Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Jon and his succulent ladies

Regular readers of ladies consumer magazines of forties, fifties and sixties will be familiar with the art of Jon Whitcomb, either through his paintings for their editorial pages or the ads. His forte was the female face and the book has page after page of spreads from Collier's, McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook and especially Cosmopolitan where he illustrated romantic fiction with a large female face or partial figure and a man always involved. To a certain extent he seems to have been type-cast for this role, the paintings were that good. Not just ladies' faces but children too, pages 146--151 has eighteen covers he did for Good Housekeeping in 1940 and '41. Later pages have eighteen Cosmopolitan covers some of which are portraits of movie stars. Whitcomb was obviously in demand by ad agency Art Directors to use his face technique for selling, in particular Community Plate used the art for years to sell their cutlery (eighteen ads are shown).

The book reveals his life with a thirty page illustrated essay followed by work examples. It's the magazine fiction spreads that I liked best, if only there were more. I thought the weakest pages were the forty-two titled 'Jon Whitcomb's Page' from Cosmopolitan during the fifties. Such was his fame that the magazine gave him a page in each issue to illustrate how he liked, the art here is much more casual than the tight compositions used in the fiction or ad illustrations.

Overall an excellent book about this well known commercial illustrator, I doubt there will be a better one though I have a couple of comments about the production. The binding is too tight so that the book really doesn't open flat and the pages sort of close themselves if the book is left open, Auad Publishing with illustrator titles on Al Parker or Albert Dorne have much more user friendly binding. Lots of the reproduced editorial spreads exist as two pages with a quite noticeable white gap between each page, they should have been butted together to make an acceptable spread, a quick bit of Photoshop would have solved this.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The master of mature color

The original 2011 Hatje Cantz book about Herzog.

I reviewed the first Hatje Cantz book on Herzog published in 2011 and I said it was a shame the book wasn't bigger, this gorgeous, large book of his photos solves that problem. I also said:
It's the color in these photos that fascinated me. Herzog used Kodachrome slide film and the colors have a warmth and maturity that definitely adds to their beauty, especially the incredibly vibrant reds and oranges. The only other photo book I've seen with pictures from the past, that has this richness of color is Bound for Glory: America in Color 1939-43 with images from the well known FSA/OWI photographers.

Herzog was experimenting with color long before it became accepted, in the mid-seventies, as a serious photographic form. The Vancouver color photos are all street scenes showing everyday life with traffic, shoppers, sides of buildings, and lots of signs. He says that the work of Walker Evans influenced him especially the American photographs book and of course Robert Frank. There are many shots that are saturated with signage typography and Vancouver did a nice line in gigantic upright neon signs spelling out the name of movie houses, a sort of electronic DayGlo.

I believe the 230 photos includes the ninety-two in the 2011 book and there are some black and whites also. David Campany makes an interesting point in his essay: 'With great consistency he averaged two films a week. That amounts to well over 100,000 exposures'. I'm hoping that means more books of Herzog's photos. My only very minor criticism is that I would have preferred to have all the Vancouver shots as one chapter and the work from other cities and countries as another.

I think it's worth commenting on how inexpensive this thick book is, printed on a good matt art with a 175 screen, from other art book publishers it would cost a lot more, even at full price it's a bargain.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Landscape man

A beautifully produced book celebrating the work of Lewis Baltz and published in conjunction with the Fundacion MAPFRE gallery in Madrid, he helped with the planning of the show but unfortunately died in 2014 so this is the first retrospective of his photographic creativity.

The book's format is divided into historical sections relating to Baltz's work, though the first The Prototype Works: 1967-76 displays eleven general photos but the rest of the pages present a sampling from each book or exhibition, for example The new industrial parks near Irvine, California, 1974 has seventeen of the original fifty-one, San Quentin Point, 1981-83 twelve of fifty-eight, Candlestick Point, 1987-89 seventeen of eighty-four, Sites of technology 1988-91 eleven of fifty-three (these are all color photos). The last page of each photo section has thumbnails of all the originals.

There is an interesting thirteen page interview (published in 2014) with Baltz and David Campany and this is placed between the topographic photo sections and the remaining six. These have a much broader scope than the changing landscape in the west, for which he is rightly famous and look at politics, surveillance and (I thought oddly) murder with Baltz as a writer. There are also examples of his video work.

The book has 620 photos (this includes the several thumbnail sections) and I thought it was an excellent overview of a photographer who made a huge contribution to American art in the last century.