The PhotoBook Journal

March 31, 2009

Jeremy Stigter – The Jewish Bride

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:48 pm

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Photographs copyright of Jeremy Stigter, courtesy of Nazareli Books

I have been enjoying Jeremy Stigter’s  first book The Jewish Bride, a photo play recently published by Nazareli Press at the end of 2008. Unlike my attendance at most theatrical plays there is no introduction or prologue provided.  Nor is there any text within the book to help establish a contextual framework, just the serial black and white photographs to experience.

I am left to my own imagination which in this case is a very good thing.

I really like the publishers reference to a photo-novella which is a short prose tale that is characterized by wit or satire. This book is much in line with the popular Mexican t.v. novella’s that have found their way to the United States recently with twist and turns, some subtle, some not, with hot romance, intrigue and dark secrets.

For me Stigter’s image framing is too tight for a play and more in line with a cinematic noire film.  We start with a partial framing of the set and then progress to a series of close-ups of the principal actors, then back out again, as the movement of the frame continues to lead you through a story line. There is some dark weirdness in this story.

Nevertheless it is a story that you would want to return to again and again in search of the clues you missed on the first showing. Which is much like I had to do repeatedly for the movie Sixth Sense. The dark under tone to the book is further emphasized by the black & white photographs to further establish the noire  quality to the story line.

Unlike some stories where once through is enough I find that I have a new visual story each time I read through The Jewish Bride.  I am not provided any written clues and I can freely and imaginatively supply my own dialog. And by the way I am only hinting at the ending because like the movie Sixth Sense, you miss much of the movie’s appeal by knowing the ending. Stigter’s ending is very slippery and mysterious and for me it is constantly evolving. This aspect increases my delight each time I pick up the book.

Enough to say that the book has a beginning, story line, evolves with an ending.  Similar to a good novella mystery I am left with a tantalizing what if? (or what the..?)

This is a large and beautifully printed book measuring 11 x 14″ with 58 duotone plates over 120 pages. The linen hardbound cover has a tipped-in image from the series.

By Douglas Stockdale

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March 24, 2009

Photolucida Critical Mass publications

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 7:45 pm

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One of potential opportunities of participating in Photolucida’s Critical Mass juried event is becoming published, as the top three photographers will be rewarded with a book. For the person who scores the highest, their book will be in hardcover, not softcover. All of the books are the same size of 8 1/2 x 10″, although not anotated within the books, they are printed in Hong Kong.

The 2006 Critical Mass winners books, Camille Seaman‘s The Last Iceberg, Amy Stein‘s Domesticated, and Donald Weber‘s  Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl, have just been released by Photolucida. These three books are added to the previous three titles they published from the 2005 Critical Mass.

While providing my recent book making workshop at the 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, I acquired five of the six titles, above. I will be reviewing these five titles over the next couple of months.

By Douglas Stockdale

Ann Mitchell – Austin Val Verde

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 2:57 am

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Photographer Ann Mitchell copyright 2007

I have known many of Ann Mitchell’s photographs from her 2007 Balcony Press book Austin Val Verde, Impressions of a Montecito Masterpiece, as we have shared the January-February 2008 issue of LensWork magazine together. From the start Mitchell’s photographs struck me with their introspective and quiet viewpoint about a specific place.

The photographic investigation of this Southern California estate was completed over a two year period. The book is a collaboration of her commissioned photographs with the personal recollections of Gail Jansen who is the founding Executive Director of the Austin Val Verde Foundation.  Mitchell writes about the transition of her own creative interpretation of this large estate during the progression of this project.  Her earlier work was softer with a narrower and selective viewpoint and in later photographs the “extreme detail is found in the later images“.

There is a certain quality to her earlier images that recall the elegant garden photographs of Eugene Atget.  I sense a more atmospheric essence to her earlier studies and I find them to be really wonderful. To Mitchell’s immense credit the later photographs which have the entire subject in focus are equally elegant and beautiful.

To undertake a portrait of a place that was built and subsequently developed by a series of owners and now in a transition to a public space is a task I find daunting. Much like trying to define a person and to go beyond the surface facade to try to dig deep in search of the spirit and soul.

