The PhotoBook

January 23, 2011

Kassel Photobook Festival – Dummy Book Award

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Doug Stockdale @ 9:12 pm

The 4th annual Kassel Photobook Festival is again sponsoring their 2011 Dummy Book Award.

From the Festival:  Enter your unpublished photobook for our Dummy Award 2011 now and win a complete book production.
The inaugural Dummy Award 2010 was one of the highlights of the last festival. From a total of 489 registrations and 431 submitted dummies, 56 books were chosen for the exhibition and competition.

Win a complete photobook production

Unpublished photobooks of any kind are admissible. This includes handmade artist books as well as digitally created editions. A jury made up of internationally renowned members will select the 3 best books. The winning book will once again be produced and published by our publishing and printing partner seltmann+söhne. This work will also be portrayed in the magazine European Photography. The 2nd and 3rd prizes will be sponsored by our partner blurb: The 2nd prize is books produced by blurb to the value of 500 Euros, the 3rd prize books to the value of 300 Euros. Both prizes include publication on blurbs »bluberati blog« (http://blog.blurb.com), »staff picks« (book presentations on the blurb bookstore website) and free entry to the blurb »Photo Book Now« 2011 competition. 3 works which catch the attention of our jury due to their outstanding photographic excellence but don’t fulfil the specific book design criteria will be rewarded with photobook dummy reviews by schaden.com / White Press.

A major criterion for the prize selection is the successful merging of excellent photographic work with the special design elements of the book medium. To prepare for our annual Dummy Award we strongly recommend participation in one of the festival workshops that focus on the design and production of photobooks. One of the goals of the Dummy Award is to raise the quality of the photographic book.

So if you are interested and what more information, check it out here: http://2011.fotobookfestival.org/en/dummy_award/

January 20, 2011

Kiyoshi Suzuki – Soul and Soul 1969 – 1999

Copyright estate of Kiyoshi Suzuki courtesy Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht, copyright 2008

In 1972 Kiyoshi Suzuki self-published his first photobook, Nagare no uta, which is known by the English translation Soul and Soul. Suzuki passed away in 2000 after self-publishing eight photobooks between 1972 and 1998. In 2008 Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht (Groningen, The Nederlands) created a retrospective photobook of Suzuki’s photobooks, titled Kiyoshi Suzuki, Soul and Soul, 1969 – 1999. It was after Suzuki’s passing that while working on a retrospective exhibition by the Noorderlicht gallery that the curator, Machiel Botman, and Suzuki’s widow, Yoko Suzuki, stumbled upon the book dummy for Soul and Soul.

The first ten pages of this photobook are re-photographed pages from Suzuki’s own book dummy for Nagare no uta, resplendent with penciled cropping marks and notes for margins, photograph layouts, page sequencing, and subsequent corrections. This is not a clean look at a polished photobook, but a candid peek into the personal development process, as these pages are a raw work-in-progress. My specific issue in arriving at a more encompassing appreciation of these pages is my inability to read Japanese, nevertheless Suzuki’s energy and desire to produce a photobook as he envisions is readily apparent.

This photobook is not meant to emulate a complete re-photographic presentation of Suzuki’s book dummy of Nagare no uta similar to Jeffery Ladd’s Arrata photo book replications, but more about the development of a book dummy that will eventually lead to the photobook. Like wise, counter to the book’s title and implied intent, the book is not restricted to only the photographic work of Nagare no uta.

After the first 10 pages of book dummy re-photographs, we can investigate five pages of the finished Nagare no uta, and are provided the reason for why Suzuki’s style is described as chaos with layer upon layer upon layer, as was his penchant for tiling and overlapping photographs on top of photographs.

The book is interceded with contact sheets, dummy book pages and finished photobook pages, but in a relatively incoherent manner, a mashup of Suzuki’s various photobook projects colliding together. It is extremely difficult to determine where you are in Suzuki’s career and which book you are peering into, creating a jumble of incoherent thoughts. What concerns me is that Suzuki seemed to be almost at the point of obsession of designing each of his photobook, that it was critical to him that the viewer would experience each page in a specific sequence and yet that is exactly what is not provided in this book. Instead we are provided with disjointed glimpses into the potential of Suzuki’s photobooks and it remains for us to seek out his original photobooks if we are intrigued by his vision.

Similar to the original Soul and Soul, the photobook is published with stiff covers and the dust jacket illustration is a replica of the Suzuki’s 1972 book dummy. The photobook is accompanied by includes a separate smaller colophon, in my case I have the English version.

by Douglas Stockdale

January 16, 2011

Mona Kuhn – Evidence

Copyright Mona Kuhn 2007 courtesy Steidl

In Mona Kuhn’s her first book, Photographs, there is an interesting mix of singular images with those that hint at a more complex narrative. Kuhn’s later photographs in her first book, with the shift to a color palette and groups of individuals, provides evidence that her style was evolving, cumulating in her next book, fittingly titled Evidence.

Providing an external context to her book title’s is the introductory statement; “The most immediate form of evidence available to an individual is the observation of that person’s own senses. An observer wishing for evidence that the sky is blue need only look at the sky.” Thus, we are invited to look and observe so that we find our own personal evidence.

