Tag Archives: Peter Galassi

“Nothing is As Invisible as a Monument”

31 Oct








The publication of the second edition of Lee Friedlander’s The American Monument, some forty years after the original is propitious and coincidental. Besides making available an important work by a master photographer that has long been out of print  ( It is considered by many, including Lee Friedlander himself, to be one of his most influential books of the last five decades). the current controversies being paid to the icons of American history make this collection additionally useful. First published in 1976 by the Eakins Press, which has its own interesting history,*  this tome contains 213 black and white photographs on unnumbered pages and is designed to resemble a personal photograph album with the book held together by screw posts. It should not go unsaid that Lee Friedlander viewed his main project as the creation of books of which he published many. It was said of him,” Tireless photographer… the maniacally inclusive but blessedly nonchalant cataloguer of Americana–her monuments, jazz musicians, and urban landscapes-”


A quick scan of YouTube yields a number of videos constructed of Friedlander stills. There was one using Miles Davis’s All Blues as the soundtrack—which being elevn minutes long allows you to see many photos. Director David Lynch produced a five-minute clip entitled The Big Dream


The commentary on this work in addition to an elucidating afterword by Eakins Press founder  Leslie George Katz and a second afterword appended to this new edition by Museum of  Modern Art curator Peter Galassi who assembled the first Friedlander retrospective in 2005. Stephen Maine astutely observes**


As a category of objects, Friedlander seems to say, its distinguishing feature is contingency in relationship to its site. Thus even forty years ago, the very phrase “American monument,” if not exactly an oxymoron, carried a sense of the provisional, the negotiable. If the planners’ original vision was compromised over time, well — that’s just what happens when the idealized concept meets destabilizing patterns of actual, everyday use. It becomes a case study in perpetuity.
In the interim since 1976, the social landscape has also evolved, and the propaganda function of public monuments has received intense scrutiny. WhileThe American Monumenttakes no explicit political position on this issue, driven instead primarily by curiosity about affection for the genre itself, it is simply not possible to see some of these images in the same way we once might have. “People want leadership not only from the living but from the dead,” writes Leslie George Katz in the book’s original essay… But what people, and from which dead?




Lee Friedlander, “Mount Rushmore. South Dakota” (1969), gelatin silver print, 8 1/16 x 12 1/8 inches








Maine concludes

…but like the landmarks it documents, The American Monument has a dynamic relationship to its context. A quick Google search (as the reader will have surmised by now) facilitates casual research of the sites, which was far more difficult forty years ago. While a web search dispels some of the tantalizing mystery of these pages, it doesn’t diminish the power of the images. Their humor, awkwardness, and pathos remain intact. It’s the same book, but we use books differently now, and the user’s experience of The American Monument isn’t the same. And how could it be?




Lee Friedlander, “Father Duffy. Times Square, New York, New York” (1974), gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches (all photographs © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery and Eakins Press Foundation)



Geoff Dyer, another erudite commentator on many subjects, including photography, delights

…Unlike [Gary]Winogrand, Friedlander hasn’t given up on editing, but he is more interested in taking pictures and getting them out than in scrupulously curating his own oeuvre. “It’s a generous medium, photography,” he is quoted as saying in the epigraph to the MoMA catalog. He was thinking particularly of a picture of his uncle, which also included a bunch of other, unintended information. “The American Monument” came about in similar fashion, when he noticed that memorials and statues of all kinds cropped up in multiple contact sheets, some of which were primarily concerned with other matters. After that, he began seeking out such monuments in the course of his travels throughout the States. Eventually he had enough pictures for a book — which, in Friedlander-ese, means more than enough. The original edition boiled thousands of potential candidates down to 213, the bulk of them taken between 1971 and 1975, supplemented by a brilliant afterword by Leslie George Katz. That essay still feels remarkably fresh in the reprint, even though Katz’s observations occasionally gleam with a faith in the assumption of the continued worth of monuments that may turn out to be “discredited,” “outmoded” or ironically apposite, as when he says of their power, “Something like racial memory is at work.”
Robert Musil wrote that nothing is as invisible as a monument, and Friedlander in the 1970s relished the simple and complex task of making the invisible visible. He did this by showing how monuments hide in plain sight: subsumed by traffic, by familiarity, by the abundance of incidental detail he “got” in that picture of his uncle. The poet Siegfried Sassoon expressed the cruel paradox of remembrance while contemplating the Cenotaph, dedicated to the dead of the First World War, in London: “Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial/Means.” Friedlander’s photos read like an almost-random survey of the aesthetics and meanings of all kinds of monument — and of how easy it is to forget what is meant to be remembered.





