Category Archives: Books

Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

It’s been a while since I’ve made a book recommendation – but this is a good one. Over the weekend, I finished reading Brad Stone‘s remarkable story about Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

While some of the Amazon reviewers dispute Stone’s story telling, he does a masterful job of walking through the history of Amazon and educating us on the ins and outs of Jeff Bezos’ approach to building a business. And what an amazing business he’s built.

This is one of those business biographies worth the time – there are great stories of the competitive spirit, the absolute cheapness of the culture, and the power of plowing everything you make in the way of profits back into growing and extending the business. “Your margin is my opportunity” is a quote attributed to Bezos and Stone brings that attitude to life in this great story.

If you like this kind of business history, you’ll really enjoy Stone’s storytelling and come away educated and enlightened. Brad Stone was interviewed today on KQED’s Forum program with Michael Krasny – it’s worth a listen!

Here’s an Amazon Associates link to the book – The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – if you click on the link and end up buying the book, I’ll get a small referral commission at no additional cost to you. Just another of Bezos’ innovations.

Book Recommendation: How to Read a Photograph

Last Friday morning I had a business meeting in downtown San Francisco – just a couple of blocks away from SFMOMA – the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I have been wanting to catch the Garry Winogrand photography exhibition before the museum closes shortly for a three year makeover – so I headed for SFMOMA once the meeting finished.

How to Read a Photograph

The Winogrand exhibition is massive in its scope – and striking in so many ways to a novice like me. All black and white – beginning on the streets of New York City and ending up in the deserts of the southwest, and the political conventions and beaches of California – Winogrand’s images are so “in the moment”. That notion – the decisive moment – seems to define the essence of great street photography – and it’s strikingly shown in his work.

From an earlier time, there’s the differences in dress and – strikingly – the effect of cigarette smoke in so many of his images. He was amazingly prolific – must have appeared almost to be non-stop – and seemingly uncaring toward the processing – and, indeed, any editing – of his images. One wonders what he’d be like today with an iPhone camera in his hand – or Google Glass on his forehead – snapping away! The exhibition closes shortly – and is then on to shows in Washington, at the Met in New York City and then on to Paris.

As I was leaving, I visited the SFMOMA Museum Store and happened across this book – How to Read a Photograph: Lessons from Master Photographers by Ian Jeffrey. I thumbed through it – finding it to be a treasure of photographers’ work from the late 1800′s to perhaps a decade ago. It’s wonderfully illustrated with the great images from the photographers that Jeffrey decided to profile – and a delight to just pickup and browse – sort of like one of those annual almanacs but dedicated to great photographers and their work – including Winogrand.

When I got home, I checked on Amazon.com and found mostly good reviews – and a bargain price on the book (currently $15) compared to the $37.50 I paid for my copy at the Museum Store. If you’re interested in diving a bit deeper into the history of some of the great photographers of the last hundred years, I highly recommend this book. You’ll enjoy it.

By the way, SFMOMA published an extensive catalog to go with the Winogrand exhibition – here’s that title: Garry Winogrand (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).

Note: I only include items here that I actually use and are worthy of my recommendation – there is no sponsorship involved. I do participate in a number of affiliate programs that compensate me if you find an item and decide to purchase it because of one of my links. You won’t pay any more – it’s just the affiliate’s way of saying thank you for a referral. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Recommendation: Raúl Cañibano: PHotoBolsillo

Last January, I headed to Havana, Cuba with my photo buddy Doug Kaye for a wonderful week of photography organized by Kip Brundage of Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

Raúl CañibanoOne of the best things about this week was that we had Cuban photographers out with us as we walked the neighborhoods in Havana. They really helped us see – and opened our eyes to the beautiful people and places in Havana.

One of the Cuban photographers we really benefited from working with was Raúl Cañibano. It was such a treat to be out in the neighborhoods with him – and watch him as he captured images along with us. Raúl works very quickly – with minimal gear. He’s got a great gift for seeing an image in the moment – and capturing it quickly.

While we were out working with him in Havana, he had a small portfolio book of his photography that he shared with us. It’s a beautiful small size – with some amazing black and white photography both in Havana and out in the countryside in Cuba. We wanted to buy a copy of this book – but he couldn’t sell it to us.

Raúl’s book recently become available for ordering on Amazon.com – and it’s a real delight. I keep it in my home office alongside my desk – for inspiration! Raúl’s eye and capture is a real treat for the eye! If you enjoy great black and white photography of real people, you’ll really enjoy Raúl’s small book!

What I’m Reading: Short Nights of The Shadow Catcher

Kutenai Duck Hunter - Adaptation of Edward Curtis - 2011

Author Timothy Egan has a new book out about the great American photographer Edward Curtis titled “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis“.

