The PhotoBook

April 18, 2014

Laura Braun – Metier – Small Businesses in London

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Copyright Laura Braun 2013 published by her imprint Paper Tigers Books

The recent book self-published under her imprint by Laura Braun, Metier, investigates the Small Business in London, a region where Braun resides.  The book is a combination of environment portraits of the persons engaged in a small business, a study of the business interiors, all in conjunction with brief statements made by her subjects, usually in conjunction with how they were where they are at this time.

Since the term Metier was not well known to me, (a term that I never heard mentioned amongst the other small business owners in Southern California where our shop was residing), I thought it expansive to know more about this word in order to ground me as a reader.  Perhaps this is a far more common term in England, as in California those folks who run the small businesses are more commonly known as store owners, small businessman/women or for the hip stores, entrepreneur.

  1. A profession or trade, especially that to which one is well suited.
  2. A field of activity in which one has special ability or training; forte.

I suspect that the last part of the first definition creates more ambiguity in the reading of this book, as I find it extremely difficult to tell by looking a portrait or reading their statement that they are well suited to that professional trade.  The later found definition seems to have a better connotation and connection with Braun’s sociological study.

This book immediately resonates with me as many photographers, whether full time or part time profession, commercial, portrait or fine art, usually fall into this broad category of commerce.  And in fact she features three photographic oriented small businesses in her book.

As background, at one time my family owned and operated a storefront retail store selling a combination of picture framing services, do-it-yourself framing supplies as well a broad selection of fine arts materials. We were on the far end of main street and we quickly noticed the changes that began to occur with the local store businesses with the opening of a huge open mall near by. Similar to Braun’s environmental portraits of the store owner’s enclave, we also had the “back room” where all of the framing magic occurred and our framing team could relax a moment out of the spotlight of the customers gaze.

Her portraits are at once a look into the past and as well as potentially into the future for a small segment of society in North America and Western Europe.  In other parts of the developing world, these small business portraits probably do not appear as strange as family owned enterprises are the norm. Nevertheless with the continuing expansion of McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks other chains, even the far reaches of the globe may soon be similarly impacted.

In studying her photographs it seems that the store interiors provide a biographic environment, from the neat, tidy and well arranged to those on the ragged edge of total chaos, much like her subjects. There are also open questions asked by this body of work, such as to whether there might be a universality to small businesses.

Unlike the current trend of neutral appearing subjects, as if indifferent, it appears that Braun does not attempt to force her subjects into a predetermined formalistic pose. She captures what her subject’s offer, that perhaps this is part and parcel to her subject’s persona. She and her subjects provide the reader a little more of a hint as to one alternative reading of the photograph.

Likewise I find while reading this book recalling the various small shops and businesses I have frequented while some have made a lasting impression and memory to this day.

I do find this book to be a very enjoyable read.

The book has a stiff cover dust cover over a book block that has open thread binding. Okay, Braun describes the book as being naked bound with dust jacket, which I have discussed in much more detail in another post found here.  As a result of this style of binding, the book lays flat and viewing the interior spreads in combination with the smaller size of this publication is a pleasure. The flip side is that this is not a particularly strong type of binding thus the reader is encouraged to take a little more care in the book’s handling. My copy was immediately placed into a protective poly bag. In the captions for each small business, the subject as well as the physical location is identified. The Afterword was written by Dawn Lyon with the book design by Mel Duarte.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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April 4, 2014

Nico Bick – P.I.

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Nick Bick copyright 2011, self-published

Nico Bick’s P.I. is a study of what is purported to be the one of the most well-known prisons in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the Over-Amstel Penitentiary Institution locally known as Bijlmerbajes (Bijlmer Jail). Using a documentary style, Bick photographed the cells of prisoners, isolation cells, communal rooms and holding cells. Bick also include an area that is most relevant to the prison administration; the control rooms and an area equally important to the prisoners; the doors leading out of the facilities.

Interestingly, the book is unbound and the interior sheets are folded and tucked together. I think that there might have been initially some order to how these pages were arranged, but over the last couple of years, while I continued looking at these sheets I have managed to create a jumble in the presentation. I suspect that that was part of Bick’s plan to allow the reader to rearrange and create their own order out of the inherent madness associated with a tightly regimented prison system.

Perhaps with the exception of the prisoner’s rooms and control rooms, the areas photographed within this institution are ambiguous. The facility appears almost too clean and sterile with the exception of one type of room that seems to invite graffiti. The locations are photographed without the presence of the prisoners or their guards, but we sense that due to the nature of this place, someone maybe just beyond the scope of Bick’s lens. This is a man-built structure with a very specific purpose in mind.

In stark comparison to the photographs of the US jails and prisons interiors, in which the prisoners are living in a mass communal, the individual rooms appear to be only a slight departure from someone’s home residence. Each room appears to be designed for an inhabited by a single individual; each provided a window, blue curtains, a corner table with a small television and coffee maker and an adjoining chair. On the shelves above the single bed is a place to hold books, snacks, or a photograph. Some of these rooms look Spartan as though just occupied, other have the accumulated debris that comes with too much time. Bick’s photographs appear objective and not judgmental of the current situation and circumstances.

As a book object, it has tri-fold stiff cover, with the interior panels containing thumbnail photographs and captions that provide an index to the interior sheets. The four color interior sheets are folded and loose (unbound). An introduction is provided on another loose sheet by Frits Gierstberg while the book was designed by Joost Grootens.

Footnote: This is one of the photobooks that I received in early 2012 and which never seemed to make through my photobook review cycle. Nevertheless the book’s intriguing design in conjunction with the clearly seen yet stark photographs made a strong impression and this book keeping lingering in my memory as a book that needed to be discussed.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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April 1, 2014

Douglas Ljungkvist – Ocean Beach

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Copyright Douglas Ljungkvist 2013 published by Kehrer Heidelberg Verlag

Ocean Beach is a photographic project that Douglas Ljungkvist (b. 1965, Gothenburg, Sweden, resides in Brooklyn, NY) initiated in 2009. The original intent of Ocean Beach was to investigate a region located in the midst of a 200 mile stretch of the barrier island located off the American coast of the New Jersey. A coastal stretch that is a well-known summer holiday destination.

Ljungkvist’s project took an unanticipated and epic twist when in October 2012 this region was directly slammed by Hurricane Sandy. During the ensuing storm, the magic bubble surrounding this holiday retreat was burst and totally shattered.

The book opens with an investigation of furnished rental structures that are designed and built for a holiday escape. Even the name of the Ocean Beach rental homes, called cottages, is meant to evoke thoughts of a lyrical English country side. The cottage exteriors area characterized by their pastel colors; sea foam greens, peach, tans, light gray, and sky blue. The cottage interiors complement the cottage exteriors with a similar color palette which Ljungkvist humorously pairs together on facing pages. Few individuals are present in his photographs with the exception of one crowed photographed during what appears to be a summer beach party.

The light and airy colors of the cottages are meant to set the mood for the ensuing sunny, balmy, summer vacation days. Ocean Beach is a destination to have fun times and not be reminded of the stuff of home; work, bills and yard work. A sugary and candy sweetness abounds. No distractions, no industrial buildings or high rise offices on this part of the Jersey Shore, just sand and surf and the warm sun to bask in.

As stated by Harvey Benge in his Introduction; “These pictures address issues of conformity and of pervasive empty consumerism. We are confronted with a bizarre version of the American Dream that embodies the unrelenting desire for happiness constructed from a determined yet fragile sense of self-value and apple-pie radiant optimism.”

In October 2012 a Hurricane named Sandy devastated much of the American East Coast region as this huge storm hit landfall. Ocean Beach and the length of the Jersey Shore absorbed the brunt of the savage gale winds and surging ocean. In the twinkling of an eye the fate of nature altered this idyllic landscape, much as nature has wreaked similar havoc in many parts of the world.

