A visually vibrant but conceptually blurry coffee-table book.




The physical contours of technology, architecture, and settlement intertwine with humanity’s understanding of society and the universe, according to this debut photo essay.

In this lavishly illustrated coffee-table tome, Stark, a documentary filmmaker, pairs photos of highly patterned buildings, cities, tools, and diagrams with commentary on the zeitgeist that allegedly birthed them. She focuses on characteristic shapes that she feels epitomize stages of human culture. For hunter-gatherers, she contends, those shapes are circles and webs, as seen in photos of circular huts and villages, sand drawings by Australian Aborigines, and buxom fertility-goddess carvings, all symbolizing a worldview enmeshed in the rhythmic cycles of nature. Agricultural and industrial civilization, by contrast, shapes itself into triangles, ladders, and grids, as photographed in pyramids, skyscrapers, and right-angled urban street plans. These speak of a top-down, hierarchical order that separates heaven from earth, worships heroic male leadership, fixates on quantitative reasoning, and imagines history as progress rather than a cycle. Stark argues that humanity is now entering a new era rooted in two novel guiding shapes: the helix, which she considers a blueprint for adaptive change because it coils about a directional axis and is associated with DNA and evolution, and the network, because the internet is everywhere. (She further conjectures that the torus—the Platonic form of the bagel—will be the shape of the future.) Stark’s photos, from bacterial colonies to galactic panoramas, are colorful and engrossing and sometimes prompt engaging meditations, as when she compares Stonehenge’s collegial circularity to a Cambridge cathedral’s hierarchical Christian verticality. But her morphological categories are more fuzzy metaphor than sound history. (Helixes, for example—screws, springs, spiral stairs—have been around for centuries.) In treating shape as ideology, she seldom considers the practicalities that determine forms. (She shows how the row-and-column periodic table of the elements could be redrawn as a helix or a torus, without noting that those alternate versions are unreadable.) Stark’s analysis rarely yields more than vague truisms—“we shape our world, and then it shapes us”—and her critique of rectilinearity lapses into eco-mysticism: “The grid is growth gone wild…a cancer,” she intones, while celebrating curves as the essence of holism, peace, and sustainability. Still, dogmatic interpretations aside, the photos here nicely highlight the spatial inventiveness of humankind in every age. The tell is somewhat muddled, but the show is just fine.

A visually vibrant but conceptually blurry coffee-table book.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62634-471-6

Page Count: 101

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2018

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A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.


A noted critic advises us to dance to the music of art.

Senior art critic at New York Magazine and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz (Seeing Out Louder, 2009, etc.) became a writer only after a decadeslong battle with “demons who preached defeat.” Hoping to spare others the struggle that he experienced, he offers ebullient, practical, and wise counsel to those who wonder, “How can I be an artist?” and who “take that leap of faith to rise above the cacophony of external messages and internal fears.” In a slim volume profusely illustrated with works by a wide range of artists, Saltz encourages readers to think, work, and see like an artist. He urges would-be artists to hone their power of perception: “Looking hard isn’t just about looking long; it’s about allowing yourself to be rapt.” Looking hard yields rich sources of visual interest and also illuminates “the mysteries of your taste and eye.” The author urges artists to work consistently and early, “within the first two hours of the day,” before “the pesky demons of daily life” exert their negative influence. Thoughtful exercises underscore his assertions. To get readers thinking about genre and convention, for example, Saltz presents illustrations of nudes by artists including Goya, Matisse, Florine Stettheimer, and Manet. “Forget the subject matter,” he writes, “what is each of these paintings actually saying?” One exercise instructs readers to make a simple drawing and then remake it in an entirely different style: Egyptian, Chinese ink-drawing, cave painting, and the styles of other artists, like Keith Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe. Freely experiment with “different sizes, tools, materials, subjects, anything,” he writes. “Don’t resist something if you’re afraid it’s taking you far afield of your usual direction. That’s the wild animal in you, feeding.” Although much of his advice is pertinent to amateur artists, Saltz also rings in on how to navigate the art world, compose an artist’s statement, deal with rejection, find a community of artists, and beat back demons. Above all, he advises, “Work, Work, Work.”

A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08646-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.



Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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