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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

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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 also runs our London listings site This At There, and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.