The PhotoBook Journal

November 12, 2011

Bertil Nilsson – Undisclosed

Copyright Bertil Nilsson 2011 published by Canalside Books

When I attend a circus performance with my family, I find that I rapidly become very overwhelmed by the brilliant and dazzling colors of the performers clothes, sets and background, the high energy of the performances and the very intense lighting that commands my attention. The performances themselves are a series of blurs, of which it seems that the impossible is indeed possible, but I am unable to fathom how it is even possible that these feats can really be accomplished. Bertil Nilsson literally reveals the essence of these performers orchestrated movements in his first book Undisclosed: Images of the Contemporary Circus Artist.

This is a five-year project by Nilsson that has taken him to multiple (undisclosed) locations in Europe and North America. His subjects are circus performers, artists that have trained diligently to take them to the top of their game. It was his intent to photograph his subjects not within a circus performance site, but at more intimate and less theatric places. These are training locations for the circus performers to hone their performance skills. In so doing, it enabled Nilsson to study the performance of the actors and segment their movements into the components and elements to make visible the nearly invisible. Nilsson photographed his subjects in the nude, who are essentially disclosed, or maybe dis-clothed, as to further reveal the athletic tension that under-girds their movements. I find that Nilsson’s photographs of his subjects are an exotic blend of beauty, strength, grace and sensuality.

Nilsson chooses to vary his perspective, framing and exposure to create a complex and dynamic narrative which is illustrated in black & white. Reducing the color to a long tonal range of black & white further abstracts this project and seems to extend the flow of lines, extract textures, masses and other graphic shapes and forms. The framing of his subjects varies from a balanced (and static) centering within the frame to compositions where his subjects are falling out of the frame, their truncated bodies creating suspense and tension (and energy). Nilsson also varies the distance within the composition, sometimes to tight that his subjects appear to burst off the page, while in others, the mid-view distant establishes an external environmental context in which these performers train.

Predominately Nilsson chooses to suspend the animation of his subjects, halting them in mid-flight or at the apex of their move, thus allowing the viewer to see the nearly impossible. When his subjects are frozen in this manner, they take on a momentary sculptural form. I find equally fascinating the abstracted images that occur with the long duration exposure, in which his subject’s movements become a soft flowing blur and do not seem as static.

On occasion Nilsson will catch his subjects in a candid repose during a work-out, as they pause and momentarily relax in order to catch their breath or composure. Interweaving these photographs of the performers pausing also breaks up the intensity of the flow of images and provides a likewise rest for the reader, while further communicating the sheer intensity of his subject’s performance.

Daniele Finzi Pasca in the Foreword states the essence of this book very elegantly, “When a gesture is interrupted in mid-arc, it inner silence becomes audible. The body becomes landscape and nudity renders it more transparent, weightless and enigmatic.there is a great deal of silence, it is alike a metaphor for the intimacy of the body, which touches our hearts as it strains to represent its own ideal

As noted above, the Foreword is provided by Daniele Finzi Pasca, and the essay by Laura Noble with an acknowledgment by Bertil Nilsson. The Foreword and essay texts are provided in English and French.

Book object: the book is case-bound hardcover with an illustration print affixed to the front cover, printed and bound in the Netherlands. The black and white plates have been printed in duotone offset and the ink and paper combination appear to look as thought the images have been lacquered, providing a wonderful visual vibrancy of these interior photographs. The paper has a heavy hand, almost sensual to the touch. Page numbering is provided without captions, with information about the performers and locations provided in a back index. I perceived this book to be a very elegant object.

November 9, 2011

Libros de Fotografia

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:53 pm

Libros de Fotografia – photobook commentary copyright Tomás de Teresa

I recent added Tomás de Teresa’s photobook commentary blog to my sidebar for future reference. This is the first photobook commentary blog that I have become aware of that the text is in Spanish. Tomás de Teresa resides in Spain and is one of those hardworking guys who attempts to balance a love of photography and photobooks with a day job.

Okay, so he also recently provided a nice commentary on my book Ciociaria, which did get my attention. I appreciate his good taste in selecting photobooks ;- D

Best regards, Douglas

Update: Ciociaria can now be found on YouTube, courtesy of Tomas who has recently uploaded a selection of photographs from my photobook in conjunction with a haunting Spanish guitar for background. So I have joined the growing ranks of photobooks that can now be found in a video format.

November 5, 2011

Sophie Calle – True Stories

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:03 am

Copyright Sophie Calle 2010 courtesy of Steidl and Hasselblad Awards 2010

Sophie Calle is an interesting and unusual photojournalist. In many situations she does not operate a camera to capture her photographic images and may not be the actual writer of the associated text. Yet Calle was awarded the Hasselblad Award in 2010 for just that. As a further contradiction she states in her Introduction to her book True Stores, “In my work it is the text that has counted most.”  As a journalist her favorite subject is depicting herself. Her entire formal photographic education occurred on the first day of her first photographic class when she realized that photography was about pointing a camera in the direction she intended but equally important was her vision of what she wanted to capture. No need for her to spend a second day.

