Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Last Stop by Ryann Ford

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What started out as a humble Kickstarter project, has since grown to be a fully-realized photobook from powerHouse books. The Last Stop by Ryann Ford is a fantastic collection of parts of America that are disappearing: the humble highway rest stop. Ford set out to document these places before they were gone, much like a documentary historian who is frantically trying to preserve history; the fabric of what makes us who we are. This couldn’t be more true of the great American car culture of the mid-twentieth century, and who better to do it than a person named Ford.

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Ford laid out her project summary in late 2014, and her case was this: “Literally, before our eyes, rest stops are vanishing from the landscapes of America. All over the country, rest areas are losing the fight to commercial alternatives: drive-thrus at every exit and mega-sized travel centers offering car washes, wi-fi, grilled paninis and bladder-busting sized fountain drinks. They’re on the chopping block for many states, their upkeep giving way with tight highway budgets. And they’re not just being closed, they’re being demolished. “They’re just toilets and tables” you might say. But if you take a closer look, you will see that they are much more. They have been an oasis of green to walk your dog, have a picnic, study the map. For some, what was seen and read at rest stops could be all that was known of a region’s historical, archeological, geological, or cultural significance. Many people these days only know of rest stops as a blur from the car window. Many don’t know the historical significance of these quirky little roadside relics.”

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Raised in a Southern California mountain town so small it didn’t even have a stoplight, Ford had the freedom to explore and observe from a young age. At age 12, she took her first photo using her father’s old Pentax Spotmatic; at age 18 she enrolled in the renowned Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography.

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“When I moved from Southern California to Austin,” Ford recalls, “I had to move all of my belongings, so I drove. I had always wanted to make that Route 66 trip, so I tried to drive on it as much as I could from LA to Texas, which is actually kind of tough because so many sections of the road are gone now and at some points you’ll be driving on the pavement or have to go off on the dirt. I hadn’t really thought of the project at that point, but I think I saw a couple of the rest stops and that planted the seed. Then I got to Austin and became a commercial photographer. I shot a lot for Texas Monthly magazine and they would send me on assignments all over Texas, so I really got to see everything from Dallas to Houston, and San Antonio to all the small towns. I drove on a lot of the backroads, and that’s when I think I really started noticing them. There were just these cute little pull-offs, some of them don’t even have restrooms, it’s just a covered picnic table nestled back in the trees or out on this gorgeous prairie. A lot of them looked like they were from the 50s and 60s and I just love mid-century architecture and vintage design. I thought they could make for a really cool photo project.”

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The book’s design is well executed and the 10″ x 12″ trim size of the book gives ample space for the photos. Each rest stop shown in the book has a corresponding geo-tag location and a dot on an adjacent map of where it is located along her journey. In this collection of sites, Ford has created her own visual language, her own typography of this aspect of American culture. Much like projects that document and capture disappearing languages, iconic styles of architecture, and culture – With The Last Stop, Ford does far more than capture the remarkable, effective design of our nation’s road stops; she preserves a moment in the American travel experience when the journey was just as important as the destination itself.

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“The rest stops are more than just a place providing service to the public, they represent uniqueness in a world headed toward commercialization. While rest areas were originally designed to provide only the basic amenities of parking, bathroom, and picnic table, developers soon found within them the opportunity to reconnect people with the places they were traveling though, to add some humanity back to interstate travel. We can all relate to rest stops and what they represent as social and architectural icons of Americana. To me though, they are disappearing waysides of memories, anticipation and mystery of what the next one down the road will look like, and lastly they are a relevant benchmark in an era of bygone leisure travel.”


 

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The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside By Ryann Ford
Hardcover, 10 x 12 inches, 176 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-791-3

All images are reproduced with permission and are from The Last Stop by Ryann Ford, published by powerHouse Books.

You can purchase the book “The Last Stop” here, or see more of her work at her website here.


Book review :  Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage by Stan Raucher

Public transportation can seem a bit like a traveling theater. Periodically the scene changes from one part of the city or country to another, or from day to night as the train cars travel from above-ground to below-ground, and the cast of characters can be varied throughout the play. Doors open and shut like the curtains on stage with each new scene. Tranquility can give rise to energetic vibes in just a few stops when new members of the cast come on board; and while viewing Stan Raucher’s images, one is immediately drawn into these vignettes of life.

