The PhotoBook

June 21, 2010

Susan Anderson – High Glitz

Copyright Suan Anderson 2009, courtesy powerHouse books

Susan Anderson’s photobook High Glitz, The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants is a series of formal portraits of young girls who participate in beauty pageants that have been exclusively tailored for them. These pageants are unique to the United States. Anderson chooses to focus her lens on the resulting “confectionary” effects rather than a broader investigation of this mini-industry. She has also chosen to exclude the young boys who also compete, but have a minor presence in these pageants.

 In the introduction, Anderson describes her photographic process; “I have set up some parameters for myself when shooting portraits at these pageants. Rule number one is never to direct the girls other than making minor adjustments of their chosen pose. Frequently I ask to see the back of a dress, or a hairstyle in profile. I make sure they catch the key light just right, or may ask them to adjust a hand, or tit a chin, but never give a type of creative direction that could be constructed as manipulative. My job is to record what I see. The subjects have a self-awareness beyond their years, and have been coached and trained for moments like this one, in front of the camera.”

Anderson’s portraits have a broader selection of poses than Martin Schoeller’s Female Bodybuilders, but they have a shared commonality of formally documenting an American sub-culture. These pageants have involved into an economic mini-industry of consultants, coaches, couture designers, hair dressers and stylists. Of course at the very heart of this are the young girls, the pageant contestants, and unseen but with their indirect presence felt, the parents and grandparents of the girls. Similar to Schoeller’s bodybuilders, Anderson is documenting a controversial subject without introducing any judgments.

 At the risk of being flamed for not being PC, I think that this is a Chick-photobook. There are some underlying feminist issues subtly at play that may be better understood by women than men. Why is it acceptable that young boys can act out some very aggressive behavior while there seems to be a controversial issue for young girls playing out their young feminine fantasies? The questions regarding the pros and cons of child pageants are succinctly discussed in Robert Greene’s introduction Artifice and Transformation: The Imaginary Lives of Little Girls. I recommend reading Green’s essay before jumping to any conclusions regarding the relevance of these child pageants.

 The book is segmented into formal portraits by the pageant even categories; Beauty/Formal Wear, Modeling, Western Wear/Pro-Am and Crowning. The book concludes with a delightful High Glitz Style Guide, providing essential pointers for those who do not have a clue to the pageant requirements. Provides some of those important rules, such as when “bling” is permitted or not, and the correct time to use the “oohs and aahs” or incorporate a “rip off”. There are pointers on the use of flippers (teeth), hairstyles that include the Barbie, Up-do, Falls, Ringlets, Swept Up, and Add-ons which include wiglets, wigs, falls & braids. The girls need to be aware of when they might want to incorporate a “full southern” as apposed to a basic “cupcake”. It is apparent that like any subculture, the pageants have their own internal jargon, but that jargon is not directly communicated by Anderson’s photographs.

 One excerpt from Anderson;

 “Sunday’s main event is Beauty/Formal Wear, my favorite aspect of these pageants, and what I feel epitomizes the visual aesthetic of High Glitz. For this part of the pageant, the girls, primarily between the ages of two and ten, don their most elaborated couture costumes, hair and makeup. The custom outfits are encrusted with rhinestones, pearls, ribbons and bows. From their white-satin Mary Jane shoes and lace-trimmed anklets to their spectacular costumes and towering bejeweled hairstyles, the effect is confectionary.”

 Simon Doonan’s introduction “In Defense of Child Beauty Pageants” written by a man who wishes he had these same pageant opportunities is really funny, with the following except to provide a hint, because you have to read it in the entirely: “If only somebody in our house were to have figured out that all I ever wanted was to parade about – like Madame Alexander doll come to life- in front of a cheering crowd, bathed in adoration and soft pink light.”

Regretfully for me, what is also present in these photographs, beyond the shiny and frilly surfaces, are the manufactured and coached smiles on these precious young girls, which hints at an honest attempt to please, but I wonder at what cost?

by Douglas Stockdale

June 17, 2010

Olaf Otto Becker – Above Zero

copyright Olaf Otto Becker, 2009 courtesy Hatje Cantz Verlag

Olaf Otto Becker’s Above Zero is a beautiful documentary style narrative about the melt water of Greenland’s ice cap. Becker investigates the annual melt water that occurs each summer. It might seem that finding the presence of running water on top of snow and ice to be indicative of environment changes, but in fact the running melt water is an annual occurrence. During periods of the midnight sun when the daily temperature rises just above the freezing point of zero degrees Celsius, snow and ice will melt and small runs of melt water eventually converge, creating streams, rivers and shallow pools resembling lakes.

