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Modern American Houses: Fifty Years of Design in Architectural Record
Modern American Houses: Fifty Years of Design in Architectural Record
by Clifford A. Pearson
Edition: Hardcover
8 used & new from CDN$ 22.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly a fine look back, Nov. 12 2010
Only a few years old and this colorful historic survey can be picked up quite cheaply. I would recommend any architectural student get their copy. As a very loose primer on what was going on in designed domestic housing over the decades it provides some interesting insights. The five decade essays also fill in a lot of detail about the thinking behind these homes.

Thankfully the style of the chosen homes varies enormously from John Lautner's bizarre 1977 Arango House in Acapulco, Allan Greenberg's 1986 classical Connecticut farmhouse to Shigeru Ban's 2003 picture window house in Japan and a whole load of modernist premises in between. The common element that runs through every home is how each architect handled the interior space and I was conscious of an editorial flaw here because not every building had a floor plan and nearly all those that did had more or less unreadable plans (mostly too small) and they ended up as mere graphic elements on the page.

Another thing that could my eye was the decline in usefulness of the photos as the years past by. The early black and whites were of Ezra Stoller quality but by 2000 the photos seemed more expressive interpretations by photographers. Houses are photographed, it seems to me, in deep sunsets creating far too many shadows and dark areas or the exteriors are photographed at night with the house lights on. Hardly the best way to appreciate form and structure.

All the houses retain the copy as written when it was first published and some of the views expressed by writers from years ago I found as fascinating as the photos. Overall an interesting backward look at some remarkable, thought provoking homes.

Frank Paulin: Out of the Limelight
Frank Paulin: Out of the Limelight
by Frank Paulin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 54.78
18 used & new from CDN$ 17.64

3.0 out of 5 stars Frank's finally out of the shadows, Nov. 11 2010
An aptly titled book because Frank Paulin is hardly a well known name in the American photographic arena. The photos in the book have been hidden away for years. Exhibitions in 1957 and in 2003 more or less sum up Paulin's exposure until this book came out in 2007.

New York, more than any other city, has attracted photographers to capture the daily to and fro of street life. Frank Paulin became a street snapper outside of his professional photographic work (much like Vivian Cherry, originally a Broadway dancer, who has some vibrant city work in `Helluva town', ISBN 9781576874042). Paulin has some stunning photos in his book with the first one a knockout street shot from 1956, showing milling pedestrians across the bottom of the photo and four giant billboards above them, or page sixty-three, taken Battery Park in 1955 with two lovers kissing on a park bench and an old gent oblivious to them just looking at the camera.

There are other wonderful photos but I was rather disappointed to find several that really seemed not much better than average and this perhaps is the problem with the book. Photos that really pull you into the frame are mixed with the also rans. The way the book has been designed doesn't help either. There is far too much white space, either blank pages or a spread with a photo occupying only a quarter of it. The eighty-nine photos are spread out to fill the book's 176 pages.

I think the book is rather over designed despite a pleasing landscape format, good paper and 175 screen printing. Even a trifle like the page number position has had some design input. Left-hand pages have the number bottom left, except when a photo is on that page, right-hand pages have the number bottom centered except when there is a photo on the page and bizarrely there are five right-hand pages with small photos where the page numbers are positioned near the spine of the book. All designer whimsy off course because there is no need for this confusion.

I think the book is worth getting if you can find it at a much lower price than currently available.

Breathless Homicidal Slime Mutants: The Art of the Paperback
Breathless Homicidal Slime Mutants: The Art of the Paperback
by Steven Brower
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.96
32 used & new from CDN$ 1.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Down-market gems, Nov. 6 2010
Steven Brower's book is a refreshing change from the usual historical look back at paperback cover art. Many of them tend to concentrate on bottom of the market sex titles that provide an opportunity to fill out the pages with mildly titillating cover art. Despite a rather over-the-top title, which suggests that Brower only looks at instantly forgettable paperbacks, I found his book a thorough and fascinating coverage of paperback cover art.

