Books


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Collaboration between two people can be challenging. Mixing, matching, trying to push a medium - it's difficult. Coming to a deeper understanding through interactions of people has its rewards. Two plus two isn't always simply just a four. Such is the case with Thomas Roma and Giancarlo Roma's book The Waters of Our Time. The book, out for the first time in hardcover, is irrefutably one of the most rewarding reads I've ever had in one sitting. It sucked me in - I couldn't stop myself. It tugs at you; it's intimate and intrinsic like looking through the family album, listening to your favorite song, and reading that poem you love over and over again because you just can't help yourself. These wonderful men have built a personal backyard for themselves and their readers. The book couples together Thomas' photos - images taken over the course of his entire career - and the words of his mindful son Giancarlo, who was always absorbing and watching. It's inspired by, and an ode to, Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes' book The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Thomas and Giancarlo stress to me how important it is to enter into a conversation with history.

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© Thomas and Giancarlo Roma

Both men are inside each other. Chatting with them it became obvious that it's always been that way. They're more than just father and son, and what reads so clearly in their book is that their words and images are meant for everyone. The Waters of Our Time holds a universal truth; it's a reflection on finding identity and finding one's own flesh. "It's hard to love someone sometimes. Being a part of each other's successes and failures." It's interesting to watch how Thomas talks to me, and looks over at his son. Thomas didn't originally intend for the words of the book to be written by his son, in fact he'd planned on someone else filling that role. "Giancarlo went to my wife and asked for the layouts. I had no idea." We chuckle over the notion of son asking mother (Anna) for his father's goods. Thomas has an incredible sense of design in his books; he knows as much about shaping the landscape of a layout as he knows about taking a really great photo. Giancarlo's words flow through the space between the photographs. There is a kind of reverberation in that space and throughout the spreads. Something almost extra sensory is happening and it isn't out of bounds to think of it as a kind of synesthesia.

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© Thomas Roma

Reading through The Waters of Our Time, suddenly the reader may realize this isn't purely a visual book, nor is it just words on a page. It's thrilling, and hearing the sounds of this book is inescapable! Giancarlo tells me, "It happened on its own. I locked myself in my room and was totally consumed by writing these words." During our interview I keep taking note of these two hugely talented men's expressions and how they look at each another. It's so important to note that they both seem welled up with huge emotion and love. At some points they're almost crying; it is definitely from joy. The book is a conversation between two people who love and respect each other very deeply, it's more than just the blood they share. Without needing to hear them say it this book reads as one of the most important things either one has done in his life. All the while the words are very aware of the images and the photos support the structure of the story. And then Thomas comes in demonstrably, "I hate all this tribalism in the world today! I want to see people excel without separation! These photos - this book - is for everyone!" Thank you Tom! I don't think there's any better way to put it.

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©Thomas and Giancarlo Roma

The Waters of Our Time becomes personal, both in message and in size. It always was about being close to the heart, being pocket sized. It is approachable and almost jaunty in its synergy. There's a somberness to it of course, but it's regenerative in its mission and achievement. The book does something hugely well: it raises consciousness and reminds us that we are all special. Maybe sometimes special just because. It is able to be as complex or as simple as the reader wants it to be. The Waters of Our Time is about everyone and that sense of togetherness.

Get your hands on this beautiful book by clicking here.

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© Thomas Roma

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© Thomas and Giancarlo Roma

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© Thomas Roma

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© Thomas Roma

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From Photography Is Magic, By Charlotte Cotton © 2015 published by Aperture


The world of photography is changing and evolving, fast, right now. It is seemingly unstoppable, verging on out of control. That's not a bad thing necessarily, just an observation. It's an exciting time, mixed in with a whole lot of confusion and potential. In many ways so many people are paying attention to photography, however in other ways because there are so many photos being taken the craft is somehow being seen as diluted. I was in an audience when curator and writer David Campany suggested: "But isn't there a huge amount of potential in the fact that now because so many people think they're photographers that photography can really start to break the rules and become its own?" I'd take a guess and say that in many regards Charlotte Cotton, author of Photography Is Magic, might agree with Campany. Now that photography is in the hands of so many, becoming a language that so many people speak, the lens can now be used as more of a jumping off point. Photography is no longer just a two dimensional copy of what is presented in front of a camera. 

