Archives For Photography


One of this week’s best new book releases is:

Test of Faith:
Signs, Serpents and Salvation

Lauren Pond

Hardback: Duke UP, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

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Close At Hand

A Review of
Three New Books
Of Photographs
By Robert Adams.

Review by Brent Aldrich.

Robert Adams.
Paperback – Reprint Edition: Yale UP, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Sea Stories.
Robert Adams.
Paperback: Yale UP, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

This Day.
Robert Adams.
Paperback: Yale UP, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

A trio of books of Robert Adams’s photographs brings together images spanning several decades of black and white impressions from the American West in Prairie, Sea Stories, and This Day. It might seem a huge subject and length of time, but Adams’s skill as a photographer is in bringing landscapes to a particularizing level on which their contours can be understood, their individual features worth caring for. It is in many ways the great work of place-making, of finding a home within distinct subtleties of weather and geography and history. These geographies ought to change the sensibilities and sympathies of our cultures located within them – over and against the mono-culture of, say, Interstate Highway Architecture – even as our cultures, in our images, our language, our neighborhoods, change the shape or imagine those same geographies.

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“What does our Geography
Compel us to Believe?

A review of
What Can We Believe Where?:
Photographs of the American West.
By Robert Adams.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Robert Adams - WHAT CAN WE BELIEVE WHERE?What Can We Believe Where?:
Photographs of the American West.
Robert Adams.
Paperback: Yale UP, 2011.
Buy Now [ Amazon ]

[ Editor’s Note: One of the very first reviews we ran on this site was Brent’s review of Robert Adams’ book Why People Photograph.  We are delighted to see him return to explore Adams’ work again. ]

A new collection of Robert Adams’ more than 40 years of photographs asks in the title “What Can We Believe Where?” I’d like to not underestimate the significance of that question, but to proceed on to three related questions Adams asks in a brief foreword: “What does our geography compel us to believe? What does it allow us to believe? And what obligations, if any, follow from our beliefs?”

Before diving into the photographs, then, it seems prescient to seriously consider the ramifications of this formulation of belief. In it, Adams moves the locus of belief from abstracted objectivity into particular places and contexts, which inform the beliefs of situated communities, even as these communities, in turn, inform the place. In this formulation of reality, Adams rejects the dissociation of ‘belief’ from material reality, along with any separation of people from particular places, or generalized ideas of ‘nature’ apart from specific human practices and culture.

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“’Tis all one to lye.”

Review of
Two Recent Books
Death and Burial.

Reviewed by David Anderson.

Keith Eggener.

Hardback: Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Urne-Buriall, Or,
A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchrall
Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk
Sir Thomas Browne

New Directions, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

I have had a surprisingly close, some might say scary, relationship with cemeteries throughout my life. When I was a boy we lived for a year in a house that had a small pet cemetery under an arbor in the spacious backyard. I liked to go back there and look at the little stone markers and wonder who had played with and loved these animals. The Southern Baptist college I attended had an old cemetery on top of the hill the college was built on, directly opposite the men’s dorms. I spent many an hour sitting there studying by a small group of graves marked Anderson, keeping my possible relatives company. For a couple of years in my Chicago years I lived right across the street from the city’s historic Graceland Cemetery, established in 1860. The brick wall of the cemetery went along the other side of the street and I could see over it. It was like living opposite a park. Friends asked if it didn’t spook me out, but I said if any spooks didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them.

The Norton/Library of Congress collection of cemetery photographs taken from the Library’s extensive holdings is a stunning visual feast of images of America’s cemeteries, from churchyard cemeteries in New England to above-ground burials in New Orleans to rusting iron crosses dotting the prairies where towns used to flourish to cemeteries with whale bone fences in Alaska. The book opens with a short essay by Keith Eggener that sets the bar for excellence in this kind of writing: Eggener doesn’t lapse into academese, nor does he go into the details of the photography and photographers. He sticks to laying the groundwork for the reader to understand the many pictures that follow.