The thirteen genre chapters almost cover the complete market with a short intro to each though some only have a few covers. `Lavender liaisons' about the gay women titles only has two; `Changing world' on social problems has six. Nicely there is a chapter on humor titles, not normally included in books on cover art, with six covers but oddly, considering how comprehensive the book's coverage is there is nothing on cartoon paperbacks, either individual artists or reprints of cartoons from consumer weeklies or monthlies.

If you are interested in pop culture from the past the book is certainly worth getting but I was slightly disappointed with the production, so four stars. The first thing I noticed was that the paper, a good matt art stock, was a bit too thick for the size of the book and pages, they made it a bit unwieldy to handle. The other problem was the layout. Frequently spreads had two covers, page size that butted together in the middle, not the best way to show off cover art, they looked too crammed in. If the book had been slightly wider (square would have been super) it would have made all the art look that much better

I have other books on cover art, maybe not so comprehensive but certainly better looking: 'Penguin by design by Phil Baines; 'Jackets required' by Steven Heller; 'Front cover' by Alan Powers for instance. Despite the crammed in look with a lot of the pages Brower's book is an excellent look back at mass-market cover art.

Through Time: New York City
Through Time: New York City
by Richard Platt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.59
40 used & new from CDN$ 1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A few years in the life, Oct. 31 2010
An interesting book as far as it goes but I thought it had a rather flawed editorial. Each spread takes a particular year in the life of the city and hangs the text and illustrations round the chosen theme. Up to 1906: Ellis Island this makes sense but the remaining seven spreads seem rather arbitrary. 1930: Highs and lows; 1939: World's Fair; 1967 Pop and protest; 1969: Return of the Apollo heroes; 1975; Times Square; 2001: Ground zero and the last one Today: Modern NYC. The subjects for 1967, 1969, and 1975 are hardly momentous events that shaped the city. Where is the Wall Street crash, the subway system, politics and the UN, culture and the Museum of Modern Art? These seem more relevant than some of those in the latter part of the book.

The English author Richard Platt has written similar children's city titles which I assume are in the same format as this one with the main illustrations produced by an Italian studio. I thought these were interesting and quite competent especially those that require a lot of detail work. The pages contain plenty of historical facts presented in caption form or as items arrowed into the illustrations, which are mostly bird`s eye view.

It seems to me the book's format (choosing a particular year) rather dictates the content of the pages and this precludes events in other years that could be of importance in the history of the city but don't get a mention.

The Boombox Project: The Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground
The Boombox Project: The Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground
by Lyle Owerko
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.61
34 used & new from CDN$ 17.61

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tech meets beats, Oct. 31 2010
A fantastic flash back in time for all those fans who staggered around with ultra heavy sonic boomboxes in their hands and to live life to the full you had to a battery junkie too. Lyle Owerko has produced a wonderful look back at the machines that were so essential to music in the eighties.

The five chapters blend the machines and the music but it's the in-your-face spread-wide photos of the radios that grabbed me. Pages eight and nine feature the Conion C100F, thirty-one inches long and sixteen high, a monster which, as the book says: `designed not just to catch the eyes, but to hold them hostage'. How about the Sharp GF-777 with four giant speakers or the Panasonic RX-A5 with eight speakers. Both machines were capable of pumping out an industrial strength bass that made them essential parts of street culture. Chapter four: Fast Forward has photos of fifty radios, several one to a spread and they look like they're bursting out of the book. Others are one, two or four to a page. Great photos, too as they are all straight on shots floating on the pages because they have no backgrounds.

Other chapters, with long quotes from fifty-four contributors, cover DJ and the MC, rap, break dancing and hip-hop. Street scene photos from a variety of photographers give all these pages a lift.

The book has a contemporary graffiti design look that I thought worked well with the static radio shots that run throughout the pages. Everything hangs together beautifully though an index for the radios would have been useful.

The book celebrates that special decade of the walking boom box and it's a visual treat.

Monumental: The Reimagined World of Kevin O'Callaghan
Monumental: The Reimagined World of Kevin O'Callaghan
by Kevin O'Callaghan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.24
19 used & new from CDN$ 21.38

5.0 out of 5 stars Making this from a cast-off that, Oct. 24 2010
It's not often that you'll come across a book that can be opened at any page and be grabbed by what you see. These pages are crammed with student work inspired by Kevin O'Callaghan who teaches 3-D design at New York's School of Visual Arts. His course seems to be a think-outside-the-box approach to design where he gives students cast-off anything and they have to create something new. The results are really quite amazing.

