Sofia Coppola – ‘Archive’

I preordered Sofia Coppola’s Archive direct from Mack in mid-2023 about 12 seconds after I opened the announcement email…. As such, I received and unboxed it very close to its launch, and my goodness… the response was epic. At time of writing, the analytics are astonishing: my unboxing videos typically get about 100 views—100 views, ever. Archive hit 1000 views in 25 days and here, just over 2 months after its release, viewers have clicked the video 2083 times and watched for a total of 117 hours and almost a dozen left comments. Viewers typically watch my videos for about 3 hours and almost never comment. And I’m absolutely positive you’re not here to hear about my unboxing video’s metrics, if you’re here at all…

Archive is a collection of photographs and ephemera from Coppola’s films: stills, picturess of locations and actors lounging about or engaged in their work; bits of advertising and clothes and little collages of things; pages from scripts, tear sheets, storyboards, and the like; and so on. For a Coppola fan, it’s an instabuy without question.

Now. I wouldn’t call myself among Coppola’s fans, per se. Of her oeuvre, I’ve only seen Lost in Translation (and, as of the day before publication, The Bling Ring). What I am a fan of is archives, and find it sort of fascinating to see what photographers (and photography-adjacent figures) collect and how those collections impact their work. And I love the sort of photobook-as-collage or, rather, collage-as-photobook form that Archive takes.

The book opens with an interview with Lynn Hirschberg and proceeds directly into the films, starting with The Virgin Suicides and proceeding through Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, The Bling Ring, The Beguiled, On the Rocks, and Pricilla, which came out in late 2023, after the book appeared. Coppola introduces each film and shares brief anecdotes about various photographs throughout, and through these I came to recognize a sort of kinship with the director, a kind of kindred spirit thing.

Coppola is about 6, 7 years older than me, and so a solid Gen-Xer, where I’m at the tail end of that brilliantly forgotten generation, part of what’s known as the Carter babies or the Oregon Trail Generation. Anyway, you might imagine some little bit of similarity in our worldviews or whatever, insofar as two people, born 1000 miles and nearly a decade apart, and part of two completely different economic demographics would ordinarily be, which is to say, not at all alike, not really anyway. But the Coppola talks about meeting Hiromix—or seeing her photographs at least—in Japan and having a similar reaction to mine, so there’s that. And I too have—or had—a tendency to collect research materials, create little archives of periods or eras or moods or whatever.

Two brief anecdotes.

One: I used to collect little mementos of things from different activities: receipts from dates, birthday notes and balloons and valentine cards, ticket stubs from movies and concerts, the baggie from the last bit of redacted I bought, newspaper and magazine clippings, obituaries, etc. I kept them all in a shoebox, if I recall. Then, sometime in the mid- or late-1990s I found a groovy notebook thing with a metal cover and after some time trying to think of something worth writing in it, I grabbed a glue stick and some Scotch tape and started pasting and taping all that stuff into it, forming a sort of archive of my mid- and late teens. I should scan this thing and put it up here on the blog maybe… or film a FlipThrough of it…. Anyway.

Two: In the early 2000s, I took part is a handful of paid surveys. I was about 6 months away from moving to Illinois to go to Art School, and I took part in one for Boone’s Farm, yes, that Boone’s Farm, where participants were told to bring a collage of their interests and whatnot. Well… I threw myself into it. A friend gave me a box of old canvas bank bags. I took a seam ripper to them and *boom: I had a bunch of medium sized canvases to paint on. I took one of those canvas bags and painted on it, stuck various things to it—including an empty quart can of linseed oil, and other things I don’t recall—and brought it into the survey. Every other participant, of course, came empty handed and the first hour of the survey was spent with them clipping and ripping things out of the sports and car magazines provided by the survey company. These were all scanned and kept by the survey; my thing was scanned in 6 parts and then given back to me, as it couldn’t be filed.*

So what does any of that have to do with Coppola? Well… look at Archive and you’ll see something very, very similar. In my teenage archive/journal thing, I ran out of cool stuff with a handful of pages left. Rather than wait to collect more groovy things, I took my stack of concert ticket stubs and stuck them in, three to a page, in rough date order one night under the influence of something or other. I flip through it maybe twice a decade and I’m always disappointed in my young self for not just ripping out those pages, for just phoning in the last couple pages. And there’s something of that in Archive too.

