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

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 ( and instagram (@nakasmith) are absolutely worth checking out, but I specifically would point any interested parties to her VINE account ( 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 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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Caleb’s zine corner #3

Caleb’s zine corner #3


DON’T SING ANOTHER SONG: Five musicians’ favorites by Atsushi Sugie (2014)

Good afternoon ~ this installment of the ‘corner is a brief look at “DON’T SING ANOTHER SONG” a 2014 photo zine by Atsushi Sugie. The zine was published as a three way collaboration between a shoe making company (NAOT), a notebook manufacturer (Traveler’s Factory), and mille books. It contains lovely black and white photographs of musicians mostly reading books (the musicians listed on the back cover: Toshiaki Yamada (GOMES THE HITMAN), Ame (Kimono), tico moon (Yuka Yoshiko/Toshikiko Kageyama), Rie Yoshihara, and Lica) and occasionally holding instruments. From a look at Sugie’s website I deduced that the photographs are analog, and are showcasing commodities from each of the three companies that published the zine.DSAS_zine05_670

Come check out this zine at the ICP library !! Sugie has a blog and a website



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Mark Seliger: The Music Book

The ICP Library carries over 24,000 volumes within its shelves (and beyond) covering an extensive overview of photography as a practice, historical documentation, fine art and more. Students and patrons enter our doors looking for Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Tillman, Arbus, Davidson, Moriyama and a plethora of other famous and under-the-radar photography luminaries. But what I’ve noticed in the two years that I have been lucky to be a part of this amazing institution is a very minimal interest in music photography.

But why? There is no doubt that music is important; it has survived since prehistoric times, preexisting written languages. It has the power to both bond and save people (both mentally and physically), and generations have been defined by the styles and content of music – the 20’s, 40’s, 60’s and 80’s for example. But yet in a library that covers so much, there seems to be very little interest in documenting the important history of music and musicians.

The ICP Library houses an impressive music photography collection, ranging from books of live music shots covering genres including country, jazz, rock and more, to those containing some of the most famous portraits of musicians. This blog entry is going to focus on one of those books: Mark Seliger: The Music Book (TR681.M86.S45 2008). This collection consists of 35 iconic photos Seliger shot between 1987-2008, some of which were featured in Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone (where he served as Chief Photographer from 1992-2002).

MarkSeligerTheMusicBookCover 2
[TR681.M86.S45 2008]

The Music Book includes legendary artists that span decades, genres and in some cases have interacted with one another, creating several themes that catch your eye as you flip through the images. The next few paragraphs will discuss some of those themes and characteristics the way I perceived them.

Image Placement:

When flipping through a photo book, the location of the images is sometimes just as important as the images themselves.  Their relationship to one another can either create a story or add to one that already exists. As you turn to the first image of The Music Book, you are greeted by the one and only Chuck Berry: a wonderful black and white shot of him crouched down with his guitar. Turning to the next two images, somewhat reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge, you can image Johnny B. Goode himself doing his one legged hop across the floor.


[Chuck Berry, St. Louis, MO 2001 – Pages 1,2,3]

A playful peek-a-boo Paul McCartney is positioned opposite a blank white page. Turn to the next page and you notice another blank page next to the portrait of Sean Lennon. Place holders perhaps? Turn once more and you find two contrasting portraits of George Harrison. It’s a simple guess that the two blank pages represent not only John missing in his death, but also where’s Ringo?




[Paul McCartney, New York City, 2001 / Sean Lennon, New York City, 2003 /
George Harrison, Los Angeles, CA, 1992 – Pages 9-14]

When thinking of the love stories that blossomed throughout the history of music, one of the most iconic that comes to mind is that of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Seliger’s portraits feature the Man in Black standing stoic in his choice attire, his long hair flowing like a mane as his back is turned to the camera, his guitar contrasting in color on his back. His head is slightly turned to the right, as if looking to the next page at his beautiful wife. June, also accompanied by a guitar, faces her husband with a warm smile; their love for each other (and music) comes through the two separate images.


[Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash, Hendersonville, TN, 1992 – Pages 18-19 ]

Flamboyant vs. Simple:

The objects and stories of the photos aside, Seliger’s portraits are in and of themselves pieces of art. The dramatics added can at first seem over the top, but they work well with the subject, as seen below:

Country icon Dolly Parton poses in a red dress, surrounded by red roses, on a chaise lounge on stage (shot for Vanity Fair’s Iconic Images Series):


[Dolly Parton, Nashville TN, 2006 – Pages 87-88 ]

Sean Combs as ‘The King of New York’, literally; he’s sitting on a throne in the middle of Times Square (shot for Vanity Fair’s Iconic Images Series):


[Sean Combs, New York City, 2005 – Pages 54-55]

Rufus Wainwright, a distant blood relative of Peter Stuyvesant – New York’s Dutch Governor in the 17th century, standing stone-faced, dressed in period attire:


[Rufus Wainwright, New York City, 2001 – Page 57]

There are also portraits that could be considered simple, especially in comparison to those discussed above, but are actually more complex in emotion not only within the subject, but the emotion that the viewer feels. Sometimes all it takes is having the artist in their element. Like Ray Charles sitting at a piano, or B.B. King in his zone on stage.


[Ray Charles, New York City, 2000 – Page 13]

Some of my personal favorites from the book include – badass Chrissie Hynde, founding member of The Pretenders, looking “vulnerable” – her makeup running down her face as if she was crying.


[Chrissie Hynde, New York City, 1995 – Page 74]

And Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain front and center wearing a shirt that reads “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” written across in magic marker (This photo made the cover of Rolling Stone – Vol. 628, April 16, 1992 – and the story behind Selgier’s concerns of presenting it to RS are well documented).


[Nirvana, Melbourne, Australia, 1992 – Page 70]

Farewell Legends:

One of the benefits of photographs are they allow the human image to live on. Going through the pages of The Music Book, it’s hard to not notice how many music legends have left us, especially since the book starts off with the great Chuck Berry, who just passed in March of this year. There’s Ray Charles, Johnny & June, B.B. King, Lou Reed, Gregg Allman, Jerry Garcia, Merle Haggard, just to name a few. Seliger’s portrait of Kurt Cobain, shown below, was used for the tribute cover of Rolling Stone when he passed in 1994.


[Kurt Cobain, Kalamazoo, MI, 1993 – Page 72 / Rolling Stone. Issue No. 683,  June 2, 1994]

There are more iconic portraits in the pages of Mark Seliger: The Music Book – including U2, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, CSN&Y, Willie Nelson – and while it doesn’t showcase all of Seliger’s work (he did shoot over 100 covers for Rolling Stone alone) it’s a wonderful collection for any music lover and, in regards to how this entry began, a documentation of music. Spanning over three decades, Seliger has captured definitive moments in music that may never come around again (i.e. grunge) and the legends who have left us in flesh, but live on thanks to their music and his photos.

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