The PhotoBook

August 27, 2012

Lina Pallotta – Piedras Negras

Copyright Lina Pallotta 1999 self-published

Piedras Negras (Black Stone) is a Mexican border town situated adjacent to Texas and Southwest of San Antonio. Similar to other border towns, Piedras Negras has an economic zone called a maquiladoras, where manufacturing operations are performed for U.S. companies. The Maquiladoras exist to take advantage of the lower wages paid to Mexican workers for labor intensive work.

Pallotta explains in her brief statement, “My first impulse was to explore the life of women as workers. Yet, when I saw the pictures, I realized that social concerns were not enough to explain the feelings of the images. They resonated inside me as a mirror of my own memories. The maquiladoras project enabled me to see the connections between my world, Southern Italy, and Mexico based on the struggles of women and their strong bonds with each other.”

There is only a brief passing photograph of a woman working within a maquiladoras and does not provide much context as to what working inside one of these vast factories may entail. Instead, Pallotta focuses on the cultural aspects of the women outside the factory, at home, in transit, or socially interacting amongst themselves. She portrays a mash-up of moods and a range of emotions expressed by her subjects. In viewing her photographs, we can compare and contrast with our own experiences and perhaps detect that Pallotta might be exploring a broader universal theme of woman-hood.

The stiffcover book has a layout design to maximize each photograph, with each image spread across a double page, providing impressive 19” x 13” photographs. The saddle stitch binding and precise printing allows none of the image content to be lost in the gutter. The only issue I have with this thin photobook is the low contrast printing, lacking rich blacks and white specula highlights, giving a dull and grayed down feeling to this body of work.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Marco Delogu – I Trenta Assassini – The Thirty Assassins

Copyright Marco Delogu 2000 published by Punctum Press

The subject of Marco Delogu’s photobook The Thirty Assassins are the jockeys who have participated in of the bi-annual horse race in Sienna, called the Palio. The introduction provides the back story that this horse race, ridden bare back, is a throwback contest to an earlier age as well an event intertwined with ancient treachery and sinister intrigue. How else can a jockey who finishes 8th end up with more cash than the winner?

We know not of the danger and intensity of this particular race, in which the rider does not need to be mounted on the horse at the end of the race to become the winner. Instead Delogu tightly crops and frames these portraits and narrowly focuses his lens on their eyes at the exclusion of almost all else. It is about the gaze of the subject and the direct connection with the photographer, and ultimately with us, the viewer.

I feel a tension and observe an intensity in these eyes before me, dark orbs with glints of light, frequently lurking beneath darkly hooded eyelids. I perceive defiance, challenging me with their gaze, a stare-down I recall from my own youth that these jockeys might level at their opponents as their horses are about to bound from the ropes and plummet down the narrow corridors within the city.

These photographs are stark, almost graphic in these high contrast Black & White renditions. I am slightly un-nerved by the intensity of their stares bridging the span between me and the pages of this photobook

Some of these riders are well past their prime, while others are still seeking glory. Nevertheless, I have been convinced by Delogu that these are indeed the assassins of Sienna and the Palio.

This is a stiffcover book, printed and bound in Italy; the interior photographs have an excellent range of black and whites. This is a review of the third Edition in which the size has been increased with an additional six portraits. The essays by Massimo Reale, Alessandro Falassi and Adriano Sofri as well as accompanying captions and quotes are in Italian and English. A glossary has been included that provides more insight into the mechanics of the Palio.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Other photobooks by Marco Delogu reviewed on The Photobook: Noir et Blanc

August 23, 2012

Rania Matar – A Girl in Her Room

Copyright Rania Matar 2012 published by Umbrage Editions

What began as a personal investigation by Rania Matar to understand her own daughter by serendipity became a broader investigation of a young girl’s transition through adolescence to womanhood. This transitional period is marked by discovery and introspection, effort and work that her subjects undertake in an attempt to define their own identity.

Matar has chosen to work collaboratively with her subjects, photographing them in a unique space, the girl’s bedrooms. Her color documentary style is a wonderful fit to narrate the complexity of her subjects in these places, unlike her earlier book photographed in Black & White which distilled her narrative into a strong graphical statement. Her subject’s bedrooms are a personal sanctuary that can be afforded to each of them by their families. These rooms make a private and indirect statement about their individual identity, as compared to the external and public statement created by their attire and make-up.

The collaborative portraits are a dance between the subject and a new acquaintance, who is both an older woman and a photographer. The girls are being requested to help create an environmental style portrait that will eventually reveal private emotions and places. In looking at these photographs, I sense a complex mix of vulnerability and openness, with yet a tinge of weariness that may stem from the knowledge that they are revealing some very private thoughts and will potentially be exposed to judgment.

