The PhotoBook

July 29, 2009

Anne Veh at Cavallo Point

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:31 pm

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While I was developing my review of Linda Connor’s Odssey, I was contacted by Ben Zlotkin who founded Edition One Books and who by chance had been a student of Linda Connor.  Subsequent conversations with Ben and Linda then segwayed to an introduction to Anne Veh, the photographic curator at Cavallo Point, a resort lodge across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. Okay, where oh where is this going, eh?

Trying to make a long story short, Cavallo Point had decided to place contemporary photographs in each of their guest rooms, their restaurant and on their grounds. After an early discussion with the Cavallo Point Executives with Linda Connor, Anne Veh was hired as their curator for the acquisition and hanging of this exhibit, which entailed 800+ photographs. Although the photographers chosen were mainly from the SF Bay area, there were a number of internationally known photographers selected by Veh.

The roster of photographers is impressive and include: Tom Baril, Linda Connor, Robert Dawson, Lukas Felzmann, Candace Plummer Gaudiani, James Henkel, Michael Kenna, Mark Klett, Wayne Levin, Arno Minkkinen, Chris McCaw, Camille Solyagua, Rick Chapman, Eirik Johnson, Ken Fandell, James Henkel, Charles LaBelle, Lisea Lyons, Amanda Marchand, Arno Minkkinen and Sangyon Joo.

Really interesting for me, and finally to my point of this, was the Cavallo Point decision that each of the photographers chosen would have an opportunity to co-develop with Veh and Cavallo Point, a small photobook on a project of their own choosing. With the large investment into exhibiting all of the prints, Veh essentially deferred to a Print on Demand photobook produced in conjunction with Zlotkin and Edition One Books.

The resort would not need to make a large investment in each of the books, especially with only a limited amount of  photobook selling experience and unable to predict the sales. Their small book inventory could be quickly replenished by Edition One Books. To keep the book price reasonable, the books are priced very close to their cost, as the resort would like their guests to feel like acquiring a nice photobook as a part of the experience of their stay.

For Veh to provide some design consistency, the 20 photobooks were developed with a similar format; book size of 9 1/4″ x 9 1/2″, stamped cloth hardcover, same color endpapers and similar number of pages. Now that I  have acquired a couple of these books, I find that they are very nicely produced, and part of an interesting Print on Demand evolution for quality photobooks.

I expect to review at least one of these photobooks, perhaps Mark Klett’s Time Studies, before the end of the summer.

At the moment, these photobooks are only available at Cavallo Point.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

July 27, 2009

Jerry Burchfield – Understory

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Photographs copyright of Jerry Burchfield 2009 courtesy of Laguna Wilderness Press

Jerry Burchfield’s recent (2009) photobook Understory: Florida Lumen Prints, is his sequal to his 2004 photobook Primal Images, both of which utilize his camera-less photographic process to create his unique Lumen prints. The subject of this book has shifted from the plants and flora of the South American Amazon to a little closer to home at Florida. Burchfield was commissioned to create a mural size Lumen print (10 x 30’) of the pine flatwoods ecosystem (first image, below).

As a result of his commission, Burchfield had the opportunity to investigate the vegitation and plants in the vacinity where the mural was going to be created. His investigative studies for the mural project provided the Lumen prints necessary to create this book. Burchfield provides the background for both creating the Pine Flatwoods Mural and the supporting specimen studies during the preparation of the mural.

As I had mentioned in my review of Burchfield’s Primal Images, his photographic process dates back to the earliest of the photographic process. This is a camera-less process by William Henry Fox Talbot, a salt print contact printing process invented in 1841. Like Talbot’s process of over a hundred and fifty years ago, there is still an element of unpredictability, serendipity and chance in obtaining the final results.

By this time, Burchfield has achieved a certain control over his Lumen printing process, but he is still at the mercy of the environmental elements. He can determine to a certain degree the composition of the specimens on the paper, but will they stay there if a chance strong wind occurs, even when secured under a glass sheet? How transparent is his specimen, and will he obtain a dense shadow or a whisper of the specimens internal structure? When the specimens for the big mural are laid out, will it be a sunny day, partly cloudy or as it can happen in Florida, a chance of mid-day showers? How high will the heat and humidity rise and how will all of that affect the light sensitive paper chosen for the mural?

