The PhotoBook

May 26, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

Wm-Hry-Fox-Talbot-cover

Photographs copyright of the Estate of William Henry Fox Talbot, courtesy Phaidon Press

This retrospective book edited by Geoffrey Batchen about William Henry Fox Talbot (b. 1800, d. 1877) is very nicely written, well printed and does a wonderful job of keeping William Henry Fox Talbot’s extensive early photographic work in perspective.

There are his early technical photographic achievements and insights, such the contact negative print, known as the (salt-paper) Calotype, and his insight that if you used the negative print to contact print another photograph, it would be a positive. And along the way, figured out the basic formula to “fix” an image, with a suggestion from John Herschel, such that the image did not fade away. Subsequently in 1852 he worked out the photogravure printing process, making it possible to have high quality images in books. He may be the first person to use flash photography in 1851.

Talbot also made some nice photographic images including both urban and natural landscapes, botany details (salt-paper Calotypes), family photographs and documentary of upper class life on the estate. For me, I find that the book includes a number of wonderful images, such as the natural landscape photograph of the Oak Tree in Winter, between 1842-43 that is tipped into the book cover and included within the book, above.

I was captivated by plate 31, High Street, Oxford, 1843, third image below. For me, this photograph has similar qualities to the photographic work of Eugene Atget.  Due to the long exposure, the people of the street almost disappear, with slight traces of their presence, with the exception of the horse and carriage far up the street. The photograph has the foreground slightly out of focus, providing depth to the image, while the domed building far down the street is starting to fade into the sky. The image has a nice flow to it and the light reflecting off the near windows on the left provides a nice balance.

Talbot had used contact prints of plants while investigating his photographic discover, first photograph below.  Later he returned in 1853 to further explore the possibilities of his salt-paper Calotypes by contact printing more of his botany specimens, such as Seeds, second photography below. An interesting process still being utilized by artist today.

This book is a nice starting point for those who are interested in the history and development of the photographic and printing processes. It is well thought out and provides wonderful information about the man who started the art of photography as we know it today. I found that although I was familiar with Talbot’s technical achievements, that I was not as aware of his photographic body of work.

The 8 3/4″ x 10 7/8″ hardcover book with a tipped-in image on the front cover was printed in China in 2008. There are 55 plates, each plate has a facing caption, proximal dating and a brief background article about the accompaning photograph. The book is paged in the introductory text, but the remaining pages are not stated, with 124 pages per my count, plus end-papers. There is also a Biography for Talbot at the end of the book.

 

pl-14_Leaf-photobook

 

pl-51_Seeds-photobook

pl-31_High_Street_Oxford-photobook

pl-43_The_Ladder-photobook

by Douglas Stockdale

May 15, 2009

Bernd & Hilla Becher at Museo Morandi

 Becher_Morandi-cover

Photographs copyright Bernd & Hilla Becher courtesy of Schirmer/Moseland Prestel USA

Bernd und Hiller Becher, the German couple who have become well known over the last 30+ years for the development of their industrial Typologies (and how many times have I unknowing read this as Topologies). This book is a catalog, published by Schirmer/Mosel in 2009, for the Becher’s retrospective exhibition at Museo Morandi in Bologna, Italy.

 The images printed in the book are reminiscent of the presentation grid style developed by the Becher’s in the 1960’s, in which the photographs are grouped by type or function. Industrial facilities are grouped together to illustrate both their similarities of function but the subtle differences in form. Thus the book’s emphasis is more on the grouping of types of subjects (a.ka. Typology) than the ability to dig into the detail of specific images.

The publishing of the photographic grid I found to be a tease when there is a group of 15 photographs on the relatively small page, which does not allow much of the individual photograph to be evaluated. And from the interview of Hilla Becher provided in the text (Bernd passed away in 2007), the pair do not appear to as much interested in the individual photograph per se, but how the group of like structures play off each other.