 Looking at these photographs in an environmental context, what can not be discerned from Becker’s photographs is the relative change of the amount of melt water that occurs each year. That is left to the scientific analysis, such as at the Swiss Camp that Becker documents in the concluding photographs of the book. There are no indications that allow these photographs to advance issues of global warming or global cooling, but only that some melt water does occur.

 Similar to most investigations of natural occurring events, what is missing is a fuller sense of the actual conditions; the smell, sounds, and the feeling that occur while being present. What can only be hinted at is what occurs in real time. In this regard, Becker recounts: “Halfway along the river, a steep gradient turned in into a thundering torrent with white-water rapids. After another four kilometers, and now twelve meters wide, it crashed down into a moulin, displacing the air trapped deep inside the glacier and sending up a fountain of spray several meters high, like an exhalation from the blowhole of a surfacing whale.”

 Becker appears to be attuned to the characteristics of the melt water, with an aesthetic sensitivity to the changes, curves, merges, flows and drops. He attempts to avoid a purely scientific viewpoint of what he calls uninteresting melt water. Becker’s photographs are also limited in tonality, bordering on monotony, with consistent grey skies, white snow and ice, gray and black soot, with crystal clear turquoise, green and cobalt blue bodies of water. The graphic abstract qualities of the environmental conditions are further enhanced by the flat overcast light which collapses the pictorial space. The modeling of most of the edges and planes result from a build up of black soot that clings to the surface when the melt water rises each day.

 In Becker’s photographs, it is difficult for me to decipher a sense scale, observing what appears as water, unable to determine width or depth of the channel or velocity of the flow. Becker has attempted to hint at a sense of scale by including the horizon in most of his photographs but that does not seem sufficient.

 The presence of large amounts of gray particles on the white snow appears surreal, as you might visualize in the currant rash of HDR photographs that accentuate the shadow details. The soot could be natural contamination from the regions volcanoes, or the result of pollution from either North America, Europe or due to Polar winds, Asia and Eastern Europe. For those who travel between Europe and North America, most of the air travel transitions over Southern Greenland, thus another potential source of potential contamination. The contamination results are gray, not brown, yellow or other tonality.

 The transitional melt water appears very clear, as though staring into the dizzying blue abyss of the super clean water of a nuclear reactor. The width and depth of crystal clear water can be deceiving, and without a reference point, even more so. I can recall landing our canoe on a river bank in the Rockies, thinking that the river depth was only a foot or two at most, I jumped over the side only to become completely submerged and I was still unable to contact the river bottom.

 This is a lot of discussions about global warming, but I did not know of one of the effects of air pollution; that on the snow, these small particulate sites are focal points for absorbing light and act as radiant bodies, creating holes and accelerating the melting. The effects can be visualized where they have pock marked the surface, but his photographs are insufficient to explain why the pock mark holes are present.

 Konrad Steffen’s Afterword is a scientific oriented essay on what is being observed at Swiss Camp on the Greenland ice cap. Freddy Langer provides the introductory essay. The photographs are captioned with the longitudinal, latitudinal and altitudinal coordinates. The horizontal book, with the fine color printing and binding, complements Becker’s photographs very well.

by Douglas Stockdale

June 14, 2010

3rd FotoBuch Festival – book competition results

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:24 pm

The results are now in and being announced for the two competitions at the 3rd International FotoBuch (PhotoBook) Festival recently held in Kassel, Germany.

Here are the judges comments for three photobook Dummy Prize winners:

The first prize was awarded to the Berliner Werner Amann for his book design American. Using light and also intensely expressive images, the photographer achieved to capture a piece of American soul, composed into a fluid essay of documentation and poetry. Amann convinced also through his design. He succeeded brilliantly in creating a book as a medium with its special material and style qualities.