Sometimes for her photographs it is too easy to be pulled into by the textures, lines, shapes and mass to miss the underlying structure that ties it all together. Mitchell is able to visually link the structural design that establishes the story about the individual responsible for the building and surrounding grounds. I have more of a sense of who they were even if they are no longer with us to personally tell me their own stories. In a sense Mitchell is attempting to capture latent traces of the prior owner’s spirit. Mitchell has gone well beyond just a straight documentary of the architectural facts or a scrap book of mementos.

There is a certain handling of  both light and space that is consistent though-out this body of work as Mitchell has patiently waited for the right moment for each composition. The entire body of work was created with a 4×5” camera with a Positive/Negative film that leaves a certain tattle-tale mark along the entire margin of the image. At first, I found this technical remnant a disturbing photographic attribute and later realized that this helped with establishing that this series is a body of work and should not be taken literally. The photographs are not meant to be the thing itself, but a creative record of the essence depicted.

The warm toned photographs are suggestive of a time before as Mitchell points out some of the rooms with their red walls literally scream out at you. So choosing to use a toned black and white photographic image Mitchell was able to move past the emotional colors to a suggestive inference of those who called this a home.

All in all I just enjoy the balance of shapes and forms within the photographs as the light leads me around and inside the photographs. Such as the first photograph below of the steps which leads me away; to where, I am not sure, but perhaps to a place that I will find peaceful and calm.

Another creative decision that I enjoy is the ongoing dialog that accomplices each photograph by Jensen as she shares personal antidotes about the Austins, while Mitchell shares what she is attempting to create with each photograph. The pairing of the two dialog creates another dimension to this body of work. I think that it goes beyond an informative caption as the both writings (example on the bottom two images below) are a sensitive sharing of their experiences.

Mitchell has indirectly written a wonderful book about what it takes to create a photographic series and how an artist has to individually contemplate each composition and understand what it is that they are attempting to capture. She analyze’s what is before the lens and then what it is that the she is trying capture and the emotional effect that will result. In my opinion this alone is probably worth the price of the book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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March 17, 2009

Nina Berman – Homeland

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 10:12 pm

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Photographs copyright of Nina Berman 2008 by Trolley books

I am trying to figure out why Berman’s book Homeland bothers me so. As a political and religious satire I think that it follows too close to a grueling two year presidential election here in the United States. A political book that attempts to ridicule her opposition is just not working for me at this time.

She includes a fictional narrator who provides a very slanted & opinionated viewpoint with “factual” photographs and OMG captions and then wishes that what appears “over the top”,  for “the reader to consider a different interpretation”. Yes, she has a thinly veiled political and religious agenda and it comes off as tedious & repetitious when it has the potential of being some much more.

She no doubt is a very skilled photographer as she can deftly bring into a photograph the elements that supports her point of view. In this case she has provided her expose of those who hold an opposite view point. What comes through is that those on both political/religious extremes have a similar style to their rhetoric in just a slight difference in the actual content.

I could actually enjoy many of the photographs if I could just ignore the OMG sensational captions with each photograph. Many of the photographs are either very humorous or provide viewpoints clearly seen such as the older lady getting prepared for some event wearing her gold gilded glasses above her mask. It appears that her subject is out for a senior social event and we can tell by her yellow shirt and the busy background it is something other than an afternoon tea with her friends.

It is though that Berman does not trust us to use our imagination and she has to be sure that we get the point so we get mentally clubbed over the head with some over detailed captions. These overbearing captions become one of the weakest points of the book and this body of work. Like I said perhaps this book just happens to be published too close to this last presidential election with both parties running for office providing a multitude of innuendos and slanted reporting of the “facts”.

There are three sections within the book; exploring the simulation exercises if a catastrophic event were to occur (Prepare), those who attend Mega churches (Believe) and events by the armed forces  and police units (Defend). These are photographs that reflect an investigative reportage style and appear a little too much subjective in their editing.

The book design does try to provide a solution to present larger photographs in a small book (trim size 7 1/2″ x 10 3/8″). All of the horizontal photographs in this vertical book are printed as a full two page spread which creates large 13 1/2″ x 9 1/4″ photographs. The photographs are a delight to look at as you can take note all of the nuance’s and details within the photographs.

