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The Sam Abell Library: The Photography of Places

One photographer that has had a great impact on how I have came to see things around me is Sam Abell. I am drawn towards his ‘quiet’ photographs which seem to speak volumes in their silence. There is always a certain ‘mood’ in his photographs that resonates with me. When I first got interested in photography a decade or more ago, one of the first books I bought was Sam Abell: The Photographic Life. In The Photographic Life and some of his other books, Abell shares about the thought process that went into the making of many of his photographs. I have found this sharing to be an invaluable resource and I find myself going back time and again to his books for inspiration.

Radius Books released The Sam Abell Library: The Photography of Places, the first of 4 boxed sets dedicated to Abell’s work early this year. This boxed set contains about 140 colour images spread across 312 pages over 4 volumes. The following is part of the blurb from the publisher:-

“This four-year publishing endeavor, ultimately comprising sixteen separate volumes, is the most comprehensive expression to date of Abell’s work. In each set of four volumes Abell takes up a theme important to the history of art: the photography of places; the photography of nature; the photography of the past; and the photography of ideas. Each volume features Abell’s iconic images set for the first time in the context of his extensive never-before-published work. Essays by Abell appear throughout the sixteen volumes.”

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The first introductory volume in this boxed set features an illustrated introductory essay by Leah Bendavid-Val, Abell’s long-time editor. The introduction is followed by 2 sections; the first section ‘Venice’ features photographs Abell made in Venice over 2 months in 1994, and the second section ‘American History’ features photographs from an ongoing project to document how America has changed over his lifetime.

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The second volume in this boxed set features photographs Abell made in Newfoundland.

“Forty-two years have passed since I worked in Newfoundland. Yet it is the place and the work I think of most often. The photography I did there between 1970 and 1972 shaped the rest of my life.” ~Sam Abell

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The third volume in this boxed set features photograph Abell made in Hagi, Japan.

“Hagi opened my mind to new ideas about color, space, graphics and design. These new ideas rose from the everyday aesthetic of Japanese life around me. In addition to this inspiration, the work ethic of the Japanese was fresh, intense and contagious. I felt an aesthetic connection with Hagi – and thus Japan – I was to feel with no other place or culture. The result was the most concentrated five weeks of photography in my life.” ~Sam Abell

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The final volume in this boxed set features photographs Abell made in northern Australia.

“When I speak of Australia I mean northern Australia – the top tier of the continent, stretching from Cape York to the Kimberley. I worked there for parts of six years because other places, including Australia’s south, seemed tame by comparison. . . . there was never danger without beauty and that, for me, was the intoxication of Australia.” ~Sam Abell

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The Sam Abell Library: The Photography of Places is a welcomed addition to my library. The quality of the printing is good but the quality of the covers binding the books and the slipcase is quite poor. There were already signs of wear on the covers (especially the edges) when I unwrapped the shrink wrap and took the books out of the slipcase. If you are not familiar with Sam Abell’s work, I would recommend you first get one of his older books like Sam Abell: The Photographic Life (out of print but used copies are still available) or The Life of a Photograph (highly recommended and currently quite cheap on Amazon with 60% off the regular price). I am looking forward to the next Sam Abell Library set and hope they manage to improve the quality of the cover binding.

The Sam Abell Library: The Photography of Places is available on Amazon US (currently having a 30% discount) and UK.

All photographs from the book featured on this post © Sam Abell