In preparation for the mural, Burchfield varied the size of his “test” prints as a result of the wide range in the size of his specimens. With access to a land-based studio area, his average print size increased from 8 x 10” to 16 x 20”. For this project, Burchfield had a consistent access to larger light sensitive paper to produce an intact print versus the need of multi-papers for his largest specimens.

Although Burchfield’s large mural is a negative contact print, it reads similar to an infrared photograph. Landscape compositions created with infrared film is reactive to growing items that reflect UV light, which gives them their trademark whitish tonalities. Due to the nature of the contact printing process, where the specimen contacts the light-sensitive paper the ensuing line and shape has a sharp delineation. As the specimen recedes away from the light-sensitive material, the resulting shapes have softer edges and less delineation. The combination of sharp-edge/soft-edge effects result in an image that appears that it could have been created on a foggy day. Especially if the photograph was created with the lens wide open and a shallow depth of field, some parts sharply defined, and others not, as the scene appears to recede into the background mist, haze, or fog.

The pace of the objects within the mural is irregular and appears as a natural landscape. The recreation of nature is similar to what you would expect when viewing a natural museum’s diorama. Burchfield has repeated some shapes, with intermittent tall columns that represent dense trees, light and translucent leaves through the center and occasionally at the top of the mural, and on the base, intermittent shapes and masses of grasses, fern fans and low vegetation.

Like his earlier Amazon project, the range of colors, tonal patterns, shapes and mass that have been captured in his prints is still magical. These photographs can also represent the transitory nature of our environment. In Burchfield’s mural, I see that large, solid trees do cast a strong shadow, but these same trees hold delicate leaves that are semi-transparent and fragile. We may think that the trees can last forever, but the tree’s very existence is highly dependent upon their vulnerable leaves. I think that Burchfield’s message is that our ecosystem, no matter how robust and invincible that it may seem, is at great risk to changes in the balance of nature.

The Forward was written by Kevin Miller, the introductory essay by Burchfield and Afterword written by Don Spence. 

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By Douglas Stockdale

July 24, 2009

Dan Nelken – Till the Cows Come Home

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Copyright Dan Nelken, 2008, courtesy Kehrer Verlag

Dan Nelken’s Till the Cows Come Home, is a culmination of nine years photographing county fairs in the rural NorthEast region of the United States. His project evolved into creating moving portraits of the farming participants, especially the youth and the animals that they raised.

Not shown are the multitude of games, rides, amusements, food booths and the people who are visiting the fair. Which are the things that I can call most from when I visited our local MidWest county fair with my parents. We were the outsiders, visitors from the suburbs, while Nelken has provided us with a behind the scenes look at the insiders, those who raised the animals behind the gates, pens and stalls.

He provides a warm glimpse of the rural human element that drives one of the basic needs for the county fair.  A place for the coming of age of those who are destined to take their place on the farms. For those on a farm, the county fair is a rite of passage, that marks the end of childhood and prepares one for adulthood. But just like puberty, this is also an awkward time for these young people, one foot still lingering in their childhood, while the other stepping forward to adult size responsibilities.

We see these youth in the context of the animals they raise and have brought to be judged, and they bring a large menagerie. There are goats, sheep, rams, piglets, hogs, horses, calves, cows, ducks, chickens, rosters, hens and chicks, ducks, rabbits, and even fish. There are some wildlife, but usually brought to the fair “stuffed”, to show a competency in the art of taxidermy.

One background element in many of the photographs are the awards, an essential component to the participation at the fair.  The ribbons and trophies are festooned with gold embossed letters, big flowery bows, either in bold colors of red, blue and purple. These awards declare the holder to be Excellent or the most highly desired, Best in Show. The young recipients are proud, smiling and joyful in their recent achievements. The parents and adults appear more focused, almost intense, as if knowing that some of these ribbons could translate to higher prices for the livestock. It is not easy for them to ignore the hard reality of farm economics, animals are bred to be consumed or a source of a steady cash flow

Nelken has caught these young people lost in thought, and although difficult to know about what, it is probably not much different than their young counterparts in the suburbs or the city. And he found them sleeping, perhaps exhausted from the necessary work, as the livestock still need to be fed and cared for.  The young owners are also involved in the extra effort to groom their animals for the judges; washing, shaving, combing and other preparations for the judging. Then a needed pause to catch 40 winks. Any napping place will do, in a chair, a temporary hammock strung up in the stable, on a bale of hay or perhaps just use their animal as a temporary bed, like as if it might be a big, warm, bean-bag.

