Fully Booked

Photography Collections to Make the Season Bright

It's not really fair to set Bruce Weber alongside Mark Morrisroe, especially when Weber's new book, The Chop Suey Club (Arena, $60), is so charmingly slight. Nearly 300 pages of photos of the same boy, a Weber prototype model named Peter Johnson, from age 15 to 19, Chop Suey is the record of a makeover and the history of an obsession. Included are pictures of Johnson as a face in the crowd at an Iowa City wrestling camp, where Weber first spotted him, along with many more pictures of Johnson transformed into the sort of all-American teen hunk Weber has served up to hungry consumers for what seems like an eternity. No question, the book has a certain fascination, much of it inherent in the power dynamics between artist and model, the interplay and exchange of innocence and experience. (Weber, the master manipulator, somehow manages to come off as the naïf.) Sure, Johnson blossoms and ripens under Weber's gaze, but what he turns into—despite the photographer's quirky choice of gender-bending accessories—is dismayingly generic: another flawless, shirtless beauty ready for his close-up in the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Weber junkies shouldn't be denied his latest physique collectible, but the less addicted might be appeased with a $12 subscription to the A&F Quarterly.

Several of the season's most appealing books deal with landscape. The best of these is Michael Light's remarkable Full Moon (Knopf, $50), which edits thousands of NASA Apollo mission photos down to a cinematic narrative, from liftoff to splashdown, that's at once spectacular and smartly understated. Without slighting the science involved, Light brings an artist's eye to the project, devoting the book's central bulk to images of the moon's rock-strewn wasteland and framing them with the expected awesome views of Earth from space. Even previously published photos look astonishing here due to a thorough digital scrubdown, but many more pictures were pulled out of NASA's archives by Light just for this book, and they put the astronaut's experience—of desolation, of anxiety, of wonder—in a fresh perspective. Perhaps because contemporary landscape photographers like Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, and Richard Misrach have staked out the junk heap, the barren lot, and the desert as prime subjects, the surface of the moon, so coldly otherworldly, has also never appeared so commonplace.

Full Moon could be ideally paired with Lynn Davis's Monument (Arena, $65), a collection of her subtly toned landscapes that updates the 19th-century album of travel photos. Davis inflects that classic, distanced, documentary vision with a passionate clarity that feels almost spiritual. Natural and manmade wonders from icebergs, mountains, and geysers to pyramids, temples, and stone carvings appear here in magnificent isolation, as if discovered anew. Stripping away a century of touristic trash, Davis invites us to look again at a world we take for granted. Hiroshi Sugimoto arrives at an even more bracingly reductive view of the landscape in his book of black-and-white seascapes, Sugimoto (Fotofolio, $29.95). Dividing each image evenly between sea and sky, then blurring the boundary as the light fades or fog rolls in, Sugimoto presents nature as a repeated motif of abstract minimalism without ever losing touch with its rich, marvelous variety.

Richard Avedon’s Andy Warhol, pop artist, New York City, from The Sixties
photo courtesy of ©Richard Avedon from the book The Sixties
Richard Avedon’s Andy Warhol, pop artist, New York City, from The Sixties

Finally, consider three smart compendiums for the photophile who never has enough. American Photographs 1900/2000 (Assouline, $90), gallerist James Danziger's selection of a century's worth of outstanding images (much chosen with the collaboration of Stephen Daiter) is huge and handsome, bound as a portfolio in solid black, and, at 400 pages, dauntingly comprehensive. Though it tends to reinforce an established pantheon (Weston, Strand, Evans, Man Ray, etc.), the book includes plenty of unexpected images and idiosyncratic choices, from Peter Hujar to Wendy Ewald, all reproduced with extraordinary care. In a similar vein, San Francisco gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel celebrates his 20 years in business with 20 Twenty (Fraenkel Gallery, $45), 68 photos that sum up this connoisseur's eye for the excellent and the unusual. The sequencing here is especially witty, making revealing connections between disparate photos and turning the book into an exhibition in itself. Charles Melcher's sexy, clever Voyeur (HarperCollins, $35) applies both these books' historical range to the idea of voyeurism at its broadest. Photographers from Thomas Eakins and Alfred Stieglitz to Larry Clark and Merry Alpern catch their subjects unawares—or at least appear to—peering through open doors, dirty windows, even "keyholes," or working with concealed cameras in strip clubs, porn theaters, and the subway. The results, printed small and surrounded by black borders, are compellingly intimate, convincingly furtive, and hot. Just the thing for the prospective playmate. Now deck those halls.

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