The documentation from Coppola’s earlier films feels looser, more experimental. As Coppola gains experience and renown, the archives turn, become more obviously work-product-like, to my eye anyway. Some of it comes down to Coppola getting older and all: my own archival instincts have changed dramatically: this blog (and my YouTube) is evidence, not that anyone is paying attention. This is not to say that Coppola’s more recent archives are lesser, but they are tighter, more focused, as they probably should be. Coppola has been making films for nearly 30 years: she certainly knows what she’s looking for, even when she’s between projects with no idea what to do next, and the archives show her development and progression and its fascinating to watch.


Archive makes me want to see more of Coppola’s films, and overall, I rate it a solid, recommended 4.5 stars.

Archive certainly was popular. The first printing sold out, and Mack saw enough demand to immediately reprint it. The second printing is expected November 28, 2023: if you’re reading this at time of publication, you have about a week to get in a preorder direct from Mack; if you’re reading it later, you may or may not be able to find a new or used copy elsewhere. If you have any interest in archives or filmmaking or Coppola in particular or her films or her particular sort of GenX view, then do yourself a favor and snag a copy while you can. It’s a great one.

*If you’re curious, the survey was an attempt to find ways to market Boone’s Farm to adult males in their early 20s. We ended up recommending an alcoholic Boone’s Farm energy drink, and as I recall, something like that appeared a few years later. Of course, I now find no evidence of it

Kim Kardashian – ‘Selfish’

Some time ago, someone left a comment on my review of Hiromix’s Girls Blue: “Have we yet reached peak photography?”

I’m not entirely sure what they meant, but I took it as “have we reached peak photobook?” as a sort of critique of Hiromix’s deadpan, snapshot, diaristic style from the mid 1990s. As a massive Hiromix fan, this made me chuckle a bit and I figured it was finally time to try to say something about Kim Kardashian’s 2015 (too-small-to-be-a-) coffee-table book Selfish.

Continue reading “Kim Kardashian – ‘Selfish’”

My Dad’s last (film) photographs

Alex Harvey Cockroft, Jr., my dad, passed away in late August 2022. I haven’t written about his passing or mentioned it in social media at all: it’s a personal thing and I don’t air out my grief in public… assuming there’s any grief to air out.

In cleaning out his apartment and disposing of his things, I found two cameras loaded with half-shot rolls of film in them…. So. As a sort of homage or remembrance or memorial to the father I scarcely knew, or the dad I did, here are a few selections from those half-shot rolls.

Continue reading “My Dad’s last (film) photographs”

Mark Helfrich – ‘Naked Pictures of my Ex-Girlfriends’

As you might expect, Mark Helfirch’s 2000 book Naked Pictures of My Ex-Girlfriends: Romance in the 70s is wholly inappropriate for a believing Muslim like myself. My excuse for buying (and continuing to own) isn’t any good, really, but I have one. And surprise, surprise, it smells as good as every other excuse.

Continue reading “Mark Helfrich – ‘Naked Pictures of my Ex-Girlfriends’”

Mike Mandel & Larry Sultan – ‘Evidence’

What is there to say about Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s classic, groundbreaking, and wildly influential Evidence? I don’t really know, as I haven’t read any reviews in quite awhile, so I’ll just ramble on for a bit and maybe say something new or different—and probably very, very wrong.

Continue reading “Mike Mandel & Larry Sultan – ‘Evidence’”

Charles Johnstone & Heather Malesson – ‘Escape’

Charles Johnstone and Heather Malesson‘s Escape is the follow up to their well-regarded, out of print, and far out-of-my-price-range The Girl in the Fifth Floor Walk-up. I recall reading something about the earlier book, looking for it, finding it out of print and far too expensive, and snatching up a copy of Escape to a) see what all the fuss was about and b) in hopes that it too would quickly sell out and become wildly expensive….

Sadly, a) it’s two years later, at time of writing, and some number of the 800 copies remain available and, b) fair warning: there are many NSFW pictures throughout, and the unboxing video is therefore only viewable for logged-in adults on YouTube. It’s all fairly tame, to be sure, and still: viewers beware. God is all seeing and all knowing. Watch what you look at and how you look at it.

The first time I really sat down to look at Escape, I found it quite exciting, in a sort of prurient way. It’s not Malleson: she’s not my type at all. There’s something in the color and softness and distortions on the expired Polaroid media Johnstone employed. I was a bit taken aback by my rather animal response to the book and put it away for a few weeks. When I reluctantly returned to it,* I had my wits about me, all thanks and praise be to God, and I could just look at it as an object, rather than as some sort of strange, very soft core pornography.

