“The Earth at night is a masterpiece of light and motion” : new photography books

There are some amazing new photography books this month – so many its hard to do justice to them all here. It’s been really hard to choose just a few, but here are our picks. Included are books on Francesca Woodman, Len Lye, early New Zealand photography, and the resurgence of lo-fi photography. Our absolute picks for the month though, are Magnum Contact Sheets, and Lights of Mankind : The Earth at night as seen from space. Enjoy!

syndetics-lcEarly New Zealand photography
“We are all participants in an increasingly visual culture, yet we rarely give thought to the ways that photographs shape our experience and understanding of the world and historical past. This book looks at a range of New Zealand photographs up to 1918 and analyses them as photo-objects, considering how they were made, who made them, what they show and how our understanding of them can vary or change over time. The writers include photographers, museum curators, academics and other researchers. Their essays are not intended as definitive readings but rather offer a variety of ways in which to read the images they have chosen. In the course of the book, they explore a host of issues related to the development of photography in New Zealand. World War I is the end point, as it coincided with profound cultural shifts with the expansion of the mass illustrated press and the rise of consumer photography, as well as a change in New Zealand’s place in the world.” (Publisher’s description)

syndetics-lcShadowgraphs : photographic portraits by Len Lye
Len Lye’s Shadowgraphs were the subject of a recent exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery on the Victoria University Wellington campus. This catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition and provides a valuable insight into this aspect of Lye’s work. Fascinated by cameraless photography as were some of his contemporaries such as, notably, Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, Lye experimented with this process while in New York in 1947, producing portraits of his entourage. Introduced by Professor Geoffrey Batchen, the resulting images are the subject of essays by Art History students. An interesting side to one of New Zealand’s iconic and visionary artists. For further information on his work and life, don’t miss our other fascinating titles dedicated to this master of movement. And then, why not visit the Len Lye Foundation at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth and the soon to be opened Len Lye Centre.

Now, for some unintentional poetry…

syndetics-lcLights of Mankind The Earth at night as seen from space
A compelling collection of images never before published in one volume, selected from 130,000 photographs downlinked by astronauts from the Cupola observation module of the International Space Station creates a magnificent, multifaceted and comprehensive portrait of our planet, accompanied by beautiful and informative text, including words by astronauts who share what they saw and how they felt as they witnessed those incredible scenes. Astronaut Douglas Wheelock sets the tone when he says: “The Earth at night is a masterpiece of light and motion. Aurora australis dancing on a moonlit night… a new dawn just beyond the horizon… Tonight we set sail for the blue planet. It has been nearly six months, and we are being called home. I hope to one day return to this place. Seems I’ve lived a hundred life-times… yet I blinked, and the time has slipped away. What will that first breath be like when the hatch opens on Earth?… I can only imagine.” We can only imagine what it must have felt like to be up there, discovering the amazing patterns humanity imprints on the surface of our world, intentionally or not, with consequences not always so fortunate but an awesome testament to our lives nonetheless.

syndetics-lcMagnum Contact Sheets
If I were to choose one book for the month, this would be it. It is is worth the muscle power (weighs a few kilos) and you’ll need the time to appreciate it fully. It presents an amazing selection of 139 contact sheets from 69 Magnum photographers over the lifespan of the influential agency, revealing the processes behind some of the most famous shots in documentary photography — from capture to editing and final selection. The accompanying text is also enlightening and tells the stories behind those icons of contemporary history. As Peter Conrad puts it for the Guardian newspaper, we may view “these contact sheets, souvenirs of a technology that is now obsolete” as “the elegy for a lost art”. A book that commands respect, attention and detailed scrutiny. Fascinating!

syndetics-lcLo-fi photo fun! Creative projects for Polaroid, Plastic and Pinhole Camera
So, did someone mention the death of analog photography? Not so fast. Have you ever heard of Lomography, a young and vibrant community committed to analog photography? Or the Impossible Project, which claims to have saved analog instant photography from extinction by releasing brand new and unique instant films replacing the defunct Polaroid instant films? Regardless of this self-professed achievement, it is undeniable that there is a renewed interest for what had been regarded as an obsolete technology and this book is proof of the ever increasing following “toy-cameras” have been enjoying lately. Divided into short, simple and attractively illustrated sections, this book is designed to kick-start creative projects and inspire.

syndetics-lcFrancesca Woodman
“Artists who arrive fully formed at a young age always dazzle, and Francesca Woodman was one of the most gifted and dazzling artist prodigies in recent history. In 1972, the 13-year-old Woodman made a black-and-white photograph of herself sitting at the far end of a sofa in her home in Boulder, Colorado. Her face is obscured by her hair, light radiates from an unseen source behind her out at the viewer through her right hand. This photograph typifies much of what would characterize Woodman’s work to come: a semi-obscured female form merging with or flailing against a somewhat bare and often dilapidated interior. In an oeuvre of around 800 photographs made in just nine years, Woodman performed her own body against the textures of wallpaper, door frame, baths and couches, radically extending the Surrealist photography of Man Ray, Hans Bellmer and Claude Cahun and creating a mood and language all her own. In the 30 years since her untimely death, Woodman has gained a following among successive generations of artists and photographers, a testament to her work’s undeniable immediacy and enduring appeal. Amid a renewed intensification of interest in Francesca Woodman, this volume is published for a major touring exhibition of her photographs and films at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Containing many previously unpublished photographs, it is the definitive Francesca Woodman monograph.” (Publisher’s description)

syndetics-lcPhotoshop Compositing Secrets
From analog to digital, the world of photography is all encompassing. What would we do without Photoshop these days? Compositing may not be for everyone but everyone can take something from the skills featured in this useful how-to book. If you want to master the tools that will allow your creativity to blossom, this book is sure to help.