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Hard Ground [Hardcover]

Tom Waits , Michael O'Brien
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 51.95
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Book Description

March 1 2011
Michael O'Brien got out of his car one day in 1975 and sought the acquaintance of a man named John Madden who lived under an overpass. Their initial contact grew into a friendship that O'Brien chronicled for the Miami News, where he began his career as a staff photographer. O'Brien's photo essays conveyed empathy for the homeless and the disenfranchised and won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. In 2006, O'Brien reconnected with the issue of homelessness and learned the problem has grown exponentially since the 1970s, with as many as 3.5 million adults and children in America experiencing homelessness at some point in any given year. In Hard Ground, O'Brien joins with renowned singer-songwriter Tom Waits, described by the New York Times as "the poet of outcasts," to create a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live "on the hard ground" and recognize our common humanity. For Waits, who has spent decades writing about outsiders, this subject is familiar territory. Combining their formidable talents in photography and poetry, O'Brien and Waits have crafted a work in the spirit of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which James Agee's text and Walker Evans's photographs were "coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative" elements. Letting words and images communicate on their own terms, rather than merely illustrate each other, Hard Ground transcends documentary and presents independent, yet powerfully complementary views of the trials of homelessness and the resilience of people who survive on the streets.

Frequently Bought Together

Hard Ground + Tom Waits - The Little Black Songbook: Chords-Lyrics + Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters
Price For All Three: CDN$ 64.27


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Review

"...this is a powerful book..." Guardian 10 June 2011 "Other collections of lost souls (Richard Avedon's In the American West comes to mind) are different... We meet O'Brien's people one on one. Their 'otherness' is removed. The photographs engender compassion and empathy. If that sounds simple, it is because it is simple. And, as you know, being simple is very, very difficult. Hard Ground is a rare and powerful book." JOHN LOENGARD Life magazine photographer and picture editor, and one of American Photo magazine's "100 most influential people in photography" "If I can think of a book to relate to this one, it would be James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. That book was photographed in 1936--during the Great Depression--and published in 1941. It had an enormous influence--and still does--on the way photography and writing can work together as a catalyst for social change... I think Hard Ground has this potential." MARY ELLEN MARK internationally renowned photographer and author of sixteen books, including Seen Behind the Scene, Exposure, and Twins

Review

Other collections of lost souls (Richard Avedon's In the American West comes to mind) are different. . . . We meet O'Brien's people one on one. Their 'otherness' is removed. The photographs engender compassion and empathy. If that sounds simple, it is because it is simple. And, as you know, being simple is very, very difficult. Hard Ground is a rare and powerful book. (John Loengard, Life magazine photographer and picture editor, and one of American Photo magazine's "100 most influential people in photography")

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Missed the mark! March 19 2012
Format:Hardcover
Tom Waits' poetry is heart wrenching. Amazingly beautiful. The photographs are technically perfect, and respectful and, by and large friendly. Which I think is the point of this book.

However, I see these folks everyday. There was nothing special about the folks portrayed. They got to say two sentences about who they are and why. The poetry didn't get connected to the people. There are no echos, reverberations, or connections in this panorama. And I certainly didn't get any sense of hope or resilience from any of the subjects. It was quite depressing actually. Tom Waits articulated dreams, hopes, determination, and perseverance. But it never connected to the folks photographed. It's just too easy to see them as casualties.

Politically, I think the time of romanticizing the poor, has past. It's time to get pissed off about having an underclass in our rich world.

So, the photography is boring, and the poetry is wonderful. But I would have rather paid $10.00 for the poetry, and just look at the folks on the bus tomorrow morning.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Sept. 25 2014
By Keith
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
interesting
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the kind of photography book real photographers should be looking at. April 1 2011
By Kirk Tuck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are a gazillion books out there that try to show you HOW to shoot photographs. All of them are pretty much the same. And then there are books that show you WHY to take photographs and this is one of those. What Michael O'Brien has done is to ease himself into a four year long exploration, an uncomfortable visual study of what life is like for the homeless in our country. Michael and I live in one of the most prosperous cities in the south. Filled with start up companies and billionaires and sleek German and English cars and lots and lots of big, charming houses. But in the same city we have hundreds and hundreds of fellow citizens who are homeless. And we as a culture conspire unconsciously not to notice them. But Michael did notice them. And he volunteered and met them and they revealed their very human nature to him and touched his sense of compassion and he told their stories thru photos that sing with spirit and grace. This was no "high speed press junket project" these pictures were earned one sandwich at a time. And it shows. Because in nearly every photo you, as the viewer, can feel a deep connection.

The book isn't preachy. Michael doesn't do that. But it's a master class in honest portraits. The design of the book is perfectly scaled to be not too intrusive not too understated. DJ Stout lets the pictures sing and the words float on the pages. But the real shocker, especially at this price, is the quality of reproduction. It's "no holds barred" perfect. The quadratones match the best darkroom prints I've seen.

Buy this book now. Live with it. Hold on to it. This is a modern classic on so many levels. Michael O'Brien has shown himself to be a world class photographer and world class human. And we can understand vicariously what that's all about. I'm buying two. One to hold on to and one to read and view vigorously.

Hate to use the "A" word but this is ART.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a special book... April 23 2011
By photoman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I buy a lot of photo books and to be honest, I end up selling most of them. But some are just so special they are keepers. Hard Ground is a keeper. The black & white photography is wonderful, the poetry by Tom Waits is a great match for the photos and the brief stories about the people are heartbreaking. This book really makes you want to learn more about these people. This is the new face of America. Take a good long look, then ask yourself how far you are from being one of these people. Not as far as you think. Buy this book.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely haunting June 10 2011
By Bethany A. Seales - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is not too much I could say about this gorgeous book; the eyes of its subjects speak volumes for themselves. The Waits poetry additions really make the book, and on more than one photo I felt myself tearing up. Just lovely, and an important reflection on the people who have been left behind in our country. My dad is a musician and songwriter, and I am purchasing him a copy for Father's Day...I believe it could easily inspire a bout of beautiful and melancholy songwriting out of him.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great work by Tom Waits and Michael O'Brien May 2 2011
By Tom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well produced and well written collection of portraits and poems. I've been a big fan of Waits for years and his involvement in non-music art is always exciting. O'Brien captures the reality that is Waits' music. Waits, as with his music, captures the essence of street life with just a few words. It's a must have for die hard Waits fans.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartfelt photos April 18 2011
By Wyatt McSpadden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Michael has created a truly lovely and troubling body of work with these images. He's gone where few of us are willing to go and spent many hours with people we try not to see. With this book in hand we must look into the faces of humans just like ourselves who travel a most difficult road. Beautifully shot,written, designed and printed it's a work that will remain relevant for a long time to come.
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