Neither the mechanics of the camera or the nuances of the photographic process holds very much interest for her. Paramount is the concept that a photograph in juxtaposition with text could establish a powerful contextual relationship. She does have opinions about the subject’s content and how it is framed within the photographic borders. It is her desire to capture and illustration of an object, typically in a non-dramatic style or in numerous cases her self-portraits. As such she is a photographic director similar to Gregory Crewdson and Edward Ruscha, who does not necessarily feel the need to press a shutter release or even determine the exposure for her photograph to validate that she is a photographer. She does feel an ultimate responsibility to the ensuing photographic image. She knows what she desires the photographic to entail.

Calle’s methodology of coupling photographs with text was inspired by the combination of photographs and text by Duane Michals that were in her father’s collection and displayed in his home. As she shares the use of this combination was initially chosen to seek her father’s attention; then she subsequently realized the potential of these combinations and it became a trademark of her oeuvre.

For the Hasselblad Award exhibition and photobook she selected images and text from an ongoing project True Stories (aka The Autobiographies/Les Autobiographies).  Calle categorizes as a story where she juxtapositions text and photograph paired across the book’s spread. She has included her earlier work The Husband; 10 Stories. This narrative spans one relationship with the titles of The Resolution, The Hostage, The Argument, Amnesia, The Erection, The Rival, The Fake Marriage, The Break-up, The Divorce, and concludes with The Other. The photograph/text run from the Freudian of Amnesia when she states she never remembers the color of a man’s eyes or the shape and size of his sex, and the paired photograph is a frontal posed man, prone, headless with his genitals concealed, as if she castrates her anonymous lovers.  I found her Fake Marriage humorous; the paired photograph appearing what might appear as a typical group wedding photograph but Calle reveals that this was staged after her Las Vegas wedding, yet providing the truest story of my life.

The Afterword was provided by Gunilla Knape with the text in English and who summarizes Calle’s oeuvre very nicely, “…her photographs rarely stand alone, but interact with text, in accordance with the post-structuralist idea that all languages are of equal value. She challenges us to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of photography”.

The book object, which is hardcover linen wrap, with an overlaid photographic image, is wonderfully printed and bound in Germany.  The images and text are floating within traditional and ample white margins. The varnished interior photographic plates are a combination of color and black & white images. The vast majority of the photographs are paired with Calle’s accompanying text.


November 3, 2011

Louie Palu – Cage Call

Copyright Louie Palu 2007 published by Photolucida

At the conclusion of the Photolucida‘s Critical Mass event in 2006, three photographers were awarded monographs, Hiroshi Watanabe, Sage Sohier and Louie Palu, for his photo-project Gage Call: Life and Death in the Hard Rock Mining Belt. For Palu, along with Charlie Angus who conducted the interviews, their project was a personal odyssey conducted between 1991 and 2003.

Palu’s creative and moving narrative brings us on a journey from the distant and abstract qualities of working deep in a mine to the up-close and personal lives of the miners and their families. The project was photographed in a documentary style, utilizing black and white film, a medium that creates a resonance with the inky blackness of the mining shafts that are deep and hiding far from the sun, where artificial light is similar to the sun, intense relative to the darkness.

Interestingly, in Palu’s interview published in LensWork #73 (Nov-Dec 2007) just after his project was awarded Photolucida‘s Critical Mass award, he states “It was not until I met photographer Ken Light and legendary photo editor John G. Morris in 2004, that I was schooled in the art of photo editing, and the importance of sequencing images. After insights from them, I spent more than a year re-editing the Cage Call body of work.”

The viewer initially witnesses the act of mining deep in the earth. The miners are captured in silhouette or in mass; the workers are faceless and impersonal men, representing hard-working “mankind”.  The workers and their equipment seem to lurk in the edges of the looming and forbidding darkness. Palu documents the working conditions that make it easy for me to perceive that this is not an easy career that the work is hard and the working conditions are harsh. Similarly, the landscape terrain around the area of the mining operations is a mass of nondescript buildings with a mine tower hovering in the background, a constant reminder of the dark catacombs waiting below.

Palu then gradually introduces us to the miners, providing them with a face and then their personal activities to allow us to become familiar with them, to think of them as individuals and to speculate about their personalities. But in doing so, he also introduces the personal dangers of this particular profession, perhaps one of the most dangerous of jobs. Without drama, he documents men who had been vibrant and whole one moment and permanently maimed the next. He leaves it to the viewer to image the ensuing terror that occurred.

The book concludes with an essay by Charlie Angus, an interesting combination of text and interviews. Angus and Palu worked together during periods of this project, each with a desire to add another dimension to their collective story.

As a book object, the book has stiff covers, offset printed in China with a sewn binding. The black and white photographs in the interior plates provide a full, rich tonal range.


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