Thursday, February 05, 2009

I stumbled on a couple great book deals at the Borders store in Albuquerque. I thought the $14 I paid for the Taschen edition of Karl Blossfeldt; the Compete Published Work was an excellent price, but it turns out that Amazon has it for ten bucks. Images in Stone by David Muench really seemed like a steal at $5 for a large format photobook with scores of luscious photos of rock art. Price aside, the books show the work of a couple long time favorites of mine who are dealing with subject matter I have often grappled with myself.

Aside from the excellent quality illustrations in the Blossfeldt book, the text with its detail on the photographer's life and experience was also very enlightening. The pictures are deceptively simple in appearance. The plants are all photographed with macro techniques and the prints show them at ten or twelve times magnification. There is very little variation in the lighting of the specimens and all focus on the plants' fundamental structural characteristics. Underneath that apparent simplicity in composition, though, is a great amount of sophistication. Blossfeldt had extensive training as an artist and a craftsman in his youth, and he brought that experience to bear full-force on his botanicals. It is a good reminder that in-depth understanding can illuminate seemingly simple subjects in unexpected ways.

David Muench's handling of his subject matter is similar in a way to Blossfeldt in that he is able to get a great deal more than most of us who like to snap pictures of ancient rock art. Although the subject matter is static in a way, the light that illuminates it is constantly changing through the day and the seasons. Rock surfaces can be extremely hard to photograph well because of small, strong spectral highlights, and the scratched, chiselled and painted designs seem to just fall apart in front of the camera if approached too closely. Muench overcomes these obstacles with cumbersome large-format photo equipment and a variety of choices and techniques that really convey the experience of an actual viewing of the ancient art works.

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