The PhotoBook

June 28, 2011

Rania Matar – Ordinary Lives

Copyright Rania Matar 2009 courtesy The Quantuck Lane Press

In recent years, we have become very familiar with a recent spin on combat photography; the embedded photojournalist; one who is assigned to and lives with a military unit which is in an active combat zones and is sanctioned by the military. The role and definition of the embedded photojournalist role is still familiar yet developing. Although much akin to the many war photojournalists that preceded them and who have yet to be defined by the new authority of what is; Wikipedia. I would venture that the photographic style of many embedded photojournalist begins to emote a stylistic appearance; the perspective is intimate and close, the framing is tight with the events and individuals falling out of the edges of the borders, wide-angle viewpoints in and amidst the chaos, as though afloat in the sea of combat with the action swirling about them. This too is a characterization of the photographs of Rania Matar, and the place of her project can be equal terrifying, disorienting and frightening, the places where actual combat is not yet a distant memory, amidst the immediate aftermath of war.

Regretfully, there exists many places where the aftermath of war can be found and for Matar, she has found hers in Lebanon, which also represents an emotional duality for her, that being experienced from a distance and yet in the present moment. Matar brings an ability to see the social infrastructure from an unusual perspective; she was born and raised in Lebanon and subsequently resided in the United States for over twenty-five years. She maintains the broader perspective of an outsider without appearing aloof and yet the familiarity and access of an insider. This book of black & white photographs is a result of observing, looking and watching intermittently over a five-year period, from 2003 to 2008.

In these intimate photographs, the recent turmoil and the aftermath of internal and external war is not just a backdrop; we have been dropped into the midst of this hellish place, it surrounds and engulfs her subjects, and subsequently us, the viewer. Like war itself, many of the situations depicted is difficult to comprehend, the dichotomies are numerous and many times bordering on absurd. The social contexts are observed and recorded by Matar in a documentary style, but like a photojournalist, we also recognize that she has the ability to extract and frame events to create a visual narrative. In a heavy-handed way, this narrative could take on a strong political or religious bias, but in her narrative, it becomes apparent that her story has a sociological bias towards an attempt to investigate the social fabric of families and personal relationships coping with very difficult environmental conditions..

Many of Matar’s subjects appear to live in dismal conditions, perhaps for a short duration and other circumstances for an extended period of time, to the point that her subjects appear to be accepting the current dismal conditions as normal. We suspect that her subjects are nevertheless worldly enough to know that others beyond their sphere have a different lifestyle, as her photographs illustrate how these various social worlds collide or how they seemingly manage to co-exist.  Her photographs appear to be about individuals who are searching and seeking a normalcy within the madness.

In reflecting on her work, Matar writes: “In these photographs I concentrated on people who did not lose their humanity and dignity despite what they have been and are still going through. I tried to portray them as the beautiful individuals they are, instead of as part of any religious or political group. I concentrated on the spirit with which they continue with the mundane tasks s of daily life regardless of their circumstances: their lives that are ordinary in an environment and political climate that are often anything but ordinary.”

Although the book is narrated through three sections, The Aftermath of War, The Veil: Modesty, Fashion, Devotion or Statement, and Forgotten People, her photographs appear to be equally applicable to either of these sections and it difficult for me to discern the applicability to one section from another. Her photographs seem to merge into one complex narrative. The possible exception is that the Forgotten Peopleis a story of thePalestine’s who refuge camps are in a state of “temporary” status in Lebanon for the last sixty years.

I find that Matar’s story about Lebanon has a strongly feminine undercurrent, with family relationships as the subject of her focus, and predominately the interaction of women and children, although mostly young girls. It is also a story of survival, endurance, fortitude and assimilation into the current economic and social conditions brought on by repeated conflict and segregation. Perhaps this could be construed to be a feminine response to a conflict wrought by men.

