This blog has at least one faithful reader. He comments on every entry but insists on privately leaving his criticism off the blog. So in order to protect his anonymity let’s refer to him pseudonymously as TO’S. TO’S noticed that the list was favoring the wordy over the graphic and suggested that the next ten selections have pictures in them. I at least agree that there needs to be more illustrated books on our list of the 150 greatest Minnesota books. So here are two books that no Minnesota library – hell, let’s say no Minnesotan – should be without:
John Szarkowski. The Face of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958.
Bill Holm (essays) and Bob Firth (photography). Landscape of Ghosts. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1993.
The unusually accomplished artist/curator/critic Szarkowski began his professional career at the Walker Art Center after his service in World War II. As Minnesota approached its Centennial he was approached to commemorate the anniversary with this photo project. The result was a wondrous success capturing this place – these people – in a moment in time that words alone could never describe. If your heart doesn’t first swell with pride and then break from nostalgia while perusing this book then I’d say, “You’re not from around here are ya?” Szarkowski’s text is surprisingly interesting and, because the images are so compelling, too often over looked. He does an excellent job of summarizing mid-century understanding of the history and geography and geology of the state. He integrates text from postcards to government reports, one of which, a 1956 “Report of the Governor’s Committee on Higher Education” [see page 186] is as timely now as ever. His photos, shown here, are from Red Lake, pre-yuppified Grand Marais, Bloomington, and the Brown County Fair.
TO’S wisely suggested another book of photographs done 35 years after Szarkowski. Since I wholly agree, and could not say it nearly as well, here is his nomination in his words:
Take a look at Bill Holm and Bob Firth’s LANDSCAPE OF GHOSTS (Voyageur Press, 1993) for my candidate for best MN photo book: fine balance of text and image (not “illustrating” but echoing each other); real depth in Holm’s writing, with the expected humor and attitude and erudition; delicious color plus a slightly quirky sense of composition and subject matter in Firth’s photos that sets them apart from the scenery porn that’s common to photo books; crisp design and right size, good in the hand and on the lap; and a bonus in the poems that Holm sprinkles thru the text, a little anthology of MN prairie writers (Bly and Bly, Philip Dacey, Phoebe Hansen, Mark Vinz) and oh yeah, Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers and Willie Yeats to boot. If someone asked me what rural MN or the Midwestern prairie is all about, I’d send him a copy of this. How can you not love a book that starts, “Here is a book full of pictures of stuff nobody wants to look at and of essays on subjects no one wants to read about”?
I prefer the peopled landscape of Szarkowski but this is not a competition so all I will add is that it is especially gratifying to see some themes and images that overlap in both books and encourage you to look at both works side by side.