The PhotoBook Journal

April 30, 2012

Sarah Hobbs – Small Problems in Living

Photographs copyright 2011 Sarah Hobbs published by Edizioni Charta

Oh My Gosh, do the photographs of Sarah Hobbs find an emotional home. I am immediately reminded of the domestic chaos and angst investigated by Julia Blackmon’s “Domestic Vacations”. Whereas Blackmon created her tableaux with her friends and family as subject, Hobbs methodology is devoid of any individuals, perhaps inviting the viewer to think in wider terms and create a personal narrative.

Hobbs is investigating those personal relationships and personalities that have gone astray, creating visual metaphors for the emotion conditions that haunt us. Her photographs are a mixture of pathos and dark humor, amusing in a sad and prickly way.

She created these installations in her and her friend’s home, transitory theaters for the express purpose to explore her many themes. These are similar to an installation at a gallery or museum, built for their visual impact as a director might set a stage. The actors and players in these mini-dramas are transparent, but present in spirit, as they might be a favorite aunt who is at times just a bit too nosey, a thin-skinned sibling who seems to take offense by most events or revealing some unpleasant aspect of ourselves at one time or another.

Although her title states that these might be Small Problems in Living, I find that when some of these conditions are actually occurring, they take on a larger significance. At times like this, I can take some solace in the one short biblical phrase, “it came to pass”, because thank goodness it did not come to stay.

This hardcover book is beautifully printed and bound in Italy.

by Douglas Stockdale

The PhotoBook

April 27, 2012

MIND_Mag – showing a lack of Respect

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Doug Stockdale @ 3:40 am

A slight distraction this past week when a friend pointed out that another individual was re-blogging all of my book reviews, in fact almost this entire blog and reposting it as though all of this original content that I authorized was on behalf of their blog. After looking at this blog, Mind_Mag, it has stated my name with credit only for the photographs of the books interiors. There are no credits or links back to this blog that would reveal original source or authorship.

Now by doing something wrong, this individual will get some extra attraction in the short run that might make it seem like it is worth while. Like all things, it will eventually come back to haunt one day.

Reposting a blog is done regularly and freely, but most conscientious bloggers reveal their source and acknowledge the authorship of the work. Which is why blogging as part of a larger social community can be so cool.

Regretfully, this event has consumed enough energy. Meanwhile, I sincerely do appreciate the 99% who do respect my efforts. Thank you!

by Douglas Stockdale

The PhotoBook

April 22, 2012

James H. Evans – Crazy from the Heat

Copyright James H. Evans 2010 University of Texas Press

In photography, there are those who go wide and others go deep. James Evans is a photographer who has gone very deep into a region of Texas known as the Big Bend and found this place to be his muse of which he has courted for over twenty years.

This is a book that explores the many facets of what constitutes a place; a resulting diverse mash-up of landscapes, nightscapes, portraits, insects, reptiles, nudes, social gatherings and food, with Evans strongest emphasis on the exploration of the landscape.

This photographic body of work is not organized by subject, with what appears as a random sequencing of the color and black & white photographs. I have a sense that this is another way to investigate and explain this region, that there is a randomness and underlying serendipity to the life of this region. The folks here do not need a lot of organization to live, it just comes naturally.

As Evans states in his Afterword, “Living in a small community is like living with a big family. I witness the give-and-take of life on a personal level. No one escapes the things that make up the human condition; in fact, they only seem more apparent here because there is no anonymity, and I witness people’s lives unfold for good and bad day to day.”

This dense book is a wonderfully large hardcover with dust jacket, with both the black and white as well as the color images very nicely printed. It seems to me that this book’s vertical format was an odd selection for a photographer who worked either in a square format or a very wide panoramic. One of the interior panorama plates is a huge double gate fold, but the wide photographs were either full bleed across the two page spread or a strip of wide ribbon across the two-page spread. Personally, I believe that a horizontal book format might have provided more justice for his body of work.

There is an extensive quantity of two-page spread photographs, but for my liking there is too much lost in the gutters, as the binding does not open sufficiently to reveal all of the content.