The second prize went to the American Chad States for his book Cruising which captures the unusual characteristics and secrets of small woodlands near parking lots. The jury was convinced by the photographic quality, the unique page design and narrative structure of the book.

The German photographer Axel Beyer won the third prize for Bebra Curiosa, a subtle-surreal portrait of the North Hessian town Bebra. The jury was impressed by the specific pictorial language and unusual assembly style of the book, which enabled the author to charge his mundane subject matter with humour and suspense.

All of the displayed 56 dummies of the Dummy Prize competition can be seen in page browsing view. Yes, in this case, being a prize winning dummy could be a good thing;- )

And the three Reviewer Prize winners were selected.

The following individuals provided portfolios or book dummies that received additional recognition: David Adams, Murray Ballard and Andreas Frei.

Best regards, Douglas

June 11, 2010

Alamo & Costello – The Globe

Copyright Alamo & Costello 2010, courtesy Dark Lark Press

The 2010 World Cup has just started in South Africa and there will be many pubs, sports bars, taverns, and assorted watering holes where fans will be hoisting a few brews and cheering their favorite team and players on to victory. The fan support at The Globe, one sports pub located in Chicago’s Northcenter neighbor is the subject of Alamo and Costello’s photobook, The Globe.

The photographs of Alamo & Costello are similar in nature to those of Joseph Szabo and his body of work at Jones Beach, “engaged observer, with a particular interest in the fleeting pleasures and pains of the young… attuned to body language, both subtle and blatant”. I have the sense The Globe may not be a large pub, as the photographs are tightly framed and as they say, frequently “up close and personal”.

A full range of human emotions for a sporting event are captured; pensive, excited, disappointed, jubilant, exhausted, buoyant and enraptured. Someone comes out the winner, someone does not, which makes for future animated conversations and another good reason to share one more pint. There is also an emotional universality to these photographs with the common thread of a shared sporting event irrespective of the sporting event, whether it is soccer, baseball, basketball, or tennis.

The book’s essays are related to past football experiences, so this gives me a chance to share one of mine. I had been a youth soccer (AYSO) referee for 10 years when my son, nephew and I attended the 1984 LA Olympic soccer games in the Pasadena Rose Bowl. We were sitting near the end zone for the USA versus Columbia Colombia match, when the Columbian Colombia goal tender inadvertently passed the ball into his own net. The immediate chilling hush of the until then boisterous Columbia Colombia fans sitting directly across from us was an ominous silence. USA just went 2-1 over Columbia Colombia, and eventually win the match. I remember immediately telling my son after that goal that their goal tender probably should not be returning home to Columbia Colombia Regretfully, he did.

The “red eye” found in many of the photographs made by the camera flash creates an amateur look and snap-shot feel. There is a lack of a sophisticated polish to the composition and framing, which makes me feel that I am looking at a stack of personal photographs from a fun party. These photographs seem to be something very personal that is being shared with a minimal of editing, thus the book has an unusual rawness and immediacy for a published body of work.

The book’s horizontal format complements this photographic body of work.

by Douglas Stockdale

June 9, 2010

Michael Light – Bringham Mine / Garfield Stack

Copyright Michael Light, 2009 courtesy Radius Books and photo-eye

The aerial perspective and tight framing of Michael Light’s Bingham Mine / Garfield Stack introduces a vertigo similar to what I feel when riding the ski lifts in the Rockies. As I am carried over a ridge and momentarily suspended mid-air crossing a deep canyon to an apposing ridge, looking down I feel slightly unhinged and vertigo induced terror.  Similarly, the wide angle perspective obtained from Light’s flying perch that is situated close enough to discern the details of buildings, trucks, roads, trees and boulders. But Light has tilted his lens up slightly enough to include a larger environmental context of rugged mountain terrain in which the activities are situated. The juxtaposition of the near ground with the far distance is a little unsettlingly, creating a vertigo effect.

Light takes us on a narrative journey from the Interstate Highway that cuts through the state of Utah, ascending into the mountains at the mammoth Bingham mine and then descending to the industrial processing facility and the location of the Garfield Stack. This copper mine is so extensive that it can be discerned from an orbit around our planet, but is also considered an example of how such endeavors can be managed in an attempt to find a balance between commerce and environment.