I didn’t get overly and inappropriately excited in my second and subsequent trips through Escape, it’s only due to God’s mercy. I still admire the color and blur and sort of late 1970s/early 1980s soft core aesthetic of Old Polaroid, and it’s the reason I continue to shoot New Polaroid film, and the reason I bought a Mint SLR 670-S, and the reason I’ll probably end up selling off the Mint InstantKon RF70: Instax just can’t hit the same, unless we’re talking about Instax Mini in the LC-Anstax, of course.**


I haven’t seen many reviews of Escape. One linked on Malleson’s website and published to Instagram by Robin Tichener (@robins_photobook_collection)*** largely took the publisher’s blurb as the starting point for his very brief thoughts. While often helpful, publisher’s blurbs are largely—and only—self serving and viewers/readers like you (and me) may have different thoughts, may not get the same sort of feel from the book in question. ymmv, as they say.

The same can be said for the two afterwords that appear at the end of the book. Matthias Harder, Director of the Helmut Newton foundation, gives a brief biography/history of Johnstone, his photography, and his collaboration with Malleson. Brad Feuerhelm of American Suburb X and NearestTruth contributes “Escape and the Iterations of Desire,” which I found somewhat difficult. Both take great care to proclaim the collaborative nature of the pictures and their making. Given the time that this book appeared—2021—and the current and continued push for women’s liberation from the shackles of the male gaze—I’m here for it, to be sure—I feel the gentlemen doth protest too much, and that theirs are more political statements than statements of actual fact. From my standpoint as a viewer, wholly separated from the making of the pictures, I don’t really see much in the way of authorship in Malleson’s gaze or posture throughout, and the book reads very similar to all those books and pictures that famous old sexist photogs made of their “muses” in the bad old days of photographic history.

Sure, Malleson is obviously familiar (and comfortable) with the old tropes and poses. There’s something of a self-possession in her that maybe isn’t in every picture of every “muse” by every sexist old pervert famous photog ever. And the fact remains that it’s an un-photographed man making largely sexualized photographs of an attractive(-to-some) woman for the pleasure and delectation of—and I’m guessing here—other men. It’s not pornography, really: it’s an art book to be sure, and though it may be close, it’s not Playboy or Penthouse.: theres’s too much narrative (potential) in it.

If I’m too blind to really get it, to really get beyond Malleson’s largely inexplicable and un-needed nakedness or the absolutely gorgeous color and distortion of the Old Polaroid to get the same things Harder got out of it, or to take the time to carefully read and understand what Feuerhelm had to say, well that’s on me.


Don’t get me wrong. I actually quite enjoy and appreciate Escape. I appreciate Johnstone—the suggestion of, and potential for narrative is strong in this one—and his commitment to Polaroid media. The Summerhouse Pool is one of the best books I’ve reviewed recently, and if not for the gratuitous nudity, Escape might be up there too. Maybe I’m a prude: I won’t deny it. Your mileage will vary. All the nudity just distracts from the narrative, I think; I hope for God’s mercy.

Escape remains available direct from SuperLabo and through Malleson’s website. I wasn’t able to find a website for Johnstone, and I hunted. I’d like to find some more examples of his work, so if you know where I can find him, please pass it on! I appreciate his approach to the medium and his narrative ability, and hope to see how he progresses.

*As of about February 2023, I select books and set an order for review weeks or months in advance. When I hit upon Deanna Templeton’s The Swimming Pool and followed it up with Johnstone’s The Summertime Pool, Escape just naturally followed.
**Looking again at my very small collection of RF70 pictures, I might be being hasty… Instax Wide is a decent format: the size and shape is appealing, and the color can be a bit nostalgic-feeling. And the RF70 is probably the best Instax Wide camera available. Maybe I should put another couple packs through it? I have 4 packs available… I also have the LomoGraflok 4×5 back thing for Instax Wide and I’ve never shot with it, and I also plan to sell it…. Should I shoot the 4 (expired) packs I have and see if I want to keep the RF70 and can get along with the LomoGraflok workflow? If you read this far, leave a comment and share any thoughts, please!
***Tichener seems familiar with this blog, and from the looks of things maybe took a bit of inspiration from me. He even used one of my unboxing pictures, uncredited, natch. I’m flattered, I guess, and wish him the best.
Edit: an earlier version of this review included uncalled-for and uncharacteristic attacks on other photobook reviewers. Apologies to all involved, and I make no excuses for my bad behavior. God willing, I’ll move back to my milquetoasty sort of criticality and stop all these attempts to be edgier: it’s just not me, or not the me I want to be, or used to be.