The PhotoBook Journal

May 31, 2010

Andrew Phelps – Not Niigata


Copyright Andrew Phelps, 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg

For my liking, Andrew Phelps’s introduction, printed on the inside book cover, places this entire photobook into an insightful context, “ But what does it mean to photograph with the pretense of documentation? I find it is easy to get caught up in chasing an illusion of what I think a place should look like: preconceptions are powerful and the quest to understand a place often leads to a greater misunderstanding. The best I can do is tell the story of my three weeks of traveling and responding visually to a place I don’t necessarily understand. It is the story of not understanding Niigata.”

 As I have the opportunity to travel extensively to international locales, this photobook, and Phelps understanding of the limitations of someone who just drops in, resonances with me. Actually, I have similar feelings when I am traveling within Southern California through the Mexican, Vietnamese and other diverse micro cultural neighborhoods that populate our region. Cultural heritage, language and customs become more pronounced when traveling through Europe and for me, even more so to Asia, where I am unable to read their graphic language. I can recall being very disoriented on my first trip into China, where I was truly a stranger in a strange land.

 Although the subject of Phelps’s photobook, Not Niigata, is about the Japanese city of Niigata, it is more about Phelps, the stranger who is in a strange land. Phelps is not Japanese, was not raised in Japan (born in the US) and currently resides with his family in Austria. Thus Phelps experiences and views Niigata unlike a person who was raised in Niigata, and who would call this home. The resulting color documentary style photographs are not Japanese in nature or spirit, but about a city seen by someone who is non-Japanese and is reacting to situations that are interesting unique to him.

 To see what Phelps has framed and extracted from Niigata is interesting, odd, strange, different, mysterious, and also with familiar nuances. Stay in a similar philosophical introspection suggested by Phelps, mine are also observations by a non-resident of Niigata who is reading this photobook in Southern California. From this body of work, his narrative introduces us to a place that is in proximity to a sea-coast and mountain range, with an urban infrastructure and adjacent rural places.

 One Phelps portrait is of a young boy, wearing sneakers, longish blue coat and what appears as a ball cap, holding a blue baseball mitt. A photograph that could be have been made in almost any city within the United States, but the background of buildings and urban setting, places this somewhere in Asia. The portrait has a slight presence of fill-in flash that creates further separation of the boy from the darker and slightly out-of-focus location background. The photograph investigates some unspoken connection and understanding between photographer and subject in a mutual interest of baseball, a popular sport in both Japan and the United States. It also alludes to an attempt at trying to understand Niigata by finding common ground.

A group photograph, below, is very mysterious and strange. It begs the questions, who are these three individuals, why are they wearing the masks and these particular colors and what are they doing in this place? It seems apparent that they know that they are being watched and photographed and appear passive about the situation, not threatening or aggressive for being masked persons. The background environmental which frames this group portrait is also mysterious, with the appearance of the sea in the far back, and the group is surrounded with an odd assortment of wires, poles, buildings and small boats.

 Phelps portrait of an older man who is sitting in water, appears beautiful and yet familiar with yet a hint of mystery. It immediately brings to mind the portraits of Mona Kuhn; the tonal range of the colors, the mysterious abstract reflective colors and shapes. The foreground and background are soft and out of focus, with a contemplative and passive person sandwiched between. The eyes of the older man are averted and the photograph appears serene and peaceful.

Another aspect of Phelps narrative is the homogenization of global societies. The differences between a city in Austria, US and Japan have become less and less pronounced. The uniqueness of a city like Niigata is dwindling. The clothing and dress of the individuals in Phelps portraits seems familiar. Global brand logos, such as Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds and Burger King, have become ubiquitousness and are found everywhere.

 Phelps also indirectly raises a question, which photographs can capture the essence of a place, that can render a social and cultural group on a two-dimensional page? We see the organization infrastructure, interior spaces, the topological constructs of faces, objects that are collected and utilized. Does the photograph explain why, how and for what purpose these objects and places exist and are utilized? The photograph can only testify that for a brief moment in time that these objects were in a place, and then the story is now ours to frame and ponder and if Phelps is correct, still not understand.