 It is easy to become awed by the photographs of Light’s subject as it is to become alarmed at how a mine is causing the slow dwindling of a mountain for the sake of economics. Nevertheless, Light does not blatantly press an environmental agenda as he attempts to present his facts in a documentary style.

 The large-scale images seemingly attempt to emulate the vast scale of Light’s subject.  With the full bleed photographs spanning the two page spread resulting in the enormous size of the 16 ¼” x 20 ½” (410 x 520 mm) interior images, these sharply defined photographs are mesmerizing. The hardbound book has a lay-flat binding that provides easy viewing of some very impressive size images, and the fine duotone printing is a true delight to read and enjoy. 

 

by Douglas Stockdale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 8, 2010

Guy Tillim – Roma, Citta di Mezzo

Copyright Guy Tillim 2009 courtesy of Punctum Editions

When Guy Tillim, a South African photographer, had an opportunity to investigate the inner city of Rome over a series of winter days, he seems to have found a somber and melancholic period of time in this hustle and bustle city. For me his book Roma, Citta di Mezzo (Rome, Middle City) is but a narrow glimpse in time during the daily cycle of this city’s normal activities.

I spent the last nine months intermittently on assignment near Rome and have come to understand a little of its pulse of late dinners, late morning starts, with periods of tranquility that momentarily exists from dawn until the middle of the morning, when sleepy eyes finally awake. It is this introspective period that Tillim has wandered through the side streets and boulevards of Rome’s middle city.

Tillim’s documentary style records the Roman urban landscape during winter, a time of year of intermittent rain showers and much cooler temperatures. The light of day is diffused by the cloud cover from a recent rain, and his choice of exposure accentuates the shadows, low contrast and slightly monochromatic tonalities, providing me with a feeling of melancholy.

This grayish time of year keeps many of the citizens at bay, patiently waiting inside for dryer, warmer and more radiant days. We see in Tillim’s photographs only a few individuals walking the streets, the cities vast population is indirectly made known by the vast quantity of cars and the wall to wall dwellings. It is difficult to move around the entire city of Rome, least the area of greatest density, without coming into visual contact with the remnants of its ancient past. By minimizing the human intervention, Tillman investigates the infrastructure of the inner city, the intersection of antiquity with contemporary life.

Tillman’s photographs are captured from a walking perspective of the photographer-flaneur, framing his compositions at eye level. The view-point is of someone who is navigating the side streets, with occasional glimpses of antiquity, ancient structures, slow restorations, some stilled in mid-rebuilding, while the modern city grows and pushes on its boundaries.

Before him are the roads, sidewalks, intersections, crossings, and pathways of the middle city. He walks adjacent to the main river that intersects Rome, near a main thoroughfare, as well as side streets, which are adjacent to the ancient Roman Wall, and across bridges adorned with old statuary. He captures the winter light, slightly over cast sky, shadows without the density of summer, leafless trees that open up the visual spaces, noting restoration in progress, construction sheds and orange plastic web barriers. Empty foregrounds with few people populate these photographs, new structures adjacent to ancient ruins, decaying ruins, and new construction rising up and layered like it always has on top of the past. Colorful Graffiti is now sprayed on the walls of the new construction, but respectfully missing on ancient stones and statuary.

Tillim provides a somber narrative through the city, observing what is; perhaps the framing is purposefully attempting to include the un-beautiful, the normal and plain, non-romantic version of what is considered one of the more romantic European cities. These are photographs of experiences, normally considered un-worthy of an extended gaze, instead of moving on in search of the more aesthetic pleasing photographic viewpoint.

Perhaps in conclusion, Nicola-Louise Brandt from the Afterword provides the last thoughts, “Tillim captures the dual effects of corrosion and proliferation in the Roman cityscape. He conveys a sense of transient power, in images of ghostly constructions both in the archeological core of Rome and those tucked away in the city’s marginal landscape. His works underscore the organic and provincial nature of the city, in which everyday life is dominated by the tension of an incomplete and incoherent urban landscape still bound to its past.”

