The PhotoBook

January 23, 2014

Matej Sitar – America My Way; collector’s edition

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copyright Matej Sitar 2013 self-published by Sitar’s imprint The Angry Bat

When developing a photobook, there are always many decisions to make and one of those to consider is whether to create a limited edition photobook. Some photobooks, such as an artist photobook, are handmade in a very limited quantity. The downside to publishing only an artist photobook is that the small quantity does not allow many, if any, to be available to book reviews, bloggers and magazines. Thus a great many photographers who like the concept of a limited edition book will consider how to develop such a photobook in conjunction with the publication of their general (trade) photobook. The limited edition book may be lurking in the background while the photographer gauges the reception to the trade book or he/she may concurrently release a limited edition version on faith & trust with the trade photobook.

Matej Sitar published both a trade book for America, My Way, reviewed here, as well as a limited edition collector’s edition at the end of 2012, which I would like to discuss today.

The major changes to the collector’s edition is the linen covered solid box case (hinged clam shell with interior pocket) in lieu of the folded stiff-board cover of the trade photobook and the inclusion of an original SX-70 Polaroid print from this project.

The hinged clam shell is a classic design with a slight twist, one interior side is open and the three stiff-covered books slide into an interior pocket. The design retains the interior books while providing easy access for the reader. A really slick & well executed book design by 3ideje, d.o.o.

The SX-70 Polaroid photograph is held in place with classic corner stays, in this case made with the same linen material as those to wrap the clam shell boards. A subtle detail is that each clam shell outer cover has a laser printed image of the corresponding interior Polaroid print. The collector’s edition is limited to the number of SX-70 Polaroid prints, which is an edition of 39, while each book is virtually a 1/1 due to the uniqueness of the SX-70 Polaroid.

All in all, this makes for a very nice presentation. recommended.

The complete review of the trade edition of Sitar’s America,My Way, which includes the interior photographs, can be found here.

Sitar’s America, My Way was selected as one of my interesting photobooks for 2013 with my full selection here.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 17, 2014

Brassaii – Paris Nocturne

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Copyright the estate of Brassaii, 2013 published by Thanes & Hudson Ltd London

As a photobook collector as well as a photographer, I am drawn to certain photobooks. Perhaps it’s the subject, such that photographs that investigated the built landscapes, although in this case with Brassaii’s nocturne photographs, predominantly created in the 1930’s (and the majority on glass plates no less), is an interesting combination of a well-known body of work for a couple of photobooks that I do not have in conjunction with a photographic process that bedeviled me for years, night time photography. This is not a how-to photographic book although providing technical background on Brassaii’s technique is provided sparingly. The main focus of this book is on his body of work in context with this time period of Paris in the 1930′s.

Brassaii/Brassai/ Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula (Julius) Halasz, a Hungarian photographer, in which he frequently signed his pseudonym name with one “i” at the end of his name, but with a two dotes on top (Brassaï), more of what we might today think of a stylistic logo. As a result, since the double dotted “i” is not a common font, his name is usually spelled out as Brassaii or sometimes truncated to Brassai. This is an investigation of the three photobooks that created Brassii’s photographic reputation, which is where my interest lay in reviewing this book.

Brassaii’s first photobook was Paris de nuit (Paris After Dark) published to grain acclaim, an instant “hit”, which was published in 1932. His second photobook Voluptes de Paris (Pleasures of Paris) published in 1935 was to receive much less acclaim and Brassaii was to later drop this book title from his resume. This book provides some insights as to why Brassaii might not have been thrilled with the second book publication. Brassaii’s third Paris photobook that placed him and his nighttime photographs firmly on the photographic map was Le Paris secret des annes 30 (The Secret Paris of the 30’s) published in 1976.

For me, this book, part biography, part photobook, is a mission accomplished to further appreciate this fascinating part of Brassaii’s oeuvre and further understand his relationship with the Paris Surrealism movement in the 30′s.