The corresponding risk with this layout design concept is that something might get lost in the middle gutter such as in the second photograph below. You could argue that missing some of letters of the word could impact the image message but we mentally fill in the missing letter and finish the photograph’s intent. This creates a slightly different photograph than if we were to see this as a print in a gallery where everything is intact as it was meant to be seen. Due to Berman’s compositions not many of her photographs lose something in the gutter but it is a distraction when it does occur.

Nina Berman’s Homeland was published in 2008 by Trolley books and is a beautifully printed book in Italy by Grafiche Antiga with 90 color photographs and an image wrap cover over the hardbound boards.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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March 10, 2009

Paul Outerbridge Jr: Photographs

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:12 am

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Photographs are copyright of the estate of Paul Outerbridge Jr

This last month I have seen a small flurry of activity regarding the photographic body of work by Paul Outerbridge Jr. ( 1986 – 1958). Outerbridge was a eccentric contemporary and competitor of Edward Steichen, a friend of Marcel Ducamp, Man Ray and others while living in Paris and known for both his Platinum and Carbo-Color Prints. The latter better know for both the phonographic virtuoso technique and the fetish nude subject matter.

I decided to provide a quick review of my 1980 first edition of Paul Outerbridge Jr: Photographs published in hardcover with dust cover by Rizzoli, New York. I take full credit for a couple of the not-so-great copies of photographs from the book, below. Thus if Outerbridge was alive as the perfectionist that he apparently was he would have skinned me so I will have to make do with him just rolling in his grave.

This is a retrospective monograph of Outerbridge’s body of work edited by Graham Howe and G. Ray Hawkins and was the first published book about Outerbridge. Now how ever there have been a number of books produced about Outerbridge’s photographs and life.

Outerbridges photographic career can be broken into two distinct periods which the book provides a portfolio from his platinum prints dating from 1921 – 1933 and then after learning the Carbo-Color process a portfolio of prints from 1935 – 1939.

During Outerbridge’s platinum period he was very much a competitor to Steichen’s commercial photography. Apparently the aesthetic side of their photographic competition was narrowed down between photographs of cups and saucers versus eggs and the ability to make the best possible photograph of a entirely white on white subject. There were other aspects of this rivalry which to the credit of Howe and Hawkins makes for an interesting read.

Outerbridge was captivated by the cubist movement and he felt that photography was even a better medium to create cubist work, which most of his contemporaries in Paris agreed. When Outerbridge moved to Paris it appears that he and Man Ray became close friends. The book’s authors trace some of Outerbridge’s later erotic work back to Man Ray’s own private photographic studies of himself with Kiki who was Ray’s model and muse that apparently was shared with Outerbridge.

Outerbridge was an earlier innovator of the limited edition print as he usually only printed one of each of his Platinum prints and like wise later when he began printing his Carbo-Color prints. Both processes are very labor intensive printing processes with the  Carbo-Color print taking upwards of nine hours to produce.

Since the Carbo-Color printing process utilized actual ink the prints are said to be absolutely amazing in their three dimension appearance. (Thus if you are in the Los Angeles area there will be an exhibition of Outerbridge’s photographs at the Getty Museum on exhibition March 31 – August 9th, 2009).  Regretfully that amazing color or feeling is not apparent from the printing of this book.

The 160 pages of the book provides a broad but not inclusive survey of Outerbridge’s body of photographic work with a strong concentration and emphasis on his earlier Platinum work.

For the color photographs the nudity was at the time very controversial and eventually led to the declining interest in Outerbridge’s prints in the 1930’s – 1950’s these are pretty tame by today’s Internet standards. Outerbridge apparently did understand the current issues of the time with his nude studies which he created as “neo-classical” studies which were his public work.  Because of the subject matter Museums did not purchase these or allowed them to exhibited.

He also had an “interest in sexuality, eroticism, fetishism and decadence”.  The latter were privately held for himself and a small group of friends with only a very few of these included within the book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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March 9, 2009

Anne Deniau – Nicholas Le Riche

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 1:02 am

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Photographs copyright of Anne Deniau (aka Ann Ray)

Anne Deniau’s book Nicholas Le Riche, which is being published this month by Editions Gourcuff Gradenigo, France, has an interesting solution to an old dilemma.  When creating a photo-biographic body of work how do you separate the artist from their performance?

