It started with six pieces of Lego. Dan Lyons, former Newsweek technology editor, as well as writer on the HBO series Silicon Valley (and former Fake Steve Jobs), meets a Lego “Serious Play” trainer who asked him to make a duck in 30 seconds. He fretted, then worried, wondering if it was all a trick, before finally presenting his duck to her. It turned out that it didn’t matter what he did, that it was all just a game, a way to jump-start conversation. And that left him rattled.
In his book, Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us, New York Times bestselling author Dan Lyons critiques how this sort of “Serious Play” activity is all the rage in Silicon Valley, as startups and tech companies mess with the heads of their employees. He criticizes how it looks like a “cult of happiness,” which is facilitated through a new way of working.
And if you’re not in Silicon Valley, it’s coming soon to a company near you.
I got three interesting new photobooks this week, and rather than review each of them separately, here are some notes about each of them.
The Landscape, by Don McCullin
Known for his work as a war photographer, Don McCullin has also long shot landscapes, notably near his home in Somerset, in the UK. This book contains five sections. The first contains photos taken in a number of locations, the second photos from Somerset and elsewhere in the UK; the third consists of photos taken in India and the Middle East; the fourth returns to Somerset; and the final section contains photos of Somerset, Northern England, Scotland, and France. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
These photos are all dark; not just black and white, but they contain brooding tones, often with stark clouds, tangled trees, and lots of water (photos of flooding in Somerset). There is a unity among the style of the photos, which cover several decades of work, though not all are really landscapes. Many of the photos from India are of people in a landscape; there are photos of ruins in Palmyra; and there are a few photos of grimy cityscapes in the UK.
Nevertheless, there is something majestic about the darkness of these photos, especially the ones from Somerset, or the astounding photo of Stonehenge (below). This is a composition of vastness, of the spaces in front of his eyes, of the contrast between land and sky, which isn’t always clear. A stunning book of black and white photos.
Michael Kenna, rafu
Known for his beautiful black and white landscapes, Michael Kenna has published his first book of portraits. This slim book contains 41 photos of nude Japanese women. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
In a short text at the end of the book, Kenna explains that he had been shooting nudes in Japan for about ten years, and these 41 photos were selected for an exhibit in Japan, and for this book, out of some 9,000 photos that he had shot.
They have the Micheal Kenna touch; they are square, use a hint of toning, and are not particularly erotic. If anything, they recall Edward Weston’s nude photos of the 1920s and 1930s.
These are subtle photographs where there is much more than the female body being shown, and this slim yet attractive book is a very interesting new aspect of Michael Kenna’s work.
Todd Hido, Bright Black World
Even for someone familiar with Todd Hido’s work, this book is a bit of a shock. In 48 large format photos – some of which fold out to double- or quadruple-size – Hido explores locations outside the United States, with a stunning level of darkness that pervades the works. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
An epigram from Hido sets the tone: “It’s been said that Inuits have many words to describe white. As the polar snow caps melt faster than we ever imagined, I wonder how long it will be before we have as many words to describe darkness.”
There is light in some of these photos, but most of them give off a level of angst that can be overpowering. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful book that is full of moving, atmospheric photos.
Four companies are at the top of the pyramid for technology and digital media: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Each one is very different, but there are many similarities that have helped these companies become so dominant.
Amazon’s reach is extraordinary, with 64 percent of people in the United States being subscribers to Amazon Prime. Apple, while far from being the leader in smartphones, commands one of the highest profit margins in the tech sector, currently around 38 percent. Facebook has two billion users, and four of the five most popular mobile apps are owned by the company. And Google owns 92 percent of the search market.
Much has been written about the successes of these companies, and of the unique qualities of their founders: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page. And much has also been written about how these companies strategically created or took advantage of sectors where they could disrupt existing companies.
Scott Galloway, professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, and longtime entrepreneur, looks at these “four horsemen,” as he calls them, in his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. In his book, he highlights many of the negative aspects of their business models, and their effects on society.
We are all familiar with the expression “timing is everything.” From ice hockey to investing, success often depends on doing things at the right time. But how do we know when it is the right time? Sometimes we can play where the puck is going, or figure out the right moment to act by a careful read of the market, but in other cases the right time depends on us; it depends on us knowing when to do things.
Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets to Perfect Timing, looks at when we should do things to be the most efficient, the most productive, and the most inspired. The “when” he discusses is the time of day, the time of the year, or even the point in a project where we should or shouldn’t do certain things.
