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Sequentially Yours Hardcover – October 15, 2011
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"A master of capturing poignant moments; a sustained meditation on photographic grace; a gifted storyteller's vignettes, told frame-by-frame." ~American Photo Magazine
"Seqentially Yours provides a perfect, original and refreshing context for his intuitive and instinctive images. His playful humor and wit are as sharp as ever. Here, Erwitt gives you a sense of what happens next, the end point being sometimes comic, sometimes poignant and often with a wink." ~Time Magazine (Lightbox)
"Mr. Erwitt has a gift for clicking off multiple photographs of a single scene, finding and preserving evanescent moments likely to leave the viewer alternately laughing or enrapt." ~The Wall Street Journal
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So it gives me some unhappiness to rate this book down a bit. The repro quality is very good and you can read it without hiring an assistant to hoist the pages. But I found the actual sequences to be warm and cold, with the bias leaning toward tepid. Few offered evidence of the humor or keen observation that's such a hallmark of Erwitt's best work. Many were downright dull, amounting to no more that selections from a contact sheet. They were mostly just ... more photos of the same scene. I got the feeling that we might be seeing a bit of late-career reaching for
But what really bugged be is the frequent, and utterly pointless, double-truck spreads. The absolute worst was the image of a Mohammed Ali fight which completely obscured the fighters in the book's gutter. Others had the effect of splitting a frame into two separately-composed images. When will publishers just stop doing this krap? It's just awful.
If the book was $30 I might keep it. But at over $50 I am returning my copy, something I very rarely do with a book. But there's simply no reason to keep it; I've much better samples of Erwitt's work in his earlier books and this adds nothing.
Some of the shots are of famous people. There is a whole series--24 shots-- of the actors, director, crew et al of the movie "The Misfits," that as I recall, was the last film that Marily Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable made, culminating with the final photograph that I conveted several years ago in a fine photo gallery in the French Quarter in New Orleans but could not afford. Mr. Erwitt also includes a sequence of the famous shots of Ms. Monroe with her white dress blowing from "The Seven Year Itch." Che Guevara, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazer, Nikita Krushchev and Richard Nixon and Cartier-Bresson are the other well-known individuals in the book.
Total strangers, however, are just as captivating. Many of them will make your smile. Others are poignant. I was particularly moved by the sequence (beginning on page 175) of the woman visiting, along with her dog, a cemetery in Saint-Tropez, France. She gently places flowers on a gravestone of a husband, a parent-- God forbid a child-- while the dog looks on. In the final shot she is gone but the dog remains to roll over and have a bit of fun-- whatever the word is in dogspeak-- after such a serious event.
Is the man trying to pick up the young woman in the beach sequence in Brazil (pp. 18-21) or do they already know each other? We will never know but that makes the sequence all the more intriguing. And wouldn't you like to know what the old Parisian gentleman with the walking cane (pp. 130-135) says to the dog before he walks on? Or what these men are saying in the series (pp. 168-174: Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Italy, 2002)? Is it a protest of some sort?
Some of the shots obviously were staged. The photo of the nude pregnant woman followed by the same nude woman with her baby lying in front of her is a good example. On the other hand, Mr. Erwitt has worked his magic in most of the shots with his subjects being unawares. He was often at the right place at the right time. But to quote Pascal, chance favors the prepared mind. In his very fine forward, Marshall Brickman says something similar: "But luck favors the prepared." Further commenting on the dog pictures of which there are so many in the book, Mr. Brickman says that "I'll bet a dollar that in many of the dog pictures, it was the dog, not the photographer, who had the idea." Certainly the objects he lists that can be found in Mr. Erwitt's apartment and work shop, three of which are a wooden hand-model with articulating fingers, "the middle finger raised in classic vulgar salute," a metal wind-up chicken and a strap-on pig-nose frm a party store are an indication that we are dealing with someone with a wonderful sense of humor, whom you can tip your hat to!
A fascinating, terrific book to be perused again and again.
This retrospective of Erwitt's photographs ranges from 1951 through 2011, and many of the images are instantly recognizable, e.g. Marilyn Monroe's wafting white dress from the set of "The Seven Year Itch" (1954). But my favorites are the empathetic shots of ordinary folks. Some are gently humorous, such as the two images of Hungarian girls leading, then following a flock of ducks (1964), but I never get the feeling that the photographer is laughing at his subjects.
Just as the human brain constructs colors from different vibrational frequencies of visible radiation, it constructs stories from Erwitt's sequences of images. There is a trio of photographs that he took at the seashore in Blackpool (1975): a mother points her young boy at the sea, which he has obviously never seen before; the boy marches bravely toward the water as she shouts encouragement behind him; in the last photograph, the woman is staring at the sea and the little boy is no longer visible. My mind interprets this sequence with a profound sense of poignancy and loss. You might feel the mother's pride in a job well done, or her fond recollection of her own first visit to the seashore. The very best photographers do not shout at us. They allow us to interpret their work through our own memories.
As Marshall Brickman says in his marvelous introduction to this book: "...when things get dark in my own life, I'd rather look at something by Elliott, because even his most 'serious' images convey a feeling of empathy, and his subjects, whether human or canine, invariably project authenticity and intimacy and tenderness. His subjects are not objects; they're fellow beings, no better or worse than he, and he treats them as such."
***review copy supplied by publisher