Paging through Philip-Lorca diCorcia's gorgeous new monograph, A Storybook Life, the thoughts come alternately: "Jesus, that's an amazing photograph," and "Christ, that's a boring photograph." Although diCorcia is unarguably one of the most influential photographers of the past 25 years, his work has always suffered from a lack of good editing, as evidenced here.
diCorcia rose to prominence as part of the so-called "Boston School" of photography, alongside Nan Goldin, Jack Pierson, and other color snap shooters who created intimate mementos directly from their own decadent lives. diCorcia took a different route and began to compose and light his scenarios, which blended documentary realism with cinematic fashion. This creation of the theatrical document became one of the leading modes of photography in the '90s, as witnessed by Sharon Lockhart, Gregory Crewdson, and anybody with an MFA in photography from Yale.
A Storybook Life is the most comprehensive diCorcia book to date, and contains many of his well-known images. Mainly, however, it is comprised of lesser-seen works from throughout his career.
diCorcia is at his best when he's telling fragmented stories of human beings in crystalline color: a man looking over his shoulder while standing on a river bank with a naked infant; a scruffy man slouching in a trashed-out apartment with a beer in his hand, gazing affectionately at his pooch; and a teenage security officer leering at a woman in a yellow bikini through a rolled-down window. The psychological intensity and delicacy of his best work begs comparison to writer A.M. Homes and filmmaker P.T. Anderson.
Other photographs are so mind-numbingly academic and flat-out boring that one wishes to find diCorcia and pummel him for inspiring an entire wave of matter-of-fact color photographs that try to make up in size what they lack in originality or content. A Storybook Life also includes some of the artist's earlier, more candid snapshot work, which is clearly not his strength and would be better relegated to small reference images to contextualize his mature work.
A tighter edit would have greatly helped this book but despite its uneven selection, A Storybook Life remains a monograph of remarkable maturity and beauty. CHAS BOWIE