This beautifully printed book has a very unique concertina fold, in which the entire contents of the book are linked in a continuous accordion like gatefold, which I wrote about previously, here. The color photographs span the two page spread, a continuous sweep of the photographic image.

by Douglas Stockdale

June 7, 2010

Andrew Bush – Drive

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 8:28 pm

Copyright Andrew Bush 2008 courtesy Yale University Press

The concept of photographing those who co-exist with us on the crowded and packed Freeways, Highways and Expressways in the urban centers of the United States is intriguing and the subject of Andrew Bush’s photobook Drive.

 In particular, Bush is photographing his own locale area of Southern California, probably the most densely packed Freeways in America. Yes, they are called Freeways because there are not any paid tolls, but are not called Expressways because they so crowded, you cannot drive fast. A fact that I observed when I moved here from the MidWest many, many years ago, and which still goes unchanged today.

 The obvious direct flash reminds me of the early NYC photographs by Weegee. It flatness the pictorial plane, but opens shadows, yet casts unique shadows of its own making. As a note, to be driving on the Freeways in Southern California, lost in your thoughts, and then to have a flash go off suddenly to your left can be very disconcerting, especially if you are near some dubious neighborhoods.

 Indirectly, this book is about self-identity, as many choose the car they drive as they might select their ward robe. Likewise, the condition of the exterior and interior probably is biographical regarding how well a person cares for the cleanliness and condition of what they drive. My neighbor rigorously hand-washes his cars every weekend, while I wait until I have accumulated the proper amount of dust and debris before going down to the local car wash for a quick once-through.

 Looking at these photographs, you might suspect that those living in Southern California either drive run-down wrecks or old model vintage sports cars, but this is more of a selection of cars that appeals to Bush. New cars lack character, without dents, scratches and appearing homogenized, missing the character imbued in those cars driven by those who on the fringe.

 This book is also about investigating sanctuaries, places where you might feel that you are alone, in seclusion, even while rolling through highly public space. In the car, individuals can roll up the windows, perhaps turn on the radio and exist in a private place of their own making.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 31, 2010

Andrew Phelps – Not Niigata

 

Copyright Andrew Phelps, 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg

For my liking, Andrew Phelps’s introduction, printed on the inside book cover, places this entire photobook into an insightful context, “ But what does it mean to photograph with the pretense of documentation? I find it is easy to get caught up in chasing an illusion of what I think a place should look like: preconceptions are powerful and the quest to understand a place often leads to a greater misunderstanding. The best I can do is tell the story of my three weeks of traveling and responding visually to a place I don’t necessarily understand. It is the story of not understanding Niigata.”

 As I have the opportunity to travel extensively to international locales, this photobook, and Phelps understanding of the limitations of someone who just drops in, resonances with me. Actually, I have similar feelings when I am traveling within Southern California through the Mexican, Vietnamese and other diverse micro cultural neighborhoods that populate our region. Cultural heritage, language and customs become more pronounced when traveling through Europe and for me, even more so to Asia, where I am unable to read their graphic language. I can recall being very disoriented on my first trip into China, where I was truly a stranger in a strange land.

 Although the subject of Phelps’s photobook, Not Niigata, is about the Japanese city of Niigata, it is more about Phelps, the stranger who is in a strange land. Phelps is not Japanese, was not raised in Japan (born in the US) and currently resides with his family in Austria. Thus Phelps experiences and views Niigata unlike a person who was raised in Niigata, and who would call this home. The resulting color documentary style photographs are not Japanese in nature or spirit, but about a city seen by someone who is non-Japanese and is reacting to situations that are interesting unique to him.

 To see what Phelps has framed and extracted from Niigata is interesting, odd, strange, different, mysterious, and also with familiar nuances. Stay in a similar philosophical introspection suggested by Phelps, mine are also observations by a non-resident of Niigata who is reading this photobook in Southern California. From this body of work, his narrative introduces us to a place that is in proximity to a sea-coast and mountain range, with an urban infrastructure and adjacent rural places.

 One Phelps portrait is of a young boy, wearing sneakers, longish blue coat and what appears as a ball cap, holding a blue baseball mitt. A photograph that could be have been made in almost any city within the United States, but the background of buildings and urban setting, places this somewhere in Asia. The portrait has a slight presence of fill-in flash that creates further separation of the boy from the darker and slightly out-of-focus location background. The photograph investigates some unspoken connection and understanding between photographer and subject in a mutual interest of baseball, a popular sport in both Japan and the United States. It also alludes to an attempt at trying to understand Niigata by finding common ground.

