"Deep South" by Sally Mann ( Bulfinch Press )
In her latest collection, Mann extends the exploration she began with "What Remains," her study of death that focused on corpses and battlefields. The new book includes the haunted landscapes of the South: more battlefields, decaying mansions, kudzu shrouded landscapes, and the site where Emmett Till was murdered. Using the archaic medium of wet-plate collodion photography, a technique mostly abandoned by the end of the 19th century, she walks right up to every Southern stereotype in the book and subtly demolishes each in its turn by creating indelibly disturbing images that hover somewhere between document and dream.
You could get a headache just pondering the circumstances behind these photographs: a Vietnamese native who emigrates to the United States and then photographs Vietnam war re-enactors in Virginia. Even if the photographs, which also include shots taken in Vietnam and military staging grounds in the California desert, were bad, this would be an interesting book. Luckily, there is artistry aplenty here. The photographer's million-shades-of-gray palette warrants comparison with greats like Robert Adams.
"Yosemite in Time" by Mark Klett, Rebecca Solnit and Byron Wolfe (Trinity University Press)
Rephotographing projects, where modern photographers revisit sites made famous by earlier photographers, can quickly descend into an inside-baseball enterprise. But when the subject is Yosemite, territory so photographed that even people who have never been there know it well, the project works well. Shooting from the exact vantage points first staked out by Eadweard Muybridge and Ansel Adams, Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe awaken our awareness that this is not a static, aestheticized world but a real place where trees grow and die, where change is the only constant. Essayist Rebecca Solnit supplies equally acute text.
"Robert Doisneau: Paris" by Robert Doisneau [Flammarion]
Saying that any one photographer owns Paris as a subject might be one of the silliest claims ever made. But no single photographer has ever had more fun roaming the city, catching it at work and play, at all times of day, in every season. This vast collection of Parisian images by Doisneau (1912-1994) is simply one long love letter in pictures.
Beneath the cumulative weight of hundreds of images, some quite old, some new, every stereotype about the Arab world crumbles. An array of photographers show us war, peace, public life, private life, and as we turn the page, generalities become harder and harder to come by. This is an enchanting demolition of headline generalities.
Even those of us who don't much care for fashion photography and don't much care for the work of the late Richard Avedon have to admit that the fashion world has generated some of the greatest images ever made and that Avedon made more than a few of them. Most of them are here (Dovima with the elephants, the '60s wild-child images of Penelope Tree and Twiggy). But the pictures you keep returning to are quite often of unknowns (a carnival worker in Wyoming) or noteworthy women who were not celebrities (poets Muriel Rukeyser and Marianne Moore). Avedon's deficits (he borrowed shamelessly from his betters and he is almost always too calculating by half) are often on display here, but just as often those negatives are cancelled by his genuine love of women in a multitude of guises. Not his best book (that honor goes to his portraits of Americans out West), but perhaps his gentlest and most heartfelt.
"Jaw-dropping" is hardly the most sophisticated phrase to describe great photographs, but for once it's utterly accurate. Burtynsky has compiled a book-length photo portrait of the new China, a land dominated by vast ruins, demolition, new construction, industrialization and all of it on the grandest possible scale. Even factory interiors seem to go on for miles. And if Burtynsky has a reporter's inquisitiveness, he matches it with an artist's eye for color and design. Shock and awe may constitute our initial response to these pictures, but you'll return to them again and again, beguiled by craft that guided their construction.