Don't listen to Bo Diddley. You're welcome to judge the cover of Portland Noir. It's a good one, in my opinion. I shot the cover photograph. I feel I can comment on its quality with some modesty because I just did what I was told. I only executed what was suggested by the editor, Kevin Sampsell — which was to photograph the bronze caste statue entitled "Allow Me!" (more commonly known as "Umbrella Man") in downtown Pioneer Square at night. The publishers, Akashic Press, already had a distinct style in mind for their Noir Series and Portland's cover would be no different. But our cover had to be cool and a little odd, because Portland's like that. Almost anyone could have done it, but I'm glad it was left up to me. It was the second cover for a project of Sampsell's I've worked on, the first being the small press Future Tense publication by Zoe Trope called Please Don't Kill the Freshman. The publication, originally a chapbook, seemed a good match for my photo series of cheerleaders drinking, fighting, disrobing, and engaging in other general misadventure.
Zoe Trope's book was eventually picked up by Harper Collins and the resulting cover was toned down to a tame drawing of relatively sedate cheerleaders. I did get the pleasure of seeing my cheerleaders on the Dutch edition published by Vassallucci. The Dutch are known for their good sense.
The Dutch title, translated with the help of igoogle, reads "The school folded. Shameless confessions of a fourteen-year."
It is probably unsurprising that I don't make a living shooting book covers. I run the photography section at Powell's and it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't mention a handful of books in that section that stand out to me. I am always on the look-out for books that make my heart rate increase. I must confess, I'm not always in sync with modern photography. I respond to content more than theory — the picture rather than the idea. As Bill Jay instructs photographers, "When you have two or three visually possible and accessible subjects, all of which interest you equally, it is no compromise to select the subject which others are more interested in viewing. The state of being human dictates that some things are visually more interesting than others."
And with that, I bring you monkeys, deer, hairless cats, hairless dogs and a serenely beautiful young girl.
In the book Amelia's World by Robin Schwartz, the photographer's daughter Amelia inhabits scenes of bountiful, unsettling, freaky fauna and familiars. It's a spectacular fairy tale with the young heroine seemingly in communication with otherworldly, furry, enchanted creatures. It's magical and I can't stop sneaking peeks at this book. Lately my 4 year old son has taken to asking me during ordinary parts of our day, "Mom? Is this real life?" Amelia's reality seems more fantastic hallucination.
Saul Leiter is one of my personal surprise favorites. I hear photography described musically at times and this title fits that bill for me. Street photography is not necessarily my favorite genre but these images sing. They're simply masterful and poetic. Leiter says, "I think that mysterious things happen in familiar places. We don't always need to run to the other end of the world. I like ambiguity in a photograph. I like it when one is not certain of what one sees. When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture, and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden, we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion."
A book to break your heart is The Places We Live by Jonas Bendiksen. Poverty isn't often a pretty subject but Bendiksen's environmental portraits are lushly photographed. Equally important to the images are the statements by the individuals photographed describing their living conditions and their home life. Each story is unique and the individual stories not always what you might expect. You hear from the educated and illiterate, proud and shamed, desperate and satisfied, but all are struggling to stay afloat like everyone else. Bendiksen's book makes me think of a quote from Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace: "You have to remember…that for this little boy whom you have met, his life is just as important, to him, as your life is to you. No matter how insufficient or how shabby it may seem to some, it is the only one he has."
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Krista Wheeler is a photographer and Powell's section head. She was once singled out by a passing police officer for her exceptional parallel parking skills and will challenge anyone to a park-off. She loves that, in the state of Oregon, it's illegal to pump your own gas.
Books mentioned in this post
Krista Wheeler shot the cover photo for Portland Noir (Akashic Noir)