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A Review of

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight.
Jerry Liguori.
Paperback: Princeton UP, 2005 [Reprinted 2010].
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

HAWKS FROM EVERY ANGLE - Jerry LiguoriI have been a bird watcher all my life; my mom has a deep love for birds and when I was a boy, she was always pointing out different kinds of birds to me.  We were never birders in the sense of going on bird watching tours or traveling specifically to see particular birds, but with living on the East Coast while most of our extended family was in the mid-west, we did travel quite a bit – even driving from coast-to-coast in the summer of 1980 – and wherever we went, we were always on the lookout for birds.  Given this informal schooling in birdwatching, there are many birds that I can identity at a glance.  However, I have always struggled to distinguish various types of hawks and other raptors when we see them soaring through the air.  I can say, generally, “That’s a hawk,” but rarely can identify the bird with any more specificity than that.

Thus, I was delighted to stumble upon Jerry Liguori’s superb and helpful book Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight (now available in a new reprint from Princeton University Press).  Although a relatively slim volume, and quite specific in the content on which it focuses, it is a profound and amazing work, especially when one considers that the author has taken all the photographs in the book himself over the course of two decades, collecting shots of all the major raptors in a number of key angles that are crucial for distinguishing species.

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A Brief Review of

Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints
Scott Wright.
Photos by Octavio Duran.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith

Easter itself is now the cry of victory.
No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected.
Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred
raised against Him and against His church can prevail.
He is the victorious one!
Just as He will thrive in an unending Easter,
so we must accompany Him in a Lent and a Holy Week
of cross, sacrifice and martyrdom.
As He said, blessed are they who are not scandalized
by His cross.

— Oscar Romero

So begins this lovely new biography of Oscar Romero, which was released just in time for the 30th anniversary of his assassination.  Not only does this book trace the narrative of Romero’s life, it also is chock full of black and white photographs, many of which were taken by Octavio Duran, a Franciscan from El Salvador, who served as Romero’s personal photographer.  The photo-record of Romero’s life is the book’s greatest asset, as most of the stories told here can be found elsewhere.

This is a wonderful book, accessible in its format and yet challenging us at every turn with the story of Romero’s faithfulness.   Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints is the finest introductory biography of Romero, and I highly recommend it for readers of all ages.  Indeed, it is perfect reading for the Easter season, as it embodies for us Romero’s deep faith in the resurrected Christ for whom “Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred raised against Him and against His church can prevail.”

[ Download a free eBook edition of


“Possibilities Deeply Seeded Within the World

A Review of
Bird Watching
by Paula McCartney


by Steven Holl.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Bird Watching.
Paula McCartney.
Hardback: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Urbanisms: Working With Doubt.
Steven Holl.
Hardback: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Bird Watching - Paula McCartneyI first saw Paula McCartney’s Bird Watching images as large prints, framed with their identification cards (including the birds’ name, location, date, size, coloring, and remarks) and I was hooked with the Spotted Wren, photographed on the Southern Oregon Coast, “golden crown, spotted back and wings” with “a field of daisies was the perfect backdrop for this little bird.” The image is saturated green, interspersed with the yellow and white daisy heads, and the matching yellow and white of the wren. It is as perfect an image as I might hope for. By the second photograph, something was awry, and looking back again at the wren, it was clear: these are model birds, wires holding them onto their perches, painted feathers, glued-on eyes. And having realized this artifice, the images are all the more enticing. First, there is the simple joy of recognition, which is a result of careful looking, and not afforded to anyone breezing past the surface of the photographs. Furthermore, though, there is a significant conceptual shift that complicates these images, asking questions about photography and looking at nature.

Urbanisms - Steven HollBird Watching has also existed as an edition of hand-made books by McCartney, and has just been published as a full monograph of these clever and beautiful prints, with identification texts and accompanying essays. Located in several locations in the US, McCartney’s birds exist in immaculate landscapes in which the birds complete the scene, and are often described in language questioning our own expectations of ‘nature,’ or the conventions we might expect nature to offer up to our looking (e.g., the sublime, the picturesque). To that end, two Barn Swallows “elegantly turn their heads toward the camera,” Vermillion Flycatchers are “enjoying the view by the lake,” and an Aqua Tanager “stopped and patiently posed for his portrait.”