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In his project statement for Metro, Stan Raucher speaks to the metaphor of theater. “Whenever I step into a subway station it feels as though I have entered a magnificent theater with a diverse cast of characters performing in an unscripted play on an ever-changing stage. My series Metro documents the behavior of ordinary people in mass transit systems in various countries and cultures. As individuals interact with one another in these tightly-packed public spaces, occasionally extraordinary situations that are unexpected, mysterious, humorous or poignant unfold. A strange or wonderful juxtaposition, a spontaneous gesture, a concealed mood or a hidden emotion may materialize and then vanish in a split-second. Such ephemeral events are often overlooked or quickly forgotten. My intent is to capture these fleeting moments as evocative, richly-layered images that allow each viewer to generate a unique personal narrative, and that these candid photographs will prompt us to pause and reflect on our modern lives.”

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Photographers are generally voyeurs, observers, people-watchers. Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage allows the reader to catch glimpses of these improvised plays as Raucher saw them. He took the photographs in Metrobetween 2007 and 2014 during numerous trips he made to fifteen cities on four continents. He captured scenes in the metro systems of New York City, Mexico City, San Francisco, Paris, Budapest, Naples, London, Warsaw, Rome, Prague, Vienna, São Paulo, Lima, Delhi, and Shanghai. Raucher’s images are like the work of other masters like Walker Evans, or Robert Frank, who shot clandestine images of people and public places. “Using available light and a bit of serendipity,” Raucher says, ” I endeavor to create compelling photographs that provide a glimpse into aspects of the human condition.”

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The hardbound book contains 50 duotone images on matte paper stock which beautifully gives depth to the scenes. The intimate views of people in their own worlds lead us to guess what they are thinking, where they are going, or deduce what their day has been like. Raucher’s masterful images are rich with details and emotions, which allows the viewer to decipher body language, soak in the details of these fleeting moments in their travels, and mentally craft a script to narrate their lives based on our own sense of the world around us and the people we know. As Marlaine Glicksman sums up the book in her essay, “Raucher’s images explore and magnify a self-contained world. Yet rather than contain ours, they enable us to see farther, both into the metro and into ourselves.”


Stan Raucher is an award-winning photographer who has been documenting aspects of the human condition around the world for over a decade. His photographs have been featured in 20 solo exhibitions and included in over 60 juried group shows. His work has been published in Slate, LensWork,Black & White Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Lenscratch, F-Stop Magazine, Shots and The Havana Times. He was a 2012, 2013 and 2015 Critical Mass finalist, a 2012 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography finalist, a 2015 PX3 Bronze Award winner, and he received a 2015 Artists Trust GAP Award. His prints are held by museums, institutions, and private collectors.

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Ed Kashi is an award-winning photojournalist, filmmaker, educator, and member of VII Photo Agency. He has authored numerous books detailing the social and political issues that define our times, and he is known for his complex imagery and its compelling rendering of the human condition.

Marlaine Glicksman is a visual storyteller: an award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, photographer, and writer who creates dramatic character-driven stories set in multicultural contexts both narrative and documentary and in moving images and stills.


 

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Metro: Scenes from an Urban Stage
Foreword by Ed Kashi and Essay by Marlaine Glicksman

ISBN: 9781942084150
8″ x 10″ inches
88 Pages; 50 Duotone

To order Metro, visit Daylight Books site. For more information about Stan Raucher and his work, visit his website here.


 

This article was originally published in F-Stop Magazine in May 2016

Mile O’Mud by Malcolm Lightner

Mad Max cruises Alligator Alley

At the heart of Mile O’Mud is the thrilling sport of swamp buggy racing. For the uninitiated, swamp buggy racing consists of custom buggies that are part boat and part love-child of NASCAR and high octane drag racing. The buggies and their driver/pilot tear through swampy, muddy terrain that is more like the lake in the center of Daytona International Speedway than the track surrounding it. And much like the famed rowdy crowds who inhabit the infield of NASCAR races, swamp buggy fans do not disappoint.

Fans pile meat in baking pans, cans of Budweiser in boxes, and stack themselves in bleachers, truck beds, and on top of homemade platforms to cheer for the Swamp Buggy Queen and pray for drivers’ quick recoveries when the track proves too treacherous, because the drivers literally risk life and limb.