A group photograph, below, is very mysterious and strange. It begs the questions, who are these three individuals, why are they wearing the masks and these particular colors and what are they doing in this place? It seems apparent that they know that they are being watched and photographed and appear passive about the situation, not threatening or aggressive for being masked persons. The background environmental which frames this group portrait is also mysterious, with the appearance of the sea in the far back, and the group is surrounded with an odd assortment of wires, poles, buildings and small boats.

 Phelps portrait of an older man who is sitting in water, appears beautiful and yet familiar with yet a hint of mystery. It immediately brings to mind the portraits of Mona Kuhn; the tonal range of the colors, the mysterious abstract reflective colors and shapes. The foreground and background are soft and out of focus, with a contemplative and passive person sandwiched between. The eyes of the older man are averted and the photograph appears serene and peaceful.

Another aspect of Phelps narrative is the homogenization of global societies. The differences between a city in Austria, US and Japan have become less and less pronounced. The uniqueness of a city like Niigata is dwindling. The clothing and dress of the individuals in Phelps portraits seems familiar. Global brand logos, such as Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds and Burger King, have become ubiquitousness and are found everywhere.

 Phelps also indirectly raises a question, which photographs can capture the essence of a place, that can render a social and cultural group on a two-dimensional page? We see the organization infrastructure, interior spaces, the topological constructs of faces, objects that are collected and utilized. Does the photograph explain why, how and for what purpose these objects and places exist and are utilized? The photograph can only testify that for a brief moment in time that these objects were in a place, and then the story is now ours to frame and ponder and if Phelps is correct, still not understand.

 The artist statement is in English on the front cover liner, and Japanese on the back cover liner, the color photographs are unvarnished on a nice luster paper.

by Douglas Stockdale

 

 

 

 

May 28, 2010

Fredrick H. Evans – An Aperture Monograph

Copyright Aperture, 1973

From time to time, I will be digging deep in my photobook library to retrieve photobooks that I think may be relevant. The caveat to this statement is that the photobook is relevant for what ever reasons I choose. In this case, I am reading and preparing a review of the J. Paul Getty Museum 2010 publication, The Photographs of Frederick H. Evans, and I felt that my thoughts about the earlier Aperture photobook might be a nice starting point.

In 1973 Aperture published its retrospective monograph, Frederick H. Evans. Beaumont Newhall (b 1908, d 1993) was the editor and provided the introductory essay to this photobook. Newhall trivia; MOMA’s first director of photography in 1940, then curator of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House 1948-1958, subsequently it’s Director from 1958 to 1971.

Evans was an English photographer (b. 1853, d. 1943, England) probably best known for his interpretative photographs of English and French Cathedrals. He was equally proficient photographing individuals and urban landscapes, creating well known portraits of F. Holland Day, Alvin Coburn, George Bernard Shaw (also an ardent support of Evans photographs) and Aubrey Beardsley.

A historical trivia is that Alfred Stieglitz at the turn of the century was a fan and supporter of Evan’s cathedral photographs, and both were members of the London based Linked Ring. Evans photographs and writings were published in Steiglitz’s Camera Work, starting with edition number 4 in 1904, and Evans exhibited at Steiglitz’s “291” gallery in 1906 at New York.

Interesting technical photographic trivia; Evans advocated a “straight” photographic techniques and his style laid the foundation for the practice of pre-visualization and the concepts behind the zone system. He would spend two weeks in a cathedral, studying and takes notes on the location of light, intensity of the light and potential location of the camera and with which lens set to achieve the final print he was seeking. If the lighting was not right, he would determine which time of year to return to achieve the effect he anticipated.

Evans had developed a two layer emulsion negative (double-coated plate) that with one extended exposure would capture the full range of light. The resulting negative was then coupled with a long tonal range platinum contact printing paper. He could capture detail in the shadows of the cathedral interiors without blowing out the details of the stained glass windows. In today terms, that is a true HDR situation, or at least shooting in RAW and using ALL of the Photoshop tricks to save the exposure.