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“Toward Careful Listening”

A Review of
Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

by Frank Gohlke.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich,
ERB Art Editor.

Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

Frank Gohlke.

Paperback: Hol Art Books,  2009.
Buy now: [ From the Publisher ]

[ Read a two-chapter excerpt from the book! ]

Frank Gohlke - THOUGHTS ON LANDSCAPEPhotographer Frank Gohlke has been making pictures for over thirty years, and accompanying those images is a large number of essays, artist statements, and interviews. His new book Thoughts on Landscape: Collected Writings and Interviews compiles these texts chronologically, as they developed alongside Gohlke’s photographic practice, and in some ways they serve to clarify it. But like any successful writing about art, this book drew me back to look at Gohlke’s photographs again, more closely than before.

So to begin, looking at an image might be helpful, such as a complicated photograph (which recently served as the cover for Gohlke’s Accommodating Nature) in which a woman points a hose, watering rows of crops planted in red clay, late afternoon sun illuminating the fields spread before her, and the water making shadows on the soil. But what exactly is going on here? What is really the scope of the care this woman can give to this wide open space with that one hose? Seemingly, it can’t stretch any further, and the woman’s finger creates a jet on the nozzle to extend the spray further, but it’s nowhere near that field of young corn. Meanwhile, the roof of the shack continues to melt off, and the tractor may or may not ever run again. Either way, there’s work to be done to maintain this landscape ‘Near Kirkville, Mississippi,’ and both the woman with her hose, and Gohlke with his camera are doing just that work.

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Tom Vanderbilt Reviews 3 New Books
on Suburbia and Culture for BookForum

If, as Conley contends, the Protestant ethic, which valued “thrift over consumption, work over leisure, and meritocracy over social connections,” gave way in the 1950s to the ethos of bureaucratic capitalism, which emphasized “teamwork, compromise, and fealty,” in the latest sociological era, the age of Elsewhere, the midcentury tensions have been resolved: “Leisure is work and work is leisure. Consumption is investment. A tax-deductible home equity loan is savings. And the salience of social connections does not indicate nepotism but rather social capital and entrepreneurial skill totally consistent with meritocratic ideals.” But there are costs: “the fragmentation of the self, not to mention alienation and anxiety among today’s professional classes—those Americans who earn lots of money but need to work for it.”

Why should such free-floating anxiety exist among people in seemingly comfortable positions? One hears of executives being constantly uprooted in a job market rife with downsizing. Parents worry that their careers are not allowing them to spend enough time with their children. No one feels as if they have any time. But Conley points out that the facts tell a different story: Fewer Americans moved in 2000 than did in 1950. The percentage of people logging more than ten years with large firms has increased. This generation of fathers, he observes, “spends more time with their children than any in recent history.” As for the time squeeze, a study has found that higher-income women, even when they work the same number of hours as those earning less, report feeling more pressed for time. As Conley notes, “when you can earn more per hour, the opportunity cost of not working feels greater and the pressure is all the more intense.”

The frenetic, self-regulating regimen of one’s inner time manager is the chief culprit, Conley argues, in the forever-harried state of postindustrial labor. For the first time in history, the more people are paid, the more they feel they must work. Income inequality has risen absolutely, but particularly within the upper echelons of the professional classes. “From any link in the chain,” he writes, “it looks like everyone else is rushing away.” So the presumed leisure time that money might buy merely breeds anxiety over how much the moment is costing.

Read the full review:

Dalton Conley.

Hardcover: Pantheon, 2009.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Julia Christensen.

Hardcover: MIT Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ] [ Amazon ]

THE NY REVIEW OF BOOKS asks what we can learn
from Reinhold Niebuhr about History and Foreign Policy

In a democracy the people need to be informed if they are to fulfill their duties as citizens. May we now be entering a renewal of participatory American democracy? If we are not, we shall be in even greater trouble than we are now.

