We were blown away by the ineffable goodness of Jeff Mermelstein’s work when we first came across it. A prolific photojournalist, Jeff’s innate curiosity and inspirational debt to the great street photographers has created a body of work with fascinating and fleetingly intimate currents. This week he has chosen his top five photography tomes for our Bookshelf feature – all stone cold classics, narrated in Jeff’s singular voice – however, it does look like all his books appear to be in storage…
The Americans Robert Frank
I was 19, still had a little bit of residual acne, and was a very confused biology major in college. I had already been a photographer of sorts – high school newspaper and so on – but now in my first college photography course I found and met my life-changing teacher who turned me on to real photography, including Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. It was 1977 and The Americans was a required textbook for the course. This book defines “masterpiece” and showed me how pictures can turn your guts inside out with feeling, emotion, soul and social content. It also proved the power of the photobook as photobook.
Diane Arbus: an Aperture Monograph Diane Arbus
Right along with Frank I was turned on to Diane Arbus and her powerful original vision of the bizarre and desperate. This collection of work shook me deeply and loosened my tight suburban-nurtured orientation. I was no longer a visual virgin. Brutal, beautiful pictures. Scary, real.
Lee Friedlander Photographs, Haywire Press
I moved to New York City in 1978 and became a full time intern at The International Centre of Photography. One of my classmates gave me a copy of Friedlander’s Haywire Press collection as a gift. It gave me the ability to visit and perpetually revisit, during my most formative years, the genius of Freidlander and showed me how pictures can be assembled like perfect mathematical equations. Like resonant, complex music where all the many pieces of an image fit together with refined perfection and poetics. A cool, witty, wry response and depiction of ourselves. Dry.
William Eggleston’s Guide John Szarkowski
The invention of colour photography. A vision that dovetails right along with my other earliest heroes. Colour afresh and like a fine wine, taking time to appreciate and crawl into. Once in you can’t leave Eggleston’s uniquely American southern universe. So distinctly American and the south – these are pictures with a southern accent. Humid, taffy-like colour, aromatic pictures, like booze and tears, and coke syrup and guns. Eggleston makes us take in all his gorgeous complex American colours and opens up the possibilities of straight colour photography, period.
Evidence Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel
Found in institutions, corporations and other agencies’ archives, this mind-boggling, deadpan and very funny conceptual collection of images laid down the blueprint for how pictures can look photographically. Photographic. Such a brilliant editing and sequencing of found pictures. One of the greatest photography books ever. It touches the photography part of the brain.