‘All-American’: the wide-ranging eye of Bruce Weber

A magazine in the form of a book, or a book with the spirit of a magazine?

It’s hard to define what the photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber has been doing since 2001 in the series of volumes he calls “All-American” but they are wonderful, far-ranging examinations of art and pop culture.

Weber is justly celebrated for the incredible scope and texture of the photography he has been doing for the past 30 years.

He’s the guy who had the vision and the guts to decide that men could be presented in the highly sexualized style that had been reserved for women in fashion and commercial pictures. For good or bad, Weber has played a major role in making a couple of generations of young men as body conscious as their female peers as a result of the campaigns he’s done for Calvin Klein and other designers.

The photographer also turned on and turned off lots of people with the controversial “magalogue” he supervised for Abercrombie & Fitch for several years before it was shut down because of a rising tide of criticism directed against the retailer.

Weber is still the go-to guy for retailers who want to jazz up their image. This Christmas season, the British department store chain Selfridge’s hired him to come up with a “New Old Fashioned” holiday campaign (below) with striking photos and a short film by Weber on its website.

In some ways, “All-American” seems like a more polished and more thoughtful version of the “A+F Quarterly” which also included interviews and reviews in addition to the sexy photo lay-outs by Weber.

The art book publisher teNeues has joined forces with Weber for “All-American Volume Twelve” which is subtitled “A Book of Lessons.” Like the previous publications in the series, the new one ranges all over the place, from a profile of the ex-convict actor Danny Trejo to a tribute to journalist icon Studs Terkel to a profile of the legendary fashion stylist Polly Mellen.

“All-American” reminds us that Weber has always been more than a photographer — his 1988 documentary, “Let’s Get Lost,” about the self-destructive jazz trumpet player Chet Baker, remains one of the finest (and most creatively shot and edited) music films ever made.

It’s terrific that Weber has led so many people in the direction of his music and art enthusiasms over the years. He has shown young fashionistas why they should search out the films of Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie and has opened them up to all sorts of music they might not have heard otherwise.

I love the way “A Book of Lessons” mixes seemingly unrelateable elements together. After a detailed and very smart look at the career of the censorship-fighting publisher Barney Rosset (who shattered barriers with books like “Tropic of Cancer” and films such as “I Am Curious -Yellow”), Weber turns his attention to a beautiful portfolio of vintage nudes of the actress Bo Derek, taken by her svengali husband, John Derek, back in the “10” era.

Weber follows the pictures with his own account of John Derek’s Henry Higgins role in the lives and careers of Ursula Andress and Linda Evans before he met Bo.

Weber’s knowledge of Hollywood and pop music history is awesome.

Many of his books and films pay tribute to his culture heroes, from Elizabeth Taylor to River Phoenix, and as a photographer of jazz musicians he is the heir to William Claxton.

We are lucky that Weber has the time to do projects like “All-American” in between his jam-packed fashion schedule.

Joe Meyers