The PhotoBook Journal

February 27, 2009

Martin Schoeller – Female Bodybuilders

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:00 am


Copyright of Martin Schoeller, courtesy of Pond Press and Ace Galleries

There is no doubt that the photographs in Martin Schoeller’s book Female Bodybuilders published by Pond Press in2008 have a graphic impact. The large format color photographs are printed in a large size book, (10 3/4″ x 13)”  and there are few missing details of the women in the photographs.

This body of work resembles Schoeller’s professional portraits in which he is using the same stylistic lighting and dead-pan facial posing as evident in such subtlety as the same catch-lights in the women’s eyes. Unlike his other published portraits the camera is allowed to be drawn back a little and reveal some additional aspects of the women bodybuilders being photographed.

Stylistically this body of work is a continuation of Irving Penn’s field studies and Richard Avedon’s black & white portraits, both of which brought the large format camera and portable studio to the subject. The body of work resembles the contemporary photographs of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders XXX – 30 Porn-Star Portraits. Greenfield-Sanders series has two photographs of each person paired across the pages spread which enable the reader to come away with a little more understanding of who his subject.  I am not sure that I can say that about these women.

In this series the details of each woman’s physical features are clearly captured; the pores of their skin, the protruding veins in their muscularly developed arms, and even the evidence of the skin damage from repeated tanning to prepare for their athletic competitions. These are fascinating physical details about his subjects who have become bodybuilders.

In one regard the photographs are very captivating perhaps as a result of the studio lighting set-up which provides a documentary appearance. The light creates a soft sheen of their skin and provides an almost three dimensional relief of their muscular build. The women are formally posed straight toward his lens with the resulting side lights sculpturing their well defined shapes, mass and lines.  We are met with their direct gaze as they do not seem to flinch.  Likewise I also find the  photographic effect somewhat like a series of mug shoots as though with their toes on the line and looking in the lens in the manner of a line up.

As I move through the book I find that I am more attracted to the women’s facial features and expressions.  I am searching for something that might tell me about their emotional state while being photographed and something about them as a person; who they are beyond this potential stereotype of a female bodybuilder.

I am not aware of what the women were asked, or not asked to do, during the portrait session as their expressions are similar to Schoeller’s professional portraits as either passive or pensive. As though the photographer after setting up the portrait session was lying in wait for his particular trademark flat facial expression to appear.

There are  small biographies provided for each woman in the book and interesting how many discuss their strength and femininity.  The photographs provide hints of their femininity and seems to dwell on their inherent physical strength unlike the muscular mass and definition of their male counterparts. Their physical beauty is unlike like the more graceful muscular definitions of an Olympic swimmer or runner and perhaps more like the tight muscular build of a Olympic gymnast.

If you place your hand to block the view just below their chins I find you have a couple different set of photographs that allows you to see their feminine and individuality as expressed in their hair style, makeup and the jewelry. Perhaps that is the contradictions that Schoeller is attempting to document about these women; the potential conflict between their self perception and their developed exterior muscular contours.

Schoeller has documented a slice of a sub-culture and maybe to their own credit these women have found ways to allow their individually shine through. They have knowingly placed themselves in the limelight of subjective judging allowing other to define them within some arbitrary boundaries. They are under constant scrutiny much like any actor in a play who knows their part in a performance.

These women are not strangers to the camera lens although this temporary studio with its large format camera may have been a slight departure. I find a weariness in some of their eyes as if they are on-guard not knowing if they can trust the photographer for a good likeness to be made or to be potentially taken advantage of. Yet they know that they are again on display and many appear to take a pose to put all of their personal development work to their own best advantage by flexing their arms, shoulders and abdomens. A very interesting series of photographs.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale










February 20, 2009

Lee Friedlander – New Mexico


Photographer Lee Friedlander copyright 2008 published by Radius Books

 Lee Friedlander: New Mexico was published concurrently by Radius Books with the Friedlander exhibition at the Andrew Smith Gallery Santa Fe, NM in the Fall of 2008. Thus in one sense this book can be viewed as one heck of a great catalog.

Usually I defer to the end of the review to discuss a book’s workmanship in regard to the paper and book binding.  For this book I will make an exception in as I almost screwed up my copy from the get-go. I was mildly surprised when I opened the book for the first time to find the front end papers missing and the binding not glued or sewn to the spine. The back end papers also appeared to be missing with the page page glued to the basic cover plate. Yikes!

My initial thought was that this was a Chinese book-binding screw-up. Then as I had my bottle of book binding glue in mid-air I had second thoughts as I studied the re-seal-able poly pouch that the book came in. hmmmmm; Radius Books is pretty innovative so perhaps I should check-in first and not make assumptions (I need to get better at this).

