Sunday, December 14, 2008

Books that Don't Play Well With Others

I apologized to my host. What could I possibly have been thinking bringing Joel Peter Witkin to a party? Sure the call was to bring photo books to the upcoming holiday gathering of our loosely knit group of San Francisco Bay Area-based Flickr photographers, but why bring Joel Peter Witkin? I was doing fine with my original choice of books—a nice cohesive collection of POD (print-on-demand) samples. I had packed my recent Blurb publication, World Away, for obvious reasons (gratuitous self-promotion!). I brought along Keith Goldsstein’s (Keith15 on Flickr) DIY hardcover, For Earth Below, which I obtained when he and I swapped books. I also wedged into my sack, the second RangefinderForum book, RangefinderForum Photography—A Gathering, which is a nice collection of photos produced using Lulu that unfortunately suffers from some really bad printing. So it was a good sampling of books with an interesting theme, photo book production. Then I had to go and add Witkin’s ‘Disciple & Master’ to my satchel.

Disciple & Master is my latest acquisition. Its been on my list for a while. More accurately, it’s been in my Amazon shopping cart, and while I was doing some online Christmas shopping, Amazon, in its ever vigilant effort to keep me appraised of potential purchases, announced that the book had dropped in price. They just thought that I might like to know about this...opportunity. They were right. I bought the book. Thanks, Amazon!

Disciple & Master is an interesting book. If you are familiar with Witkin’s work, you are probably aware that the photographer’s images are as rich in subtext as they are full of shock value. This book validates the assumption that Wiktin was influenced/inspired by the photographic work of others. Disciple & Master shows many well-known Witkin images alongside the images that inspired them, and precedes the pairing with a brief explanation by Witkin. It’s a interesting concept, particularly when applied to Witkin. If ever there was a photographer who needed such a book! I was psyched. But alas, I forgot about the initial impact Witkin can have on the both the uninitiated as well as the unconverted.

My eager unveiling at the party was met with hesitance, reluctance, and trepidation. Amongst the small group standing nearby, only my astute host had experienced Witkin. The others had that confused look of having seen the oddest and rarest of juxtapositions. Witkin doesn’t mix well or play well with other photo books. Back-to-back viewings of one of his books with most other books is a very odd experience. A nature or animal book was on the table, as well as a few street photography books. Setting Witkin on the coffee table amongst that collection would have been like bringing a possessed Regan MacNeil to a sweet sixteen birthday party at an ice cream parlor.

I apologized to my host for bringing Witkin into his home. We shared a laugh as I tucked Disciple and Master back into my satchel. My other contributions made the rounds and played well. But playing well has more to do with those doing the mixing than it does with those being mixed. Witkin proves (in Disciple & Master) that his images can play well.

I won’t fight the good fight on behalf of Witkin, except to encourage photographers to give him a chance and to read the fascinating text that accompanies the image pairings in Disciple & Master. We should all have such a love and reverence for the art and history of photography that Witkin has.

Photography is a personal journey. Witkin fits nicely on my shelf right next to Doisneau and Friedlander.