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Photo Books

by Vince Aletti

Maybe it’s the collector in me, but I’m always drawn to books that seem inspired by the impulse to gather up and re-present images. Collier Schorr’s 8 Women (Mack) is a good example, but her “bootleg“ version of that book, 8 ½ Women (Karma), is an even better one. The first book is a slim, elegant hardcover, rigorously edited to 32 photographs, drawings, and photo-based constructions. What Schorr calls the “extended, appended, annotated and somewhat unabridged” version – a bolt-bound, photo-copied compilation between unmarked red vinyl covers – incorporates all of the original images in the same sequence but shuffles them in between many more (unnumbered) pages of variations, outtakes, contact sheets, magazine pages, drawings, and collages. The result is not unlike Jens F. (2005), Schorr’s brilliant, cut-and-paste reworking of Andrew Wyeth’s notorious collection of Helga drawings, except in this case the book she’s appropriating is her own. But she’s still exploring desire and the fertile, lively territory where masculinity and femininity meet and blur; 8 ½ Women adds another layer of personal material, including a number of self-portraits, to an already idiosyncratic mix. Playful and unpretentious, with a low-tech edge, the book is a cross between a scrapbook and a mood board. It’s about inspiration, influences, second thoughts, and the creative process. 8 Women is one of the year’s most refined books, and this messy, revealing footnote is its ideal companion – exactly the sort of book I wish every artist would make. 

Jack Pierson, whose work often riffs on or includes pop-culture ephemera, combines a scrapbook full of it with his own photography and work by other artists in Tomorrow’s Man, issue #9 of the Vancouver-based art journal Lynn Valley (Presentation House/Bywater Bros.). He borrows his title from a ‘50s physique magazine, and pages of near-naked muscle boys torn from those publications give the book a teasingly erotic underpinning, picked up in images of teen idols Ricky Nelson and James Dean and their contemporary equivalent, Channing Tatum. The format overlaps postcards, sheet music, tear sheets, and snapshots in a visual stream of consciousness that includes Taylor and Burton on the cover of Whisper, a Sam Cooke publicity glossy, Judy Garland, radial tires, and exotic birds. 

Peter Coffin orchestrates a similarly eccentric and evocative range of material in pp. (Half Gallery), an extended sequence – a disco mix – of graphic and photographic spreads from books and magazines. Photographed from above and reproduced on a flat white ground, Coffin’s printed matter has a strikingly physical presence; these aren’t just pictures, they’re objects. Juxtaposed images of nature and culture, art and commerce, science and raw phenomena, suggest a shrewd and sweeping worldview, but if there’s an overarching theme to this collection, it’s elusive. Which is fine by me. Coffin doesn’t try to tie things up with a neat theory. Instead, he starts a stimulating, wide-ranging conversation among images that doesn‘t end here. 

 Design maven Murray Moss presents his collection of discarded American press photographs as a series of deadpan diptychs in Tertium Quid (August Editions). Chosen with a keen eye for the comic, the marvelous, and the surreal, pictures of experiments, accidents, bad weather, cute kids, and the electric chair come together in witty pairs. There are inevitable echoes of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s classic Evidence, but if many of Moss’s found photos are equally puzzling, nearly all of them are thoroughly annotated: the back of each photograph has been reproduced as carefully as the front, preserving the caption, rubber stamp, and grease-pencil graffiti a print accumulates on its way to and from press. The best of them are found Rauschenbergs, lost Motherwells – the Abstract Expressionist flip side to vernacular treasure.



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