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Robin Benson

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In America
In America
by Robert Frank
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 34.48
22 used & new from CDN$ 34.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Americans: book two?, Oct. 9 2014
This review is from: In America (Hardcover)
Looking through the 131 fascinating photos in the book is like coming across The Americans volume two, though this is not strictly accurate because there are twenty-two from the original title included here. Peter Galassi's front of book illustrated essay provides some thoughtful background detail about Frank's photo style in the context of mid-fifties America. On page thirty-three he says The Americans is not an album of Frank's best work, though it does have some of his great photos but the book, with its one photo per spread sequencing, allows the images of everyday America to create an emotional punch when viewed as a whole.

No other photo book of the period could claim that, Klein's classic New York title and work from the New York School photographers produced powerful images but only from a regional perspective. Frank's book is successful I think because it covered a huge area of post-war America, a time of plenty for many millions and why the critics of the day didn't like the coverage because it didn't reflect that feel-good factor.

Included in Galassi's essay is a detailed map (over a spread) with the places Frank visited between 1949 to 1961 with page numbers for the photos in the book. New York, Los Angeles and Detroit provide the most. The photos follow no particular geographic or date sequence: New York 1951 on one page is facing Hollywood 1958. Galassi says the trips created 767 rolls of film or 27,000 frames. (The Steidl book Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, Expanded Edition reproduces over two thousand of these frames in contact sheet form.)

A thing I noticed about many of the photos is that people are looking elsewhere, not at Frank taking their photos but out of the frame to the left or right or at something in the frame, a shop window for instance. Many photos have no people in them at all but showing almost still-life detail: a rack of postcards at Hoover Dam; a New York photographer's window full of baby snaps; the letter H of the Hollywood sign; a shirt on a hanger in a Detroit factory. Nearly all the eighty-three in the original book feature people.

A point worth noting from Galassi's essay is that he suggests having a copy of The Americans at hand because he refers to so many photos in it and this book and usefully he provides a page number guide to the original title that just had captions for the photos. This Steidl edition is beautifully produced with 175 screen tritones on a slightly off-white matt paper.

Robert Frank in America with its excellent essay and photos is the perfect comlement to the original classic photo book.

Water
Water
by Edward Burtynsky
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from CDN$ 109.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Liquid through the lens, Sept. 10 2014
This review is from: Water (Hardcover)
This is the second liquid book from Burtynsky following on from his stunning photo survey of the oil industry published by Steidl in 2009. Both books are the same landscape shape and about the same number of pages. While 'Oil' used photos shot at ground level and just above, 'Water' required a bird's-perspective from a plane to capture the scale of the subject. The book's photos were taken over four yeas and Burtynsky makes an interesting point in his preface: the introduction of high-quality digital camera equipment allowed him to make crisp, sharp images from a moving aircraft, something that wasn't easily done with older analogue film.

Despite oil and water both being liquids they clearly don't mix. The photos in 'Oil' show massive despoiling of the landscape and the visual ugliness of the industry while water from above provides some remarkably abstract looking photos like pivot irrigation systems in the south west of the US, rice growing terraces in China and salt aquaculture in Spain. Oddly the most colorful abstractions are from the highly polluted water: phosphor tailings in Florida; the Colorado River delta in Mexico. Probably the most abstract are the last eight photos in the book revealing the glacial runoff and rivers in Iceland.

The chapter titled 'Waterfront' brings the photos to a more human perspective with shots of homes in Florida's Cape Coral, Punta Gorda and Verona Walk, all them show houses connected by roads and canals (Cape Coral has the largest canal system in the world) and predictably these rapid, sprawling developments create environmental and social problems though the photos don't reveal that except by implication. In less developed India water is revealed as a precious resource, four photos show the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival that can attract a hundred million people over fifty-five days, they all come to bathe in the junction of the Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers. India also provides four remarkable photos of stepwells, large deep wells, sort of like inverted pyramids, with sides made up of steps and terraces leading down to the water.

With 112 beautiful photos Burtynsky has managed to capture the impact of water on our world and revealed the ongoing problems we have created with its usage. These problems are detailed in an twenty-eight mini essays (over fourteen pages after the photos) that correspond to the book's sections.

Like the 'Oil' book 'Water' is well produced with a matt art paper for the 175 screen printing and well designed as one would expect from Steidl. It has the minor annoyance though of having the photo captions in the back pages, so expect a lot of page flipping. The book's large landscape shape size allows most photos to be 12.5 by 9.5 inches with one to a page.