In the post-Sandy photographs, his photographic perspective was altered and expanded to include the beach as well as the outlying ocean. In an interview with Ljungkvist, he stated that “it felt important as the ocean and sand was a large contribution to the destruction.”

Ljungkvist photographs of the Ocean Beach destruction have a calm and objective perspective without the drama of the storm. The skies are now clear blue with hints of sea haze, while the ocean is relatively flat and calm and is no longer threatening.

His documentary style photographs are almost coolly clinical in his middle view point perspective.  His photographs of the damaged structure were taken well after the event has transpired and an almost ghostly quietness has come over the area. He reveals the crushed homes with sand drifts flowing through the living areas, bedrooms in shambles, wrecked furniture and kitchens all askew.

Amongst the ruin is the construction equipment attempting to take control of the damage and new piles of dirt are mute testimony of their labor. There are profuse footprints on the layers of sand covering the interiors and other evidence that mankind is now in the midst of wrestling with the consequences of this storm. The devastation is no less, but appears more benign in the light of a clear day.

Ljungkvist narrative has change mid-chapter into a story about uncontrollable nature, chance, unplanned events, much as life itself. It is true serendipity as to where nature’s full impact and fury will occur. If possible, mankind can take cover or get out of its path and then deal with the aftermath the best we know how. His photographs that capture a glimpse of the construction equipment imply that the process of resurrection has begun. Similarly the photograph of the destroyed house in the foreground while in the background, high on a mound of fresh dirt, stands an erect and defiant American flag, signifying hope, determination and American optimism.

The hard book has an image wrap cover book with superb four-color offset litho printing on a semi-luster paper. The book includes essays by Harvey Benge and Steve Bission with the text in English. The pages are numbered while the photographs do not have any captions allowing the reader to create their own stories.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook and co-published by Emaho magazine

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March 8, 2014

Andrew G. Smith – Steel Soul

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Copyright Andrew G. Smith 2013 self-published with Smith’s imprint bymyi

Andrew G. Smith’s industrial subject, the industrial infrastructure and operations of an active steel mill, is not the usual genre to attract a photographer. Nevertheless the intricate complexity of these industrial landscapes has earlier attracted the like of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and recent contemporaries as the team of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Pierre Bessard and Mitch Epstein.

Due to the fading manufacturing industry in the Western World, industrial sites are much more prone to be subjects of ruin-porn with gutted facilities surrounded by environmental decay. This is the subject material in the recent photographic essays of Christoph Lingg’s Shut Down or Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre’s The Ruins of Detroit.

Perhaps why so few active industrial sites are investigated is probably that these are not very accessible to photographers or the public at large. These are dangerous places for those who are unaware of the safety precautions that are in place, not realizing that there specific places to be in order to stay out of harm’s way. The industrial landscape is usually the domain of the annual report photographers who compose carefully orchestrated images to position the company in the best light.

Smith by comparison has been provided access to a very active Steel Mill located in the Yorkshire region of Great Briton. This is an industrial area long associated with various steel works dating back to the 1700’s. This particular site is one of the few working mills still remaining in this region.

It can be relatively easy to capture the façade of a working industrial site, although the exterior usually only hints at the complex activities occurring within. To facilitate this project, Smith segmented his book into four basic chapters aligned with the flow of steel, following it from the furnace to final products; Melt, Foundry, Forge, and Machine.

Smith is drawn the abstract attributes of this industrial landscape, distilling it to line, mass, tone, shape, texture while working with the available light. At times, that light glows from within, created by the massive hot steel as it flows from the furnace to the foundry. Even though this place is a man-driven operation, perhaps like Bern and Hilla Becher, Smith has minimized his inclusions of the workers, instead focusing mainly on the infrastructure and workings.