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cfaal 340 © Jessica Eaton

Cotton has a long relationship with the arts and with photography; she is intelligent and eloquent. This isn't flattery; there's just no avoiding the fact! She is an unstoppable force of looking, seeing, curating, thinking, and interpreting. She is very present in the time we live and her book, Photography Is Magic, is a collection of photographers whose images deal with the present state and future of photography. Cotton is, simply put, taking the temperature of the present so as to try to grasp at the state of what's to come. One day people will pick up Photography Is Magic and be able to realize its contribution; it will act as a map of the time. The book is a collective aim at what people can achieve together, and the artists in the book epitomize that notion with the images they make. Change doesn't have a solid structure, it's not a list of rules to be set. Newness is completely genuine, and real change is accepting that it constantly needs to change. As confusing as that may be it may sum up many notions of contemporary photography in general. There's always the next, the newest, and a huge need to stay ahead. Holding tight to photography's innate sense of community and contemporary fortitude will allow it to keep from becoming pure drivel. 

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Untitled, from the series Flatness, Light, Black & White © Annie MacDonell

What is magic? It has the ability to make something seem removed from everyday life. It is remarkably wicked and delightful in its confusing and titillating obscurity. Some people walk on fire, others pull rabbits from hats, and further some people have the power to move beyond a mere experience. After the restraint of reality there is a powerful place for play. Magic happens inside your head - ideas, images, and concepts of external objects not present to your senses are made there. This is the stuff that imagination and imagery are made of. Our imaginary life becomes very real. The confusion and surrender of this relationship is an important part of magic.

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Composition 008 © Kate Steciw

What of the photographs in between the covers of Photography Is Magic? In Cotton's own words from the book: "Collectively they provide a timely narrative of art photography's relationship with the technologies of contemporary image culture." The camera is a starting point; it is the adaptation of technology that intermingles and coerces a new imagery. She continues: "They also implicitly show us the critical positions that artists are adopting within media systems." There are many applications after the shutter. In so many ways the initial image is like a freshly stretched canvas, bare and plausible. The next step is to reimagine, add, subtract, restructure, and transform the photograph. This process may allow the image to become less precise but more specific. It can be executed this way, and why shouldn't it be? Photoshop isn't a photography tool as much as it is a painting tool; it provides that potential. It's up to the person in the drivers seat to decide what needs saying, or needs making.

Maybe the last important thing to realize is beyond technology the new addition to photography (the "newest technology") is the body. Not a literal photographed body but the addition of the hand and gesture to photographic images. Photos are being allowed distinct parts and joints that interact with real space the way a sculpture would. It has more surface and qualities of being an object now than it ever has. A photo isn't just a window anymore: it has touch, it can be tampered with, and it can establish an elaborate system of vision while also upholding a constructed narrative. It gives back to its viewers because it allows them to think: "What the hell is it I'm looking at?" The exciting part is making a connection and finding that magic. 

Find out how to get your hands on a copy of Charlotte Cotton's beautiful book here.

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Picture 049 (Cardboard Box, Autumn Leaf Red, Funky Monkeys) © Asha Schechter

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Untitled (Seventh Depth 013) © Taisuke Koyama

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Alex, 2012 © Jess T. Dugan  


Think of a man - I mean a real dude kind of guy. Masculinity drums up a certain image, specific ideas and blunt mannerisms. A portrait of that man can strip away assumptions and allow for a much more fleshed out identity. Most of gender is read through parts of a person's body. That body becomes fleshy and naked in its insecurity, or maybe not, it can be in a persons mind and the pieces arbitrary. Jess T. Dugan's project and new book Every Breath We Drew deals with these issues. What is gender? How is masculinity defined? Through Dugan's subjects she is able to establish intimate relationships; each individual bares their experience, there's a huge sense of comfort. Dugan's portraits build; some of the subjects have been totally marginalized by society, many of the people in the photos are given new voice, they are dynamic.

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Bucky, 2013

Every Breath We Drew is a collection of people of all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, orientations and identifications. Dugan is fascinated by masculinity and capturing what she refers to as "vulnerable masculinity." "I find all of my subjects myself. It's hard to say exactly what it is that qualifies them. Something about my initial reaction to them." The process every step of the way is about this kind of personal intimacy. Dugan is very involved and an integral part of the photographic narrative. She uses self-portraits throughout the body of work; they become a constant. With Dugan as the familiar face throughout the photos she turns into a representation of the identifiable self. Dugan becomes anyone, in this way the viewer is interjected into the narrative through her. Suddenly her subjects are more noticeably looking at you. The conversation evolves, as the viewer is able to take control of the portraits.

There is a huge sense of community given the nature of the images. How does a person come into their body while also connecting with others? The source of this inquiry can be open ended; after all, it's highly individualized and deals in the self. The images keep pushing on a desire to seek a genteel masculinity. Dugan stresses that there is a need to redefine; masculinity is more expansive than commonly understood. The self is a starting point, as the subjects allow their comfort to creep in, more information is revealed. Light and pose play into these peoples places. All of Dugan's images are crafted in the subject's home where they could be most susceptible to allowing an authentic moment to play out. Dugan's frames are slow, the thinking and consideration to the environment is evident, and each moment retains a charged emotion.    