So after a quick query to Darius Himes, co-founder of Radius Books, I received the following reply:

No, you’re not going insane. The book is a very intentional object:  no end-pages, the book block “sits” against the raw book boards, naked and exposed on the rough terrain of those boards, if you will.  The back of the book block is secured to the back board as a structural device.  This very raw object is clothed in a very elegant dust-jacket with a debossed and duo-tone printed, inlaid image.  Again, the effect is a raw object clothed with elegance (kind of like New Mexico and Santa Fe itself).  So, no, the book is not supposed to have front end-pages and the spine is not meant to be glued to anything…. you’re seeing right to the skeleton of any book.


skeleton of this book

Update: I have subsequently found out that this is type of book binding is known as Tape Binding and I have added this term to my side bar of book definitions.

So now getting into the book itself. As to the relevancy of another Friedlander book this has already been discussed by Jeffery Ladd on SB4 and the counter viewpoint by Darius Himes on his blog, DariusHimes, so I do not need to cover this again. I think that Darius’s quote by Friedlander is probably most telling;

“This is not an important body of work, so I don’t want a big pretentious monograph.”

Thus Darius sums up the books intent as ” in the sense that this work is not ground-breaking. He’s (Friedlander) not pushing the envelope, he’s not looking to re-forge a photographic identity, he’s not looking to make his name with these photographs, nor, in the end, with this book” …”to think of each of Friedlander’s books as though they are each a poem in an anthology”.

As to this body of work by Friedlander I think it is agreed that he does not break any new ground and it is a continuation of his “voice” as expressed in his particular photographic style. Much like hearing a new song on the radio and instantly recognizing the voices and melodies of one of your your favorite groups. You enjoy the current song with its new lyrics and you also are carried along with memories of their earlier recordings.

This body of work is topographical about a place and in true Friedlanderism you may not not be able to state that you know a lot more about New Mexico per se for reading the book.  The photographs do reinforce the Friedlander style both in regard to the photographic content as well as how the images are displayed on the pages.

The book has essentially two types of Friedlander photographs; in the car/urban landscape and the multifaceted and slightly destabilizing natural urban/rural landscape photographs. All of course with the trademark super-wide square format of his Hasselblad and the  blazing bright front lighting with something up close and out of focus that breaks up the resulting image. Another trademark is his shadow in the lower edges to provide that missing human element.

His work has become more mature and the initial jolts that resulted from his earlier work are no longer occurring and now with repetition his process allows you to perhaps dig a little deeper. He continues to come back to those same viewpoints and compositions which are no longer thought of as chance mistakes but as deliberate and accepted acts.

I am reminded of the quote from Frederick Sommer, another photographer of the Southwest, who stated; “It is the time you spend setting up and considering the scene that is the art of photographing; it’s really of very small consequence whether you press the button or not. “

Yet for most of us we may not push the button when we saw these same sights while Friedlander does consistently press the button for these very similar compositions.  Much like an urban landscape photographer in Southern California who is instantly drawn to a photographic compositions if palm trees are present. For Friedlander the things that draw him out is the act of photographing out the car window, compositions that contain things that can divide the image, a mess of bushes or tree limbs that can obscure the “facts”. These are now “Friedlander moments” as we pass through a parking lot or down a sidewalk to glance over a fence or come across a bizarre hedge or unable to find a clear view of landscape subject.

These are all things that we see as we move about in our daily lives but do not give enough significance to to commit to memory and experience. Until we have seen Friedlander’s photographs and the have the quick synapse of recognition. Unlike the late Aaron Siskin who had stated that for him “a photograph should be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order” Friedlander appears to be searching for the corollary disorder and a high degree of chaos.

For me the Friedlander photographs are metaphoric for the disorder and chaos that occurs in our daily lives and the things we try to shut out in favor of the better memories and experiences. Things are not always pretty but can get messy, especially if we take note of how things do grow and flourish in nature. I might step to the right or left to get an unobstructed viewpoint while I am momentarily standing in front of the pole or sign post. And his photograph did leave me uneasy and uncomfortable.

So I have tried to create and make a comfortable order in the middle of chaos photographs while Friedlander chooses to remind me again and again that we may be only momentarily fooling ourselves.

The order and sequencing of the photographs within the book create a nice  visual flow with related photographs on facing pages that provide that additional viewpoint of a Friedlander moment. The hardcover book with dust jacket is 11 1/4″ x 12″ and allows plenty of space to display his photographs. There is a narrow white margin of approximately 1/2″ around each square photograph, with no bleeds or two page spreads of the same image, thus nothing is lost in the gutters. There are 45 duotone photographs within the 80 pages with a Forward by Andrew Smith and an essay by Emily Ballew Neff. A very pleasing design by the team of  Skolkin+Chickey, two of the Radius Books principals.