Likewise, with the view camera lens of his time, with one set of lens components, you could create a wide variety of optical effects. His single seven piece lens set was probably the equivalent of our zoom lens today.

Evans was a strong advocate of the straight photograph (unaltered negative and photographic print) versus the then prevalent photographic altering practices of the “fine art” Pictorialist, such as scratching the negative or use of gum printing to create an “artistic” effect. He advocated exposures with the aperture at f/32 to capture details and great depths of field. He published an article requiring photographers to get the negative correct, everything else will follow. All of these three decades before Ansel Adams started to codified similar opinions for the f/32 group and the subsequent West Coast (USA) style of straight photography.

There is a timelessness of his cathedral photographs that remind me of Eugene Atget. Evans chose to photograph at specific times of day to minimize mankind’s presence, and capture a certain kind of illuminating light. Evans perhaps was more interested than Atget in creating an aesthetic object, the fine art photographic print. A second point of departure is that Evans seems to have been more interested in the interiors than the exteriors, but nevertheless, I found many of Evans cathedral external landscape photographs that attempt to contextualize the place to be very Atget like.

Evans strived for an aesthetic interpretation of his subjects, which was to be imbued with a sense of poetry and wonder. What probably differentiated him from others was his sensitivity to the effects of light and how that might effect his eventual composition. Even in the early 1900’s, it was remarked that many photographers were searching his tripod marks in order to create their photographs, but although they may have emulated his composition, they still did not seem to grasp the nuances of capturing the light. He was looking for aesthetic beauty, a balance of forms, shapes, textures and tonality, which would be peaceful for prolonged contemplation. Perhaps similar to the West Coast photographic style about aesthetic landscape photography still in vogue today, such as John Sexton, Clyde Butcher, Michael Levin, Michael Kenna and Josef Hoflehner

It does not take long when walking through one of old cathedrals in Europe to realize that they tend to be overly monochromatically gray. The same gray tonality of gray column adjacent to gray stone can lead to a very flat photograph. The use of sunlight to differential the levels and planes of the various surfaces could make a huge difference in reading the interior spaces, which became Evans expertise. He was also able to overcome  the deep and dark shadows, from personal observation, brilliant shafts of sunlight, usually through jewel like stained glass windows, either perched high above or massive walls of colored matrix.

In Evans time, photographs that included paths, open windows, open doors and doorways, and stairs were understood as visual tools to “lead the eye” and “pull the viewer forward”. These motifs and similar compositions now imply more metaphoric themes of time, personal journeys, memory, and history.

“Sea of Steps”, is probably one of his better known photographs of Wells Cathedral, below, and one that took a number of successive trips and studies over a series of year to final achieve what he was striving for. Evans had seen the wear on the steps when caught with the right light, as a wave of steps undulating upward to the far door. A rim light on the edge of each step emphasized the heavy uneven wear of each step, providing a ripple like appearance that appeared to move upward. It was an effective visual framing that he continued to use on other subjects, especially if stairs or steps were included.

Even though a staunch advocate of the straight print, he would create and print a softer focus or incorporate atmospheric haze in a photograph to gain a purposeful poetic and interpretative effect. It was necessary for Evans to convey an emotional quality in his photographs. His use of atmospheric haze also creates a three dimensional illusion, of depth and space within a two dimensional medium. Evans claimed that his photographs were inspired by the atmospheric and poetic painting of J.M.W. Turner. In his day, to create a topology photograph was considered an insult.

The hardcover book was published with a dust cover, although obvious in the cover image above, mine has a slight tear the in the dust cover and not so obvious, the end panel of the dust cover has been sun-faded over the years. The page stock is matte and the images are unvarnished, thus a subdued luminance. The printing color of each black and white image is a consistent natural gray.

Publishing trivia, shortly after purchasing the book, I became aware the final editing of this book did not go as well as Aperture had planned, as eight plates were mis-captioned. I did not keep the notification letter, but I did pencil the corrections in my copy. So there will probably be some confusion if some unaware person attempts to references the interior photographs based on the printed captions in this book.

