Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Modern Photographs: The Machine, The Body and The City

Since my last post was about how much care and quality goes into the Lodima Press books I thought I should mention a recent catalog that is the exact opposite. And although it may seem pointless to take up energy describing how bad a book can be, in this case, I can’t step away from this one. Consider this a buyer beware warning.

Modern Photographs: The Machine, The Body and The City is a catalog prepared for the Miami Art Museum from its exhibition in November of 2006. The show (and in theory the catalog) celebrates selections from the collection of the New York-based collector, art dealer and curator Charles Cowles. The photographs range from the classic to contemporary and the experimental to the traditional. Approximately 170 artists are represented including: Atget, Arbus, Baltz, Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston, Evans, Hockney, Frank, Mapplethorpe, Ruscha, Schorr, Sherman, Sugimoto, Warhol, Weegee and Winogrand, among many others. Andy Grundberg provides an analysis of the collection in an introduction.

Sounds good so far…I was enticed to the tune of $26.00 (retail $34.95) but things get rather ugly quickly. Mostly, it is the reproductions that are offensive. Not many of the artists whose work is reproduced escape without their work being tarnished in one way or another. In an attempt to reproduce the variety of color tones different papers and processes naturally possess, most of the photos take on odd color casts. One of Lewis Baltz’s industrial park photos is cast in purple and cyan. A Danny Lyon image from Conversations with the Dead is now in full brown tone. Bruce Davidson’s Kathy Reflected in Cigarette Machine is not only poorly reproduced much too dark; it is reddish brown.

I know what you're saying, 'OK…Mr Whiskets…it’s just a catalog. Relax. Catalogs are often poorly printed; happens all the time.'

But the fun doesn’t end with poor printing. Page 83, Andre Kertesz, Underwater Swimmer 1917, 6 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches. Classic image, we have seen many times but, you have not lived until you’ve seen it…entirely pixilated. And I don’t mean pixilated in an ‘Oh…I can notice it if I look really closely’ way. It’s more of a ‘Sherrie Levine rephotographed Kertesz’s swimmer with an extremely low resolution digital camera and then let Vik Muniz print it’ kind of way.

By far the worst offense has to be the treatment of David Hilliard’s Norm’s Birthday 2001, which appears on page 106. This is one of Hilliard’s four panel panoramic images that understandably gets reproduced very small on the page due to its format, but why does the image look like a fiftieth generation color Xerox? It is entirely out of focus and the image looks like it was grabbed off a TV screen.

If you can look past the production disaster, the collection is really good. It includes two of the more perverse Henri Cartier Bresson pictures. The first, Matigues France 1932 is the fairly common image in which a statue seems to have a horse's head poking from its fly. The other is of the surrealist poet Charles Henry Ford (no relation to Henry Ford) emerging from a French pissior while zipping the fly of his pants. The perversity is Bresson’s inclusion of a poster at fly level that reads Krema and is illustrated with a reptilian tongue that stretches towards Ford’s zipper.

Those few images that escape with their dignity are not enough to justify the purchase price. In the end, this book makes it very difficult to enjoy the works other than as basic references.

Save your money. The only brightside may be that I have one more title for my winter book sale. Perhaps by then you will have forgotten this review and I can develop a good sales pitch.

Book Available Here