Take your pick: stunning photography books that stretch your eyes in new ways– from the Red Planet to windscape to water, desert and oceans, photographers of landscape and environments are dishing up a memorable selection of collectible books.
If your taste runs to the built environment, four recent books by architectural photographers capture the manmade, from midcentury perfection to the current decay of abandoned theatres.
War and conflict surface in several compelling books this year: incisive looks at the Civil War, the Vietnam conflict, and an eerie take on aftermath of the Bosnia conflict.
LANDSCAPES: EARTH & BEYOND
This Is Mars: Photographs by NASA/MRO. Edited and designed by French publisher and designer Xavier Barral. $80-100 You are venturing into new terrain on the Red Planet –a series of recent panoramic images from the U.S. observation satellite MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) and its HiRISE telescope, which has been mapping the planet since 2006. The book is assembled as a “visual atlas,” moving from depths of the Velles Marineris canyons; floating over the black dunes of Noachis Terra; and soaring to the highest peak in our solar system, the Olympus Mons volcano. Looking for signs of water? It’s here in vast stretches of carbonic ice at the poles. The breathtaking images are accompanied by an introduction by research scientist Alfred S. McEwen, principal investigator on the HiRISE telescope; an essay by astrophysicist Francis Rocard, who explains the story of Mars’s origins and its evolution; and a timeline by geophysicist Nicolas Mangold, who unveils geological secrets of this fascinating planet. Details and images
Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, Michael Benson (Abrams) 208 pp $55. Writer, photographer, filmmaker Michael Benson offers in this oversize book the thrill of “…sighting a planet after a space voyage.” The object of the voyage: spectacular images of Mars, Jupiter and its moons, Saturn and its rings, and the Sun. Benson is not the photographer – that falls to the HiRISE on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, “with an astounding a 19.7-inch aperture.
He uses and refines raw image data from NASA and the European Space Agency and wrestles tens of thousands of images, through optimization and mosaicking, into a form ready for printing. In a piece for Slate, Benson suggested, “ We belong to a vast suite of solar-powered, sun-orbiting landscapes, some almost surreal, some recognizably like the deserts and ice caps and even lakes of Earth. It’s a kind of kinetic archipelago.” His previous books — both from Abrams — include Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (2003) and Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle (2009). Story in Slate
WATER, Edward Burtynsky (Steidl), 228 pp, 114 color plates (hardcover). Essays by Wade Davis and Russell Lord. (An iPad app offers interactive presentation of the book’s contents, locations, maps and notes. Also a film with Jennifer Baichwal and several exhibitions.) My first acquaintance with Burtynsky’s work were the exceptional – and frightening – images he captured in Manufactured Landscapes (book), which details the massive industrial revolution and its consequences in China. One of those images – a river turned orange with the deposition of nickel tailings, stuck with me. In WATER, Burtynsky spent five years travelling to 10 countries on an epic journey to look at water in many forms – the Ogallala Aquifer, the Bundi Rajasthan stepwells ( below), pivot irrigation on Texas farms, the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the sacred Ganges with millions bathing; mega-dam construction in the upper Yangtze and more. Burtynsky loves large-format photography, whether from the ground or from a helicopter – and also what he can do with the moving image.
These images detail where water comes from, how we use it and waste it. After all, there will never be more water on earth than the water we have now. It is finite. And how we use it will determine the future of life on the planet. The Globe and Mail says, “It is an immersive version of his ravishing photographs: thrilling, terrifying and enraging all at once.” Globe and Mail story
Desert Air, George Steinmetz. 352 pp 10.25″ x 13.25″ $60. It has taken Steinmetz 15 years to assemble this amazing body of work — “extreme deserts” that receive less than 4 inches of precipitation annually. It includes China’s great Gobi Desert, the Sahara in northern Africa to Death Valley in California. Each of these places has its own ecosystem but subtly demonstrate co-evolved landscapes.
Steinmetz captures deserts aloft, by using a motorized paraglider to gain a unique perspective— at an altitude of 100 to 500 feet traveling about 30 mph. A veteran photographer who specializes in exploration, he has worked on more than 30 photos essays for the National Geographic and some 25 stories for GEO magazine in Germany.
Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime, David Maisel (Steidl). 11.5x 11.5 inches 237 pp $85. Employing aerial photography, Maisel looks at the terrible beauty – and the poetry — of environmentally impacted landscapes (not unlike earlier work by Burtynsky in Manufactured Landscapes). He has spent 30 years photographing U.S. sites of industrial destruction – land transformed by logging, open-pit mining, military testing. Who knew that mapping desecration and death could be so beautiful ? Black Maps slides and interview and Maisel’s web site . Check out his related Minescapes in Huffington Post
Windscape, Bae, Bien-U 141 pp Hatje Cantz $55. Working in black and white photography over the past 20 years, Bae, Bien-U explores landscape shaped by motion, whether wind blown grasses against rocks or stones shaped by water in motion. The Korean term for landscape – also understood in other parts of East Asia– consists of the words “wind” and “scenery.” He is also an influential teacher: Since 1981 he has been Professor in Photography at the Institute of the Arts, Seoul. His work is in The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Thyssen Museum, Madrid, Bozar – Center for Fine Arts, Brussels, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Details
Ocean Soul, Brian Skerry (2011) National Geographic Society. 264 pp. Skerry spends a lot of time underwater – in the oceans – and it seems there’s no place he would rather be. He’s a National Geographic veteran, with more than 20 stories under his belt. It is the ocean that continues to be the object of his photographic desire.
