Best of 2002





Art & Culture

The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon, Day by Day by David Stravitz (Princeton Architectural Press)

It's been said that one man's junk is another man's treasure and David Stravitz' lovely The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon, Day by Day has been created from both. In 1979 Stravitz met a photographer who was selling everything and closing up shop. After deciding which pieces of equipment he would buy, Stravitz made a spectacular discovery. In a dark, forgotten corner of the photographer's studio, days from being scavenged for silver, was what Stravitz could only consider "...the treasure of a lifetime." Found was over 500 photographic plates and negatives of New York from the 1920s and 30s, of which "more than one hundred and fifty negatives contained in this collection documented the day-by-day construction of the world's greatest art deco skyscraper, the Chrysler Building -- from the excavation of its site at the northeast corner of 42nd street and Lexington Avenue, to the erection of its tower, to the crowning of its magnificent spire." The Chrysler Building contains few words -- a preface by Stravitz, an introduction by the preeminent authority on New York architecture, Christopher Gray, and at the back of the book short descriptions of the plates -- and the book is better for it. There are no doubt other books which go into detailed descriptions about how much material was used in the construction, site challenges and the sociopolitical climate of the time and the ramifications of erecting such a effigy to power and wealth on the cusp of the Great Depression. While Stravitz and Gray briefly touch on these subjects, the book is mercifully free of pages and pages of uninterrupted text and the photographs are unencumbered by subtitles (except for those which appeared on the original negative). The reader gets to experience the erection of the building almost the way any New Yorker in 1929 would have. The photographs, beautifully detailed and superbly reproduced, are not only a record of the Chrysler during construction but also offer us a tiny slice of New York life. Starting with site excavation and ending with the completed building Chrysler dedicates itself to the simple yet elegant presentation of these images -- hats off to designer Sara E. Stemen and editor Nancy Eklund Later for showing such marvelous restraint. A stunning book. -- David Middleton

Closer photographs by Elinor Carucci (Chronicle Books)

There is something almost unbelievably touching about Closer, a dip into award-winning photographer Elinor Carucci's world. On one level, Closer is simply an intimate family album. What sets the photos apart is Carucci's eye. The book opens on a close-up called "My Mother's Lips" which, Carucci tells us in her introduction, is only appropriate because her mother was the first person she photographed. "Gradually, in concentric circles, the subjects of my work expanded. From my mother, to my father and brother, to the extended family, until, in recent years, the center shifted, at least partially, to my husband, Eran." These aren't portraits, however. "My mother and I in a hotel room," show the two women sitting on beds, a towel on Carucci's head, another around her mother's body. They look pensive, waiting and unready. Other titles give the photos away: "My mother's back," "My belly with bleach cream," "Mother's head in sink," "Father with white underwear," "Grandparents kiss," "Mom takes a bath." As intimate a portrait of family life as can be imagined: so intimate at times you almost feel you should look away. What's interesting here is the rawness of Carucci's vision. In some ways not dissimilar to Jeff Wall's work -- quiet, unadorned, unposed -- although Carucci's vision teems with life -- real life -- where Wall's sometimes seems to be about the total absence of life. For all of that, Carucci's work is impossible to describe, to do justice to. It must simply be experienced. -- Linda Richards

Designing Gardens by Arabella Lennox-Boyd (Frances Lincoln)

It's difficult to imagine a better and more beautiful book on landscape design than British master gardener's Designing Gardens a work that, in some ways, amounts to the career portfolio of one of the most respected gardeners in the world. And few gardeners can boast a portfolio like this one: not only has Lennox-Boyd contributed to some of the most beautiful gardens on the planet, with many she's been doing it for a couple of decades or more. As a result, you get to see Lennox-Boyd's vision at full maturity, not to mention the benefit of her wisdom, generously dispatched. -- Aaron Blanton

Buy it online

Film Journal by Eve Arnold (Bloomsbury)

One of the most respected photographers in the world -- she became a full member of Magnum in 1955 -- Eve Arnold spent her photographic career between doing serious documentary work and shooting behind the scenes producing photo essays for various films. In Film Journal Arnold writes that she finds "among my serious documentary photographs a body of still photos and text I made on forty films ... My real work begins with Marlene Dietrich in 1952 ... and ends with Joe Losey's last film, Steaming, made in 1984. In between were five John Huston films, among them The Misfits, The Bible and The Man Who Would Be King. There were films starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Burton, Simone Signoret, Sophia Loren, Vanessa Redgrave, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Marlon Brando and Isabella Rossellini, to drop a few names." In some cases, over the course of her work, Arnold got to know her subjects quite well. The combination of Arnold's compelling photos and her witty -- and occasionally poignant -- anecdotes about the stars she photographed are a winning combination. It's impossible to flip through Film Journal without stopping to browse. A wonderful book. -- India Wilson

Girl Culture by Lauren Greenfield (Chronicle Books)

Girl Culture is unexpected. The bright colors and foil-stamped typography of the cover combined with the oversized production set you up for a very different type of ride. You come to the book expecting yet another dose of happy girl power and instead are given a sometimes disturbing glimpse into the lives of young American women. Writes photographer Lauren Greenfield: "The body has become the primary canvas on which girls express their identities, insecurities, ambitions, and struggles. I have documented this phenomenon and at the same time explored how this canvas is marked by the values and semiotics of the surrounding culture." And if all of this sounds like things you've heard before, or things you don't want to hear at all, just pick Girl Culture up, leaf through it and try to leave it behind without being touched. Greenfield's lens seems to look without judgment at a wide variety of seemingly unrelated activities. She brings us comment without comment. The book includes over 100 photographs as well as 18 monologue style interviews with some of the young women. The interviews are surprising and support the visual portions of the book. In Girl Culture it's not only obvious images that give us pause -- girls at weight loss camp, girls at eating disorder clinics, girls getting breast implants -- but the sum total of Girl Culture: sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, sometimes too familiar, but always touching. -- India Wilson

I Stand for Canada by Rick Archbold (MacFarlane, Walter & Ross)

If someone had told me a couple of months ago that I'd be including a book about the Canadian flag in my Best of 2002 selections, I would have told them they were cracked. However I Stand for Canada defines everything that a Best of book should be: physically, it's a beautiful book. Nothing has been spared in creating a really first class presentation. And, most important (and, in this case, practically unthinkably) it's a deeply moving and interesting book. It's changed the way I view my flag. -- Lincoln Cho

The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron (Chronicle Books)

In art and culture books, one look can be enough to slay you, regardless of topic. That's certainly how it was for me with The Invisible Art. It's not that I care about matte painting any more than the next guy, but one look and I fell in love. One read, however, convinced me that -- despite the completely esoteric provenance -- this book was born to be a classic. Though matte painting is lovingly explained -- and even vividly illustrated -- for the neophyte, The Invisible Art will be appreciated by all levels of film buff. As George Lucas writes in the book's foreword: "Matte painting is among the most captivating of the film arts. Many of the most memorable moments in the history of cinema have come to us with the help of matte paintings." The Invisible Art celebrates it all. Beautifully. -- Lincoln Cho


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