The PhotoBook

December 29, 2012

Renee Jacobs – Slow Burn

 

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Copyright 1986, 2010 Renee Jacobs published by The Pennsylvania State University Press (Stiff cover)

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Limited Edition hard cover book with print (Sonny Mekosh)

Renee Jacobs first photobook is subtitled A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania and investigates a city and region of Pennsylvania that is slowly being eroded away by an underground coal fire that has been burning since 1962. This book constitutes an environmental portrait and snapshot of the conditions in the mid-1980’s, an area that is today almost devoid of all inhabitants.

Jacobs focuses her narrative on the human element of this natural/man-made disaster. The gritty black and white photographs provide a tense undercurrent to her photographs, intensifying the discomfort of the reader and symbolic of the difficulties of her subjects. She captures attempts at obtaining normalcy and while failing to ignore all of the ominous warning signs and pending changes that will obviate their presence and thus their history and eventually their memories of this place.

She provides a face, hence a voice, to this slowly evolving environmental disaster, a problem that will not easily go away and that over many years slowly displaces every person in this town and surrounding area. As a reader of this narrative, I find myself hoping that we have learned a valuable lesson from this sad situation, but regretfully, I am not sure.

And this underground fire still burns today, slowly clawing its way under the skin of this terrain.

The book object; I am reviewing the 2010 edition of this book, which is published as a stiff cover, while the 1986 first edition is a cloth bound hard cover photobook. The introductory text is provided by Margaret O. Kirk and the book contains maps, captions and supporting text for most of the photographic plates.

Update: I have since acquired the 2010 hardcover Limited Edition book and accompanying print. The Limited Edition hardcover has a tipped-in photograph on the black case bound book.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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December 22, 2012

The Aftermath Project – Volume V

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Copyright the photographers published by The Aftermath Project

The Aftermath Project has just published the fifth (V) of it series of volumes in which they examine and create a dialog around War, which is “only half the story”, or perhaps better stated by Sara Terry, Founder of The Aftermath Project; “offer(s) a rich and complex visual conversation about post-conflict issues.”

The Grant Winner for volume V is Davide Montelone (Italy), also the finalist for covering the same post-conflict subject in the Northern Caucasus in 2009. The finalist are Elizabeth Herman (USA) for her work on the women of Bangladesh, Miquel Dewever-Plana (France) for his investigation of the conflict in Guatemala, Carlos Javier Ortiz (US) the issues of conflict in the US within the schools and the team of Massimo Mastrorillo and Lara Ciarabellini (Italy) of the aftermath of the Bosnian War in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

All of The Aftermath Projects are all printed in the same stiff cover style and relative large layout format, with extensive captions provided for each photograph at the end of each photographers section.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

My review of the The Aftermath Project II can be found here; The Aftermath Project II

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December 14, 2012

Edward Weston – 125 Photographs

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Copyright the estate of Edward Weston & 1981 U of Arizona Reagents, published by AMMO 2012

This Edward Weston monograph is a contemporary examination of a Modernist Photographer viewed from today’s perspective. As a photographer of the West Coast (USA) school of photography, Edward Weston (b. 1886 – d. 1958 ) has a legendary presence for those who enjoy and practice the large format, black and white landscape photography. Perhaps unlike Ansel Adams, Weston’s interest extended well beyond this limited stereotype.

Steve Crist, the editor of this book, has thoughtfully brought together a diverse collection of Weston photographs that span his photographic career, including those ranging from the iconic (nudes, shells, green peppers, portraits, and the landscapes of Pacific coastline and the dunes of Death Valley) to the relatively unknown, and a few of those were a surprise to me.  Crist has also included those similar images that hover around Weston’s icon images, a narrative that speaks to the creativity and experimentation of an artist. For this book review, I selected Weston images that are perhaps much lesser well known.

Weston had a lifelong interest in photographing the nude and the Nude 1918, below, is one of his lesser known early nudes, a transitional study created in Southern California just prior to his move to Mexico and change in focus, literally. Weston’s subject is both revealed while being cloaked in shadows. A huge departure when compared to the nude (probably his wife Charis) much later in his life while visiting NYC (Nude, NYC, 1941). In this later image, his subject is truncated, but appears to be holding onto the edge of the window sill, while the lamp on the left is a surrogate for both Weston as well as the viewer, who examine the reclining features of the woman. The nude is diminutive in scale to the window above, the shades slightly parted, establishing an external context for the place as well as creating a voyeur effect, able to both look out as well as see in.

