David Douglas Duncan’s “Sunflowers For Van Gogh”

On September 22, select theaters across the United States premiered a groundbreaking, independent film titled “Loving Vincent,” the first ever fully painted feature film. This artistic masterpiece was produced with over 100 painters painstakingly creating each frame onto canvases in the iconic oil painting style of Vincent Van Gogh. The artists, crew and actors literally brought Van Gogh’s treasures to life with characters selected from actual portraits (i.e. Armand Roulin, Dr. Paul Gachet, Postman Joseph Roulin, and so on) and scenery consisting of well known wheat fields, cypress trees, streets of Paris, etc.

Upon seeing the film, I was inclined to further my research on my favorite painter, leading me to another homage to the Dutch genius but on slightly different medium. Where “Loving Vincent” merged motion picture film with oil paintings, David Douglas Duncan went to France to capture photographs of a specific, and famous, muse that Van Gogh reflected on canvas.


“Dedicated to Vincent van Gogh and Sunflowers, whose short lives he immortalized together with his own” Duncan states on the opening page of his book  “Sunflowers For Van Gogh” (TR724 .D85 1986).  Van Gogh died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 37.


Page 7

Duncan continues: “Vincent van Gogh and I fell in love in the same way, in the same place, with the same girl — one hundred years apart. We both knew her only by her first name. Sunflower”

Throughout the book there are photographs of sunflowers, some solo, some in groups, some in full fields of gold, rolled bales of hay in wheat fields, sheds – all objects familiar from Van Gogh’s catalogue.  Beautifully shot, Duncan captures the personality of the sunflowers – his friends “the girls” – in a way that Van Gogh would appreciate, as he explains on page 12:



Page 13


Page 34


Page 35


Pages 50-51


Page 86

A two-page spread captioned “The lone survivor: A field of onions” is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Irises” but with a twist.  Much like the lone white iris amongst the purple ones, this photo shows one lone sunflower lost in a group onion plants.  Even the sunflower’s location is almost identical to the white iris:


Pages 88-89


Vincent Van Gogh, “Irises” (1889). J. Paul Getty Museum Collection

Just as the book opens with a self-portrait of Van Gogh, the book appropriately ends with the seven sunflower paintings (including “Sunflowers and Vase with Blue Background” which was destroyed during WWII) bringing Duncan’s project full circle.

Page 9

Page 134

“Sunflowers For Van Gogh” is an interesting book for any fan of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, but it was even more intriguing for myself, as his “Sunflowers” were never a particular favorite of mine. However, Duncan has allowed me to view these paintings in a different light.   His analogy of the lifespan of the flower to that of Van Gogh is clever, solemn and true.

VGAndIFellFull crop

Page 9

My personal favorite photo of Duncan’s is towards the end of the book.  He was able to capture the real-life moment of one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings – so much so that one could imagine Van Gogh visualizing this himself:


Pages 126-127

Crows Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, “Wheatfield with Crows” (1890). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

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Zine corner 6: “Tres vol.3”

Caleb’s zine corner 6

Tres vol. 3

Today we are opening up “Tres vol.3” from Hui Books in Okayama, Japan. Tres is a series that catalogs the work of three artists in each volume: Masahiro Ikeda, Shinichiro Uchida, and Katsuaki Hata. The title page of volume 3 reads as follows:

“Photographers of three

living in Okayama.

This is a photo book that you take photos

from the perspective of each.

World traced through the camera

the object located in front of.

Something on the other of these images

I am happy if you can feel.”

Ikeda’s section (“untitled”) features carefully focused/non-focused images of an autumn landscape. They make use of extreme close-ups and a very shallow depth of field, absolutely calling to mind the work of Uta Barth but with perhaps a different affect (although both definitely involve a sense of melancholy). The last image in Ikeda’s section stretches across two pages and is a soft image of a woman that seems to fade into a tree cut off by the right frame. IMG_20171012_120746

In Uchida’s work (also “untitled”) we see limbs and musical instruments emerging from a sea of thick photo black. The lights of clubs and landscapes of stages stretch into the abyss, warped by a shallow depth of field. Faces are usually obscured or in shadow, reflections of unexpected colors appear on limbs, and the images have an overall warm color palette. To me, the intimate gestures portrayed suggest “music” more than a photograph of a full band or musician in action. IMG_20171012_120917

