Larry Towell Made Me Fall in Love with Books

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I love photobooks. It’s somewhere between a passion and an obsession, my love for photography combined with my need for books.

I started reading at an early age as a way to escape into another world. Books helped shape me into who I am today (which is good, I can first blame Karl May and Mark Twain, and Brecht, Mann, Freud and the like later, for being a bit off).

Then, around 2004-2005, I discovered photobooks – took me a while! Real photography in book form! Not that photo guides or cookbooks have no real photography in them, but that’s a different real than the REAL thing.

Larry Towell He is the REAL thing to me, and one of the first that really opened my eyes to what photography is and can achieve. One of the first books I got my hands on was “The Mennonites”, published in 2000 by Phaidon. The photography is superb, I love Towell’s eye. I also learned that it can take years and years to get a body of work together, in this case some ten+ years, something that today is happening less, or so it seems. Today’s world is faster. Anyway, it is a beautiful book, very well made. The photographs are intermixed with text printed on paper that resembles that of a Bible, very fitting given the subject matter. A book to look at and to read and to learn from, one that makes it on my reading table (or would make it on there if I had one) quite often.

Sticking with Towell, later I found a copy of “El Salvador”, published in 1997 by W. W. Norton/Doubletake Books. It is a complete change of subject, far away from home, the opposite of the slow and peaceful, albeit hard life of “The Mennonites” families. I fully agree with what I read in a review of this body of work: “Towell does not take pretty photos, but they are beautiful.” Close to the people, taking sides, Larry Towell shows the beauty and humanity in the midst of war and chaos. An important book to get insight into the lives of the people and the place, in a very difficult moment in the history of this country.

“The World from My Front Porch”, published in 2008 by Chris Boot, is the third book I own of his. I absolutely love his photography, but I wish the representations of the objects and the old family photos (some as old as 100 years) was done differently. Leafing through the book I come to an understanding of how universal great family pictures are – it matters little that this family isn’t mine, or that his ancestors and neighbours aren’t mine, I recognize the “human” family that we all have in common. This is, ultimately, what photography, and especially Larry Towell’s photography, is about to me. A connection and understanding of my next of kin.


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