The youth are seen enjoying the company of their animals they have raised, they are comfortable being around them and show a sense of closeness. They are in that in between stage, evident in the affectionate gestures of touching, foundling, holding, creasing their animals. Some use their larger animals as pillows to sleep against or as a stool to sit on. We can guess that they may have become emotionally attached to these animals who have recently consumed so much of their attention, even thought these young adults know the eventual fate.

I enjoy Nelken’s light hearted composition of a young man posing with his cow. The cow’s hind quarters falling out of the frame to the left, but magically, as if by slight of hand, reappears again on the right edge of the backdrop. The young man stands before a crude backdrop that is representational of a farming field, while to his right, the hind quarters of the cow is standing in a real landscape setting. An interesting juxtaposition of the real and surreal.

The country fair queen in her long flowing gown, crowned with the silver teaera and a string of pearls.  She is not standing on a stage, but by a barn, with the hem of her gown bunched up and lying on the grass. She is not holding a beautiful flora arrangement fitting a new crowned queen, but cuddling the head of a freshly shorn sheep. Meanwhile a man gamely tries to place the sheep’s legs into place, probably for what he feels should be the formal group photograph. She appears to be well aware of this humorous situation. A queen in her rural court.

The exuberance of a young woman, holding on to her award winning rooster, with the two hands thrusting in from the edges offering her awards. From Nelken’s caption, apparently these awards that have been a long time coming. She is laughing and enjoying this obviously set-up, both about her good fortune as well as sophisticated enough to realize how amusing this might appear.

Almost mid-way through the book, Nelken provides an interlude, much like an intermission at a play. Momentarily stepping away from the human play, to view the displays for judging the cakes, vegetables, and flowers. The displays are very basic, with no fan-fare, no frills. The vegetables for judging lay on white, paper plates, and those are sitting on plastic floor tiles stapled to the wooden table tops, symbolic of the utilitarian farm life.

I enjoy the direct eye contact that the Nelken has captured. His subjects appear at easy, open, momentarily with their guard let down, perhaps reveling a little more about themselves. I sense that these young people are enjoying the events that are swirling about them. I see the effects of daily grind of the farm evident in the eyes and faces of many of the adults, meanwhile the young participants still have that sparkle of youth, hope, innocence and enthusiasm for what might lay ahead. This is also an indirect portrait of Nelken, reflecting the trust that he establishes.

The photographs are nicely printed, single photograph to a page with small white margins framing the images. The color photographs are printed clean and crisp, appear well defined, much like most of Nelken’s subjects. The book’s introduction is nicely written by Roy Flukinger, who provides the apt quote from Roy Stryker during his days in the 1930’s with the FSA;

“Documentary is an approach, not a technic [sic]; an afformation, not a negation…the question is not what to picture or what camera to use. Every phase of our time and our surroundings has vital significance and any camera in good repair is an adequate instrument. The job is to know enough about the subject matter to find its significance in itself, and in relation to its surroundings, its time and its function.”

While many contemporary books are being printed quite large, although making the photographs a pleasure to enjoy, the books become very unwieldy to hold. This book is refreshingly sized at 9” x 9”, with a sound binding that allows it to lay open comfortably in my hands. A design and style I find in sync with the utilitarianism of the rural life that Nelken has documented here.

 

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by Douglas Stockdale

July 22, 2009

Jerry Burchfield – Primal Images

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Copyright Jerry Burchfield, 2004 courtesy Laguna Wilderness Press

I am very fascinated by the photographic prints created by Jerry Burchfield for his two recent books, Primal Images: 100 Lumen Prints of the Amazonia Flora,  published in 2004 by Laguna Wilderness Press and subsequently Understory, published this year (2009), also by Laguna Wilderness Press. Burchfield has used a camera-less photographic process that harkens back to the beginning days of photography to create these wonderful images of plants and flora. So to set the stage for his latest book Understory, I need to begin with Burchfield’s earlier book, Primal Images.

Although Burchfield calls his resulting photographs “Lumen” (light) prints, his camera-less process is almost identical to that utilized by William Henry Fox Talbot, a salt print process that Talbot invented in 1841. Talbot called his resulting prints calotypes, and it was the first step he made in creating the photographic process that we know today. The calotype, as are Burchfield’s Lumen prints, is a “negative” image created by the shadow of an object on the photo-sensitive medium. When Talbot contact printed his negative salt print to another salt paper, he created the first “positive” image.