The final section is Hata’s “Tico”, and is immediately striking in that it appears to only use two colors – a desaturated green/cyan and white. The images are of a forest, softened by a snowstorm to the point of abstraction. Looking closely reveals the details of trees and mountains, and the angles often seem almost impossible. Two images break from this pattern to portray a similarly snowy city square, which helps us regain a sense of scale. IMG_20171012_121459

The overall flow of this volume feels like the passage of time – perhaps an afternoon into an evening and subsequent morning – or each chapter functioning as a season (although I would interpret it as autumn>>summer>>winter). We begin with Ikeda’s muted color palette and understated images, in some cases printed at a very small size and placed in a variety of locations on the page. From here we enter Uchida’s full-bleed, black background club-scapes, and then emerge into the snowy void of “Tico”, which is once again located within white borders.

This zine is on view at the ICP School library, as well as Tres volume 4. Hui Books has a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2015, but their website is http://huibooks.thebase.in and the photographers can be found at:

Masahiro Ikeda: http://d-76-mi.blogspot.jp/

Shinichiro Uchida: http://www.supc.jp/

Tatsuaki Hata: http://www.amakicamera.com

thanks for tuning into the zine corner,

till next time!


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Photography is Magic


Jack Gwynne, February 28, 1951

Who was Irving Desfor? Unknown to us up until now, his book/photo album Great Magicians In Great Moments came to the ICP Library when the personal library of our founder Cornell Capa was folded into the ICP collection after Capa’s passing in 2008. How did none of us notice this until it seemingly appeared (excuse the pun) as if by magic? Such are the delights of a library, any library, for diversity and inclusion.

The book was self published in 1983. The colophon bears the notation:

FIRST EDITION: The deluxe, numbered, signed edition is limited to 200 copies. The balance of the first printing totals 1800 copies. 

The Library’s copy is marked 61/200. The edition number is written in (excuse the pun) magic marker and our guess is that that the book itself is otherwise no different from the “balance” that totals 1800 copies.

But who was Irving Desfor? According to Magicpedia.com:

Irving “Doc” Desfor (1907-1993) was a photo-retoucher, art director, photo-writer and amateur magician.”

“He was 15 years old when his first photograph was published. Desfor was a photographer with AP from 1929 until he retired in 1972. He continued as a freelance columnist for AP until 1979 when he moved to Florida. His wrote the nationally syndicated photo-columnist “Camera Angles” for 31 years.”

“He was famous for his photographs of magicians in action, beginning with Blackstone. His photos appeared in major magic journals for over fifty years.”

And most importantly for librarians and archivists, for future reference:

“In 1978, he donated thousands of his photos to the American Museum of Magic.”


Great Magicians In Great Moments gives us an unparalleled glimpse of magicians at work, as well as moments with star ventriloquists such as Shari Lewis, so fondly remembered from our childhood. Not to mention the presence of Cornell C and MoMA curator John Szarkowski. What would Szarkowski say about photography and magic – that is, magic not as metaphor, but as vocation?

In a mediascape now dominated with technological special effects, the illusionism of magic shows now look jarring in their emphasis on physical trickery and the need of a live audience. It is a world where theaters and clubs are primary venues for shows, before television or computer screen. Why does our “information highway” seem so lonely in comparison?

Irving Desfor, Great Magicians in Great Moments: A Photo Album by Irving Desfor. Pomeroy, OH: Lee Jacobs Productions, 1983.


The ICP Library


Ricky Jay (age 9), 1954




Virgil and Julie, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1964



Lou Tannen, February 2, 1946


left: Jack Kodell, November 22, 1947   right Jack Chanin, March 18, 1960


Phoa Yan Tiong, April 26, 1969


top: Velma, October 16, 1976   bottom: Ruth Dore, May 20, 1944


“a visual tribute to the untold thousands of pretty, young assistants of magicians who appear mysteriously from boxes, barrels, cabinets, trunks and other ‘empty’ containers . . .” March 16, 1962


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Caleb’s zine corner #5 __________GET In THE CORNER____________

Caleb’s zine corner #5


FUGU -Tetraodontidac-  by Yuka Nakashima (2015)

