The Place We Live

At a quick count I appear to have ten books by Robert Adams already on my shelves, though I’d be surprised if there were not another one or two lurking somewhere. A few of the ten were review copies, but most I paid good money for; I expect I thought both Denver and The New West were rather expensive when I bought them; the cover price for each was $15, though in a London bookshop at the time they probably cost £15. And of course there are portfolios  by him in various magazines on my shelves too.

Which kind of suggests that I am something of a fan of this work – and I have been since I first saw it in the 1970s. It also reminds me that he has published quite a few books, because there are certainly some that I know I don’t own. At a little over £100, his The Place We Live seems almost certain to fall into that latter category, though as a three volume set with a total of 640 pages it could well represent good value for money.

The Place We Live is a show as well as a book, and is currently at the Jeu de Paume in Paris until May 18, 2014. Although the show was originally scheduled to have a showing in London at the Media Space, this seems now to be the closest it will get to us. But you can view the show on-line at the Yale University Art Gallery. I’m wondering whether to take a trip on Eurostar, but that would cost me about as much as the book, and given the choice I’d probably go for the book.

Forty or so years ago when I first started in photography, it was important to see original prints, partly because there were relatively few books, but mainly because the quality of the reproduction in almost all of them was, by today’s standards, abysmal.  Now it possible to get fairly decent quality in even cheap publications – and even from print on demand companies like Blurb, while some of the best (and most expensively) printed photographic books are superb.  I remember back around 1980 rather insensitively telling a well-known photographer when we compared his print with the page proof from his latest book that the printed page actually reproduced the highlights rather better than his darkroom print. True, but it upset him to be told so. A few years later and this would be almost commonplace, and we began to see duo-tones and tri-tones that did things that were impossible in the darkroom.

Now it is also possible to view images on large high quality displays, and certainly looking at my own images, I often find I can see them better in any print. Images on the web are generally a poor substitute, but the high quality pdfs I’ve made of my books are often better than any print I can make. Of course there are some ways in which a real object is preferable to a digital image (and I have many real prints framed on my walls, along with a few less real), but perhaps the days when you had to see the ‘real thing’ are largely gone. Except for print fetishists.

There is also an article about the show by Aaron Gertler in OUT OF ORDER Magazine and Alexander Strecker blogs about it at Lensculture.

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