Books on African Photography / Photographers

March 26th, 2010

African Photography

a selection of books on African photographers/photography

I just received my review copy of Zwelethu Mthethwa’s monograph published by Aperture. So excited! This is his first monograph and a monograph I have been waiting for for years. Joerg Colberg recently reviewed the book on his blog Conscientious and my review will be published by photo-eye. Colberg, or anyone for that matter, should definitely not be looking at traditional media for guidance in learning about the nuances, diversity, vibrant culture, art, and photographic discourse of Africa. About the monograph he said, “I really hope that Zwelethu Mthethwa will not be the last book of its kind, showcasing photography done by African artists. We need to see more.” I agree, in the sense that we need more monographs. Where are monographs for Lolo Veleko and Philip Kwame Apagya for example.

My interest in contemporary African photography developed in graduate school. Okwui Enwezor is my favorite curator. Half of my photography collection is dedicated to African photographers and I have a wide range of books on African photography. In light of Colberg’s search and a recent #photohistory discussion on Twitter, I wanted to offer a partial list of books dedicated to African photography from my library – a good place to start for anyone interested in this history of photography.

Snap Judgments (ICP/Steidl, 2006)

Rencontres Bamako 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009

Anthology of African & Indian Ocean Photography (Revue Noire, 1998)

In/sight: African Photographers 1940 to the Present (Guggenheim Museum, 2003)

The Short Century (Prestel, 2001)

Flash Afrique! Photography from West Africa (Steidl, 2002)

You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe (Harvard Art Museum, 2001)

Africa Inside (Noorderlicht, 2000)

Malick Sidibe: Photographs (Steidl/Hasselblad Center, 2004)

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere Photographs (Scalo, 2000)

Fifty-One Years: David Goldblatt (Actar, 2001)

“Talk of the Town: Seydou Keita” by Manthia Diawara in Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace (MIT Press, 1999)

Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art

and of course Zwelethu Mthethwa (Aperture, 2010)

And you can read about James Pomerantz’s class on African Photography on his blog A Photo Student.

I would love to hear from anyone about this subject. Please get in touch if you are a photographer, curator, writer, scholar, etc. I am specifically interested in what material/photographers are out there from East Africa.

Book Review: Bird Watching by Paula McCartney

March 6th, 2010

Bird Watching Paula McCartney bookBird Watching
Photographs by Paula McCartney. Texts by Darius Himes and Karen Irvine
Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2010
120 pp., 40 color illustrations, 8×10″

Paula McCartney has been making unique and limited edition artist books for many years. She sees the book as a medium and visualizes much of her photographic work in book form, many of her photographs exist only in the artist book. McCartney’s first trade edition, published by Princeton Architectural Press, will be welcomed by individual collectors interested in McCartney’s work, as it is both affordable in comparison to her artist books and beautiful. The monograph is an expanded version of her artist book Bird Watching and includes every image from the series. Mimicking a private field guide journal, McCartney takes the reader on the most successful bird watching quest, or so it seems at first glance.

Paula McCartney
McCartney meticulously notes all the necessary details for credible bird watching – name, location, date, size, coloring and remarks. She also includes drawings, diagrams, plant specimens, a life list, and journal-like notes about her bird watching travels. What makes this book obviously much more than a personal field journal are the added elements of context – essays by Karen Irvine and Darius Himes, the playfully subtle references to the creative fiction McCartney has crafted (the map of “Migration Patterns of a Bird Watcher”), and, of course, the photographs. No bird watcher could ever capture what McCartney has captured in her images. McCartney set up her camera just feet away from the birds – an unrealistic closeness – as though she said, “Hey bird, stay right there. Let me take your picture. Could you move a little more to the left on that branch? Okay. Great. That’s the shot!” McCartney has taken the watching, the waiting, and the long lens out of bird watching to create stunning photographs of forests and brush with perfectly placed birds – and I do mean placed. McCartney has wired these birds to their branches in the real natural environment. As opposed to McCartney’s earlier series “Bronx Zoo” of real birds in constructed habitats, she reverses the elements, putting faux birds in the real environment and does so in a much more convincing way than pink flamingo lawn ornaments or deer statues on the woodland edge of a suburban lawn.
Paula McCartney
Realizing this forgery, I started to question many things in the book. Can one actually find a Northern Cardinal in Oregon at all? Are the plant specimens real? I am caught up in McCartney’s fictitious creation, but I don’t mind. I quietly observe the peaceful birds in what may or may not be their natural habitat, and find humor in the flatfooted Winter Bluebirds wired onto their tree branches. Unworldly skill would be needed for McCartney to have captured the exact transitional moment when a bird releases its grip from the branch before it starts to hop or fly away.

I’m not an armchair traveler but I am definitely an armchair bird-watcher with Paula McCartney’s Bird Watching, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Originally published in photo-eye magazine, March 5, 2010. Books can be purchased through photo-eye.

Bird Watching is on view at KLOMPCHING March 4-April 23, 2010; Paula McCartney and Darius Himes discussion and book signing March 6, 2010 from 1-2pm at the gallery. That’s today!

An interview with Paula McCartney about visualizing her work in book form and her journey in making the artist book Bird Watching into the trade edition is included in the forthcoming book Publish your Photography Book! by Darius Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson, also by Princeton Architectural Press, Fall 2010.

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