IMG_20170914_110042This week’s subtitle is GET In THE CORNER because I am writing to you from a literal corner of the library to which I have been exiled. Perhaps this physical embodiment of “cornerness” is what has pushed me to write about what is possibly my favourite of the zines I have come across in the library thus far. The zine in question is none other than Yuka Nakashima’s FUGU. A bit of backstory on the zines reviewed thus far: apparently the material I have been looking through is all left over from a zine sale we had, and FUGU was apparently mostly derided but with a few die-hard fans speaking up for it. I happen to think it is masterful (perfect??) in essentially every element of its composition and presentation. Okay enough gushing, let’s get to the meat

FUGU begins with this title page:


tetraodontidae (Pufferfish)



as 河豚 ,pronounced as fugu

Pufferfish can be lethal if not served properly. Puffer poisoning usually results from consumption of incorrectly prepared puffer soup, fugu chiri, or occasionally from raw puffer meat, sashimi fugu. While chiri is much more likely to cause death, sashimi fugu often causes intoxication, light-headedness, and numbness of the lips, and is often eaten for this reason./from wikipedia”

What can I even say about this zine? It’s photographs of pufferfish, I believe almost entirely in restaurants, that when eaten raw produce a high. They are found in murky fishtanks, the glass between the camera and the creature is often dirty and scratched, and the photographs dwell in the uncanny zone between playful documentary and psychedelic abstraction. Depth of field is thrown out the window, and washes of colour from neon signs and restaurant ornamentation give a glamorous yet mysterious aura to these dangerous fishes. The edges of the tanks are never included within the frames, so our sense of scale is completely cast off. The fish could be any size, floating in a bubbly, eternal abyss ~ a purgatory before they are snatched onto the hellish cutting boards of late night kitchens. IMG_20170914_105224

The construction of this zine is perfect to me – I don’t have any explanation for this I just love it. Each page is a photo print, with the photo on one side and the paper watermark (FUJICOLOR Ever-Beauty Paper for LASER) shown on the back with writing and signature in sharpie by Nakashima. Oh yeah, and the title/author’s name are also written in sharpie on the cover. These prints are bound together simply by black tape. The idea that a collection of prints becomes a zine simply by being taped together is somehow profound to me, and absolutely seems to match the general praxis of Nakashima based on a little research into her other work. IMG_20170914_104734

Her website (http://yuka09182.wixsite.com/yukanakashimaphoto) and instagram (@nakasmith) are absolutely worth checking out, but I specifically would point any interested parties to her VINE account (https://vine.co/u/1323641380144574464?mode=list) perhaps because VINE was my favourite form of social media (RIP) but also because a few seconds of motion can add a great deal to our understanding of a photographer’s thought process and technique. This zine, of course, as usual, is on view at the ICP School Library in Midtown so come on down and check it out!


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Caleb’s zine corner #4

Caleb’s zine corner #4


ASHES IN THE OCEAN by Minny Lee (2017)

This episode of the zine corner highlights a work by one of our ICP alumni, Minny Lee. We have quite a few of her zines in the collection which are all very much worth checking out, however this post is about ASHES IN THE OCEAN from earlier this year. The zine is produced by Encounters Editions and a postscript states that it is “in memory of my father-in-law”. Photographs of the ocean and the interiors of an adjacent apartment in Honolulu, Hawaii are occasionally interrupted by blank pages, or pages with lines of poetry.

IMG_20170907_122515IMG_20170907_122537For such a small zine, to me it packs the same punch as a photo book (and it would bring me much joy to see it reissued as such). The photographs speak volumes, interior shots dwelling on reflections, stillness, softness, and emptiness are juxtaposed with grand images of the outside world. After viewing the apartment photos, when Lee brings us outside there is almost a sense of vertigo at the seemingly endless water.

Lee can be found at http://www.minnylee.com and ASHES IN THE OCEAN can be viewed at the ICP School Library.

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What played at the Roxy?

The Roxy Theatre opened at 153 W. 50 St., between 6th and 7th Avenues in 1927 with the film The Love of Sunya, produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The theater seated 5,920 people. An apogee of “movie palace” distinction in New York City, its brief moment in history is now traceable only in photographs. Swanson can be seen in this photograph made during its eventual demolition in 1960 by Eliot Elisofon, for LIFE Magazine. Posed in an evening dress and feather boa, like some sort of belle dame sans merci out of a D’Annunzio novel, Swanson gestures to the heavens and eternity.