These camera-less photographic process prints have been given many names, including calotypes, photogenic drawings, photogram, sun prints, contact prints, and numerous others. Regardless, it is amazing that one of the oldest photographic processes in the hands of a photographer, such as Burchfield, still has the capability to provide plenty of artistic potential today.

For Primal Images, Burchfield made three trips to the Amazon River basin to collect plants and other organic samples to create his Lumen prints. In many ways this was a daunting task, because of the conditions to collect and create his Lumen prints on site, and not finish the print processing until his return to Southern California. He was able to “post-visualize” his work in-progress but only at the end of the day after his Lumen printing was completed. If his Lumen print did not turn out has he had hoped, he had to search for another specimen the following morning and start the printing process over again.

To add to the complexity, the results of his photographic process can not be duplicated, as each print is an original. Each print is unique due to the quality of light (e.g. if clouds were to occur, which they do, as well as rain and changes in relative humidity), the nature of the sample (organic leaves will shrink and wilt after they have been cut) and what light sensitive material that he had available. For his first trip, the printing process must have been a series of trial and error, but the immediate visual results must have been amazing.

The resulting lumen prints are the result of a combination of experience, with the printing process and materials under the conditions of the Amazon, with serendipity and chance, as Burchfield could not fully predict the results. Since the prints are but shadows of the specimens, another difficult factor to consider was the amount of translucency of the specimen. Would Burchfield’s specimen block all of the light for his Lumen print and provide just a hard outline of his object? Or would a partial amount of light be transmitted, thus creating a soft shadow? With some experience, I am guessing that Burchfield could anticipate that certain aspects of his printing process might yield a range of effects. Burchfield could control which specimens he selected for his lumen prints and how these specimens were arranged on the light sensitive materials. After that, he was at the mercy of the environmental conditions of the day and the interaction of the sunlight, his specimens and how the light sensitive material progressed on that specific day.

Burchfield also varied the size of his prints as a result of the wide range in the size of his specimens, although most were able to encompass an 8 x 10” paper.  But there were specimens, such as the Lemore Rana that spanned a sheet of 11 x 14” paper (third print below), or specimens that required a 16 x 20” sheet of light sensitive paper or even multiple sheets to expand the image size to 33 x 28″, such as when he was working with a giant lily pad.

The resulting lumen prints are wonderful and I can see why he returned again and again to continue this project. Likewise, almost a hundred years earlier, Talbot after all that he had invented for the photographic and printing processes we are in debt for today, had returned back to his calotype prints of plants and flora as his primary expressive photographic process.

Burchfield states that he was surprised by the range of colors that his “black and white” light sensitive materials yielded, as am I. With a black and white enlarging paper, you might not expect to have a broad range of color images. The resultant broad range of colors is also a similar effect that Talbot experienced with his salt prints in the mid 1800’s. The resulting colors, patterns, shapes, tonal graduations and lines within each of these prints is very unique and captivating. I understand that the content of his prints is unpredictable, but to Burchfield’s credit, he remains open to the process and the results.

The resulting images do not actually provide very much descriptive details of the plants, foliage or flora and it would be difficult to identify them in their nature habitat. I find that Burchfield’s lumen prints do provide a visual description of the spirit of these plants and hint at their essence. The slight traces of these plants on the prints are almost eerie in their lack of substance and seem like abstract line tracings. As a result, I find that most of these lumen prints are just outright magical to look at. The specimens just seem to dance on the surface of the print, leaving only an every so light touch of their physical presence behind.

The forward was written by Wade Davis and the introductory essay was provided by Johnathan Green. In the afterword written by Burchfield, he discusses his experience in completing this project, which is an interesting read. Jerry Burchfield is a co-founder of Laguna Wilderness Press as well as a professor of photography and the director of the photographic gallery at Cypress College, Cypress, California.

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By Douglas Stockdale

July 20, 2009

Debra Bloomfield – Still

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Copyright Debra Bloomfield, 2008 courtesy Chronicle Books

The subject of Debra Bloomfields latest book, Still, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books, is a series of oceanscapes; composed of part ocean and part sky with a horizon somewhere in between. Which is also to say that she treads softly on the edge of sentimentality and cliché. To Bloomfield’s credit, her photographs are not easily defined by a specific place and time, and avoid becoming stereotypical ocean sunset photographs.

