Not so many years ago, before the internet became ubiquitous, people often found passing amusement in something commonly known as “coffee table” books. These picture books for adults featured the best and rarest photographic images from all over the world, so eye-catching and interesting, they were like miniature museums. Coffee table books may not be as common today, but they can still be found at the library, often featured in the new books area on the first floor. I recently took a look at some of these dazzling volumes.
“Jungle: A Photicular Book” by Dan Kainen and Kathy Wollard is the latest in a series of nature books featuring photicular, a holograph-like technology created by artist and designer Kainen. As you turn the pages of “Jungle,” a leaf frog winks its huge eyes at you, a Bengal tiger runs straight at you through the marsh and a tarantula skitters over the forest floor. In a world overloaded with video images, it’s a delight to sit with a book that seems to come alive in your hands.
The human form in motion is the engaging concept of “Lois Greenfield: Moving Still” by Lois Greenfield. A legend in dance photography, Greenfield uses a technique that makes her subjects appear almost weightless, leaping amidst bright swaths of filmy fabric
and intertwining with one another in impossible ways, turning ephemeral moments into stopped-time sculptures. An author interview gives insight into how she pushes the boundaries of color, form and movement into the realm of the magical.
“Abandoned in Place: Preserving America’s Space History” by Roland Miller also seeks to capture moments in time, albeit with a very different subject. Intrigued by America’s earliest ventures into space exploration, Miller undertook to photograph the launch towers, tunnels, test stands and control rooms at Cape Canaveral and other NASA locations that were part of the infrastructure of a program that once represented the best of America. Long ago abandoned, these places are now in stark decay. The images bring to mind the fleeting nature of greatness and power.
The beauty of America’s national parks has inspired a multitude of coffee table books over the years. “Inspired by the National Parks: Their Landscapes and Wildlife in Fabric Perspectives” by Donna Marcinkowski DeSoto offers art quilt interpretations of our treasured parks. The artists share technical details or relate personal inspirations for each piece. This book may be of particular interest to those visiting the library to see the 2017 Quilt Exhibit that runs through April 15.
Coffee table books are the perfect format for showcasing art in all its forms, including cartooning. “The Art of Disney Moana” by Jessica Julius depicts the creation of the recent Disney film based on a fictional Pacific Islander, Moana. Whether or not you’re a fan of children’s movies, you’ll be captivated by the detailed process of bringing a cartoon film to life, from research to drawing to storyboarding the plot.
The internet’s ability to capture the attention of millions has led to many book-related tie-ins. “Things Organized Neatly” by Austin Radcliffe offers photos from the Tumblr blog site he curates, which displays photos of neatly collected objects. The eye is enticed to linger over images of sandwich wedges precisely stacked into a tree shape, colorful coolers formed into an igloo and whimsical children’s toys lined up in tidy rows. The careful arrangement of objects gives them added weight and value, Radcliffe says, and inspires a sense of calm in the viewer.
Almost anything can be found on the internet these days, but discovering images in a coffee table book offers a special magic. Something about the multi-sensory experience of balancing a hefty tome on your knees and carefully turning big full-color pages makes for unexpected, memorable delights.