Weston created a number of well-known portraits of the artists and intellectuals of his day, as well as his romantic liaisons, including Johan Hagemeyer, Karl Struss, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Manuel Hernandez Galvan, Tina Modotti, and of course, his wife Charis. Of interest to the West coast school of photography is Weston’s portrait of Ansel Adams with his then new 35mm Contax camera in 1936, the camera being held what is now a cliche composition, the view finder and lens in lieu of Adams eyes. It would also appear that Adams is reciprocating by simultaneously photographing Weston.

Wall Scrawls, Hornitos (1940) is a flat, abstraction of patterns, text, shapes, lines and mass, pre-dating the expressionist paintings of Willem de Kooning in the 1950’s and the later 1960’s and  1970’s photographs of Aaron Siskind. Similar to his earlier still life studies in the 1920’s and 1030’s, there is an element of ambiguity, with what is photographed removed from its normal context, the object space flattened, revealed as a visual abstraction.

One aspect of this book that I appreciate is that Crist sequenced the photographs parallel and linear to Weston’s life, making it easier for the viewer to study the changes, shifts and interests that Weston experienced.

The book object is a hefty and thick linen wrapped hardcover book, the black and white photographs classically printed and the plates nicely laid out, one per spread with a facing Weston quote in conjunction with the photographic title. The binding is not robust which allows the printed block to float in the spine, so a little more care is required in the handling of the book, but this is a minor objection to another wise excellent retrospective look at Weston’s body of work. I recommend this book to those who are seeking an overview of Weston’s best photographic work.

by Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook

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December 12, 2012

Brian Finke – Construction

Photographs copyright 2012 Brian Finke published by Decode Books

While curating my photobook exhibition for Fotografia di Roma last Fall, while exploring the theme of Work, one of my disappointments was the late arrival (at least too late for me to include in the exhibition) of Brian Finke’s photobook Construction. Finke explores, as he has done with his previous project, both sides of work; as a verb, to work, and the concept of work as a noun, as the work (you do).

While writing my earlier review for Florian van Roekel’s photobook “How Terry Likes his Coffee; A Photo Odyssey into Office Life”, I was struck by the contrast between van Roekel’s photobook investigating “office work” as compared to Finke’s photobook investigating “construction” (work);

In thinking about office “life”, much of the work, which is to say “effort” that occurs is ambiguous to the casual observer, as are the myriad tasks and unfathomable results that are achieved. In contrast to the work of construction, the effort of the workers will eventually reveal a solid structure. For most industrial trades, effort transforms materials from one state to another, which can then be readily identified that something happened. The new object looks different than the parts and components that existed before.

Subsequently deviling deeper into Finke’s photobook, I realized that even though the photographs are sublime, the subjects, both the men and women, are rendered as grand statuary. Part of this effect is due to the use of the off-camera fill-in flash in conjunction with the medium format camera that creates a larger than life presence on the page.

Capturing his subjects’ mid-stride in a place of work, the viewer still does not know who the “workers” are nor provided much about the content of the “working” effort. Nevertheless, Finke tangibly facilitates the viewer into relating to the individuals in this book, either having been themselves involved in a construction project or know somebody who is in this line of work.

Reading Finke’s narrative, I might suspect that even in construction as a type of work, but not all construction work is the same, as a great variety of tasks are documented.  For some workers, it appears to be very strenuous and physical labor, while concurrently on the same job, there also may be someone sitting in the comfortable cab of his equipment that hardly appears to extend any physical labor, but yet is still “working”.

Finke continues his own investigations in exploring the identity of the working “man” (and women) and to a less degree, as with his previous projects, investigating an ambiguous place where a type of work occurs. For me, this resulting body of work is greater than a documentary of a group of individuals who have a shared profession, with a sly wink at August Sander in the central framing of his subjects who are now revealed in Finke’s contemporary time.

The photobook object is case-bound with a dust cover, with a nice cadence and subtle change-up in the sequencing and sizing of the color photographs; some full bleed, one per page, or a pair of facing photographs of different size, or groups of photographs. The pace of the book in conjunction with the beautiful printing and moderate size make this photobook a pleasure to read. The afterword essay was provided by Whitney Johnson.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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