• Jjm
Bookshelf

Bookshelf: Celebrity portrait photographer and filmmaker Jamie-James Medina shows us his literary inspiration

Posted by Liv Siddall,

Wow, what an honour this is! Jamie-James Medina, portrait photographer of all manner of greats and apparent boxing enthusiast has kindly taken us on an in-depth journey into his unsurprisingly photography-laden bookshelf. From Gilbert & George to 50 Cent, from Christopher Hitchens to Lady Gaga, Medina has shot some of the most revolutionary icons of our time in a polite, sombre style that is utterly his own.

Now, tear your eyes away from that enviable dog and parquet floor for a moment and have a read of this – if it hasn’t inspired you to go and take some photographs by the end of it then you obviously haven’t read it properly.

Leonard Freed: Leonard Freed: Photographs 1954-1990

My GCSE photography teacher introduced me to this book and these images have stayed with me ever since. The book, an early retrospective, followed Freed as he travelled the world documenting his early trips to Amsterdam and Germany, his take on race in America during the 60s, time spent photographing Hasidic Jews as well as the KKK and images from his earlier book Police Work. Freed describes his early life, as “hitch-hiking around, doing nothing in particular. After a while, it gets very boring if you don’t have a purpose.” I understood that photography became his “purpose” and I took that on. 

Working with a Leica camera, shooting in black and white, Freed always seemed to mix personal street photography or snap shots with ‘serious’ photojournalism; two priests lost in a snowball fight in Rome or the skeleton of a soldier; a victim of Israel’s six-day war in 1967, lying in uniform on a beach in the foreground, while a man heads towards the waves in the distance. Freed’s photographs seemed more approachable and believable and more doable than the beautiful compositions of Sebastiao Salgado or the relentless reality of James Nachtway. He taught me that the camera alows you to “wander around with a purpose” and for that I’m very grateful.

Leonard Freed: Photographs 1954-1990

2. Nicole LeBlanc: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx

I only read non-fiction and this is one my favourite books. I moved to the Bronx, New York from London, England 5 years ago and someone suggested I read this book. The writer spent over a decade documenting the struggles of one family in the Bronx, tracing the effects of crime and poverty on love and commitment across generations. The result is a beautiful and tragic story that unfolds like a real-life soap opera – just brilliant, brilliant storytelling here. Its a shame that it takes LeBlanc so long to write books because I’m desperate to read her follow-up, which explores the world of stand-up comedians.
Nicole LeBlanc: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx

LIFE Magazine. July, 1988.

I collect magazines – old LIFE Magazines (anything featuring the work of W. Eugene Smith) and old Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair (featuring anything by Annie Leibovitz). This has to be my favourite issue of any magazine ever. Along with a brilliant cover story documenting newlyweds Mike Tyson and Robin Givens (the marriage lasted less than a year, with Givens claiming spousal abuse. Tyson later admitted that Givens received his best ever punch, “She flew backwards, hitting every wall in the apartment. That was the best punch I’ve ever thrown in my entire life.”), this issue features Crack, the original photo-essay that became Eugene Richards’ legendary book Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue. Further into the issue you find features celebrating 1,000 years of Christianity in Russia, a story detailing Japan’s obsession with France (who knew?) and a ridiculous story titled “Stallone Alone, An amazing side of the actor; his art”, which showcases Sly Stallone’s impressive art collection and not so impressive personal work.

Celebrities will never give the media the kind of access Tyson and Givens (and Stallone) offered LIFE, editors will never allow (fund) photographers like Richards to start dangerous, long-term stories that will one-day become defining bodies of work and we’ll never see this kind of variety (and quality) in one publication again.

ZINES

I love making things and I love people that make things, so I try to collect as many self-published books and zines as I can. Editorial photography and advertising can get so big and complicated, its easy to forget how simple and fun being creative is. I love collecting Noah Lyon’s brilliant Retard Riot zines, limited edition photocopied comic strips that just explode off the page, or finding something like Land of America by Ben Pobjoy, a photographer that randomly decided to travel Greyhound non-stop from Montreal to Mexico and back, documenting the people and places he met along the way. The result is an alternative travel memoir and photographic portrait of adventure itself. If I’m ever feeling lazy, these publications remind me that people are out there doing interesting and exciting things while I’m waiting for the phone to ring.