This dense hardcover book is edited as well as providing essays by Sylvie Aubenas and Quentin Bajac. The book also includes a bibliography, captions, notated references and profuse notes and appears very well researched.  I am reviewing the English edition of this title. The original first edition of Brassaii – Paris Nocturne is copyright 2012 by editions Gallimard, Paris. The book is very nicely printed and bound in Spain by T.F. Graficas as the very deep blacks of the plates provide what appears as great reproductions of Brassaii’s night time photographs. Overall, very well done.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 9, 2014

10 x 10 American Photobooks exhibition catalog

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copyright the various photographers & writers, 2013, Published by 10 x 10 American Photobooks & bookdummypress

Exhibition and catalog was also in association with the International Center of Photography Library, Photobook Facebook Group & Tokyo Institute of Photography

This is an exhibition catalog for a photobook exhibition that was organized by Matthew Carson, Russet Lederman & Olga Yatskevich and who edited this catalog as a part of 10 x 10 Photobook Projects.

The catalog is a compilation of essays by 17 photobook writers, features the photobooks that were included in the reading rooms at three exhibition locations as provided by 10 contemporary photobook luminaries, the on-line photobook selection by 10 American contemporary photobook luminaries (including mine, thus revealing that I might have a slight bias towards this catalog), and an insert with the American photobook selection by 10 Japanese contemporary photobook luminaries.

There are 100 photobooks included in the reading room, in which the physical book could be picked-up and read. There are 100 photobooks that were included in the virtual on-line by the American photobook bloggers as well as another 100 photobooks by the on-line Japanese photobook bloggers.

This is the second 10 x 10 Photobook projects exhibition and reading room while the previous 2012 project did not have an exhibition catalog published.

In choosing the photobooks for inclusion in the 2013 American Photobooks, we as curators were provided the following guidance; books should be made by (US) Americans, published between 1987 and the present and perhaps photobooks that have been “under the radar”.

The stiff-cover catalog has an added element with the use of three elastic bands in the symbolic colors of the American flag, red, white and blue to bind the insert booklet to the catalog. The main catalog is saddle stitched as is the smaller interior insert containing the American photobook selection by 10 Japanese contemporary photobook writers. A belly band wraps the outer book cover. The text for the entire catalog is provided in both English and Japanese. The catalog was designed by Victor Sira and Shiori Kawasaki, with the printing and binding occurring in Iceland with the Newsprint insert printed and bound in New York and designed by Tuomas Korpijaakko and Pierre Le Hors.

All in all, the 10 x 10 American Photobooks exhibition and subsequent catalog was a huge effort that resulted in an excellent series of exhibitions and I am honored to be amongst those participating.

This catalog was included in my selection of Interesting photobooks for 2013, which you can view my entire selection here. My selection of 10 x10 American Photobooks can be found here.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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Leon Kirchlechner – Nowhere

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copyright Leon Kirchlechner 2013 published jointly by Der Grief & dienacht Publishing

Nowhere is an intriguing collection of tightly framed landscape photographs. The location(s) of these landscapes is ambiguous and undefined, thus they are of an unknown place, essentially nowhere. In a number of photographs, Kirchlechner captures a translucent object that is suspended within the frame, which appears to be a whiff of smoke or a light mist. A few of the landscapes include elements that are similar in appearance to this mysterious vapor. The source of the vapor is not defined, but interrelated to the landscape photographs of burnt vegetation, charred ruins and other burnt objects.

I am particularly drawn to Kirchlechner’s photographs containing the faint hints of smoke that are interspersed and woven with the photographs of dark and foreboding interiors or the landscapes of scattered debris. It suggests aspects of memory, being difficult to comprehend, leaving only a faint, fleeting impression while of little substance. These ambiguous images are unsettlingly; seemingly fragile with ominous and dark undertones.

Kirchlechner provides subtle tantalizing clues within the frame, but yet keeps the images ambiguous, which causes me to feel the need to look deeper and scrutinize the few details offered.

The book is an Enigma.

