Thursday, 19 October 2017

City of contrasts

The black cover and inset photo of a couple almost in silhouette perfectly capture the book's subject and inside the two hundred photos from Fred Lyon deliver a unique view of San Francisco. Some of the street scenes could almost be stills from classic noir movies like John Houston's The asphalt jungle or Fritz Lang's Clash by night. The short essays at the front of the book don't date any of the photos but I think most were taken from the mid-fifties onwards.

Nearly all the daytime street scenes have wonderful dark areas even though they are a more documentary type of photo like the shot of the Theodore School of Music on Union Street (the front is a cross between a piano and an accordion) the entrance to the Morris Gift Shop designed in 1947 by Frank Lloyd Wright or several shots of the famous 1933 Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill Boulevard. Other ordinary street photos capture people looking in shop windows, workers in the fruit market, cable cars or pedestrians just crossing the road and almost in silhouette.

The first half of the book are more or less San Francisco by day then Lyon's work really comes alive with his night shots, using street lights, neon and headlights to capture some stunning street scenes of traffic, shops, movie houses, strip joints and bars. This section also includes several pages of nightlife interiors  like the Black Hawk with drummer Shelley Manne and a shot of Kenneth Rexroth reciting during one of his poetry and jazz sessions at the Cellar Club. There are also a few experimental shots included of a casino, multiple exposures of neon signs and musicians using long exposures.

I think it's worth commenting on the book's interesting production. In keeping with the noir feel of the pictures several pages are solid black facing a photo or a page and a half photo with half a page black to complete the spread, all this complements Fred Lyon's creativity. The images were printed as duotones with a two hundred screen on some lovely semi-matt gloss paper (which unfortunately means that the solid black pages tend to pick up finger marks).

Mister Lyon captures the City by the Bay perfectly.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Look and learn

Twenty-three art masterpieces for your children to pore over. This book carries on the theme of the author's first book (Masterpieces up close, also published by Princeton Architectural Press) with a painting on each spread and ten or twelve numbered circular sections from the art surrounding the picture. All the paintings are full of detail so it's not easy to find each circle's location, the ideal format to encourage children to look and look.

I thought the selection of art was interesting, not just western paintings but a thoughtful collection including an Egyptian papyrus, from around 1300 BC, a fifteenth century Arabic manuscript and an Aztec one from the sixteenth, a painting from Japan and right up to Jackson Pollock's 1952 'Convergence'. Ten pages after the paintings give some interesting historical background about culture, painting techniques of the period and various art 'isms'.

Give up trying to find circle ten in David Tenier's 'Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his gallery in Brussels' (a wonderful work showing a room in gallery with at least thirty other paintings) the author cleverly provides the answer in two spreads at the back of the book. This has a small version of each piece of art on a flap, lift it up and the painting is repeated with numbers identifying the position of each circle. There's even more because the underside of the flap has a brief biography of each artist.

With two hundred pieces of paintings to find I think this is a fascinating way to introduce centuries of art to young minds and they'll enjoy the colorful way all the material is presented throughout the book.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The world of qwerty

Who would have that thought old tech was so fascinating especially when this technology was  simply pressing a key to get a letter on a piece of paper. The eighty typewriters in this lovely book are a celebration of the inventor's art, least the early models sold before 1900. The first model shown is the 1874 Sholes & Glidden Type Writer and the first to have a QWERTY keyboard that's still with us today though unlike contemporary typewriters it wasn't possible to see what was being typed in capital letters only.

I find it odd that not being able to see the typing was a common feature of so many machines (they're known as blind writers, the typist had to lift the carriage to see their work) and still being sold even after 1893 when the Daugherty Visible solved the problem by showing what was being typed. The 1892 Duplex was an inspired idea, it had two alphabet keyboards (with twice as many typebars) one for each hand and it was supposed to speed up typing by having the left hand start a word and right hand type the next letter with the third letter typed by left hand and so on, the Duplex folk soon gave up on that model. There were several machines on sale that only printed one letter at a time but were much cheaper than those with a full keyboard though they look more like children's toys.

It was around 1900 that typewriters settled down to the now familiar shape, the four bank qwerty keyboard, typists could see their work, caps and lower case, tab stops, adjustable margins, backspaces et cetera were all available. The 1901 Underwood 1 for a $100 had it all and it was the machine that inspired manufacturers for the next fifty years. You might think that electric typewriters were a post WW2 development but page 152 shows the 1924 Woodstock Electric (Model E) apparently rather noisy, other companies soon took up the electric idea. The author has included a couple of musical note typewriters, a 1936 Corona Sterling and the 1953 Keaton which typed notes with a vertical carriage on an upright piece of pre-printed notation paper. IBM introduced their famous Selectric 721 in 1961 with 2,800 parts and 300 adjustment options. The big idea was to use an incredibly fast moving ball to type the letters on stationary paper and up to fifteen letters a second, much faster than any typist.

This landscape shaped book has a spread on each typewriter (all from the author's collection) with details of each machine on the left and a large photo on the right-hand page, a few visually interesting models have an extra spread of photos like the intriguing looking 1896 Oliver which has the typebars in a U shape either side of the printing point, ignore the keyboard and it doesn't even look like a typewriter. The back pages have a glossary, bibliography and index. Nicely the whole book is set in a very readable typewriter font.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Pharma photo

It's intriguing to come across a photobook that looks at an unusual subject, in this case pharmaceuticals. The Montreal based Pharmascience asked Deborah Davis to curate a photo collection to be displayed throughout their building. The collection now has over two hundred and twenty works and this well printed book (three hundred screen on a gloss art paper) includes seventy-six of them with other images in the two illustrated essays.

What I found fascinating looking through the book were the number of well known street photographers including Callahan, Croner, Eggleston, Epstein, Erwitt, Evans, Friedlander, Herzog, Klein, Leiter, Maier, Meyerowitz, Owns, Parks, Sherman,Shore, Sternfeld, Weston  and Weegee who had all included a drug store in their work, mostly unintentionally as drug stores, like gas stations are an everyday part of American commonplace.

Work from other equally well known photographers (like  Abbott, Atget, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Penn, Sander) reveal interiors of drug stores, still life, portraits and historical images from Europe dating back to an 1850 shot of the inside of a pharmacy by Charles Negre. All the photos and this includes some mixed media, are drug related in the widest possible sense though oddly there are no contemporary colour photos of drugs being manufactured

In the front pages there are two illustrated essays, curator Deborah Davis explains how the collection started and photo historian David Campany considers the significance of this expanding Pharmasceince photo collection. I found the book and it's photos quite fascinating even though it's about one subject.