Monday, 4 March 2013

5 Coffee Table Books you Must Own

My collection of coffee table books is steadily growing despite the fact I have absolutely zero room for them with the added problem in that I don't actually own a coffee table to proudly display them on. In fact my wife will let out an audible groan when she see's my mouse hovering over the "add to basket" icon when I'm on Amazon. What is a coffee table book? I hear you ask, well read on and I shall inform.

#1 THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: The Definitive Story behind the Film

My latest and greatest book purchase I've had my eye on for a while but resisted buying it due to the fact its original list price was originally around the fifty pounds mark but some spare cash and a price reduction on Amazon were two forces that combined forces nicely.
If like me you were born in the early 70's chances are you sucumbed to the Star Wars craze and even today can't resist using empty coffee mugs to talk into to perfect your party piece "No Luke I am your Father" phrase to impress the kids (okay so that's just me then). The Making of The Empire Strikes Back: The Definitive Story Behind the Film By J.W Rinzler is by far the most in depth book I've seen on the Star Wars Trilogy, Empire being my favourite of the original trilogy of films this packs a real wallop at 372 pages with some stunning content, the cover even depicts Luke and Vader in the sabre duel and clearly shows both light sabres with no visual effect.
The book is packed with some outstanding Star Wars photography and great insights on filming both on sound stages and on location, in particular are highlights of the perils of shooting in Norway for the Imperial AT AT attack on Echo base sequence (the temperature in Norway was so cold that if crew touched the cameras without wearing gloves bare skin from fingers would stick to the metal parts of frozen cameras and therefore needed to be sliced off with razor blades). The book also touches on the sometimes highly tense relationships between actors and director Irvin Kershner and the constant visits on set by banks and financiers worried about the over budget production and often problematic shoot.
I love the fact you can dive into this book anywhere and on any page find a Star Wars laden treasure trove of stories and behind the scenes images and anecdotes you probably have never seen before. There's a great story of Vaders comical entry to Echo base which didn't quite come off as planned, the ditched Wampa - Stormtrooper attack that never made the cut (with photos!) and its rammed with model makers,set pics and some great candid shots of the stars on set. Empire Strikes Back sealed its fate as probably the darkest and most standout of the 3 films but this book is testament to the raw talent and hard work that went into the film to give us the masterpiece we know and love today. Amazon currently have this listed at twenty Eight pounds, an absolute bargain for a tome as hefty and detailed at this. The Empire Strikes Back: The Definitive Story Behind the Film.

At 272 pages Gil Elvgren: All his Glamorous American Pin-ups (25th Anniversary) this is amazing value for money, I picked up mine about a year ago for just over ten pounds so this really is one of those guilty pleasures you should invest in. American artist Edward Hopper, Pin up posters, Pulp Art from the 50's and the pin up art of Vargas has always appealed to me but its Gil Elvgrens American pin up art that seals the deal for me.
While the art of Vargas is slightly more classy with a delicate and refined touch, Gils 'Technicolor Fantasy' pin up art (to coin a phrase) has always been well rounded and fruity, its naughty stocking clad girls in various states of cheeky predicament add a touch of thrill rather than run any risk of being accused of rude soft porn and it still manages to be completely harmless but with perhaps a large dose of suggestive behaviour. Pin ups have been rooted firmly in Americana, beautiful girls with gravity defying busts, slender legs and racy underwear...and a small dog by their side thrown in for good measure. Elvgrens appreciation of the female form is well catalogued with skin tones like silk and poses that sizzle with cheeky allure right off the page. It was this type of art that was given even more precedence when young World War 2 Bomber Pilots adorned the noses of their B17' Bombers with crude pin up girl murals and decals in order to personalise and humanise their machines of war - and its looking through books on nose art (Gary Valants Vintage Nose Art book is worth checking out) that I was first introduced to this type of art. This book isn't small, its a solid tome packed to the brim of some truly beautiful pin up art and with very little white space, books like this are created by people who truly appreciate this type of art but then most books by Taschen normally are substantial in both quality and content and they do publish some of the best art books. Gil Elvgren: All his Glamorous American Pin-ups (25th Anniversary)

#3 ICONS: The DC Comics and Wildstorm Art of Jim Lee

Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee runs at 296 pages, this one also packs a heavyweight punch. I've been a fan of Lee's for a long while, I was first introduced to both Carl Potts and Jim Lee's style of artwork when he worked on the Punisher War Journal series for Marvel Comics in 1988. While I tend to like the gritty style of John Romitta Jr with the Punisher, it was Lees work that really popped from the page for me and I've been a fan ever since. Jim Lee's other and probably much overlooked title Deathblow gets a good look in with some great Jim Lee art but its the DC era that really gets the coverage in Icons.