I can relate to these photographs, as my background includes countless trips through similar environments as a part of my technical day-job. For me it is easy to imagine the accompanying din and racket that engulfs you, such that ear plugs are necessary to prevent one from going temporarily deaf. It makes communication difficult, thus a person needs to pay close attention to where they walk or stand. Similar, I can also imagine the smells of such an operation, ranging from sharply acidic to a sweet machine oil fragrance. As to the feel and texture, the soles of your steel toed work books are embedded with debris which you can sense with each step and there may be a fine layer of soot covering your clothes, hopefully given the benefit of a smock. Although I may be wearing a safety helmet, my hair feels course and dirty while you can feel like the soot is still embedded in the pores of your face after, even after many washings late at home that night.

Smith can only provide a glimpse into the workings of this huge industrial space. I know that I relate to this body of work much differently than will most readers. It connects with me and I sense that his objective investigation is true.

The book is printed in luminous black and white with a stiff cover binding. The wide horizontal format of the book is ideally suited to a full frame 35mm or digital camera. An Introduction essay is provided by Smith; the plates are identified and at the conclusion of the book an index of captions is provided for the photographic plates. The photographic plates are surrounded by a nice white margin that makes reading this book enjoyable.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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Book interior with matching photographic print

March 2, 2014

W. Eugene Smith – The Big Book

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Photographs copyright the estate of W. Eugene Smith 2013 co-published by University of Texas Press, Austin & Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

W. Eugene Smith’s The Big Book is a very interesting and unusual three volume set that includes a two volume facsimile of the maquette (book dummy)  developed by Smith in 1960 and a third volume with supporting essays, reference photographs and information about the maquette.

The Big Book maquette spans the majority of the late W. Eugene Smith’s oeuvre, an American photojournalist (b. 1918 – d. 1978 ) who developed the concept for the photo-essay. Smith was a perfectionist with a thorny personality, who set the standard for the photo-essay high for future generations of photographers.

The Center for Creative Photography (CfCP) at the University of Arizona has possession of the W. Eugene Smith archive. It is the location of the original The Big Book maquette and the photographic source for most of the content of this three volume set. The CfCP collaborated with the University of Texas Press to publish this extensive body of work. Smith had created this maquette between 1960 and 1961 to visually illustrate his concept for the various book publishers but regretfully The Big Book was not completed or published in Smith’s lifetime.

In the Notes of Volume 3 the materials of the two volume maquette are described as follows; the pages are heavyweight machine made paper, cream in color, with the images attached by means of a glossy yellow rubber-based adhesive. The images in the maquette appear to be made by means of the Afga Copyrapid reproductive process, essentially a very early office copy machine (photocopying). The fluctuations in the color, ranging from yellow to brown tints, of the maquette images reflect the instability of this photocopying process over time. Due to the deterioration of the images within the original maquette, the muddled and blocked images are difficult at places to clearly read, complicating an already messy state of affairs for this maquette.

As stated by William S. Johnson in his introduction to this set, “The book, like many of Smith’s endeavors, was impractical in is scope, unconventional it its format and uncompromising it its demands on the reader. Occasionally incomprehensible, often lyrical, always passionate, the book challenged traditional ideas about layout and design, and attempted to establish a new form or expression for the photographic essay.”

I agree with Johnson, the maquette is a real mash-up of images and it is difficult to view this as an elegant photo-essay that Smith had so frequently advocated during his life time. Stepping back, I find myself viewing this body of work as being more in sync with the current contemporary concepts of creating a visceral experience. In this context, Smith is well before his time, similar to the ground breaking photographic work of Eugene Atget, Robert Frank and Walker Evans.

There is an absence of text, captions and pagination within the two volume maquette as these details would probably have been included at the final publication stage of the ensuing photobook. What the reader will find included are Smith’s hand written notes that accompany specific photographs, as an example a note to check on the cropping of a specific image. Essentially a maquette was not created to be a permanent record, but temporal to communicate the essence of a book concept, as a visual aid to the publisher. Nevertheless, Smith’s maquette has become a semi-permanent record of one photographer’s endeavors, now taking a life of its own and being shared with a much wider audience.