Libraries
Libraries
by Bjarne Hammer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 52.92
12 used & new from CDN$ 49.07

5.0 out of 5 stars The public home of books, April 8 2014
This review is from: Libraries (Hardcover)
Forty-four of the world's leading libraries are revealed in this lavish photographic celebration of books in their public homes. Considering that all these buildings hold the same thing the range of architectural styles is quite amazing, even those built in the last decade. Just compare the sweep of the atrium in the 2012 built Sir Duncan Rice Library at the Uni of Aberdeen with atrium of the Library of the Faculty of Law, Uni of Zurich, built in 2004. Both have a fresh take on a similar idea. Perhaps the common element in most of the libraries in the book is a central huge space with shelving round the walls and reading facilities on the floor.

The majority of buildings are in Europe, perhaps as expected as some are centuries old: the Library of El Escorial, Madrid dates back to 1592; Joanina Library, Coimbra, Portugal from 1728; Austrian National Library, Vienna was built in 1726. Those from outside Europe tend to reflect local architectural styles and materials. The King Fahd National Library in Riyadh, built in 2013, has an external appearance of desert tents stacked on top of each other, the smallest building in the book, in Beijing and built in 2011 is the LiYuan Library which uses thin tree branches to cover its exterior.

All of the pictures are from a variety of photographers (some libraries are from two or more) and fortunately the colour and style doesn't vary too much. Each library has the architects name and construction date, the only other text is a deep caption (in four languages) and it is here that the book is slightly flawed because several captions have been printed on the photos despite having plenty of empty page space. Mostly the buildings get two spreads each with two or three photos, frequently a spread wide. They are, of course, beautifully printed (with a 175 screen) on a matt art paper.

'Libraries' looks at these fascinating buildings from an architectural angle but the book will intrigue any book lover.

Railway Posters
Railway Posters
by Thierry Favre
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 37.49
19 used & new from CDN$ 36.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Rolling stock, April 2 2014
This review is from: Railway Posters (Hardcover)
One of the specialities of the Victorian era poster was cramming in as much type as possible, the playbill is a classic example but European rail companies took it to extremes judging by the posters in the first few pages of this book. Not only large type for a heading, a main picture and maybe two more but also a route map and amazingly a comprehensive timetables. All this on a four foot deep poster and frequently the route map was as large as the main scenic picture.

By the early years of the twentieth century this very busy poster format had changed to a much more graphic approach with a big picture, headline type and no timetable. The route map though was a constant idea used for decades. Page eighty-six has a 1933 poster for the Italian railways using a very stylised graphic map of the route between Milan and Naples.

Up to the start of the Second World War travelling by train was the way to go, especially long distances. Page fifty-five has a 1928 poster for the twelve day journey from Paris to Peking, via Moscow and Manchuria or the Simplon--Orient Express 1921 French poster on page 148, board the train in Grande Bretagne (I assume in London) and travel across Europe to Turkey, cross the Bosporus by ferry and then onto Syria. The kind of journey that would inspire books and movies and you can still do it today on the Express, though only as far as Constantinople (Istanbul) with a change in Venice.

The posters through the book follow an historical theme from 1887 to 1986. The majority are European with the next largest from the US with several famous ones painted by Leslie Ragan for the New York Central, Australia, Canada, Japan and Egypt are represented. The last chapter looks at Pullman cars and the French company Wagon Lit and the poster selection includes six from the brilliant Cassandre.

Railway Posters (and the companion titles: Ocean Liners; Cars) are lovely reminders of poster art, all in color, beautifully printed and with mostly one large poster a page. In fact large enough to be suitable for framing if you wanted to create your own transport gallery.

Dual Head Rotary Shaver
Dual Head Rotary Shaver
Offered by JM PRIME
Price: CDN$ 26.80
8 used & new from CDN$ 26.80

5.0 out of 5 stars You can shave anywhere in the world with this dual track, floating head compact, March 3 2014
This little compact shaver seems to be the next model along from the R91. That had a sixteen hour charge time, this one is down to eight hours. Both had up to thirty minutes usage (or as Remington put it: '...you've got plenty of time to perfect your grooming regime'). These small compacts are usually referred to as travel shavers but I see it as on office shaver, to be kept in your desk drawer and used to reduce that five o'clock shadow when the boss calls you to the top floor for a strategy meeting or the when that nice lady in HR has finally agreed to have a drink with you after work. Appearances count guys.

The shaver fits the hand easily and does what it's supposed to though this is not a substitute for a rotary, three head, trimmer, ninety minute charge time, wash under the tap serious type shaver, like the Remington Hyper Series XR1370 Rotary Shaver (where do they get these names from?). The R95 is fine for the occasional use.

