Friday, November 23, 2007


Iraq: The Space Between

by Christoph Bangert
powerHouse Books, October 2007
118 pages/hardcover/74 color photographs/$35.00

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Christoph Bangert enters an allegorical hallway in his photographic essay, Iraq: The Space Between. Unable to turn back, he must decide which door to open next. As he anticipates views beyond each new portal, he occupies himself by taking pictures inside the corridor. While languishing in the slipstream, Bangert captures the places where things like socks go when they don’t come out of the dryer.

The Space Between is Bangert’s independent view of Iraq in 2006 and early 2007, where he discovers a journalistic vacuum. When he was first deployed there for The New York Times in 2005, photographers were frustratingly restricted. But by sticking it out, he eventually leaves The Bubble to wander and wonder at large, photographing what others walk by in a blur.

Shown are reactionary gory shots, such as bodies thrown on rubbish heaps, and saturated portraits of miserable and misplaced Iraqi civilians. There are also stagnant photos including a telephone shoved to a corner; a simple boundary barrier taken from below the knees; a dirty shelf of knickknacks. Captions are relegated to back matter so there is no immediate explanation for what is—or is not—happening in each scene.

Interspersed are stylistically mixed images that range from lowlight window grabs and vague snaps of helicopter blades to long shots of waiting soldiers and close-ups of ready weapons. Also depicted is the requisite burka-clad figure in the middle of a road. Bangert’s eye is conscientious but his signature method is still brewing in the developer soup.

The Space Between effectively stirs perceptions about the detested practice of war but the images as standalones are mostly outtakes. When assembled, the mishmash of frames begins to gel with a purpose that forces readers to stay mindful of the real story. That’s a better outcome than relegating this batch of photographs to some soon-to-be-forgotten media storage.

Friday, November 16, 2007

History in the Making

Extraordinary Circumstances

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford
by David Hume Kennerly
University of Texas Press, October 2007
224 pages/hardcover/125 tritone photographs/$49.95

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Extraordinary Circumstances documents the unusual life acceleration of Gerald R. Ford as he takes his place in history during times of heightened political turmoil. As Ford’s personal photographer, David Hume Kennerly, who has a rather nonchalant shooting style, set the White House darkroom standard in the 1970s by developing fly-on-the-wall shots of the powerful comings and goings of a U.S. President. There isn’t a grip-and-grin or was-my-face-red snap to be found in this book. Dave, as Ford called him, was a trusted friend.

Extraordinary Circumstances is a prime example of proper photojournalistic publishing. From uncropped frames, professional image editing and expertly written captions to balanced white space, refined Italian printing and large reproductions, it’s all very classy. Critics expect nothing less from Pulitzer Prize-winner Kennerly, who uncovers thirty-year-old negatives and turns them into a big presidential production.

Through Kennerly’s aim, Ford is depicted as vulnerable and strong; as a smiling-waving-clapping politician and as a loving family man. Although many images were taken during significant meetings and powerful historical moments—with Ford somberly concentrating in others—the President seldom appears as if he is actually working. One doesn’t get the sense that Kennerly was running around to keep up with him either, for that matter. There are whimsical photographs of Ford as well. He’s seen goofing off with George Harrison and Billy Preston in the Oval Office and cracking jokes with Jackie Gleason before a golf tournament.

Naturally, Extraordinary Circumstances includes photographs of the incredibly forthcoming First Lady Betty Ford. Kennerly catches her during times of pain and triumph; in playful moods or pensively looking out a window. The results are touching portraits of a very complex woman. In her bathrobe at the residence she hugs her husband just days after her mastectomy. It is unthinkable that someone else would be in the room with them.

Kennerly’s individual photographs are technically and aesthetically astute and in its entirety, this volume gets high marks for being traditional and respectful. The accompanying text is informative and includes quotes by Ford’s peers and an introduction by Tom Brokaw. Kennerly also wisely enlists documentary book veterans Tom Walker, Dawn Sheggeby and Sandra Eisert to handle art direction and editing.

History buffs will find that Extraordinary Circumstances provides the consummate visual record of an American leader. Journalists will applaud Kennerly’s ability to further the cause for relatively unhindered photography access to the White House. Plus, the political rollercoaster ride of the 70s never looked so good!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Beyond Behind the Scenes

Freeze Frame

by Douglas Kirkland
Glitterati Inc., October 2007
352 pages/hardcover/450+ photographs/$50.00

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Douglas Kirkland intrigues film and photography lovers with a fifty-year roundup of rarely seen intimate shots of actors and crewmembers taken on more than a hundred motion picture sets. Freeze Frame gets off to an auspicious start in the 1960s and accelerates without pausing right through the millennium.