As to the layout design of the maquette, it is said that Smith drew heavy inspiration from the Edward Steichen’s 1955 exhibition and subsequent book Family of Man, for which Smith has contributed five images, including the closing photograph titled The Walk to Paradise Garden. Smith chose this same photograph to open as well as close The Big Book.

As a book object, the three volume set is an embodiment of a time and place. Part historical, preserving the deteriorating remainders of a work of art in progress and a raw creative endeavor of a gifted photographer and artist, while providing a glimpse into the makings of what might have been a wonderful photobook. We are to remember that this maquette was not meant to be polished and luminous final object, more akin to a sketch pad for the photographer to privately share with a publisher, never meant to see the light of day. I think that reading the two volume maquette is similar in experience for a visit to Florence and viewing one of Michelangelo’s partially complete sculptures, a raw and incomplete work, gaining a glimpse into the working of a very creative mind.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook   This review was co-published in Emaho magazine.

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February 9, 2014

Clint Woodside – Undercover Cars

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Copyright Clint Woodside 2013 published by Deadbeat Club press (#07)

Woodside’s subject is cars found in Southern California which have some protective cover placed over them. The car cover has a dual role, protect the car from the natural elements, in Southern California that is predominately the sun, as well as being a deterrent to car thieves.

Woodside reveals a whimsical and satirical side in his documentary of the effectiveness of the car covers. He photographs covers that barely conceal a vehicle, covers that are providing an ineffective concealment, or a car that is in such a deplorable state of condition that the reader wonders why this car needs any protection whatsoever. His secondary narratives include the mystery that surrounds these concealed cars and calls into question the car culture of Southern California.

This type of stiffcover book publication is commonly referred to as a Zine, which utilizes the saddle stitch (staples) binding common of many early magazines. Interestingly, many large circulation and popular magazines today have stiff covers and due to the quantity of pages, are perfect bound (hot glue) and have an actual spine. Zines usually do not have a spine as a hardcover book might and by nature of their binding, usually lay very flat.

The book does not include pagination, captions or text.

FYI, the second image below includes Woodside’s signature which I acquired during the recent LA Art Book Fair.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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February 8, 2014

Paul Seawright – Volunteer

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Copyright Paul Seawright 2013 published by Artist Photo Books

Paul Seawright’s earlier photographic work provides the conceptual foundation for this photobook. In his Sectarian Murder, 1988 he photographed the sites of sectarian murders around Belfast and removed reference to the victim’s religion. By depoliticizing the violence, Seawright focuses on the extensive civilian losses that occurred during this conflict. In his 2002 Afghanistan photographs, Seawright photographs artifacts that remain after a conflict again attempting to depoliticize the events that led to the violence.

In Volunteer, Seawright investigates the locations and sites adjacent to where the US military recruits. His narrative provides an examination of location of the US military recruitment centers sprinkled around the country and thus investigates the US Military recruit practices. His bleak viewpoint is focused away from the actual recruitment centers and out toward the surrounding urban landscape. It is his attempt to describe where, thus indirectly who, are the individuals that the US military is seeking to recruit.

The selected body of work depicts urban locations commonly found on the fringes of society. Many of the store fronts are vacant, structures are abandoned and the parking lots are virtually empty. This body of work is meant to be another series of depoliticizing photographs. Nevertheless these images are other than coldly objective, providing a subtle criticism of violence and war. Most of the photographic form is somber, featuring forlorn man-built landscapes predominantly captured during overcast days to create dreary feeling landscapes.

This is an image wrap hardcover book, without pagination or captions. The Introductory essay is by Seawright. The book’s binding is Smyth sewn which allows for a wonderful lay-flat read and was printed in four-color by Cassochrome in Belgium.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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February 4, 2014

Ed Templeton – Random & Pointless

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copyright Ed Templeton 2014 published by Deadbeat Club (#19)

Ed Templeton’s recent photobook Random & Pointless is a narrative about just hanging out and experiencing life as it rolls by.

