The PhotoBook

January 23, 2014

Matej Sitar – America My Way; collector’s edition


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


January 17, 2014

Brassaii – Paris Nocturne

Brassaii- Paris-Nocturne_cover

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


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








Leon Kirchlechner – Nowhere


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







January 5, 2014

Max Sher – A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz


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







January 2, 2014

MoPA – Staking Claim: A California Invitational


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.










Simon Roberts – Pierdom


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









December 16, 2013

Paul Gaffney – We Make the Paths by Walking


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.


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








December 4, 2013

Mateusz Sarello – Swell


Copyright Mateusz Sarello 2013 published by Instytut Kultury Wizualnej

After receiving Mateuszu Sarello’s photobook Swell, I was immediately struck by the many possibilities being offered up by his book’s ingenious and well executed design that metaphorically works with Sarello’s photographic. This has resulted in a beautifully conceived and photographed book.

Very simply, his is a story in two parts. First is a past event, a visit to the Baltic Sea with a lover and a relationship lost.  That in turn has led to the circumstances for the second situation, a revisit to the same sea as a personal therapeutic journey. And correspondingly, the book has two distinct parts, incorporating the two bodies of work in two unique page blocks. Each page block is attached via the end papers to a book cover panel.

The two interior page blocks have exposed spines that infer rawness to the book and to his story; that Sarello is leaving himself likewise emotionally exposed to the reader. That the spines are left unfinished implies that this is a story still in the making, that relationships can be incomplete and there is more yet to come. That the page blocks are attached to the cover panels by a single sheet of the end paper hints at the underlying fragility of his story and that this book, hence the story, should be handled with care.

The book has an amble spine that allows it to lay flat and visually separate the two page blocks. It is easy for the reader to quickly comprehend that there are two distinct segments to his narrative.

The velum page that is bound to the top of the second block is a subtle touch, connoting a separation, while providing a veiled glimpse at what is to follow. It reads as a soft transition, not an abrupt change and hinting at a continuation, yet letting the reader know that something has change and is now in some way different.

The hardcover book has embossed covers and spine (subtle text to read on the black linen cover), with the text in English (produced in Warsaw, Poland) and book design by Ania Nalecka. The text is provided by Kuba Rubaj and from the diary of Mateusz Sarello.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook








November 24, 2013

Carolyn Drake – Two Rivers


Copyright Carolyn Drake 2013 self-published

Carolyn Drake has self-published a very interesting book this year, titled Two Rivers. This excellent and creative book has garnered a number of insightful reviews that discuss this body of work much better than I, so I am going to defer to others as to how this book came to be and her photographic oeuvres. The links are provided below.

As this book is crazy good, I am instead gong to discuss this book as an object, such as the design, sequencing, printing, etc. While trying to sort out the various aspects these past months, I have been fortunate to trade a series of emails with Drake about the making of her first book. Yes, her first book, but what a book!

As self-published photobooks go, Drake makes no bones about this being a collaborative effort between her book designer, Sybren (aka Syb or –SYB-) Kuiper, who is located in the Netherlands as well as a lot of input from various photographers, editors and friends. She is no stranger to collaboration; for the five year of photographing this project her success depended on her relationships and collaborations with guides, locals and others to assist in gaining access to or communicating with her subjects in Central Asia.

From my emails with Drake and reading her interviews about making the book, it is apparent that there are some specific conceptual aspects that she wanted to incorporate, but she was really open to other ideas and suggestions. As the photography of the body of work was ending, Drake found that she was get blocked into seeing a project in a specific way, bogged down with a part of the project or unable to solve how to mash certain groups of photographs cohesively together. She states that working with Kuiper provided her some needed conceptual break throughs. One example is the order of the photographs, when Kuiper proposed starting the book’s sequence at where the two rivers appear to end versus where the river’s originates high in the mountains.

The very first thing that strikes the reader upon seeing Two Rivers are the short covers, they do not extend out to overlap the interior book block. There were specific metaphors in mind for this cover design; the two rivers she investigates due to man’s (government) interventions no longer reach the two lakes that these rivers have historically fed. In leaving the interior block exposed, she has also created a tension for the reader, as the block of photographs are no longer safely protected by the exterior covers. Thus metaphorically her subjects are also left exposed and are placed at risk, a subtle criticism of the governmental policies affecting those who had depended on the rivers to survive in this region.

Upon opening the covers, the reader immediately confronts a mashup and disjointed series of photographs that is further confounded by the photographic layout on the Japanese style binding.   Glenna Gordon states about the books interior “In this work, the viewer is often denied the pleasure of seeing Drake’s images completely—communicating the frustrations she felt during her working process, and allowing us a rush of delayed gratification when we finally arrive at the magical, full-bleed images of starry nights, elaborate feasts, handmade bridges, and ladies with gold teeth.”

The photographic images frequently hang precariously on the edge of the page and roll onto the following page. In a standard photobook, this layout would literally break the photographic image in two, but with the Japanese style of double fold page printing (fukuro toji), it allows readers to roll their finger between the pages to get a glimpse of the whole image. To create the double fold page, it might appear that the signature is trimmed to create a continuous concertina binding, but actually each folded page is a separate folio, held to the spine with cold glue, versus a perfect binging which uses hot glue. The opposite (inside) side of the page is unprinted.


In describing how this double folded page book came to fruition, Drake stated “The Japanese binding was Syb’s idea. When he suggested it, he just called it “Japanese binding.”  The idea was that the pages would be folded on the outside edge and images would wrap over the fold. But there are different kinds of bindings for folded pages. One thing I was very concerned about was whether the book would be able to lay flat open. I didn’t want to have images in the gutter be hard to read if they were also going to be folded over the edges of the pages. A lot of the examples you see online of Japanese binding are sewn in a way that makes it very difficult to fully open the book… I went to Arles the year we were working on it and I came across A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi. I think Cristina Middel pointed it out to me. I bought it and took it to Syb and asked him if he knew someone who could make a binding like that. He then showed it to a printer who contacted a binder in Holland who does that. They made a model for us with no images, just a couple cover options, the paper, and the binding. It was beautiful, so I decided I would commit to it. It works because of the “cold glue” and thin, uncoated paper”.

The book has a Linen hard cover with an inlaid black foil, with Japanese double folded offset printing and binding. The companion text booklet is stiffcover and a pamphlet stab binding (string). The text is provided by Elif Batuman. The text booklet is held to the back cover of the book by means of an elastic rubber band.

Review links:

Guernia Magazine, Glenna Gordon interviews Carolyn Drake

The Observer, Sean O’Hagan, Saturday 3 August 2013

Adam Bell Blog, Two Rivers by Carolyn Drake

Central Asia Standard blog

Carolyn Drake, Kickstarter

Time Lightbox, Carolyn Drake

Oh, yeah, least I forget: highly recommended.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook









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