Before there was the iPad there was this thing called a book.
A photo book in particular. A photo book is, by in large, heavier and quite a bit clunkier than an iPad. It cost much less than an iPad but, of course, it does less. It can’t play movies or your favorite music and you can’t check your email on it.
I’m all for the iPad. It’s quite the thing. But a good photo book does something different, something more magical. It gives you a chance to experience photographs in a manner that no other media, but the real thing, can match.
Perhaps that is why this antiquated, dumber-than-shit piece of old school technology has lasted such a long time.
Years ago photo books were all there was for us photoweenies. Yes, there were magazines, but magazines were pushing news and fashion and lifestyle and well, you get the picture. Photo galleries? Forget it.
Then something very interesting happened. I don’t remember exactly when, but books (in book stores, remember them) began appearing that took fine art photographs and the fine arts photographer seriously.
It was during this era that I bought a remarkable photo book. It may not have been the first photo book I bought, but it is a book that has been part of my library for several decades. I still look at it regularly and although it is almost as beat up as I am, to me it is still magic. It is Conversations With the Dead by Danny Lyon.
I remember first seeing it on a remainder table and purchasing it for $1.98. Had I known what a first edition copy of the book would be worth on the open market today, I would have taken a lot better care of it. Conversations With the Dead changed my perception of documentary photography. It cemented my perception of photography as fine art. It launched a lifetime obsession with learning about and collecting photographs.
As I write this, an original print of the weightlifters (page 129) is framed and hanging on the wall above my computer.
There are many other photo books that have been influential to feeding my photo obsession. The Americans for one. But none has whacked me on the side of the head as strongly as Conversations With the Dead. Not a bad investment for $1.98.
I wonder if someone sitting in a Starbucks today staring at his or her iPad, trolling the web will stumble across a photo blog or a photo website and see a photographer’s work and it will result in a lifelong obsession. I can only hope.
Photo above left: Weight-Lifters by Danny Lyon
All photographs copyright the artist.