 The artist statement is in English on the front cover liner, and Japanese on the back cover liner, the color photographs are unvarnished on a nice luster paper.

by Douglas Stockdale





May 28, 2010

Fredrick H. Evans – An Aperture Monograph

Copyright Aperture, 1973

From time to time, I will be digging deep in my photobook library to retrieve photobooks that I think may be relevant. The caveat to this statement is that the photobook is relevant for what ever reasons I choose. In this case, I am reading and preparing a review of the J. Paul Getty Museum 2010 publication, The Photographs of Frederick H. Evans, and I felt that my thoughts about the earlier Aperture photobook might be a nice starting point.

In 1973 Aperture published its retrospective monograph, Frederick H. Evans. Beaumont Newhall (b 1908, d 1993) was the editor and provided the introductory essay to this photobook. Newhall trivia; MOMA’s first director of photography in 1940, then curator of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House 1948-1958, subsequently it’s Director from 1958 to 1971.

Evans was an English photographer (b. 1853, d. 1943, England) probably best known for his interpretative photographs of English and French Cathedrals. He was equally proficient photographing individuals and urban landscapes, creating well known portraits of F. Holland Day, Alvin Coburn, George Bernard Shaw (also an ardent support of Evans photographs) and Aubrey Beardsley.

A historical trivia is that Alfred Stieglitz at the turn of the century was a fan and supporter of Evan’s cathedral photographs, and both were members of the London based Linked Ring. Evans photographs and writings were published in Steiglitz’s Camera Work, starting with edition number 4 in 1904, and Evans exhibited at Steiglitz’s “291” gallery in 1906 at New York.

Interesting technical photographic trivia; Evans advocated a “straight” photographic techniques and his style laid the foundation for the practice of pre-visualization and the concepts behind the zone system. He would spend two weeks in a cathedral, studying and takes notes on the location of light, intensity of the light and potential location of the camera and with which lens set to achieve the final print he was seeking. If the lighting was not right, he would determine which time of year to return to achieve the effect he anticipated.

Evans had developed a two layer emulsion negative (double-coated plate) that with one extended exposure would capture the full range of light. The resulting negative was then coupled with a long tonal range platinum contact printing paper. He could capture detail in the shadows of the cathedral interiors without blowing out the details of the stained glass windows. In today terms, that is a true HDR situation, or at least shooting in RAW and using ALL of the Photoshop tricks to save the exposure.

Likewise, with the view camera lens of his time, with one set of lens components, you could create a wide variety of optical effects. His single seven piece lens set was probably the equivalent of our zoom lens today.

Evans was a strong advocate of the straight photograph (unaltered negative and photographic print) versus the then prevalent photographic altering practices of the “fine art” Pictorialist, such as scratching the negative or use of gum printing to create an “artistic” effect. He advocated exposures with the aperture at f/32 to capture details and great depths of field. He published an article requiring photographers to get the negative correct, everything else will follow. All of these three decades before Ansel Adams started to codified similar opinions for the f/32 group and the subsequent West Coast (USA) style of straight photography.

There is a timelessness of his cathedral photographs that remind me of Eugene Atget. Evans chose to photograph at specific times of day to minimize mankind’s presence, and capture a certain kind of illuminating light. Evans perhaps was more interested than Atget in creating an aesthetic object, the fine art photographic print. A second point of departure is that Evans seems to have been more interested in the interiors than the exteriors, but nevertheless, I found many of Evans cathedral external landscape photographs that attempt to contextualize the place to be very Atget like.

Evans strived for an aesthetic interpretation of his subjects, which was to be imbued with a sense of poetry and wonder. What probably differentiated him from others was his sensitivity to the effects of light and how that might effect his eventual composition. Even in the early 1900’s, it was remarked that many photographers were searching his tripod marks in order to create their photographs, but although they may have emulated his composition, they still did not seem to grasp the nuances of capturing the light. He was looking for aesthetic beauty, a balance of forms, shapes, textures and tonality, which would be peaceful for prolonged contemplation. Perhaps similar to the West Coast photographic style about aesthetic landscape photography still in vogue today, such as John Sexton, Clyde Butcher, Michael Levin, Michael Kenna and Josef Hoflehner

It does not take long when walking through one of old cathedrals in Europe to realize that they tend to be overly monochromatically gray. The same gray tonality of gray column adjacent to gray stone can lead to a very flat photograph. The use of sunlight to differential the levels and planes of the various surfaces could make a huge difference in reading the interior spaces, which became Evans expertise. He was also able to overcome  the deep and dark shadows, from personal observation, brilliant shafts of sunlight, usually through jewel like stained glass windows, either perched high above or massive walls of colored matrix.