The case bound photobook is designed, printed and bound in a classical style, with a tipped-in image on the cloth cover. As an interesting twist, there are two title pages, with the top leaf torn in half through the text, hinting at violence as well as something that might not be complete. The book does not include any additional clues for the reader, as it is without a text, pagination or captions for the plates.

I had selected this book by Leon Kirchlechner as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2013, and you can see my entire selection here.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 5, 2014

Max Sher – A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz

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Copyright Max Sher 2013 published by Treemedia

A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz (English translation of the Russian title) is Sher’s first book and an investigation of memory and personal experiences; concurrently evokes mystery and nostalgia. A delightful semi-fictional story based on appropriating vernacular photographs that narrate a poignant story of Sher’s making, set in Russia in the 1960’s, 70’s into the 80’s.

I also need to declare up front that this book interests me from my personal interest in creating artist books that explore similar ideas and concepts using found photographs to create semi-fictional stories. Thus this book resonates with me on many levels.

In the Foreword, a poignant quote from Walter Benjamin “The true picture of the past whizzes by. Only as a picture, which flashes its final farewell in the moment of its recognizability, is the past to be held fast.”

Sher’s photobook has two parts, first the found photographs sequenced to narrate a group’s journey in which the authorship is suspected but not entirely known. Interspersed in the first group of photographs are found text extracted from letters that were amongst the photographic archive. Sher has curated a mashup of lyrical landscape, snapshot portraits, obvious mugging for the camera lens, and vernacular documentary moments. This is a personal snapshot story of Russia from the perspective of group who had the affluence of the upper middle class.

The later chapter is an investigation in a lyrical documentary style of the place in which these photographs were found.

The quality of the found 35mm color slides are symbolically a bit off, reflecting what could be obtained in the Russian economy of the 1960’s and 70’s.  The colors, like the memories, now fading with the passing time. These photographs are imbued with a dense layer of nostalgia and lost memories. Although the subjects appear to be experiencing relatively happy moments that my knowing that those who created the photographs have passed on, creates a melancholy read. In conjunction with Sher’s documentary of the vacant and empty place, this is also a story about mortality and what we leave behind.

At the transition between the found photographs and his documentary style photographs of the place where these photographs were found, Sher states “An analogy with archeology suggests itself here; you find some evidence and create a tentative representation of people and their lives – or rather, of their live’s external features. Using what remained of personal items of everyday routine, we could ascertain the person’s social standings but could not find their names, thoughts, preferences; neither could we guess whom they had loved. We could only imagine that.”

The book has a case bound binding which regretfully does not allow the interior contents a lay-flat read. Nevertheless, the interior plates have ample margins, thus none of the images have any content lost in the gutter. The text is provided in both Russian and English. The book cover and spine is embossed with the title and as a twist, a tipped-in image is applied to the back cover. The translucent belly band provides the book title in English. The page paper has slight warmth in color, similar to faded yellowed paper, adding a metaphoric background layer to this melancholic narrative.

I selected Sher’s photobook as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2013.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 2, 2014

MoPA – Staking Claim: A California Invitational

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Copyright 2013 various artists published by Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA

A brief shout-out about a contemporary exhibition catalog that was released by MoPA (Museum of Photographic Arts) earlier (Fall, 2013) this year concurrent with its second exhibition of it’s trennial series of the same name. Of additional interest to me were the fellow Left Coast (California) photographers represented in the exhibition.

The catalog is litho printed with a raw exposed spine. It does have a Smyth sewn binding which allows it to amply open and make the plates which span the gutter to be easily read, with nothing lost inside the binding. The cover is stepped, thus the first of three interior sections is covered by the top cover, but the ensuing two sections are exposed. A interesting and not run-of-the-mill catalog book design from Connie Hwang Design (SF, CA).

I guess one potential weakness in the design is that the slight embossed front cover is a tad bit difficult to read.

Cheers!