A limited edition of 200 books with slip covers is also available.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook















February 6, 2009

Virginia Beahan – Cuba

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 6:07 am


Photographer Virginia Beahan copyright 2009, courtesy of Pond PressJoseph Bellows Gallery

Virginia Beahan’s new book Cuba, Singing with Bright TearsPond Press became available in April 2009 is a big breathtakingly beautiful book that takes full advantage of Beahan’s large format photographs.

Her landscapes photographs are a delight to read with a tonal palette that reminds me of the seminal Joel Meyerowitz’s Cape Light photographsThe hard cover book is 12 3/4″ x 11 1/4″ yeilding pages that are 12 1/2″ x 11″ with plenty of real estate for the images. All of the photographs are surrounded by a classic white margin which is a nice design by Kay Homans. When a photograph requires a two page spread there is nothing lost in the gutter as the images on facing spread each continues with the white margins. In the one case of a three page gate-fold spread all three images retain their white margins which creates an impressive spread of photographs as it opens before you to see the full effect of this transfixing photograph of a bay.

The series also takes on a documentary feel especially the first section with her captions placing the photograph’s into a contextual relationship to Castro’s control and the current economics. We also see the irony of what Castro had hoped to create versus the almost poverty level subsistence that his people now maintain. It is also evident that her subject’s lives are lived with a somewhat quiet respect and dignity to make the most of what they do have.

I also enjoy Beahan’s wry humor about the Cuba society which is taught to fear the potential next invasion from the “imperialist” USA and yet a run down ball field is ready to report the progress of the ball game with a mix of American and Spanish text. As a ball player when you are Out, there is really only way to state that with the proper baseball authority, eh?

The current state of Cuban under Castro is shown with empathay by Beahan providing a balanced and sensitive view point. Cuba has become a very third world country as its economic security with the former USSR is now a thing of the past. All of this may change again with a corresponding leadership change. If Cuba is allowed to have a huge tourist flux from the United States then this landscape will morph rapidly again by the resulting tourism infrastructure investments.

She captures the colorful Caribbean residences and businesses facades that make up the Cuban urban landscape using that wonderful sun drenched light. I have had the pleasure to work and play on the islands surrounding Cuba and each with their own particular landscape that reflects their respective culture.  Thus I can almost feel the humidity rising off the pages and smell the heavy fragrances of the Caribbean.  These photographs resonant with memories within me.

One single image can not really define a culture but only provides a snap shot or visual “sound” bite. Beahan seeks to go well beyond that with this series of photographs. I have a strong sense of what is Cuba as a result of the accumulation of her landscape images. To go beyond the facades and to patiently observe all the while she is being obviously seen. There is a small dance taking place between the Beahan and those who are in the landscape before her camera.

As a result of her large photographic camera she does move slowly and while looking at the surface topology finds hints of the underlying subtlety that define the Cuban culture. She does not capture the full essence of the island, which would not possible with her photographic tools and techniques, but she does capture a slice of that essence very well.

The hardcover book with dust cover has 162 pages with 97 color photographs and essays by John Lee Anderson and Pico Iyer. Although I have not been to Cuba I now feel more of connection than I had before reading this book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale





La Socapa From Club Nautica, Santiago de Cuba, 2004


February 3, 2009

Humble Arts – Collectors Guide to Emerging Art Photography

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:35 am


 Humble Arts has published at the end of 2008 an informative softcover publication, Collectors Guide to Emerging Art Photography. This is by no means inclusive of all of the emerging fine art photographers, but it does provide an interesting selection of many photographers who are starting to create a presence.

This 10 1/4 x 13″ softcover, 180 page book does provide a brief glimpse of each of the 163 photographers selected by the curators of this special edition book, Alana Celii, Jon Feinstein & Grant Willing. What I like about this large size book is the ample amount of room that allows the photographs to be seen and more critically reviewed on the wonderful printed luster pages. What I don’t like about this large book is knowing where to put it, although resting on its spine, I can get it pretty much out of traffic.

Like wise, one photograph per photographer is enough only to just tease the appetite, but that may be the point, eh? I did find that it did take only one photograph to provide enough information to determine who were the social exterior (landscape) photographers from those who provide the intimate people photographs, and those who subtly manipulated the two dimensional “reality” to those who created completely new realities. And those who did not fit nicely in pre-defined categories, which was nice.

The selection as noted above, was very broad and nicely balanced, although there were a minimum of heavily manipulated alternate reality photographs. Some of the names may even seem a bit familiar to be classified as “emerging” part, such as Amy Stein, to the very unknown or some in between such as Liz Kuball. Also interesting that the book’s curatorsthought enough of themselves to jury each other into the book, which question’s some of the books objectivity.  Nevertheless, I appreciate the international representation within the book, looking beyond the US borders, although there is a heavy US presence in the book.

A nice reference book, as it may help with linking a briefly seen image while cruizing the web with a name. And it always seems that those brief glimpses create memories that be-devil you later, as just who was that photographer?

 Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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