I have to admit I have something of a prejudice against oversized photo books. They try so hard—it seems such a coarse, obvious strategy to try to attract attention. Lots of "big" books aren't quite carried by the pictures inside them, many of which are simply reproduced too big, and despite their typical cost a lot of them aren't very well made—they tend to get loose and sloppy after surprisingly little handling.
When talking about photo books, I care a lot about what you might call "the art of the book"—by which I mean the book as an art-object in and of itself—its design, the quality of its printing, its overall proportions and how appropriate it is to its contents, how it all works together, the "rightness" of the whole production.
Anyway, here's a "big" exception to my bias against big books: Phaidon's Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry. The size works beautifully here with the images—I've just never seen these pictures look better in print, even though many of them have been reproduced many times in many places (yes, the famous green-eyed Afgan girl is present and accounted for, in ultimate form). Looking East is a great way to experience a fine selection of these wonderful photographs. The reproduction is top-flight, and the design is unusually unfussy—it gets out of the way of the pictures while adding just the right note of elegance.
Okay, I can't stop with the dumb puns, but this is a "great big book." Look for it.
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON