The PhotoBook

August 10, 2010

Squale – Mauerreste

Copyright Squale 2010 courtesy of the artist

The only descriptive information that is provided in Squale’s DIY photobook Mauerreste is the subtitle, The Berlin Wall – 20 Years Later. This photobook is printed in low contrast on a flat stock, which accentuates the middle gray moodiness of the photographs. Berlin and its outer boundaries appear to be neither a happy nor upbeat place.

 Few people are contained within the photographs, predominately photographs of the urban landscape that include structures, walls, watchtowers and other artifacts that once divided a city. A watch tower has become an abandoned monument in the midst of the surrounding apartment homes, which seem to tower over this decaying structure. The adjacent barren tree is symbolic of the former personnel who manned this guard tower, appearing dark and lifeless on this gray and gloomy day.

Now the famous US Army check-point Charlie is a tourist location, the few individuals evident in the background of this photograph are dark and featureless. This photograph spans the two facing pages and the check-point structure is fractured by the book’s center gutter. The two pages create a disjointed and uneven photograph, with parts of the image obviously swallowed by the photobook’s binding. Even the large photograph of a portrait within the photograph is no longer whole with the face of the individual depicted now hidden from view. The photograph takes on a dark and mysterious narrative.

 One of the more interesting photographs is the fractured sign, with a section standing on each facing page. The contents of the sign are largely missing, but appear to be written in German (Deutsch), but on one of the supporting posts, in almost English is “Worthless Designshit”, guessing that the part of the D is missing in Designshit. Worthless is an English word that indicates no value. Designshit is not an American English word, (perhaps a British English word?), but has similar construction as the German practice of progressively adding words together in a long stream of consciousness. These words, with the fractured and incomplete sign posted in the vacant foreground together create a compounded and symbolic image of deep disappointment and despair, if not a silent rage.

 The overly gray photographs create for me a depressing narrative, such that the realities of a reunited city and nation have not lived up to the hope-filled expectations.

 The binding of this DIY photobook does not permit a lay flat presentation. This photobook is devoid of captions, page numbers or essays. Very minimalist.

By Douglas Stockdale

August 8, 2010

Paula McCartney – Bird Watching

Copyright Paula McCartney 2010 Princeton Architectural Press courtesy of the artist

I must admit when I first saw the first announcement for Paula McCartney’s photobook Bird Watching, it drew a long yawn. I mean, OMG what were the photobook publishers thinking? When I later learned that Darius Himes had written the Afterword, I started to reconsider my initial response, such that I subsequently acquired a copy from Paula. How ironic, that for this delightful book, I am going to have to admit that I initially got it totally wrong and I will now have to eat some crow (Styrofoam, of course, as no real animals were hurt in the writing of this review).

 Usually a good place to begin while reading and attempting to understand a photobook is identifying the subject or subject matter. In a wonderful way, this is not such an easy task with Bird Watching, which is a little bit more complex than the title and initial browsing reveal. Yes, it could be a bird watchers journal, until you discover the photographed birds are not real. It could be a charming fictional work, if in fact the photographs are real landscapes with real fake birds. It could be a satire on those who enjoy bird watching, or any obsessive hobby, but there is a very light and joyful aspect to this body of work, that does not feel the heavy weight of irony or a caustic narratives, but more of a wink or two between friends. I feel in the end this book is about creating an object of fantasy that relies in part on photography to help facilitate McCartney’s playful story.

 McCartney has incorporated a lighthearted hand-written narrative with her delicate ink drawings in conjunction with her photographs to recreate a humorous bird watchers “trophy” journal. This is a fictional scrap book that is inclusive of various bird sightings and personal memorabilia and appears similar to one that you might suspect an actual bird watcher might compile, with an exception to photographs of the fake birds.

Her color photographs have the aesthetics of a bird photographers manual, the subject is composed somewhat central within the framework, and the depth of field is shallow, similar to the effect of a long telephoto lens that are required for photographing the real birds. The birds are sharply focused, thus making it relatively easy to determine that these in fact are not real birds, although positioned on branches in a very similar manner as to the real variety. The shallow depth of field also creates interesting landscape photographs, providing a hint of geographical context that is consistent with the location of the real variety of the fake birds depicted.

Darius Himes in his essay, states: “We’ve been trained to think of photographs as documents of things that really happened in the world: that we, through the photographer, are silent witnesses to the forces of life and nature and man. In many ways, this holds true in Bird Watching. McCartney was there, and so were those pieces of Styrofoam that look like birds. And while the initial enticement of her images leads to a brief poke in the eye, we are not so stunned as to recoil in disgust. She’s not laughing at us by drawing us into her fantasy, rather she’s playfully reminding us that all photographs indulge in certain fictions. And like any good book, she takes us on a journey that is educational and inspiring.”

 McCartney’s photobook is a delightful mix of landscape photography with charming double-takes, with a witty, if not outright humorous, captions and commentary that continues in character, and provides an overall fun experience. This is one photobook that I am very happy that I gave a second chance and a photobook that I can definitely recommend.

by Douglas Stockdale

August 4, 2010

Simon Roberts – We English

Copyright Simon Roberts 2009, courtesy of Chris Boot Ltd & Simon Roberts

When I first became aware of Simon Roberts photobook project that would eventually develop into We English, I was very intrigued by the concept, his past photographic work in Russia, and what he was attempting to investigate in his own homeland. And probably as well for personal reasons, that although I am a sixth generation American, my family roots are traced back to Northern England. So I was also interested in learning more about my really distant cousins.

Robert’s photobook We English is a wonderful mixing pot; an autobiographical and cultural narration placed in generous landscape settings about those who call themselves “English”. It is not meant to be an exhaustive examination, but he has selected “English leisure” activities that occur in the open, which means frequently his photographs appear like peopled landscapes. Roberts also appears to have investigated a broad cross-section of English leisure as to be inclusive of most social groups, from those who attend the horse racing and polo matches to the banks of the river for swimming or bustling amusement parks and football (soccer) games.

Knowing that Roberts is using a large format camera, which is usually difficult to ignore, nevertheless, even when standing in front of a large crowd, he seems to have become invisible. It usually takes a while to find someone in the midst of the activity that has direct eye contact with his lens, otherwise, everybody appears to be absorbed in the activity at hand.

While utilizaing the large format camera and what appears is a small aperture, Roberts creates beautiful color photographs that are rich in content, color saturation, sharp in focus and loaded with details. There are generous amounts of geographical terrain in his photographs and consistently composed to allow enough sky to provide environmental clues about the climate of the region. All of the photographs are framed horizontally which provides an expansive feeling the images.

As to the photographs, it is still difficult for me to really say that I can understand something about a group of people while viewing a single moment in time. There are some interesting clues that after a time I might be able to say that based on my own experience, this is what I feel and maybe to extrapolate that to what others might be experiencing. This is one of the points of Andrew Phelps photobook Not Niigata, that even when I am looking at a foreign society, and think that I see something familiar, that I still can not really say that I understand their society or culture. It is best to admit that I don’t really understand much at all.

Nevertheless as an American, there are English activities that I can relate to; seaside walks on expansive beaches, swimming in a river or creek, picnicking in a park, hiking a trail, bicycling, sledding during the winter (when we visit the mountains), fishing at a pond, touring with a camper, attending amusement parks, playing a round of golf, an afternoon riding go-carts, attending a sporting event, and boating on a lake.

It is in studying the details of Roberts’s photographed events that I start picking out the differences between my personal experiences and actual content that is evident.  The collision of fact with perception forces me to question what it exactly that I see. Yes, I recognize the activity and it does appear the same, but in fact it is different. Once that door is open, then these seeming simple photographs become much more complex and bundled together in this book, weave a very enjoyable narrative.

The complexity of another culture and society is exemplified when there are unique activities photographs, such as the formalized bird shootings, a Mad Maldom Mud Race, the Haxey Hood (hunt), polo matches, gardening Allotments (green space gardens and accompanying shed), and pigeon racing. Roberts photographs English events that I label as cultural oddities, such as the semi-formal picnic, when a man needs a nice bow-tie to complement the occasion. I also observe the activities occurring in what appears as unique English terrain of steep rolling hills and valleys or adorned with the ruins of a castle.

