The PhotoBook

September 30, 2011

Tiane Doan Na Champassak – The King of Photography

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 1:58 am

Photographs copyright of Tiane Doan Na Champassak 2011

The self published book by Tiane Doan Na Champassak incorporates a title that is an interesting play on words. Usually someone who is known as The King of Photography amongst photographers might be considered as one of the contemporary greats, or someone boasting about their photographic abilities. But in this case, it happens that this book is a compilation of photographs of a King who is the ruler ofThailand (Bhumidol Adulyadej) who appears to obsess with photography, or at least as represented by Champassak, obsessed with using a camera.

Champassak’s concept was to extract found photographs of the King of Thailand while he is holding or using a camera. This photobook is not a regal presentation and absolutely not an authorized biography, as the low quality resolution and printing of the book in conjunction with the very simple saddle stitch binding is not the least bit flattering and a stinging social criticism of this monarch.

Although the King is not portrayed as a stalker or paparazzi, this book does connect with many of the negative attitudes afforded the paparazzi and press photographers. In a real sense the monarch actually keeps a camera between himself and his subjects, that his is monolithic, similar to the lens of his camera, which he views his subjects from a distance and like the film his subjects are captured on, his people become only representative of real people.

We see this ruler photographing, but without any signs of his photographic output which implies a shallowness, of someone who appears to be enraptured with the act of photographing, perhaps as symbolic of someone who is caught up with the act of ruling, but not really a ruler in the full meaning of the word.

The book object: The book is printed using Risograph quadtone printing, with a stiff cover, saddle stitch binding, interior photographs are full bleed, without any accompanying text or page numbering. The interesting print quality of this book is an attribute of the Risograph process, a high-speed digital printing system designed mainly for high-volume photocopying and printing. This process involves printing with real ink like an offset printing, providing an interesting tactile feel to the paper, although the process does not provide a very high quality image resolution, with all manner of artifacts within the printed page.

September 24, 2011

Douglas Stockdale – Ciociaria

Photographs copyright 2011 Douglas Stockdale & published by Edizioni Punctum (Punctum Press)

Okay, this is not an official book review per se, as I really do need to defer to other reviewers to provide commentaries about my book. That said, I have been very fortunate to have a few others post about Ciociaria, including  Aline Smithson (Lenscratch), Andrew Phelps (Buffet) and Harvey Benge (Photograhy+art+ideas), as well as various shout-outs by Pierre Bessard, Elizabeth Avedon and a host of others.

Update: Very nice reviews by Karen Jenkins in photo-eye Magazine and Tomás de Teresa on Libros de Fotografia (Spanish), who also posted a video review of Ciociaria, set to Spanish guitar, on YouTube.

Publisher’s synopsis;

Douglas Stockdale’s Ciociaria builds an “organized” flanerie that goes beyond the topography/street photography dichotomy; he erases the direct human aspect and the need of a nearly scientific witness at the same time, enhancing the concept of how every single human being can become acquainted with a place in varied unpredictable ways and times, as well as readapting the landscape to one’s visions and needs.

Stockdale personalizes Ciociaria, a loosely defined rocky and hilly region with memories of ancient Latin yet without a known history, putting aside all stereotypes and re-launching a sort of “personal anonymity”, very typical to areas that developed due to the middle class explosion. Houses, banners, woods, monuments, cars and the outskirts of little towns, nothing is magnificent and luckily nothing is picturesque. The truly great difference lies here: Stockdale does not overdramatically criticize the Italian landscape per se, perceived as an embarrassing overlap of architectural abuse and ignorance, but then again his flanerie is nothing more than an actualization of the grand tour.

His photographs hint of a street photographer’s reportage yet lacks an obvious narrative, providing many hints of a complex and multi-layered culture, creating an indirect portrait of Ciociaria, while leaving most questions tantalizingly unanswered.  The photographs capture a paradox of strangeness mixed with familiarity, mystery mixed with beauty, within a context of color, space, and texture. 

This book is an investigation into complexities of ambiguity intertwined with feelings of belonging while yet still not fitting in. Stockdale crosses Ciociaria and looks for answers, adhering to that landscape and photographing it in such a way as to illustrate what it personally conveys to him. It is about being a stranger in a vaguely familiar land.

