Herb Ritts -- L.A. Style, Getty Publications '12, $59.95, 224 pages, 30 color and 135 tritone illustrations, ASIN #1606061003. Plate list.
"While Ritts promoted the idea that he stumbled into photography by accident," writes author Paul Martineau, "the truth is that he actively looked for a way to become a professional photographer." After studying economics and art history at Bard College in New York, he was a successful salesman for his family's furniture business in Los Angeles, but "the job did not satisfy his creative urge." So armed with a 33 mm camera in 1976, he persuaded friends to sit for photos.
Herb Ritts (1952--2002) got his big break when portraits he had made of the aspiring actor Richard Gere appeared in Mademoiselle, Vogue, and Esquire all in the same month. Then it was off to the races, photographing such fashion models as Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford; such celebrities as Madonna, Elton John, Barbara Streisand, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also secured sittings (lyings?) for the iconic Calvin Klein underwear ads.
Ritts specialized in nudes, particularly males, and much of his finished work is stunningly imaginative, not only through use of contrast but insight, such as "Mask, Hollywood," in which a subject's long hair is combed forward over her face to create a mask. "From the late 1970s until his untimely death of AIDS in 2002," says Martineau, "Ritts's ability to create photographs that successfully bridged the gap between art and commerce was not only a testament to the power of his imagination and technical skill, but also marked the synergistic union between art, popular culture, and business that followed in the wake of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ironically, Ritts grew up a short distance from what is now the J. Paul Getty Museum, which has curated an exhibition of the works shown in this volume. It was on view there as well as the Cincinnati Art Museum during 2012 and will be at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, from Feb. 23 through May 19 of 2013.
Paul Martineau is associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum. James Crump is chief curator and curator of photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Tombstone -- The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962 by Yang Jisheng, Farrar, Straus & Giroux '12, $35, 629 pages, ASIN #0374277931. Index, bibliography, notes, a few b&w images sprinkled through text.
A brief excerpt by the author from Tombstone:
"I originally intended to title this book The Road to Paradise, but eventually changed it to Tombstone. I had four reasons for choosing this title: the first is to erect a tombstone for my father, who died of starvation in 1959, the second is to erect a tombstone for the 36 million Chinese who died of starvation; and the third is to erect a tombstone for the system that brought about the Great Famine.
"The fourth came to me while I was halfway through writing this book, when a temporary health scare spurred me to complete the book as a tombstone for myself. Although my health concerns were subsequently put to rest, the risk involved in undertaking this project might yet justify its serving as my own tombstone. But, of course, my main intentions are the first three.
"A tombstone is memory made concrete. Human memory is the ladder on which a country and a people advance. We must remember not only the good things, but also the bad; the bright spots, but also the darkness. The authorities in a totalitarian system strive to conceal their faults and extol their merits, gloss over their errors and forcibly eradicate all memory of man-made calamity, darkness, and evil. For that reason, the Chinese are prone to historical amnesia imposed by those in power. I erect this tombstone so that people will remember and henceforth renounce man-made calamity, darkness, and evil."
Author Yang Jisheng, born in 1940, joined the Communist Party in 1964 and worked for the Xinhua News Agency from 1968 until his retirement in 2001. He is now a deputy editor at an official journal that regularly skirts censorship with articles on controversial political topics. He lives in Beijing with his wife and two children.
Wave of Terror -- A Novel by Theodore Odrach, translated by Erma Odrach, Academy Chicago '08 paperback, 326 pages, ASIN #0897335627.
From the back cover:
"This remarkable novel, hidden from the English-speaking world for more than 50 years, begins with the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939, Ivan Kulik has just become headmaster of School Number 7 in Hlaby, a rural village in the Pinsk Marshes. Through his eyes we witness the tragedy of Stalinist domination, where people are randomly deported to labor camps or tortured in Zovty Kazarny prison in the center of Pinsk.
"Ivan struggles to make sense of this new world, learning the politics of survival in the emerging Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and trying to sort out his personal life. His passion for Marusia, a green-eyed, unpredictable young woman, is a theme throughout the book."