It appears that a day on the beach may require a number of layers of clothing to apparently to stay warm and dry. Usually, as previously noted, Roberts photographs are inclusive of the sky, which is predominately overcast, cloudy and moody appearing, which coincides with the beach photographs with the individuals wearing the additional layers of clothing. By contrast, it may be necessary for me to dress in a similar manner on our Southern California beaches about one month per year.

In the Introductory essay, Stephen Daniels states; “The precise places and pursuits of the English Outdoors – racegoing, seaside promenading, picnicking, angling, hiking and heritage visiting – may have changed over the past century, but much appears to remain the same. Some older traditional pastimes such as street football and cheese rolling have either survived or been renovated, even reinvented. How far these places and pursuits are regarded as forms of national or even patriotic identity by the participants themselves, rather than by those who merely observe the English Outdoors, remains an intriguing question.”

In Roberts Afterword commentary he states; “…I knew I’d begun to develop a formal composition to my framing which would define the direction of the work. I would move away from photographing the individual and engage instead with the idea of the collective, of groups of people populating the landscape. Photographing from elevated positions (often from the roof our motorhome, as it turned out) would enable me to get a greater sense of people’s interaction with the landscape and one another. I also decided that the figures would be relatively small in the frame, although not always so small that you couldn’t make out some facial expressions, what they were wearing and their activities….I liked the idea of what appeared to be predominantly pastoral landscapes becoming, on closer inspection, multilayer canvases, rich in detail and meaning.”

Roberts narrative captions in the Commentary section provide an additional autobiographical insight to this project and the accompanying photographs, such as the photography of the kids sledding in the winter at the 17th hole of the Tandridge Golf Course in Oxted.  The commentary provides a new layer of meaning to aid in both seeing and interpreting the photograph with his “local English” knowledge that is probably not readily event to those who are examining these photographs with a different cultural background and experience.

What I enjoy in these photographs: color, design elements, details, balance of the photographs, all of which allows me to dream and free associate. This book is an extraction of a certain group of people in nice circumstances, on holiday, when things should be right. Even though by the end of the book, do we really know that much more about the English culture? Perhaps we may gain a small insight and a hint of the English society, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of Roberts’s photographs.

The large horizontal format book elegantly matched to the large format horizontal and detailed color photographs, classically designed with a small white margin around each photograph, as though looking through a window. Essay by Stephen Daniels and Afterword by Simon Roberts.

by Douglas Stockdale

July 28, 2010

Offprint – Paris Photo

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Doug Stockdale @ 4:33 pm

I just received the following photobook update for Paris Photo about a new venue, Offprint.

Offprint is being initiated by Yannick Bouillis in reaction to a preceived lack of meeting places for the diversity of practice in the field of photography. Offprint is a project space for contemporary photography and a book fair for independent publishers.

Yannick Bouillis, a former journaist, is the owner of, a bookshop specializing in Dutch art publications.

Offprint will be open on: November 18-21 during Paris Photo, from 3pm – 9pm, except Sunday, then 11am – 5pm.

You will be able to find Offprint at: Espace Kiron, 10 rue de la Vac querie, 75011 (Paris, France)

There is already an impressive list of particpants, with booksignings and a portfolio review being scheduled. Best to check out the web site for all of the details.

best regards, Douglas

BTW, Bouillis is also working on an Artist book fair in Ams­ter­dam in 2011, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Smart Project Space Amsterdam.

July 27, 2010

Mathieu Lambert – Fake Tales of America

Copyright Mathieu Lambert  2010 published by French fourch (photographers co-op)

Mathieu Lambert in the title of his DIY photobook, Fake Tales of America, provides what seems to be a very straight forward way to read his book in that he is taking us on an imaginary journey.  That the photographs may appear that they were photographed in the various cities in America, but in fact they are not. As an America photobook reviewer, I find I read a lot more into this fictional travelogue.

