The year in photography monographs has officially commenced with a squat but massive doorstopper from mid-career superstar Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Thousand is about as compact as a 7-inch LP, but as thick as a pair of phonebooks. It collects 1,000 of the artist's Polaroids from the past several decades, and reproduces each one alone on ultra-thin pages. (These Polaroids aren't the instamatic snaps of the pre-camera phone era, but a similar technology that allows professional photographers to proof their work in progress.) Thousand doesn't set any records for mass or density (Gerhard Richter's Atlas collects more than 5,000 images), but its bulky heft certainly commands a shelf.
One of the most respected and emulated photographers alive, diCorcia is frequently (and facilely) describedas the guy who most deftly toes the line between staged and documentary photography. Early in his career, he made photographs of friends and family that somehow looked both entirely natural and completely cinematic; years later, he discreetly installed studio lighting on posts and scaffolds in Manhattan, redefining "street photography" with candid but dramatically lit visions of urban life.
Thousand spans diCorcia's career, but mostly avoids his well-known works, which are indirectly and occasionally represented through outtakes and preparatory studies. But overwhelmingly, Thousand is comprised of the artist's personal work: images made without galleries in mind, ideas being tested and teased out. In this way, the hulking collection combines the best of "deleted scenes" tidbits and more intimate family albums.
But not everybody is so impressed: Early reviewers are howling at a truly unorthodox approach the artist and publisher took in laying the book out. In photography monographs, image sequencing is everything—it's how visual stories are told, and how meaning and significance are implied. Sequencing is sacrosanct. But after untold attempts to order the 1,000 photographs, diCorcia assigned a number to each image, and let a computer randomly dictate their placement in the book. Purists reacted as if diCorcia was torching a first printing of Robert Frank's Les Américains, and they're missing the point entirely. By relinquishing the storytelling impulse as much as possible, diCorcia has indeed disrupted the traditional role of book arts. Instead, he's handed us the closest thing possible to an enormous box of old Polaroids, allowing us to sift through it as we wish.