I've given it five stars but I should knock off half a star for the poor eight page instruction book. This is set in real tiny type, for those who know about these things I reckon it's four point! You'll need a magnifier to read it and it does contain stuff worth knowing, like: the shaver is dual voltage (100v-240v) and always run the batteries down completely every six months and this interesting piece when you've cleaned it 'Please do not mix up the cutters and guards. If you mix them up it may take weeks until the optimal shaver performance is restored'. I never knew that.

Typography
Typography
by Whitecap Books Ltd.
Edition: Hardcover
8 used & new from CDN$ 67.05

3.0 out of 5 stars Too overwhelming (and too heavy), Feb. 25 2014
This review is from: Typography (Hardcover)
The German publishers Konemann always produced fascinating books, the company was started in 1993 but went bust in 2003, the German Tandem picked up the assets. This very thick, chunky (and heavy at 7.3 pounds ) book was very typical of the companies output: highly illustrated and mostly sold in discount bookstores.

With this title though I think they came a bit unstuck. It's not only the thickness and weight but more importantly the biographic information is rather basic and brief. Perhaps only to be expected when 700 entries are included with 2000 images in 592 pages. The text in three languages is another problem: it takes up a lot of space so a spread is the equivalent of a page of images and a page of text. Each spread has the same format, a central area for graphics, German across the top six columns, English across the bottom six and a column of French on the outside of the left and right-hand pages. Annoyingly the graphics have captions in five point though they only say the designer's name, date and what the item is: cover; poster; spread; logo; typeface et cetera.

'Typo' has a subdeck of When, Who, How and I liked the first section When, over eighty-one pages, which looks at the history of type and design and nicely, with a break with tradition it starts today (or rather when it was published in 1998) and works backwards to cuneiform and pictograms in 3000-1700BC. The illustrations for this type history section are first class. The main section: Who with biographies of type and graphic designers, magazines, institutions and type foundries has the usual problem of who to include and leave out. With hundreds of entries very few would seem to be left out but why no Corita Kent, James Miho and amazingly no Otto Storch. The last section: How, seems a bit of an anti-climax, just fourteen pages covering the historical origins of type up to computer setting. Oddly there are no illustrations on these pages.

'Typo' certainly has plenty of worthwhile illustrations to look at but I thought the book just too unwieldy for regular use. Design colleges and similar establishments would probably get the best out of the contents.

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948
Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948
by Wayne F. Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 47.48
22 used & new from CDN$ 37.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly observing, Feb. 24 2014
This is my second book of remarkable photos by Wayne Miller. Sadly he died in September 2013, aged ninety-four but his work will be with us for years to come. My first book, a monograph: Wayne F. Miller: Photographs 1942-1958 was published in 2008 and included thirty-eight Chicago photos some of which are this title. What I like about these photos is the way he captures people doing everyday things in such a natural way. Nothing here suggests a contrived posed, helped also because no one is looking at him take the shot, it's as if he wasn't there. Many of the photos originally appeared in Ebony magazine.

Apart from a few photos of entertainers the rest capture, in fascinating detail, life in Chicago's south side. The workplace and workers, interiors of homes and bars, parades, funerals, sport and street scenes with plenty of activity. The detail in all these pictures is impressive and typical of Miller's eye to capture a scene that reveals so much.

The book uses a two hundred screen for the photos though the paper is not quite as good as the monograph I mentioned. It does have one advantage over that title because each photos has a caption beneath it, so no flipping to back pages as is so common in photo books.

'Chicago's south side' is a rich selection of Wayne Miller's photojournalism work capturing the lives of ordinary people.

Nightwatch: Painting with Light
Nightwatch: Painting with Light
by Noel Kerns
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 52.11
23 used & new from CDN$ 38.52

5.0 out of 5 stars The night seen, Feb. 14 2014
An impressive book of night photos revealing abandoned structures that litter the American landscape and following in the footsteps of the master of the genre: Troy Paiva. Though Paiva tends to concentrate on his night painting format Kerns offers a broader view in many of the photos here by using the light of a full moon. Probably more than half the photos use colour from gels placed in front of flashlights and strobes. Sometimes, I thought, this tends to be a hit or miss with a coloured light creating a rather artificial feel but other times, used rather subtlety, it creates quite stunning photos.

The range of places and things captured by Kerns is wonderfully comprehensive. The usual abandoned gas stations on the Interstate and of course the ruins of Detroit but also rusting dead tech, factories, motels, churches, aircraft, military installations and one photo of three train coaches with most of its windows missing.