I read this as representational of the stereotyping of societies and cultures portrayed as “factual” by the various modes of media; movies, print advertisements, television stories, the various news channels including newspapers, magazines, television and last of all, the great source of all “truth”, the internet. We obtain our impressions of what it might be like to actual visit and experience a far a-way destination by the photographs found in the various media. There are the glossy “everything looks perfect and we wish you were here” advertising photographs to lure you to a specific region which are off-set by the seemly dark underside stories frequently portrayed by the news and press about all that is wrong with a given region. In fact it may be very beneficial to know that when you travel to specific regions, within certain boundaries you can be safe, but beyond those boundaries you will be at much greater peril.

With the constant input of information received daily, if not hourly, individuals become both sponges and filters, accepting some information as truth and others discounted as not realistic, but most information once viewed becomes integral to our memory. Nevertheless, our active memory is similar to focusing a camera lens and framing a composition, we select what is within the frame and what is excluded. That can also be said about the symbols we chose to represent a given geographical region.

While Lambert has never been to America, which he explained in our discussion a couple of weeks ago, he does want to visit and take a tour of America. His girlfriend at the time did visit America and with Lambert having some documentation issues, he had to remain in France. So instead of joining his girlfriend and directly experiencing America, he created an imaginary tour of America as reconstructed from found place and symbolic situations.

There is a caustic irony in these photographs that hint at the dark side of what is perceived of America, perhaps not running as deep as Robert Frank in his seminal photobook The Americans, but enough.

That Texas can be represented by a wall of guns, seemingly for sale and a black & white tattoo on the back of a man of a firing handgun could represent perhaps someone from a gang in El Passo, New Mexico (actually El Paso, Texas), Lambert makes his point about the implied violence that is perceived to be present. That in contrast Little Falls, Minnesota, in what appears as the country landscape is simpler, brighter, open, rural and appears more upbeat if not plain and mundane.

I think in many ways, Lambert does get some essence of these areas correct enough to make me uncomfortable. That perhaps his symbolic photographs are not that far off from my perception and perhaps others within America. Most Americans have not traveled to all of the cities on Lambert’s tour and how many of us are also falling victim to the “fake” representation of that region by the media?

Another aspect of Lambert’s photobook I find fascinating is his attempt to investigate a distant place without ever going there. To envision what it might be like to experience a location by tapping into memory and perception, to study the available symbols and clues, yet not really walk the place, smell the air, feel the heaviness of the air of that place. It is to investigate the limits of imagination.

The stiff-cover book is bound by saddle stitching, and the front cover has been die-cut to allow the insertion of an accompanying photograph. Nice.

July 26, 2010

Clement Kauter – Le Plac’ Art Photo Sarl

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 9:17 pm

Clement Kauter copyright Douglas Stockdale 2010

Sometimes things don’t always go as planned, but then when least expected, some unexpected and wonderful events unfold. Early this evening I thought I would walk down to the Seine, and since it was a little bit cool for a Paris late summer afternoon, I decided to bring my windbreaker, which thank goodness is also waterproof. I must have been half way down Bloulevard Saint Michel when I felt a few drops of the pending rain. And since I was without my umbrella, I quickly tucked my camera under my windbreaker and decided to ventured on. Then the drizzle and light rain started descending. Crap! So what to do, eh? So I figured the camera was dry and it did not appear that the drizzle would get much worse, I pressed on.

I had some nice luck; as soon the light rain stopped and the sky lightened up and now I was close to the Seine. But as a lark, I took a left turn and walked towards a photo-book store that Marc Feustel (blogger: Eye Curious) had pointed out to me a couple of weekends ago. And I caught Clement Kauter, the owner of Le Plac’ Art Photo Sarl, just as he was about to close for the evening. So after a quick introduction, carefully dropping Feustel’s name appropriately, Kauter kept the doors open a little longer for me to browse. Turns out he is also familiar with this blog as well.  I think that Clement has an excellent selection of carefully cared for pre-owned photobooks along with a good selection of Japanese photobooks. Seeing the Japanese photoboooks was my inspiration to find out if he had a copy of Feustel’s photobook about early Japanese photography that he had edited; japon: un autoportrait, photographies 1945-1964 published by Flammarion in 2004.