Egan is a wonderful writer – having written for the New York Times for many years – and, more recently, also author of the book The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl which was provided some of the background for Ken Burns’ recent file The Dust Bowl. He picks great but somewhat obscure subjects for his writing – and that’s a big part of why his work is so interesting.

I remember first hearing about Edward Curtis from photographer Trey Ratcliff who described Curtis as his “favorite photographer“.

After Trey turned me on to Curtis, I began exploring his images in the Library of Congress just over a year ago – and wrote about it here. I picked two of his images to experiment with – “Kutenai Duck Hunter” (see above) and a lovely Eskimo woman named “Ola”. I described how I did my adjustments for both images here.

I’ve just begun reading Egan’s book on Edward Curtis. So far, it’s another great read. Deborah Solomon recently reviewed the book for the New York Times.

Printed in Italy

Printed in Italy? Not what I might have expected. Maybe printed in Hong Kong, or China, or …? The wonderful new book about Ansel Adams by Andrea Stillman is – yep – printed in Italy. Published by long time Adams’ publisher Little, Brown – I wonder why it was “printed in Italy”? But, that’s just a curiosity.

The book itself is a delight. “Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man” shares Stillman’s insights and perspectives as Adams’ former assistant. She’s selected twenty of his photographs for exploration in the book. “Ten of the twenty are among what I call Ansel’s ‘greatest hits’”, she writes. But she also includes ten others – less familiar Adams’ images. Her scope is just right.

Two years ago this month, my late friend Chris Gulker and I drove south from Menlo Park to take in a unique exhibition of Ansel Adams prints at the Monterey Museum of Art. It was a very special trip for the two of us – Chris was a very talented black and white photographer and he was an avid student of Adams’ work. I walked Chris through the exhibition in his wheel chair – taking it slow and listening to his commentary on each photograph along the way. He blogged about it.

Along the way, we met up with the owner of this exhibition’s “Museum Set” – Adams’ daughter Anne Adams Helms. She was spending a few hours at the museum and enjoyed talking about her Dad. Chris asked about the difference in the way Adams printed his images over the course of his lifetime – and Anne talked about how the prints evolved to be darker late in his life.

One of Chris’ favorite Adams’ images is perhaps his best known – Moonrise. In the book, Stillman tells the story of this image – illustrating the evolution of Adams’ prints as he darkened the image over the years. The print of Moonrise at the exhibition was one of the darker ones – the Museum Sets having been printed late in his life. Chris just loved it – perhaps his most favorite image.

I learned a lot from this trip to Monterey with Chris as we shared our feelings about the special black and white imagery of Ansel Adams. Stillman’s personal remembrances in her new book bring back those memories to me again. A very special work – highly recommended!

Train Your Gaze – Musing about Portrait Photography

Our Gal

So far in my pursuit of photography, I’ve spent much more time shooting images of landscapes, architecture, buildings, etc. than I have taken portraits. Oh sure, I’ve taken lots of family photos along the way – snapshots – but not much serious portrait work. Well, then there’s Lily – portrait above!

As I wrote in my summary of my learning about photography in 2011:

I began, for the first time, to try to learn more about portraiture. I’m still a relative novice at it – there’s a lot of difference between shooting a landscape and a person – but I’m beginning to appreciate and try to apply those differences. Portraiture is definitely an area I want to continue to focus on in 2012!

One of my learnings came from a portraiture class taught by Neal Menschel at Stanford’s Continuing Studies program. Neal’s a great photographer and his approach to critique and instruction helped me make some early progress. As so often happens, we learned a lot from each other in that class – as we were each progressing week to week. Definitely a valuable experience!

Of course, there’s really nothing better to build skills than to practice – but that’s been more difficult for me. Part of it is my social skills – not being much of a “chatter” (!) – along with my other pursuits. I’m sure it’ll come – as I get more comfortable with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working my way through Roswell Angier‘s “Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography” (aff link) – a seriously wonderful book about photographing human subjects “in many different ways and from a number of different perspectives.”

Each of the twelve chapters in the book includes three elements: a discussion of one aspect of portrait photography, example photographs illustrating that aspect and a shooting assignment to pursue. I’m reading through the book now – and plan to go through it a second time to work through the assignments.

Here’s an example assignment – from the first chapter “About Looking”. You put the camera on a tripod, and find a willing subject able to spend an hour. The goal is to use the full hour and take a “36 exposure roll of film” of that person over the full hour – not in the first five minutes. Angier’s using this technique to highlight Richard Avedon’s approach to stillness. Turns out that Angier’s got my concerns about banter with the subject in mind:

First and foremost, the photographer must be quiet, thereby relinquishing the responsibility to keep the subject amused with reassuring banter. This is markedly different from the chatty masquerade that characterizes commercial portrait studios… The process may be uncomfortable or it may not be. It may seem like a quiet struggle or it may feel like a seduction. The end result will be witness to the process. Whatever quality the result may have, it will not feel like a picture that has been caught on the fly.”