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Colby, 2012

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Ryan and Josh, 2013

Every Breath We Drew has a very concise interest, however it's crafted by a broad pressing of intent. The portraits are full of unexpected juxtapositions. People are somber, they are gay, they are with child, and without specificity. A person is a glorious hairy mess. And even though the work is very interconnected to the LGBT community the feeling of the work goes deeper than assumptions, conditions, or titles. It should be said that it doesn't matter who these people love or how they love, it's how they pose themselves that allows them to be themselves.

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Herb, 2013

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Taan, 2012 

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Kim, 2014

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Tim, 2014

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Self-Portrait, 2012

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Elle, 2012
all images © Jess T. Dugan
 

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Previous contributor and woman-with-sense-of-humour Christine Anderson has put together a charming limited edition book called "Wizard." It is somewhat an ode to her current, beloved mechanic (who presumably has never given her the sharp intake of breath and "that'll cost you darling/love/lady/ma'am"). 

I love this! See? You really don't need to stray too far from home to make a fabulous project happen.

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"I love my car. I hate my car.
I hate my car. I love my car.

After 14 years and 78,000 miles my car - a green Volkswagen Beetle - is still cute despite worn seats and pitted exterior. I don't blame her for breaking down once in a while. Really, I don't. You see, I'm a sentimental person. We have bonded and mostly I like to think of her as vintage rather than old. It makes me feel better about our relationship."

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"Over the years, many mechanics have serviced the car. Kal, our current mechanic, has a way of giving me bad news without making me feel bad. His manner and his expertise inspired me to create the pictures featured in Wizard. Kal is a lot like the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz story and I am perhaps a bit like Dorothy in the story. I bring my broken down car for repair and he fixes the car and sends us on our way. Dorothy, of course, sends herself home with the Ruby Slippers and eventually I will find my way to a new car. But for now I am thankful the Wizard is here keeping my car and me together.

Kal allowed me to photograph his shop during working hours, giving me access to premises, people, and auto parts. This book is a portrait of Kal's car repair shop loosely based on the Wizard of Oz story enhanced with my own creative inspirations."

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Examples of the book's layout

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All images © Christine Anderson

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© John Arsenault, "Silhouette of a Leatherman," 2012, Archival pigment print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

Images by John Arsenault courtesy of ClampArt gallery. Words by Efrem Zelony-Mindell.

If you've ever taken a trip through New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends. Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could they possibly be thinking about?

What's on anyone's mind at the Eagle in LA?

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© John Arsenault, "Exit (Self Portrait)," 2012

Arsenault spent the better part of two years as "barmaid," as he lovingly refers to it, at the Eagle in LA. "A very unexpected chance." He tells me. Lucky for us he had his smartphone camera during his time there from 2012 to 2013. The man has made smartphone cameras an art. On a personal note, I couldn't thank him enough for that. It's hard to believe, but no denying, the man can take the piss out of a photograph. Touching light bleeds in the darkness of the bar. Casting hues and dimension over bodies and surfaces. Piercing the point of vision. These photographs are as rich as they are intimate. The bar is transformed, more Matisse in color and treatment than one would expect for a watering-hole suck-shack like the Eagle. For anyone who is familiar with the Eagle, LA's or otherwise, they may find the beginning of that metaphor an alarmingly unlikely possibility. It comes highly suggested that the photos be seen - by way of Arsenault's show Barmaid at ClampArt gallery, in New York - or by grabbing a copy of his new monograph, of the same title, published by Daylight. The proof's in the seeing of Arsenault's work.

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© John Arsenault, "Parachutes (Self Portrait)," 2012    

"It's so important to me to be open to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story." Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled moment. 

LA's Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.

John Arsenault's show in on view at ClampArt Gallery till February 13th. His new book Barmaids is available now 

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© John Arsenault, "Sister Candy Cide," 2013

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© John Arsenault, "Turned Off," 2012

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© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number Two," 2012

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© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number One," 2013

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© John Arsenault, "Praying for Tomorrow," 2012

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© John Arsenault, "Rose in a Bottle," 2013, 
All images Archival pigment prints, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City

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Woman in a Handmade Dress, New York © Robert Herman

Robert Herman's The Phone Book is one of the first photography books that features photographs taken entirely on an iPhone, with the Hipstamatic app. The book is squarely packed with photographs our observer made on the streets both at home in NYC and abroad. 

The Phone Book by Robert Herman, is out now from Schiffer Publishing, in time for the holidays. 

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Face in the window, Battery Park City, New York

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Metropolitan Life, Flatiron Building, New York

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Au Revoir. Florent's, New York

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Avenue of the Americas, New York

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Jardin des Rosiers, Paris
All images © Robert Herman

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Homestead © Arthur Drooker

"The remote New Mexico community of Pie Town is famous for the photographs that Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee made there during the Great Depression. In this book author-photographer Arthur Drooker documents his own travels to Pie Town to find out what became of it seventy years after Lee visited."