So that is how I came to photograph Clement in front of his Paris photobook store holding my recently purchased copy of japon: un autoportrait, photographies 1945-1964. nice. So if you are in the area of 5 rue de l’ancienne comedie in Paris, you should check it out, but wait till after 1pm and he closes at 8pm.

But I do need to mention that the challenge of Feustel’s photobook is that it is written entirely in French, and I don’t read or write a lick of French. So this could be fun!

Best regards, Doug

July 23, 2010

John Bartelstone – The Brooklyn Navy Yard

Copyright John Bartelstone 2009 courtesy powerHouse Books

The area known as The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a massive 300 acres located on the waterfront adjacent to New York City. The U.S. Navy acquired the first property in 1801, constructing the first dry dock in 1851 and eventually decommissioning the site in 1966. This property was subsequently acquired by New York City for commercial redevelopment. During the 150 years of U.S. Naval operation, the working population swelled to 70,000 during the height of World War II in the 1940’s. In the 1950’s, the construction of many of the Navy’s aircraft super-carriers was completed here. The Brooklyn Navy Yard has a storied history and is associated with the construction, commissioning and repair of a vast number of the Navy’s ships, which subsequently sailed on to military duty and eventual history. Although the site is actively involved in a rebirth of commercial activity, it was the historical Navy infrastructure that became the subject of John Bartelstone’s The Brooklyn Navy Yard.

This is the place where Bartelstone is investigating and where much of the antiquated equipment, facilities, structures and infrastructure appears idle, rusting, corroding, and falling down from lack of care and maintenance. Nevertheless, there is still a vibrant private ship repair business that has found a way to maintain and keep the dry docks operational in spite of their seeming obsolescence.

While prowling the Brooklyn Navy Yard over a number of years, Bartelstone was capturing images of impermanence, change, and memory, as symbolized by the decaying and deteriorating infrastructure of the this expansive location. During the process of completing this project, Bartelstone states that he witnessed the continued destruction or removal of equipment and structures. These photographs become documents of ghosts, some seemly visible, while others are gone with only the slightest spirit still remaining.

The photographs are haunting and filled with old memories, a bittersweet narrative about a place whose time has come and gone by. From the appearances of the large and outdated industrial equipment and facilities, it appears that at some point in the early 1960’s the facility was deemed to be too antiquated, difficult to maintain with obsolete equipment and inability to find repair components. More than likely the size of the dry docks were inadequate to handle the larger military vessels or the infrastructure too dated for the more sophisticated electronics that required support. The entire site became obsolete and appears to be abandoned in place, but not necessarily frozen in time, as nature relentless reclaims it’s own. The shell of these structures would seem to stand the test of time, but show evidence of withering in the sun, rain, snow and ice. In the abandoned operational offices and former living quarters, the decaying structures appear similar to the abandoned farms in the Western prairies documented by Eugene Richards in his photo book The Blue Room.

This site also seems to be a shout out about industrial design, where form follows function. Equipment was placed precisely for its intended use, the piping and electrical connections are efficiently routed and in the process, provide very clean and esthetic lines. Everything about the BNY facilities, equipment and infrastructure are overwhelming in scale, dwarfing the individuals who work here. A relative sense of size and scale is provided by the photograph below, where one of the dry docks seems to easily handle two freighter ships and the individuals working on the ground are dwarfed by the vessel’s hulls. When the workers are placed into a contextual scale to the vessels that they are working on, they appear to look like small insects crawling about the place, up and over the varied surfaces.

Investigating this site with a large format camera in a black and white medium using a documentary style, I sense that Bartelstone’s photographs are somewhere in a gray area between modern aesthetics and contemporary realism. The composition, lighting, framing, balance and full range tonalities of Bartelstone’s photographs have their roots in an earlier modern period, but yet these straight forward photographs appear objective without having a judgmental or romantic sentimentality.

The photobook has a classical design with each interior photograph framed with a narrow white margin, one photograph per page. The nice printing of this photobook really showcases these aesthetically composed photographs.