The 120 assault rifles featured in the chapter called 'Disarm' were given to sixty-five students and they came up with a: tricycle; kitchen blender; casual table; baby buggy; teddy bear; violin. Forty students given seventy-five obsolete typewriters in 'The next best...Ding!' created a waffle iron; vacuum cleaner; hot-air hand dryer; miniature ice hockey rink; plate cup and place setting for one and a bubble gum machine amongst other items. All these items become more intriguing because there is a time element, both these exercises had to be created in three weeks.

The book kicks off with probably O'Callaghan's most ambitious and famous exercise: what thirty-two students could do with thirty-nine out of time Yugo cars. Twenty-one are featured, mostly still as cars but turned into something else. Perhaps the most flamboyant is James Korpai's New York subway car; this has to be seen to be believed (pages thirty-six and seven)

The book is nicely produced with a few hundred color photos and fortunately presented in a straightforward way because the images are interesting enough without the need for flashy page graphics and as I said earlier you can look at any page and be grabbed by what you'll see.

Witness To The Fifties: The Pittsburgh Photographic Library, 1950-1953
Witness To The Fifties: The Pittsburgh Photographic Library, 1950-1953
by Clarke M. Thomas
Edition: Hardcover
10 used & new from CDN$ 35.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Iron and steel city, Oct. 19 2010
Pittsburgh is well served by having two remarkable photo books covering the same period. This one and Eugene Smith's `Dream Street' (ISBN 0393044084). Both portray Pittsburgh as a vibrant city in the Fifties with wonderful photos.

Of the two books I prefer `Witness...' as it has a slight edge in being a superior production and editorially features the work of several photographers. Smith's book is more a personal photographic statement about how he saw the city and is selected from seventeen thousand images he took of Pittsburgh over twelve months.

Schultz and Plattner's book is based on Roy Stryker's photo library that the city planners commissioned him to create in 1949. He was the perfect choice having been in charge of America's greatest photo endeavor: the FSA collection from the Depression years. The eleven photographers he chose turned in some of the best reportage work you'll ever see. There are no duds here, each photo tells a story, whether it's the construction of a modern downtown, folks on the street, at work or at home. Fortunately this is more than just a book of well printed photos. They are divided into loose themes and each gets a short essay putting the images into the context of a growing city. The front of the book has an excellent twenty-six page essay about Stryker's Pittsburgh Photographic Library.

Great photos need a great book and this is the perfect example of that. Photos are one to a page with generous margins and a caption, the printing is on a silky matt art with a 300 screen. So many of these photos are saturated with detail and texture that they require quality printing. A beautiful Russell Lee photo (plate 59) of a street scene with several shops allows you read the signs in the windows or a Clyde Hare shot (plate 20) of downtown looking along Penn Avenue to the partially build Gateway Center is in pin-sharp detail.

This square format book with its beautiful editorial content and production can be regarded as a sort of template for what a documentary photo book should look like.

Picturing the South: 1860 To the Present
Picturing the South: 1860 To the Present
by William P. Baldwin
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 20.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Dixie snaps, Oct. 17 2010
The idea behind this interesting book (originally it was an exhibition) was to use photos to show how the South had changed in the decades after the Civil War. The 180 photos are from just over 106 named photographers and twenty-five anonymous ones. They are not just photographers from the South (Swiss born Ernst Haas is included) but all the images show the complexity of Southern life from the mid-1800s to 1990.

The majority of the early photos show colored family life mixed in with a few from the Civil War and white rural activity. I thought nearly all of these as photos of record rather than powerful creative statements. This sort of work starts with the FSA photos from the mid-thirties with an excellent selection from Evans, Shahn, Lange and Bourke-White. The post WW2 years have twenty on the politics of race covering the marches and battles with law enforcement with a few of white social life. The books ends with several pages of more personal observations work from now famous names: Friedlander; Christenberry; Callahan; Meyerowitz; Eggleston; Sternfeld. What I found missing and perhaps it wasn't in the remit of the exhibition, was an absence of several photos showing how the majority of the Southern white population lived, especially in the fifties and sixties when consumer prosperity spread across the whole country.

