top of page

Monthly Design Review - November 2018

This month's review highlights genre-bending books that combine photography and text, inspired by the recent re-publication of the "The Sweet Flypaper of Life", with photos by Roy DeCarava's and story by Langston Hughes.


THE SWEET FLYPAPER OF LIFE (by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes, 1955)

Reprinted for the first time in decades, this classic book features photos of African-American daily life in Harlem taken by Roy DeCarava, alongside stories by Langson Hughes. Hughes chose 141 of DeCarava's images and strung them together through a fictive narrator, Sister Mary Bradley, as she reflects on life around her. DeCarava’s insightful and sensitive photographs bring to life Hughes' stories and evoke the rich world of 1950s Harlem.

Buy the book here.


NOTHING PERSONAL (by Richard Avedon and James Baldwin, 1964)

In the early 1960s former high school friends Richard Avedon, one of the world’s most famous photographers, and James Baldwin, best-selling novelist and essayist and a leading literary voice in the American civil rights movement, collaborated on a book about the state of life in America. Avedon and Baldwin examine American identity, offering a critique of a society that is disconnected, unjust and divisive.

Designed by legendary art director Marvin Israel, the book is impressive in its minimalist placement of both photographs and text. This is a faithful reprint of the original book, which has been out of print for decades, and was produced with the collaboration of The Richard Avedon Foundation.

Buy the book here.


RICH AND POOR (by Jim Goldberg, 1985)

Jim Goldberg photographed the wealthy and destitute of San Francisco over a period of 8 years, visiting flophouses and manicured suburbs and making his way into the hearts of both communities.

Goldberg's perceptive photographs are enhanced by hand-written notes from the subjects, which the photographer invited to reflect on their images. What started out as photojournalism instead became collaboration, as subjects offer their own accounts of life in the top and bottom strata of American society. "I wanted to open up the discussion and ask interesting questions about how discussions of wealth and poverty are framed," Goldberg said, "and look at the language that is used to describe them, and who gets to use that language."

Out of print since 1985, the book was completely re-designed and expanded by the artist for Steidl in 2014.

Buy the book here.


AMERICAN PICTURES (By Jacob Holdt, 1985)

Jacob Holdt traveled through the USA in the early 1970s, photographing and writing to his parents in Denmark about the dark side of America he witnessed on the road . ”They sent me a little pocket camera for my birthday and asked me to send some pictures home,” said Holdt, “and that was the beginning of 15,000 pictures.”

Holdt was interested in people on the fringes of society and connected with gangsters, junkies, prostitutes, and Klan members. He documented extreme poverty among African-American communities and described witnessing instances of institutional and personal racism.

Upon returning to Denmark in 1976, Holdt published his book, which became an instant success and influenced a generation of European and American photographers. He also began lecturing on social differences in the United States. He then started touring with a slideshow of the book's photos, which he since presented in over 300 college campuses across the United States and Canada, and in various countries around the world.

To Visit Jacob Holdt's website:

buy the book here


LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN (James Agee and Walker Evans, 1941)

In 1936 James Agee teamed up with Walker Evans, a photographer loaned by a Federal government agency, on an article for Fortune magazine about poor white cotton farmers of the American south. During the next five years the project evolved into a visually stunning, multilayered work that conveyed in the first person Agee’s responses to his subjects as an involved observer, as well as his difficulties in chronicling their lives in this manner.

Purchase the book here.


THE HOME PLACE (Wright Morris,1948)

Wright Morris was an American novelist and photographer who acknowledged the profound influence of photography on his writing. Pairing photographs with text, Morris pioneered a new genre in the 1940s that proved highly influential to future photographers.

In "The Home Place" pictures appear on every other page of the novel, carefully arranged to correspond to the text opposite. Many of the photographs seem to illustrate directly the images or action occurring on the facing pages, but they always go beyond mere exposition, and are as much a part of the fabric of the novel as the text. This account in first-person narrative and photographs of the one-day visit of Clyde Muncy to "the home place" at Lone Tree, Nebraska, has been called "as near to a new fiction form as you could get."

Buy the book here.

Back to top

bottom of page