The black & white as well as the color street photographs appear Random, as evidenced by the content of various contact sheets, as the free association of street photography is frequently practiced. This is a visceral read that may appear on the surface as being Pointless, or at least irreverent, raising questions as to the underlying context of this photobook and perhaps questions about the act of photographing.

The photographs are printed to include the surrounding negative substrate that can be read to indicate 1) the photographs are uncropped images, 2) these are two-dimensional photographic images and 3) the photographs were made from film and are not digital.

This photobook is a layered and complex read and literally more intimate as the many layers unfold.

It is a stiff cover book with a saddle-stitch binding and a double-sided printed belly band that wraps the covers. The belly band incorporates two rows of color negatives on one side and two rows of black and white negatives on the opposite side. The color variations of the Black & White photographs in the images below do closely reflect the book’s actual print colors.  With the inclusion of the varying six hand-made folds incorporated into this book design, it is essentially an artist book.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 31, 2014

Hiroshi Watanabe – Veiled Observations and Reflections

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Copyright Hiroshi Watanabe 2002, self-published

This is another in my series of reviews of Limited Edition photobooks. This limited edition book and print set was self-published by Hiroshi Watanabe using early Print-on-Demand (POD) services available at that time in Japan. The title of the book coincided with his L.A. photographic exhibition of the same name held in 2002. Many of the images in the book were later submitted to Photolucida’s Critical Mass, which Watanabe garnered a book prize and the subsequent publication of Findings by Photolucida.

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Book, slipcover and print

Watanabe created two versions of the limited edition book and print set, both in an edition of 200. The POD book publisher in Japan provided a translucent poly slipcase with each book, thus enabling Watanabe to create a silver gelatin print in a matching size. He designed his print to fit within a poly sleeve, which subsequently fit into the outer translucent slipcover with the accompanying photobook. Fortunately the book was square as are Watanabe’s photographic format and prints.

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Book within the translucent slip cover

The hardcover book is actually a very nice presentation. The interior signature, along with the end papers, is bound with a sewn binding while the end papers are glued to the interior book boards to hold the covers. It is a minimalistic and clean book design that nicely complements Watanabe’s body of work. Together the book and accompanying print make for a nice presentation.

Previous Watanabe books reviewed on The PhotoBook include: Findings, Ideology in Paradise and Love Point.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 27, 2014

Patrick Hogan – Still

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Copyright 2012 Patrick Hogan, self-published

Still is a splendid, intriguing photobook, which has been photographed and designed by Patrick Hogan as more of an emotional read. Perhaps similar in experience as listening to a song with a repetition of the melodies.

As the title implies, quiet and intimate moments are captured while creating a place that can best be described as ambivalence. The book has an interesting cadence and inclusion of difficult to read interior plates, at times there is the faintest hint of a photographic image and other times on the extreme of darkness, both bordering on illegibility that beguiles me. The repeating of the faint images is a symbolic read of a memory, the original subject, once clearly seen; now taking on a ghostly and incomplete presence.

An interesting mash-up of portraiture (identity), landscapes (place) and documentary style moments, which are interwoven just as events unfold.  Images and themes reoccur.  Hogan provides an intimate look at his subjects, events, places and the environment that envelops that place. I find this to be a very poetic narrative. It is a photobook that I keep returning to as I enjoy each reading; more questions with few answers.

Linen hard cover book, embossed text with a color tipped-in photograph and a numbered edition of 500 books (number 206/500 was reviewed for this commentary). Bound with a Smyth sewn & glued binding that permits a relatively lay-flat read. The introduction is provided by Colin Graham and a poem by Dermot Healy. To further underscore the introspective nature of the book, it is without captions or pagination.

Although published in 2012, this book was not widely available until the beginning of 2013, and I have included this photobook by Patrick Hogan in my interesting photobooks of 2013, and you can see my entire selection here.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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