To further broaden the scope of her narrative, Matar mashes together two different cultural areas, the Northeastern section of the United States with the Middle East region of Lebanon. As such, this invites comparisons of the similarities and the contrasts of the adolescent girls of these two regions. Both geographies have a range of economic conditions, with perhaps a greater range in these conditions in the Lebanon body of work. Likewise, I note how religion seems to be an ever-present subtext to her subjects in Lebanon as expressed in their personal statements.

This book is a talisman to remind me of my daughter’s passage through these turbulent times and now I watch as my granddaughter begins to establish her individuality in her room.

The book is a hardcover with dust jacket in a horizontal design, which suits the vast majority of Matar’s photographs. Frequently with the photograph’s title, there are quotes made by her subjects that were obtained during their collaborative event. There are essays by Susan Minot and Anne Tucker and a statement by Matar.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Other photobooks by Rania Matar reviewed on The Photobook: Ordinary Lives

August 12, 2012

Pierre Bessard – Behind China’s Growth

Photographs copyright Pierre Bessard 2007 published by TimeZone 8

China’s spectacular industrial growth has also created a massive need for industrial infrastructure; a key consumable commodity is their electrical power grid. Pierre Bessard was invited to photograph the industrial workers who toil away at producing some of the largest hydro-eclectic equipment in the world that are being installed in the new massive dams being build in China. The portraits are of those who constitute the factory’s shop floor; mechanics, machinist, engineers and supervisor foremen.

The actual work that these individuals perform is indirectly implied by the large equipment looming in the background, the hand-tools in their grasp and the type and condition of the garments they wear.

Bessard’s subjects intently gaze directly into the photographer’s lens, creating a connection with the photographer and subsequently with us, the viewer. They are aware of the photographers presence and that their likeness is being captured, probably requested to stop for their portrait in the middle of their work day. It appears that the work that his subjects perform is hard and dirty, perhaps even with some element of danger if not performed with skill. Studying their stance and expression, they appear determined. This is a mini cultural portrait study in black & white, a theme and documentary style which has it heritage harkening back to the photographic work of August Sander.

These industrial portraits are interwoven with close-up details of the industrial components that are the by-product of the work performed by the subjects. The machine parts photographs are tightly framed and are abstract in their lines and masses of grays.

As an object, this book is a pleasure to hold and read, from the linen covered hardbound book with the tipped-in front cover image with a matching linen slipcase cover, to some of the heaviest pages that I have held in some time. There is no bleed through or ghosting of the images from opposites sides of these pages. The text is in French, Chinese and English, with the interview essays of the subjects by Eric Meyer.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Other photobooks by Pierre Bessard reviewed on The PhotoBook: Wuhan Boiler Comany Workers

Darin Mickey – Stuff I Gotta Remember Not to Forget

Copyright Darin Mickey copyright 2007 published by J & L Books

The concept behind Darin Mickey’s photobook is relatively straightforward, in 2001 he began following his father around, documenting his life at work and at home. This photobook has developed into a desire by the photographer to understand what his father did as a salesman and who he was. Mickey created a broader narrative by including his father at home, and those things about home that might define a person. As an investigation into identity, it was directed at his subject, his fathers and indirectly it is about his own identity.

I do not think that the book is really about how one might define the work of a salesman, as this is a complex and difficult task, but about a person who is one’s father who works to make a living for a family, his family. As a child, what one’s parents did as work is always vague and incomplete, with only a few clues as to what is actually occurring. Thus Mickey attempted to connect with and maybe better understand his father by creating this narrative.

Why this book seems so poignant to me is that I am immediately transported by Mickey’s photographs and visual fragments that allow me to construct my own narrative about my father, who has since passed. In as sense, this is as close to Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida and the story about his mother that I have come across in some time. My family grew up in the MidWest, with a large tree in the backyard that was very similar to Mickey’s. My father’s closet was filled with business suits, his office “uniform” right up to his retirement. At home I swear my mother had acquired those same decor hand towels to hang next to the bathroom sink, even though as Barthes knew, they are not the same, which is immaterial because the memories still flood back.

As an object, this hardcover book has a print affixed to the front cover, moderate and slim in size, with each color photograph bordered by a classic white margin.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

August 10, 2012

Chris Killip – Seacoal

Copyright Chris Killip 2011 published by Steidl and GwinZegal

During an intermittent period of fourteen months spanning 1983 and 1984, Chris Killip photographed a small hardworking, but tight-knit community, located on the Northeastern coast of the United Kingdom. His subjects are the families and individuals who were making their living collecting and selling the coal found on a shore line. The coal that is found is called seacoal as thought to be coal arising from the sea. Killip’s project lay dormant until recently resurrected and developed into a published photobook.

