Photo Book Review: Mont St. Michel, by Michael Kenna

Kenna msmMichael 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.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Photo Book Review: Bill Brandt, Shadow & Light

BrandtBill 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.

This book, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a retrospective of his work.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Get a Photo Book Every Month with the Charcoal Book Club

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.)

CD Review: The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Read by Jeremy Irons

Eliot ironsT. 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.

Photo Book Review: Ravens by Masahisa Fukase

X1002138 2Called “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.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

The Wizard of Salzburg, by Tim Page – The New York Review of Books

In all, there are 330 compact discs, twenty-four DVDs, two Blu-Ray audio discs, a handsome pictorial biography that would be worth having even without the music, and several booklets. There are 405 hours of music here: the first performance dates from 1938 (the overture to Die Zauberflöte with the Berlin Staatskapelle) and the last from April 1989 (Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, a few months before Karajan’s death). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, which tracks such things, this is the “largest box set ever issued,” eclipsing a 2011 award presented to the late Arthur Rubinstein for the “largest boxed set of recordings by a single instrumentalist” (a total of 142 CDs).

Critic Tim Page reviews the new, big box set of recordings by Herbert von Karajan. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) While the above mentions the largest box set by a single instrumentalist, this new Karajan set also eclipses the 200-disc set of Mozart recordings released in late 2016.

The sheer bulk of the set is overwhelming, and one can’t help wondering who will listen to it all. After all, we live in a world that offers the near-complete recorded output of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi and most of the albums released by Vladimir Horowitz over the course of sixty-one years (as well as a fifty-CD set of live performances that chronicle seismic ups and downs in the last part of his career), and virtually everything Arturo Toscanini, Pierre Monteux, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Charles Munch ever conducted near a microphone. Moreover, if you are growing weary of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, and Itzhak Perlman, you can find the complete records of worthy but not exactly household-name violinists such as Johanna Martzy, Gioconda de Vito, and Eduard Melkus issued in Asia, where there has long been a huge hunger for rare recordings.

We have reached peak classical music. These complete sets are everywhere, but I still await one: the complete (more or less) recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, at least those he did for the major labels, DG, Philips, EMI, etc.

There is a simple reason for this proliferation: reissues are nothing but profit for record companies. There are no studio costs to pay, only a small fee to the musician’s union, and some residuals to the artist or the artist’s estate. It has long been considerably less expensive to spiff up and repackage an existing recording than to make a new one. The first stereo albums of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, for example, sound as though they were recorded yesterday, although some of them are nearly sixty-five years old and every person associated with them is either dead or long retired. Brilliant young performers now have to compete not only with their contemporaries but also with a host of legendary ghosts. Through technology we have established a permanent pantheon of great performances, one that can be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for newcomers to crack.

This is an interesting point. These sets aren’t just about cheap (per disc) recordings of all the major classical works, and many minor works, but they have flooded the market with recordings that will make it much more difficult in the decades to come for other performers to stake out a place.

Source: The Wizard of Salzburg | by Tim Page | The New York Review of Books

Photo Book Review: Paris in My Time, by Mark Steinmetz

Steinmetz Paris CoverWhen we think of Paris and photography, we often think of the black and white street photography of Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, and even Erwitt. These photographers found quirky subjects, yet managed to express the quotidian elements of life in a big city.

Mark Steinmetz’s 2013 monograph Paris in My Time offers the feel of those older street photographs of Paris, yet is much more recent. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) Shot between 1985 and 2011, many of the 43 photos in this oversized book look as though they could have been taken in any post-war decade. With a wonderful sense of humor, and the ability to capture quirky moments, Steinmetz’s collection (nearly out of print) shows a Paris that is both timeless and alive.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Photo Book Review: Instant Stories, by Wim Wenders

Wim wenders instant storiesWim Wenders was long a fan of the Polaroid, reveling in the instantaneous nature of these photos, and their uniqueness, the fact that there was only one copy of them. He shot lots of Polaroid photos, and his foundation recently went through many boxes of old photos to organize them. This book is the result of that organization, and also serves as a catalog of an exhibit held in London at The Photographers’ Gallery. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

But you won’t buy this book for the quality of the photos; this isn’t a book of photos, but a book of stories with photos as illustrations. Wenders recounts his early film career, from the first film he was involved in, an adaptation of Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, through the 1980 film, Lightning over Water, after which he stopped shooting Polaroids.

Read the rest of the article on my photo website.

How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews – The Washington Post

On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.

But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.

Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers.

Amazon.com banned paying for reviews a year and a half ago because of research it conducted showing that consumers distrust paid reviews. Every once in a while, including this month, Amazon purges shoppers from its site whom it accuses of breaking its policies.

But the ban, sellers and experts say, merely pushed an activity that used to take place openly into dispersed and harder-to-track online communities.

It’s tough, with some items, to separate out the fake reviews from the real ones. Amazon does indicate which reviews are for purchases – you can post reviews even if you haven’t purchased an item from Amazon, at least for some product categories – but the way the review-for-sale system works is the sellers “sell” the item for free, or for a nominal fee (such as 1 cent).

I know about this, because I have long posted reviews on Amazon, and am a Vine Voice on Amazon.com, and a top-1000 reviewer on Amazon UK. For a while, I would allow companies to contact me to request reviews, and I did review a handful of products like this, but I stopped, because most of them were crap. I reviewed some electronic product once and gave it one star, and the vendor got really angry at me because they had sent me the item, and expected a five-star review.

I no longer accept unsolicited items, but still write review of things I buy; mostly books, music, and DVDs, but also some other items, if I have an urge to write something when Amazon emails me.

As the article points out, there are certain product categories where this is more of a problem. No-name Bluetooth headphones, diet supplements, even Apple Watch bands; these are the areas where cheap Chinese brands try to game the system. For more expensive products, you can generally trust reviewers, at least if the product is a verified purchase. I look at reviews for audio equipment, camera accessories, and even books, and find them to be, for the most part, honest.

But the system is flawed. You can generally trust those well-rated reviewers, but a former number one reviewer on Amazon.com, who reviewed thousands of books, turned out to have been a fraud, so you never know.

Source: How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews – The Washington Post

Photo Book Review: The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, by Geoff Dyer

WinograndGarry Winogrand was a well-known street photographer who from New York who died in 1984. His work was notably exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967, together with photos by Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, and these three photographers transformed photography.

In this new book (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), author Geoff Dyer selects 100 images by Winogrand and discusses them. For each one, he gives some background, relates them to other photos or films, and contextualizes them in Winogrand’s career, or in the history of photography. But his texts are not dry academic commentary; they are often wry extrapolations about what is happening in the images, inventing characters, imagining what they were doing before, during, and after the photos were shot. Dyer makes up a lot; he creates characters, some that re-appear in other photos; he creates situations; he turns these photos into little bite-sized stories.

Much of what Dyer says – about related photographers – is useful as criticism, but it’s the made-up parts that make this book so interesting. It is not intended to be factual, but rather to be one writer’s imagination of what the photos are about.

Nevertheless, his observations about composition and context are all incisive, and he clearly knows a lot about Winogrand’s work, having had access to a large number of unpublished photos (some included in this book). This is a fascinating journey through the work of a great photographer with an interesting guide who tells fascinating stories.

I’ll note that Dyer is the author of a wonderful book about one of my favorite films, Andrei Tarkovski’s Stalker. His book Zona breaks down the movie into 142 sections for each of the 142 shots in the film.

Here’s a video created by the publisher, with Dyer discussing the book, and showing some of the photos.

And here’s a podcast episode where Dyer discusses the book.