The PhotoBook

January 25, 2012

Ron Jude – Other Nature

Copyright Ron Jude 2008 published by The Ice Plant

Ron Jude’s ubiquitous title “Other Nature” for his photobook published by Ice Plant leaves plenty of space to create a wide range of contexts for his photographs. The book’s title and a quote from Frank Kafka’s On Parables provide the only text (and descriptive context), as Jude defers to the minimalist informational school of art. Thus all of the clues in the hopes of making sense of this photobook are the photographs and their sequencing, and perhaps one clue is what is missing, there are no pairs of photographs creating mini-dialogs as they face each other.

It does become quickly apparent; there appear to be two different kinds of photographic subjects and compositions. The subject of the first photographs is a middle view-point version of the “natural” landscape with the marks and debris evidence of the lurking presence of man-kind. Then the jarring change of subjects to tightly framed and cropped interior details that might be found in an apartment, rental housing or motel. An obvious mash-up of two distinct bodies of work, with the beguiling question posed by Jude of how do these two relate (or not) to each other and what about them is the “Other Nature”?

In the rural landscapes, Jude has used a documentary style to capture large masses of what could be construed as “Nature”. In all of the nature landscape photographs, there are subtle hints and small clues that these are locations and places that are intermingled with the latent effects of people. We do not have to see an individual to know that the place has been effected by individuals who were previously present; cut trees, rusting cans and other debris, chopped up wood, cut grass, arranged rocks and sometimes the edges of a man-made structure.

 His statement is that there is no more natural Nature available any more; we have used it up long ago. Nature is now is restricted to Nature museums call National Parks in which you walk a trail to see the “wild” Nature, as if strolling through the zoo to see a “wild” lion. Nature is now just a human dumping ground for their used waste, a huge open landfill.

As to the interior details, which have an industrial functionality, the subject is of objects that are made from materials of construction which are not natural. A beat-up and aging aluminum kick plate protects a real wood door, plastic light switch fixtures glowing and powered by a steady and endless trickle of electricity, synthetic carpets, blanket and chair coverings, glass windows in an aluminum frame, Styrofoam cup, plastic tongs, Plexiglas enclosure, plastic phone and cord and concrete simulate flooring tiles. Even the objects that have an appearance of wood, down to the grain, are not really wood, but are molded plastic or a synthetic veneer. The depicted items are all made of the other “natural” material; synthetic.

One concept that I could reach by examining each of the two bodies’ of work separately and then searching for a commonality is a criticism of man-kinds callousness treatment of our natural environment. Jude does not beat you over the head with his subtle message but nevertheless the message does become progressively voluminous with each reading.

This photobook as an object; the hardcover book has a tipped in photograph on the front cover, nicely bound. The four-color photographic plates have a nice top varnish that allows the images to read really well. Each plate is bounded with a nice, classic white border that enables the photograph to be clearly seen, thus a delightful book to hold and enjoy. In addition to the quote from Franz Kafka there is an index of the plates regarding the city and state in which the photograph was made.

January 19, 2012

Tod Papageorge – Opera Citta

Copyright Tod Papageorge 2010 courtesy Edizioni Punctum

Tod Papageorge received the annual commission from the FotoGrafia Festival Internazionale di Roma in 2010 to interpret the city of Rome. Papageorge is a photographer-flanuer, better known for his early black and white urban photographs and now the director of Yale’s photography program. As in the previous Rome commissions, he explores the city of Rome, and perhaps as a result of the influence of his students, he has chosen to explore in color.

Papageorge’s subject is the individuals who make-up the heavily populated surge of humanity that descends on the city of Rome during the high tourist season.  It is apparent that he enjoys being in the midst of the action, capturing the ebb and flow of both high and little dramas that unfold about him. Occasional he isolates an individual, place or event to provide a lyrical pause to his poetic narrative. The first image is a down low perspective of a young boy walking into the frame to introduce us to this walk-about, implying a child like investigation of this vast and complex city.

We are introduced to the normal and ordinary events of a city, probably any city, capturing city workers, a congregation of business men doing their industry and commerce thing, and the urban dwellers dutifully attempting to move from one place to another. Papageorge then introduces another element into the milieu, the transitory tourists who are drawn to the summer heat and evangelical light of this dual city. Papageorge notices the individuals pouring out of the double Decker tourist buses, from the train stations who in turn flood the streets and those who seem to be caught up by the spectacular sights to pause in midst of their revelations.

Looking at the continuum of the Rome Commission over the past three years, there seems to be an evolutionary link between Guy Tillim, who had received the commission the previous year in 2009 and the subsequent influence of Tillim and Papageorge on Alec Soth who received the commission the following year in 2011. All three utilize a documentary style, with Tillim exploring space with the few indidividuals out in the edges, where as Soth constructed his documentary tableaux with models and directed those who were willing to participate. Interestingly, Soth appears to fall back on some of the earlier photographs by Papageorge to provide a sense of authenticity to his commission photobook.

