Most of my photo books are monographs that contain a fine selection of photographs; a few however, you can treasure as uniquely beautiful works of art in and of themselves. Joseph Mills' Inner City, which I had the extreme fortune to discover at a neighborhood used bookshelf, is just such an exception. It's relatively thin and modestly sized as far as photo books go, already making it kind of precious and rare- and its full of the beauty, contradictions and ironies that revelatory art can invoke.
The photographs themselves are of street scenes, filled with much of the gritty urban vernacular so popular within the genre: the homeless and hustlers, working folk and down and outers of every stripe and denomination. They're shot fast and loose from the hip, the highlights blown out to accentuate fragments and moments of life in passing. Yet these images take a marked departure from traditional street photography in that they are printed and presented on outdated paper. This gives the photographs a worn, faded, almost transitory appearance of improperly exposed and developed prints on the way to the trash bin. Mr. Mills, however, then applies a unique toning process involving varnish which transforms those very prints into subtle, genteel, images of vintage sophistication. And in so doing, stark, gritty street images become the waking, walking dreams that collide with reality in equal measure.