New York-based photographer Charlie Engman’s work is always the perfect balance of surprise, intrigue and humour, managing to be aesthetically pleasing but also challenging. When we wrote about the re-design of his website back in January we spoke to him about the “idiosyncratic, incidental, arbitrary, marginal and messy,” manner in which he works. Intrigued to find out more, we got in touch and asked him to share some of the books that have inspired his distinctive output for this week’s Bookshelf.
“I’m an obsessive book collector,” he tells It’s Nice That, “choosing five was impossible, I just picked the first ones that came into my head.” Both the image of Charlie’s bookshelf and his eclectic selection are a testament to that statement. From an entire book dedicated to Japanese display design in the 1990s to an incredibly trendy documentation of a barber shop in West London, the books below go some of the way to decoding Charlie’s signature visual language.
Pekka Ikomi and Stephen Sullivan: Diligence, Volume One
I found this in a small barber shop in Oxford’s covered market years ago when I was a student there. I picked it up while I was waiting my turn for a haircut, and it was so viscerally inspiring to me that I ran out with it without getting my haircut. I needed it! Everything about it is amazing. The artistry of the hair, of course, but also the photography and the layout… There are a million and one ideas in here. Turns out it’s from Diligence Barber Shop in West Ealing (they have a nice Instagram, too), but I haven’t been able to find more volumes…
Shōzō Inamura: Sucre, a Technical Textbook for Hard Candy
This book teaches you how to make sugar sculptures. What can I say – sugar is a beautiful material. I also have an obsession with instructional photographs, especially disembodied hands engaging in some kind of aestheticised problem-solving. I have literally hundreds of these kinds of illustrated instructional books. The images are supposed to be neutral and mute, but they all have their own little idiosyncrasies and beauties.
The Fairburn System of Visual References: Set 1 Book 3; Male & Female Situation Poses & Hands (1974)
I have a big collection of these Fairburn System books. They were originally meant to help people learn to draw, but they have so much going on. The deeply 70’s mannerisms of the models are one thing, but also the incredibly haphazard layouts… Look at the page of the guy on a ladder! That artlessness is brilliant.
AG Publishers, issued by Wada Kōtarō, photographed by Takashima Ken’ichi: P.O.P (Point of Purchase) Design from Japan (1996)
This is one of a whole series of amazing books from AG Publishers about Japanese display design in the ‘90s. I’ve always been personally obsessed with methods of display, from graphic design to framing to shelving, and this is the next level! So many ingenious solutions from that period when Japan had more money than it knew what to do with and made the best, least risk-averse advertising the world has ever seen.
Kjell B. Sandved and Michael G. Emsley: Insect Magic (1978)
Sandved was an incredible nature photographer for the Smithsonian Institute —I have all his books. His photographs are so smart and considered, but they also yield to his admiration of the subject matter with enviable poise. (The layouts are great, too). This one is a particular favourite because I love bugs.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.