 

Malcolm Lightner grew up down the street from the original “Mile O’ Mud” swamp buggy track off of Radio Road in Collier County, Florida. His own family has roots in the beginning of swamp buggy racing. Lightner’s great-uncle R.L. Walker was one of the first swamp-buggy drivers back in the late 1940s and 50s. Lightner, after getting college degrees, including his MFA, moved to New York in 1999, and he returned at least once a year to the Florida Sports Park from 2002 to 2013 to document the races — missing only 2005 due to a hurricane forced cancellation.

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Lightner’s images include portraits of the racers, the fans, the vehicles both on and off the track, as well as traditional events of the sport — including the crowning and subsequent dunking of the Swamp Buggy Queen. There is the thrill of speed and danger at the races, and a palpable rush of energy. “On my first visit to the track, I drove into the parking lot, heard the engines of the buggies roar, and witnessed the great plumes of water trailing behind the boat-dragster hybrids,” Lightner says. “I could feel the vibrations from the raw horsepower pound against my chest, and it almost took my breath away. I thought to myself, ‘this is going to be fun!’”

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Lightner’s superb images of this sport and frank depiction of its culture make me feel much the same. I was drawn into the world he has photographed, felt like a voyeur at some southern bacchanalia, and ultimately I wanted to start over at the beginning of the book and view it again. And again.

In addition to the excitement and thrills, Lightner also says “I’ve come to understand Swamp Buggy Racing as a metaphor for life’s daily struggles and the innate drive to overcome obstacles against great odds while trying to maintain a sense of humor and grace. The races demonstrated to me the all-American desire to compete to win, as well as the power of family and community.”

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This book documents the people and the culture Lightner is from, but of course this is more than an immersive documentary project. He has shown us his own clan, and paid homage to his family and community. Many of us yearn to escape the world we grew up in, to prove to ourselves and the world that we are greater than small beginnings. Yet for many people, their roots call them back. ‘Mile O’Mud’ not only called Lightner back, but it brought along a cooler of beer, some good tunes, and the thrill of the sport that helped shape him.


MALCOLM LIGHTNER is a photographer who works and resides in New York. Born in 1969 in Naples, Florida, he is a fourth generation native Floridian. Malcolm has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants and his work has been featured in a range of exhibitions including Art + Commerce Emerging Photographers and NYPH (New York Photo Festival). Malcolm’s photography is included in the permanent photography collections at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida. His work has appeared in Dear Dave, The Oxford American, VICE, Aint-Bad and Life among other publications. Malcolm is a member of the photography faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York City since 2002.

All images are from Mile O’ Mud by Malcolm Lightner, published by powerHouse Books., and used by permission.

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Mile O’ Mud: The Culture of Swamp Buggy Racing
By Malcolm Lightner, Introduction by Padgett Powell
Hardcover, 12–1/2 x 11–7/8 inches, 144 pages
ISBN: 978–1–57687–794–4

For more information about Malcolm Lightner, please see his website:http://www.malcolmlightner.com/

To purchase the book, visit powerHouse Books here


Published originally in F-Stop Magazine – http://www.fstopmagazine.com

Photographer Malcolm Lightner

Malcolm Lightner’s work, as seen here from his new book, Mile O’Mud, will be shown at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery through the end of May.

Watch for my upcoming review of Mile O’ Mud – as I slog through his images of Florida mud racing culture and portraits of the people connected to it.

Malcolm Lightner: Mile O’ Mud Through May 29, 2016 Churning the buttery muddy water at the Florida Sports Park, swamp buggy races keep Florida’s frontier heritage alive. With Mile O’ Mud, 4th generation native Floridian Lightner shows us his home’s beauty; scarred and raw, surrounded by lush blue sky and restorative greens and we witness…

via Malcolm Lightner @ New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery — F-Stop Magazine

Book Review: Ikinga by Stephan Würth

 

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In late 2013, Stephan Würth embarked on a whirlwind road trip, winding his way across Burundi, a small landlocked nation in the heart of East Africa.  Discreetly capturing images on an iPhone during his journey, Würth portrays everyday life in the impoverished country, from the bustling open-air markets of its capital, Bujumbura, to the plantations of sweet banana and coffee deep in the country’s foothills.

