Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Oversized books and outsized personalities

Yes, e-readers are all the rage, but they have their limitations. You can't use a Kindle for a coaster, for instance, or stack 12 iPads on the floor for a makeshift end table; coffeetable books can do both. And those are just handy additional applications beyond their real raison d'être, which is to pair pictures and words in a package that does justice to both. These books are cumbersome, bursting with color, and defiantly tactile in an industry gone digital. In sifting through the season's best oversized books, we were most drawn to the ones devoted to trailblazers and visionaries: forward thinkers ennobled in the pages of a proudly retro medium.

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Norman Bel Geddes Designs America

edited by Donald Albrecht
Abrams, 400 pp., $65

The Harry Ransom Center will shutter its current Norman Bel Geddes exhibition in early January, but one's appreciation of this great designer, innovator, and futurist doesn't have to stop there: This impressive publication combines serious scholarship with archival art drawn largely from the HRC's Bel Geddes holdings. For a hint into the astonishing breadth of Bel Geddes' accomplishments, all you have to do is scan the table of contents – how many other inventors could list both stage theatre design and theater of war strategy on their CVs? – but this book demands more careful reading, and gosh-wowing over those magnificent flying car models.

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Bunny Yeager's Darkroom: Pinup Photography's Golden Era

by Petra Mason
Rizzoli, 256 pp., $60

"What a boring place the world would be if every woman looked the same as the next," the pioneering photographer Bunny Yeager once wrote. As one of the few women working in the field – and a frequent chronicler of Bettie Page – Yeager brought a unique perspective, one the burlesque artist Dita Von Teese considers in her foreword: "I believe a woman enjoys a very special freedom in front of a camerawoman's lens." This particular camerawoman, an early contributor to Playboy, started as a model herself, bringing another dimension to her work. In Yeager's photographs, Von Teese continues, "I see women taking control of their sensuality, creating and showing what they want, telling their own stories in a way not dictated by men, and capitalizing on it."

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Vogue Weddings: Brides, Dresses, Designers

edited by Hamish Bowles
Knopf, 384 pp., $85

Staying relevant and fashion forward in any one era is a feat in itself: Vogue has been doing it since 1892. This lush, fat wedge of a book gathers society debs and supermodels, candids from real weddings and art-directed fantasias from the magazine's back issues, many of which were masterminded by beloved creative director Grace Coddington (whose recent memoir would make fine supplemental reading). Much ink is devoted to the industry's most celebrated wedding dress designers, including Alexander McQueen, Vera Wang, and Carolina Herrera. Less lavishly lauded are the superior shutterbugs Vogue has kept in its arsenal over the years – Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Robert Doisneau, Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino, and Bruce Weber, to name just a few – but the proof of their artistry is in the pages, one striking image after another.

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Elizabeth Taylor: A Shining Legacy on Film

by Cindy De La Hoz
Running Press, 304 pp., $30

Mawkishness can creep into the copy – "Beautiful little Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born on February 27, 1932 ..." – but, notably, this book steers the spotlight away from Taylor's tumultuous private life and onto her five-decade-long career, where she made as many bold, controversy-courting decisions as she did offscreen. Gathering plot synopses, reviews, set gossip, and terrific archival art, historian Cindy De La Hoz collates each of Taylor's films, from 1942's forgettable comedy There's One Born Every Minute to the 2001 TV movie These Old Broads, which paired her with former romantic rival Debbie Reynolds and was co-scripted by Reynolds' daughter, Carrie Fisher, to whom Taylor briefly played stepmom.

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

Icons: The Celebrity Exposures of Markus and Indrani

by Markus Klinko and Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, with Cindy De La Hoz
Running Press, 224 pp., $25 (paper)

High-concept and hyperrealism commingle in the work of celebrity and fashion photography duo Markus Klinko and Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri. This softcover release collects some 60 subjects, including Kanye West, Chris Rock, Iman, and Lady Gaga, whose Hello Kitty shoot graces the cover. Background detail gets lightly dishy, as in the revelation that for the album cover shoot for Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love, a last-minute decision to clad the bottom half of the singer in blue jeans (the top half was draped in jewels) resulted in Markus stripping off his own pants and handing them over to his muse. (She returned the jeans a year later, wrapped in tissue and with a thank you note.) Occasionally, the photographers (who previously starred in a Bravo reality TV show in 2010) flirt with the same celebrity as their subjects: After shooting Lindsay Lohan, Indrani became the focus of press speculation that she was Lohan's new girlfriend: "Interest in their purported relationship peaked with Indrani briefly becoming the third most Googled name in America."

Also Recommended:

Coffee Table Iconoclasts

DKR: The Royal Scrapbook by Jenna Hays McEachern, with Edith Royal (University of Texas Press, 192 pp., $39.95): This insider's lens on legendary UT coach Darrell K Royal takes on special poignancy following his death, earlier this month.

Sign Painters by Faythe Levine & Sam Macon (Princeton Architectural Press, 184 pp., $24.95): This softcover book takes a look at the labor-intensive art of hand-painted signs and includes in its first-person essays by American practitioners two Austinites, Norma Jeanne Maloney and Gary Martin.

Vintage Remix: The Interiors of Kishani Perera (Abrams, 224 pp., $35): High-end and flea market share space in L.A. interior designer Kishani Perera's eye-catching rooms.

Always Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike (Knopf, 224 pp., $45): This posthumous companion piece to previous collections Just Looking and Still Looking is a welcome reminder that Updike, better known for his fiction, was a first-rate critic, too.

Nic Nicosia (University of Texas Press, 264 pp., $75): The first monograph devoted to the entire career of Dallas-born Nic Nicosia, one of the leading figures of the staged-photography movement, is accompanied by an original short story by Austinite Philipp Meyer (American Rust).

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More coffeetable books
Gift Guide 2016: Coffeetable Books
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Big books give heft to big success stories about women in business, Flatbed Press, UT's collections, Pan Am, and the Spurs

Robert Faires, Dec. 16, 2016

Epic Feats
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More by Kimberley Jones
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GG2012, gift guide, coffeetable books, Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, Bunny Yeager's Darkroom: Pin-up Photography's Golden Era, Vogue Weddings: Brides, Dresses, Designers, Elizabeth Taylor: A Shining Legacy on Film, Icons: The Celebrity Exposures of Markus and Indrani, DKR: The Royal Scrapbook, Sign Painters, Vintage Remix: The Interiors of Kishani Perera, ALways Looking: Essays on Art, Nic Nicosia, Darrell Royal, John Updike, Norma Jeanne Maloney, Gary Martin

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