The PhotoBook

January 5, 2013

Laia Abril – Thinspiration

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Copyright 2012 Laia Abril self-published

First be warned, this is a troubling, if not disturbing, photobook.

As such, it is a photo-documentary of a community of mostly young women who appear to obsessively starving themselves to death. In a bazaar twist on social networking, these women post and share self-portraits of their current anorexia state amongst themselves. .

As a social documentary artist, Laia Abril has researched this self-destructing group by re-photographing what these women have posted about themselves on certain web sites and other social media. In by so doing, she calls attention to the act of social networking as well as photography as a medium to propagate an illness.

Abril asks the rhetorical question; does photography help them to be aware of reality or has the camera turned into another trick for anorexia to control their body and perpetuate the distortion of their own image? To what extent does photography influence the deterioration of their illness?

Abril mashes the subject’s self-portraits with text that the members post. Concurrent with the posting of their self-portraits, the pro-ana (anorexia) members provide “encouragement” on their quest to become invisible, to physically waste away.

The photographs reveal how the subjects document their current state of “success”, usually standing partially undressed or nude in front of large mirrors situated in bathrooms or bedrooms, posing to reveal the their protruding rib and hip bones, sunken stomachs or boney wrists or legs that are skinner than their knees. Abril edited and designed the layout of the resulting photographs to create a visual map of this destructive state of mind with the double gate-folds hiding and then revealing this complex condition, perhaps symbolic of how the women attempt to conceal/reveal what they are attempting to accomplish.

Indirectly, Abril has created a social commentary about and an investigation into what constitutes beauty and femininity, while exposing an addiction that has serious, if not deadly, consequences.

As a photobook object, it is a complex stiff cover book constructed of a series of double gatefolds. The introduction is by Silvia Omedes and the Afterword is by Abril with the text provided in Spanish and English.

As an interesting publishing note, the book was designed in collaboration with Ramon Pez and Guillermo Brotons with Edition Consulting by Christina de Middel and Silvia Omedes. Pez and Abril had similar roles in the publication of Christina de Middel’s The Afronauts, one of the most interesting artist photobook in 2012.

Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook

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January 4, 2013

Andre Cepeda – Ontem

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Photographs copyright 2010 Andre Cepeda published by Le caillou bleu

Andre Cepeda  in his photobook titled Ontem (English translation: Yesterday) provides an interesting investigation of a specific set of places that abound around Porto, called islands. Apparently these are areas that were previously built as working class neighborhoods which over time have seemed to have outlived their intended function. As structural shells, these buildings can still provide a place of habitation, even a sense of community, for those who have little or no alternatives.

Even under the bright sunshine of Portugal, Cepeda reveals an undercurrent of grayness and melancholy that seems to pervade these neighborhoods. The sad structures are surrounded by looming high-rise building and flanked by vacant and razed lots, foretelling of a dismal future for these places. The reader can sense that the economics of development will eventually prevail, providing yet another layer of gloom over those who attempt to call this home.

Nevertheless, I found the inclusion of the photograph of the bird in the small, dingy cage to be an excellent metaphor for those indivuals who are living in these harsh conditions. Regretfully, it appears that most of those who live in these islands, they are like this bird, trapped by their circumstances.

What is unsettling for me is the inclusion of the nude couples, who are caught explicitly in the act of having sex. I am just not sure how this helps with the narrative and creates unevenness to the flow of photographs. I suspect that this is an attempt to show a sense of “normality” to these dismal conditions that even in the face of adversity and misery, individuals continue to function. There is still rawness to these nudes that creates a not so subtle tension, which for me transfers to the entire work. Perhaps this added tension is the author’s intent.

As a book object, the cover has a tipped-in image on a broad cloth hard cover book. There are no captions accompanying the photographic plates. The introductory essay is by Miguel von Hafe Perez and Afterword interview of Andre Cepeda is provided by Jean-Louis Gedefroid, with the text provided in three languages, Portuguese, French and English. As an English speaking reader, the translation from Portuguese to English is a little rough.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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