Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle A Hundred's Not Enough

By Margaret Moser

DECEMBER 22, 1997:  The cliché comes so easily... A picture is worth a thousand words. The truth is, it is often difficult to find the words that attract us to images. The eyes in a portrait are an unspoken invitation... a barren landscape is rich in texture... an ordinary object takes on a nobility within the frame of a camera and the viewer is caught, drawn in, and sometimes manipulated by the image. Rolling Stone magazine made its mark not only in elevating rock criticism to legit status but in almost single-handedly creating the modern image of rock & roll, always juxtaposing words with pictures. It was one of the canniest moves ever, and Rolling Stone Images of Rock & Roll (Back Bay Books/Little Brown, $24.95 paper) is a raucous result. But what else are you going to expect from a book that puts a topless Courtney Love on the cover in bikini underwear, bottle-feeding little Frances Bean, and staring out like an extra from Schindler's List? Stare back into those eyes; it's what the book is for. It's also Brian Wilson in his bathrobe, Marianne Faithfull looking impossibly innocent and gorgeous, the Village People in their 15 minutes, Otis Redding in glistening sweat mode, a nude Sinead O'Connor protected by the stone wing of an angel statue and bathed in a cool blue light. With several hundred photographs from a variety of photographers (some of whom pre-date the magazine's inception), Images of Rock & Roll is at once raw and seamless, and isn't that what good rock is about?

Black and White Blues Photographs by Marc Norberg (Graphis Press, $29.95 paper) strikes that same chord, and blues lovers who treasure their Antone's books of the blues will treasure Norberg's images. On one page, Luther Allison looms over a sinister light brandishing his Illinois-shaped guitar; Allison died of cancer just a few months ago. True to its title, names like Snooky Pryor, Junior Wells, and Odetta make way for Kim Wilson, Sue Foley, and Dave Van Ronk into the ranks of the legends, and Carol Frann & Clarence Hollimon co-exist alongside Saffire in it many pages. Its thoughtful text and loving portraits contrast glaringly with Fuck You Heroes: Glen E. Friedman Photographs 1979--1991 (Burning Flags Press/2.13.61, $25 hard), but the photographer's love of his subject is equally intense. Friedman's documentation of the Los Angeles punk scene and travels to the East Coast result in a brilliant pastiche of colors and culture invading one another -- the burgeoning skate scene in Marina del Rey or Ice Cube in Manhattan. With the cool language of Fuck You Heroes, Friedman stands alongside the largely forgotten contingent of photographers who documented the non-London punk scenes but knows the secret message of the camera also present in Black & White Blues and even Images of Rock & Roll: I was there.

I was there. The yearning to capture that spirit in photographs is often the impetus for books that celebrate our culture, even more so when a particular facet of its life is shown. Thus, the kitschy The American Drive-In Movie Theatre by Don and Susan Sanders (Motorbooks International, $29.95 hard) finds an odd kinship with Mexican Country Style by Karen Witynski and Joe P. Carr (Gibbs-Smith Publishers, $39.95 hard), both being the mundane transformed into an art form. That said, Theatre takes a loving look at a uniquely American and nearly extinct pastime. A surprising number of locations still exist in Texas, but most have become the state's version of Miss Havisham, rotting in their once glorious finery. And Mexican Country Style likewise finds its beauty in what's-old-is-new guide to decorating with an emphasis on Mexican antiques and how to buy them. Amid the spare, essayistic text lie the photographs, so warm and pleasing to the eye in the simplicity of their subjects.

In The Texas Cowboys photographs by David R. Stoecklein text by Tom B. Saunders IV (Dover Hill/StoeckleinPublishing, $60 hard), the same earth tones of Texas dirt fairly cloud up as pages are turned, then are blown away by a sky so brilliantly blue it almost hurts to look at it, like looking into the sun itself. That's the same squint on the burnished faces shown on page after page, some bewhiskered, some craggy, some still smooth as kidskin. Sometimes the beauty of it is in the composition, sometimes the subject, but always the beauty is in images that are so very, very Texas.

Louisiana seems to produce a similar outpouring of emotion from its artists. Louisiana Journey, photographs and text by Neil Johnson (LSU Press, $39.95 hard) meanders like the state's bayous from Kisatchie National Forest near Natchitoches down through Cajun country and into New Orleans' Superdome. Johnson's great affection for the state is underscored by his distinctly contemporary commentary. Fonville Winans' Louisiana: Politics, People, and Places by Cyril Vetter (LSU Press, $45 hard) is another labor of love, tracing the career of the noted photographer who died at 81 in 1992. The book's subtitle is appropriate; the fat smarmy face of Huey P. Long is smeared across one page, a lone praline vendor at Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter on another, the eerie beauty of a hurricane as viewed through a rain-beaded screen door down in Grand Isle. (A companion CD really makes these images come to life.) Winans' photographs are a testament to his love for his quirky home. Likewise, Elysium: A Gathering of Souls photographs by Sandra Russell Clark (LSU Press, $39.95 hard) imparts a polished luminescence to the graveyards of New Orleans, the statues of saints, apostles, and the Virgin gracing eternity with their serene presence. In Clark's eye, they rest peacefully in the misty lens, ever watchful of the dead.