He poses a certain number of questions early in the book:
Why do beginnings–whether we get off to a fast start or a false start–matter so much? And how can we make a fresh start if we stumble out of the starting blocks? Why does reaching the midpoint–of a project, a game, even a life–sometimes bring us down and other times fire us up? Why do endings energize us to kick harder to reach the finish line yet also inspire us to slow down and seek meaning?
We’ve all experienced flagging interest in projects, or difficulty trying to make it through the day, the week, or the month, but we generally don’t think that we might have started — or continued our projects — at the wrong time.
The nude female body as a subject has a long history in art, and in photography. In fine art, it has always been more or less sedate – though see Courbet’s L’Origine du monde – but in photography, it has often been more osé. Nude photography follows the unwritten rules of the patriarchy; in most such photos, the woman is an object, often in ludicrous positions, or in situations that serve as nothing more than backdrops to their bodies. Photo magazines are full of nude or semi-nude photos – so-called “boudoir” photography – that serve to codify the tropes of this genre: for example, a naked women in high heels in front of a waterfall. There are certainly many exceptions, and nude art photography – to distinguish it from “I know it when I see it” pornography – can be very attractive, without demeaning its subjects.
Michael Kenna got access to Mont St. Michel at night, when there were no people, and shot these stunning photos of the island and its structures. Often long exposures, he captures this memorable site, its contrasts, and it’s shapes. As always with Kenna’s photos, he focuses on the light and shadow, the subtle contrasts between shades, and the forms and shapes that we often ignore.
Bill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.
I like photography as a hobby, craft, and as an art. If you follow my writings, you’ve seen that both here on Kirkville, and on my photo site (photos.kirkville.com) I’ve written about photo books that I like. I’ve written about books by some of my favorite photographers, such as William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, Michael Kenna, Gary Winogrand, and others.
There are lots of great photo books out there, but there are many by photographers who are not so well known. For example, I recently came across a beautiful book by Mark Steinmetz, Paris in My Time, which contains some beautiful black and white street photos.
I came across the Charcoal Book Club recently. It is a curated, monthly service which sends you one photo book per month. I like this idea, and I especially like that the books that they have sent, and currently sell individually through their store, include some photographers I appreciate, such as Todd Hido, Jan Koudelka, Michael Kenna, and others. There is always the worry that you may get a book you don’t want, but they let you know in advance what the next book will be, and you can swap it for something they have in their store, so I’m not worried about ending up with lemons.
So far I’ve gotten two books, and they are both very interesting, by photographers that I wouldn’t have found easily on my own. The service isn’t cheap – I’ve opted for the quarterly plan, which comes to $60 a book – but good photo books aren’t cheap, and I think it will expand my knowledge of photographers.
If you’re interested in joining, go here, and, when you get to the checkout, enter the discount code KIRKVILLE to save 10%. (I get a lagniappe for each person who signs up with this code.)
T. S. Eliot’s poetry is some of the finest of the 20th century. I’ve long been a fan of The Four Quartets, four long poems that Eliot wrote between 1935 and 1942, which were has last major works in verse. There are a number of recordings of these poems, by Eliot himself, by Alec Guinness, and by Ralph Fiennes, but this recording of the Quartets, along with much of Eliot’s other poetry, sets a new standard. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
From early poems like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Hollow Men to The Waste Land, which cemented Eliot’s position as one of the leading modernist poets in the English language, to the Four Quartets, Irons gives riveting performances of these works. They are slow, measured, with a low, sometimes almost lugubrious voice, that suits the poetry very well. For The Waste Land, he is joined by Eileen Atkins, with whom he alternates parts of the poem.
These works were originally recorded a few years ago for BBC Radio 4, and it’s very important that they are now published on CD. It’s the most complete set of Eliot’s poetry, and the set is about 3:40 long.
I strongly recommend not buying the digital version of this on Audible. I did, and requested a refund, because each poem is listed as a chapter, with no name, just numbering; Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. This isn’t something you will always want to listen to in order, and you may want to pick one or more poems when you listen to it, and it’s a shame that Audible can’t provide chapter names.
There is subtle musicality in Irons’ readings, and he brings out the depth of these poems. If you like Eliot, you must own this set.
Called “one of the most important photobooks in the history of the medium,” Ravens, by Masahisa Fukase, was initially published in i966. With small editions, this book has long been in demand. Mack Books republished this work last year, in a lovely slipcased edition.
As the publisher says:
Fukase’s haunting series of work was made between 1975 and 1986 in the aftermath of a divorce and was apparently triggered by a mournful train journey to his hometown. The coastal landscapes of Hokkaido serve as the backdrop for his profoundly dark and impressionistic photographs of ominous flocks of crows. The work has been interpreted as an ominous allegory for postwar Japan.