This is not just a photo book because someone had the bright idea of adding essays by seven authors to split up the decades. None of them are very long but I thought they provided just the right narrative to go with the photos that follow each essay.

I've had this book for some years and always enjoy looking through it. The design is simple and elegant with the photos printed in a 175 screen on a reasonable matt art paper. As an attempt to sum up an idea as much as a place I think it succeeds.

Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism 1900-1970
Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism 1900-1970
by Thomas S. Hines
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 72.73
24 used & new from CDN$ 69.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Sunny design, Oct. 12 2010
By any criteria this has to be considered a monumental study and because of its thoroughness it will surely become the standard reference on LA modernism up to 1970. This year wasn't just chosen as an arbitrary cut-off point but as the author explains in his Epilogue: it coincided with the conclusion of the Case Study Houses program. CSH, least as far as housing went, was the culmination of all the modernism that preceded it; it was the year Richard Neutra died (also Welton Becket died in 1969); around 1970, according British critic Reyner Banham, modernism ceased to be a major worldwide architectural influence.

The thirteen chapters provide an in-depth look at the architects who created such wonderful houses and in later decade's commercial buildings in the Los Angeles area. The craft style of Green & Green in the first years of the last century kicks off the survey and by 1910 Irving Gill was designing clearly modernist structures and the style was on its way. Southern California with its wealth, climate and a group of progressive architects, in more than four decades, became the world center of the style.

I found the chapters on Irving Gill and Richard Neutra fascinating, both were heavyweight contributors to modernism in LA and get extensive coverage (the author has written books about both) also the Case Study Program as a potential solution to the housing problem of the times is explained in reasonable detail. An intriguing and worthwhile design concept instigated by John Entenza, the editor of Arts & Architecture magazine. I always thought it looked a rather amateurish publication yet it nourished this amazing program of contemporary housing.

The book itself is big, chunky and well printed on a matt art with a 175 screen for the hundreds of photos. Julius Shulman's wonderful work gets a good showing though the author is responsible for the most throughout the book; unfortunately these are no match for the professional Shulman. The title's layout is rather austere with plenty of empty page space (so many photos could have been larger) which could well have been used for the sixteen pages of footnotes in the back pages, using these involves an awful of page turning. One thing I definitely think there should have been more of: floor plans. A thing that characterizes modernist houses is the fluid use of space and a floor plan is probably the best way to appreciate this. Some are included but mostly they appear too small.

As I said earlier this will probably become the standard book on the subject but this no dry purely academic study. Fortunately the author frequently reveals the background to these architects lives and society at the time. This certainly made the book come alive for me.

New Yorkers: As Seen by Magnum Photographers
New Yorkers: As Seen by Magnum Photographers
by Magnum Photos Inc.
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 38.40
17 used & new from CDN$ 36.46

3.0 out of 5 stars Missing the buzz a bit, Oct. 9 2010
The 185 photos in the book must have been selected from thousands that Magnum photographers have taken of the city over the decades. The photographers cooperative started in 1947 (though there are two photos in the book taken before that: a 1937 one of a boxer by Robert Capa and a portrait from 1943 by Phillipe Halsman) and because members invited photographers to join it meant that Editors commissioning their work were assured of creative quality.

I assume the contents have been selected from photo assignments where a photographer would have taken several hundred shots which usually end up with perhaps a handful, of the best, being used. There are many stunning shots here but, I thought, perhaps too many average ones as well, especially from the forty-two in color. The sort of image that maybe didn't see the light of day because there were better ones from a particular assignment.

The flavor of the city is captured here by many Magnum members but somehow, having frequently looked through the book, I felt that the stylistic differences between the photographers doesn't come together to make a really memorable title. Maybe if the editorial had focused on mini portfolios by individual photographers rather than mixing them all together, in rather loose themes, it could have made a more interesting book.

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