The book provides an elegant answer by showcasing the two different aspects of Le Riche as two books in one depending on which side/cover you enter.  From one side you will find either Nicholas the person who is the artist/actor/performer, or from the opposite side of the book you encounter Le Riche the fluid and graceful performer with Deniau’s beautiful interpretation of his dancing performances.

Interestingly the book is as complex as the artist. Deniau’s photographs provide us with a visual feast of Le Riche’s performances and literally on the flip side the personal photographs of the the actor and dancer. We are allowed to see behind the theater curtain during the rehearsal time of the strain and rigor of getting things “right”. Or the more personal time to meditate or practice playing the guitar while in the one of many faceless hotel roads on the road.

It is a difficult task to find the spirit of a person who resides behind the veneer of the many masks we all wear through out the day least a trained and talented actor who knows the integrity of a lens and film. It is to Deniau’s credit that she penetrates the veil as I pause during the flow of images to begin to sense who Le Riche may be beyond the facade provided for at the theater.

In actuality this book can be considered a joint collaborative project between Deniau and Le Riche.  As this series evolved over a considerable amount of time you can sense the mutual trust.  There is the hint of  vulnerability and an openness between them. Perhaps there was more of a personal dance and performance between them over time. Viewing the body of work it appears that Deniau was able to capture more of the spirit of Le Riche and she did so with grace and respect.

Deniau utilized a variety of ways to express Le Riche’s athleticism and artistic movements while he was moving through his performances. It can be difficult to illustrate with a two-dimension medium the amount of raw energy that takes place as a dancer explodes off the stage momentarily flying effortlessly suspended as though hanging by a wire then gracefully falling back to earth.

Predominately her photographs are black and white with a grittiness that results from low light conditions and film being pushed. The flow of the images is nicely paced and the occasional full bleed photographs work very well to provide that extra sense of openness especially the largeness of the stage. The pairing of the photographs also play off each other such as the photograph of Le Riche applying makeup while on the facing page we see the audience finding their places. The anticipation of the both the audience and the actor is felt in the tension between the two.

Although this is book is about a specifically about Le Riche, it is a story and an insight about all artists and especially ballet performers.  Each artist has a private life that is much different than the very public life under the lights and in front of the audience. They are real people dealing with real problems who work untold hours to fine tune their skills and craft to create the allusion of how “effortless” the abilities are while on stage. Deniau captures all of that from the down time to the rehearsals and hours of work to prepare the performance with the resulting sweat and worn out ballet slippers.

Only after a little time with Deniau’s photographs do I start to find the little things that are left in the corners of the image such as an old photograph that is tucked in the corner Le Riche’s stage mirror. These appear as a constant reminder of the past as well as what standard is to be expected and maintained in the performance that is about to take place.

The book has 354 pages with 311 black and white and 93 color photographs in a beautifully bound hardcover book with dust cover. The text is both in French and English.

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By Douglas Stockdale

Update: Anne has provided a photo, below, from the first book signing in Paris, of her, Nicolas and another friend during an amusing moment. There a web-journal has been started for the book, including subsequent photographs of Nicholas by Anne, which can be found here.

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From the signature (launching of the book) that took place on the 23rd of October 2008 in Paris at the Repetto boutique, rue de la paix.

March 2, 2009

Photography.Book.Now call for entries

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 6:34 pm

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Beth DowIn the Garden” 2008 Photography.Book.Now Grand Prize Winner

The 2009 Photography.Book.Now self-publishing book competition is now open, with more information here. The lead book juriest for this will Darius Himes, co-founder of Radius Books, who was a judge in the 2008 competition. The grand prize will be again, $25,000.00, which is probably why there were 2,000 entries in last years competition.

There are a number of important aspects of this competition, the first is the personal results of self-publishing your own work if you have not had a opportunity to complete this yet. The quality of the submission are very high, thus this competition should not be be taken too casually. There is the opportunity to participate in the shared photography book community, with the awards celebration and meet-ups that are on-going and will continue world-wide.

You will have until July 16th to complete your entry, and I wish you all the very best as you develop your book.

Regards, Douglas Stockdale

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