In Evans time, photographs that included paths, open windows, open doors and doorways, and stairs were understood as visual tools to “lead the eye” and “pull the viewer forward”. These motifs and similar compositions now imply more metaphoric themes of time, personal journeys, memory, and history.

“Sea of Steps”, is probably one of his better known photographs of Wells Cathedral, below, and one that took a number of successive trips and studies over a series of year to final achieve what he was striving for. Evans had seen the wear on the steps when caught with the right light, as a wave of steps undulating upward to the far door. A rim light on the edge of each step emphasized the heavy uneven wear of each step, providing a ripple like appearance that appeared to move upward. It was an effective visual framing that he continued to use on other subjects, especially if stairs or steps were included.

Even though a staunch advocate of the straight print, he would create and print a softer focus or incorporate atmospheric haze in a photograph to gain a purposeful poetic and interpretative effect. It was necessary for Evans to convey an emotional quality in his photographs. His use of atmospheric haze also creates a three dimensional illusion, of depth and space within a two dimensional medium. Evans claimed that his photographs were inspired by the atmospheric and poetic painting of J.M.W. Turner. In his day, to create a topology photograph was considered an insult.

The hardcover book was published with a dust cover, although obvious in the cover image above, mine has a slight tear the in the dust cover and not so obvious, the end panel of the dust cover has been sun-faded over the years. The page stock is matte and the images are unvarnished, thus a subdued luminance. The printing color of each black and white image is a consistent natural gray.

Publishing trivia, shortly after purchasing the book, I became aware the final editing of this book did not go as well as Aperture had planned, as eight plates were mis-captioned. I did not keep the notification letter, but I did pencil the corrections in my copy. So there will probably be some confusion if some unaware person attempts to references the interior photographs based on the printed captions in this book.

Unlike the recent J Paul Getty Museum photobook on Evans, the captions in the Aperture book do not reference the photographs date of origin.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 26, 2010

Stan Gaz – Sites of Impact

Copyright Stan Gaz 2009, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Meteorites and their impact on Earth are probably not something we ponder much about, but it is the subject of Stan Gaz’s photobook, Sites of Impact; Meteorite Craters Around the World.

Meteorite craters are sites that provide physical evidence that immense celestial bodies have hurled into our terrestrial planet, creating geological history over an epoch-straddling timeline. Gaz’s photobook takes us on a historical narrative, attempting to place these earthly impacts in a chronological order, starting 900 million years ago until the “present” age, 5,000 years ago. This is also a global narrative, figuratively and literally covering a lot of ground, photographing crater remnants at locations within the United States, Australia, Namibia, Canada and South Africa.

The aerial framing of his subject is frequently from a high altitude, which aids in the comprehension of the size of the craters and to provide an external context to their location and surrounding effects. Some of the impact sites are enormous, covering as much as 75 kilometers in diameter. In doing so, at high altitude, these ancient places become memorizing graphic abstractions of organic shapes and masses of textural tones.

The desire to take flight and study the features of the terrain originated by the French photographer Nadar (Gaspard Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910) in 1858. Modern photographic studies of the landscape were photographed by William Garnett (1916-2006) in the late 1950’s into the 1980’s. Recently the contemporary study of the landscape features from an aerial perspective, like Gaz, is included in the bodies of work by Edward Burtynsky, Michael Light and David Maisel to name a few. The very elevated viewpoint provides a different and fascentating prespective that is outside our norm.

When Gaz has a grounded viewpoint, the details of the terrain do not reveal nuances that reveal the topology of the entire impact site. Eloquently described by Robert Silberman in his accompanying essay;

“Gaz’s images are poised between detachment and engagement, moving as they do between a superior view, from the air, and what we might call a grounded view, from the earth’s surface. Perhaps these dual perspectives reflect a duality in the subject matter, for the impact craters both conjure up a fascinating mystery and indicate a frightening cataclysm – a destructive event in the past that necessarily evokes more contemporary disaster, natural and man-made. Aerial views enforce detachment and distance, even as they open up a greater field of vision and create new objects of psychological attraction.”