Boxing books

Outside of photography I love music and I love boxing. I take a lot of photos of music and musicians, but I try to never photograph boxing. The victory, the defeats, the audience, the lighting – its catnip for writers and photographers but I just want to enjoy it. That doesn’t stop me looking at other photographs of boxing like RINGSIDE by Jimmy Fox, which is brilliant. Fox worked as an editor at the Magnum agency and would sneak off to photograph the world of boxing at night over the course of 30 years to create this portrait of the sport. I do believe that boxing is an intellectual sport and I love getting lost in that world; Norman Mailer, A.J. Liebling, Gay Talese and David Remnick – all exceptional writers that focused on the sport. I can waste days reading this stuff and analysing fights.
James A. Fox: Ringside

Ls-300

Posted by Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our editors. She oversees itsnicethat.com and has a particular interest in illustration, photography and music videos. She is also a regular guest and sometime host on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Bookshelf View Archive

  1. Lenka-list

    Artist Lenka Clayton has been a mainstay on It’s Nice That since way back in 2009, whether she’s doing very slow magic tricks, making drawings on a typewriter with friend and collaborator Michael Crowe, or making books about the 63 objects she has removed from her son’s mouth. With such a multidisciplinary practice we knew Lenka would have stacks of wonderful books tucked away, and we weren’t mistaken. “A few years ago I moved to America from England,” she explained, “so I have far fewer books at home than I used to, making this exercise quite easy. The books I chose are the ones that I sacrificed clothes space for in my suitcases.” It seems a good tactic, as these five are a wonderfully eclectic insight into Lenka’s work. Read on!

  2. Unnamed

    As co-founder of London-based studio 8vo, co-editor of Octavo, International Journal of Typography for all of its eight year-long life and now one half of typographic powerhouse MuirMcNeil, you’d imagine that Hamish Muir has built up a fairly comprehensive collection of design and typography-based publications over the 30 odd years he’s been working. Fortunately for you, we’ve done the legwork and gotten cold hard proof of it in the form of photographs of his top five, and it’s even better than we imagined.

  3. List

    Antenne Books is to independent art bookshops what cool kids are to playgrounds – generously exchanging the very best in Pokemon cards from their reserved spot on the climbing frame – except for the Pokemon cards are beautifully made books about art, photography, design and illustration, and the climbing frame is a neat website. They shared five of their favourite out-of-print publications, including some absolute bangers from Ari Marcopoulos and Ed Templeton, leaving us envious and awestruck in equal parts. For their full range, check out their website.

  4. List

    Last week Clive Martin from Vice called him “the David Bailey of grime” which sums up Ewen Spencer’s oeuvre beautifully, really. The documentary photographer has made British youth and subculture his bread and butter, photographing the UK garage scene in all of its gritty glory as well as working for the NME, photographing The White Stripes, making the very brilliant Brandy & Coke and producing a host of books and exhibitions as well. As far as perspectives on Britishness go, Ewen’s is basically unrivalled.

  5. List

    Yesterday marked the launch of the brand new issue of bi-annual hardback Twin magazine, the defiantly substantial glossy publication that clubs fashion, art and culture together through interviews and gorgeous imagery. This issue includes photographs by Petra Collins, an archive of childhood shots of Kate Bush taken by her older brother and an interview with the remarkable Neneh Cherry, so to celebrate we thought we’d have founder Becky Smith show us the five books which have inspired and influenced her. In the process, we learned who her favourite photographers are, whose rare books she’s lucky to have laid her hands on and the unlikely inspiration behind the name “Twin”. Read on!

  6. List

    When we get in touch with the people whose work we admire to ask if they’d like to be involved in the Bookshelf feature, we ask them to pick books which have been particularly inspiring or influential to them in their lives, and this brief might never been more closely followed than by Jessica Svendsen. Jessica is a graphic designer at Pentagram and teaches Typography at both Parsons and Pratt in New York, as well as working on a number of freelance projects which are as remarkable for the degree of research which informs them as for their bold, impactful imagery.