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MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Mona_Kuhn

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Matt_Lipps

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Todd_Hido

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Susan_Burnstine

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Doug_Rickard

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_David_Maisel

MoPA-Staking_Claim-a-California-Invitational_Chris_Engman

Simon Roberts – Pierdom

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Copyright Simon Roberts 2013 published by Dewi Lewis publications

Simon Roberts really connects with his fellow British and understands the underlying psych of Great Briton. This photobook is an excellent follow on to his photobook We English and is another in his series that utilizes a large format vision to investigate the British culture.

His subjects are the many piers lining the British coast and how the built landscape can reveal some of the essence of his own society. As an Island nation one time the piers were an integral part of the economic infrastructure were essential to trade and commerce. In the current economy, their intrinsic value is greatly diminished. There is still something elusive about these large nostalgic structures that creates a symbolic connection to the sea and British history, and are now frequently a place for leisure and play.

With the passage of time many of these grand structures are now in ruins or perhaps entirely eliminated with only the traces of memory at their former sites. Roberts includes these piers as well to provide a broad look at this subject, but without taking on the aura of “disaster porn”. Roberts is not abstract and clinical in his visual investigation of his subjects and frequently introducing a human element.

As a book object, this large publication has a classic and yet contemporary appearance. The interior plates are slightly larger in size than the original 8×10” film, thus similar to reading Roberts contact prints. The smyth binding allows a lay-flat read, a real delight in studying this body of work. The paper surface is matte with the ink providing an every so light luster to provide a nice luminance to these lyrical photographs.

All of these aspects have led me to select this photobook as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2013.

Other photobooks by Simon Roberts on The PhotoBook: We English

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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December 30, 2013

Self-publishing – a matter of timing

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 6:33 pm

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Copyright Matej Sitar 2012, self-published

This last month I had an interesting exchange of emails with Matej Sitar regarding the self-publication of his photobook America, My Way that I thought I should share the underlying lesson. What actually sparked our discussion was the request from Mel at photo-eye‘s on-line magazine/photobook store for my list of top ten photobooks for 2013. While making my selection, one of those that I found really interesting, Matej Sitar’s photobook, which was acquired about mid-2013, but in checking the copyright date, it stated 2012. That should have been a quick elimination (the foundation for this little story) for a best of 2013 photobook.

Nevertheless, since I had been exchanging emails and Fb messages with Sitar for most of this year, I sent him a quick question; when exactly was his photobook published in 2012? The short answer was that in December of 2012 was when he brought all of the elements together, including the text copy stating 2012, but in fact, it was not formally published and launched until March 2013. Great! I could then place it on my 2013 interesting book list, regardless of the copyright date. Nice thing about being a photobook blogger, I am not tied to formality!

As Sitar stated during our exchanges, it did not occur to him at the time as to the potential consequences of having the 2012 date on his photobook at the time and how that might impact the end of the year “Best Photobook” list frenzy that occurs. We only need to look back to last year to see how Cristina de Middel’s Afronauts went so crazy after getting listed by so many folks that Aftronauts resulted in being considered the most popular contemporary photobook for 2012 and the subsequent mad scrabble to include de Middel into so many exhibitions and workshops. Instant stardom! So yes, the end of the year “Best Photobook” list can really make a difference in a fine art career, whether you agree with this or not, these lists have do have an impact. Sadly the corollary is that is if your photobook does not make it on any of these lists, it can have another type of impact.

So is there a rule of thumb for those who are self-publishing to consider? For a first time photobook and not represented by galleries where you can grander some exhibitions and press, it may make sense to join the Spring publication crowd (There are two big “traditional” photobook publication seasons, Spring and Fall). But Spring is a relative time, so maybe a February launch date is your “Spring”. Which means you really print and bind in November/December of the previous year, printing your copyright date on your release, not your production date.  This would allow plenty of time to get your book out to the photobook reviewers, into the stores, get some PR traction and maybe an exhibition or two to hopefully make an impact. In fact, this was the strategy that de Middel followed.

Now some books have been published in the Fall that are making the current lists (I think that there are more than 55 photobook “lists” or more). Again,  your “Fall” might be in July or August (or even earlier). I think part of the thinking about an early Fall release, somewhat like the movies released late for the Academy Award season, is that the books are still fresh in everybody’s minds and the buzzzzzz is still running strong when folks starting thinking about their list.