Unlike the recent J Paul Getty Museum photobook on Evans, the captions in the Aperture book do not reference the photographs date of origin.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 26, 2010

Stan Gaz – Sites of Impact

Copyright Stan Gaz 2009, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Meteorites and their impact on Earth are probably not something we ponder much about, but it is the subject of Stan Gaz’s photobook, Sites of Impact; Meteorite Craters Around the World.

Meteorite craters are sites that provide physical evidence that immense celestial bodies have hurled into our terrestrial planet, creating geological history over an epoch-straddling timeline. Gaz’s photobook takes us on a historical narrative, attempting to place these earthly impacts in a chronological order, starting 900 million years ago until the “present” age, 5,000 years ago. This is also a global narrative, figuratively and literally covering a lot of ground, photographing crater remnants at locations within the United States, Australia, Namibia, Canada and South Africa.

The aerial framing of his subject is frequently from a high altitude, which aids in the comprehension of the size of the craters and to provide an external context to their location and surrounding effects. Some of the impact sites are enormous, covering as much as 75 kilometers in diameter. In doing so, at high altitude, these ancient places become memorizing graphic abstractions of organic shapes and masses of textural tones.

The desire to take flight and study the features of the terrain originated by the French photographer Nadar (Gaspard Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910) in 1858. Modern photographic studies of the landscape were photographed by William Garnett (1916-2006) in the late 1950′s into the 1980′s. Recently the contemporary study of the landscape features from an aerial perspective, like Gaz, is included in the bodies of work by Edward Burtynsky, Michael Light and David Maisel to name a few. The very elevated viewpoint provides a different and fascentating prespective that is outside our norm.

When Gaz has a grounded viewpoint, the details of the terrain do not reveal nuances that reveal the topology of the entire impact site. Eloquently described by Robert Silberman in his accompanying essay;

“Gaz’s images are poised between detachment and engagement, moving as they do between a superior view, from the air, and what we might call a grounded view, from the earth’s surface. Perhaps these dual perspectives reflect a duality in the subject matter, for the impact craters both conjure up a fascinating mystery and indicate a frightening cataclysm – a destructive event in the past that necessarily evokes more contemporary disaster, natural and man-made. Aerial views enforce detachment and distance, even as they open up a greater field of vision and create new objects of psychological attraction.”

Frequently Gaz’s photographs excludes any indication of mankind, perhaps symbolic of the massive destruction that occurred at the time of impact, eliminating all life forms. The impact of one meteor, Chicxulub 65 million years ago in Mexico, has been linked to a mass extinction event that led to the demise of 50% of all living species on earth, including dinosaurs.

The age of many of these impact sites pre-dates even the most ancient of ancient memories. How long these sites have existed can be hard to comprehend and many of the sites have been difficult to even verify their celestial heritage. Sand, water and wind have been eating at the edges and slowly filling in the vast voids for eons. These sublime photographs are indirectly about time, an event which occurred in a brief moment, but the conseuqences evolve over time, like memory itself, once clearly delineated, becomes eroded, and eventually disappearing from sight and consciousness.

Gaz’s black & white chronologic photographs appear to be documentary in style, but the tonal structure of many the photographs is altered either entirely or partially by the reversal of the tones by solarization. Gaz’s dark tonal pallet in conjunction with the frequent aerial perspectives further abstracts his subject into melancholic poems.

The photographs have a full tone range, but yet are subdued and dark, creating mystery and appear menacing. The horizon, when included, is usually a thin sliver demarkation between heaven and earth, mashed between the terrain below and the looming dark gray cloud cover. I can sense the devastation that might have occurred at the actual time of impact, much like the debris clouds we experience today from the recent volcanoes, the skies would have gone black immediately after impact.

Meteors are a cause for angst, as their impact has the capability to eliminate our existence and our only recourse is to react to the consequences. The physical evidence provides only hints to grasp the implications of their size, age and immediate devastation at the time of impact. At the conclusion, I am left with concern, awe and wonder.

This is a case-bound hard cover book, printed on luster paper with intermittent page numbering, and captions that provide longitude coordinates, location, crater’s name, size, age, condition and technical evidence of the impact. This photobook includes one gatefold triptych of Meteor Crater in Arizona. Essays are provided by Christian Koeberl and Robert Silberman and Field Notes by Stan Gaz.

by Douglas Stockdale

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