The book will provide a sense of Becher’s Typeologies with groups from their collection of Gastanks, Cooling Towers, Water Towers, Winding Towers, Lime Kilms, and Blast Furnaces. From these photographic groupings you can also discern how different cultures adopt similar functional designs and yet how these same industrial functions differ greatly from other geographic regions.

The book may also help with establishing the visual linkage of the early work by the German photographers August Sander and Albert Renger-Patzsch, who were known for either photographing by categorizing types or photographing industrial buildings at a middle distance to emphasize their form.

The catalog provides a high level overview of the Becher’s somewhat rigid photographic process, and it may create an interest to seek one out one of their earlier books which provide more extensive details on one of their many subject types. Not recommended if you are looking for a collection of their work to understand in more detail one of their category types.

The perfect bound with stiffcover book is 8″ x 9″ with 48 pages and 14 duotone plates, encompassing 153 photographic images made by the couple. The accompanying interview with Hilla Becher by Gianfranco Maraniello is in both English and Italian, with beautiful printing and binding from a press in Verona, Italy.

Water_Towers

 

Blast_Furnaces

 

Winding_Towers

 By Douglas Stockdale

May 14, 2009

Hiroshi Watanabe – Findings

watanabe-findings-cover

Photographs copyright of Hiroshi Watanabe courtesy of Photolucida

In Hiroshi Watanabe’s book Finding, published by Photolucida, the grand prize winner of the 2006 Critical Mass, I find that I am always looking at life through a veil. There always seems to be something between me and what I think the subject is.  Which may be overlooking one the underlying theme of this book; the many layers of reality that exists in our lives, many of which we are not fully conscisous of.

The potential subject of his photographs often appears to be just beyond my reach, whether that is on the other side of a window screen or curtain, or a glass window, or some netting. There is a hand slightly concealed within a sheer glove, birds resting on a porch sunscreen, industrial plants or bridge lurking in the mist, and birds behind semi-transparent cage doors. The subjects are obscured by a hard metal scrim,  a lacy transparent spider web, a wall of bubbles or a semi-transparent wall created of blooming tree limbs. Perhaps I think that the subject is finally revealed, such as the fish laying on a wooden top but then take note that it is enclosed within a transparent bag, almost within touch, but still just beyond my grasp.

Finally there is a wooden fence that entirely blocks our view,  an opaque barrier between us and what might be just beyond. The early visual subtitles giving way to a final hard statement of fact, we are limited in our perception of reality. We can not see through this fence, it is there and obscures everything beyond. We have a hint of what might be there, as we can only view the sky and clouds above it.

Frequently, Watanabe includes within his photographs shadows and silhouettes of either someone or something. The details are obscured, hinted at, and what we can see exists as a shadow, a metaphor for someone or something which is just beyond our reach and comprehension. Their presence is a shadow projected on a semi-translucent door, behind a hanging gauze, on fences or on a window.

There is his photograph of the missing person, a cut-out of an historical Japanese person, with an opening for a someones face to complete the picture. Anyone can stand behind and place their face in the opening, and for a moment can become this symbolic person in history. Are there not many people who wold like to step into an important role and play an significant part in life? Part total fantasy and with a hint of alter-ego that we wish were true? This photograph of the cut-out is also similar to his  shadows and silhouettes, as a representation of the real thing, a symbol that implies a prescence but lacking tangible substance.

I like the multitude of layers, that hint at complexity in even of the simplest of things. These thoughtful photographs are dreamlike, but not with a watery or soft appearance, fully evoking my imagination.

The hardcover book is in a size that is becoming consistent for Photolucida, 8 3/4 x 10 1/4″, and has a tipped in cover photograph on the black linen boards, 64 pages and nicely printed and bound in Hong Kong. The design and layout of the photographs is very classic with nice white margins that make the book a pleasure to read and complements the 57 duotone photographs very well.  The two nicely written afterwords are by Anthony Bannon and Kirsten Rian, with a summation of the photograph’s captions. The book, photographs and texts are copyright in 2007.

Due to the books publication date, it will not be on my list of best books for 2009, but it is a book that I enjoy and recommend and one of the better books that I have reviewed in 2009.

