Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Booklist for the Holidays

I love reading, and collecting books is a passion of mine. So this holiday season, I have selected 15 books on photography, cinema and the visual arts from my own library to share with you. Most of these books just came out this year (all are still in print) and should be available in your local bookstores.

Vacation time is a good opportunity to catch up on some reading-- in between family gatherings and binge feasting:)  I have read all these books from cover to cover, and have found them invaluable to my own work. I hope you find some of them helpful to you too...

Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a prosperous NEW YEAR!

Have you ever wondered how one work of art could be sold for millions, while another can be almost worthless? Michael Findlay examines this phenomenon in his book, "The Value of Art." He demystifies the process of how art is bought and sold, its commercial and social dimensions while constantly looking beyond the sales numbers to emphasize its essential cultural and spiritual dimensions. As a trained financial analyst, I have always been fascinated with "value" and how we give or assign "worth" to objects and experiences. This book is an enlightening guide to the perplexing and amusing business of Art, for the curious.

Although I also paint, I included this book on this list primarily because I believe that portrait photographers (and cinematographers) can learn a lot from studying formal Portraiture. I can trace a lot of my skills in capturing expression, gesture, personality, emotion and soul (to accurately capture character), through my personal experience of painting and sketching people. When you look very closely at each line and shade on a person's face, taking note of how each muscle contracts and relaxes, you become hyper aware of how our bodies openly express our inner state. "The Society Portrait - from David to Warhol" traces formal Portraiture's development from Napoleon's time to the present, highlighting its progress from one art period to the next-- delving into the changing outlook of society from generation to generation. The book is filled with examples from major of artists, we can all learn from.   
"The Passionate Photographer" by Steve Simon is a great book that fills the gap left-off by most "how to" photography books-- mastering the craft psychologically, translating ideas and thoughts to create great images,  dealing with your fears, gaining inspiration and passion for your art. It is filled with great insights, real world examples and practical tips on how to improve your photography and bring it to the next level. I am already passionate about my work, yet this book has helped me focus on the details of what can make my photography consistently exceptional, and at the same time help keep me inspired.  
Arnold Newman is one of my favorite master photographers. His photography has inspired me from the very beginning and has been one of the main influences for my own portrait work. The book, "Masterclass - Arnold Newman, contains more than 200 examples of his work including iconic portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Chagall, Max Ernst, Andrew Wyeth, Piet Mondrian, John F. Kennedy, David Ben-Gurion, Robert Oppenheimer, James Watson, I. M. Pei, Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein and Martha Graham among many other famous and notable sitters. It also contains a section on Newman's development as a photographer, from his apprenticeship in a portrait studio in the early 1940s to his gradual experimentation with the form, and finally to his own signature abstract, simplified, cropped style that I fell in love with. I highly recommend this book for all Arnold Newman devotees.
John Harrington is the president of the White House News Photographers Association and has worked for the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the National Geographic Society, People and Life. His book "Photographs from the Edge of Reality" takes us inside his career as a photojournalist, from the spring of 1990 when he gained his press pass to shoot President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to his work with current President Barack Obama. I love looking into other people's experiences, and this book gives me a window into the life of a photographer working in the White House, a rare treat.
I highly recommend the "The Street Photographer's Manual" for anyone starting out in "Street Photography." It is the most comprehensive "how to" book I have encountered regarding the genre-- a real manual that covers everything you will need to know to start shooting. But "Street Photography" is so broad and highly individualistic that knowledge beyond this guide, can only and will only be acquired once you shoot... and shoot... and shoot for years to come. David Gibson covers as much of the basics you will need to know, with great examples from his own work and portfolios from other well-known practitioners. I disagree with some of the parameters he suggests in the book, but "Street Photography" is a subjective field and there is no way anyone can definitively tackle every detail.
"The New Street Photographer's Manifesto" is a more condensed version of the previous book. Like "The Street Photographer's Manual" it gives great tips and technical information on how to start shooting "Street," but in a more compact and economical package. Tanya Nagar provides good examples from practicing street photographers as a guide. To me, this book is a good enough backgrounder on the genre to start from. I recommend it highly as a great "stocking stuffer" for any would be street photographer on your list.

