The pandemic has been soul crushing. As a distraction, I decided to buy a photo book. And then another. And then another. I sold some of my old leather bound Easton Press books to free up space. And to fund the book buying binge. I’ve come to realize that collecting books is a good thing, but only if it the books give pleasure, provide inspiration, educate, allow the person to see the world anew. I liked those old Easton Press books, but I never read any of them. Not one. For almost forty years, these books have sat on my shelf unread. Time to sell them to people who may appreciate them better. As well as provide a means to buy the books I really want. Collecting for the sake of owning something is not a good idea. Things that you own should have some intrinsic value aside from looking good on a bookshelf.
I think I went too far. Now I have bought more books than my bookcases can hold. It’s great to be able to buy cheap bookshelves from Amazon. Still, just when I think I bought my last book for a while, I find something else to buy. It should stop. It won’t, but at least it needs to slow down.
And yet. I open a book and wonder at the genius of Ansel Adams. Eliot Porter. Salgado. Yes, you can see their images online. You can’t capture the true beauty of a photograph unless you see it in print. For a few hours, I lose myself in books. And while not forgetting the world we live in, I find myself finding encouragement that the beauty captured is still out there. The protests and machinations of others go on, but in the images that I see, my belief in humanity is rekindled. We have to find the beautiful in our world. And it can start by looking at a picture.
I found this book on ebay. I had no idea who some of the photographers were. It was an old book, in decent condition. When I opened it, I saw the work of the great photographers I am familiar with. And some names unknown to me.
One of my favorite books is Workers, by Salgado. My first Salgado book was Genesis. He is a photographer of the highest caliber. I had a chance to buy a first edition (but not first printing) of the book Workers. I was not familiar with this book. I know it’s considered one of the great photo books ever published. I bought it.
The photographs in this books are simply magnificent. People working. How exciting is that? Well, in the hands of a master, the photographs show the dignity of the human person, the greatness of the human spirit. The people are not the titans of industry, the beautiful people of the world. They are people doing the work that keeps them (and their families) alive. Mundane work? Perhaps. Gritty and dark? Sometimes. Depictions of the poor and forgotten? Yes. But only if we forget them. Salgado shows that each person has worth. And is worth remembering.
I showed the book to a friend. He said that the pictures look blurry. I realized that we have been accustomed to looking at digital images, many oversaturated and over sharpened. We follow the influencers. And forget that the artificial reality depicted in modern media is a balm that soothes nothing. Like the books on my shelves that sat unread for decades, they looked good, but that was all they were. Decorative space takers. The books I choose to keep should be something more. At their very best, a book can inspire, educate – and open the mind to a myriad of possibilities. These photo books showcasing the work of great artists do something else that those old collectible books never did. They stir my soul. They give me hope.