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Regulars / Bookshelf

Photographer Linda Brownlee on the books she always comes back to

Award-winning Irish photographer Linda Brownlee is known for her documentary approach to portraiture and fashion. Her storytelling is personal and thoughful no matter what the project or client is. Her commissions include work for Another Magazine, The Guardian, Nike, Harpers Bazaar and British Vogue and her film work has appeared on Nowness. Linda shot the images for our Ryan Gander feature last year, which saw her capture warmth within the white walls of a gallery. The photographer explores people’s relationships with their environment and here Linda talks us through the books that have inspired her work, from classic literature to small Alaskan islands.

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Sally Mann: Immediate Family

Sally Mann: Immediate Family

This is an obvious choice and I’m not sure it needs any introduction, but it was one of the first books that absolutely flattened me with its beauty and honesty. It made me want to be a photographer and I still find the images mind-blowing. Mann captures her kids Emmett, Jessie and Virginia growing up in rural Virginia – all of the images are black and while, genuinely and intimately observed, perfectly conveying the innocence and playfulness of childhood.

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Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights

Another classic, I studied this in school and I must have read it over 20 times underlining and making notes beside every paragraph. I’ve never been to the Yorkshire moors but fell in love with the descriptions of the raw and moody landscapes. When I visited the island of Achill on the west coast of Ireland, I felt this must be the closest thing to what I imagined those moors to be. I went on to do a book about Achill’s landscape and the teenagers living there, and I’m very sure the spirit of Wuthering Heights had a fair hand in shaping the aesthetic of the series.

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Raymond Carver: Cathedral

Raymond Carver: Cathedral

I only discovered Raymond Carver’s exceptional poems and short stories a few years ago. I fell in love with the honesty, intensity and brevity of his writing. His stories feel so effortless and uncomplicated, no frills or descriptive adverbs. He makes really sad things and depressing situations so accessible. I could have chosen any one of his books for this, but Cathedral particularly hits home. It’s all about the act of looking being related to physical vision, but the act of seeing requiring a deeper level of engagement. It’s a very affirming story.

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Katarzyna Mazur: Anna Konda

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Katarzyna Mazur: Anna Konda

Katarzyna Mazur: Anna Konda

I picked up this little gem at a book fair on a boat at Paris Photo this year. Anna Konda is a series of images about the revival of wrestling in Berlin with the Female Fight Club. Apparently this underground subculture was big in the 1920s in Germany. There are no official rules, categories and any fighting style goes. The wrestlers in Anna Konda are all shapes and sizes, scantily clothed, and their bodies are bruised and scratched. Mazur’s extraordinary set of images mostly capture the wrestlers mid-fight. The entangled figures claw each other to the ground, on the one hand it feels so fierce and animalistic, but then Mazur captures the inbetween resting moments. The exhilaration, the softer more feminine moments, it’s beautifully shot and the book is so delicately designed. I love the pale flesh colour paper that runs throughout the book. It seems so apt.

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Dana Lixenberg: The Last Days of Shishmaref

Dana Lixenberg: The Last Days of Shishmaref

My friend Tom introduced me to this in 2010 when I was looking to put my first book together. It’s such an inspiring book and part of a much wider ongoing multimedia project which raises awareness around global warming and its impact on Shishmaref, a small island on the west coast of Alaska, in danger of disappearing into the sea. Lixenburg explores the relationship between the community and the bleak and stunning landscape, and throws out questions around identity, place and belonging. For me, she achieves such a wonderful balance in how she combines her intimate portraits with slightly chaotic domestic scenes and immense seascapes to create such a delicate impression of a community.

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John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

This is the catalogue book from John Baldessari’s exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2010. His photo compositions, his narratives, his dots, his use of language make me smile from start to finish. His wit makes conceptual art slightly more accessible for me. I go back to this catalogue sometimes to remind myself to lighten up!