To establish the back story, Killip elegantly states in his introduction “When I first saw the beach at Lynemouth in January 1976, I recognized the industry above it but nothing else. The beach beneath me was full of activity with horses and carts backed into the sea. Men were standing in the sea next to the carts, using small wire nets attached to poles to fish out the coal from the water beneath them. The place confounded time; here the Middle Ages and the twentieth century intertwined.”

This is a narrative of a small unique community in which the work being performed is also intertwined with the lifestyle of those who are working. Killip investigates the type of work, creating portraits of those who perform the work and the activities of those working. Thus this is an investigation into the identity of those who have chosen this lifestyle.

Killip effectively sets the stage of this community that is living in the shadows of the large industrial plant that consumes their efforts of fighting with the sea. In many photographs there is a gray shadowy presence in the background with an occasional tall smoke stack looming on the horizon. The natural coal that is found on the coast is in close proximity of the coal-burning facility in the background, lurking, perhaps omnipresent, necessary environmental evil which the results of the burning coal fall upon them. Killip also makes it evident that living on this coastal beach is not all sunny days with umbrella drinks in hand, with the evident piles of litter, rubbish, discards and abandoned vehicles surrounding the trailers, motor homes and caravans.

Killip captures the work in progress that hints at the amount of labor that is involved, with horse-drawn and manual operated carts, difficult work amidst bleak and desolate living conditions. Similar to the farmers, these individuals not only perform their necessary wage earning work, it also includes the necessary maintenance of the equipment, homes, vehicles and animals. Nevertheless, he captures the children who appear to be making the most of the current conditions; smiling and performing for the photographer’s lens and even so, reveal something about themselves in the process.

Killip’s project was photographed in a documentary style using a classic black and white format. This project reveals Killip’s mastery of the black & white medium with beautiful range of mid-range values, his ability to establish personal relationships that allow him to intimately connect with his subjects and discerning sensibilities to compose beautiful, yet subtle photographic images. As a reader, we sense that this is narrative is similar in style to a reporter’s story, but realize that we are provided many tantalizing clues and yet not the entire story.

This book as an object has a contemporary deign and layout that provides a timeless look to the photographs. In my first reading of just the photographs I was not aware that this body of work is over thirty years old. This book also reflects a definite expertise of Steidl to publish really beautifully printed black & white photographic books.

Current status of this site: The seacoal camp has been leveled and landscaped and is now an approved caravan site for Travellers. The coal mine is gone and with it the seacoal.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

August 3, 2012

Andreas Oetker-Kast – manpower

Copyright Andreas Oetker-Kast 2008 self-published

Andreas Oetker-Kast embarked on what I think is a difficult journey, even thought he did not have to venture too far to find his subject, to try to investigate the essence of those who work as found within the boundaries of their workplace. In doing so, he was granted access to a small number of small to medium manufacturing factories in Germany.

His photographic style is that of the documentary photographer, making the best of the “natural” light found within these work places. Perhaps due to the lack of available lighting without the use of flash, the resulting photographs appear in low contrast and somewhat dull and flat, perhaps as a simile to the work being depicted.

Most of his subjects are standing adjacent to their work station, occasionally captured while performing the work that they need to complete. The adjacent equipment hints at what work might occur. The surrounding work environment appears cluttered with artifacts of their trade, with personal photographs attached to boards and equipment as talismans for a different life.

Of particular interest to me is the double-page spread (below) that on one side appears two individuals wearing business suits who probably are the management of a factor and in the facing page are two individuals in blue work clothes engaged in the physical work of a factory. Both photographs reveal types of worker, the men in the business suits are mysterious as to what work they actually perform while the work that is being performed by those in the work clothes is seemingly more apparent. To me, perhaps due to the lighting, the two men in the business suits appear a lot more menacing.

There are not any captions or pagation within the book, but somewhat apparent as to the type of work that Oetker-Kast subjects are working on, whether a machine shop or perhaps bicycle repairs. Nevertheless, work and manpower is still an elusive and mysterious defined subject, although interestingly investigated by Oetker-Kast.

As a book object, the hard cover casebound book is printed and nicely bound in Germany, with the texts provided in both English and Deutsch (German). The sewn binding does allow the book ample readability. The interior pages are a nice weight matte paper, but due to photographing in natural and low lighting employed by Oetker-Kast, the printing even further reduces the contrast of the photographs, adding to the gloominess of his subject.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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