It’s practically in an artist’s job description: see the world differently. As forthcoming art and photography titles show, these altered perspectives can convey a variety of meanings and take many forms—rethinking long-held beliefs, for instance, or approaching a subject from, literally, a different angle.
John Parton, commissioning editor at Laurence King, says that a new vantage point, such as the one offered by the aerial photography in From Above (Oct.), can offer a broader sense of scale and, in some cases, a better idea of what it means for people to come together. “At ground level you don’t get such a feeling of mass unity,” he says. “Aerial images of an event give you a much more real idea of just how many people were there and experiencing similar emotions.”
Sometimes an artist trains a metaphorical lens on a single person, yielding multitudes. In Children of Grass (Schaffner, Sept.), photographer B.A. Van Sise offers a window onto the modern relevance of Walt Whitman, born two centuries ago.
“When Whitman produced Leaves of Grass in 1855, we were in a run-up to a terrible, violent, but necessary civil war,” Van Sise says. “Now we’re in a lead-up, perhaps, to a cultural conflict where we need to talk about who we are as a people.” The book includes the portraits and work of a diverse group of 80 contemporary U.S. poets, each of whom Van Sise considers a direct literary descendant of Whitman.
The black is beautiful movement of the 1960s celebrated diversity and encouraged African-Americans to embrace their appearances rather than conform to white ideals. Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis, in Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, May), examine the way Brathwaite, a photographer who documented life in Harlem, helped popularize the slogan.
Aperture magazine editor Michael Famighetti, who edited the book, says Brathwaite and other black is beautiful proponents “had a strong idea of what we now call branding, the way they were really creating an identity for the movement, fusing the politics of jazz as a form of radical expression, the politics of fashion, and a deep understanding of the power of self-representation.”
The titles discussed here are a kaleidoscopic take on politics, the arts, and the human form, each offering the opportunity to reconsider the familiar.
Seeing the World
• In the foreword to Marvin Heiferman’s Seeing Science (Aperture, May, $39.95), astronaut Scott Kelly recalls what President Barack Obama told him in 2015, just before Kelly left for a year aboard the International Space Station: “Good luck, Captain—and make sure to Instagram it!” Heiferman, who has curated projects for the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and other major institutions, includes one of Kelly’s thousands of celestial images in the book, as well as some 300 more that make visible the previously unseen. Photos depict the brain’s neural network and offer a close-up view of a snowflake; even a body’s movement is better understood under the scrutiny of a lens. Heiferman quotes physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, who wrote in the New York Times: “Every time we have built new eyes to observe the universe, our understanding of ourselves and our place in it has been forever altered.”
• In From Above (Laurence King, Oct., $55), journalist Gemma Padley and six-time Guardian picture editor of the year Eamonn McCabe chronicle the history of aerial photography from its 19th-century beginnings—when the earliest aerial photographers used hot air balloons and strapped cameras to kites and pigeons—through modern drone and satellite imagery. The photos demonstrate what a new angle grants a viewer: perspective on how a person appears when one of a multitude in a slum, or on a crowded beach, or at a presidential inauguration; the immensity of a geographic area such as a desert; what unreachable and therefore untouched terrain looks like; or—as in a 1906 photograph by Philip Henry Sharpe, a lieutenant with the Royal Engineers’ Balloon Section—how Stonehenge is actually configured.
• The photos in L.A. River (George F. Thompson, July, $40) depict the urban waterway’s range of moods, from a temperamental force periodically destroying its surroundings to a shy trickle encased in concrete. Michael Kolster, a 2013 Guggenheim fellow, used a laborious 19th-century photographic technique that kept him by the river for days at a time. The process “afforded me the chance to watch the river change with Earth’s rotation as I worked,” he writes, and because the resulting images often were streaked with solution, they “invoke the look and feel of a river, especially one as elusive as the Los Angeles.” Essays by cultural historian D.J. Waldie and photographer Frank Gohlke lend additional context to a geographic feature that Kolster found surprisingly in need of documentation: “Many of the Angeleños I spoke with,” he writes, “were surprised to hear that L.A. has a waterway, let alone one that inspired its First People to settle there thousands of years ago.”
• For those who prefer to trust their own eyes, ears, and memories, the presentation of an optical illusion or a claim of communication with the spirit realm tends to draw skepticism. But according to the highly illustrated Spectacle of Illusion by Matthew Tompkins (DAP, out now, $35), it’s that very trust in self that makes magic possible and enjoyable. Tompkins, an experimental psychologist and magician, uses rare archival illustrations, photographs, and reproducible optical illusions to detail the work of spirit mediums, magicians, and skilled tricksters dating to the early 18th century. Photos portray, for instance, a blindfolded girl operating an automatic writing device used in seances, and illustrated advertisements tout late-19th- and early-20th-century magicians such as Howard Thurston, depicted pondering a human skull while surrounded by cartoonish, arrow-tailed demons, accompanied by the tagline “Do the spirits come back?”
