A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Roger Sharpe’s landmark publication “Pinball!” and wondered aloud if the recent Pinball Magazine publication of Santiago Ciuffo’s book “Pinball” would serve as a companion piece to Sharpe’s book or run in a completely different direction. I’m happy to report, it does both.
The goods arrived from the Netherlands, packaged superbly in reinforced cardboard. The mail carriers would’ve had to work extra hard to inflict damage upon it. The cover price of €30.95 (plus shipping from Europe) is admittedly quite rich, but you are getting a professionally printed, tightly bound hardcover coffee table book in return. Typically, photography books such as this tend to skew on the expensive side, so perspective is everything here. If you have ordered an issue of Pinball Magazine from their site, you are already familiar with the costly cover price, but also the suburb product Jonathan Joosten and the Pinball Magazine staff have to offer. My hat is off to Mr. Joosten, for without his dedication to the project and securing the international rights to publish this book, it probably would not have seen the light of day outside its native Argentina. Packaged with Ciuffo’s book is a supplement under the Pinball Magazine banner that features an interview with the photographer (in 12 languages) and contains photos that are exclusive to the supplement and not found in the bound publication. As a bonus to early adopters, the first five hundred books ordered also include a set of ten postcards featuring exquisite photos from Ciuffo’s image bank. This postcard set is absolutely suitable for framing, as the quality is akin to something you’d find in a museum gift shop. My book came with a set of these postcards, so as of writing, we are still within the “first five hundred” quota.
Whereas Roger Sharpe and photographer James Hamilton presented pinball as a global phenomenon (and it needed to be presented that way, as nobody had bothered to organize the game in such a historical framework prior), Mr. Ciuffo presents pinball as a national phenomenon in his home country of Argentina. For North Americans, and many Europeans, this is a unique and fresh look at the game, both historically and culturally. Mr. Sharpe punctuated Mr. Hamilton’s photos with an outpouring of love for the game; Mr. Ciuffo lets his pictures do the majority of the talking. Other than a brief introduction and a few end notes, the book is packed with nearly 200 pages of incredible pinball photography.
The written word is not needed for the most part. The games themselves tell the story. I would surmise that the target audience of this book will already be familiar with the majority of the games photographed, which reduces the need for descriptions or footnotes. During the three language introduction, Mr. Ciuffo teases the reader by including black and white images of the games we love. Page after page is devoid of colour, until your visual sense is overwhelmed with the bright colours of a Bally bingo game called Variety. From there on out, the colours and visual textures of the machines in their natural environment are on full display. Many of the machines are worn, beaten or otherwise blown out. Other photographers would have balked at the chance to photograph a severely cracked and worn Gottlieb Charlie’s Angles backglass, but Mr. Ciuffo did not. To me, this is the book’s most gorgeous photo, and conveys, without words, the Argentinean aura of pinball that Mr. Ciuffo was trying to capture. In a hobby where collectors are obsessed with the terms “completely restored” and “collector’s quality”, it is refreshing to see that well-loved and well-used games are getting their due. Mr. Ciuffo would probably have a hard time tracking down expertly restored games to photograph on Argentinean soil (compared to their abundance in America), but something tells me that wasn’t what the photographer was after anyhow. There is also a fantastic photo of a completely blown out Stern Nine Ball playfield, worn to the wood, that is unrecognizable save for the mylar’d portions of paint in front of the vertical drop targets.
Most of the games photographed are from the 1960s through the early-1980s (historical factors are discussed in the intro to the book as to why these games are prevalent), with a few of the earlier bingo-style pin games thrown in for good measure. Late solid state games do make cameo appearances though–I spotted a Fish Tales, a Hurricane and a Lethal Weapon 3 in the background of some photos, but they are surely not the focus here. Half the fun is picking out the games lurking in the shadows, whether they be complete or in parts. Many photos capture the less-than-perfect machines in their natural Argentinean environment, packed into storage sheds or piled high in humid warehouses waiting for a former operator to part them out. The games are not the only focus, though. One fantastic two-page spread shows members of a Buenos Aires pinball club huddled around a topless Medieval Madness, talking repair strategy, while meat roasts on a nearby outdoor grill. This photo, in conjunction with the aforementioned Angels backglass and Nine Ball playfield, capture the current state of the hobby in Argentina–passion for the game fuelled by a kinship that exists between fellow collectors, while simultaneously existing within less than perfect, sometimes downright ugly, collecting conditions. We North Americans take a lot for granted, as these pictures portray, however pinball comradery appears to be universal (and is probably stronger under trying and challenging circumstances).
Hopefully this book is met with success. It really deserves it. And hopefully more books follow in the same vein. We have all seen these games before at shows or in our own private collections, but when was the last time you looked at, I mean really looked at, the playfield art of a Gottlieb Roller Disco? Mr. Ciuffo included a two-page spread of a detail close-up, with its almost blinding pinks, oranges and purples, and it highlights the absolute beauty of Gordon Morison’s original artwork. The success of this book will probably foretell the possibility of future projects, but this book really begs for other photographers to capture the games and players in their own nation, and create a pictorial history of their own country. I mean, how does a coffee table book of pinball photography, from special pinball events and notable private collections around the United States, not exist yet? Someone needs to quit their day job and get on this! Gene X. Hwang, are you reading this? Jonathan Joosten, can you please make it happen? However, it will not be an easy task, as Mr. Ciuffo has set the bar quite high under an optimal set of cultural circumstances. The photographer can be absolutely proud of what he has accomplished and bestowed upon the pinball community.
If you are still reading this, I believe it is time for you to head over to Pinball Magazine’s webstore site and order Santiago Ciuffo’s book for yourself…if you have the funds at your disposal. The price, again, is the only stumbling block, however, a project like this cannot be successful if done on the cheap. The book is museum quality, and the quality of the contents cannot be beat. Mr. Ciuffo’s book will be placed next to my copy of the Sharpe/Hamilton tome on my gameroom bookshelf–a higher honour cannot be bestowed. I will be taking it out frequently and letting my mind wander off to a musty, humid old Argentinean warehouse where an old man has Stern and Bally pins stacked to the rafters…