Just keep in mind, those reviewers/bloggers who publish their list each year, they work on their “Best Book” list the entire year, constantly evaluating new titles and content as to whether to be included on their end of year list and perhaps replace another title which is not as interesting or as great a body of work.

So when self-publishing, this is just another aspect to take into consideration along with the begillion other tasks that need to be accomplished. Best of luck!!

Cheers!

December 16, 2013

Interesting Photobooks for 2013

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I have been invited to take part in photo-eye’s annual poll by photobook commentators as to the 10 Best Books of 2013. For those who follow this blog, that fact that I am participating in this may seem a bit unusual, as I have readily admitted in the past, I do not have access to read and study every photobook that was issued during the year. Nevertheless, although I have had an opportunity to see a great many photobooks, this will still be a of a bit biased list as I will draw from those books that I have actually read or are in my collection.

My list, which is not in any particular order, may not be the “Best” photobooks of 2013, but rather I have selected some of the more interesting photobooks that I read that were published in 2013. And my list is for 11 photobooks since I could not narrow it down to just 10, as well as a new category of my own making, interesting exhibition catalogs for 2013, for which I have named two.

I have published commentaries for most of these, which I have linked up. It is my intent that to publish commentaries for the remaining photobooks shortly.

More Interesting Photobooks of 2013

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 Two Rivers, Carolyn Drake, self-published 2013

Two Rivers is a complex story and an excellent example of how a book design (by the talented Sybren Kuiper) can create an effective subtext to a photographer’s narrative. This is a compelling investigation of survival and the tribulations of the people in the region of Central Asia.

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Pierdom, Simon Roberts, Dewi Lewis, 2013

Simon Roberts seems to really connect with his fellow people and the underlying psych of Great Briton. This is another in his series that utilizes a large format vision to investigate the British culture. His subjects are the many piers lining the British coast and how the built landscape can reveal some of the essence of his own society.

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New York Arbor, Mitch Epstein , Steidl, 2013

New York Abor is a beautiful book that is classically designed and elegantly printed to showcase the lyrical black and white photographs of Mitch Espstein. The interior plates are approximate in size to the original large format film and in conjunction with the superb printing by the publisher, Steidl Verlag, the experience is breath taking, not unlike viewing large format contact prints.

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 The Burn, Jane Fulton Alt, Kehrer Verglag, 2013

In reading The Burn, I view these lyrical photographs with mixed emotions having experience the wild fires in Southern California. But for me, that is also a hallmark of a good body of work in that it can stir memories, activate the senses (I can almost smell and taste the acid, dense smoke of a wild fire), while yet be visually captivating.

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Business as Usual, Brian Griffin, Editions Bessard, 2013

Having spent an inordinate amount of time in corporate business, the small narratives that Griffith creates are hilarious and almost too funny for words. Although the photographs were from an earlier period and perhaps appear a bit over the top, they are still spot on regarding today’s office politics and the theater of business.

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Swell, Mateusz Sarello, Instytut Kultury Wizualnej, 2013

I was immediately struck by the many narrative possibilities created by Ania Nalecka’s design for Swell.  It’s ingenious and well executed book concept that metaphorically works with Sarello’s two-part visual narrative. Their collaboration has resulted in a beautifully conceived and photographed book.

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America, My Way, Matej Sitar, self-published, December 2012- released early 2013

I am intrigued by the possibilities of what others might also experience during shared events and moments. I found that Sitar’s multiple alternatives presented in America, My Way of a road trip up the American West coast to have fully tapped into my psyche.

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We Make the Path by Walking, Paul Gaffney, self-published, 2013

Reading We Make the Path by Walking just connects with me. The lyrical photographs investigate a journey and the many options and possibilities that lie beforehand, while yet enjoying the view in transit. I found Gaffney’s book to be a wonderful metaphor for the messiness of living life.

