I promise not to bitch too much, but I’m doing this review from a PDF that the publisher sent me, which is probably the last format a critic should be working from when reviewing a book of photography, especially one as brilliant as this. 1.3, which you can buy for an incredibly low price over at Amazon.com, makes a fine gift for the photography lover in your life.
Cell phone photography is an art unto itself; it’s not pretty, pixels are hard to deal with – but sometimes you see things that you have to take a picture of and you only have your cell phone camera handy. Since the world doesn’t remember a time when we didn’t have cell phones, and everyone has one, this book is a testament to the beauty that can be found through the lens attached to that piece of plastic we spend all day talking on. The thumbnails that make up this book, (small pictures from the PDF) are more than a passing fancy, they are riveting. Photographer Joel Grey has given every image a time and date stamp, which says something about these pictures. On August 13th 2007 why did he take a picture of someone’s eye, a green eye, wide open? And on May 12th earlier that same year, what is the fluid stream of light that is passing a pair of legs and sneakers? On August 13th 2007, Mr. Grey spotted a peeled face on a wall, and it appears, (I can’t tell, the picture is too small for me to see it up close, computer screens are lousy for resolution…) that someone has put unhappy faces over the eyes of this pretty child’s face that seems to be trapped on the wall. What is happening on July 22 2007, there is an American Flag at the sight of some destruction, a disaster? I love the man walking with his dry cleaning on October 23rd 2008 across what looks like a worn out background, building, something…or on May 30th 2008 there is a shadow on the spine of a book? What is this? It looks like a tiny man has popped up for a breath of fresh air. I love the pine tree cut out on the shutter, are those bars on the window? I can’t tell, again, I can’t get close enough to see the real beauty of this image, taken just before Thanksgiving in 2007.
This kind of photography isn’t any different than say Winogrand, but it begs closer inspection because it’s not a big deal, camera phones are everywhere, good eyes are not. Joel Grey has delivered a collection of wonderful images, scenes that were caught out of the corner of his eye, not because he was looking, but when he wasn’t looking this stuff cropped up.
I love the warm colors woven into these pictures, the deep blues and lush greens (totally unfiltered, and the phone has one aperture setting), and the barking dog behind the fence taken in September 2007. I love the strange picture of a woman’s profile (stencil?) on a billboard or the side of a building with the blue paint streak above her head, taken November 13th 2007. And then the baby Jesus in a crib behind the fence taken March 3rd 2008, this picture is chilly and detached, really odd.
There is a great picture, better than anything else in this book, taken on September 13th 2007, Mr. Grey must have been behind two men as they walked shirtless and arm and arm down the street. This image is almost abstract but has a scent of realism, like the details of a Raymond Carver story brought to life, right down to the scratches on the back of one man. What happened? This is a moment, a second lifted of the shoulders of us all, seconds that we take for granted and will never know we had to begin with. This book captures those moments, carefully and poignantly.