The fatalism of Bacevich’s final sentence about Americans being firmly set on self-destruction is deeply disturbing, as no doubt it was intended it to be. Since his book was published, the presidential election has shown how intelligent use of the Internet can bring together an enthusiastic and disciplined body of volunteers and bring young people in large numbers back into politics. There is now talk of using the Obama campaign’s online network to foster support for his legislative program and presidential initiatives. Brilliant and essential political analysis by writers like the three reviewed here could be a useful part of such initiatives.

Bacevich suggests that the acknowledgment of the truth of the following Niehbuhr principle would be a useful standard for election or appointment to public office: “The whole drama of history is enacted in a frame of meaning too large for human comprehension or management.” That might also be a good start for a renaissance of knowledgeable democratic participation.

Read the full review:

The Irony of American History.
Reinhold Niebuhr, Introduction by Andrew Bacevich

Paperback: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
Andrew Bacevich.

Hardcover: Metropolitan Books, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Frances Richard Reviews Two Recent Books
on the Direction of Photography as Art.

Photography is haunted by distortions, or what philosophers and media theorists call “simulacra”–those devils or replicants that blur authentic essence and mere appearance. Pictures in general trigger these anxieties, Plato having bequeathed to Western culture a fear that overidentification with images will dull perception of a spirit that eludes sight. Photography, however, has been especially seductive, seeming to offer unmediated access to how things “really” are. As Martin Jay explains in Downcast Eyes, his marvelous history of antivisual themes in French thought, “Because of the physical imprinting of light waves on the plate of the camera…it might seem as if now the oeil was not trompé in Daguerre’s new invention. But doubts nonetheless soon arose.” By the 1840s, it was clear that even apparently direct imprinting could not rout the ghost of simulacra. “Yet as late as the Dreyfus Affair,” Jay notes, “it was still necessary to warn the naïve viewer against concocted images.” Photographs could be retouched or faked through double exposures–as when, in 1899, the newspaper Le Siècle printed composite pictures of enemies in the Dreyfus Affair appearing friendly. Technologies have drastically evolved, of course. Nevertheless, according to new books by Michael Fried and Fred Ritchin, warnings about photography’s uncertainties are no less necessary.

Read the full review:

Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before.
Michael Fried.

Hardcover: Yale UP, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]

After Photography.
Fred Ritchin.

Hardcover: Norton, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ] [ Amazon ]


A Brief Review of Paul Mobley’s American Farmer.

By Chris Smith


It takes a certain kind of person to be a farmer. Liberty Hyde Bailey captures this essence of the farmer in his poem “Farmer’s Challenge”:


Blow ye winds and lay on ye storms

And come ye pests in rabble swarms

And fall ye blights in legion forms

I am here: I surrender not

Nor yield my place one piece or jot;

                For these are my lands

                And these are my hands

And I am bone of the folk that resistlessly stands.


More recently, noted photographer Paul Mobley has captured this essence in his excellent book, American Farmer.  Mobley, who earlier in his career worked in the studios of Annie Leibovitz and David Langley, traveled the country for three years taking portraits of farmers of all sorts – organic farmers, mega-farmers, ranchers, livestock farmers, produce farmers, flower farmers and even a lobster farmer.  Mobley’s vibrant photographs capture the ruggedness of the farmer: e.g., in the skin of the hands and face weathered by “resistlessly” standing against the elements.  In an age in which farming is increasingly unpopular and the average age of the farmer leaping rapidly upward, Mobley’s photographs convey the manifold goodness of a farming life: the goodness of doing work that is essential to human life, the goodness of being more intimately connected with other species and all creation, and indeed – as Mobley notes in the afterword – the goodness of living and working in communities that reflect “a kinder and gentler world” (272). 

            Underlying the vivid portraits of American Farmer is a hymn of gratitude to those who till the soil by the sweat of their brows in order that we might be fed.  At the same time, it frames its own sort of “farmer’s challenge,” throwing down the gauntlet as it were to younger generations, calling them on behalf of all humanity into the heroic struggle against the forces of nature.  May they hear that call and may they, by “resistlessly standing” against all these challenges, be formed into the next generation of American farmers.



American Farmer.

Paul Mobley.
Hardcover: Welcome Books, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $38 ]  [ Amazon ]