By Douglas Stockdale

July 20, 2010

Catherine Ledner – Glamour Dogs

Catherine Ledner – Glamour Dogs 2009 courtesy Chronicle Books

I had been anticipating Catherine Ledner’s latest photobook Glamour Dogs after having a glimpse of her earlier exhibition photographs of wild animals. For this photobook, Glamour Dogs, her subject is a large group of dog breeds using a similar stylistic portrait formula as her earlier wild animal photographs.

Ledner’s canine subjects are being provided with either a unique posing device or they occupy a central place on the floor. Each dog is framed by a unique wall paper that has been paired with the animal to complement some aspect of her subject. The lighting, focus and use of color are all provide with a similar treatment for each photograph. Her subjects are usually centered in the frame, with some of the dogs providing direct eye contact with the lens, others focused just off-center or preoccupied with something else, perhaps the animal’s trainer or owner.

What I found interesting in Ledner’s earlier photographs was the odd mix of a wild animal in a very domestic appearing context, appearing to pose inside of a home, as symbolized by an interesting background wall paper motif. The feeling of strangeness is very much missing in these photographs, as these beautifully manicured dogs look everything like a pet that would be pampered in these domesticated settings.

Ledner does have a sly sense of humor in some of her selections of props and posing of the dogs, just enough to be a wink and a node, without an over the top and in your face slapstick visual pun. Although there are no puppies hanging by their paws on a clothes line, she does come close.

It appears to me that Ledner has found a formula that is developing into a nice commercial niche and a trademark style but regretfully at the expense of becoming slick and repetitious boring. In an attempt to be open-minded and provide a contrarian viewpoint; the art world has been replete with artists who once found something of a narrow interest, (e.g. repetitively painting the same tea-pot) that they continued to work it almost seemly to death. I just do not sense that type of creative investigation in this body of work

This photobook will appeal to the canine aficionados who will take delight in the varied character studies.

By Douglas Stockdale

July 18, 2010

Harvey Benge – Against Forgetting

copyright Harvey Benge 2010 courtesy the artist

Memory is a very tricky thing. Sometimes it just seems that the things that you want to forget are somehow stuck between your eyebrows regardless of what you attempt to do to forget them. Other times, there are those memories you cherish and never want to lose, and the more you attempt to hold on to them, it seems the more transit they become.  This is the subject that Havey Benge is investigating in his recent DIY photobook, Against Forgetting.

Our brains are utterly fascinating as the suck up all of our life experiences and tuck them all away in our bio-memory cells. Over time, we have trouble finding them in that big soft gray mass between our ears, but on occasion, something triggers them to shout out, we are still here! That emotion trigger can be a smell, a touch, or a sound but for a lot of us, that trigger is a photograph. This is not lost on Kodak, Fuji, Canon and Nikon to name but a few, as millions and millions in cash has been spent on the attempt to capture a precious moment for prosperity.

Benge’s photobook is a record of personal memories, very autobiographical but embodied with symbolism about memories, as well as a narrative about change, loss, grief, pain, celebration and life. When attempting to recall the past, sometime the flood waters of memory can also carry with it some debris, that memories can be delightful or saddening or both, bittersweet.

Benge utilizes a wonderful narrative device; the past is represented with black and white photographs, while the current “reality” is in glorious Technicolor. Perhaps in reality, there were only a few events photographed in color due to the additional expense and color prints had a notorious habit of fading over time. Nevertheless, it is an effective tool in Benge’s hands.

The category of bittersweet is the feeling that I take away from Benge’s photographic story. I sense the naivety of youth and enjoying the moment, not knowing about the complexities of the world. The house he lives in probably seems huge, the yard expansive and the neighborhood a delight to play in and the parents are there forever and probably taken for granted. The black and white photograph of a young couple, as if photographed from a child’s perspective, are immortalized with dark hair, easy smiles, standing tall, and timeless. They do not show the ravages of time.

We are provided with the compare and contrast of the house that Benge’s father build in the 1940’s, in the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The boxy house is blurred in the black and white photograph, as indistinct and out of focus as all of the memories that are shrouded around it. The memories are not as sharp and delineated as the original experience that occurred in the moment. Yes the photograph does capture the outline of the house, the placement of the bushes and the flow of the front walk. But hazy and indistinct, similar to the blurry photograph of the house, are the faded memories of the sounds and noises, the smell of the air, the feel of the breeze or heat and humidity.