Lee Friedlander, “The Bronco Buster. Civic Center Mall, Denver, Colorado” (1972), silver print, 1 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches

Dyer observes


…The album is essentially the same as it was in 1976, but we view it rather differently. Monuments, after all, are also mirrors. So, for that matter, are the windows (often of cars) through which we see them — and few photographers have had more fun than Friedlander exploiting, exploring and reflecting on the capacities of these two pieces of technology to complicate what is shown in a frame. Dependent on all manner of mirroring, both felicitous and contrived, the slim volume Friedlander published before “The American Monument” was a collection of self-portraits. The self of which the pictures in the reprinted book offer a composite portrait is, of course, America.


John Szarkowski  who was  the Director of Photography at New York‘s Museum of Modern Art for  t thirty years  observes

But I think we are moved more deeply by Friedlander’s intuitions concerning the nature of America’s relationship to its past, concerning the vernacular materials out of which with attention we might fashion a culture, concerning the evidence of these countless attempts to preserve and nourish the idea of community. I am still astonished and heartened by the deep affection in those pictures, by the photographer’s tolerant equanimity in the face of the facts, by the generosity of sprit, the freedom from pomposity and rhetoric. One might call this work an act of high artistic patriotism, an achievement that might help us reclaim that work from ideologues and expediters. His work, in sum, constitutes a conversation among the symbols that we live among and that to some degree we live by. It reminds us of the strength of an alternative American tradition to that of Thoreau and Whitman and Stieglitz, with its constant insistence on the big I. His work recalls Thomas Eakins, the painter; and Walker Evans, the photographer; and Wallace Stevens, who said, “It is important to believe that the visible is the equivalent of the invisible….”
The American Monument is a  beautifully produced book (master printer Richard Benson produced the halftone negatives) It’s an important and engaging book and most of all ,its a great pleasure to look through. Again and again…

*  History of Eakin Press 

Eakin Press founder Leslie George Katz proclaimed its mission to be:

“The works of the Eakins Press Foundation are selected from classic and contemporary literature and art relevant to values currently embattled. In content and form they defend human excellence. Together they suggest that advanced technology is a tool and not a substitute for intelligence, that modernity need not outmode humane capacity. The symbol of the Eakins Press Foundation is a leaf and a hand, signifying nature and the works of man as counterparts. Man is and remains a creature of nature capable of cultivation, and art is the measure of his life.”

** Stephen Mine American Monuments Then and Now


Here’s a clever, entertaining video preview of The American Monument




A five minute collage of Friedlander photos with a great monolgue  of how Friedlander worked backed by a jazz soundtrack




























31 Dec

2014 marked the fourth year in which I contributed an array of so -called coffee table books to The Daily Beast.

My 4th Annual Coffee Table  Array

My 4th Annual Coffee Table

2014 Coffee Table Gallery

2013 Coffee Table Gallery

2012 Coffee Table Gallery

2011 Coffee Table Gallery

As I have explained previously (in other places), selecting a handful or even 2 handfuls of coffee table books seems, over the past few years, to have become a more difficult undertaking. There are more books than ever(or at least I am made aware of more).Perhaps because art books offer the last, strongest evidence for real paper and ink books— electronic versions standing as a faint representation of a well-designed ,well-printed book of compelling art—I find such books produced with great care and attention.

Man and Beast: Photographs from Mexico and India  by Mary Ellen Mark

Man and Beast: Photographs from Mexico and India by Mary Ellen Mark

Man and Beast: Photographs from Mexico and India by Mary Ellen Mark (University of Texas Press)

Mary Ellen Mark(Seen Behind the Scene, Exposure, Falkland Road, and Ward 81 began her life long calling of narrative photography before the advent of digital technology (which I would argue suggests a more mindful sense of each picture —before they were more frequently called ‘images’). Her new anthology Man and Beast is an extended photo essay comprised of images from Mexico and India that span some forty years of her travels to those countries. Mark offers her fascination with “the anthropomorphic quality of animals, and the animalistic quality of man ” as her reason for her frequent return to Mexico and India—she observes that they share “a primal force . . . that makes the relationship between man and beast even more obvious. There is a more fundamental and intimate working relationship between the people and animals, and this relationship is something I am drawn to and try to convey in many of my photographs.” This book contains 168 pages with 13 duotones, 116 black and white plates.

Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing by Franklin Sirmans

Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing by Franklin Sirmans

Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing by Franklin Sirmans ,Carlos Rolon(Damiani)

His father’s love of boxing, made boxing a significant part of his cCarlos Rolon aka Dzine childhood, watching legendary TV sports figure Howard Cosell as well as historic bouts. And no small thing also served to bring him closer to his father.

A sample page from Boxed

A sample page from Boxed

Boxed looks at the interplay between the sport and art, with new work from Dzine, it anthologizes work by a wide variety of artists— Andreas Gursky, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Gary Simmons, Satch Hoyt, Rashid Johnson, Christopher Wool, Cheryl Dunn, David Hammons, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons, George Bellows, Yoshitomo Nara, Jules De Balincourt, Paul Pfeiffer, Claes Oldenburg, Glenn Ligon, Lyle Owerko, Chris Mosier and Ed Paschke, among others. Needles to say, this a collection of new and original perspectives on an old sport.

