Larry Sultan – ‘Swimmers’

It’s probably heresy to talk about Larry Sultan’s Swimmers (1978-1982) before mentioning Evidence. I mean, Evidence is famous, and Swimmers, while exhibited a few times, was never before published and was (as far as I know) largely unknown prior to this book coming out. I don’t feel too bad, though: I seem to be going largely out of order—I reviewed Pictures from Home some time ago, after all—so at least I’m consistent.

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Charles Johnstone (with Lea Simone Allegria) – ‘The Summerhouse Pool’

For a photo series about a backyard swimming pool that proves I’m not a total prude or landlubber, I present Charles Johnstone’s The Summerhouse Pool, featuring Lea Simone Allegria.

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Mika Ninagawa – ‘Tokyo’

Mika Ninagawa‘s Tokyo is a nice-enough foil to, and last round of, my silly back and forth between Daido Moriyama’s super-saturated, high contrast, gritty black & white photography (made fairly continuously from the mid 1960s to the present*) and Hiromix’s color work made between ~1995 and 2000. Why Ninagawa and not another Hiromix book? Well, sadly, I’m fresh out of Hiromix books,** and given that the last Moriyama book in my collection is Tokyo, a catalog from an exhibition of his and Somei Tomatsu’s work from the titular city, Ninagawa’s view of that same city roughly a half-century later seemed appropriate.

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Daido Moriyama & Shomei Tomatsu – ‘Tokyo’

Tokyo is an exhibition catalog from ‘Tokyo: Daido Moriyama, Shomei Tomatsu,’ which ran at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), Paris, November 11, 2020 through February 28, 2021. I wasn’t in Paris at the time, and bought this from publisher Akio Nagasawa, and I very much hope it’s the last Moriyama book on my to-review shelves….*


Be aware: there are a few NSFW photographs in the catalog. Apologies: You’ll need to click through to view the unboxing.

I don’t wholly regret picking up a copy of Tokyo. Copies of Tomatsu’s books from the 1960s-1980s are scarce and expensive, and while Chewing Gum & Chocolate saw several reprints, others are long out of print and it’s nice to see even a small selection of other work.

My favorite part of the catalog is probably the volume of texts, which includes an introduction from MEP director Simon Baker and statements from both photographers, written in 1970, 1972, 1997, and 2007 (Moriyama) and 1976, 1987, and 1999 (Tomatsu). It’s interesting to see how their thoughts changed over the years, or not, and to compare their thoughts to those from, say, Stephen Shore over the same period. (Short answer: they’re all pretty much thinking the same sorts of things, and just expressing and working through their thoughts in idiosyncratic ways.)

The catalog contains three volumes: the text one, and one each for Moriyama and Tomatsu. I might’ve liked to see everything in one volume, with images from the photographers carrying on a conversation. Instead, the volumes sort of function as a greatest hits album for the two, with works made in Tokyo over 40 or so years. (Images from Moriyama are undated, but I recognize many from the Pocket 55s book; Tomatsu’s pictures were made between 1954 and 1981, with the vast majority coming in the 50s and 60s, most of which I hadn’t seen before.)

So, short answer, it’s a nice introduction to Tomatsu and Moriyama, if nothing else.

Concept
Content
Design

The only place the catalog falls down, in my opinion, is in the binding of the two image volumes. Tomatsu’s book is ever-so-slightly wider than Moriyama’s: the cover overhangs the pages by a millimeter or so. This gives Tomatsu’s book a somewhat more finished and quality feel. Tomatsu’s images also have some white space, titles, and etc. Moriyama’s book is pretty much a smaller version of one of his Record zines, all glossy and printed full bleed.

Overall, I rate Tokyo a not-quite-recommended 4 stars.

Tokyo remains available direct from the publisher, and in pulling that link I discovered a second version, produced for the exhibition when it ran in Rome. Tokyo: Revisited includes some additional images and costs the same, and I won’t be buying a copy. Both are cheap-ish and maybe worth if you need a rather overly-specific overview of both photographers and their work.


*There’s one more… smh. It’s not really a photobook, though. It’s more of a how-to thing. Still….