She investigates and captures the contradictions, contrast and juxtaposition of the old family and religious values with the contemporary and predominately Western lifestyles. Occasionally the photographs paired across the book’s spread are very obvious contradictions, such as the young men in bathing suits drinking at the edge of a pool, while the facing photograph contains ill-dressed children holding buckets in what appears as a food line. At other times, it may take a long time to develop an understanding of how the paired photographs complement each other. Her photographs have a warm poignancy, at time with a dry wit and humorous, and she has a watchful eye to capture the social contradictions and juxtapositions of the absurd. Thus Matar’s book can lend itself to a fast read, but I found that with investing more time, this is a visual interesting and provocative lyrical narrative.

Looking at Matar’s black & white photographs, I become aware that I am not distracted by the potential colors and hues that could overrun my senses, thus I become more attuned to of the graphic elements. Similar to her embedded photojournalist brethren, she chooses a close, tight and intimate vantage point, not poaching with a long lens, as her subjects are very aware of her presence, occasionally playing up to her. The narrative is not that of an uninterested Diane Arbus voyeur, but the visual dialog resulting from an insider’s viewpoint, sometimes gritty and difficult to view, similar to Zoe Strauss’s America.

Matar goes on to state in another one of her essays, “What struck and humbled me most was how quickly people, seasoned by the experience of war, resumed their lives, how they picked up the pieces and moved on to preserve their dignity, their children, and their spirit, with a humanity that shines through destruction and rises above the rubble.”

This hardcover book has a dust jacket and the book was printed and bound in Italy. The paper has a matte finish that subsequently reduces the contrast of the black and white interior photographs. The essays are provided by Matar and Anthony Shadid and in the accompanying end notes Matar has provided brief, yet informative, captions for each photograph.

By Douglas Stockdale

June 27, 2011

Squale – New York City.

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 8:37 pm

Copyright Squale 2010 self-published photobook

I recently received Squale’s 2010 self-published photobook New York City. and find myself in my usual bind. I have a number of photobooks reviews in progress that I need to finish or that I need to complete in order to maintain some semblance of current relevancy. So with this brief shout-out for Squale’s recent photobook, I am going to strike some kind of compromise. Firstly to help promote his book, because I think it is warranted, and second to initiate a virtual review process. As this small book is very travel worthy, I can add it to my travel stash, reflect on it and add more content to this review at a later time. I hope you agree.

As you might quickly surmise, this is a semi-documentary of the city of New York City (period) photographed in Black & White by a French photographer. Semi-documentary in that he uses a street-photographer’s stylistic method of creating his images, but these are his personal observations that have been altered by framing, exposure, vantage point, focus and focal perspective and subsequently edited and filtered through his personal and cultural experiences.

The stiff cover book has a translucent dust cover printed with the book’s title, printed in the United States, with perfect binding and without pagation or accompanying text. Similar to his earlier self-published photobook, Mauerreste, the photographs have a high contrast, but the photobook is printed in low contrast on matte papers.

By Douglas Stockdale

 

June 17, 2011

Myles Haselhorst interview – Ampersand

Filed under: Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:19 am

 

Ampersand, Portland, OR

While in Portland, Oregon recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Myles Haselhorst, the guy behind counter at Ampersand Vintage, a nice place to find both new and slightly read photobooks, gallery, vintage printed material and photographs, and most recently, Ampersand published books. Here are excerpts from our conversation;

Hi Myles, it is really nice to meet you and have an opportunity to discuss your background and how Ampersand came about. Would you mind providing some details on your back story? I understand your degree is in lit, so how did you make the transition from school to a shop keeper for a photographic book store?

I started Ampersand in 2005, first as a home-based business, & now as a gallery & showroom in NE Portland that I opened in fall 2008. In essence, the business grew out of my love for literature, reading & the book as an object, but I’ve also always been drawn to photographic images & visual culture in general. The idea of owning a bookstore has always been with me, but when I really started to work toward that goal, finding & selling used books on the internet was becoming a viable thing. One effect the internet had on book selling was a dramatic reduction in the value of certain types of books. In response, I chose to specialize & seek out items that tended to be unique & thereby hold their value. Photobooks, for a number of reasons, tend to increase in value over time. Economics aside, photobooks were a draw because of their inherent narrative value. A good photobook can produce an experience equal to reading the richest of novels or a well-composed poem.  

