The Digital Journalist
Nuts & Bolts
December 2003

by Bill Pierce

With the holidays approaching, there is no gift like a book of photos. (1) You don't have to read. (2) If you are a photographer, you can always use a stack of these big books to flatten prints.

Unfortunately, many good photo books hit the store shelves and quickly disappear, never to appear in a second printing. The price of a good library of photo books is constant vigilence. When I'm in New York I don't just hit Barnes and Noble. I make a point of stopping by the Strand, a store with a huge stock of remaindered books. In California I check out Hennessey and Ingalls, a Santa Monica store that specialize in all books visual - new, used and imported. Wherever you live, if you search the yellow pages, you are going to come up with a store that you walk into and browse on a regular basis.

But even with the best of intentions it's possible to mess up. Thank God for the folks who deal in really good used books. Woops, big mistake. Thank God for the "antiquarian booksellers" who deal in rare and valuable books. From looking at the catalogs of these dealers, you realize that a photo book with a modest printing can become rare and valuable in about three years. Kind of makes you proud to be a photographer when you realize a word book usually takes ten years.

There are several web sites that can help you locate these dealers., and (part of Amazon) all provide search facilities to link titles with antiquarian booksellers.

One dealer that I found was Caney Booksellers, One Cherry Hill, Ste 220, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002, tel: 856 667 7233. Years ago, when I exited New Jersey, I left behind first American printings of Cartier-Bresson's The Europeans and the Decisive Moment. Many years later I realized I was a drooling idiot. The kind folks at Caney were able to locate similar copies. Perhaps they were actually my old copies as Caney is about 3 miles from where I lved at the time. Of course, the price was higher than I had paid in my shallow youth. But if there is ever an antiquarian book fare in my neighborhood I drop by to chat - and drool at what they have on display.

The other favorite that got left behind was Elliott Erwitt's Son of a Bitch. Couldn't find a copy anywhere. Mr. Erwitt was kind enough to send me a copy. It was then I realized that several friends had a fair number of copies of their books in their basements. If worse comes to worse, check with the photographer.

Many of the dealers do not have stores. In some areas commercial real estate prices make it unrealistic to have a storefront for an internet business that can exist in your home. With the websites we have mentioned you can search the inventories of a huge number of booksellers around the world by author, titile, publisher, keywords or ISBN numbers. The listings will include the price and the condition of the book.

In the process, you will also see the locations of the dealers. If there is an actual store, you might drop by - if you're strong enough to resist temptation.

Here's an example of the book hunting process. In last month's column I mentioned Francesca Woodman, an exceptional photographer. I first saw her work at a gallery in Edinburgh. I asked the staff at the gallery if there was any book of her work. They replied that they had a book, one of two copies they had seen on the Amazon website, but had no idea where I could get one.

Back to NY, back to several websites. Within minutes I knew that the year she died (1981), her book Some Disordered Geometries, was published and that, outside of show catalogs, the only other collection of her photographs was Francesca Woodman, roughly 120 pages of pictures and 40 pages of essay and information (ISBN 3-931141-96-9).

The English edition was published by Scala in 1998. It seemed the most complete collection of her work. There were offerings on the web of the book showing only slight signs of wear for up to, and over, $300. Wait, for $217, here was a copy still in its original shrink wrap.

It is a treasure to me. Francesca Woodman photographed from the age of 13 to 22. When she was 22 she killed herself. The loss of pictures that might have been is nothing compared to the loss of a friend and daughter. I wish she was still taking pictures. And I'm glad I can look at the pictures she did take.

© Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer