The PhotoBook

September 25, 2010

Laurence Vecten – a conversation

Filed under: Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 10:10 pm

Laurence Vecten apartment, Paris copyright Douglas Stockdale 2010

When I found out that I was not going to be in Paris for the PIY (Publish it Yourself) exhibition ealier this month, I had let Laurence Vecten know what I was sending my regrets for not arriving in Paris in time. She in turn responded with an offer to meet at her apartment, as all of the photobooks had not been returned yet. nice!

I had thought that over the years that I had started a number of photographic blogs and venues, but Laurence I belive has me beat, with her own blog (www.laurencevecten.blogspot.com), Lozen up (www.lozenup.com), the PIY web site (www.publishityourself.org), the One Year ofB ooks (http://oneyearofbooks.tumblr.com) and Photo Book Swap (http://photobookswap.tumblr.com). On top of this she has her day job at Paris Glamour. wow!

While we were coordinating our meeting, she also extended an offer to Mark Feustel to join us, which I was very glad he could. This made for a very delightful and wide running conversation about all things related to photobooks and not neccessarily related only to the PIY photobooks. There were appoximately 80 books on exhibition earlier and we realized that it would be impossible to review them all, so she curated a smaller selection for Marc and I to consider. It was very interesting to see the breath in printing styles, papers, covers, binding, layout and designs. This just confirms for me that DIY/PIY is here to stay and getting better and stronger. I came away with a strong feeling that there will be another PIY exhibition sometime in the future.

We had a great conversation and I have to add that Laurence also makes a wonderful fruit cake with just a hint of something alcholic, such that I needed a couple of extra slices for my enjoyment later in the evening back at my hotel. Thank you again Laurence!

Afterwards, Marc walked with me to La Bal, the brand new documentary exhibition space that just opened near by. While at La Bal, I also purchased the current copy of Foam, in which Marc conducted the majority of the interviews for this edition. A nice exhibition of Lewis Balz’s work among others was hanging, so I went to Paris to see photographs of Irvine, which is about 20 minutes from my home in Orange County, CA. Go figure, but remember this is his photographs from the 1970’s and became part of the New Topographics exhibition.

by Douglas Stockdale

BTW in the past, I have been creating informal portraits in conjunction with these conversations, but Laurence’s son was not feeling well and somethings were out of sorts. Instead I created this indirect environmental portrait of her which provides for me the same warm and comfortable feeling that I experienced in her presence.

September 22, 2010

Henrik Saxgren – Unintended Sculptures

Copyright Henrik Saxgren 2009, courtesy Hatje Cantz Verlag  and photo-eye

Henrik Saxgren recent photobook Unintended Scupltures is wonderful reminders why in the rush of my daily life that I need to occasionally take time to pause and just observe. He shares with us that located amongst the various and assorted debris of our day to day world, there exists, waiting to be discovered, a plethora of ready-art to be contemplated and enjoyed.

His documentary style photographs investigate the concept of a found “sculpture” as a three dimensional construct now reduced to an even more abstract two-dimensional plane. This also becomes one of the few weaknesses of his book due to his inclusion of flat two-dimensional objects and natural events, although aesthetically interesting, do not appear to be consistent with his theme, even in the broadest of contemporary definitions of what constitutes a sculpture.

 Of particular interest to me are his found sculptural objects which are extracted and conceptually constructed from his everyday experience. The book’s title implies that objects exist, but as a result of personal observation, we can create a new contextual relationship and meaning, that an object does not become a sculpture until we name it as such. In nature there exists no horizontal line although individuals identify and create such boundaries and a resulting photograph of the land becomes a landscape, something that does not exist in nature.

I find that Saxgren illustrates his ability to frame, extract and isolate natural phenomena, abandoned and decaying sites and other structural objects to discover the potential existence of a narrative that encompasses aesthetic beauty, mystery, fantasy, memory, dreams and personal stories.

His unintended sculptures can be interpreted as autobiographical statements about his reaction to natural and man-kind generated elements that he chooses to place into new juxtapositions, combinations within his altered frameworks. By the determination of his composition and exposure, he coaxes out of space things of his own imagination and I believe inspires us to do the same.

Something unknown is wrapped and bound in cloth and string while sitting on a wooden platform seems mysterious. Saxgren then utilizes that mysterious object to create an ominous narrative in conjunction with the darkening, overcast and gloomy sky, while on the right side within the frame is a dark and barren tree in a sea of brown grasses. Page after page is a series of beguiling images, some are so long and horizontal that they span the entire spread of this wide horizontal book. I occasionally found the color images to be overly saturated although the sharply focused photographs provide for a memorizing study of details. This wide horizontal book, verging on becoming oversize, is very nicely matched to Saxgren’s overly-wide horizontal photographs.

by Douglas Stockdale

September 7, 2010

Japan A Self Portrait – Photographs 1945 – 1964

Copyright the photographers 2004 published by Editions Flammarion, Paris

It was my good fortune to meet up with Marc Feustel, consulting editor and photo-blogger (Eye Curious) in Paris last July to discuss photobooks, Japanese photography and a photobook that he conceptualized, developed and edited; Japan, A Self Portrait: Photographs 1945 – 1964.