The photographs highlight the integral role the bicycle, or ikinga, plays in Burundi’s culture. Würth’s images of this commercial bicycle culture are presented as a symbol of how the nation of Burundi is striving to overcome the decades of civil war and economic hardship since becoming an independent country in 1962.

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The book is bound in yellow cloth binding, with bright pink endsheets inside the front and back covers. Opening the book reminded me of when I used to work for a publishing company – when we got shipments from co-workers based in Chennai, India, the inside of their manilla envelopes had thin layers of brightly colored cloth with beautiful, printed patterns. Much like ikinga, once past the outer colorful display, there are materials needed to complete a project, materials needed to get work done. Würth’s scenes of life in Burundi show people living and working in impoverished areas, with few paved roads. Their bicycles are sturdy, and sometimes cobbled together with various repaired parts from different bikes. The goods transported via bicycle are crops like bananas and coffee, as well as building materials.

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Even though Würth consciously tried to avoid it in this project, one cannot completely ignore the political aspect of Burundi’s ethnic conflict and economic struggles, or the fact that Würth’s photos are that of a Western eye viewing a third-world country. But these ‘outsider’ portraits are similar in regard to those of Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer whose iconic images of America and Americans were taken in the 1950s. Frank’s images revealed a country quite different than what was being depicted by most American photographers at the time. Sometimes an outside viewpoint is exactly what is needed.

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In the book’s essay, Joseph Akel addresses the visual aspect of what Würth has accomplished in ikinga:

“Drawing from a conceptual lineage that traces back to Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’, Jean Rouch’s ‘Chronique d’un été’, and August Sanders’ encyclopedic survey of Germany’s population at the turn of the century, Würth’s images manage to succinctly – and with little artifice – depict day-to-day life in Burundi. In perhaps one of the most striking images to come out of the series, a young mother with her baby strapped to her back, is seen riding sidesaddle on a bicycle-taxi. The image is remarkable, not so much for the amazing balancing act the mother seems to achieve on the back of the bicycle, as it is for the beautiful, warm, and direct smile that she has on her face. Ultimately, what comes across in the photographs that make up Ikinga is the resilient human face of a country that has, for too long, occupied a place in our collective imagination as a land of inhumanity.”

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These muted color photographs of the people of Burundi are a far cry from a leisurely weekend bicycle ride Westerners might enjoy. There are no images of people dressed in Lycra with colorful helmets, and energy bars. Whether it is a utilitarian bicycle capable of moving hundreds of pounds of goods, or a bicycle-taxi decorated with brightly colored reflectors, streamers, and handgrips – Würth’s book ikinga shows a culture of people who are strong and determined.


Stephan Würth is a photographer originally from Germany who grew up between Munich, Texas and California.  His work has been featured in international editions of Vogue, The New York Times, Porter Magazine, GQ, Playboy, Esquire, Galore Magazine, Treats Magazine and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition among others. In 2011, Stephan released his first book “Ghost Town” published by Damiani.

Joseph Akel is a New York based writer and editor. His non-fiction writing has appeared inThe New York Times, Vanity Fair, Interview, The Paris Review, New York Magazine, Artforum, Frieze, and V Magazine,  among others.


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Stephan Würth – Ikinga (with essay by Joseph Akel)
Cloth, 9.5 x 9.5 in. / 72 pgs / 31 color
Published by Damiani – May 2016 (U.S. publication)

For more information on ikinga, and other projects by Stephan Würth, visit his website. Purchase the book via Amazon: ikinga


 

This is an edited version of the review originally published in F-Stop Magazine

Book Review: On the Nest by Dona Schwartz

 

Kristin and Ryan, 18 Days
Kristin and Ryan, 18 Days

Dona Schwartz describes her book as such: “In On the Nest, I use environmental portraiture to examine two moments of change that bookend parents’ lives—the transition to parenthood with a first child’s birth, and the transition to life without day-to-day responsibility for parenting when young adults leave their childhood homes.”