 It appears that your current objectives extends beyond just the buying and selling of photographic books, to include vintage photographs and ephemera. Has that always been the case? What is the interacting dialog amongst these three genres; photographic books, vintage photographs and ephemera?

A large part of owning a business like Ampersand is scouting & hunting for new material. In the process of collecting like this, one’s eye can’t help but stray to other types of material such as the vintage snapshots & ephemera that I sell alongside photobooks. In general, it’s a reflection of my disparate interests, but as you’ve noted I’m trying to create a space where there’s a dialog between books produced by artists & the vernacular visual materials that our culture creates as a byproduct of existing. The connection between the two is strong & my hope is that Ampersand is space where both can be viewed in close proximity.     

You have chosen to create a gallery space amongst your book stacks, did you originally envision a gallery or did this evolve? Interestingly a number of galleries how include a small book store, but for you, it appears that the books came first. These do seem complementary but adds another layer of complexity.

I’d say my passion for books came first & the gallery followed as an experiment. Again, I think it traces back to the diversity of my interests. It’s an engaging (& often exhausting) exercise trying to find work that relates to my book & vintage materials inventory. More importantly, I try to find work that relates to my interest in how pedestrian visual culture ultimately gets reproduced as art. In that sense, most of the work I’ve shown is derived from found materials of one kind or another, or it has been vintage material that I’ve found & formed into a show, sometimes successfully, often times not. The gallery is also a response to my opinion of galleries in general. Few people live in starkly-lit, white-walled boxes. Chances are that if one collects art, he or she also collects photobooks & maybe old photos, antique correspondence, arcane recipe books, etc. Collections of this sort & art coexist in our homes & apartments, which I find fascinating, so I wanted to create a space that celebrates this kind of interrelation.

Speaking of complexity, with your recent exhibition, Our Time, you have pursued a new venture in publishing a catalog. I have noted that a number of galleries have taken similar steps in self-publishing their exhibitions in a book form, so what was this experience like and what do you now foresee as your future in book publishing? Are you going to consider only exhibition catalogs or venture beyond this, and if so, where would you want to take this?

Our first book coincides with our current show, Our Time, which features paintings by Dan Gluibizzi. Though not a photobook per se, Dan’s work does address issues of photography in that all his watercolors are derived from anonymous digital photos people post on the web. In most cases the figures are nude—they are exhibitionist, nudist, amateur porn makers—& Dan’s work invites us to consider how digital photography & the internet has allowed for a proliferation of this type of photograph. As with all catalogs, the basic idea was to create a record of the show that provides context & also serves as an alternative to owning one of Dan’s works. We also wanted to create something that is collectible in its own right, hence the limited edition & our attention to design & production standards. Whether or not the book came out exactly as I envisioned it is arguable, but it does successfully convey the nature, complexity & character of Dan’s work, which was the primary goal.

I’ll continue publishing exhibition catalogs in cases where the work lends itself to reproduction & the artist wants to participate in the process. In fact, our next show features work by Portland photographer John Ryan Brubaker, who first showed me his photographs in the form of a small photobook he had made by hand. Over the year he made several changes & it eventually occurred to us to make a show that deconstructs the book & presents it as art pieces on the wall. Of course, the book itself will also be available in a limited edition, a few of which will come with original silver prints & others that will be completely handmade by Ryan. 

Beyond that, I’d like to produce small edition books that further investigate the sheer abundance of found visual material that finds its way into Ampersand. Returning again to the idea of experimentation, small edition, self-published books allow one to experiment with papers, inks, printing  & binding without much financial risk, which is exciting. A mistake in one publication can be refined & corrected in the next. In that, I guess the process is as paramount as the final product–it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.

