While in Portland last week, I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Powells Books - an enormous labyrinth of books, featuring used and new books side by side on miles of shelving. The photography section alone is the size of a large living room. I spent two happy hours browsing there.
One of the ways I enter such a large collection is to head straight for the monographs beginning with M. Over time, I have traced a consistent fascination with M artists. I wrote an undergrad thesis on Lee Miller. I did graduate research on Tina Modotti and Sally Mann, and concluded my MA in photo history with a thesis on Dora Maar. I love the work of Man Ray, Duane Michals, Sarah Moon, Wright Morris, Abelardo Morrell, Muybridge, and Annette Messager. My excursion to Powell’s yielded the happy discovery of a brand new book on Lee Miller and one I had not seen before on Tina Modotti. I left that day with a book on Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
This is not to say that I limit myself to M artists only – my library at home attests to my love for the full alphabet of names. At Powells, I also added to my wish list Henri-Cartier Bresson’s Scrapbook and a new book on Claude Cahun. But I do find it helpful when faced with a sea of books to pick a coordinate from which to begin my exploring, and for me that coordinate is the letter M.