"The World Atlas of Street Photography" is exactly what it is, an atlas of "Street Photography" as it is practiced around the world. It highlights some of the more famous practitioners from all over the globe-- from North to South America, to Europe and Africa, all the way to Asia and Australia. The book offers a good sampling of how "Street" is practiced by individual photographers with different sensibilities-- from Joel Meyerowitz to Bruce Gilden, from Daido Moriyama to Martin Parr. With this book, you will get acquainted with some of the more famous street photographers and get to compare their styles, side by side. It is a treasure chest of "Street Photography" ideas and ideology you can mine for your own preferences and style. Jack Higgins' anthology is a great addition to any street photographer's library.

"The Photographers' Sketchbooks" is an anthology of pages from practicing photographers' sketchbooks and notebooks, showing how they methodically prepare or document their work for posterity or for future reference. It offers a plethora of techniques and ways we can journalize our own work into a visual diary for reflection, inspiration and documentation. I love looking at other people's work to get inspiration and this book give us a wealth of processes we can emulate for our own use.

I love collecting filmmaker's anthologies to learn more about their art and their creative processes. "The Wes Anderson Collection" is a wonderful example of this. It contains wonderful behind the scene photos and background information on the production details of Wes Anderson's films-- "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou," "The Darjeeling Limited," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and "Moonrise Kingdom." The book also contains interviews and essays pertaining to each film, as well as storyboards and script notes. If you want to get to know Wes Anderson and his films better or if you are already a fan, this book should definitely be a part of your collection.

This book is the latest addition to my filmmaker collection, so I am still currently reading it. Written by Robert Altman's wife Kathryn Reed Altman and film writer Giulia D' Agnolo Vallan, "Altman" is personal scrapbook/biography of the Film Director by his favorite collaborator and life-partner. The personal and intimate touch by its author is immediately palpable in the easy language and informal snapshots that fill the book-- a lot of the photos included have never been published before, and it reads like a diary interspersed with essays and reviews on Bob and his films. It is a beautiful anthology of Robert Altman's life by someone who knows him best-- a fitting tribute to his film legacy. It is very informative and entertaining too.

Roman Polanski is one of the masters of cinema that I study closely. When I saw his version of Macbeth, I became a lifelong fan. "Roman Polanski, A Retrospective" is a definitive volume on his films to date. The book has wonderful behind the scenes photos and backgrounders on Polanski's filmmaking process as well as the trials and tribulation he experienced in each production, which I mine for tips and techniques which I can utilize for my own work. The book also discusses him in separate chapters in his various roles as Director, Writer and Actor. This book is a treasure for filmmakers and film lovers.

A filmmaker's library would not be complete without a book on Steven Spielberg. Arguably the most recognizable director in the whole world and probably the most documented one too, Spielberg's films are some of the most iconic and well-known movies in the history of cinema. Countless titles have been written on him, and I am sure many more will follow as he continues on making exceptional block-busters for years to come. But "Spielberg, A Retrospective" (like Polanski's) will always be among the exceptional anthologies on him since it is not only comprehensive (covering 28 movies in detail), it is also exceptional-- with over 400 photos (behind the scenes and private) as well as first-person observations and interviews.

"Eye On The World, Conversations with International Filmmakers" is an anthology of interviews conducted by Judy Stone, a veteran writer on international cinema for the San Francisco Chronicle. More than 200 filmmakers from forty countries are included, among them are some of my favorite directors: Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Goddard, Francois Truffaut, Zhang Yimou, Wim Wenders, Alfonso Arau, Richard Attenborough, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luis Bunuel, Milos Forman, Andrzej Wajda and Krysztof Kieslowski. The interviews are insightful and penetrating. I love this book!

I just purchased this last night, but I decided that it is significant enough to be included in this list. As a storyteller (novelist, comics writer, scriptwriter), poet and illustrator extraordinaire, Neil Gaiman will always be mentioned in this blog. "The Art of Neil Gaiman" by Hayley Campbell is a beautiful tribute to the artist. Part biography, part anthology and part scrapbook, the work faithfully represents Neil Gaiman and his art. Like the man himself, the book visually pools together quirky snapshots, illustrations, doodles, drawings, storyboards, posters, news clips, notes and journal entries with anecdotes, interviews, personal accounts and stories into a eclectic mix that can only exist within the mind of the Neil Gaiman-- making this biographic work an artwork in itself. Just like his comic books, the book is "eye-candy" but is a pleasure to read at the same time.