Museu_d'Art_Contemporani_de_Barcelona   White_Terns

Blue_Lagoon2  Blue_Lagoon-bridge

Bakery_window   Agra_Fort

Natural_History  Quito3

Santa_Rosa   Sardar_Market

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

May 13, 2009

Christie’s London PhotoBook Auction

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 10:11 pm

Having mentioned Swann Auction Galleries Photo/Literature May auction that is occuring in a couple of days, I also need to post a reminder that Christie’s is having their Photo Book auction in London on May 19, 2009.

There are 192 lots, and a wide range of books as well as book estimates. From a quick review, there appears to be a stronger presence of  European photographers than Swann’s, and perhaps not as many Japanese photographers.

It is interesting to cruise through Christie’s PhotoBook auction web site and read the comments for each book, especially if book is by a photographer who’s  name is one you are not familiar with.

By Douglas Stockdale

May 11, 2009

Zoe Strauss – AMERICA

america_frontcover

 Copyright 2009 Zoe Strauss, courtesy www.AMMOBOOKS.com

There are photographic projects that become evident of when the photographer is just a visitor, dropping in to take a photo-op, collect some photo-trophies and then soon back home for the evening to spend time with their spouse and kids. With Zoe Strauss’s recent project, America by Zoe Strauss, published by AMMO Books, I quickly understand that these rough and tumble neighborhoods of South Philly is where she lives.  She is not a stranger, but a local, calling this area home.

Although there is an emphasis on the South Philadelphia region, Strauss has moved beyond her local borders into other parts of America. Her photographs are predominately of the people she meets, there are the indirect inclusions of the rest of humanity by way of the signs (textual photographs) and broader urban landscapes. We are rarely provided sweeping vistas, but instead we are brought up close and many times uncomfortable. And many of her photographs do make me feel uncomfortable.

I also come away with the feeling that the locations on her journey that she gravitated to and the people she ended up spending time with is where her comfort zone resides.  She seems to have a strong empathy for those who are on the edges of society, as she often states that she is not of the mainline straight world. She seems to be able to make personal connections that allow folks to reveal themselves, sometimes graphically such as the woman (below) who unzips her pants and pulls up her blouse to reveal a long surgical scar, while yet standing openly in the street. People seem to relate to her and allow her to come closer, whether to show a tattoo abover their breast or a fresh tattoo on their arm.

I am so unnerved by the photograph of the women, below, who is using a smashed pencil to provide an eye line. For me, the fact that she probably knows the alarming condition of the pencil, but continues to use it is just so unsettling for me. I can only think that this smashed pencil is probably a good metaphor for a difficult life, but this woman has the fortitude, resilance and tenacity to make the best of it and carry on. This might be best way to describe most of Strauss’s intimate portraits, that of  a testimony to perseverance and survival.

I also find in Strauss’s photographs a caustic undertone but equally realistic, such as the juxtaposition of the tribute to fallen soldiers which happens to be near some lottery drawing (below). Although these two events are not related, Strauss quickly realized that the combination of these random events creates an even stronger message. The ending text for the next drawing sign really brings it together; Good Luck.

The inclusion of her photographs of text within the book are on many occasions is sheer comic relief. The traces of words removed, crossed out or painted over continue to tell her story. But for these photographs, I do find some subtle humor that reveals our own humanity. This is carried over with her textual captions which take advantage of random textual juxtapositions that occur in everyday life, such as the erased sign “satisfaction guaranteed” that was removed off the side of a building, which the photographs caption states, Satisfaction Guaranteed Removed. Or the sign “Together We Make Dreams Come True” when the sign itself is beat up, worn and dirty on the edges, showing decay and run down at the edges.  For me, Strauss has seen that the sign is symbolic of the underlying problem with the ensuing proclamation.

Strauss’s photographs show us a sad portrayal of America, although often gritty, such as the Christmas house, provided below, or confrontational. I still find traces of hope and aspiration, with real people and real situations dealing with the hand that was dealt to them.

