Camera Work

Holiday Photo Books, Both Extravagant and Accessible

At $35, Richard Avedon's Portraits (Abrams), which accompanies his current show at the Metropolitan Museum, is the season's most affordable extravagance. Designed as a slip-cased, accordion-fold screen that can stand on its own, the book contains 50 of Avedon's most arresting portraits (from Samuel Beckett, June Leaf, and James Galanos to the Warhol Factory crew) on one side and accessible, insightful texts by the photographer and his Met curators, Maria Morris Hambourg and Mia Fineman, on the reverse. If you're really feeling generous, combine Portraits with Kerry William Purcell's new book on Alexey Brodovitch (Phaidon, $75), the genius art director who was Avedon's mentor at Bazaar. Like Vreeland, Brodovitch was another one of the fashion world's larger-than-life legends, and Purcell's book makes it clear why he still matters. Not only does it include a slew of layouts and covers from his years at Bazaar (1934 to 1958), it reproduces every page of his extraordinary first book of photographs, Ballet, of his designs for Andre Kertesz's Day of Paris and Bill Manville's Saloon Society, and of the three issues of the short-lived graphic arts quarterly, Portfolio, that he art directed and edited in 1950 and '51. There's enough inspiration here to fuel countless other design projects—even if they never get further than your bedroom.

Speaking of your bedroom, make a place on the bedside table for Carlo Mollino's Polaroids (Arena, $55), the chicest book of erotica around. Mollino, the perennially rediscovered Italian architect and designer, made nearly 2000 photographs of nude young women in the last years of his life, from 1960 until his death in '73, and kept them to himself. Some 250 are reproduced here, and their aura of airless intimacy is reminiscent of Pierre Molinier's transvestite self-portraits, but Mollino's pictures have a kind of knowing, naughty wit, and they're entirely more softcore than Molinier's. In fact, they're closer to fashion photos than porn, primarily because Mollino dressed his many willing models in a surprisingly varied array of stylish clothes—from belted trench coats to flimsy peignoirs—and posed them in artfully arranged areas of his home, sometimes on one of his prototype chairs. But even if the photos are more about getting undressed than being naked, there's a real verve to their voyeurism, and they exude the sweet, teasing heat generated by two people sharing a sexy secret.

Down on the farm, inspired improvisation: Jackie Nickerson's Gladys, Tengwe, Zimbabwe
photo: From Farm, Courtesy Jonathan Cape
Down on the farm, inspired improvisation: Jackie Nickerson's Gladys, Tengwe, Zimbabwe

Finally, there's the book I want to give everyone this holiday: Photobooth (Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95), Babette Hines's collection of pictures made since the 1927 introduction of that automated self-portrait device. With reproductions of over 700 portraits, including Warhol-like strips and individual images in miniature metallic frames, Photobooth is at once a rush of instant intimacy and a total immersion in the pleasures of vernacular photography. Though it would be foolish to claim a few moments alone in a curtained booth produce anything especially revealing, there's something touching about many of these portraits. Because the subjects aren't performing for a photographer, only for their own reflected image, they're sometimes more naked, more introspective, or more uninhibited than usual. And with more than 700 people to choose from, you're bound to find a soul mate or two. Cheers!

« Previous Page