Very much alive in another realm is Joyce Tenneson: Illuminations (Bulfinch, $45 hard), whose photographs are sometimes composed as if the subjects were statues, or the scene a painting, shrouded in her ethereal camera. Tenneson is a master of manipulation, almost slight-of-hand the way she places the profile of a young black man between two Greek vases or twin girls mirroring each other, their long hair flowing like silk chocolate. She leaves a lingering image. Peter Lindbergh: Images of Women (Te Neues, $85 hard) takes a harder look at the female form, Lindbergh's years as a fashion photographer etched sharply into his work. Lindbergh has the ability to take some of the most highly paid faces -- Linda Evangelista, Verushka, Milla Jovanovich -- and some of the best-known -- Harry Dean Stanton, Sandra Bernhard, Demi Moore -- and capture them with an almost grotesque mockery and pomp. Why else would a close-up of Evangelista, who once claimed she didn't get out of bed for under $10,000 a modeling session, be placed next to a blunt-nosed dolphin? Lindbergh also adds in a dollop of whimsey to his work, sending a model strolling down a side road with a costumed child. Images of Women is compelling and curious.

Andy Warhol knew about capturing the compelling and curious. He practically made it his trademark. His legacy is so compelling that every year seems to bring new books about him, the Factory, or his entourage. And so many are the same -- the Factory's aluminum background giving the same sheen to so many different nights. What's different about All Tomorrow's Parties: Billy Name's Photographs of Andy Warhol's Factory, essay by Dave Hickey, interview by Collier Schorr (Frieze/D.A.P., $34.95 hard) is not unlike the earlier photos from Rolling Stone, punk, and blues: I was there. And he was, the notorious Billy Name, who lived in a closet, whose foil-covered apartment inspired Warhol, who survived through the worst of it and lived to tell. And what pictures they tell... the painted faces of Warhol and his crowd are stark reminders of what it was to be cool in the Sixties, not the hippie-peace-and-love cool but the ultra New York cool, of swinging nightlife and cellars full of noise. Or lofts, anyway.

Before Andy Warhol, Starmaker, was Andy Warhol, artist. In 1959 he illustrated a delightful volume called Wild Raspberries by Andy Warhol and Suzie Frankfurt (Bulfinch, $19.95 hard), recently reissued and charmingly rendered in Warhol's own scratchy calligraphic penmanship. His pen-and-ink drawings have the familiar idiosyncracies of folk art, even if they are much more precise and crafted. Two books focus on the still-strong genre of folk art, making the ante for hand-painted signs to cockfight pits and watermelon stands in Southern Texas ever more valuable. Paintings by Stan Rice (Knopf, $35 hard) is folk art, yes, but the intelligence of the poet-artist is all too evident in the sly themes and sophisticated allusions. The folk art of William Hawkins by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco (Knopf, $45 hard) offers more in the way of the innocence that retain the purer facets of self-taught artists. Compare Rice's self-conscious intellectualism with Hawkins' illiterate grace; both can be very appealing.

Goddess: A Celebration in Art and Literature edited by Jalaja Bonheim (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $80 hard) is the definition of a coffee--table book and a gorgeous, richly detailed, magnificently illustrated one at that. A ripe-lipped pre-Raphaelite Rosetti beauty gazes out from the book jacket, tempting the reader to open the book and behold its lushness. Over 120 full-color illustrations accompany the various essays on the goddess in the world's society from Kuan Yin and Laka to Venus and the Virgin in scrumptuous, eye-popping detail.

Discovering Gordon Conway: Fashioning a New Woman by Raye Virginia Allen (UT Press, $24.95 paper) was a delight, the life of a wonderfully creative Texas girl who was illustrating for Vanity Fair at 20, and on to set and costume design for Broadway musicals and British film. Her lively depiction of jazz babies are vibrant and memorable, and her accomplishments should be remembered among the biggest names in Texas fashion history. Like Gordan Conway, the lifestyles captured in Lost Liners by Robert D. Ballard and Rich Archbold, paintings by Ken Marschall (Hyperion, $60 hard) are almost surreal. Paintings, period photographs, and illustrations tell the story of luxury liners -- the ones that made history by landing on the ocean floor. The exquisite elegance created for the purpose of transporting wealthy passengers across the ocean is sometimes staggering; interesting then to note that the number of immigrant passengers aboard the Titantic qualified it technically as a "steerage" vessel. Still, the fascination with names such as the Titanic, the Andrea Doria, the Lusitania, and the Empress of Ireland is not their opulence as much as it is their tragic ends. Lost Liners leaves an air of sadness with its closing.

Maybe words about pictures are not so hard to come by.


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