  7. Lisst

    Longtime fans of Toro Y Moi will already know Chaz Bundick to be a man with impeccable visual stylings, and a portfolio which stretches way beyond logos and album covers to include album launches turned art exhibitions, screen-printed posters and a heavy involvement with the concepts behind his music videos as well. Today marks the launch of Chaz’s debut album Michael under the name of his dancier side project Les Sins, which we decided made for an ample excuse to get a look at his Bookshelf. And my god it’s a good one.

  8. List-2

    Where some printed publications shy away from British culture as it exists beyond Union Jack flags and Yorkshire tea in floral china, LAW Magazine, which stands for Lives and Works is already knee-deep in the grit and the grime. Now in its fifth issue, the staple-bound bi-annual describes itself as a platform for “the beautiful everyday… A window into the world of the current undercurrent that nobody is catching and which is therefore of greater importance to document.” It’s a kind of Britishness so ubiquitous that you’d have to be wandering the streets with your head in a bag to miss it – one defined by full-suspension mountain bikes, Sunday League referees, Hackney estate maps and Vauxhall Novas.

  9. List

    Having founded London-based design studio Build in 2001, creative director Michael C. Place has amassed his fair share of books in his time, with a healthy combination of design knowledge to be found tucked between the spines on the studios (admirably well-organised) shelf. We’ve been championing Build’s work on the site for some time now, so what better way to get an insight into the inspirations behind their snazzy work than by hearing from the creative director himself about his favourite reading material? Between Letraset catalogues, reflections on legend Wim Crouwel and Michael’s mate Blam (who has excellent taste in books) we were not disappointed.

  10. Main1

    “In February 2013, 18 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.” That’s the opening statement on the website of graphic novelist Matilda Tristram, who channeled this painful chapter of her life into a bestselling comic entitled Probably Nothing. We interviewed Matilda a while back on the site and were so intrigued by her story, we had to know more. In this revealing, insightful Bookshelf, Matilda shows us the fantastic books that have inspired her to be one of the most important and engaging graphic novelists working today. Here she is…

  11. Main

    Yay! Hato Press! We love them. A lot. Neighbours of ours, Hato have spent the last five years collaborating with some of the coolest young creatives and oldest institutions to create impeccably beautiful printed matter and design solutions. A number of the publications these guys have produced are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure of holding/smelling, and it seems that every single thing they do or work on is covered in a glimmering magic dust that is exclusive to only them. Before you go and wet your pants over their multi-disciplinary work on their very nice websites (here and here) check out the books that have inspired them over the years below. Enjoy!

  12. List

    Satirical artist and very funny woman Miriam Elia is something of a pro when it comes to books; last year she self-published We Go to the Gallery, a satirical reinterpretation of a 1960s Ladybird book which seeks to help parents explain sex, death and contemporary art to their young ones, complete with a handy glossary of new words to learn. She’s since co-curated an exhibition about Pastiche, Parody and Piracy at London’s Cob Gallery, while other past works include I Fell in Love With a Conceptual Artist… and It Was TOTALLY MEANINGLESS about her relationship with Martin Creed. Hilarious? Yes. Yes it is. Miriam’s Bookshelf includes lovingly weathered books about typography, photography, flesh-eating plants and Butlins holiday camps, giving a neat insight into her brain.

  13. List

    John Tebbs is an English gardener who, frustrated by the fact that “many of his working days are held hostage to the weather” founded The Garden Edit in the winter of 2013. His idea was to spend his downtime as productively as possible, creating an online store of beautiful objects which he sourced and sold himself. The resulting curated collection reflects John’s faultless aesthetic, selling “minimal, well-designed products from craftspeople, artists, publishing houses and family-run businesses” alongside a Journal which features short articles by some of his favourite figures about their own horticultural escapades, from rooftop gardens to illustrations of plants.