What I like about this book are the intimate and revealing photographs of people who have allowed us to meet them, on their own terms, perhaps for just this one moment in time.

The horizontal book is 11 1/4 x 8 1/4″, with 192 pages (unpaged) and 165 color photographs, published by AMMO Books in 2008. The book was was printed and bound in China with average halftone quality. An interesting interview of Zoe Strauss by Steve Crist is provided by means of an introduction, with subsequent vignettes provided by Strauss through the book.

9th-sydney_lottery_tickets1

christine

food_market

merry_christmas_house

 pa_national_guard_soldiers_killed_in_iraq

posing_with_christmas_present

victoria_hysterectomy_scar

woman_in_salmon_shirt

By Douglas Stockdale

Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison – counterpoint

ParkeHarrison_Fable

Photographs are copyright of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison courtesy of Twin Palms Publishers

In an attempt to better understand Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s new book counterpoint, I found myself referring to The Architect’s Brother, an earlier published book by Robert ParkeHarrison from Twin Palms Publishers. Regretfully I did not purchase the earlier book when it was available.

The Architect’s Brother is the initial story of ParkeHarrison’s “Everyman”, the fictional character developed by Robert and Shana, about the intersection of mankind with the environment. The environmnental storyline from The Architect’s Brother for Everyman seems to continues in counterpoint.  The photographs in The Architect’s Brother are surreal and I found them not always easy to place within the intended environmental context that ParkeHarrison’s seems to envision. But the eloborately constructed Black & White images in The Architect’s Brother are very delightful and enjoyable to contemplate nevertheless.

And so with a frame of reference, I move forward to their recent book counterpoint. Where as The Architect’s Brother was a black and white body of work with some very wonderful tonalities and lyrical images, counterpoint has evolved to become a sharply focused with well defined clear color images.  The cast for this new book has also grown beyond the singular presence of Everyman to include “Everywoman” and “Everychild” or perhaps now a collective “Everyfamily“.  A more relevant Family of Man for our age.

Likewise, Everyman has grown older, but perhaps not wiser, his pressed suit, hat and starched shirt & tie has now given way to a more worn and stained shirt, if any shirt at all. The worsening condition of clothes is a nice metaphor for their collective angst with the progressive conditions of our environment, as well as inclusive of a concern with our state of technology, such as Alchemist, second image below. We are becoming overwhelmed by the very technology that we had thought was going to save us.

If this book is an environmental call to action to stop some of the brainless things we do to our environment, I find that as an entire body of work, it is perhaps too fragmented and thus weak.  Never the less, these are some very sophisticated images that need to be scrutinized and evaluated for every nuance, to comprehend all of the slight of hand clues provided.  The photographs are wonderfully complex and yet very disturbing, such as Bloodroot, the third image below. In fact, I find them many of them to be both sad and grim.

With out any supportive text, we depend on the visual and narrative clues in conjunction with the photographs captions to try to make sense of this body of work. For double spread images where something of interest is lodged in the middle gutter, it can be sometimes frustrating, such as the first image below, The Scribe. To begin with, the image below is also the full image, as it had to be cropped for the book, and probably was how the tip of the Scribes pen was lost inside the book’s gutter.

Like ParkeHarrison’s earlier work, there are some intriguing mechanical devices and appendages incorporated within their photographs and this same image, The Scribe, has plenty to intrigue me. I see the line of red, probably signifying the trail of blood, in conjunction with what appears as a device to hold the pen, as though the person has only indirect control. All the while, there is a intermittent flow of red fluid passing up the tubing out of the sleeve to a reservoir for the pen. What I have difficulty with is what appears to be a honeycomb tied under the wrist, and within the series of images in the book, honeycombs and bees keep resurfacing. I can only believe that this is related to the current issues with the death of honeybees, the subsequent environmental pollination implications and that this die-off of the bees is somehow connected to our current technology, such as the increase use of cell phones.