A photograph is a two-dimensional object, but we hope that this object triggers all of the other tactile memories as well.

By Douglas Stockdale

July 17, 2010

Gauthier Sibillat – Strasbourg, Fin de Ville, Paysages Ordinaires

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 6:24 pm

Copyright Gautheir Sibillat, courtesy Poursuite Editions

In its earliest conception, a book was an assembly of sheets, usually in a packet, folder or other device that could hold them together. Subsequently the practice of publishing a book was to bind the sheets together to improve storage conditions, maintain an orderly progression of the pages and provide coherence. A year ago, Lay Flat’s first book harkened back to the days of loose individual sheets which were assembled together and now likewise the photobook of Gauthier Sibillat, Strasbourg, Fin de Ville, Paysages Ordinaries (Strasbourg, End of the City, Ordinary Landscapes) is individual sheets gathered within a poly sleeve.

In his photobook, I am not sure if Sibillat appears to be investigating what constitutes the “end of a city” or a providing a subtle criticism of the endless growth of cities. I think that I can argue both which adds an interesting complexity to his twelve color landscape photographs.

The end of a city perhaps can be a boundary, between what is the city and what is not, artificial such as a fence, wall, road or naturally occurring such as a river, ocean, or mountain side. Many times the boundary is very artificial, a line drawn on a map of which some coordinates have been established. When the boundaries are artificial, the city boundary may be difficult to identify, perhaps gradually the spacing between buildings and structure gradually widening until and while walking I might suddenly realize, I must not be in the city any longer. In Southern California where I live, I can move from one city into another without realizing that I have made the transition, as the suburban cities are mashed up against each other in one continuous flow of streets, houses and roads, almost without end. There are few if any naturally occurring boundaries that would delineate a city where I live.

Likewise, it is difficult to observe what could be Strasbourg’s “boundaries” in Sibillat’s photographs. He uses a documentary style to photograph structures situated in a mix of urban and rural location that are in vary states of development. As if the end of the city seems to be slowly moving and expanding based on some perceived needs or someone’s economic interests. He appears to be investigating the slow expansion of a city’s boundary as defined by the location of these new structures and that the new structures are now pushing the city’s edge.

There is a stylistic design element that is consistent within Sibillat’s photographs. Each of the photographs has a detailed foreground of earthly terrain, with structures occupying the middle ground and above all filling in the top of the frame is the sky.

The earthen foreground is the raw land in various states of development. In one photograph, wild weeds and a barren tree seem to be waiting for the bulldozers blade, with a new structure sitting ominously in the middle ground foretelling of the pending urban development. In one photograph the ground has been completely covered with concrete, symbolizing an attempt to keep the earth subservient to mankind’s needs and control. In many of Sibillat’s photographs the details of the earthy foreground predominate over the structures in the middle ground, which are photographed in a manner to make the structures appear smaller, as to reduce the structures importance as compared to the terrain.

The middle ground of Sibillat’s photographs is occupied by either a building, house or looming structures that are in a state of flux between just complete or in the various stages of development. The structures seem to be imbued with a feeling of pathos, they do not appear to be enlightening, upbeat or happy places. The structures denote the presence of mankind, but there are not any people included within the photographs. Hence the photographs leave me with a feeling that there is no life in these sterile places. These landscape scenes are serene but appear lonely and sad.

Finally there is the sky, either blue and clear, clouded and overcast or obscured by an almost tangible dense fog. Mankind’s structures attempt to dominate the earth, but the sky prevails above all, symbolizing that mankind might be attempted to dominate nature, but in the end, nature will prevail.

The loose prints allow you to curate the book and determine which sequence that they will be experienced, or individually framed or with a little handiwork, complied into a post card format to be shared with someone who is at a distance.

The photographs are lithographic printed card stock, varnished, captions on the reverse, assembled in a printed poly sleeve, accompanied by an index card printed with the introduction in French by Sibillat printed on the opposite side. An English excerpt from the introduction is provided by on a separate sheet.

by Douglas Stockdale

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