Drive-By Shootings

I recently came across this book: Drive-By Shootings. Photographs by a New York Taxi Driver by David Bradford.

It’s an interesting concept: an Art Director at Saks Fifth Avenue quits his job and takes up driving a taxi. While driving the taxi he takes the opportunity to take pictures of all and sundry: passengers, people in the street, buildings etc.

The book itself consists of a very large number of black and white images divided into five sections: A Day; At Night; Another Day; A Rainy Night and Day; Snow, Day and Night. Interspersed within the pictures are short pieces of text generally talking about the life of a New York City Taxi Driver.

To be honest I have not always been a fan of Street Photography. Most of the examples I see seem to be very ordinary pictures of people going about their lives. However, after looking more closely at the work of Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyrowitz, Henri Cartier Bresson, André Kertész, Brassi, Doisneau and, of course, Robert Frank I’ve come to appreciate it more.

Unfortunately, I find most of the pictures in this book to be quite ordinary. At first it was fun to browse through them but after a while it became tiring. And there are way too many of them. One of the most impressive photobooks of the 20th Century is, of course, Frank’s “The Americans”. I gather that in the course of his road trip Frank took approx. 27,000 images and then condensed them into 83 in the final work. The present book could benefit from similar discipline.

So to me it’s a moderately interesting book, with too many fairly ordinary photographs. It was fun to browse through, but I wouldn’t pay the $45 that is asking for it.

Do you like old cameras?

If so then this might be a book for you. It tells the story behind 100 vintage film cameras.

An introduction touches on issues of value and rarity and then goes on to explain the purpose and structure of the book:

After discussing some of the often forgotten basics, each section deals with a type of camera and how to use it, aiming at the photographer contemplating using a manual or semi-automatic film camera for the first time. The cameras listed are all practical propositions for a retro photographer with a reasonable budget. Each one has been carefully chosen as a typical example of a camera from its era. A comprehensive glossary at the end of the book gives definitions of terms that might be unfamiliar to photographers in the digital age.

This is followed by a section on each type of camera:

  • 35mm single-lens reflex
  • 35mm rangefinder cameras
  • 35mm viewfinder cameras
  • Roll-film single lens reflex
  • Sheet and roll-film folding cameras
  • Twin-lens reflex
  • Instamatic cartridge cameras
  • Stereo cameras
  • Panoramic and wide-angle cameras
  • Miniature cameras
  • Instant picture cameras

The book concludes with a section on retro accessories (exposure meters; rangefinders; flashguns, tripods, filters, close-up attachments, focal-length adapters, stereo accessories.

The book is nicely made with a good, solid cover and glossy pages. It’s also lavishly illustrated.

While the selection seems a little idiosyncratic I doubt that you’ll ever one that all retro camera aficionados will agree on.

There’s a useful review of the book on Cameralabs. It concludes as follows:

There’s no shortage of camera history books around, but few that look this good. Of those that do, Retro Cameras stands out for Wade’s curation, compiling a compelling collection of well-known and unusual models with great-looking product photography throughout and just the right amount of text to inform without becoming a dry reference volume. Recommended whether you’re a collector, historian, camera geek or lover of a good coffee table book. Suffice it to say, it’s a great gift for photographers who love older cameras.

I couldn’t agree more.

Peekskill Summer Sounds

We were hungry so we went for a meal first – outside at 12 Peekskill Lounge on Division Street, which was closed for the event. We were just around the corner from where the music was so we could hear, but not see the bands.

After we’d finished our meal we went around the corner and took a seat with the assembled multitudes (see below) to listen to the headline act: a Billy Joel Tribute Band called “River of Dreams”.

There’s a very nice bookstore (Bruised Apple Books, the last store on the left in the second picture) in the same location. These pictures were taken around 9:30pm so I didn’t expect it to be open, but to my surprise it was. I took a look around and came out with “Die Schöpfung” (The Creation) by Ernst Haas in the original German (which luckily I can still just about read).

Broader view of the people watching “River of Dreams”

Taken with a Sony RX-100 M3.

Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), Eugene Atget, 1927.
Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Zigrosser, 1968, 1968-162-38

Interesting article (From Paris to New York: The Story of Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott) on the occasion of the publication of a new book by Kevin Moore: Old Paris and Changing New York: Photographs by Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott (Yale University Press).

