Friday, September 21, 2007

Tim Davis: My Life in Politics


I just discovered something that I think is tantamount to a crime. I was reading over the Photo Eye bookstore newsletter and I see that within a few weeks they are going to be receiving a whole slew of Aperture titles that will be subjected to the Deep Discount bin. Now regularly I get excited as I think, whoopee I can get a couple books for cheap, but then I saw that Tim Davis’s book My Life In Politics is going to be a measly $12.98 a copy.

Has the world gone insane? Is this a Bush administration ploy? Where are all of the people writing their congressmen and women? This was the best book published in 2006 and it costs less than Mary Ellen Mark’s Twins book? (Mark Twain is somewhere nodding and laughing) That, ladies and gentlemen, is the crime at hand.

As we gear up for another round of political horse racing (like Christmas decorations, it shows up earlier and earlier) it would be helpful to take a look at Tim’s book. Davis dwells on the outskirts of obvious political imagery and finds meanings in many facets of the political landscape partially hidden from view. It is a contemporary view of how we, as a nation, have painted ourselves into a corner due to our politics being ruled by “urgent emotions” that forego discourse. Ours has become a process does not celebrate great communicators, just great image makers, posing as substance.

It is about appearances and surface and signage. It is about the importance governing has over our lives and yet how embarrassingly powerless we seem after being confounded by its wind and unrelenting distraction. As Jack Hitt writes in his essay “Our empty public square is a marble echo chamber, reverberating with the distant sound of the banishment of deliberation and meaning from our politics.”

Davis finds the appropriate situations in which to relay his message. A roadside political placard shows up staked on a grave in the middle of a cemetery. We then see through the names on both headstone and poster that the son is the politician and the father is, well, dead but championing his son’s cause from the grave and possibly casting a vote as well.

For each photograph, the caption which appears in the back of the book is a poem by Davis who has a couple books of poetry published as well.

For a close up on the crotch of a statue of George Washington, the corresponding poem reads:

Founding Father’s Crotches

How the Beaux Arts said to manufacture manhood. Unintimidatingly flaccid and unembarrassingly fulgent. The Great Compromise as opening theme and fertile crescendo. DNA standing for Do Nothing Attributable. Democracy, No one Argues, is as sexy as stenography. Hear ye, Hear ye, Being everything to everyone means getting no one’s knickers in a twist.

Two lobbyists, both on cell phones sitting in a room awash with empty chairs; one drinks a Diet Pepsi, the other a regular Coke.

Daves do what Daves will do. Pacing the cell placing the call. Targeting. Listing. Crossing off. Red in the elbows. Daves hold the hand of the handholder’s handler, praising emoried nails and dangling with taint prose. Is there a special circle in Dante for middlemen? I’d call it power.

Davis, as a photographer, is extremely sophisticated in how he creates his frames. Seemingly simple at first, they keep revealing and compounding meaning and interpretations yet they are never too clever for their own good. Davis is a refreshing voice for those of us who love complex photography that is well crafted yet not weighed down by its own devices. He is essentially a classic photographer in the vein of Walker Evans who has learned the lessons of those before him so well that they are new and refreshed under his application. These are photographs that can stand up to repeated visits. Even after owning this book for a year now, I still think it is a great book. Yes…I did say great.

Both essayists, Tim Davis and Jack Hitt are fantastic writers. Enlightening and poetic, their word play is limited to a 1500 word essay by Davis called “1500 Word Essay” and Hitt’s 3,000 word dissection of American political speech and image called “The Vacant Public Square.”

The book is playful with its design which was done by Andrew Sloat who also contributed drawings that reference the words in the photographs. The printing is well done

So…this book joins the ranks of other great books that, at the time of their release, were thrown to the remainder piles. I may piss off a few people but I do not feel at all odd adding Davis’s name to the same remainder pile list that has included books by Winogrand, Eggleston and Frank.

If at this bargain basement price of $12.98 you still do not find the incentive to own this book, then my friend I am sad to say that the terrorists have won.



Buy online at Aperture

Book Available Here (My Life In Politics)

Buy online at Photo Eye


11 comments:

Mark J. Doddato said...

I do think the terrorists have won.
on ebay
two separate auctions.
one has "My life in Politics" for $6.99
and one other buy it now has 75 copes available for $9.65 each.
enjoy.

Jeff Ladd said...

I hope they find good homes.

Thanks for mentioning it Mark.

badaud said...

As is often the case, you are 100% correct. I love this book -- from the photos to the wonderful plastic cover. It should be going into reprints, not the remainder pile. I may have to buy a bunch and give 'em away as Xmas gifts. . . .

Leah said...

After reading your review, I picked up a copy at my local Daedalus books for $6.98.

Jeff Ladd said...

Leah,
I hope you find it is worth the $6.98. I think it may be almost impossible that you won't.

b said...

This book is better than good. I highly recommend it!But I felt the same way when I saw it selling for less than $10. Was this book way overpinted or way underrated?

Anonymous said...

I don't feel the same as you guys about this book. for me its way short of "the best book of 2006", but... it is nonetheless silly that its being remaindered.

probably they printed too many and are dumping now. short sighted, but who knows what their economics are. 'print to remainder' is a business model still in use.

Scalo went bust 18 months ago, and quite frankly that was the most important photo book publisher of the 1980's. many great titles were suddenly in the Strand for 10% of list price. amazing books. Nan Goldin, Robert Frank, Jim Goldberg, Paul Graham, William Eggleston, etc etc.

buy them up, give them as presents. all worth while. I bought 5 copies of the New Topographics catalogue in the 1982 when they were remaindered, for $1 each.

Adam B. Bell said...

I could be wrong, but Aperture tends to have comparatively large print runs (well over 1000 at times - maybe 5000?). Compared with Nazraeli or Loosestrife for example which may print 500-1000. This is certainly part of the problem. That said, it is a shame to see such great books remaindered.

andrew said...

dear anonymous,

i will give you 2 dollars for one of your New Topographics, thats double your money, where do you find that kind of turn-around these days? Im feeling generous so I will cover the shipping costs.

i just picked up a T.D. for a rediculously low amount of money, but it doesn't hamper the fact that he belongs in my top-ten list of working photographers. thanks mr. ladd for bringing him to light again.

its funny how hind-sight is so sharp. i gave my copy of LIVING ROOM to a friend who happened to see it on my shelf and liked it. I said no problem, Im sure I'll just call good ol' nick and get another......, oops. I hope someday I will tell my grandkids how i picked up a copy of T.D. Life in Politics for 12 bucks and they will look at me in awe.....

Jeff Ladd said...

Adam,
You are right sir...Aperture does print a lot but the print runs average 3000. I had once heard Lesley Martin say that, on average, there are only about 3000 people worldwide that are interested in any one photobook. This, of course, excludes people like a Todd Hido or Richard Misrach but still I found that interesting.
And...don't get me wrong, I love cheap prices and buy remainders all the time. It is a hell of a lot easier on my wallet. I did pay full price for the Tim Davis as soon as it came out and I was happy to do so. I am just amazed when good work doesn't find its audience which may have been the case here.

JanV said...

I must admit that when I saw the book lying on a table in my local bookstore I wasn't attracted to it (altough I now remember seeing it). A photobook with a typographic cover? About someone who is talking about his 'Life in Politics' (I hadn't heard of Tim Davis before). No, Can it be that other people thought the same way?

But after reading your review I leafed through the book on the PhotoEye-website and I changed my mind. It's great! I will get a copy when it is remaindered over here. Most of the titles available at Deadalus Books tend to show up here (the 'Low Countries') after a couple of weeks.