I find myself like and disliking this book for the same reason, as crazy as that might seem. The images of this narrative are interesting,  intriguing, as well as very disturbing and the flow is somewhat disjointed. Many more questions than plausible answers.

The large hardbound book with illustrated dust cover measures 11″ x 14 1/2″, with 40 pages and 33 color plates. The book was printed and bound in Korea with average halftone print quality.

 ParkeHarrison_TheScribe

ParkeHarrison_Alchemist

ParkeHarrison_Bloodroot

ParkeHarrison_RootWall

ParkeHarrison_GrayDawn

ParkeHarrison_SummerArm

By Douglas Stockdale

May 8, 2009

Swann’s PhotoBook May auction

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:09 pm

I just received the catalog for the  Swann Auction Galleries May 14th Photographic Literature & Fine Photographs auction that will occur on May 14, 2009 in NYC. As always, it provides a pulse on the “collectibility” of photobooks. I have already provided some details on the photobook gem of this auction, a complete set of the Edward Curtis volumes.

There are 138 lots (books, folios, assembled literature) for the first part of the day on May 14, followed by the individual photographs, which comprise lots 139 – 403. As far as the photobooks go, the following I found of interest, although you need to consult the catalog or review the book  for the details of the conditions of the book being offered:

Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Londonfolio of 20 photogravures, first edition (1909), lot 4 (estimate $8,000/12,000)

The Work of Atget, Volumes I – IV by Szarkowski and Hambourg, first editions (1981- 1985), lot 16 (estimate $500/750)

Man Ray, Photographs 1920 – 1934 Paris, signed, 1934, lot 18 (estimate $6,000/9,000)

Josef Sudek, Praha Panormatika (Prague), signed first edition, 1959, lot 20 (estimate $2,500/3,500)

Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decision Moment, first American edition, 1952, lot 32 (estimate $1,500/2,500) and as additional trivia, from the library of Joan Crawford (her bookplate on front free endpaper)

Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, first edition, 1941, lot 42 (estimate $1,200/1,800) and from the library of Harvy Zucker.

Robert Frank, Les Americains, first French edition, 1958, lot 56 (estimate $1,000/1,500)

Minor White, Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations; two, lot 73 is first edition, 1969, and lot 74 is delux edition with photograph, 1982, the later (estimate $1,000/1,500)

Wynn Bullock, The Photograph as Symbol, initialed by Bullock, signed by Jonathan Clark (printer), 1976, lot 75 (estimate $1,000/1,500)

Lewis Baltz, The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California, first edition, 1974, lot 85 (estimate $1,500/2,500)

Edward Ruscha, Thirty-four Parking Lots in Los Angeles, first edition, 1967, lot 88 (estimate $2,200/2,800)

Edward Ruscha, Various Small Fires and Milk, signed first edition, 1964, lot 90A (estimate $6,000/9,000) and inscribed to Andy Warhol, with Warhol Ex-Libris bookplate inside the front cover.

Gary Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, signed first edition, 1975, lot 100 (estimate $1,000/1,500)

My own self-realization from reviewing this catalog was my limited knowledge of the photobooks published in Japan, with maybe a couple of better known photographers who have garnered some press in the U.S.A. The following excerpt from the catalog helps explain;

The enormously influential post-war period of photography in Japan is inextricably tied to the creative medium of the photobook. each more radical, dynamic and articulate the last, 20th-century Japanese photobooks realize preeminent conception and production that attempted to push the format to the limit. Although historically the book as an art form has served photographer all over the work as a primary mechanism for exposure, the Japanese photobook tradition, an extension of a longer bookmaking history, is unique in its equal attention to form and function.

Eikoh Hosoe, Kamaitachi, first edition, 1969, lot 60 (estimate $3,500/4,500)

Daido Moriyama, Shashin yo Sayonara, signed first edition, 1972, lot 64 (estimate $4,000/6,000)

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

May 4, 2009

Edward S. Curtis complete volume at Swann Auction Galleries

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:41 pm

curtis-2

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States and Alaska.  Volumes 1-20

The photographic book(s) that will be the center piece at the May 14, 2009 Swann Auction Galleries is going to be lot 11 going up for bid at 10:30 AM, a complete volume of the Edward S. Curtis North American Indians. Currently the estimate for this set is $250,000-350,000.

