If you've ever bought a book and been disappointed that there weren't enough pictures, then the Taschen 'Icons' range is probably just what you want. I have a couple of these books -'Indian Style' which I'll review today and 'Eccentric Style'. Each follows the same pattern so my assumption is that all the Icons series are based on a similar format.
Taschen is a German publisher based in Koln which has been running for just over 30 years. It was started by an 18-year old who ran a shop selling comic books and he realised that there was a high demand for unpretentious, good value books about art, design and architecture. The brand has grown to be an international success story, partly due to their use of multi-language formats for many of their books (Indian Style's few words are in English, German and French) and they generally cost much less than you might expect. My assumption would be that by using three languages, they can produce much bigger print runs and so create their democratised-art books at much lower costs.
We must have dozens of Taschen volumes knocking around the house after I bought my husband lots of their books on various artists but I'll admit that I had forgotten about the Icons books until I set out to catalogue our books recently and they popped up.
Indian Style is edited by Angelika Taschen - clearly one of the family - with photographs by Deidi von Schaewen. As is entirely appropriate, on the cover it's the photographer who takes the honours as the first named because this is at heart a book of photographs with a few words here and there for little other purpose than to tell you where the photographs were taken. I moaned in a recent review of the book 'India Modern' by Herbert Ypma that there were too many words and too much effort to try to build a 'story' around the pictures. 'Indian Style' doesn't waste its words and is all the better for that. Instead it places beautiful coloured images in front of you and lets the reader - or rather viewer - make of them what they choose to. In contrast with other similar books, I also like that all the photographs are from just one photographer because it means the images knit together more coherently than in a multi-photographer book.
The book splits the photographs into four groups or chapters. Angelika Taschen gets a page or two to introduce the book with a preface entitled "Why is India so beautiful?" which is one of those questions that anyone who's spent time in the country will recognise as a simple and very searching question. She offers a few suggestions but it's up to you to decide whether she answers the question - in any of the three languages in which the text is offered. With Angelika's musings out of the way we're straight into the wonderful ingulgence of looking at pictures.
The photographic chapters are Landscapes, Houses, Interiors and Details. The book is a small paperback format with the pages just 19.5 cm by 15 cm so there's a risk that such a small layout might compromise the photo quality, however that's not the case. In the first three photo chapters all of the pictures are double spread shots so you do get a good sized picture. Only in the final chapter on 'details' are some of the pictures offered in portrait form but even then they resist the temptation to put two different pictures on each view, opting instead for a blank coloured page to offset the main image.
I enjoyed the Landscapes chapter in particular, indulging in some shameless exclamations of "I know where that is" as the photographs took me on a tour of the country with which I'm so obsessed. I could continue a bit of this self-indulgence in the Houses chapter, taking a moment to confirm if I was right in the section at the end of each chapter which identifies the location and identity of the picture. Interiors is the largest chapter and the least easy for me to identify the sources. The final chapter of details looks unnervingly like they've looked inside my brain and worked out the photos I love to take - lots of painted doors and windows and photos shot through gaps in walls. I'm just so predictable!
The book does a lovely job of mixing old and new, poor and wealthy, exclusive up-market and scruffy unpretentious places - though it would be true to say that it's always going to be easier to see beauty in the grand houses than in the slums so that balance is rather more towards the fancier places. I suspect that Taschen and von Schaewen weren't staying in crappy hotels as they bounced around India taking photos and musing on why India is so lovely. We see a mix of historic periods from Moghul architecture, through very 'days of the Raj' interiors which offer chintz and teddy bears on European sofas, on to pared down and structured Art Deco, through to modern. Many of the images leave us to think about the type of people who could have chosen to live surrounded by such strange furniture or paintings and to wonder at the decay and faded grandeur of some of the old palaces.
You won't find explanations of the pictures - just a few words of identification. If you find yourself wanting to know more, then you'll have to go off and do your own research. You won't LEARN a lot but this book isn't trying to teach you - just to inspire and delight you visually. What you choose to do with that inspiration - if anything - is entirely up to you. This is one of the nice things about the Icons series - if you want to just look, coo over the nice pictures and then put Indian Style back on the shelf, that's fine. If you want to use it to inspire your redecoration of your house - feel free. Or you could see a building that fascinates you and then go online to find out more about it, maybe even build your itinerary for your next holiday around going to see for yourself. Taschen won't tell you how to use their book - it's your choice. The freedom is perhaps part of their 'democratisation' of art. I find it very refreshing when too many art books try to tell us what to feel and how to respond.
Available on Amazon marketplace from just a penny. Hardback version new for £4.79
Starting in the North of India, this compact guide to the best of Indian style takes the reader on a tour down through to the south of the country, exploring a wide range of Indian architecture and interior design.