The book is comprised of three parts. The ‘Expecting’ series at the beginning of the book shows couples who are parents-to-be. Schwartz has photographed couples in the space they’ve prepared in anticipation of the baby who will soon arrive. The images are titled by listing their names and the amount of time left before their lives will change forever (due date/adoption date). The nervousness and/or excitement shown in the expressions and body language of the expectant parents is palpable. The clutter of all the recommended items for expectant parents in some of the shots is dizzying. Shelves covered with books for what to expect (but can never fully address), or clothes that won’t be worn for months and months after the baby arrives, and the single package of infant sized diapers… as if to declare: “We are ready”.

The middle of the book contains an essay by William A. Ewing. Ewing is a photography curator, author, and former director of photography for several prestigious centers for photography, including the International Center of Photography, New York from 1977 to 1984. Ewing’s essay, ‘Great Expectations’, is written both from the perspective of a parent who has gone through both stages of Expecting and Empty Nester, and that of an expert on the subject matter of a well-conceived and executed photography project – which On the Nest certainly is. These portraits have the power to draw in the viewer and as Schwartz says, “… invite viewers to reflect on their own experiences of change and the trajectories we trace in the course of a lifetime.”

The latter part of the book is the series of images, ‘Empty Nesters’. Presented in a similar fashion as the expectant parents, these couples are parents who are in the phase of life after their children have left home and their bedrooms/personal spaces.

Christina and Mark, 14 Months
Christina and Mark, 14 Months

The color images Schwarz presents throughout are practically deadpan. Couples are photographed in these spaces in a direct, documentary style. Couples of diverse races, ethnicities, and genders are all presented in the same way. The extreme wide angle lens used to capture these couples in small rooms results in images with the physical space distorted and exaggerated. Tables and chairs are distorted from their normal shape around the frame edge of the shots and the perspective is off – as if stretched by extreme gravity that warps both time and space. One could suppose this is how the Empty Nesters feel… Where did the time go? How did it go by so quickly? What happened to our baby?

Some Empty Nesters are shown in cramped rooms with some of the same types of knick-knacks as the expectant parents, with the substitution of exercise equipment for bouncy seats, and craft tables for changing tables. The only thing missing is the kids.

Gloria and Alan, 5 Years
Gloria and Alan, 5 Years

In fact, the children are never physically present in these portraits; save for photos on shelves or bulletin boards. The details in Schwartz’s photographs, the artifacts, the evidence that time has passed and are the only clues to the real inhabitants of these spaces. These clues are all we have to guess what the children are like – or in the case of the expectant parents: what they hope their children will be like.

Bobby and Kevin, Waiting to Adopt
Bobby and Kevin, Waiting to Adopt

Schwartz captures the broad strokes of the project by stating, “In our lives we experience multiple transitions, and in these moments of change we renegotiate our sense of self. Events like communions, weddings, baby showers, and retirement parties formally mark the new roles and statuses we take on. We cross other thresholds without rituals or celebrations—even though divorce is a momentous life transition, there is no script for marking its passage. I am intrigued by the ways in which we move from one life phase to the next, and I am working programmatically to represent complex processes of changing identity.”


Dona Schwartz is an American photographer living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She earned her PhD at the Annenberg School for Communication and is professionally engaged with photography as an artist, scholar, and educator. Amongst her many academic publications are two photographic ethnographies, Waucoma Twilight: Generations of the Farm (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Contesting the Super Bowl (Routledge, 1997). Her photographic monograph, In the Kitchen, was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2009.

Her work has been internationally published and exhibited at venues including the National Portrait Gallery, London, Blue Sky Gallery, the Milwaukee Art Museum, The Stephen Bulger Gallery, the Pingyao International Photography Festival, and in numerous juried exhibitions in the United States. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, George Eastman House, the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland, the Harry Ransom Center, the Portland Art Museum, and the Kinsey Institute. She is currently on the faculty of the Department of Art at the University of Calgary.


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On the Nest – Dona Schwartz (with essay by William A. Ewing)
Published by Kehrer Verlag – November 2015

For more information on On the Nest, and other books by Dona Schwartz, visit her website.


(Originally written for and published by F-Stop Magazine in February 2016.)

Harvey Stein: Briefly Seen – New York Street Photography

Sharing this review published by Lenscratch

“As individuals in New York City, when we become part of the crowd, we lose our individuality if only for a few minutes and become part of the fabric and mosaic of the city. We are the city, we belong and are beholden to the city, our identity is expressed through and of the city.…

Source: Harvey Stein: Briefly Seen – New York Street Photography