I agree with the assessment; that in the field of photographic literature, Edward S. Curtis’s 20-volume set, “The North American Indian,” is legendary.  Curtis’ celebrated use of the photogravure, the most sophisticated of the photomechanicaltechniques (and the same process employed by Alfred Stieglitz on the pages of “Camera Work”) depicts Native American figures with startling verisimilitude.  His remarkable aesthetic reformulated the photobook as one in which images and text were considered equal partners.

Written, Illustrated and Published by Edward S. Curtis.  Edited by Frederick Webb Hodge.  Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt.  Each lavishly illustrated with sepia-toned photogravures on Van Gelder paper.  Large 4tos, ¾ gilt-lettered morocco.  References:  Roth 36; Parr/Badger I 73; Hasselblad 48; Auer 94.  set number 130 of a planned edition of 500 copies, volume one signed by Edward S. Curtis.  Published by The University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1907-1930.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries Director of Photographic Literature and Prints,  recently stated;  

Swann is delighted to be offering Edward Curtis’s 20-volume set, “The North American Indian,” in our May 14th sales of Photographic Literature and Photographs.  Curtis’s lavish production, with its sumptuous morocco bindings and 1500 photogravure plates, is the gold standard of photobooks.

The set offered in this lot belonged to the railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916).  In 1878, Hill and his investors purchased the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, later renaming it the Great Northern Railway Company.  A successful businessman who had an abiding respect for the western landscape and native culture, he was an early supporter of the 1908 doctrine of conservation of natural resources.

The single owner set, number 130 from an edition of 272 (of the proposed edition of 500), is on Van Gelder paper.  Each of the volumes has a perforated library stamp on the margin of the title page, and Volume I is signed by Edward S. Curtis.

From the Collection of James J. Hill; to the Hill Library; St. Paul, Minnesota; to A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, Louisiana; to Bernard’s Gallery, Calabasas, California.

Regarding the condition of the volumes, the following information was provided by Swann Auction Galleries:

The beautiful leather bindings were handled carefully and show light external wear.  Overall the morocco bindings are rich and the gilt-lettering is bright, with particular condition issues noted below.  The front joints of each of the books evidence some wear and the lower portion of the backstrips a slight tonal shift where small labels were removed.

Internally the volumes are tight.  The text block and photogravures are in exceptional condition, and the top gilt edge is a radiant gold.  The pages are generally very clean and the photogravure plates, which have been protected by the original guards, are in excellent condition overall.

Each of the volumes has a perforation hand stamp that reads Hill Library, St. Paul and a small numeric hand stamp on the following page.

Please note that the condition of the bindings is very good to excellent with specific issues noted below:

Vol. I     Chip at top of backstrip, top corners worn on front and rear covers.
Vol. II    Rear top corner worn.
Vol. III   Top corner of front cover bumped and one-quarter inch crimp at bottom left edge.
Vol. IV   Light soiling on cloth of front and rear covers; joints rubbed.
Vol. V   Soiling on cloth, front and rear covers
Vol. VI    Soiling on cloth, front and rear covers
Vol. VII  Bands lightly rubbed.  A few minor chips along joint on front and rear covers
Vol. VIII  Light crimp at bottom of front cover
Vol. XII   Front joint rubbed and one-quarter inch crimp on front cover, at top left
Vol. XIII   Edgewear on front and rear covers; front joint weak.
Vol. XV   Tiny chip on front joint
Vol. XVIII  Board on lower inside front cover is crimped.
Vol. XX   Beautifully hand-colored photogravure plate on frontispiece.  Top edge of backstrip is chipped.

All items are offered for sale subject to Swann Galleries’ standard terms and conditions of sale

By Douglas Stockdale

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