• Tom Sanders showcased the faces of elderly WWII veterans in 2010’s The Last Good War, the cover of which alone, PW’s starred review said, “can break your heart.” With Vietnam Portraits (Casemate, Oct., $37.95), he provides a similar forum for 113 men and women whose service in that country ended more than 40 years ago, photographing them against what the publisher calls a “surreal” jungle environment. The portraiture, combined with the veterans’ recollections, allows readers to experience the war through an unmediated primary source. Unlike those who returned from WWI and II, Vietnam veterans were often treated with disdain. One veteran discusses the first time someone thanked him for his service, in 1991: “I was numb and unfortunately emotionally unable to respond.”
• For the 40th anniversary of New York City’s Public Art Fund in 2017, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and his team mounted an exhibition that spanned all five boroughs, installing 323 works intended to bring attention to the global migrant and refugee crisis. The city itself became a museum to the increasing numbers of barriers being built at political boundaries. In the exhibition catalog, Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (Yale Univ., June, $50), Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, shows not only the works, which took the form of physical barriers, banners, and posters of the faces of immigrants, but also viewer reactions. “He did not want fences to obstruct or divert people,” Baume writes, “but rather wanted to find ways of inserting them seamlessly into the built environment, calling attention to both our freedom and its vulnerability.” This thought is evident in the freestanding Gilded Cage sculpture installed at an entrance to Central Park; visitors could choose whether to walk through or around to access the park.
• Photographer Kwame Brathwaite and his like-minded circle worked in the late 1950s and ’60s to “ ‘sell’ their vision of blackness to an international audience,” cultural critic Tanisha C. Ford writes in Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, May, $40), which she coauthored with curator Deborah Willis. Brathwaite’s group, the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios, comprised African-Americans in New York City’s arts community who wanted to determine their representation to the rest of American culture. In addition to celebrities (such as Stevie Wonder and Muhammad Ali), Brathwaite photographed the Grandassa Models, an agency AJASS started to celebrate the natural beauty of African-American women. In Braithwaite’s introduction to the book, his first monograph, he says he’s been called “Keeper of the Images.” The 40 mostly full-page shots feel like archived glimpses into a bygone time, as if Brathwaite “kept” them until the moment was right to share.
• Photography critic Vince Aletti, who worked for many years as a contributing writer for Rolling Stone and, later, the New Yorker, has collected fashion magazines since 1965. He writes in the introduction to Issues (Phaidon, May, $95) that the enormity of his collection gave him “a sense of individual and collective development that broad overviews of fashion photography had glossed over.” The book distills his library to 500 pages culled from 100 issues of Details, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, W, and others, dating from 1910 to 2018. The selected images “push the culture forward,” he writes, “challenging conventions and offering an entirely new way of seeing,” as in a 1985 issue of The Face that upended gender norms by dressing men in skirts and women in the “butchest menswear.” The magazines addressed international politics and human rights as well, as in an issue of American Vogue published just after the end of WWII that featured on its cover a drawing of a bayonet wrapped in flowers; its interior included war correspondent Lee Miller’s photographs of piles of Holocaust victims in Buchenwald—especially challenging material to encounter in a fashion magazine.
• We Are Everywhere by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown (Ten Speed, May, $40) presents queer history under the premise that visibility is a sign of revolt. Photos dating to the 19th century depict activists, marches, 1920s drag shows, and newly married same-sex couples just after legislation permitting their legal unions passed. “Ultimately, we think queer history is about the fight to be, and the celebration of being, seen. We don’t choose to be queer, but we do choose to be visible in whatever way possible,” Riemer and Brown write in the introduction. The couple, who are lawyers in Washington, D.C., also run the LGBT History Instagram account, which has 376,000 followers.
• The notion of one’s body as an advertisement of one’s self isn’t new. But as Nathalie Herschdorfer writes in the preface to Body (Thames & Hudson, June, $65), societal shifts around beauty standards and gender identity allow each person more control over that advertisement than ever before. The book collects 369 photographs taken by 175 photographers, mostly in the 21st century. Herschdorfer, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Locle, Switzerland, introduces each
section—headings include “Physique” and “Alter Ego”—with an essay, grappling with body as subject versus body as object, and what role the selfie plays in seeing and presenting the body. “Never before in human history has it been so easy to manipulate our flesh, to create new identities for ourselves and to disseminate images so widely,” she writes. “And never before in human history have we been exposed to so many photographs depicting magnified, scrutinized, restructured, modified or enhanced bodies.”
