February Books - 2023
Vivian Maier by Christa Blumlinger
Some years ago I was in Los Angeles, wandering around my old neighbourhood, and I stopped in one of the art galleries along Beverly Blvd towards La Brea. There was an impressive exhibition inside of black-and-white street photography, and I asked the gallery sales assistant about the work. She explained that it was from a recently discovered archive of photographs, all previously unpublished, made by an unheralded woman in Chicago: Vivian Maier
Some of the thoughts I recall having at the time were, a) that I really liked the work, b) that i probably couldn't afford one of the prints, and c) that there likely wasn't much value in them as an investment. It wasn't long after that exhibition that Maier's story came to be widely known, her reputation exploding with major art museum exhibitions and multiple books, and the monetary value of her work skyrocketing in a way that was commensurate with her new renown. I've often thought since that I could probably have handled the purchase in the short-term for the relatively swift return in investment in the medium turn. But there you go... art isn't really about money anyway, is it!
At this point I own a Vivian Maier book instead of a print, and that'll have to do. But I still look at new releases that feature her work, and I found this in the library recently. It has plenty of outstanding pictures, as you'd expect (not that you can tell from these phone pics); it also has some odd design choices and one of those texts that at times gets so caught-up in its academic roots that you can't see the forest for the trees. Which is to say, it's intended for a specific and very limited audience happy to be caught up in elevated 'artspeak.'
We're at the point where, from knowing nothing about Vivian Maier, we're suddenly awash in monographs. There's plenty to like about this book, as there is bound to be, but it certainly wouldn't be my first choice if I were in the market for my first Maier book.
One more thing to recognize in the value of libraries, I suppose...
Raised Eyebrows - My Years Inside Groucho's House by Steve Stoliar
Speaking of which, if there's only one book you're going to read about the brilliant Groucho Marx, then this definitely shouldn't be it. I was falsely seduced by the book jacket blurb from Dick Cavett, a long-time friend and fan of Groucho and a man of no small brilliance himself. It turns out that Cavett has a role to play in the story, and a friendship with the author as well. Always be suspicious of industry blurbs...
Anyway, this isn't so much a book about Groucho as it is about a young fan who got to work for him in his last years and was privy to some of the sad decline and abuse Groucho received at the hands of a deranged gold-digger. It's a small part of the story, and not the most edifying. The writing is conversational in the way of a friendly chat with a neighbor who has an interesting story to tell, but lacks a compelling way of telling it. Your time would be better spent watching one of the magnificent films instead.
American Edge by Steve Schapiro
By contrast, here's the kind of book you loan from the library and feel that you'd be better owning it instead.
Steve Schapiro. Jesus. What a life. What a career.
Schapiro died in January 2022. I discovered his work first from a famous Rolling Stone magazine session with David Bowie around 1975. But the his work from both before that period and after is astonishing for its range and depth.
Schapiro was present at and recorded so many of the societal cultural shifts in the 60s' and 70s', from his work with covering the civil rights movement - his images illustrate an edition of James Baldwin's seminal The Fire Next Time - and the presidential candidacy of Robert Kennedy, through to his work on such landmark movie sets as The Godfather and Taxi Driver.
I'm not sure you could call it an 'ambition' as such, but I always had it as a goal of sorts to feel a part of the time in which I lived, and professionally, to record it in some way. The life and work of Steve Schapiro represents an exemplar of this.
(Such a great composition)
The Rolling Stones 1972 by Jim Marshall
It was a good month for me with new books at the library, but it was an otherworldly few days that Jim Marshall got to spend on tour with The Rolling Stones in 1972.
Marshall was one of several photographers granted time with The Stones on this tour, and let's be honest, anyone with a working knowledge of a camera would come away with something great around figures as charismatic as these. But Marshall captured so much, and it takes inordinate talent to come away with what he did.
Stunning portraits of Jagger, wildly different in mood and tone.
The magic of performance, the interplay between two creative giants still capable surprising and elevating one another.
And the sheer ecstasy of creation and performance (and whatever else might be coursing through ones veins at such a moment).
One of the great books of music photography.
Kobe Bryant Mamba Mentality - How I Play (photographs Andrew D. Bernstein)
I grabbed this for my eleven year-old. He's suddenly into playing basketball, though he's been playing football/soccer at a competitive level for a while. At this stage in his development, mentality isn't the strongest suit in his armor. I thought this might help. As it turns out, I read it, but he didn't. Who knows what goes on in the mind of youth? But it's a quick, insightful read, and I imagine it could be helpful to a young athlete that does read it.
'You have to work hard in the dark to shine in the light.' KB