Photo: courtesy of Mike Mandel and TBW Books, 2017.
Perhaps you’ve been gazing upon Susan Meiselas’ Prince Street Girls for so long you, you didn’t realize they had never been published in book form. It just seemed so obvious and yet it’s taken four decades for these iconic works to be printed and bound into one sumptuous volume when Soho was an Italian neighborhood.
Remnants of the era have been all but erased by the broad sweeping brush of gentrification. But for a lone street named “Carmine” you might not ever know—well, that and Meiselas’ photographs taken one summer long ago. The photographs were taken during the era of hot pants and wedges, tube tops and high socks, back when you and your crew used to stroll the block for kicks before hightailing it to the beach—when you used to go outdoors in the summer because there was nothing to do indoors, and it was just too damn hot to be inside.
These magical moments of yesteryear have finally been published in the TBW Book Series No. 5, a four-book set that includes Mike Mandel: Boardwalk Minus Forty, Bill Burke: They Shall Take Up Serpents, and Lee Friedlander: Head.
Printed in an edition of 1,000, TBW Book Series No. 5 is the must-have item for photography aficionados who love classic monographs and delight in having collections to adorn their bookshelves and tabletops. Each book is clothbound with a French-fold dust jacket that features a photograph inset over printed paper that evokes the mood of the volume underneath.
Mike Mandel: Boardwalk Minus Forty is a splashy look back at life on the beach, created during the artist’s time as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. These photographs constitute Mandel’s first serious work as an artist, documenting life in the sand and on the surf, capturing the spirit of American leisure during the 1970s, when people lived life on their own terms.
Susan Meiselas: Prince Street Girls takes us inside a group of girls coming up on the streets of New York as they discovered themselves. The spirit of freedom and rebellion wafts through the work like the smoke from the cigarettes the girls smoke without thought or care. Prince Street Girls paints a portrait of Old York, of a time and a place that has long since disappeared.
Bill Burke: They Shall Take Up Serpents is an amazing trip inside the American soul, into the world of coal miners who double as snake handlers for religious ceremonies. Here we witness a culture where death is always a risk, whether from the work they perform for their bread and butter or the possibility the snakes will turn against them.
The series concludes with Lee Friedlander: Head, a collection of work that spans half a century. Friedlander delved into his archive in search of photographs that feature one of his signature motifs: the back of someone’s head as the subject of the work. Here we observe the observer, who is both specific and anonymous, seeing the world that lies in front of them as they go about their business. Head is alternately amusing, poignant, and profound, subtly conveying our compulsion to look in order to make sense of the world.
Taken together, TBW Book Series No. 5 takes us back in time, to Americas of yesterday, before a time of digital life, when people did more with less, and seem all the more fulfilled for it. Each of the books is brilliantly edited, sequenced, and designed so that the stories, while succinct, draw you in and come alive.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.