In a LIFE-imitating-art moment, the Elisofon/Swanson collaboration also references Swanson’s earlier role as the reclusive, mad silent film star Norma Desmond in the Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard (1950). Fade grandeur. Faded memories. The lost illusions of the movies as a vanitas in our world of stucco and brick. “. . . we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!… All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.




The ICP Library owns a copy of Elisofon’s book Color Photography, New York: Viking Press, 1961. TR510.E43 1961

Color Photography presents a wide range of Elisofon’s assignments, along with technical information, including lighting and filter set ups. Looking backward we can get a sense of how complicated this process could be and why it would exist primarily in commercial venues such as magazines and advertising. Elisofon’s research and experimentation with color had led to work as a color consultant in Hollywood for the films Moulin Rouge (dir. John Huston, 1952), Bell, Book and Candle (dir. Richard Quine, 1958), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (dir. George Stevens, 1965).

The lighting set ups and technical information in Color Photography give a sense of the general status of photography in publishing at that time as more of a scientific craft than an independent art.  Elisofon’s language is plain and engaged with the process. There are books by the great Hollywood portraitists George Hurrell and George Hoyningen-Huene from the same period that provide similar data and insights: f-stops before philosophy. A late textbook example of this is Ansel Adams’ Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. TR161.A32 1982 – also available in the ICP library.

If the insistence of technical means as an articulation of vision  now seems foreign (besides discussing materials that no longer exist – tungsten balanced Kodachrome, for instance), I would suggest seeing it as akin to Elisofon’s marvelous pastiche with Gloria Swanson: we see the mechanical dream and its architectural armature simultaneously.



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Welcome Thursday folks, I’m sure you’ve been salivating all day for your serving of FRESH, HOT ZINES. Today’s Zine Corner is a [Hot 97 airhorn noise] EMILY TAKEOVER!!


Today’s featured item is from Dutch publishers, Salvo. They have been publish a couple of issues on a chosen photographic theme every year. I am investigating Periodical for Photography No. 8: Side Show. “Unintentionally, when taking a photography of something, one also photographs other things. This democratic aspect, the fact that a camera is indifferent in reproducing whatever the photographer aims to frame, causes a wealth of ‘additional’ information in photographic images, Salvo’s Periodical No. 8 addresses this theme and seeks to reverse the intention of the photographer to retrieve new information and to highlight the sideshow.


Salvo’s Periodical No. 8: Side Show


There are eight artists who contribute a chapter on the theme. The first chapter features and artist who already has a book here in the library,  Anne Geene. Archive for Accidentally Photographed Flora and Fauna is a pseudo-scientific dive into the collection of photos from the Nederlands Fotomuseum wherein Geene meticulously categorizes and documents the species, type and other details,


Throughout her essay, Geene features a photograph found in the Nederlands Fotomuseum, marked with a red arrow that identifies her subject of interest. The photographs are added to a Category, and a detail image is made. This photograph features the categories “Tulips” and “Cats (White Cats)”.  Through her research, Geene also establishes new and more nuanced categories. Observing that a great number of pictures of carriages crop the front half of horse out of the frame, she created “Half Horses”


“Often, horses are depicted only half showing (mostly their backsides). But even more remarkable is the fact that horses are the only animals that show this abnormality. This could have something to do with their size: one could argue that large animals easily fall outside the frame. But this is not a strong argument since cows, until now, are never cut by the frame.”




The titular essay, Sideshow features vintage snapshots that include framed paintings in the background. They are unaccompanied by text, leaving the viewer to connect and arrange connections.


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The Human Accessory: On the use of people as supporting material in photography features different scenarios where the human body is secondary to the intention of the photograph: hair salons that example styles, using the body to create a sense of scale, advertising, instructional manuals.


The final chapter is quiet poetic.  The author postulates that a reflection of Daguerre is visable in his 1838 iconic photograph, Le Boulevard du Temple. Using a technique called “pencil graining” Daguerre’s face, hands and one of his legs can be seen with his camera and tripod.

Please stay tuned for another zine corner. Until then, run! Don’t walk to the ICP library to check it out.

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