Frequently Gaz’s photographs excludes any indication of mankind, perhaps symbolic of the massive destruction that occurred at the time of impact, eliminating all life forms. The impact of one meteor, Chicxulub 65 million years ago in Mexico, has been linked to a mass extinction event that led to the demise of 50% of all living species on earth, including dinosaurs.

The age of many of these impact sites pre-dates even the most ancient of ancient memories. How long these sites have existed can be hard to comprehend and many of the sites have been difficult to even verify their celestial heritage. Sand, water and wind have been eating at the edges and slowly filling in the vast voids for eons. These sublime photographs are indirectly about time, an event which occurred in a brief moment, but the conseuqences evolve over time, like memory itself, once clearly delineated, becomes eroded, and eventually disappearing from sight and consciousness.

Gaz’s black & white chronologic photographs appear to be documentary in style, but the tonal structure of many the photographs is altered either entirely or partially by the reversal of the tones by solarization. Gaz’s dark tonal pallet in conjunction with the frequent aerial perspectives further abstracts his subject into melancholic poems.

The photographs have a full tone range, but yet are subdued and dark, creating mystery and appear menacing. The horizon, when included, is usually a thin sliver demarkation between heaven and earth, mashed between the terrain below and the looming dark gray cloud cover. I can sense the devastation that might have occurred at the actual time of impact, much like the debris clouds we experience today from the recent volcanoes, the skies would have gone black immediately after impact.

Meteors are a cause for angst, as their impact has the capability to eliminate our existence and our only recourse is to react to the consequences. The physical evidence provides only hints to grasp the implications of their size, age and immediate devastation at the time of impact. At the conclusion, I am left with concern, awe and wonder.

This is a case-bound hard cover book, printed on luster paper with intermittent page numbering, and captions that provide longitude coordinates, location, crater’s name, size, age, condition and technical evidence of the impact. This photobook includes one gatefold triptych of Meteor Crater in Arizona. Essays are provided by Christian Koeberl and Robert Silberman and Field Notes by Stan Gaz.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 24, 2010

Fotobuch Tage – Photobook Days 2010

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 2:37 pm

I was just alerted to another PhotoBook festival, Fotobuch Tage (English: PhotoBook Days), the first of which will be held in Hamburg Germany from June 4th- 6th. Thank you Edi Weitz!

From the festival organizers: The Photobook Days 2010 are honoring the independence of photobooks by dedicating this festival to it. The lead organizer is the association Freundeskreis des Hauses der Photographie e.V.. and the initiators are the Art Historian Jasmin Seck and the Arts Manager Oliver Lähndorf. The venue is the House of Photography, Deichtorhallen Hamburg.

I do not have plans to be in Europe that weekend, but this should be another interesting event.

As I just found out about this festival, regretfully I missed annoucing the May 10th deadline for the submissions to the GetPublishedAward 2010. Nevertheless, some details about this award are here, and a chance to see the 10 shortlisted books during the event in Hamburg:

Photo artists can apply in advance  with their photo book dummy. A jury panel views all applications and will shortlist the ten best dummies which will be presented to the visitors during the Photobook Days 2010.

 The festival visitors can vote for the winner who will receive a photobook production with up to the value to € 25,000. Seltmann & Soehne is the „publishing godfather“ for the getPublished Award 2010 and is in charge of the production of the winner title. Both the winner book and the production process are going to be presented at the Photobook Days 2011. 

There are already plans for 2011, so perhaps I will be able to participate next year with a little forward planning ;- )

by Douglas

May 23, 2010

International Photobook Festival – Kassel

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 6:06 pm

One photobook festival that I recently missed, and would have enjoyed attending, was the 3rd International FotoBuch (Photobook) Festival in Kassel, Germany, that ran from May 13-16. I was in Euope on assignment outside Rome that week, but this is not like a game of horseshoes, I was not close enough!

I am trying to obtain a list of the 2009-10 recommended books for this year, but I did find the photobook recommendations for last year, 2008-09, which the entire list is here. Of the 2008-09 list, I have reviewed five of the twenty-five recommended books, which are by the photographers Eurgene Richards (The Blue Room), Bertrand Fleurer (Landmasses and Railways), Eiji Ina (Emperor of Japan), Lucas Felzmann (Waters in Between) and Ron Hornstra (second edition of 101 Billionaires – Crisis Edition).

Other photographer’s books of interest I found on the 08-09 list include Taiji Matsue, Bien-u Bae, Kristoffer Albrecht, Mark McPherson and Susan Meiselas.

