Monday, April 26, 2021

Reading | See San Francisco and Corbis Royalty Free RF004

See San Francisco | Victoria Smith

A social media influencer roams the streets of her home town, snapping dozens of pretty pastel Insta-style photos. She gets a book deal, and an editor convinces her to arrange her shots by neighborhood, prefacing each section with a one-page blurb describing the personality and key features of that particular neck of the woods. Sounds good so far, right? The only hitch in the plan is that said influencer's photos don't necessarily zero in on what is unique about each area of the city; mostly she loves to document commonalities: darling cafes and restaurants, quirky shops, brightly colored vehicles, charming street scenes, vintage signs, and flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. So. If you want a proper tour guide of San Francisco, I suggest you shop on. But if you're looking for a book full of pretty pictures with a highly specific aesthetic, taken in and around this lovely American city by the bay, bingo.

Corbis Royalty Free RF004

Browsing books at the thrift store one day, I pulled this one off the shelf, took one glance at the cover, and fell in love. Took me considerably longer to figure out exactly what I was holding. More catalog than book, this is a marketing publication put out by a photo licensing company, originally owned by Bill Gates and eventually sold to a Chinese company that now leases the operation to Getty Images. Much easier to describe is what's inside this adorable pink-booted cover: photos. Big, bright, colorful, interesting photos. Grouped into thematic categories - Abundance, Aspiration, Balance, and so on - the photos command my attention and captivate my imagination. Other than the category names, there are no words on these pages, but honestly, I don't miss them one bit.

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I'm currently working my way through a book called The Artist's Way that leads the reader into discovering deeper wells of creativity within, and one of the activities involves weekly visits to art galleries or museums. Alas, Covid complicates that plan, and while I'm sure I could work out an arrangement for spending time in outdoor art collections, or socially distancing myself in more conventional indoor locations, I decided to reinterpret the challenge. How about I widen my artistic horizons through books? 

Over the past month, I've scrolled through dozens of art titles and while there are quite a few individual artists and art movements that pique my interest - Bauhaus! Frank Stella! Surrealistic architecture! Andy Goldsworthy! - I found myself craving something much more simple. Photographs. Everyday photos of everyday places and things. Exactly the kind of photos that I might have taken myself, had I not spent this past year in Lockdown City, taking very few photographs indeed. 

And that's the path that led me to these two books: they are simply books full of photos. For that purpose, both books are useful but to be honest, the Corbis catalog scratches my photo-craving itch in a much more direct and pleasing way. Compared to See San Francisco, the Corbis photos are bigger and better quality; the subject matters more diverse and imaginative, and the simple thematic categories organize the photos in a much more pleasing way. 

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