As in her first book, the vast majority of her subjects are young men and women, athletic, tan and nude. Her subjects assume stances and positions per her direction, who seem to be vaguely interacting amongst themselves. Kuhn has continued to utilize a shallow depth of field to create an illusion of three dimensional space. The soft focus of Kuhn’s photographs still remind me of a color version of Keith Carter’s work and very close in feeling to that of Susan Burnstine’s surreal photographs. For her daytime photographs, as befitting the photographing of naturalist, there is a flood of nature light illuminating her subjects.

Kuhn does introduce a new spacial quality into this book, incorporating  the simultaneous reflective and transparent features of window glass. These qualities of the glass further enhances her illusion of three-dimensional space. By careful framing, without using polarizer to eliminate the mirror like reflections, she skillful utilizes the windows to create a larger volume of space. The sky and adjacent tree limbs are combined with the view inside the room, as on the cover of the book and the example at the bottom of this review. From experience, we can decifer these abstract photographs, but do so is to miss the abstract and surreal qualities that hints at a mystery and the unknown.

The reflective/transparency of glass speak to the traits of time and memory. To observe an object while catching a reflection of objects behind you is suggestive of being grounded in the current moment while having a glimpse into the past. Kuhn’s reflections on the glass windows are also similar in nature to memories; which become indistinct, hazy and not entirely focused.

I would also assert that Kuhn’s use of glass is very suggestive of the abstract traits of individuals regarding the duality of informing and concealing, perhaps similar to the state of nudity of her subjects. Like a glass window, we can permit others to see what is inside, simultaneously it is evident as to what resides on the surface, while yet concealing information. Glass is also a solid barrier, although translucent, it separates the inside from the outside.When an individual is nude and revealing their surface features, we know little, if most probably nothing, of what resides and is concealed in their hearts and minds. We may seek evidence of who these individuals are, but in the case of Kuhn’s subjects, other than the two-dimensional form on the page and their implied and frozen gestures, they are a complete and unknown mystery.

The photographs sequence concurrently with the passing of time, morning into night, and a shifting viewpoint, from an outside observer to an intimate insider.The passing of time in the sequencing is probably the easier of these two elements to discern. The initial photographs are full of morning light that moves quickly to mid-day and ends with an evening glow and the dark shadows of night. Although each photograph contains very static subjects, this sequencing provides a feeling of passing time.

In Kuhn’s initial photographs, she is positioned as an outsider, a voyeur who, like us the viewer, is looking in through the translucent glass windows. She is observing, while being observed. The returned steady gaze of her subjects inside the dwelling do not reveal any alarm, implying their passive acceptance. Kahn is perhaps an implied participant, as in one photograph on the bottom edge, we catch a small reflected glimpse of the photographer, whose own bare shoulders hints of her participation as a fellow naturalist, not an outsider attempting to create a documentary investigation.

Kuhn’s photographic point of reference then shifts, the implied barrier of the glass window is removed and the viewpoint becomes more direct and personable. There is more of sense of closeness conveyed by the proximity of the subjects to her lens, and the positions of the subjects amongst themselves. It does not appear to be always an easy  or comfortable relationship, with the viewpoint moving forward, then backing off, the focus shifting to other object emerging between us, the viewer, and her subjects. Likewise, her subjects are not always in the focus, sometimes sharply delineated, other times shifting to the background, becoming hazy, indistinct and less personable.

The static posing of Kuhn’s subjects, although initially intriguing, does not always seem to provide me with the desired narratives I had come to earlier expect. There are singular photographs within this book that I find exemplary, but the body of work as a whole appears too static and forced. Her subjects exhibit a consistent nonchalance, without much indication of any inner emotion. There is a strong sense of contemplation by the way the individuals look, carry themselves and are posed.  They have longing looks, indirect gazes, staring off the edges of the page and for the most part, not interacting amongst themselves. The early warmth within the photographs begins to cool with the arrested motion, repose and extensive objectivity. This is not unlike viewing an arrangement of ancient Greek statuary. As a result, I sense a slight uneasiness and awkwardness that creates an undercurrent of tension that becomes palpable, almost in direct contradiction to the more apparent easy lifestyle of the naturalist

I found one photograph, top image below, which has a beautiful elegance. In this case the graceful pose of her subject, although not appearing natural in the manner of her twisting on the chair with the shoulders pulling back, does create delightful flowing lines, tracing from the side of the head down to her chin and down the line of her neck, then connecting to her shoulder and down her arm to her hand draped on the cloth. Wonderful. In this case, the quite expression, slightly closed eyes, does appear contemplative, looking off the page, as though lost in thought, creating an interesting narrative. In this case, Kuhn has reverted to her early tight framing found in her first book, and using the shallow depth of field to throw both her subjects back shoulder out of focus, as well as the background interior space.

In another photograph, second below, I read an Adam and Eve narrative. The softly focused nude male and female are in the mid-area, the tree of life in the foreground and complete with a dark and menacing presence lurking in the background edges of the shadows.