Arthur and I met this year at Photolucida, and I engaged with a different body of work to this that, excitingly, you and I will have to wait to for, but I am thrilled to now see this sweet, reverent project come to fruition. 

"Pie Town Revisited includes a dozen Russell Lee images and fifty-two images Drooker made that capture the soul of the place and its people today. In addition to these color photographs, Drooker's essay describes his experience creating this unique historical record. The work is a portrait in words and pictures of the rugged individualists in this tight-knit community, recalling an America as it was and as it yearns to be again. Pie Town, as Drooker sees it, is indeed as American as apple pie."

Visit Arthur Drooker's website for more images and info on Pie Town, and your opportunity to purchase the book, Pie Town Revisited, which is out now from University of New Mexico Press.

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All images © Arthur Drooker

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Clover © Jesse Burke 

"Wild and Precious" is a series of photographs by Jesse Burke, recently exhibited at ClampArt in New York, and collected into a book published by Daylight

Efrem Zelony-Mindell reviews book and exhibition.  

A forest is many parts - the landscape, the creatures, the trees, all the wonderful dirty little pieces. There are ways of learning in this atmosphere; the lessons to take away are exciting and unusual. This education is something that can't be found in a book, it lays behind bark and experience. To watch a child grow in this wilderness is uncertain, touching, exhilarating. Jesse Burke's Wild & Precious is a collection of photographs he took of his daughter, Clover, over the course of five years and many trips out into wilderness. Through these trips, we watch Clover grow.
 
Burke's work upholds the sentiment of something Anaïs Nin once wrote: "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations." These lessons are the hope Burke has for Clover by taking her out into nature. It is also this hope that reads in his images of her. She sleeps, she searches, she collects and studies, she is hurt, she is strong, she is inquisitive, and in all the images she reads as totally respectful to the earth around her. Clover hungers for a kind of learning: she wants more.

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The book is curated in a peculiar way. The photographs read more as a community than they do as a single sentence. They are lyrical and they penetrate. Black and white and color images coagulate - some big, others small. A narrative emerges and details entice, there's something tactile present in the surfaces of all the photos. It's hard to ignore this touch -maybe that's how Clover learns; maybe that's how anyone learns out in the wild. Feeling her way through she seems careful to leave only footprints.
 
"Oh, sweet child, I beg you to be wild, but stay precious," - caring words from a father to his daughter. The sentiment is beyond the bonds of blood. Burke has respect for his daughter; she is to come into her own. Clover will be a child, she will be a woman, and she will know how to be a person.

Text and edit by Efrem Zelony-Mindell.

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All images © Jesse Burke and courtesy of ClampArt.

I do wish someone had taught me to not be afraid of spiders... - ed.


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From "In the Vale of Cashmere," published by powerHouse Books, image © Thomas Roma

Thomas Roma's portraits and landscapes were made across four years in the gay cruising ground of Brooklyn's Prospect Park. These intimate photographs of men and the woods in which they cruise are surprisingly frank, given the fact that most of us (straight) people have no idea what goes on in certain areas of our local parks, and would imagine more furtive behaviour than posing. 

Roma's new book, "In the Vale of Cashmere" is out now from powerHouse Books. In the foreword, speaking in regard to the need during much of our history for gay men to meet in secret, G. Winston James ponders "...the question of whether it is necessary, possible, and valuable to have privacy in public."

"This book is not a review of architectural history and park design, but rather a photographic examination of this particular urban landscape and its function vis-à-vis gay (sub)culture and social and sexual desire. That is to say, this is not so much a book about a place in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, as it is about the Black, Latino, and other gay and bisexual men who frequent it at odd hours as a place."

An exhibition is showing now at Steven Kasher in New York, through December 19th, 2015.

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All images from "In the Vale of Cashmere," published by powerHouse Books, image © Thomas Roma

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Bruce Morton and I met two years ago, at the PhotoNOLA portfolio reviews, and we really connected on a personal level, mainly because he is a really smashing person, with a solid love of and interesting eye for his artistry. Bruce has been keeping me posted, as well he ought. His book Forgottonia showed the marvelous folk living in an isolated community in Illinois, and at last count was in its third printing. 

Bruce recently sent me a copy of his newest book venture, a rather gorgeous, scrap-bookish, but delightfully made limited edition piece that intersperses images that feature material, with material! I absolutely love my copy.

There are only 50 copies being made and most of them are sold, and at $20 each I can see why. Something different, something really tactile. Just great! Preview the book and buy your own unique version via his website.

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