I do have next year’s Festival dates on my calendar, June 1-5, and it will be still in Kassel Germany, which is located between Frankfurt and Hannover. If a potential assignment that I am developing in Berlin comes through, I may be still working close enough to Kassel to leverage a trip. nice.

Best regards, Douglas

BTW, I have subseuqently provided an update on the winners of the FotoBuch (photobook) competition, here.

May 16, 2010

Seth Fluker – Before Things Change

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 5:25 pm

Copyright Seth Fluker, 2010 self-published/ Schnauzer Publications

The actual subject for Seth Fluker’s photobook, Before Things Change, his inaugural book with his new publication house, Schnauzer Books, is a very close look at the cleanup process following commercial food preparation. He benefited by this interesting perspective as a result of his position as a kitchen porter at Whole Foods Market in London, UK.

Fluker has framed his subject very tightly, removing the external context of the kitchen and sinks, to concentrate on the colorful creations evolving before him. Probably to a degree, he is a master of his fate as the principal alchemist who decides what goes at what moment into the cauldron, and to what degree this pot is stirred.

For this project, as is with most photographers, he needs to maintain a diligent eye as to what is magically appearing before him. Maybe he is not entirely in control of the entire process per se, but I assume that from past experience he is reacting to circumstances that he has experienced before. Not unlike an artist throwing paint at canvas, understanding from past experience that how she prepares the consistency of the paint as to what splashy and drippy effects might occur.

The photographs are a playful series of contemplative abstractions, varying in color, tonality, structure of the masses with variations in the lines and shapes. I have found myself seeing faces, animals and objects as I continue to study them.  Similar to kicking back on a summer day and gazing up into a cluster of cumulus clouds, looking to see what forms the clouds might take on.

There are relative amounts of transparency and opaqueness, even within the same photograph, and for some, an effect of what appears as a glowing center region, creating an interesting illusion of depth. I have the impression that I could be looking into an abyss, onto a beach or up into a sky of stars and traces of universe, and realizing that I might be able to see the interweaving of the past, present and future and hints of the infinity that extends beyond.

Fluker also varies the duration of exposure and edges become soft and elastic. It adds a mysterious dimension to his abstractions. Some patterns have sharply delineated and others are soft mass and shapes. Slight movement of the mixture provides some movement and life within an another wise static medium.

This is an interesting photobook, but also one that is very much endangered of becoming trite and borders on cliché. The close examination of an environmental condition, much like extracting details from a deterioriated and multi-layered posters, to isolate new forms and abstract patterns has been an aesthetic practice since the abstract expressionist period in the 1950’s and 60’. Nevertheless, the careful editing by Fluker of his photographs does engender further consideration.

The book has a stiff cover with a saddle stitch binding, and this slim book includes one gate-fold page to permit one impressive size set of interior images. Printed on a glossy stock and the pre-press preparation details were paid nice attention to as the color images read really well.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 12, 2010

The Aftermath Project – Volume 2: War is Only Half the Story

Copyright the artists, 2009, courtesy The Aftermath Project

Volume two (II) of the Aftermath Project: War is Only Half the Story is a compilation of five photographic projects that deal with the consequences of violence and war. The five photographers are Kathryn Cook, Natela Grigalashvili, Tinka Dietz, Pep Bonet and Christine Fenzl. These five are from diverse geographic locations (Spain, Germany, Georgia, and the US) and photographing equally diverse geographic locations (Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Georgia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Macedonia, Croatia), but all with a common theme; photographing sites where violence and war have already occurred.

The objective of each photographer is similar, to tell a painful story with sensitivity and empathy, about what occurs after the war and violence has ceased. Three of the projects are completed in Black and White, while the other two are in color. Most are photographed in a factual appearing documentary style, with the others varying from direct, almost confrontational and appearing objective to very subtle and bordering on poetic.

Sara Terry, the founding director of this non-profit organization provides this wonderful introductory statement;  “My friend gave me a lot to think about. Her words (“I believe that what we shine a light on is what grows, and [this] work – hopefully – grows peace”) remind me of my own criticism of the media and its readiness to cover war – and its reprehensible neglect of the aftermath of conflict, of the stories of human beings struggling to learn to live again. For me, the stories of the aftermath are the stories of what it means to be human – in contrast to the stories of war, which all too often are the sad summary of what it means to be inhuman. To put my fiends words differently, I believe that what we hold up in our culture – the stories we tell ourselves – are in fact the people we become. If we shine a light on conflict, but neglect the stories of recovery and struggle, what grows?”