Her oceanscapes were created at an undisclosed location over a period of seven years. Not present within these photographs is the surf rolling onto the shore or any coastal details that we might expect of an oceanscape. Likewise we do not actually see anyone present in these photographs, just traces of their presence by boats and aircraft. It appears that her straight photographs were made from a higher vantage point, an elevated perspective. Perhaps made on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, as well as overlooking other evidence of humanity. Bloomfield has isolated her focus on the interaction of just the ocean with the sky.

There are things that are also found within these oceanscapes that provide information about the pictorial scale, such as a flag in the near ground surf, a commercial aircraft in the sky or a sail boat on the horizon. Unlike a rigid uniformity of a series of Becher compositions, she places the horizon within her photographs to emphasize either the ocean, the sky or sometimes divide them equally. The horizontal division shifts for each composition, depending on the environmental conditions. Has the tide receded to reveal some underlying reef patterns, has the sky become stormy with atmospheric clouds that dance within her frame, or has the sun just set and left behind an explosion of color? It appears that she uses these oceanscapes in an attempt to create metaphors and an equivalence in emotional feelings, in the tradition of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock and Minor White.

Many of her photographs have incorporated a longer duration of time as an element of her photographic process. Unlike Michael Kenna who masks his long night exposures with an overcast sky, we see within Bloomfield’s oceanscapes the pattern streaks of stars, planets and moon. Another effect of her long exposures is to flatten the ocean surface, eliminating the details of surf and waves, which blends and melds the colors. The clouds in the skies become soft blurs. Extending the duration of her exposures makes the content of her photographs seem more abstract. Subsequently her photographs seem timeless and less about documenting an actual place.

Central to the mood within these photographs is the light and broad variety of color palettes. From the almost monochromatic whites, grays and blues, to high saturation color, such as a orange sky that occurs after the sun has set. In between these extremes are lyrical soft pastels, amazing cobalt blues, and intense blue-greens I usually associate with the Caribbean.

The patterns of the cloud formations and artifacts within these oceanscapes, although interesting, seem secondary to the light and space. The rocky reefs at low tide create shapes and patterns similar to images made by the Abstract Expressionist. There are sharply defined cloud formations on the horizon, rapidly approaching clouds ushering in a storm front, moody high contrast scenes created by an approaching storm and the softness of a far fog bank that is slowly creeping onto shore. But it is the colors and the use of space that maintains my attention.

Her photographs evoke a range of emotional responses for me. Her monochromatic and subdued colors create a meditative state, that allows for a wonderful and peacefully pause. I sense the solitude that Bloomfield writes about experiencing when she was creating these photographs. For other photographs, I sense a dynamic tension, that alerts my senses.

Over the years, it appears that she has become attune to her external environmental conditions in order to create a pictorial equivalence of her own feelings.

The photographs are printed one per page, usually on one page per spread, with a small white border that provides adequate breathing room for each photograph. The book contains an interview of Bloomfield by Corey Keller and an essay by Terry Tempest Williams. 

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July 13, 2009

Candida Höfer – Libraries

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Copyright 2005,  Candida Höfer courtesy Schrimer/Mosel Verlag

I like libraries. I like the smell of books; old leather covers, or the fresh ink recently laid on new sheets. I like to wonder along the library isles amongst the towering columns of books, getting lost physically and in thought. And I am a photobook collector with a slowly growing personal library. Thus Candida Höfer’s book, Libraries, published by Schirmer/Mosel, which documents some wonderful libraries from all over the world, is very appealing to me.

Höfer’s photographs investigates what a library might be. The potential definitions of a library include: a building that houses a collection of books and other materials, a depository built to contain books and other materials for reading and study, a collection of literary documents or records kept for reference or borrowing, and a room where books are kept. Essentially she shows that the concept of a library is a diverse and complex subject.

She has photographed the interior of libraries far and wide, and on occasion, features an exterior view, but even those are taken at mid-range, not placing a library into a larger urban context. Predominately, it is the inner core of the library structure that constitutes the content of this book; the halls, book lined shelves, the reading areas and halls, the vast array of index cards cases, as well as the lines of computer terminals. There are glimpses of messy work areas, inner book stacks, empty shelving awaiting their ensuing loads, and statuary lined corridors. The books when seen from afar appear like abstract drawings on the walls. When the books are documented up close, I can examine the details of worn and well handled bindings and casings, testimonials to an ancient time.