  This was not the first survey of Japanese photographers published in English, with earlier editions published by Aperture and MOMA. This is a broad survey to examine the photographs and photographers who were active in the period after World War II up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

 The eleven Japanese photographers who in included this phototbook include Domon Ken (1909 – 1990), Hamaya Hiroshi (1915 – 1999), Hayashi Tadahiko (1918 – 1990), Hosoe Eikoh (b.1933), Ishimoto Yasuhiro (b.1921 SF, USA), Kawada Kikuji (b.1933), Kimura Ihee (Ihei) (1901 – 1974), Nagano Shigeichi (b.1925), Narahara Ikko (b.1931), Tanuma Takeyohsi (b.1929)  and Tomatsu Shomei (b.1930).

These eleven photographs are generally recognized as the creating the post-war photographic foundation for the subsequent generation of Japanese photographers, including those whose work encompass the Provoke and Kompura eras and the others who were active in the mid 1960’s, 1970’s into the 1980’s.

Very few of these photographers were familiar to me thirty years ago, perhaps with the exception of Eikoh Hosoe and his publications Man and Woman and Barakei (Ordeal by Roses) from which excerpts were published in the American photographic magazines. Even today, I may now recognize some of the photographs in this book, but only a few of the photographers have any name recognition. Understanding that gap in my awareness was the underlying reason that I was seeking out Feustel and subsequently this photobook.

I realize that there are many and varied barriers to obtaining and understanding the rich and complex photographic work being developed in Japan. The language is an obvious barrier, with few of the past and even current photobooks having English text. Second, in part due to the limited English text, few of the Japanese photobooks are distributed outside of Japan and as such have limited accessibility.

Third is the culture, the background story, of Japan, which is very much unlike the American/European culture. Thus my attempting to “read” a Japanese photograph or photobook will at best only obtain a glimpse of all of the potential meetings, as I am not looking for those visual clues that may be very significant to the Japanese photographer and subsequent Japanese reader. I have a feeling similar to that of Pico Iyer, who recently wrote that after living in Kyoto Japan for 22 years, he is still known as a gaijin (outsider) and “generally feel as if I’m stumbling through the city’s exquisite surfaces like a bull in an Imari china shop”. Likewise, I sympathize with Andrew Phelps that after an intense three weeks photographing in Niigata, Japan, his project was really “about responding visually to a place I don’t really understand”. Thus I embark on learning the visual clues and become more aware of the layers of potential meanings, of which this photobook is proving to provide an immeasurable assistance.

 This book itself is thick with black and white photographs, some have become highly acclaimed internationally and many are not very well known outside of Japan. The photographs by the eleven photographers are highly dispersed, as I have some difficulty drawing a comprehensive impression of any one of the photographers work. I am not sure that was the editor’s intent, but to instead to provide a complex intertwining of the photographer’s work which was being concurrently published at any one period. I think that the intent was to illustrate the potential interaction and yet diversity in the photographs being produced.  The photographs are sequenced somewhat randomly but in an overall progressive duration, from the mid-1940’s to the mid-1960’s.

 Most of the Japanese photographers of this period were working initially with magazines and newspapers creating singular photographs made on the streets and only later developing concepts and projects that would result in cohesive photobooks.

Hiraki Osam in his essay, states “..the photographers of the postwar era had a very different perception of photography to that of prewar photographers, instead becoming expressionists in their own right. In other words, theirs was an active rather than a passive stance. They accepted the world before their eyes as their own reality and attempted to interpret this though photography, projecting the result back to us in the form of a photograph….The greatest benefit reaped by postwar photography was that, whether consciously or subconsciously, the photographic act itself became fundamentally grounded in the photographer’s own self, or, to put it another way, in the sense of an individual’s own existence in the world.”

 During my conversation with Feustel, he did provide a nice insight on “reading” a Japanese photograph, that it helps “to look for the symbolic power of the detail and notice the focus on texture and the use of space”. Feustel has assisted me in curating the photographs in this article, choosing some important photographs from among the many and that he recommends spend time viewing and studying to help gain some insights on postwar Japanese photography.

 The essays are provided by Takeuchi Keiichi, Hiraki Osam and the Introduction is by Alain Sayag. There are three different editions of this book published, English, French and Japanese, my edition being the French version that I purchased last July in Paris, all of which are now out of print, but currently seem to be easily available on the secondary book market. If you have an interest in Japanese photography, I highly recommend acquiring this book.

By Douglas Stockdale

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