Kathryn Cook’s project is a story about past and yet still lingering memories of the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey in 1912.  Her use of photographs that include blurriness, indistinct and difficult to decipher subjects, multi-layered reflections and vagueness, are much like what a memory can become over time. This project has a beautiful narrative running through it.

Natela Grigalashvili’s black and white project is documenting the lives of the refugees from the separatists regions of Abkhazia and South Odessetia now living in near destitution and abject poverty in Georgia. This is an unflinching and poignant story about survival.

Tinka Dietz has spent time creating environmental portraits of the former Crotian soldiers from the 1991-1995 break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The color photographs provide a wide environmental context to these individual’s current situation. The exterior landscape is beautiful, contrasted with the troubled inner landscape of these ex-soldiers.

Pep Bonet’s project is focused on the young people rebuilding their lives in post-conflict Sierra Leona following the extremely brutal acts of the rebels. Welding machetes and handsaws, the rebels had hacked off the arms and legs of thousands of civilians, who are now attempting to rebound and rebuild their lives with dignity.

Christine Fenzl is photographing the children of conflict who are attempting to rebuild their lives, with the assistance of a non-profit organization that utilizes football (soccer) as a means to enrich and create a positive perspective for the future.

The Aftermath Project Mission:  To change the way the media covers conflict, and to broaden the public’s understanding of the true cost of war and the true price of price. We believe that while the stories of war must be told, war itself is the story of man’s inhumanity to man. The Aftermath project strives to illuminate what it means to be human, to explore specific stories with universal themes that affirm our common humanity – and also alert us to the dangers of equating the mere end of violence with sustainable peace.

There is no doubt that this photobook is a call to action, for which I can only hope that it is very successful.

This book has stiff covers, with color and black & white interior images. A detailed caption by the photographer for each photograph is included at the conclusion of their section within the book.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 10, 2010

Marco Delogu – Noir et Blanc

Copyright Marco Delogu 2008, Contrasto Books, courtesy Marco Delogu

A photobook is usually considered as a whole and greater than any of its individual parts, so it is unusually for me to find a pivotal photography in the middle of a book and decide that this is where I want to start my review. But first to establish the larger context of Marco Delogu’s Noir et Blanc, which is a fifteen year retrospective that was published concurrently with his solo exhibition in the Accademia Di Francia at the Villa Medici, Rome, Italy in 2008.

Delogu’s retrospective could be divided into two halves, before the pathway photograph and subsequently what follows after (seeing) the pathway. In 2008, Delogu took a departure from his previous body of work of intensely experienced portraits and intimate man-made landscapes. Although his subject of his interest, nature, is a departure, stylistically, he is still consistent with his past.

This singular pathway photograph has strong metaphoric and symbolic connotations, some easy to read, others a little more complex. The pathway snakes up vertically through the middle of the photograph, symbolically dividing the photographic image in half. This photograph also sits in the middle of the book, midway separating the earlier work from the newer work. There are two equal sides of the pathway; perhaps the past is on the left and the direction of the older, more mature body of work in this photobook, and the right side in the direction of the back of the book, where the new body of work is developing.

The framing of this pathway is a downward gaze, without the benefit of a horizon. It could be the study of a pathway, or as a result of this downward look, embodied with a hint of melancholy. The path and adjacent sides fill this frame; it seems obvious that this is the subject for contemplation. The focus of his lens is on the near foreground of twigs, grass and sticks which are clearly detailed. The pathway itself is slowly moving out of focus, becoming less distinct as it ebbs into the distance.

We are not sure what proceeds this place, or is located at the end of this pathway, much like an ongoing journey, we are seemingly drawn forward. You can only be sure of where you are at now in this moment and a hint of where you might be traveling to as the future slowly evolves into the past.

I am reminded of Heinz Liesbrock’s essay of Bernhard Fuchs “Roads and Paths”; “Nature as shown in the pictures is crossed by paths…they provide indirect evidence of the moments of people and human activities. But in the light of the peace of nature here they do not appear alien; rather they seem an integral art of it. They lie silent; no traffic moves on them. And they trace lines that follow the gentle, physical movement of the terrain and they are in seeming kinship with nature. And yet they remain apart.”