The books held within the libraries are shown as valuable treasures, protected by boundaries, fences, and isolated away from the general public. These books are not readily accessible, but seen from a distance, for us to wonder what might be hidden within the leather bound covers. We also see books that appear to be readily available, unprotected, and vulnerable and out in the open. Available books could symbolize that knowledge is also there to be found, considered and subsequently applied.

Her photographs dive into the psychology of social architecture, where buildings and infrastructure can reflect cultural identity. Building can seem to be oppressive, intimidating, contemporary, open, seductive, proud, pompus, accessilble, inhospitable, showy and ostentatious. How the surface of a building, and its architechural infrastructure, effects you depends on your cultural perspective. While I see very ornate detail work and think that this is too osentatcious, others may think this is proper and entirely appropriate. It would seem that Höfer does not seem to make any judgements, but docuements what she finds, which I think is too simple of an assessement.

Höfer’s photograhs are similar to the Düsseldorf style of Bern and Hiller Beacher, with whom she studied. Stylistically, this book is a comparative study of various library systems, a typology document. Her photographs include content that can be examined for a comparison of libraries between different geographic and cultural locations. There are libraries in Italy, Germany, United States, Austria, Brazil, France, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, Norway, Spain, and Finland. There are detailed color photographs of libraries within a nation that reflect regional cultural or social differences, such as a schloss (castle or royal) library versus the university or that of the main city (public) library. These are made with a large format camera, utilizing a small aperture, so that all the content within the photograph is tack sharp and stunning.

But unlike the Beacher’s methodology, she does not strive to find the same exact compositional arrangement for each of her libraries. It appears to me that she has allowed the individuality of each library to speak to her. Another difference with the Beacher’s is her use of color photographs. Thus there is richness in the variety of the photographic content as I move from page to page that I do not necessarily find with the Beacher’s typographic subjects.

Similar to the Beacher’s work, almost every photograph excludes the direct presence of human activity. I believe that this method allows us to study the basic and underlying design of a structure. With her photographs, I can visualize the organization of the place itself with more clarity. Without the people present, she places an emphasis on the form that supports the function. Nevertheless, I can also see traces of those who have designed, built, organized, and maintained these spaces.

One of a handful of exceptions to the exclusions of humanity is the wonderful photograph of the library of St Galan, first photograph below. I find it one of the more beautiful photographs in the book. For me, the ghost like forms of the people who seem to only momentarily linger within the library speaks to the fleeting spirit of those who come to visit the books. Meanwhile the book, like knowledge, will preserver and exist long after we are gone. The books also contain the traces and memories of mankind, those who dreamed, wrote, printed, bound and subsequently cared for these books and documents.

She also documents what libraries were, have become and a hint of what they might evolve into. With the internet and instant access to a wide range of knowledge, we might think of books and libraries becoming passé. Nevertheless, bookstores are doing well, the number of photobooks  seem to be increasing and the general interest in book seems strong. Good books need good homes, and the natural place for them being a library. Thus, I think that there is a very good chance that these beautiful libraries will still be with us a bit longer, although their internal organizations will surly change.

Höfer’s book is a delightful study of library structures and ogranization, reflecting social identities. It provides possibilities where books & knowledge can hide. I enjoyed the introductory essay by Umberto Eco about the essence of libraries, and I even experienced wonderful flashbacks to when as an undergraduate, I found a sneaky passage into the forbidden “stacks” at my university library.

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by Douglas Stockdale

July 10, 2009

Recent International Book Awards – June 2009

Filed under: Photo Books, Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:50 pm

I am getting caught up on other book publishing news and I want to pass along two recent international book awards. 

The Europena Publishers Award went to Klavdij Sluban, a French photographer, and the Award guarantees that his project ‘East to East’ will now be published in book form. So we look forward to seeing it probably sometime next year.

The second set of book awards occured at the FotoGrafia- Fotofestival Internazionale di Roma in May 2009. The Premio FotoGrafia Libro Award went to the best Italian book and the best International book, as reported by Melanie McWhorter, one of the book judges and staff at photo-eye. These two Premio FotoGrafia Libro Awards were for books that have been published.