As a photobook object, it is a hardcover book with dust jacket, includes 50 color photographs and four-color lithographic printing, 96 pages without captions or page numbering. There is an essay by Marco Delogu and an afterword by me, both texts are provided in Italian and English.

Best regards, Doug

September 5, 2011

Afterwards – Curated by Nathalie Herschdorfer

Photographs 2011 copyright of the various photographers

Most of the photobooks that I review on this blog are usually authored by a single photographer who investigates a concept in relative depth. Other than featuring a photographic magazine that I feel warrants attention, I tend to avoid photobooks that attempt to investigate a thematic subject explored by a large group of photographers.

So I am making an exception for this socially engaging photobook edited by Nathalie Herschdorfer, Afterwards, Contemporary Photographs Confronting the Past, as I have for the Aftermath photobooks. I believe this subject does warrant a broader dialog.

Afterwards is a very broad thematic survey adapted from an earlier exhibit, Stigmata at the International Red Cross Museum in Geneva, which was curated by Herschdorfer. The original exhibition included the photographs by six photographers who interpret the social aftermath of historical events. In this photobook, Herschdorfer expands the scope and range of to include the projects of thirty photographers, who examine the fate of people in the midst of horrible events or long-term upheaval, such as refugees, political prisoners, or survivors of natural disasters.. Herschdorfer’s curatorial question: is it still possible for contemporary photography to question events, to connect us emotionally with our fellow humans, and to provide an opportunity to understand and find answers?

Although I find this to be a very noble question and a worthwhile quest, I am not sure that she answers her own question adequately with this book. I found the weakness lies with the inability to really create an emotional connection by the few photographs of each project that she provides. I liken this to the jam spread thin on a piece of bread; you do get a taste of the jam, but usually that one piece of bread is not enough to satisfy your appetite. I will confess that for a few of the projects, the limited number of photographs provided did create an emotional connection with me, thus warranting this review.

Herschdorfer draws from a broad range of conceptual projects, which does provide a wide diversity of food for thought. The conceptual subjects range from NYC’s 9/11 (3 projects), 20th Century Battlefields, Rwanda, WWII Holocaust (2 projects), WWII Hiroshima, Stasi Jail, Soldiers (4 projects), Gaza (2 projects), Argentina detentions (2 projects), Bosnian war (3 projects), KGB in Lithuania, Siberia, Iraqi prison, Iraq war, false imprisonment, Angola war, Hurricane Katrina, migrant shelters, Iran in turmoil, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, and military training (2 projects). The photographers include Robert Polidori, Suzanne Opton, Raphaël Dallaporta, Taryn Simon, Guy Tillim, Simon Norfolk and Pieter Hugo.

Likewise, the photographic projects range from an almost direct reportage, such as the tattered clothing from individuals who were interned in mass graves to projects that are so ephemeral that without any text, most of these projects, if not all, would be incomprehensible. That in turn may be one of the underlying strengths of this photobook that the extensive diversity of the projects provide a broad intellectual menu to choose from, to look at, dissect and subsequently debate about the underlying social issues. Regretfully, because of this same diversity, there will not be any easy answers.

Hershdorfer’s stated desire was to draw photographs from projects other than the “news photography” genre that is someone who attempts to immediately enter the fray of news worthy events in order to capture the essence of that event while it is in progress. I could argue that Frank Schwere’s photograph of the still smoking NYC ruins following 9/11 seem very news worthy.

Perhaps due to the broad diversity and the few photographs per project, usually three to four, ranging upwards to nine on one occasion, I found the thinness of each photographer’s concept unfulfilling. I consider this book a teaser, that if intrigued by a specific project or concept, then further exploration is merited.

The book layout for each photographer’s project has an introductory statement prepared by Herschdorfer, which is facing one the photographs, then usually followed by two, and on occasion four, pages of supporting photographs from their project.

The photobook object has a large trim size, but not monstrous, sufficient to adequately view the interior photographs, the largest of which are 8” x 10”. Both the printing and binding are very nice, and the book includes a dust jacket. The interior photographs are displayed in a classic design with at least a half-inch of white margin around each photograph. Nathalie Herschdorfer, formerly on the staff of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne,Switzerland, is a photography historian and curator. The are eight commissioned essays by members of the Swiss Center for Affected Sciences (University of Geneva) that address this same subject and provide additional insights into the underlying issues presented.

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