Skerry says he sees “the ocean as a place of beauty and mystery, a place in trouble, and ultimately, a place of hope that will rebound with the proper attention and care.” This is a lovely book for family and friends, and for all those who care about the future of the planet. Details and buy the book
BUILDINGS & PLACES
Wooden Churches: Traveling in the Russian North, Richard Davies (White Sea Publishing) $132. British architectural photographer Richard Davies got hooked on Russian churches when he came upon some postcards at a fair. Since then, he has spent more than a decade documenting the fragile wooden churches that remain in the world’s largest country. Fragile because they are made of wood; many have no interior finishes because anything that could be used – for utilitarian purposes and for firewood – was stripped out during during WWII and the Stalinist era. And vulnerable, says Davies, because they are susceptible to rot.
We are the richer for his effort (or is it obsession?) to plow through the countryside, in subzero weather, through forests, often in places where the roads really weren’t roads at all, to get these images. We can only hope that some oligarch will take note and begin restoring these amazing structures. Sampler of images and book details
Stages of Decay, Julia Solis (Prestel). Movie palaces and theaters seem to be just as susceptible as Russian churches to the vagaries of time and neglect. Solis makes a point of seeking out Main Streets with abandoned theaters and cinemas for her new book (and also at http://abandonedtheaters.com) in travels between her homes in Detroit and Brooklyn. For the Huffington Post, she commented, “I think in Detroit, decay happens at a much faster pace than other places because of scrappers and the general neglect. ” Stages of Decay web site
Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography, John Comazzi (Princeton Architectural Press) $40. Hungarian-born, Paris-trained architect Korab – who died in January at age 86—may be best known as the photographer who captured Eero Saarinen’s masterworks and other amazing pieces of midcentury modern design. A New York Times obituary noted, “…[He]captured the romance, moodiness and humanity of even the most austere postwar buildings.” New York Times obit and slide show
Comazzi, who is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota, noted in this 2012 monograph, ““Korab’s portfolios contain frequent sharp reminders that architecture is always entangled in broader cultural circumstances within which it is created and by which it is transformed.”
WAR & CONFLICT
Minescape, Brett Van Ort. Minescape (his first monograph) released as a book by Daylight Books(2013). TED books and Daylight Digital converted Minescape into a digital, ebook version, just after the print release. Van Ort made two trips to the former front lines of the Bosnian War in 2009.
What nature conceals is revealed by Van Ort in his careful juxtaposition of pastoral images of fields and meadows –what were once the BosniaN War’s frontlines — with photographs of actual mines on white backdrop paper – so many different kinds it is mindblowing—in a still life format, along with images of prostheses used to replace feet and limbs of victims. The pastures are still laced with mines and the sinister threat of death and dismemberment remains, but concealed. Van Ort in his earliest years worked on documentaries as a camera assistant and camera operator, including Errol Morris’ Oscar- winning The Fog of War. Minescape has also been shown in an exhibition format. Check out the picture book
Photography and the American Civil War, Jeff Rosenheim. 288 pages, 303 illustrations. 11” x 9”. Hardcover. $28 Photography was in its infancy (only about 20 years old) when the American Civil War broke out in 1861. But this new medium was to have a powerful role in shaping the narrative of the war – from its beginning to well beyond its end in 1865, with what was recorded. “I think that we are where we are in photographic history, in cultural history, because of what happened during the Civil War . . . it’s the crucible of American history, “ says Jeff Rosenheim curator of the exhibition (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and author of this book. “The war changed the idea of what individual freedom meant; we abolished slavery, we unified our country, we did all those things, but with some really interesting new tools, one of which was photography.”
Six hundred thousand people lost their lives 1861-1865 in the War Between the States — the nation’s deadliest war. While this book is an overview of the mayhem, terror and carnage that Americans experienced or witnessed, it is heartbreaking to see photographic portraits of young men who went to war and never came home. Included here are panoramic panels from Gettysburg and Richmond, portraits of Lincoln and Gen. Robert E. Lee, exhausted troops and medical studies of their injuries. Photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others. Article from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mathew Brady: Portrait of a Nation, Robert Wilson. (Bloomsbury) 273 pp illus. Renowned photographer Mathew Brady scored a coup on Easter Sunday 1865, taking the portrait of defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond Va. Just a day before, President Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet. Brady (1823-96) has been called “America’s first great portrait photographer. Among those he photographed were General US Grant, Walt Whitman, Dolley Madison, and Daniel Webster. It was Brady who took a portrait of candidate Lincoln in 1860 at New York’s Cooper Union during the Presidential campaign. Lincoln offered the encomium, “Brady and the Cooper Union made me president.” The perception that Brady was a battlefield photographer is not altogether correct. He hired freelancers and sent them into the field, although he personally accompanied the Union Army to the Battle of Bull Run and then lost all of his images in the tumult. Brady helped make history with his photographs but sadly did not live out his life in glory. Bankruptcies and drink accompanied him as his career flagged after the war. While Brady left no diary and no journal. Washington Post book review
Vietnam: The Real War, by The Associated Press. Essay by Pete Hamill (Abrams). 304 pages; 300 photographs $40. In the Vietnam War, photography was not staged or censored. If you lived those years, there were images all over the media from Associated Press that became seared in our national memory: a naked little girl running down a street, her flesh burning from napalm; a Buddhist monk who immolated himself with gasoline; a Viet Cong prisoner at the moment of death with a bullet exploding out the side of his head. Whatever we may recall of that war, those images are iconic images we cannot shake. The Associated Presss set up a news bureau in Saigon and staffed it with photojournalists and distinguished war correspondents: Peter Arnett, Malcolm Browne and Seymour Topping More than 50 photojournalists are represented here, including Eddie Adams, Horst Faas, Henri Huet, Nick Ut and Dang Van Phuoc. Look and see how their reporting and photographic interpretation left a deep and lasting memory in the American psyche. Details New York Times story with slide show