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Still, Patrick Hogan, self-published, 2012

Still is a splendid and intriguing investigation of personal relationships. 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 others on the extreme of darkness, both bordering on illegibility that beguiles me.

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Nowhere, Leon Kirchlechner, Der Grief & dienacht Publishing, 2013

Nowhere is an intriguing set of landscape photographs in which Kirchlechner has introduced a translucent object, a whiff of smoke (or whatever it is) that tugs at my imagination. This occasion vapor acts as a subconscious trigger for some distant memory that I cannot easily grasp. The ambiguous images are unsettlingly; seemingly fragile and yet have ominous undertones.

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A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz, Max Sher, Treemedia, 2013

A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz (English version of the Russian title) is an investigation of memory and personal experiences; concurrently evokes mystery and nostalgia. A delightful semi-fictional story based on appropriating vernacular photographs that narrate a poignant story of Sher’s making set in Russia during the 1960’s.

More Interesting Exhibition Catalogs for 2013

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2013 10×10 American Photobook, published by 10×10 American Photobooks, 2013.  (I need to admit my bias as I am a contributor to this exhibition and my selection is included in the catalog)

Douglas Stockdale is a photographer, author, photobook collector, blogger, independent photobook curator and founder of the this much admired blog, The Photobook. Recently he was a contributor to the 2013 10×10 American Photobooks traveling exhibition (NYC, Pittsburgh, Tokyo) and curated the photobook exhibition Work for the 2012 Fotografia Festival Internazionale in Rome, Italy. He recently release his self-published artist book Pine Lake and in 2011 Edizioni Punctum released his hardcover book Ciociaria. Stockdale’s photographs are in the permanent collection of the Museo d’Arte Contemporea di Roma (MACRO), Rome, Italy.

Update/correction; Patrick Hogan’s Still was actually published in 2012, which I acquired in 2013 and the title page is a bit obscure as the book’s copyright date. Thanks to Paul Gaffney for his assistance in tracking this publication fact down. Nevertheless,  I still think it as one of the more interesting photobooks for me in 2013.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Paul Gaffney – We Make the Paths by Walking

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Copyright Paul Gaffney 2013, self-published

Paul Gaffney investigates a regional passion that is prevalent amongst the isles of Great Briton, that of walking. Whereas the walks or foot journeys in the isles are usually of a short duration, Gaffney expanded the scope and range of his visual walking quest to 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles). Gaffney’s viewpoint is close to midpoint, essentially minimizing the visual clues as to the actual location. This teases the reader to look closer and deeper into the image. The ambiguous images are contemplative and lyrical, sometimes looking ahead or the passing viewpoint as one might walk by.

A classic, yet well visualized, allegory for the journey of life, that while in transit there lays ahead a separation to the path and one must chose one path over another. For a walker it is possible to walk one path and then return for to the other, but in the passing duration, small atmospheric and chance occasions change. Likewise, a walker does not need to remain on a given path, but create one of their own making. His book ends with a crossroads, with the path in front dissolving into the distance, where the unknown lies in wait.

Reading We Make the Path by Walking just connects with me. The lyrical photographs investigate a journey and the many options and possibilities that lie before the reader, while yet enjoying the view in transit. I found Gaffney’s book to be a wonderful metaphor for the messiness of living life.

Gaffney’s photobook is a text printed stiff cover book that resides in a printed ¾ slip cover. The slip cover design suggests an individual’s pocket, representing a place for the small guide booklets that many walkers acquire to prepare for a specific region.

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The interior book block has exposed binding due to the front endpapers is not attached to the cover. The block is affixed to the back cover by means of gluing the endpapers to the back cover and the end paper is included as a part of the last signature. The binding itself appears to be a Smyth bound and glued, which allows the book to provide a lay-flat viewing, which I enjoy. When I find a book with an exposed binding, I am intrigued as the metaphoric intent. In this case, the photographs, as well as the narrative is open ended and thus the journey is still not complete.

Gaffney complete the design and editing of this self-published book.

Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook

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