What are your thoughts about photography and Photobooks here in Portland and generally in the Northwest?

There’s an active photography community here in Portland. Galleries like Charles Hartman & Blue Sky continue to exhibit great shows. The Newspace Center for Photography provides an excellent platform for photographic eduction with juried shows & incredible resources. The new Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan, has thus far been very active in engaging the community from her position as curator. Plus we have Nazraeli Press here in town & photographers like Raymond Meeks (we showed his work in April), who is active in making photographic artist books. & there’s Photolucida, the portfolio review that takes place every two years & brings a large influx of photographers, gallery owners & curators to the community. All that said, I’d say that serious buyers & collectors of photography & photobooks here in Portland are still rare birds. But in general the photobooks are selling well, even without listing online, & I’m optimistic that local interest in photography books will continue to grow.

As you are actively buying, trading and selling photobooks, what trends and future do you foresee in photobooks, which seems to be a hot button in photographic conversations on the web and elsewhere? What are your thoughts on the increasing quantity and varying quality of self-published books?

The sheer abundance of photographic books being made is remarkable. As a buyer for a store, it’s difficult keeping up with everything that is available. I’m sure collectors face the same problem—making sense of what & what not to buy, especially when edition numbers are often low & certain books sell quickly. That’s why online resources such as yours, Jeffrey Ladd’s blog & The Indie Photobook Library are so important. Which is all to say that beyond the books being published by the main photography publishers, there’s this rich culture of independent, self-published & small press photography books. So, that’s one obvious trend.

To be honest, I really haven’t decided what my role as a bookstore should be in relation to this type of book. By & large, it’s a type of media that has been facilitated & fertilized by the internet. That’s not to say that the books are created because of the internet, but rather the internet has created a community of distribution & commentary that allows the books to be viewed, discussed & ultimately purchased. At a basic economic level, a bookstore may question carrying a title that collectors can in most cases buy direct from the artist. That said, independent books that I do carry sell best when there is a strong relation between the content & the design of the book. That’s an obvious statement, but it’s actually something that’s very difficult to achieve. An example of a recent title that did achieve this is Firework Studies by Pierre Le Hors, published by Hassla. At surface it’s an understated & simple book, but it invites one to perceive multiple layers of meaning. In a way, it’s kind of taxonomy of fireworks & the word “studies” lends to it this sense of scientific pursuit, so, appropriately, the book has the shape & feel of a field manual. I sold several copies out of the store & in each case the buyer’s were drawn as much to the design of the book as its content. Hassla always seems to produce nice books, so it’s a sure bet ordering in their titles. How to judge the quality of all the other books out there is difficult. Perhaps I should invite photographic bookmakers to submit examples so that I can consider selling them at Ampersand.

The impulse to create photographically illustrated books & documents is obviously not new. Though “trend” may not be the right word to describe it, more & more attention is being paid to photographic books & albums that were made by anonymous persons or commercial entities in the past. Aperture recently published a book titled Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography & there are others like it. While it’s engaging reading books of this kind, it’s even more rewarding collecting examples of the albums & books they investigate. Though abundant, it’s not always obvious where to find them & when you do, chances are you may own the only copy that exists. Among the examples that I’ve found recently is a stapled book of photographs & text documenting the working procedures & machinery of a Japanese wire rope manufacturer. Beyond the pleasure of seeing a very specific form of industry, the book is remarkable in that it was so obviously handmade—looking at it, you really get a sense of the design decisions made by its creator. So, that’s one aspect of Ampersand that I’ve always tried to cultivate, this notion of finding examples of photographically illustrated books, albums & documents that are one of a kind & say a lot about our impulse to use photographs to convey & illustrate information.

Myles, this was a great discussion and I appreciate the opportunity to spend this time with you. Are there any other thoughts you want to share in closing that perhaps I missed?

