Seven new reads for art and photography lovers
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The Roadmaker by James Barnor
(Maison CF / RRB Photobooks, £45)
With his career as Ghana’s first full-time newspaper photographer spanning six decades and two continents, James Barnor has captured Ghana on the cusp of independence, as well as documenting the African and Caribbean diaspora in London throughout the Sixties and beyond. Despite this significant contribution to the culture and history of both Ghana and the UK, Barnor’s work has been largely overlooked in Britain. A new book and retrospective at London’s Serpentine Galleries are shedding light on the 92-year-old photographer’s extensive archive – from his fashion covers for South African magazine Drum to candid portraits of a woman supporting the National Liberation Movement political rally in Ghana. Like the road in the book’s title, these images are “woven in a singular way between Africa and Europe,” says photography historian and curator Dr Damarice Amao in the opening essay.
Selected Poems by Thomas Hardy
(The Folio Society, £295)
Thomas Hardy was a prolific poet who penned almost one thousand poems over the course of his life. An elegant new tome from The Folio Society presents more than 100 of his verses, selected by the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who describes Hardy’s poetry in his introductory essay as “a bitter, beautiful draught to drink at any time.” The poems are accompanied by a series of illustrations by Stanley Donwood, the artist behind Radiohead’s album covers, who travelled to Dorset in search of the sites of Hardy’s poetry. Sketched on torn-out pages of old books and backs of envelopes, the haunting pencil drawings capture Hardy’s melancholic world. Bodoniana-bound in goatskin leather with a poppy-red leather spine and printed cloth sides, each of the 750 limited-edition copies is numbered by hand and signed by both the anthologist and the illustrator.
Falling by Gabby Laurent
(Loose Joints, £22)
Falling asleep, falling in love, falling pregnant, falling behind, falling apart… London-based photographer (and How To Spend It contributor) Gabby Laurent’s new book is a photographic meditation on the everyday act of falling. Drawing on feminist and performative art practices, the series of grainy, out-of-focus self-portraits capture the artist tripping down the stairs, toppling off her bicycle and tumbling through the air. Exploring ideas of control and fate, Laurent’s choreographed falls become a space for self-reflection, allowing her body to surrender to gravity, as well as representing a gesture of defiance as she picks herself up and dusts herself off, time and time again.
The Sistine Chapel
(Callaway, available through Philip Mould Gallery in Pall Mall, £16,500)
The Renaissance painted ceiling inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is one of the world’s most visited spaces, receiving as many as 20,000 visitors each day in the height of summer. A new three-volume, 822-page book now recreates the chapel’s sumptuous frescoes in full gigapixel glory by employing ultra-high-resolution digital photography to capture every centimetre of the chapel in microscopic detail. Using a 33ft scaffold and rig, a team of photographers took more than 270,000 images over the course of 67 nights while the chapel was closed to the public, which they then stitched together using imaging software to produce a one-to-one life-scale rendering of the frescoes by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino and other Renaissance artists. Each 24in x 17in volume is hand-bound in Bodoniana sewn binding in silk with a white calf-leather spine and metallic ink. At £16,500, it is the most expensive coffee-table book ever produced on this scale. A portion of the book’s sales will go towards the Vatican Museums’ ongoing conservation efforts.
Gray Malin: The Essential Collection by Gray Malin
For more than a decade, the famed Los Angeles-based fine-art photographer Gray Malin has travelled the world shooting far-flung locations through a surrealist lens. From balloon-covered llamas on the Bolivian salt flats to beach balls captured mid-air as a troupe of stripy bathers jump into a pool, he has become known for his irreverent and playful style. Now, whimsical photographs from across Malin’s peripatetic career are gathered in a retrospective monograph featuring 300 images from his most famous shoots, with insight into how each series was made, as well as previously unseen works. One aerial shot captures Barcelona’s sandy beach studded with sherbet-coloured umbrellas and beach towels; in another, vibrant lemon-yellow life rings float atop the pristine waters of a resort pool, creating graphical patterns. “I love the composition of octagonal umbrellas, loungers and scattered sunbathers dotting the sand,” writes Malin of the bird’s-eye beachscapes for which he is known. “It’s my universal canvas.”
Nicole Eisenman by Dan Cameron
(Lund Humphries, £39.95)
In a career spanning three decades, French-born New York-based artist Nicole Eisenman has become known for her large figurative paintings that explore ideas of female eroticism, family dynamics and contemporary politics. Weaving together impressionistic and expressionistic styles with elements of pop culture, her comically grotesque compositions depict figures in moments of leisure: guests idly drinking at a dinner party, red wine sloshing out of their glasses; a tennis player mid-game; long-distance lovers on a video call. Now, Eisenman’s work is being examined in a new monograph, arranged into thematic chapters such as “Portrait of the Artist as a Hot Mess” and “Beer Gardens and Bohemians”. In one of her best-known series, Eisenman reimagines the open-air café in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party as a 21st-century New York beer garden filled with string lights and characters with lurid yellow flesh. It becomes, as Dan Cameron observes in the book, a place “where people whom we all feel that we know... get together by night to let off steam.”
Speak the Wind by Hoda Afshar
On the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, off the southern coast of Iran, there exists an ancient belief that the winds have the ability to possess a person, causing disease. As part of a ritual to tame the winds’ harmful effects, the island inhabitants practise a ceremony with incense, music and dancing, in which a hereditary cult leader speaks with the wind to negotiate its departure from the afflicted person. With these rituals as a starting point, Tehran-born, Melbourne-based photographer Hoda Afshar embarked on a project to document the islands’ landscapes and people, whose customs and topography have been shaped by the wind over millennia. The resulting photo series, gathered in the new monograph Speak the Wind, captures the islands’ beauty and mysticism – silvery black-sand beaches, jagged salt mountains and hulking rock formations in shades of pink and fiery red – alongside drawings sketched by the islanders. It is, as anthropologist Michael Taussig observes in the accompanying text, a place that “at times seems crafted by human hands on the scale of giants”.
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