This path way is loosely defined, perhaps one that is not frequently traveled, either made by mankind or perhaps by a flow of animals. The trodden leaves and compacted grass, with an occasional patch of hard pack earth, still allow this pathway to be somewhat easily traced. But this is also about a journey that has not frequently made, ill-defined, vague, one that has the potential, as well as danger, that you might lose your bearing. Also a journey along a pathway that has been made before, someone or thing was here before, there is a history, a memory and a past, just not well-defined, with the implications that there is an openness to new opportunities and interpretations.

The body of photographs that precedes this natural pathway photograph is primarily portraits and related man-made structures. A fifteen year compilation of various projects by Delogu, that includes Cardinals, (Italian) immigrants, farmers portraits of the fading horse racing jockeys of Sienna, composers and horses, and ex-death row inmates. Some of these subjects come easily to a photographer who loves horse and resides in Rome.

It is evident in the earlier work that Delogu has been slowing developing a style, one that he appears to be very comfortable with. He photographs primarily with a large format camera in Black and White, frequently using Polaroid positive/negative film. His photographs are dense, with a tendency towards a slightly more contrast image that are moody and rich for interpretation.  

His framing has progressively become tighter and that by the time he completes the racing jockeys (the Assassins) project, their faces entirely fill the frame, perhaps like the portraits of Martin Schoeller. Concurrently, he has progressively decreased his field of focus to the point that it captures only a narrow slice of the subject. Information about the subject has been minimized beyond the contours of the face, with direct eye contact of the subject in an effort to capture the “gaze” of his subjects. I have the feeling that it is not that I am just looking, but really staring at a particular point with such intensity that the edges become blurry and lost.

In the accompanying essay by Tim Davis, he states “We will never tire of the infinite ways a figure can be forces into a rectangular frame, and the photographic record of human figuration will each future archaeologist more than the ruined architecture of the entire Khmer and Roman Empires. But photographic portraiture is also bottomlessly problematic. No photograph of a person, being flat, monocular, mere lifeless object, is an interesting as that person themselves, whereas a photograph of an object is just another object. Delogu doesn’t duck from this problem. He is untempted by sentimentality, uninterested in try to force us to feel something that isn’t there. His portraits ask us to reckon with the presence of another being, without asking for insight, truth or even beauty.”

In Francesco Zanot’s essay, he adds; “Time is a fundamental element in Marco Delogu’s work. In can be considered from three different perspectives. There is time in history, in other words the bond with the past of his city: Rome…there is the time that affects his subjects. Their age, essentially. Because the main actors of Delogu’s photographs are scarred by the passing of years, the relentless marks of time etched on their bodies. They are fatal photographs. Direct. And, finally, there is the private Time. Most of the people portrayed have crossed, in some way or other, the author’s life or that of his family, either personally or through the category they belong to. Delogu uses photography to reconstruct his own biography.”

What follows the mid-point pathway photograph is a series of studies of nature, starting with intense studies of dense earth. Slowly the viewpoint is raised to include the horizon and sky. There is also a transition in the color of these black and white photographs. Initially, similar to his earlier portraits and mankind structures, nature is rendered in higher contrast, dark and moody tones.

In his afterward, Clement Cheroux observes; “At first sight, it seems that these are straightforward grey monochrome some with more shades of grey, others with fewer. But if one looks more closely, the pictures appear, rich in minute details which unfold in a vas palette of greys. They are in fact pictures of small portions of ground in the Tuscan countryside which, when the earth doesn’t show through, are covered in leaf litter, grasses, leaves or twigs. These pictures, taken during long walks in the countryside broken up with more contemplative pauses, are the result of tipping the camera towards the ground; a position which removes all horizontality and contributes to a certain effect of abstraction.”

Concluding with the Natura Bianca series, nature has almost become a pure abstraction of light with slight tracings of organic forms dancing in the wind. They transcend any literal translation, essential becoming poetic passages about time, memory and light. Light has becomes Delogu’s subject.

For me, this entire book can be stated as a serial progression of dark to light.

This book is beautifully printed by EBS in Verona, Italy and includes an interview with Delogu by Alessandra Mammi, and three afterward essays, by Francesco Zanot, Clement Cheroux and Tim Davis.

by Douglas Stockdale

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