Seeing Art, and Artists
• Special makeup effects artist Rick Baker sees potential monster-building material everywhere—even, as a child, in his mother’s pie crusts. The work of the seven-time Academy Award winner has been ubiquitous in American cinema—Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black, and many others. The two-volume retrospective Rick Baker: Metamorphosis (Cameron, Oct., $250) begins with his childhood creations (masks and body parts) and continues through his four-decade Hollywood career. In the book, Baker recalls learning about makeup art in a magazine when he was nine years old: “It was like an atomic bomb had detonated in my psyche. I had never seen anything like it—photo after photo of my favorite monsters right there in my hands.” The volumes include family photos and behind-the-scenes set peeks, with text by J.W. Rinzler, a writer and editor at Lucas Licensing’s book division.
• In Shadows I Boogie (Phaidon, May, $100) showcases the work of contemporary British artist Harland Miller, best known for his large-scale paintings of the tattered jackets of imaginary Penguin books of fiction, poetry, plays, and self-help texts. Sample titles include Murder: We’ve All Done It and Tonight We Make History (I Can’t Be There). The book quotes Miller as being an admirer of artists such as Andy Warhol, who made their names for “reworkings of things already in the public domain or consciousness.” The monograph includes essays by critic Martin Herbert, V&A East chief curator Catherine Ince, and novelist and cultural critic Michael Bracewell; the latter describes Miller’s work as “deadpan, punkish and aphoristic” as well as “confrontational and compelling.”
• B.A. Van Sise’s work has appeared in more than 250 publications, and a number of his photographs are in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. In Children of Grass (Schaffner, Sept., $35), Van Sise views Walt Whitman’s legacy through the work of 80 contemporary poets, whom he photographed in the spirit of the poem each contributed—for instance, he pairs Douglas Kearney’s “New Parents” with a portrait of Kearney in a field, leaning on a bookshelf lined with doll heads. Van Sise writes that when Whitman released Leaves of Grass, every well-known U.S. poet was white and from north of the Mason-Dixon line, whereas today, “American poetry is a landscape as diverse as the land that gives birth to it, a cacophony of voices from persons of all colors, genders, religions, backgrounds, loves.”
• The enduring fascination with snooping on other people’s personal lives—social media, tabloids, tell-all memoirs—sparked The Art of Love by Kate Bryan and illustrator Asli Yazan (White Lion, July, $27), which profiles art-world couples. Bryan, head of collections for Soho House, writes that something as commonplace as a romantic relationship is “especially interesting when it is happening to an artist, a person who traditionally sits outside the ‘normal’ spectrum of society.” The book details relationships that were often professional as well as personal, few of which ended happily. Yazan, an illustrator in Istanbul, portrays the couples in digital drawings on solid field backgrounds; subjects include Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot, and Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, as well as contemporary artist pairs.
• David Schulson collected and sold autographs from the late 1960s through the early 2000s. His children, Caren, Todd, and Claudia Strauss-Schulson, gathered 104 illustrated letters from their father’s personal collection for Scrawl (Rizzoli, May, $39.95). “The illustrations in this book are an intimate window into the playful, whimsical, almost childlike side of the artists, writers, scientists, and politicians who shaped the world and culture we live in,” Todd Strauss-Schulson writes in the foreword. For 40 years, no one outside of Schulson’s family had seen the pictures, which include Queen Victoria’s adolescent sketches of horses and donkeys, George Washington Carver’s depiction of a diseased peanut, and Mark Twain’s take on Jonah and the whale.
• Produced in conjunction with the spring 2019 Met Costume Institute exhibition of the same name, Camp: Notes on Fashion by curator Andrew Bolton (Metropolitan Museum of Art, May, $50) explores, over two volumes, a concept that’s notoriously difficult to pin down. To wit: Camp, as one of the contributors, Fabio Cleto, writes, is a “metaphysical country of fabulous unsettlement and amazing splendor.” The first volume, which includes Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’ ” delves into the term as an adjective, verb, and noun, using 17th-century paintings, and photos and drawings of Oscar Wilde, among other graphics, as evidence. The second volume focuses on new work by fashion photographer Johnny Dufort: mannequins bedecked in swanlike plumage, plain shifts inked with illustrations that suggest ball gowns, and snack wrappers sewn into party attire, designed by a high-wattage roster that includes John Galliano, Miuccia Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, Anna Sui, and Vivienne Westwood.
• In 1994, Dane Shitagi began photographing ballet dancers in settings where they typically don’t wear their toe-shoes, such as at subway stations, in parks, and under waterfalls. He’s since taken pictures of some 100 dancers and shared 3,600 images on social media; one million people follow his Ballerina Project account on Instagram. His forthcoming book of the same name (Chronicle, Sept., $40) showcases 54 dancers detached from stages and studios, capturing their balletic forms and personalities in unexpected ways. The project’s goal, Shitagi writes, is to depict the ballerinas’ “emotions, their aspirations, and the place they are present in their lives.”
Anne Kniggendorf is a freelance writer for outlets including KCUR in Kansas City, Mo., and the Kansas City Star.