‘Polaroid Now’ – Steve Crist & Gloria Fowler, ed.

Polaroid Now: the History and Future of Polaroid Photography collects recent (2010s) work on expired Old Polaroid and Impossible/Originals New Polaroid stocks by rising (Insta)stars of the medium. There’s some killer work in it, for sure, and seeing the images larger in print—in this book, anyway—gives a slightly different impression than the images did when I first saw (some of them) on the ‘gram.


Steve Crist reprises his editor role from The Polaroid Book, and contributes a brief introductory essay. Given that I recently spent a week with the earlier book, I was stuck by a single line early on: “I stepped through the gates of the Polaroid Corporation in Waltham, Massachusetts, back in 2004.” Hummm… Strange. In The Polaroid Book, which came out in 2004, he says “… I first visited the Polaroid Collections in the fall of 2003.”

Memory is notoriously fickle, and maybe the Polaroid Collections were held somewhere other than the Polaroid Corporation headquarters—I don’t think so, since he also mentions meeting with Barbara Hitchcock in both locations—and I don’t blame Crist for this error, and where was the copy editor, the fact checker?

Anyway.

This is a strange thing to lead a photobook review with, and more or less wholly immaterial to the rest of the book. Oh well. It’s the first thing that struck me, and the one that stuck with me most strongly, so….

The book opens with the picture of Andy Warhol holding an SX-70 with a selfie hanging out of its mouth that everyone knows. Actually, this picture is on the endpapers, so one could say the book opens and closes with now rather ancient history. Anyway. There’s Andy on the end papers, a page with the title on, two pages of pink, then Polaroid portraits of Debbie Harry and Jean-Michele Basquiat, two selfies by Keith Haring, a shot of Andy with a skull by Peter Beard, and a 9 image collage selfie by Chuck Close before you get to Crist’s essay.

After Crist, there are a couple of old ads and a shot of Polaroid iType boxes whizzing their way through a factory. Oskar Smolokowski recounts his early-ish involvement and thankfully mentions Doc Kaps in the process. Another picture of a Polaroid iType box— this time it’s being stuffed or sealed—follows, and then we’re in to the meat of the book: current (2010s) users of expired Old Polaroid, sketchy early Impossible Project, more stable Polaroid Originals, and (presumably) fairly rock solid New Polaroid films. Most of this work looks—to my eye—very much like it was made by very competent, if fairly new (and rather wealthy… or sponsored) users of the medium, users that cut their teeth on Hipstamatic and the like.

I don’t begrudge. Hipstamatic and an iPhone 4 got me interested (again) in photography after many years away, and we all take inspiration from wherever we find it.

This work looks great, and no question, and still I’m bothered by some of it. Much of it makes great use of the materiality of polaroid images, largely by destroying the print somehow: there are only a few emulsion lifts, but the emulsions lifted number more than a hundred (I’m guessing); many artists peel the layers apart and somehow show the color image with the border from the backside of the image, framing it like that Hipstamatic “film” I can’t recall the name of, but used with abandon in the 2011/12 timeframe; others are painted on or stitched or whatever, and in writing that, I remember seeing the stitched one on Insta in the mid 2010s.

Thinking about it now, and comparing the pictures in Polaroid Now to those in The Polaroid Book, there’s a sort of nostalgia for both the materiality of analog media and the look of Old Polaroid at work in these, and it all seems as much about likes and all than anything else, really. Maybe I’m jaded… I’m definitely feeling rushed (good old WordPress lost 4 paragraphs and I have 7 minutes to finish this before publication time), so I don’t really know what I’m trying to say except that I’m a bit ambivalent about Polaroid Now.

Unrated.

Used copies of Polaroid Now go for about 90% of what you can find new copies for, so maybe others are a bit ambivalent about it too? That, and it is a mass market book with many thousands of copies out there, so…. There is surely and certainly some inspirational and excellent work in the book, and if you’re interested in Polaroid media, then it’s worth picking up, if only for getting a good list of active Instagrammers using Polaroid.

And that’s probably what bothers me most, and I have to just leave it at that, with apologies.