Like Paiva's 2008 book 'Night vision' this book has captions for all the photos (location and date) but also frequently a few words from Kern's about the place in the photo and what he felt about it. It's not fashionable these days, in art photo books, for photographers to add any text thinking that the photos say it all but reading Kern's comments certainly give his work a lift in my view.

There are no page numbers so I can't say exactly how many photos there are but at least 250 which makes this a value for money title. The book is a handy square format with the photos printed with a 175 screen on a reasonable semi-matt art paper. The whole book is black which unfortunately can show up finger marks easily and I found a slight annoyance with the text, because it isn't a ragged right setting there are lots of uneven spaces between the words (OK a minor point but as a designer I notice these things). Overall though a fascinating collection of night photos and virtually every one pulls you into the composition, no also rans here.

Around the World: The Atlas for Today
Around the World: The Atlas for Today
by A. Losowsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 34.45
17 used & new from CDN$ 34.45

5.0 out of 5 stars A visual delight, Feb. 10 2014
A fascinating book presenting our world through the medium of infographics. Each spread presents a visual treat to reveal, what was initially, statistical information now turned into a pictorial form. None of the graphics were produced for this book so the contents rely on infographics designed over the last decade and appeared originally in print.

The Contents include: The place we call home; Living together; The days the earth stood still; The good life; Fear and loathing; Money makes the world go round; The world is not enough; Our greatest ideas. All fairly obvious though perhaps Fear and loathing needs an explanation, it covers guns, phobias, plane crashes, pandemics, smoking, drugs and because the book's authors take a slightly quirky view of this chapter it opens with a spread on Tarantino and the high number of deaths in his films (the diagram came from 'In graphic's magazine, 2013). I thought the Days the earth stood still chapter had some amazing images about the Titanic, D-day, Berlin airlift, Cuban missile crisis, 9/11, Fukushima and in particular John Grimwade's beautiful graphics for JFK in Dallas over two spreads

The art of turning words and data into understandable visual material is a challenge and doesn't always come off. Page eighty has a graphic explaining female emancipation in various countries and it's really hard work to draw some conclusions from the visual. The 550 most important US TV shows from 1940 to 2010 on page 160 is another graphic that isn't as successful as it should have been but throughout the book I thought the standard of work was incredibly high especially the pages that have pc generated illustrations.

All the graphics here appeared elsewhere but for the book the type on the originals has been changed to the same typeface throughout so there is a uniform look to the pages and a few pages need to be turned sideways to accommodate the originals. Usefully the Index includes credits for the artist or designer (and their web sites) sources for the original data and where and when it was first published.

The book takes a fresh, unusual and stimulating look at our world, the curious will not be disappointed.

A5/06: HfG Ulm: Concise Hisotry of the Ulm School of Design
A5/06: HfG Ulm: Concise Hisotry of the Ulm School of Design
by Jens Muller
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.20
25 used & new from CDN$ 21.30

4.0 out of 5 stars The modernist school, Jan. 29 2014
This brief overview of the Ulm School of Design has an interesting pedigree. Author Rene Spitz says, in his epilogue on the last page, that the idea for the book came from Victor Malsy, Professor of Book Design at the Dusseldorf University of Applied Sciences. Spitz was invited to take part in a seminar about Ulm and part of it involved designing a book about the School of Design. This book is the result with the concept and design by Larissa Rauch and David Fischbach, though the Art Director was Jens Muller.

The book is in three sections: essays dealing with the history, closure and cultural significance of Ulm; a photo section of the campus and leading teachers with long captions about the teaching process and biographies; examples of student work from the four departments (product design / visual communication / industrial construction / information). For an establishment that only existed for fifteen years Ulm certainly earned its reputation as the leading educational institution for modernist design, page fifty-seven gives an interesting statistic: the school only had a capacity for 150 students. In the fifteen years only 540 male and 94 female students enrolled and amazingly taught by 282 lecturers (plus a flow of speakers like Charles Eames, Anton Stankowski, Norbert Wiener and Buckminster Fuller). The essay on the closure blames a lack of funding, Ulm was living beyond its means and the State government was reluctant to take on the debts without changes in how the place was run, the doors closed in 1968.

This is the sixth book in the publisher's A5 format (a series about design) and it follows the same style as the previous books, a paperback but it has a jacket that unfolds to a poster showing parts of the first five Ulm magazine. The editorial is in German and English. It is slightly unfortunate that all of the text after the first section essays is in small type (I estimate six point) which doesn't make for comfortable reading (so four stars). Also many of the pages have rather too much white space, especially in the student work section where most of the interesting photos and graphics could have been much larger.

Spitz says in his epilogue that his book is intended to whet the reader's appetite about the Ulm School of Design, I think he succeeds.

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