Focus by Michael Gross

boo jacket man photographer taking picture of woman laying downFocus: The secret, sexy, sometimes sordid world of fashion photographers by Michael Gross (2016)

I spotted this book on the “new nonfiction” shelf at the library and debated whether I would want to read it or not. As a photographer and with an interest in sewing (show more actual pattern construction Project Runway!), I was curious what would be included, so since I could still physically manage to carry in my bag of books for the trip, I brought it home.

Alas, not worth the weight. The bibliography was pretty interesting though. However, the first thing that obviously put me off a bit was the cover, because as a feminist, the sexuality and dominance of the photo with the woman laying with eyes closed was, hmm, hate to say offensive because that’s not quite right; kind of like I felt the whole heroin chic phase was not best serving anything either. On the other hand, it does work to illustrate the titillation factor the author strove fore with the subtitle, so I suppose it is a good image for the book.

The book contains a few apparently random photos of people without any figure numbers indicating any relationship to the text of the book. So no reason to really care are look why they were included. Sure some of the text probably referenced the people, but it references practically every person the author had known or had notes about. It is mostly names in the 13 page index, with multiple random page references to them.

This basically described the organization of the book. The artsy balderdash of the table of contents further demonstrates the author’s deliberate decision to randomly but potentially with some general historical to contemporary basis.

He tells us things that are kind of a “so?” or “duh” in response, the drugs, the sex, the AIDs devastation, but doesn’t really tell us anything profound or unexpected about anyone. Fun to see that photographer A was technically incompetent but got a pass anyway because of an “artistic eye” and so became well paid and famous while all the assistants (women often) did all the actual work setting the lighting and getting the camera ready. A long standing tradition; exploit employees, fake it until you make it. Find a true believer to pitch you to others with power to hire. Then you die — or become yesterday’s style.

No news here. Mainly a garden salad of naming names of photographers, models, celebrities in a tiny isolated self-involved world of their own.

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