A young woman sits on the concrete adjacent to some looming pillars, seen below, as Papagorge implies by the framing of his composition, her world is temporarily tilted and out of balance. Although appearing caught up in an emotional state, the viewer is only provided few clues to sort out her emotional response. For those who are familiar with Rome, they might recognize that she is sitting just outside the plaza of St Peter’s cathedral in the Vatican City, which might provide a new set of reasons for her emotional state. In the following year, Soth creates a similar image of a woman with red hair sitting on the ground adjacent to a building, but with far less raw and emotional impact.

In another set of referential photographs, Papageorge photographed a small verdant hill populated by a few blooming flowers. The photograph provides a lyrical interlude in the sequencing of his narrative. It appears that Soth re-photographed this same verdant hillside the following year, this time he included a nude model with her bare ass protruding lewdly toward the lens, which could be construed as a rude criticism of Papageorge.

In one aspect, this book really shines with regard to being a photobook object, as this hardcover and image-wrap design book incorporates the concertina binding of the entire interior contents. Although the book is vertical in design, each two page spread folds out to one continuous full bleed horizontal image, without any potential image loss in the gutter. There is a word of caution, that with frequent reading, the folding and unfolding of the concertina pages will slowly add some wear along the fold lines. 

I need to declare a potential bias for my review of this book as the publisher, Edizioni Punctum, is also the publisher of my recently published book Ciociaria.

January 16, 2012

PhotoBooks at PhotoLA

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 7:29 pm

Kirk Pedersen copyright 209, 2010 courtesy Zero+ Publishing

I had an opportunity to drop into Santa Monica on Saturday and partake a brief visit of PhotoLA, making some connections with publishers, galleriest and meet up with some photobook photographers, including Raymond Meeks, Susan Burnstine, Hiroshi Watanabe and an opportunity to meet Stu Levy as well as Kirk Pedersen who was also representing his new publishing house, Zero+ Publishing, located here in Southern California.

I did notice that Markus Schaden and his Koln bookshop was missing this year, a sad lose to this event, as he usually provides a broad international photobook flair.

January 10, 2012

Mona Kuhn – Bordeaux Series

Copyright Mona Kuhn 2011 published by Steidl

I think that Mona Kuhn’s new photobook, Bordeaux Series, and her fourth with the publisher Steidl, may be her best to date. Each book has the nude as one as one her principal subjects, but in this book she intertwines the nude portraits of individuals with another theme to raise unanswerable and beguiling questions.

In her previous books, she explored a narrative that investigates time, although the duration appeared to be one day, it deviled into questions about change and permanence. In the current book, the subtext seems to be constructed around the meaning of a location. Although the photographs appear to be created at a specific location, the ensuing lack of specificity allows the viewer to create places of our making.

In this book Kuhn again mixes landscape with her portraits as she did in Native, but this time the landscapes are at a mid-distance and rendered in black and white, while the nude portraits are intimate with tight framing in color. An interesting intersection of two different bodies of work that perhaps at first glance seem dissimilar. Black and white photographs that lend to the more abstract and subjective narratives mixed with the objective and photo-realism of color. Landscape is also a more abstract reality that mankind constructs and which does not really exist without the viewers intervention, while an individual appears to exists entirely on their own merits. She seems to ask why is this and how do these two variations on reality mesh?

The very first photography in the book, a black and white landscape which crosses the two page spread, is a little blurry and suggests motion, that we are moving toward something and that we maybe in transit. It sets the tone for the book, creating a little unease and off-balance, hinting at a bit of kinetic energy that counter-balances the calm and still portraits.

The portraits are of her fellow naturalist who are again tanned, sensual and contemplative. The ages of her subjects appear to vary a little more in this book, but her emphasis is still upon young adults.  Unlike much of her earlier work, she does not seem to direct or create faux situations, but only to ask for an individual to confront her lens, thus through the photographer to contemplate the viewer. I think that these are her best portraits to date, direct and unassuming.

 As might be hoped, the pairing of photographs in the book creates interesting narratives, as individuals appear to be gazing at each other across the facing spread. One example, illustrated below, is of an older woman who warmly gazes out of the frame toward the opposite page, which is a portrait of two men. Why this pairing, who is she and why would Kuhn have this arrangement, could the two men be her son with his son? As Kuhn continues to draw on her family and friends as subjects, these three individuals are her subjects in her earlier books, thus creating a dimension of passing time, similar to Nicholas Nixon’s evolving photographs of his wife and her sisters.

 Likewise, there is a pair of facing photographs of a young woman made at two different time points. On one page she stands facing the viewer, her gaze direct and unflinching, her face framed by some unruly and damp hair. On the facing page, she is younger and in the encircling grasp of an older woman, a wonderful image that recalls a Madonna and child. Perhaps they are mother and daughter, as this photograph brings to mind thoughts of maternal love, in which a mothers arms encircle the child, who is now in the other’s protective grasp.

