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Jack Woody

  • By Sam Cate-Gumpert
  • Issue 3
  • Shelf Life

Through his imprints Twin Palms and Twelvetrees—the latter named for his grandmother, the silent-film actress Helen Twelvetrees—the publisher Jack Woody has put out some of the most respected photo books of the past thirty years. These have started or resuscitated careers of some of the medium’s biggest names. Disfarmer brought to light the previously obscure rural Arkansas portraits of Mike Disfarmer (1884–1959), while Without Sanctuary collected brutal, frightening, and still urgent images of lynchings in the American South that “burn a hole in your heart,” as Roberta Smith wrote in the New York Times. 2 1/4, the first collection of William Eggleston’s two-and-one-quarter-inch format images, was originally published in 1999 and is now in its eighth printing; it drew renewed attention to the master colorist’s work, and its design inspired a new generation of imprints. Last year Woody published A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, the first major monograph of Mike Brodie’s photographs of young train hoppers.

The heart of Woody’s library is ostensibly the sunken former living room at the center of his Southwest-minimalist home, set high in the Sangre de Christo mountains above Sante Fe, New Mexico, but bookshelves dot the entire house. The main room contains thousands of volumes on photography, though it’s a complete set of Christopher Isherwood first editions that immediately catches the eye, their combined weight exerting a palpable gravity. There are the classics, and the rarities—early editions of Robert Frank’s The Americans; Takuma Nakahira’s For a Language to Come, the crown jewel of postwar Japanese photography; a first-edition Walker Evans American Photographs catalogue, with its revelatory introduction by Lincoln Kirstein, signed to Woody by Kirstein in his looped hand. Wolfgang Tillmans’ elegant Concorde (sixty-two images of the airplane in flight). The gorgeous, melancholy fireworks of Rinko Kawauchi’s Hanabi. It becomes clear why Woody’s publications are so beloved by collectors and a broader readership alike: He has looked at so much that he knows what gives a book a life of its own, how to make it grow in the mind’s eye every time it’s opened.