We're back with the second edition of our Artling Book Club series! This time, with a focus on the modern and contemporary medium of photography. In an age of rapid technological growth, photography has established itself in the last century as an integral part of Art History. Consequently, the human documentation of images has drastically changed since the development of the handheld camera. In the midst of the 21st century's boundlessly growing influx of photographic images, The Artling Book Club presents our classic picks of books that provide an insight into the intricate art of photography.
Cover of The Americans – copyright of Robert Frank published by Steidl, 2008 special edition. (Image courtesy of Photobook Journal).
Chronicled as a photo book that redefined photojournalism and photographic documentation in the 20th century, The Americans, previously published in 1959, is one of the most influential compilations of photographs taken by Robert Frank, capturing 20th century America with deceptively simplistic transparency. The book is a series of photographs taken by Frank in America between 1955 and 1956. As introduced by Jack Kerouac in the Introduction to The Americans:
“That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film. For this he will definitely be hailed as a great artist in his field. After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin.” - Jack Kerouac, The Americans: An Introduction.
Chinese photographer Ren Hang (March 30, 1987) took his own life on February 23 of 2017. He said, “I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.”
The Chinese photographer was an influential figure in the battle for Chinese artists’ freedom of expression. With highly erotic subjects in his photography, Ren Hang was a controversial figure in China as well as the rest of the world. Provocative and vivid, his photographs evoke ideas of gender inclusiveness, sexuality, censorship, and more in the way he has captured the human flesh on camera. Taschen presents to audiences the only international collection spanning his whole career “with well-loved favorites and many never-before-seen photos of men, women, Beijing, and those many, many erections.” (Taschen).
“Reverie in nature takes form in the black and white of Hengki Koentjoro’s photographs. In his striking signature simplicity, Hengki delicately preserves the dreamy awe in ordinary objects above and under water. Now based in Jakarta, Hengki seeks soundness of mind mostly in the oceans and open nature—away from the buzzing city life.”
Explore these ideas through and through, absorbing page after page of the stillness of nature captured in Indonesian Fine-Art photographer Hengki Koenjtoro’s book ‘Monohydra’.
Cover of Vivian Maier: Street Photographer by Vivian Maier, John Maloof, and Geoff Dyer. (Image courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).
With over 100,000 negatives described in its revelation as ‘part of a renaissance of photography’, Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American photographer, recently discoverd whose street photography provoked parity to that of Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Weegee, and Walker Evans, among others.
A definably liberal woman raised in France in her early years, with a sharp focus and tireless ability to shoot, Maier had no professional training in photography, and no sharing experience amongst peers. Her work was discovered only after her passing by John Maloof, an author and street photographer involved in historic preservation of Chicago’s Northwest Side. This book recounts her personal, as well as universal facets of city life in Chicago, and New York in America’s post-war ‘golden age’ in the 20th century. A thoughtful read and curated collection of photographs; a highlight in the often lesser recognised demographic of women photographers in the history of art.
Described as a pictoral, fictional memoir, Myself Mona Ahmed is a mix of photobook, autobiography, and fiction. Photojournalist, photographer, and contemporary artist Dayanita Singh (b. 1961) discerns in this book the personal influence of photojournalism in her life. Singh's works and photographs are primarily produced with the idea of the experience of the book in mind.
"It was a photojournalistic project that brought the eunuch, Mona Ahmed, into Dayanita’s life. But it was Mona’s own refusal to be the subject of such a project that pushed Dayanita into producing, eventually, a ‘visual novel’. Her book uses various kinds of text alongside the photographs to weave together photography and literature in the unfolding of a life, which is much more the story of an inward journey and a relationship than the documentary account of a different social reality and sexual identity." (Scalo, 2001).
'Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey', published by Zhuang Wubin is one of the first books that attempts to comprehensively map the photographic practices of photographers and practitioners in every Southeast Asian country; he also examines how photography is an entry point to the cultural and socio-political practices of the region.
A must-read for photographers, photography lovers, and modern art lovers alike, The Mind’s Eye compiles French photographer and photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson’s writings on photography, published sporadically over the past 45 years.
The Mind's Eye features Cartier-Bresson's famous text on "the decisive moment" as well as his observations on Moscow, Cuba, and China during turbulent times, which ring with the same immediacy and visual intensity that he brings to his photography. Cartier-Bresson remains as direct and insightful as ever in his writings. His commentary on photographer friends he has known-including Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz, Ernst Haas, and Sarah Moon-reveal the impassioned and compassionate vision for which Cartier-Bresson is beloved.
Katsura: Picturing Modernism in Japanese Architecture: Photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro, & Herbert Bayer. With essays by Tange Kenzo, & Walter Gropius. Edited by Yasufumi Nakamori (Image courtesy of Amazon).
Originally published by Yale University Press in 1960, Katsura: Tradition and Creation of Japanese Architecture has been one of the the most significant photographic publications about the relationship of modernity and tradition in postwar Japan. The book features Japanese-American photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro’s (June 14, 1921- February 6, 2012) 135 black and white photographs of the 17th century Katsura Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Specifically, this curated collection is fuelled by the desire to interpret and project meaning onto the architectural images of Ishimoto Yasuhiro, producing abstract fragments of architectural subjects cropped and sequenced by famed Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer. Noting modernist perspectives of Bauhaus School in the interpretation of Yasuhiro’s work, the book further explains the ideas behind modernist photographic portrayals of traditional Japanese architecture.
Featuring essays and readings by famous architects such as Tange Kenzo and Walter Gropius, The book serves as an important contribution to the growing scholarly field of post-1945 Japanese art, in particular the juncture of photography and architecture.
"Red petals and rope binding; The ultimate Araki collection." (Taschen)
Nobuyoshi Araki (b. May 25, 1940), better known by his nickname Araki, is a Japanese photographer and contemporary artist. His work arouses controversy in the art world with a consistency of the explicit emphasis on visual themes of sexuality. Beyond the fine arts, Araki has also explored photography in the contemporary fashion industry, shooting with brands such as Supreme.
Now available as a standard TASCHEN edition, the curation of decades' worth of works selected by Nobuyoshi Araki himself, Araki by Araki delves deep into his best-known imagery: Tokyo street scenes; faces and foods; colorful, sensual flowers; female genitalia; and the Japanese art of kinbaku, or bondage. As girls lay bound but defiant and glistening petals assume suggestive shapes, Araki plays constantly with patterns of subjugation and emancipation, death and desire and with the slippage between serene image and shock.
Form, format, and media of the visual arts have always endured change throughout the history of art. This book surveys in what ways photography has been used as a form of modern and contemporary art in the 20th and 21st century. Illustrated with a dynamic range of styles by photographers, artists, photojournalists alike, this book provides an ample introduction to contemporary art photography, identifying its most important features and themes and celebrating its exciting pluralism, through an overview of its most important and innovative practitioners.
Left to Right (L-R) brings together 53 entries by artists, curators and writers based in Singapore and beyond. Each entry features a 200-word response to selected lens-based image(s) produced in or of Singapore. The book features additional conversations with artists and researchers around the issue of image making and marking, L-R is an invitation to a meaningful pause against the onslaught of images produced in the jubilee year of 2015. As an alternative image bank, L-R may be read as a record of our complicities and anxieties surrounding Singapore's image factory.
An important archival book chronicling the iconic imagery of Singapore and Southeast Asia.
For more books on art, check out our bookstore here.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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