The PhotoBook

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 25, 2014

Photobook reviewer for EMAHO magazine

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:00 pm

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“America” photobooks

I had announced on my personal blog earlier this week that my photobook reviews will soon start being co-published in EMAHO magazine. Manik Katyal, the editior and publisher, has also asked me to be the “America” photobook specialist while Colin Pantall focuses more on the European photobooks. I thought that this was an interesting request and we are still defining this request. At the moment, as hopefully illustrated by the stack of books above, I am taking a very broad and liberal viewpoint on what constitutes an America photobook. I think I have always had a global perspective on contemporary photobooks, so I will not preclude discussing photobooks that don’t fit into this America category.  Should be interesting.

The readers of this blog will probably notice some changes. First, since EMAHO is an on-line magazine for photography, fine art and music, I do need to format the size of my images to be consistent with their layout. All supporting photographs will have a wide frame and slightly larger than I have been using to date. I had standardized a long time ago on a 800 pixel width which will not change to a 868 pixel width. You might like the larger photographs, eh?

Another change is the background that the photobooks are resting on, which has been the flooring of my work area. This background has at times created a bit of inconsistency in the color management of my supporting photographs effecting the color of the books and their interiors. This color drift issue has been bugging me for some time so in conjunction with a recent rearrangement of my studio, I have created a new space to photograph the books. I am still tweaking this a little, but I am evaluating at a couple of different white backgrounds.

So the first book that I plan to publish on EMAHO magazine is the late W. Eugene Smith opus The Big Book published by the University of Texas Press (Austin, TX) last year. This book is a facsimile of a maquette (book dummy) that Smith created in 1960 but the final book was never published in his lifetime. Below are a couple of my test images with the new format and background. I still notice a very slight color shift of the backgrounds in the two images (same background), but an improvement over my earlier process. Still a little bit more work to do.

Oh yes, I did not realize until I published this book photo that I had inadvertently inverted Andreas Oekter-Kast  photobook Looking for Wonderland, a German photographer’s road trip through America.

Cheers!

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February 21, 2014

Pine Lake – Out of Print

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 7:23 am

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Pine Lake, copyright 2013 artist photobook by Douglas Stockdale

I recently arranged with photo-eye (Santa Fe, NM) book store to sell the last copies of the edition for my Pine Lake artist photobook. I believe that in publisher’s terms that when all copies are now in the hands of the bookstores that I am officially Out of Print. Wow, that did not take long.

So there is one remaining copy of the edition at As Issued, here on the left coast, and a couple with photo-eye and L’Ascensure Vegetal for Europe.  Pine Lake is SOLD OUT at the Reminders Photography Stronghold gallery in Japan.

I really do appreciate the great response to this book and my short semi-fictional story. As many of you have told me, it looks great in photographs on the web, but it’s awesome when holding the actual book object.

I suspect that I soon will be making the announcement that Pine Lake is SOLD OUT. very nice.

Cheers!

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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 intriguing narrative about youth,  just hanging out and experiencing life as it rolls by.

The mash-up of black & white and color street photographs appear Random, as evidenced by the inclusion 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) to document that the photographs were made from film and are not digital images.

This photobook is a layered and complex read. The photobook literally becomes more intimate as the many layers unfold. The random unseen events becoming visible, asking the reader the unanswered question as to what is the point?

The book has a stiff covers 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.  This is essentially an artist book with the inclusion of the six various hand-made folds incorporated into the book’s design.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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February 2, 2014

LA Art Book Fair – 2014

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:41 am

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untitled (LA Art Book Fair, January 2014) copyright 2014 Douglas Stockdale

Last year I was pretty stoked when it was announced that the NY Art Book Fair would be making a Left Coast appearance. And it was pretty nice event with my only big complaint was the crappy lighting made very difficult to examine most books. And for viewing a photobook, the lighting can make a difference. Nevertheless I was pretty excited that there was a second LA Art Book Fair at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, especially as I noted a stronger attendance by photobook publishers, dealers and bookstores.

And somebody got the message, the lighting was much, much improved and I don’t recall any complaints about it compared to the uproar last year.

My hour and half drive up from Orange County paled with those who flew in from London, Paris and other parts of Europe as well as Japan and Asia. What a fantastic melting pot. In many, many ways. A lot of tables with some very small publishers covering a full range of diverse artistic subjects. It is really nice to have this opportunity in our back yard. Personally I would like to see a lot more of the contemporary photobook publishers being represented, nevertheless there were more this year than last, so if the buzzzz continues to be good, perhaps there will be even more next year.

Other personal issue is the paucity of photobook/artist stores which carry true hand-made artist books. Even Printed Matter in NYC stated that they do not carry many titles if the sales price exceeds $50.00. There are rare book dealers who make a trade in the $250 to $10,000+ books, but they do not carry new or recent artist book titles. Give me a shout-out if you are aware of some hand-made artist book sellers.

So this year I took a few more photographs while I attended the Book Fair since Lauren Henkin, who coordinates the Handmade Books by Artists group on Facebook, gave me a shout-out to report on the event. So first qualifier, I am not a photojournalist, perhaps a story teller but not a documentary photographer. That said, since a photograph is a thousand words, my visual reportage follows below. And most of my portraits documented the new fans of The Photo Book Club who were proudly wearing their new badges (at least for the moment).

Cheers!

My thanks to Clint Woodside, Kelsey Vance, Mary Virginia Swanson, Sarah Hadley, Aron Morel, Mike Slak, Harper Levine, Maura Lucking, and Alex Campox for be patient subjects.

02/02/14 postscript: Erik van der Weijde brought to my attention late last night that I missed one of the project rooms (yeah, the one he was in and I did want to meet up with him) in the labyrinth of gallery space (okay, a beef, but heck it was on their event map, so my bad). In retrospect, I did something similar last year. This is a complex space to visit. And I did not by any means look at each title on every table, this is one very, very dense book event. Admittedly I skimmed a bunch of the areas which I was having trouble connecting. It is really meant to be more than a one day visit, but it is what it is and I am very happy to have been able to spend the time I did. Already looking forward to next year!

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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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