unboxing The Lost Rolls

I heard about Ron Haviv‘s The Lost Rolls in episode 3.3 of On taking Pictures, which I only started listening to very recently, and which, along with the LPV Show, I’m afraid will be the end of my moratorium on book buying…

Be strong, James!

Someone at Blurb—the self-publishing house—had a hand in making this, and I think Blurb actually published it, rather than printing a self-published-type thing, like the Wedding Album I made but never shared, and like the Water Tower book I was very disappointed with but gave to Amma for Eid anyway and that I should probably re-make and put up for sale or something.

At first, I was a bit concerned that this was just some vanity project, but Mr. Haviv is “the real deal,” to paraphrase the On Taking Pictures guys. He was/is a professional photojournalist: he traveled with the Clinton family while Bill was President; he took a photograph in Panama that Bush the elder later used to justify his invasion of Panama; and a group of his pictures from the last days of Yugoslavia served as evidence in the war crimes trials that followed. Throughout these professional travels, it seems he always had a second (or third, or fifth) camera on him for some personal shots, and he collected something like 262 rolls of undeveloped film that he, with some help from Blurb, got developed, scanned, combed through, and then made into this book.

There are some great pictures in The Lost Rolls: the cover image of some Palestinian protestors; a pair of pictures, the first of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton at some ruins somewhere, and the second of the same scene moments later, when a pack of wild dogs replaced the Presidential family; a classic of Andre Agassi with his long hair and earrings at the US Open; and a really great one of Rudolph Giuliani grinning with some kind of big explosion-looking light leak taking up much of the right third of his frame and all of the next frame.

Seems like a bunch of books recently have featured damaged negatives/prints as the main subject. There was Huger Foote’s Now Here Then. There was that other one that I can’t seem to remember just now. And this one is all time-, light-, and or liquid-damaged negatives. I think there’s some sort of nostalgia for analog processes that’s seeping out of photography circles and invading other visual circles, maybe, or maybe it’s just me and people like me, and I just see what I want to see. Maybe the whole echo-chamber thing has invaded even my photobook buying (and maybe this is another reason why I really need to get a handle on it…).

Anyway, The Lost Rolls has some nice pictures in it, for sure. But much like the images in Foote’s Now Here Then, very few are actually pictures of something. Instead, they’ve been transformed by time and neglect into photography-based visual objects, something much closer to the painting art than journalism or fashion or even “straight photography.” My thinking is muddled on this… there’s the picture that Haviv or Foote took, then there’s the picture of the picture in the book: these are, essentially, two different things: the print on the wall or in an album is distinctly different from the pictures in a book, despite their close similarity, and I’m getting an inkling of some issues with the way I’ve been looking at pictures all this time… I think I’ve been looking at what’s pictured, rather than the picture itself, and I’m also almost always looking at a book rather than a print. This thinking is still nebulous, and InshaAllah I’ll start trying to work it out in the next few videos.

I’ve gone on a bit of a photobook buying spree just the past little bit and so have a few videos waiting to be shared.

So Ron Haviv’s The Lost Rolls… at $45 for the book (theres’ a magazine too, with some different images in it, for $24.99, and that the completioninst in me wants to order, but I’m hesitating and will hopefully just forget about it), I don’t know… If you like the preview, buy a copy. There are some good pictures in it, as you would expect from someone with Mr. Haviv’s background. My copy had a couple of issues with sloppy binding that seep typical of books from Blurb and othe print-on-demand operations, but the print quality is decent, and I think I might go for a similar paper stock with the Water Tower book, if I ever re-make it. To be honest, it’s the Blurb bit that makes me pause, and that shows my (ignorant) prejudice. They’ll keep running prints of it as long as they stay in business, so this book is unlikely to be an heirloom- or investment-type thing. And if you’re looking to see some good pictures, well, you can go other places and for $50 there are a wide range of large, well-printed monographs by professional photographers, artists, journalists, etc. that are better made and have actual photographs in them, rather than photographic negative-based abstract art. My copy will probably end up sitting on a shelf for a few years and then go to the Half Price books or be given away: I don’t think I’ll be going back to it, looking for inspiration or something. If I could look at the pictures that I really like and see how they were made, that would be one thing, but most of these are (happy) accidents of time and as such are largely irreproducible.

Allahu Alim. Someone who actually knew something about film and time and all probably could reproduce, say, that picture of Rudy Giuliani, but not me, not yet. And so maybe I should keep the book around until I can. Sure, I’m running out of shelf space, but there’s a Home Depot nearby and an Ikea not too far from work, so that’s not a huge problem.

The biggest problem, if it’s a problem, is that I guess this is my first meh review, with deep apologies to Mr. Haviv and the good people at Blurb. Rest assured that this blog gets so few viewers that I expect you’re unlikely see any sort of change in sales or traffic, but still. My “reviews” have almost always been generally positive: stuff that I didn’t enjoy, I didn’t share. It’s partly the whole “if you cant’ say anything nice” bit, and partly because I don’t feel qualified to comment. But as I continue to look at and think about photography and photographing, as I continue to read criticism and theory, and with my training in Art History and Criticism, and only if God wills, these reviews will start to develop a bit.

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