Sunday, November 27, 2011

San Antonio Express-News :: From Uncertain to Blue, Timeless Mexico

From Uncertain to Blue
by Keith Carter
Buy It Now
Timeless Mexico
by Susan Toomey Frost
Buy It Now
Picture books hook the eye
Coffee-table tomes offer wonderment, hilarity, insight.
By Steve Bennett

Betting money says the advancement of the Kindle and the iPad spells the death of the printed book. That could well be. Even though an iPad can link a paragraph on why a cheetah has spots to a video of a cheetah taking down a gazelle, it can't do what a coffee-table book does, which is announce to visitors to your fine home that you are a civilized human being, and that this — your living room — is a center of culture. (Perhaps it says something about your personal economy as well.)

Like a coffee table, you have to get out the Pledge and an old T-shirt and dust off the coffee table book every month or so. Sometimes, you'll find yourself lingering, returning to those paintings by Picasso or those photos of the Beatles.
Even though bookstores are failing, there is still room in the world for the big, bold, beautiful coffee-table book.

Here are a few recent editions that are worth their heft.

Photographer Keith Carter is a Texas treasure. He shows us what life is like — in black and white. In 1986, Carter and wife Pat eschewed an exotic vacation to Morocco and bought a three-dollar Texas map. They circled small towns with names like Diddy Waw Diddy and Noodle, then drove to these dips in the road where Carter made one photograph for each town. The title of the photograph is the name of the burg, although Carter didn't get cutesy and try to make visual poetry out of Poetry — “which,” he says, “was mostly goat ranchers.” The project became his first book. Twenty five years later, Carter has “re-envisioned” “From Uncertain to Blue” (University of Texas Press, $55), with a new essay and an introduction by Horton Foote, into a chronicle of the state and its people that is timeless and universal.

For decades, we saw the world through the lenses of Life magazine's photographers, whether it was the summit of Mount Everest or Marilyn Monroe in a party dress. “Life 75 Years: The Very Best of Life” (Time Home Entertainment, $36.95) captures the moments that have shaped our lives for generations — Robert Capa's “Falling Soldier” from the Spanish Civil War, the Mercury astronauts — in a big (13-by-16-inch) book that lets the images speak for themselves. It also features a keepsake reproduction of the first issue of Life, ads and all, from Nov. 23, 1936. Cover price: 10 cents.

On the family tree of Mexican photography hang the names of master such as Garduño, Bravo (both Manuel and Lola) and Iturbide, not to mention foreigners such as Strand and Weston. At the base of that tree stands Huge Brehme. As San Antonio collector and writer Susan Toomey Frost points out in her gorgeous new book “Timeless Mexico: The Photographs of Hugo Brehme” (UT Press, $55): “Hugo Brehme mentored Manuel Álvarez Bravo in mastering composition and darkroom discipline. His strict training with Brehme served as a springboard for Álvarez Bravo's future work.” Which not only included becoming “the Mexican master of dreams, death and symbolism” but teaching a succession of subsequent great lens men and women. Brehme emigrated to Mexico from Germany just before the revolution exploded and ran his tight-ship studio, producing portraits and postcards, for 50 years, forging a singular vision of a country he came to call home.

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. traces African American history from 16th century slavery through Jim Crow and the Great Migration to the election of Barack Obama in the sumptuously illustrated “Life Upon These Shores” (Knopf, $50). One critic has called the book “a tour de force of the historical imagination.”

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