Best Italian book: Ed Templeton’s Deformer, published by Damiani book

Best International book: Jim Goldberg’s  Open See published by Steidl

Second place: Mariken Wessels Elisabeth – I want to eat which is self-published by Wessels

by Douglas Stockdale

July 6, 2009

David Maisel – Library of Dust

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Photographs copyright of David Maisel courtesy of Chronicle Books

As a designer, principally developing sterile barrier systems for medical products, it was jarring for me to see David Maisel’s photographs from his recent book, Library of Dust. Seeing containers in these deplorable conditions is the stuff of nightmares for me. So I see his photographic content in a different light than most, but nevertheless, I think that these color photographs are beautiful and mesmerizing.

Primarily, Maisel’s book is a collection of photographs of deteriorating copper canisters. What makes these canisters unique is that they contain the unclaimed cremated remains of Oregon State Hospital’s deceased residents. This mental hospital had a policy, between 1912 to mid-1970’s, of cremating those who pass away at the hospital and storing their ashes in copper canisters, a very basic funeral urn. The hospital maintains custody of all the canisters that go unclaimed. Over time, due to the poor storage conditions and the canister’s materials of construction, many of the exterior surfaces of these copper urns have radically changed.

To further place further emphasis on the current conditions of these containers, Maisel has photographed each canister isolated on a black cloth. He set his lens to a narrow depth of field, such that the front edge of the canister is in sharp focus and the canister fades into a softly defined profile, while still retaining its basic form.

I feel that the sharp focus of the canister’s front edge represents the “here and now”. Our current reality is usually clear, sharply seen and experiential felt. At any given moment we know what is before us and usually around us. That given moment almost immediately begins to fade in our memory as we continue to experience new events, new sensory inputs, changes to our environment, a continuation of our personal dialog with time. Thus the softening of the canister as it recedes away from us then represents our fading memory by the effects of passing time.

I also see the container fading back into the dark like a memory, much like the person who once was flesh and soul, but now the cremated remains resting within the canister. The inky black background is dark as night, and this darkness can also represent the mysterious unknown, much like death itself.

Maisel has captured the current state of these canisters; the deformational changes to the sculptural shape, the ensuring rainbow of colors exploding on the exteriors, the scarred surfaces, the oxidation blooms, the deterioration of the identification labels, missing labels and illegible embossed numbers. There are now the new markings, the copper seams disintegrating, and the abstract qualities of the color. These basic funeral urns have now taken on qualities like the creations by the abstract expressionist, such as Jackson Pollack, Barnett Newman, Mark Toby or Sam Francis.

Taking an object and placing it outside of its normal external context, thus creating an aesthetic object, harkens back to Edward Weston famous Pepper studies, and then forward in time to the beautiful platinum photographs of NYC gutter trash by Irving Penn. A photographer can change the understanding and appreciation of an object by placing it in a unique setting. For some reason, we can now see what we could not see before. We have been shown something “new”, which in fact was there all along.

The book also contains photographs of the abandoned portion of J building within this same hospital complex, including the crematorium, physician offices, hallways, meeting rooms and the storage area of these containers. Most of these interior landscapes show us a facility that is in a similar condition as the copper vessels. The walls are deteriorating with peeling paint, there are mounds of debris on the floors, and even the floor tiles are lifting up from the floor’s substructure. The condition of this abandoned facility is similar in nature to the deterioration that is occurring to the copper containers. Maisel is documenting what naturally occurs to all things when provided enough time; from dust to dust.

I have found Maisel’s photographs of these detoriating vessels and abandoned facility to be very beautiful, thought provoking, even though the subject matter makes me feel uncomfortable.

The really big hardcover book measures an impressive 13 ½” x 17 1/4“, and with the full bleed photographs, provides printed images that are 13 1/8” x 17 1/16”.

 

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by Douglas Stockdale

July 2, 2009

Darius Himes – Photography.Book.Now

Filed under: Photo Books, Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:14 am

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I had an opportunity recently to discuss with Darius Himes, co-founder and editor of Radius Books, about his role as lead judge for Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now contest. The deadline for entries is July 16, 2009.

DS  Darius, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your involvement with Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now competition. This is your second year leading the photobook judging team for this competition, and with your own publishing company (Radius Books), why are you motivated to participate?

DH  I have a very active role in Radius Books, obviously, but I have a broad interest in publishing in general, and in photography book publishing in particular. During my time as editor of the photo-eye Booklist, I spent a great deal of time surveying the ever-growing, world-wide number of publishers who were putting out interesting photography books. What the new print-on-demand phenomenon has done is place the ability to “publish” directly in the hands of photographers. Being able to see firsthand, and before anyone else, what creative photographers come up with is the primary interest for participating in the contest. This is what the other judges have expressed as well.