Lee's incredible work on Batman:Hush shows sketches, pre inked and post inked and coloured and gives a great insight into the way he works. Superman, Justice league, 100 Bullets as well as Wonder Woman and Lees work on Wildstorm are all covered. Artwork really pops and the colour and quality of the work really cements Lee's place as one of the most important men working in comics today. The book doesn't scrimp when it comes to layout either with content covering full pages and double page layouts it features a nice cross mix of page layout roughs as well as visuals but its the colour work that really jumps out. The only downside to the book is that because its primarily a DC book Lee's Punisher work isn't present, a shame considering it was Lee's bold and highly detailed style that drove the quality of the series after he took over penciller duties from Carl Potts. Superman fans are in for a treat and both the key DC heroes Bruce and Clark get equal billing with some amazing standout artworks and studies. Batman fans will get a massive kick out of this book though and its packed with some great images and even includes the Joker artwork that Jim Lee gave to the late great actor Heath Ledger.

#4 WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT: A Photographers Chronicle of the Iraq War

I love most types of photography but my interest kind of piques when it comes to photo-journalism, especially combat related photography. Its fair to say that the latest rumbles in the dust in Iraq and Afghanistan have offered up some incredible photo essays and journalism by war photographers both in print and online with images that educate us visually on modern conflict. Many years ago I bought an amazing book called "NAM" by photographer Tim Paige, Paige was a an English photographer embedded with US and Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam conflict and was wounded when he stepped on a landmine. It was his images and ability to overcome his wounds that created a level of respect for this kind of photographer. Combat photos portray the sheer terror and risk involved in capturing images we would otherwise not be exposed to.Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF) is one such  book and is a sometimes moving chronicle of Photographer Ashley Gilbertsons work while embedded with American troops.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War is a book that covers both the deadly environment of troops in combat but also cuts deep to the bone by showing some powerful photos of the devastation and pain that armed conflict brings to communities. Content and layout wise its probably one of the better books on the market with a good balance of photography that tells a more involved story.
What I like most is that in his own words the book explains much about the images that Gilbertson was taking at the time of the photo and in some rather tragic cases portrays the last photo ever taken of a particular person while they were alive.The most gripping aspect of the book is Gilbertson's personal account and photos of troops in combat in the brutal fight to take Fallujah, Gilbertson still haunted by the traumatic death of a US Marine which could have well have been his own when a squad escorting him to take a photo of a dead insurgent inside a minaret had deadly consequences. At 260 pages this provides enough content you can dive into, as a book on combat photography it is engrossing, tragic and incredible in equal measure.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War

#5 SOLDIER: A Visual History of the Fighting Man

Soldier: A Visual History of the Fighting Man, this is one of those "books for boys"that you can easily lose a few hours on with a cup of coffee in your man cave, all 360 pages of it. Dorling Kindersley have a knack of producing some pretty good in depth visual guides, in this case is backed up by tons of historical fact which makes the read through educating to say the least.You could almost look at these books as the literary version of a history museum since the photographic content is done in such a way that it mirrors how museums would normally display their exhibits.Uniforms, equipment and weapons are given close up focus as the book covers the advances in technology and tools that the fighting soldier has come to rely on.
The thing I find most staggering is how far advanced weaponry has become  in the last 150 years, in the American Civil War men fired single load muskets with ball and wadding, now night vision, scopes and optics and computers are forging the battlefield of today.
Everything from the Medieval Knight at Agincourt, British Red Coats at Waterloo to the more recent conflicts such as WWII featuring the weapons and equipment of the 101st Airborne Paratrooper, US Marine in Vietnam and the SAS trooper and tactics of modern day. Visually it combines illustrations, photographs and plenty of text, in short there is a ton of information here for the military enthusiast.
This is a heavyweight coffee table book packed with images, illustrations and historic information and a perfect addition to any home library.Soldier: A Visual History of the Fighting Man is also available from Amazon.

 Got a favourite coffee table book you keep going back to?, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below so don't be shy, jump in and get the conversation started.