 Lastly, there are numerous pairs of facing photographs in which there is a black and white landscape on one side facing a color portrait on the other. I think that this is where Kuhn is directly introducing the possibility of equivalence. How do these two different photographs relate to each and how might a viewer read this? I find these combinations the most thought-provoking as well as where my gaze lingers and places I usually return to.

 The photobook as an object, the hardcover is an image wrap that is beautifully printed and bound in Germany. The large size of the book provides wonderful interior images, but in conjunction with the thin contents does permit the entire book to flex a little more than I would care for. However, the book’s binding does allow this large book to lay flat, a very nice feature. Kuhn’s Afterword is provided in both English and French, the book is paginated. Although there is a list of plates, I am not sure why the inclusion as it provides minimal information other than perhaps as a reference for her collectors to order prints.

 Many of the black and white photographs are printed full bleed across two page spreads, while all of the color portraits are on a single page with a classic white surrounding border.

January 5, 2012

James Clancy – Border Country

Copyright James Clancy 2011 Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

My first impression is that Clancy’s narrative is a darker version of John Gossage’s early photobook The Pond. Similar to Gossage, Clancy is taking us on an imaginary journey, although somewhat grounded in the (non) reality of the photographs, using found landscapes rendered in black and white as metaphors for Clancy’s “emotional state”.

Clancy states in his Introduction, “that Border Country, both as a phrase and as a title for this series of photographs, is my name for an uneasy condition of heart and mind that periodically comes to possess me.” Perhaps an understatement, as this photobook is all about a melancholy moodiness that is pervasive throughout.

As an American, the term “Border Country” does not evoke the same uneasiness that might be associated by someone with knowledge of the border region between Scotland and England and all the historical turmoil that existed between the two countries in this region. Nevertheless, a border implies that there is something that meets and what is on one side might be different from the other. In the case of a border country, that meeting place can be relatively broad and it is in this wide place that Clancy takes us on a wandering journey.

Much like Gossage, Clancy introduces us to the concept of a journey with a number of photographs of a pathway that proceeds away from the viewer. On Clancy’s narrative journey, the pathway is indistinct and blocked with debris and fallen tree limbs, implying a difficult meandering. Instead of a pond as the mid-point destination, we are carried forth to an abandoned and decaying structure, with all past inhabitants long gone and only the barest traces and hints of their memories still lurking in the shadows.

Amidst the forlorn structure, Clancy has isolated decaying artifacts, an empty bottle, an electrical connection, a single shoe, bits and parts of a chair leg, part of a pitch fork and a tea-pot. We are in the midst of forgotteness, where even memory has abandoned all hope. Then the viewer is led to a half-opened door, a way out of this misery and the daylight of hope is visible once more. Eventually we pass by less and less of the debris of mankind and enter back into a pleasant wooded area, unlike the nasty thicket that was initially encountered.

The photobook as an object; a image-wrap Hardcover book, printed and bound in Germany, and the binding allows an almost lay-flat presentation, thus making the interior photographic plates very accessible. The book is a thin and what I would term a nice European size, just right for holding and reading. The Introduction text by Clancy is provided in both English and German and the book is without pagination or captions.

Award Note: James Clancy’s Border Country is a selected title of the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis award 2012.

January 4, 2012

Mauro Fiorese & Keith Carter – Dream of a Place of Dreams

Copyright Mauro Fiorese & Keith Carter 2008 Edizioni Siz

Collaborations are interesting situations that can be a bit unpredictable as to the results, but in this case for this commission by the Palace of Monaco, both Carter and Fiorese were previous collaborators in 2001 for their photobook Two Spirits. Thus, with these two creative spirits working together again, the odds were pretty good that the results would be interesting.

The subject of this book is the small Principality of Monaco located on the shores of the Mediterranean. Collaborations can become very complex and potentially blurring the ownership and sources of originality. In this case, each photographer created his own photographs, which are individually identified, and subsequently blended into a whole.

Both Carter and Fiorese work in a black and white medium, using a shallow depth of field, in conjunction with equipment that can also shift and bend the plane of focus. Although their techniques are similar, their individual style shines through in how each approaches their subjects, while yet complementing each others images with a unified appearance.

Carter remains steadfast in his softly rendered style, while Fiorese predominately works in a similar style but occasionally introduces hard edges with an expansive depth of field, bordering on a documentary style. When they investigate the same subject, such as the Bocce balls, harbor ships, or hotel interiors, below, provides a study of personalities. Fiorese, who is also one of the book’s designers, pairs these complementary photographs on facing pages enabling them to emotionally work off each other.

Together, Carter and Fiorese create a very dreamy and poetic narrative, although at times, just a slight bit off kilter. It is a photobook that you can get wander through and get lost in.

 As a book object, this is a hardcover book which was beautifully printed and bound in Verona Italy. An introduction is provided by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and the book concludes with a List of Plates identifying which photograph is attributed to each photographer.

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