Larger than Life

A roundup of the year's best photography books

Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town

by Matt Eich. Sturm & Drang, $59.

Sin & Salvation takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi in a neighborhood called Baptist Town. What started out as an assignment for AARP (about rural health care in the Mississippi Delta) turned into a heartfelt and lasting connection to a community. After several months making pictures for this project, an 18-year-old man he had previously photographed, named Demtrius “Butta” Anderson, was murdered. So Matt Eich felt compelled to return for the wake and funeral. He continued to document the people of Baptist Town and facilitated a Polaroid booklet project for the students of Delta Streets Academy.

In Eich’s statement on the work, he takes to task how problematic and limiting photography can be. Regardless of good intentions, he knows the medium can reinforce stereotypes. “At best, I can only show a small portion of this incredibly beautiful and complicated place and disconnected fragments of my own personal experiences. They stem from my desire to better understand and counteract the deepening racial and socioeconomic rift in America. If images are capable of anything, I hope they help plant seeds of empathy.”


by Martin Schoeller. Steidl, $85.

Close is a collection of Martin Schoeller’s signature larger-than-life head shots. He levels the playing field by presenting politicians, athletes, religious leaders, musicians, innovators, the houseless, actors and a race car driver within the same composition and lighting. The neutral glance, tight crop and shallow depth of field allow the viewer to digest the complexities and textures of each subjects’ face without the distraction of backgrounds, flashy wardrobe or expression. The contrast of certain pairings freeze you on the spread, like Donald Trump and Colin Kaepernick, Kanye West and Elon Musk, or Lil Wayne and Henry Kissinger.

My lady also wants to add that this would be a great book for popsicle-stick masks for a Halloween party. Expensive, sure. But sometimes you gotta throw down for a good costume.

I kid, Martin. She would never do that. But my daughter would.

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings

by Sally Mann. Abrams Books, $55.

A Thousand Crossings encompasses decades of work from one of the greatest living American photographers. An opening quote from John Glenday really sets the tone for the readers:

“You see
it’s neither pride, nor gravity but love
that pulls us back down to the world.

The soul makes a thousand crossings,
the heart, just one.”

That love for family, the land and exploration is really what Sally Mann’s work is all about. She shows us intimate moments of innocence and frailty within her own family. She illuminates the beauty of haunted Southern lands and never tries to sidestep its sordid and brutal history. Rather, she employs 19th-century processes that really bring out the ghosts. We are looking at her world from the lens of some spiritual plane we can’t access on our own.

Mark Seliger: Photographs

by Mark Seliger. Abrams Books, $75.

Mark Seliger is a chameleon. With more than 30 years of work under his belt, he’s mastered the art of transforming into whatever the situation allows. When to push, when to give. In Photographs, you see Seliger easily move from high-concept scenes (Kurt Cobain with severed doll heads or Jerry Seinfeld as the Tin Man) to straightfoward, timeless captures (the best damn portrait you will ever see of Tom Petty). Along with his well-known works from Rolling Stone, GQ and Vanity Fair, the book also features some of his landscapes and personal work, including documentary photography from Cuba, Holocaust survivor portraits and the trans community of Christopher Street. Seliger also offers insights to these projects and behind the scenes dirt from select shoots in an included interview conducted by director/comedian Judd Apatow.

Ghost Notes: Music of the Unplayed

by Brian “B+“ Cross. University of Texas Press, $45.

I remember the first time I saw a B+ photograph. I was standing in the aisle of Camelot Music in Mississippi holding DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing compact disc. Back then, I used to buy music based on album art all the time. And his shot sold me on Shadow. (That and the sticker that said “the Jimi Hendrix of the turntables.”) From then on out I paid attention when I saw Brian “B+” Cross’ name pop in credits.

Ghost Notes quickly gets you familiar with Cross’ impact on hip-hop culture, his travels and fascination with record stores from all around the world. In his early career, B+ documented the genesis of LA’s hip-hop underground, where groups like The Pharcyde and Freestyle Fellowship emerged from an open mic night at a health food restaurant. Ghost Notes includes other photos turned album covers (Madlib, Thundercat), work he’s created with the genre’s icons (Dilla, Nas, Biggie) and classic moments in the culture’s history (a beautiful portrait of Lauryn Hill pregnant with Zion, OutKast before they were ATLiens).

Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply

by Dawoud Bey. University of Texas Press, $65.

Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply carefully takes you through Bey’s 40-year career to this point. From his early days shooting the streets of Harlem, you can see the strength of his vision and intention. As you dig deeper into his projects, you get a sense of how important representation and community are to Bey.

In “Class Pictures,” his portraits of high school students are paired with the subject’s own words, shaping how the reader takes in each portrait.

In “Strangers/Community,” he shoots double portraits of community members that don’t know each other. The pairings push us to think more on what can create connection. Occupying the same physical space? Sharing a common goal or experience? Writer Rebecca Walker reflects on the series, “We can perform togetherness as we embody opposition. We can perform opposition as we stumble toward relatedness. We can be strangers in community for now.”

One of the most ambitious projects, “20×24 Polaroid Works,” features incredible large format tiled portraits. The images were shot on a 265-pound camera, more than 6 ft tall and 5 ft deep (with bellows opened) and took two people to operate.

Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez

by George Rodriguez. Hat & Beard Press, $65.

It’s doubtful there could be a better title for this collection. Double Vision illustrates the two worlds George Rodriguez actively lived in. In the late ’60s, Rodriguez ran the photo lab at Columbia Pictures where he processed publicity stills and snapped at stars like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. In 1968, he began to spend his lunch breaks in East L.A. covering a number of mass student protests, the first major public actions of the Chicano Movement. At this point, Rodriguez really began to straddle the street and Hollywood. Page flips take you from Michael Jackson’s childhood bedroom to being embedded with the movements led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the farm workers. He shot vivid covers and filled magazine spreads of Yo!, Fresh and Tiger Beat with Bell Biv Devoe, Lief Garret and Kermit the Frog, Ice Cube, Brook Shields and the cast of Different Strokes. At times, it’s hard to believe one photographer could capture all this in a lifetime.

Venice: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise

by Dotan Saguy. Kehrer Verlag, $45.

Snapchat ruins everything, namely Venice Beach. Well, not just Snapchat, but their parent company (Snap) sure is an easy target to represent the gentrification that make the scenes in this book so fleeting. I’ve only been to Venice Beach once, but I felt an undeniable wonder in the air. Kind of like walking through a Southern California Country Fair. The characters, shops, buskers, roller skaters, muscleheads, sidewalk acrobats, the strip. You were never quite sure what you might see ahead. The same is true for this book. Dotan Saguy does an amazing job bottling some of that magic for future generations.

Annual Series No.6 – Four Book Set

by Guido Guidi, Jason Fulford, Gregory Halpern, Viviane Sassen. TBW Books, $125.

The sixth installment of the TBW Books annual series features work from four artists — Guido Guidi’s Dietro Casa, Jason Fulford’s Clayton’s Ascent, Gregory Halpern’s Confederate Moons and Viviane Sassen’s Heliotrope. The publisher accurately describes each as “a monograph charged with an essence of the surreal, exploring the passage of time and the imprecise nature of the phenomenal.” The real stand out book is Halpern’s Moons, which is comprised of photos taken in the Carolinas during the time of the total solar eclipse. Halpern told LensCulture, “I was fascinated by the idea that the entire nation was staring at the sun, reveling in the apocalyptic thrill of watching the moon temporarily extinguish our life-source, all together.”