According to Yale University Press:

An insightful new look at two renowned photographers, their interconnected legacies, and the vital documents of urban transformation that they created

In this comprehensive study, Kevin Moore examines the relationship between Eugène Atget (1857–1927) and Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) and the nuances of their individual photographic projects. Abbott and Atget met in Man Ray’s Paris studio in the early 1920s. Atget, then in his sixties, was obsessively recording the streets, gardens, and courtyards of the 19th-century city—old Paris—as modernization transformed it. Abbott acquired much of Atget’s work after his death and was a tireless advocate for its value. She later relocated to New York and emulated Atget in her systematic documentation of that city, culminating in the publication of the project Changing New York.

This engaging publication discusses how, during the 1930s and 1940s, Abbott paid further tribute to Atget by publishing and exhibiting his work and by printing hundreds of images from his negatives, using the gelatin silver process. Through Abbott’s efforts, Atget became known to an audience of photographers and writers who found diverse inspiration in his photographs. Abbott herself is remembered as one of the most independent, determined, and respected photographers of the 20th century.

Kevin Moore is an independent curator and writer and is artistic director and curator of FotoFocus, Cincinnati. He is the author of Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 and Jacques Henri Lartigue: The Invention of an Artist.

Ansel Adams in Color

One of this year’s Christmas presents.

Ansel Adams is, of course, best known for his stunning black and white landscapes. But he also shot some color that is the subject of this volume. After a foreword and editor’s note comes an interesting and informative: Introduction: Quest for Color by James L. Enyeart. The bulk of the book is taken up by the Portfolio, consisting of 57 color plates. It concludes with a selection of writings on color photography by Adams himself.

Unfortunately I wasn’t too impressed by the portfolio. The photographs didn’t make me want to look at them more than once.

I think part of the problem is that Adams did not really relate too (or even like very much) color photography.

The introductory essay has him saying:

Color photography is a beguiling siren for the dilettante, but a scourge for the professional and serious photographer. So much is done superficially, so many millions of images are seen, that it is difficult, even for the serious worker, to realize how important are constant observations and visualization, in terms of rigorous practice and experiment.

Another quotation indicates that it bothered him that he didn’t have the control he was used to with black and white photography:

Moved by the scene, I tried to visualize a color photograph. The problem was formidable and I am sorry to say, unmanageable…

I am frustrated by both exposure-scale limitations and rigid film-color response. As “reality” is out of the question, I can indulge myself with explorations of the “unreal” color which may or may not have intriguing aesthetic effects. I would not want “post-card” realism, but I would enjoy “enhancements” of the colors which I fear is not possible with conventional material today…The scope of control with the electronic image has not been explored, but I feel confident astonishing developments await us in this area. (written in 1983).

It’s interesting that in the quotation above he predicts the effects that what we would call digital photography would have especially on color photography.

Towards the end of his life there were signs that he was coming to terms with color (from the introductory essay):

He finally resolved in his own mind that color photography could offer potential aesthetic experiences, it could be seen as a means of simulating reality, rather than recording it.

He came to believe that great aesthetic works, those that exceeded the documentary nature of reality, were possible in color, but that they were due either to the special color sensitivity of unique individuals like Cosindas, Porter and others, or to the careful selection and “seeing” of subjects. He placed himself in the latter category and fought to find a way for other photographers and the audience to unlock the nature of a color aesthetic that could control subject matter, rather than being controlled by it.

However, the quotation below shows that in March, 1984 (Just a month before he died) he was still having problems.

I fear I have become a problem! I don’t like photographic color. I don’t like the print of the Aspens. It is not my dish of tea! Wilder did a wonderful job of exhumation. But the whole idea is of increasing concern to me. While I did an awful lot of color when I was professionalizing, I never got anything that aesthetically pleased me. I know a lot about the mechanics – especially exposure and the application of the Zone System. The visual tests I had a Polaroid show that I have an excellent color perception over the full spectrum. I wish I liked it! Hence, while I have much that is going for color I find it increasingly negative for me. My field is B&W and I should stick to it! From a letter to Mary and Jim Alinder, March 9, 1984.

I suspect that these problems led an inability to fully engage with color photography and resulted in somewhat uninteresting photographs – at least on his terms. If I had taken these pictures I would have been more than pleased.