DS  Why the change in categories from last year? Are these categories selected by Blurb?

DH  The categories were created by Blurb with heavy input from me, as the lead judge. The categories are designed to get photographers thinking about books the way publishers think about books. The types of photography books that are published are so wildly various that we tried to create categories that would draw in a range of visions.Clearly, I can’t speak for the entire industry, but it’s an attempt to celebrate the diversity of approaches.

The “commercial” category is really about a type of book that has broad, commercial appeal. Those types of books are inevitably “subject” driven, not “name” or artist driven. Subjects like animals, sports, flowers, celebrities, food, and travel destinations are perennial favorites with broad audiences, and putting together a successful commercial book is truly a feat.

The “editorial” category is really about the long-term photo project. This type of book is still subject driven, but has a story at its heart, whether that’s a current-events type story, or something that is more historical or cultural.

The “fine-art” category is for books that have personal, artistic visions at their core and are not concerned so much with a broad audience; these books are aimed at the fine-art photography market, in other words, and are as much about promoting the overall career of the photographer as an artist, as it is about actually selling copies of the book.

DS  If a photographer publishes a Blurb book, does that diminish the chances of publishing it with an established publisher?

DH  Personally, I say “No.” While Blurb does have a large bookstore presence within their business, one of the biggest things that a publisher brings to the table is broad distribution. The print-on-demand phenomenon has stretched and expanded the capacity to get stories out there, but it also has limitations. A publisher that sees the commercial potential of a project is not going to consider a self-published print-on-demand book as having tapped out a market, in my opinion. Especially when we’re talking about the book sales that potentially could be in the 10s of 1000s. There are different considerations for fine-art publications, but some of the elements are the same.

DS  How does the judging process work? Last year there were over 1,000 titles submitted and there are 10 judges, including yourself. Will each judge see every book?

DH  Last year there were actually over 2000 entries, which blew everyone away given that it was the first year of the contest. With a contest of this size, there are actually a couple levels to it. There is an initial screening process, overseen by myself whereby the most amateur of the entries are set aside. EVERY single entry is looked at, obviously. The more accomplished and talented work rises to the top through this process, and we are interested in making sure that our 9 judges (+ me) see the best work possible when they come together. This is not a pre-judging process, but rather a ‘winnowing’ process, eliminating the chaff, as the metaphor goes.

The final judging will take place in New York, and the judges will be divided into teams to judge each category. A large selection of printed books will be spread out in several rooms for the judges to browse and judge from. They also have a chance to see all of the entries electronically.

DS  In what form will they see the submission, electronic or hardcopy?

DH  Both. The printed, hardcopy books are the focus, but they can also browse them electronically.

DS  How long will each judge have to make their assessment?

DH  The judging is scheduled to take place on one day—two if necessary.

DS  If each judge will see a partial group of books, what is the process to determine which judge reviews which book?

DH  Again, each category will have a team of judges assigned to it. That group of judges will award the prizes for their category. The grand prize winner will be chosen from among all of the judges. And the judges will have time to browse books from all of the categories.

DS  When do you anticipate announcing the results?

DH  The announcement will come shortly after the judging which happens in early August. And there is a BIG party in New York scheduled for September 23, along with parties in San Francisco, London, and Chicago. Check the website regularly for the updates on exact times and locations.

DS  Darius, thank you again for your time to discuss this wonderful opportunity for those photographers who have placed a lot of thought, time and effort into the self-publishing of their photographic books.

Darius also provided an update about Blurb’s book competition on his own blog, here. I think some of the key points he made are:  

A book, in general, is a very democratic and accessible vehicle to disseminate ideas, in the form of either text or images—two primary advantages are that books require no electricity and can be returned to again and again, unlike an exhibition, for instance, or the Internet.

Creating a successful book involves editing and sequencing and design all in light and in line with an overriding concept which has to be determined ahead of time. Asking your self ahead of time, “Who is this book for?” and “What am I trying to accomplish with this book?” is extremely important.

By Douglas Stockdale

Postscript: Another interesting interview with Darius was with Cara Phillips, develing more into the current state of affairs with photographic prints, books and the internet, can be found here.

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