Viggo Mortensen; The Weather and a Place To Live (Duke University Press, 122 pages, $40), formally refined and conceptually clever photographs exploring the desert suburbs of the West; On This Earth: Photographs From East Africa (Chronicle Books, 129 pages, $40), highly aestheticized images of African animals by Nick Brandt; Kings in their Castles: Photographs of Queer Men at Home (University of Wisconsin Press, 92 pages, $35), a book that could have been reductive and gimmicky but isn’t, thanks to the sensitivity and understated complexity of Tom Atwood’s photographs; Ladies or Gentlemen: A Pictorial History of Male Cross-Dressing in the Movies (Filipacchi Publishing, 408 pages, $65), just what the title implies: an encyclopedic (though not particularly scholarly) examination of a long-standing Hollywood phenomenon. The artist Shag has definitely got his shtick down — if it’s up your alley, Shag: The Art of Josh Agle (Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $40) is plenty of it, beautifully printed.

 

Nazar: Photographs From the Arab World

Art Photography Now


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