Initially I found the photographs to be perhaps a little too structured, her subjects appearing to be lacking sufficient cohesiveness and the book having a feeling of being too stilted and static. The wonderful essence that Kuhn instilled into the color photographs of her first book, with a few beautiful exceptions, has seemed to elude her in this second book.

This book is very nicely printed and bound as are all of the Steidl photobooks

by Douglas Stockdale

January 11, 2011

The Gernsheim Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

 

Copyright the artist and respective estates 2010 co-published by Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press

In 1963 the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas, Austin made a wonderful investment by purchasing one of three photographic collections amassed by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim. It was, and probably still is, considered one the largest and finest collection of photographs in private hands. The collection included 35,000 photographic prints from the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, a research library of 3,600 book and journals, 250 autographed letters and approximately 200 pieces of early photographic equipment.

This book, The Gernsheim Collection, was published in conjunction with a large exhibition of this collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, which is the owner of the collection. As you might expect, this book provides only a hint of the breath and depth of this collection, as well as providing an exciting look at the history of photography.

I found that this collection, perhaps like most personal collections, directly reflecting the aesthetic tastes and opinions held by the Gernsheims, predominately by Helmut, who was at one time a professional photographer, and for a while, a member of the Royal Photographic Society. Helmut enjoyed landscapes, portraits, and especially architecture, which are well represented, but there is few if any fashion, news reportage or commercial photographs, which at the time the Gernsheims were collecting, were not really considered to be aesthetic photographs.

With a concentration on early English photographers, many of the names may not be familiar, such as Robert Hunt, George Cundell, John Shaw Smith, Sir William Crookes, John Spiller, and Benjamin Brecknell Turner to name a few. It was Helmut who early on became aware of the photographic body of work by the Rev. Charles Dodgson, who was better known by his literary name, Lewis Carroll. Helmut was also responsible for tracking down one of the earliest know photographic objects, the heliograph of Joseph Nicephore Niepce, which was created about 1826. The collection is also a reflection of fastidious and detailed research by Alison coupled with the dogged determination of Helmut and has provided us with historical information that might have been lost for the ages.

The essays by Alison Nordstrom and Mark Haworth-Booth complement the biography and narratives provide by Roy Flukinger, the book’s editor, which are a delightful and a relative easy read. Their thoughts are concise and flow evenly through this massive book.

The size of the book permits many of the photographic prints to be illustrated at scale, as well as appearing to have the original hue and tonality. Without the equivalent prints to compare, I think reading this book might be very similar to having the original object in your hands. For those with even a passing interest in the history of photography, I recommend seeking this photobook out, and you will soon become a master in photographic trivia pursuit.

by Douglas Stockdale

January 7, 2011

Henrik Malmstrom – On Borrowed Time

Copyright Henrik Malmstrom 2010 courtesy the photographer

The self-published photobook by Henrik Malmstrom, On Borrowed Time, documents the final months, days and hours of his sister’s passing has really touched me. I found it difficult to write this review, having carried this book with me to Europe and back twice, picking it up often, but then unable to articulate my thoughts in a cohesive manner. I know that this photobook has brought back many of my memories about the loss of my father to cancer many years ago.

Dealing with the pending loss of a loved one is difficult, especially when that person is relatively young. Malmstrom’s older sister Maija first had to initially deal with ovarian cancer at the age of twenty only to find it returning eight years later with deadly vengeance.

Malmstrom in sharing his inner thoughts, states “there was a need for documenting feelings and happenings in front of me. During the years I had seen Maija’s course, her ups and downs. Somehow I understood that these were the last moments. In a difficult family situation different roles are adopted and photographing was a natural way of being close to Maija. Photographing is a way of dealing with reality and feelings.”

Using photography in this situation, one hope is to capture a distinct image that is truly representational of the person such that it can be seared into the brain matter in an attempt to preserve the anticipated fading presence of a real and breathing person. The reality is that the photograph of a person is not the living person, but it may in fact trigger memory and associations related to past experiences

Another use of photograph in this situation is a process of dealing with the unthinkable, that someone you love will very soon not be with you. Doing something other than sitting and staring in a state of gloom can be a cooping mechanism that might get you through an event and distract you, however briefly, from the experiencing the miserable internal pain of pending loss. I sense that photographing his dying sister allowed both Malstrom and his sister a way to deal with the events as they unfolded, to share something, a gift that I think they gave each other.

One the other hand, the photographs that are in this book also captures the dreadful process of dying, “a slow and painful process that these pictures depict”. In his introduction, Jorn Donner states, “The young, except those struggling with serious illness, tend to see reality as something open and infinite…youth is not the time to give any thought to mortality, because you are in a state of growth, you have a desire for knowledge, perhaps even high hopes for the future. It is this that makes the fate of young people dying so tragic.”

The book is a wonderful combination of direct documentary style photographs of the people and events in conjunction with metaphoric poetry that narrates a very touching story. The hardcover book is very nicely printed and bound, with the design and layout of the photographs providing a nice rhythm to his narrative.

by Douglas Stockdale

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