Thanks for showing interest in the space & proposing the interview. It’s been fun. I’d like to add that one thing I take for granted owning a space like this is the small community of regular customers that has developed over time. It really makes coming here everyday an enriching experience. Small galleries & bookstores become hubs for dialog & conversation in ways the internet can’t quite reproduce. Everything I have here at Ampersand is carefully selected; I have a personal attachment to it. As a result, buying something from Ampersand is not just an act of paying for & acquiring a thing, it’s a way of participating in the act of curation, in the dialogs & creative impulse I hope the space encourages. There are places like Ampersand dotted all over the world; at the risk of sounding preachy, I really encourage readers of your blog outside of Portland to seek them out (if they have not already) & patronize them.

Myles Haselhorst with Douglas Stockdale

Note: Ampersand has expanded their bookstore and gallery in late 2011.

 

 

June 13, 2011

Chris Dickie Passes Away – Ag magazine

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 1:39 am

Ag63

Ag Journal, UK

As posted on the web site for the Ag Journal:

12th June 2011 Due to the sudden death of publisher Chris Dickie, Ag magazine is currently on hold. All subscribers will be informed as to the future of the publication once a decision has been made. Picture-box media will not be taking any new orders for back issues of Ag or any other Picture-box publication for the time being. If you have any questions about outstanding orders please contact Picture-box media using the contact link below. We thank you for your patience at this difficult time.

Regretfully, I did not have an opportunity to obtain any of the Ag magazine, as they were not readily available in the US. I was frequently on the look out for this magazine while transitioning through the airports in London and Manchester, not always the best of magazines venues, but I have been lucky in the past.

One book that I am very aware of is Dickie’s how-to book Photo Projects (pub 2006 Argentum, an imprint of Aurum Press Ltd) which I had found in 2007 during a pivotal developmental period while I was beginning to investigate my utilization of photographic projects. Dickie’s book appeared at just the right time for me.  I found his writing easy to comprehend, articulate without being becoming too abstract, and making  a whole lot of sense for the concept of working on photographic projects. He provided excellent rationale and reasons for photographic projects and I have subsequently leaned on these during my photobook workshops.

One of the photographers featured in Photo Projects to illustrate one of Dickie’s points was Simon Dension and his book Quarry Land, especially as Quarry Land resonated so strongly with a personal project that I was in mid-development at that time: In Passing. I went on to acquire Quarry Land and Dension subsequently gave me permission to use one of his statements in his book to use as a quote for In Passing. BTW, my brief comments about Quarry Land was posted on my personal blog Singular Images prior to starting The PhotoBook, so I guess I need to provide an updated book review some time soon, eh?

Also a related post on FaceBook by Beth Dow > I’m sad to report the death of Chris Dickie, the tireless and witty engine behind the fabulous English photography journal AG. I met him way back in the day he was still publisher and editor of the British Journal of Photography (BJP) and was honored to also be featured in AG as well as his Photo Projects book. My husband, Keith Taylor, wrote several articles for AG. His voice was unique in the industry, and he will be missed.

BTW, it was in Photo Projects that I first became aware of Beth Dow’s striking photographs.

June 10, 2011

CCNY – Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:25 pm

CCNY – Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair

open call for entries

The CCNY Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair is a two day fair, July 16th & 17th
The public is welcome to submit as well as check out self-published photo-books and photo-zines
All the proceeds go back to the artists (unless they wish to donate to us)
It’s a awesome, free event for people to come and check out photo books.

As part of this year’s Zine and Self-Published Book Fair, CCNY is offering a special workshop course, ZINE IT ALL, taught by Tuomas Korpijaakko.

CALL FOR ENTRY DETAILS

Artists and small publishers are welcome to submit up to 3 different books or zines (limited to 3 copies of each). There is no fee to submit, and all proceeds will be returned to the artist or small publisher. To submit your zine or self-published book please mail or drop off your book during our gallery hours, Monday-Saturday, 12-6pm.
All submission must arrive at CCNY by July 9th, 2011.

Organized by Lindsey Castillo

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