NOTABLE PHOTO BOOKS OF 2011
© KEHRER VERLAG/PHO TO BY TAJ FORER
Introduction by bruce Davidson; essay by Fred
brathwaite; afterword by Henry Geldzahler
118 images, $65
as lyrical beauty: a sunset vista, glimpsed between the cars of
an elevated train, and two woman waiting on a platform, their
dresses rustled by a summer breeze.
This new edition by Aperture features 25 previously
unpublished images, a full-bleed cover and a new essay by
Fred Brathwaite (better known as Fab Five Freddy) who is
nostalgic for the graffiti that form the backdrop for so many
of Davidson’s images.
I opened the new edition of Bruce Davidson’s Subway on
the downtown 3 train, planning to note how the subway
has changed since the Magnum photographer rode miles
of track in 1979 and 1980. The graffiti is gone, iPods have
replaced boom boxes, fewer men ride shirtless (due either to
the reliability of the air conditioning or a change in fashion).
I soon realized, however, that the subway has never looked
in real life the way it does in Davidson’s images. For his first
sustained project shot in color, Davidson carried a strobe. The
brilliant flash, combined with fluorescent lighting, intense
colors and Davidson’s probing vision, produced images that
are dramatic and at times surreal. Unlike Walker Evans, who
photographed subway passengers surreptitiously with his
camera hidden in his coat, Davidson made his presence
known. As a result, he captured more direct eye contact with
passengers than most daily commuters feel comfortable with.
In his introductory essay to the book, which was first
published in 1986, Davidson notes that at the time he was
taking the pictures, the subway was “dangerous day and night”
(he was mugged twice during the project). Many of his images
capture actual violence and an atmosphere of menace, as well
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Stone by Stone
Foreword by Kirsten Rian
50 images, $60
Fiddlehead ferns neatly piled amid pine
boughs. A hand reaching into a tree to
pick a peach. A rosy-colored mushroom
sprouting from a forest floor. Teepees
made of tree limbs and pine boughs.
A bowl made of birch bark. Where are
we, and what is the significance of
these things? There are no captions or
end notes, and the introductory essay
by Kirsten Rian offers little guidance,
though it alludes to Taj Forer’s interest
in the primordial practices of hunter-gatherers, which continue today.
In his previous and equally
contemplative book, Threefold Sun
(2007), Forer examined places and
objects influenced by Rudolf Steiner
and the Waldorf School education
system he founded, which emphasized
harmony with the natural world and
the fostering of free and independent
thinking. It appears that once again
Forer has delved into a community of
free thinkers and this time shows us
their foraging, hunting and shelter-making. But rather than documenting
people or the lives they live, he’s chosen
to study carefully what they’ve made
and the natural elements their simple,
no-impact lives preserve. As Rian notes,
hunting and gathering has existed since
ancient times, and it persists today.
Without captions to root the images in
any particular time or place, the book
allows us to imagine we are stepping
into a world that could exist at any point
in human history or back into our own
childhoods, when every mushroom we
found in the woods suggested a house for
elves, and the fun of fashioning a shelter
out of tree branches could make us lose all
track of time.
© APER TURE/PHO TO BY BRUCE DAVIDSON/MAGNUM PHO TOS
Deep Sea DIVeR
Hardcover in slipcase, 136 pages
85 images, $200
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Danny Lyon didn’t want to go to China, nor did he have much interest in it as a place.
He admits this at the beginning of his text for his book Deep Sea Diver: An American
Photographer’s Journey in Shanxi, China. As a child, Lyon writes, he thought of
China as an upside-down otherworld that existed at the end of a theoretical
tunnel through the center of the earth. He was tempted to go there only after a
representative of a photography festival in Ping Yao, PIP, told him they would fly
him there first class. “I never fly first class,” he writes.
After visiting PIP and making pictures, Lyon decided he wanted to return because nobody cared that he was taking their
photograph. In other places he’d been threatened verbally and physically, “or simply told that I would have my camera
‘shoved up my ass,’” he writes. “China—the place I used to think of as Red China—was wide open.”
Lyon returned to Shanxi several times from 2005 to 2009, immersing himself in the culture as best he could with the
help of professional drivers and a young translator named Lolly, with whom he eventually had a falling out for reasons he
still doesn’t understand. He is matter of fact about the difficulties he faced finding interesting subjects, gaining access and
communicating. His stories are funny and interesting, horrifying and sad. And his black-and-white photographs show us coal
truck drivers, peripatetic opera performers, children flying kites, women playing cards, migrant workers, weddings, food stalls
and abandoned Buddhist temples.
The limited edition of 2,200, each hand-numbered by Lyon,
is presented in a slipcase and is designed as a replica of Lyon’s
handmade album, complete with prints “taped” to pages and
notes and captions handwritten by Lyon.
© PHAIDON/PHO TO BY DANN Y LYON/MAGNUM PHO TOS
At a time when a number of documentary photographers are
pursuing agendas in China that range from environmentalism
to human rights, Lyon’s indifference is refreshing and disarming.
While Lyon chose to photograph in a province whose rich
history has been heavily compromised by coal mining and
industrialization, if he is saying anything more here than “I
went to Shanxi and this is what I saw,” it will be up to the reader
to puzzle it out. “The ‘old’ China I have been looking for has
vanished before my eyes,” he writes, but this is as close to a
statement of purpose as he comes.