American Latina  1960 - 2013: Photographs  by  Alonso Angeles  Espinosa

American Latina 1960 – 2013: Photographs by Alonso Angeles Espinosa

América Latina 1960-2013:Photographs by Olivier Compagnon , Luis Camnitzer (Fondation Cartier)

Over 400 black-and-white and color reproductions are included in this monograph from an exhibition held at the Amparo Museum in Puebla (Mexico). It was s a 50 year retrospective featuring seventy artists from eleven different Latin American countries, “focusing on the relationship between text and the photographic image.” In addition to scholarly essays there is useful collateral material included— artist bios, descriptions of works and a detailed timeline.

1968: Radical Italian Design by Alessandro Mendini (Contributor)

1968: Radical Italian Design by Alessandro Mendini (Contributor)

1968: Radical Italian Design: Photographs by Maurizio Cattelan & Pieropaolo Ferrari by Alessandro Mendini, Maria Cristina Didero (Deste Foundation/Toilet Paper)

While there is a bountiful bibliography of monographs on Scandinavian design furniture( and I am not talking about the Ikea catalogue), not many books on Italian Radical Design furniture have come my way. And frankly it requires a deeper interest in pictorial collections of furniture than I can usually muster up. Which is why Toiletpaper’s Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s 1968, in collaboration with the DESTE Foundation presents a fascinating look at the Dakis Joannou Collection of Italian Radical Design furniture which features the work of avant-garde design firms such as Archizoom, Superstudio, Global Tools and 9999.

Named after a transformational year in design, 1968 is published as a board book and to quote the publisher,”is a collection of dreams and nightmares, an inspiring, eye-popping compendium of colorful, ironic objects and bodies. At once charmingly retro and alarmingly surreal…

Capra in Color by Cynthia Young

Capra in Color by Cynthia Young

Capa in Color by Cynthia Young (Prestel USA)

Legendary photographer, photojournalist and bon vivant Hungarian born Robert Capa( born as Endre Friedmann) really should need no introduction. He has been attached to a famous Spanish Civil War photograph, The Falling Soldier,

Death of Loyalist Soldier by Robert Capa

Death of Loyalist Soldier by Robert Capa

and while much of his work should be familiar to photography enthusiasts, most of his (post war) color photos have never been published or even printed. The International Center for Photography organized an exhibition with over 100 contemporary color prints organized by ICP Curator Cynthia Young with a 207 pages complementary monograph including contextual publications and personal papers,

 Max Beckman: Still LIfes edited by by Karin Schick and Hubertus Gassner

Max Beckman: Still LIfes edited by by Karin Schick and Hubertus Gassner

Max Beckmann: The Still Lifes by Karin Schick, Hubertus Gassner, Anna Heinze (Prestel USA )

Max Beckman (1884-1950)is one of those painters I discovered (as opposed to finding him in the approved canon of masters) that I foundparticularly spellbinding— which is to say I found myself looking at them longer than most art. This book features nearly eighty paintings and watercolors covering five decades of Beckman’s still lifes— images of skulls, dying flowers,extinguished candles and Beckman’s experimentation adding unusual images including self-portraits into a well defined genre.

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma by Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma by Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 by Roger Taylor, Crispin Branfoot, (NGA/Delmonico Nooks))

Captain Linnaeus Tripe photographed extensively in India and Burma in the mid-19th century. The National Gallery of Art has an exhibition (approximately 60 photographs) of his brilliant photography(until Jan 2015) with an accompanying catalogue. The 228 page volume features the magisterial photographs he created that brought forth these heretofore unfamiliar cultures. Many of the photos came from Tripe’s two major expeditions: to Burma in 1854 and to southeast India in 1857. Explanatory essays unpack his development as an artist and a description of Tripe’s printing technique. There are also maps and a chronology provided for an overview of Tripe’s life.

National Geographic Stunning Photographs   by Annie Griffiths

National Geographic Stunning Photographs
by Annie Griffiths

National Geographic Stunning Photographs by Annie Griffiths(National Geographic)

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the National Geographic magazine recognizes it as a venue for magnificent photography from far flung places.This tome Shot by National Geographic‘s well chosen photographers and annotated with provocative aphorisms, is appropriately named Stunning Photographs and stands as a vivid visual melange of images enlarging the boundaries of what photographs can show.