At the beginning of his career, Kirkland quickly broke the code for shooting Vogue¬-style chic under Irving Penn’s guidance to land a staff position at Look magazine when he was twenty-five. In 1961, he hit photography’s equivalent of the Lotto Mega Millions jackpot when editors assigned him to photograph Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. As Freeze Frame tells it, this wasn’t Kirkland’s once-in-a-lifetime win.

With credentialing from a coveted magazine Kirkland was granted more than the typical get-in-and-get-out access to top billing celebrities of the time. He spent a month with Judy Garland and went globe-trotting with Brigitte Bardot. Tall, good looking and affable, Kirkland is very noticeable; a trait photographers tend to avoid. Filmmakers and actors resent most outside intrusions, too. Had he—in addition to his images—been anything but wonderful, he wouldn’t have been asked back long after photography’s elite Golden Age magazines folded.

Freeze Frame includes many unpublished frames as well as some “produced” publicity and studio shots. The best images are the sincere ones where sparks fly between Kirkland and his subject. In 1972, a pensive portrait of Sophia Loren on the set of Man of La Mancha in Italy is intriguing. Shown from the waist up she barely emerges from a black wall yet Kirkland keeps both of her incredibly beautiful dark eyes as the central point. The effect is more striking than if he had shot her entire alluring body.

In a 1982 candid from Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep, who is gazing at Kirkland with lips parted, looks as though she’s made her pick and it is not either of her co-stars Kevin Klein or Peter MacNicol. Drew Barrymore stares so fixedly into Kirkland’s lens during the filming of Poison Ivy in 1992 one wonders what on earth he said to her seconds prior.

Kirkland’s image styling is remarkably innovative and energetic throughout five decades. Actor after director after super famous person, Kirkland slides into the lives of intensely focused artists and pulls out clutch moments of vulnerability and passion. Still, after finishing this retrospective, the photographs in Freeze Frame might have revealed more about Kirkland than his larger-than-life comrades. Talk about staying power.

Friday, November 02, 2007

It's Okay to be Impressed

Magnum Magnum

Edited by Brigitte Lardinois
Thames & Hudson, November 30, 2007
564 pages/hardcover/400+ photographs in color and duotone/$225.00

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

“Think Big and Kick Ass” is the title of Donald Trump's lastest tome. Those behind the planning of Magnum Magnum did just that as they moved beyond big and into the realm of colossal whipping in this new compilation. In fact, the book is the largest and most ambitious volume Thames & Hudson has ever published.

The 14-pound behemoth surpasses another huge book about the legendary agency of decorated photographers: the 512-page Magnum Stories published in 2004 by Phaidon Press. Magnum’s kingdom keeps growing even when traditional high-end photojournalistic channels seem to be disappearing.

There is an interesting and smart motivation in this anniversary undertaking (not that there needs to be a reason to assemble another gigantic book with powerful Magnum-quality imagery). The organization of materials is a salute to Magnum’s early days—now sixty years ago—when founders edited each other’s work.

Sixty-nine members in this new volume are critiqued by a fellow agency member. Eve Arnold’s images are selected by Elliott Erwitt; Erwitt’s images are chosen by Ferdinando Scianna whose images are selected by Martine Franck; and so on.

Each photographer included is represented by six works with reflections on those images being provided by another member. Examples of other pairings include Jim Goldberg selected by Susan Meiselas, Erich Lessing by Bruno Barbey and Constantine Manos by David Alan Harvey.

All of this great-on-greater banter makes for heady substance, possibly because, literally, the book is so heavy. Indeed, the weight of the Magnum aura descends upon the brain while flipping through hundreds of pages filled with spectacular photographs and insightful colleague appraisals. From promising star to master to legend, the peer reviews are compelling to read and contemplating the image selections is engaging.

With this release, the agency’s lasting philosophy of the cooperative spirit, coupled with the incomparable collective vision of its photographers, is fittingly preserved. The next sixty years of photography by Magnum members is probably unimaginable. Fortunately, most will happily wait to see what’s next.

Meanwhile, with its November 2007 release, Magnum Magnum is a complete collectable quickly moving to the top of many holiday gift lists.