Earlier this week, at the Google+ Photographer’s Conference, Peter Hurley – master of the head shot – spoke. Hurley’s technique is effectively the opposite of this – he talks A LOT to his subjects – continuously from the way he described it. And he gets some great head shots.

So, what to learn from these two approaches? Hurley’s certainly more of production “machine” – being paid by his subjects for his work. Avedon, for much of his work, didn’t want any personal connection with his subjects. Different strokes – both producing strong images.

Like most things in life, this feels very situational – for me to apply, it depends on the situation. If I was shooting senior portraits, a Hurley-like chatty approach makes sense. If I was shooting, for example, strangers – the dispassionate, disconnected Avedon approach would likely capture them at their most realistic. Bottom line for me: spend more time doing portrait work and try to find my technique.

By the way, here’s a great review of the book on the Luminous Light blog. It includes notes on each chapter and links to related content.

Loving Ann Packer’s “Swim Back to Me”

I was recently away traveling for almost two weeks – and happened across Ann Packer‘s latest book “Swim Back to Me“.

Swim Back to Me - Ann PackerWhat a delight! The first novella in the book – “Walk for Mankind” – takes place in the neighborhoods in and around Stanford University. It’s close to home – and feels very nearby – but I think that’d be the case even if I lived hundreds of miles away! This story about two teenagers – Sasha and Richard – is just perfect – with crystal clear dialog, great drama and surprise.

I’m now continuing into the book’s shorter stories and looking forward to the final novella “Things Said or Done” that brings Sasha back much later in life.

I was originally tipped to the book by this great review by Joan Frank last weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle. Frank wrote: “One of the bankable pleasures of Packer’s work is her terrific command of details that push us directly into domestic lives: harried ex-spouses, messy rooms, picky eaters, lost textbooks.” Indeed!

Earlier today, Dave Iverson interviewed Packer on KQED’s Forum – it’s a great interview and well worth the listen. Her discussion about the power of her writers’ group – and how they help her – is especially interesting. A Reading Group Guide is also available on Ann’s web site. The book is available in print from Kepler’s, Amazon.com in Kindle format, or Amazon.com in print.

Blogging, Crowdfunding, Kickstarter and The Glif

Yesterday, I attended the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) meeting in San Rafael to hear Joel Friedlander’s presentation about “Author Blogging.” Joel’s an independent book designer who we worked with at Glenbrook to design our book “Payments Systems in the U.S.” – he did an amazing job for us and I highly recommend working with him.

Joel’s blog “The Book Designer” is a wonderful resource for those interested in book design, self publishing and more. You’ll find him on Twitter as @jfbookman. In his presentation, Joel told of his experiences having started blogging just 15 months ago – and doing so has opened up a whole new range of opportunities for him – a great story told with great advice for other authors!

The GlifAs Joel and I were talking, he pulled out his iPhone 4 which had a little device attached to it – something called “The Glif“. The Glif slips over the edge of the iPhone 4 and provides a number of ways you can “stand up” the iPhone. In addition, for us photography nuts, it’s got a tripod socket – so that you can use your iPhone on a tripod. I ordered one immediately – from my iPhone naturally!

Turns out there’s a wonderful story behind the development of this little device. After prototyping their design, the founders, Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost, used KickStarter to raise the initial capital required to launch – and to find an initial market. KickStartr is a great way to publicize interesting projects and raise capital “from the crowd.” If the story is good enough and you reach the project threshold, funding happens – if not, it doesn’t. Simple but powerful idea! The Glif is a great example of KickStartr in action.

Getting Naked

Garr Reynolds has quite a thing going with his excellent books about presentation style and design (see: Presentation Zen (2007) and Presentation Zen Design (2009). His first two books are very complementary with Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology and Resonate (see my earlier review) – indeed, this set of four books should be in any presenter’s library! Almost two years ago, I spent a wonderful day with both Garr and Nancy at Presentation Reboot!

Garr’s just published his new book: The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides. This is the first one of his books that I bought in the Kindle edition – now that I’ve got great Kindle readers not just on the Kindle itself but on my Mac, iPad and iPhone as well! It’s wonderful to have books with me on all of those devices! Garr uses a lot of beautiful photography in his books – and they look beautiful on the non-Kindle devices!

I particularly enjoyed Garr’s thoughts on contribution:

Some people think that a presentation or an invitation to speak

is a burden or, at best, an obligation that can’t be avoided. This is the wrong attitude. Instead, think of presentation as a welcome opportunity to make a difference. Every presentation or speech is a chance to make a contribution. We all live for the opportunity to contribute – it’s what makes us human. A contribution is never about us – it’s always about them. We show respect for the audience by being well prepared. We show we care by sharing a bit of ourselves and a small part of our own humanity.”

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