William Helburn: Seventh and Madison: Mid-Century Fashion and Advertising Photography

William Helburn: Seventh and Madison: Mid-Century Fashion and Advertising Photography

William Helburn: Seventh and Madison: Mid-Century Fashion and Advertising Photograph edited by Robert Lilly, Lois Allen Lilly. (Thames & Hudson)

Post WW II America (now identified by many young people as the ‘Madmen’ era) saw a boom in consumers good which naturally caused a boom in the growth of communication arts—photography being a beneficiary. After his stint in the US Army, New Yorker William Helburn’s chance encounter with then famous photographer Fernand Fonssagrives turned him to a career in fashion photography, Helburn attended legendary art director Alexander Brodovitch’s famous Design Laboratory. His career included publication in almost every major magazine—Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Esquire, Town & Country, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, and Charmas well being the photographer of choice for the major advertising agencies of that time. He is credited with revolutionizing the advertising business of the 50s and 60s. Here the nonagenarian recalls:

I tried to always, always, always do something a little different. I would put a girl on a couch in Times Square – put it in the middle of the avenue there. I would take girls out in the middle of a snowstorm naked under a fur coat and have them strip naked in the middle of a street – and do a shot. Shock value was a term that was used. And I meant to shock people as much as I could,”

Here’s a charming conversation that poet Gillian Mcain did with William Helburn (including a nice sampling of his photographs)

Urban Archaeology: Twenty-One Years of Mo’Wax

Urban Archaeology: Twenty-One Years of Mo’Wax

“Urban Archaeology: 21 Years of Mo’Wax Records Written by James Lavelle (Rizzoli)

Not my cup of tea, but a useful gauge of youth culture and its commercially driven aspects. Mo’ Wax (‘Mo’ Wax Please’), was a UK-based record label founded in 1992 by James Lavelle. This tome assembles the various enterprisesand off shoots Lavelle was involved in (bringing attention to the graffiti artist Futura 2000) , as well as a sense of the indy record scene.Photos, artwork, concept artwork interviews, record sleeves survey the Mo Wax’s 21 year history.

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found  by John Maloof)

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found by John Maloof)

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found by John Maloof) (Harper Design)

In addition to being a distinctive and compelling photographer, Vivian Maier’s biography is mystery laden. he shot more than 100,000 images throughout her live which she kept hidden from the world. Images which Chicago historic preservationist John Maloof discovered in a storage locker he bought at auction Since the discovery of and attention being paid to Maier is recent, the claim that this is the definitive Maier monograph, written edited and curated by photography authority Marvin Heiferman is currently has no challengers. Exhibited are 250 black-and-white images, color work, and materials previously not shown to the public.

Capra in Color by Cynthia Young

Capra in Color by Cynthia Young

Robert Frank: In America by Peter Galassi

Perhaps it hyperbole to opine that Robert Frank’s groundbreaking mid century monograph, The Americans is the most important photographic document in this nations’ cultural history. Strangely Frank eschewed the kind of photography he explored in that book and consequently Frank’s American work of the 1950s seems not to be well known. This opus coincides with an exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University,which integrates 22 photographs from The Americans with more than 100 unknown or unfamiliar images with an illuminating text by former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Peter Galassi

Ciphers by Christopher Geilen

Ciphers by Christopher Geilen

Christoph Gielen: Ciphers by Geoff Manaugh , Susannah Sayler, Edward Morris , (Jovis )

Photographer Christoph Gielen’s focus is on photographic aerial studies of infrastructure axs connected coo to land use. The results are an amazing examples of changed perspectives revealing the hidden geometries of building developments that only become visible when seen from the air Using maximum security prisons to retirement communities Gielen uses a triptych format to present this late 20th century sprawl as a consequence of the American car culture.Here’s Gielen’s TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr8_Vx5HGFw

Time is On Your Side by Dennis Stock

Time is On Your Side by Dennis Stock

Time is On Your Side by Dennis Stock (Prestel)

Another of this mid century photo samurai, Dennis Stock (1928-2010) was a Magnum photographer whose intimate portraits captured iconic figures and historic moments. A member of the historic Magnum Photos cooperative agency, reportedly Stock’s most famous portrait is of the actor James Dean walking through Times Square in 1955–the year Dean died. As Dean acquired cult figure status, that image became ubiquitous. A new film Beyond Iconic documents Dean and Stock’s cross country perambulations Also inclued is an insightful essay and an useful biography.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book  1981-1983 (Vol. 2) by Ed Piskor  &  Charlie Ahearn

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1981-1983 (Vol. 2) by Ed Piskor & Charlie Ahearn

 Hip Hop Family Tree Book 2: 1981-1983

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 2: 1981-1983

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1981-1983 (Vol. 2) by Ed Piskor & Charlie Ahearn (Fantagraphics)

If a genre was better suited than hip-hop to be unpacked as a graphic novel, that genre escapes me.This second installment covers the years 1981-1983 hits mentioning hits like Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s the Message, the movie Wild Style and introduces superstars like NWA, The Beastie Boys, Doug E Fresh, KRS One, ICE T, and early Public Enemy.