April 18, 2012

William Wylie – Route 36

Photographs copyright William Wylie 2010 published by Flood Editions

I recently drove the Interstate 70 in the summer from Denver, CO to Kansas City, MO passing through Salina, Hays and Colby, Kansas, a route which runs a similar East-West pathway 30 miles South of Route 36. I recall a lot more rolling empty prairie than that revealed by William Wylie in his investigation of a parallel landscape on Route 36. I find it very interesting as to what subject’s intrigued Wylie in his quest.

Wylie uses a documentary style in a similar spirit as Walker Evans, perhaps photographing fewer signs and more trees. Wylie’s black and white photographs further distill this middle-land of America, the nondescript someplace found between Los Angeles and New York City.

This place is a solitude that is inhabited by birds and cattle, who linger amongst the trees, creeks, rolling lands, interspace by small towns and pick-up truck lined streets. The presence of the inhabitants is indirectly revealed by the rows of fences, meandering roads, and the manner in which the trees are planted or the crops are growing. These small towns reveal a sameness that I have difficulty telling them apart. This is a testimony of form following function. The omnipresent grain silos border these towns and the prerequisite water-tower looming over the plains, much like a pin stabbed into a map functioning as guideposts for those who linger out in the prairie.

Nicely stated by the poet Merrill Gilfillan in his foreword “But it seems continually necessary to reassert that landscape study and its reflective arts are anything but passive disciplines, that civilization in a sustaining, daily sense emerges most surely from good relations with one’s surroundings (the perfect word) and the inner landscape of possibility held in the head and heart.”

Stiff covers with smythe-sewn binding, and a foreword written by Merrill Gilfillan.

April 16, 2012

Ken Schles – Oculus

Photographs copyright 2011 Ken Schles, published by Stichting Aurora Borealis

The recent trend in photobooks seems to lean towards minimalism; all photographs without supporting text or captions. Ken Schles recent book Oculus is a refreshing change and his supporting essays are as interesting and challenging as are his photographs. As Schles states, “Oculus started with a question – a question about images and the way they function.” This is his investigation into why he was making “documentary style” photographs that “often reflected images I already had in memory.”

Be forewarned, his essays will not be a lite read if in involves the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Nabokov. Nevertheless, Schles does provide a readable, perhaps a bit dense, narrative with questions and observations that I am sill pondering.

Due to economic and personal circumstances, Schles found himself “struck with the realization that images I held, the images in my head, had become separated from the reality that once portrayed. I was taken off guard that my images could be so defining – not only in reaction to who I was and how I saw the people that I loved, but also how those images colored my perceptions, swayed my judgments and influenced my actions. I have to take stock; my images no longer held up.”

The book is segmented into sections that investigate the nature of experience and images, the nature of memory in relation to existence (Somnambulism), nature of images and memory (Mnemosyne) and the nature of experience and memory.

I found Schles investigation into nature of memory in relation to existence in conjunction with his photographs of sleeping children to be the most intriguing. (Note: I can usually capture a reasonable likeness of the interior of a book, but the paper’s sheen was very vexing, so please do not judge this book’s contents solely on my accompanying illustrations, they do not do enough justice.) Schles inspiration was drawn from Vldimir Nabokov’s “Speak Memory”; “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”.

Oculus is a hardcover book that is smart, if not brilliant, and innovative and as I do not usually make many purchasing recommendations, I am making an exception for Schles book; highly recommended.

April 13, 2012

Arthur Tress – San Francisco 1964

Photographs copyright 2012 Arthur Tress & published by Fine Arts Museumof San Francisco & Prestel Books

This catalogue was published concurrent with the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco exhibition of Arthur Tress photographs, taking place March to June 2012. This body of work photographed in 1964 and re-discovered in 2009. Tress acknowledges that there are some original photographs printed in 1964 as well as commissions for new photographs from the original negatives.

These black and white street photographs predates his better known Surrealism photograph project titled “The Dream Collector”. At this time, Tress’s methodology had fewer rules than others creating street photography, as he frequently would act as a director to arrange his subjects for specific compositions, in a sense foretelling of the work yet to come.

Nevertheless, his photographs investigate a specific place at a point of time. The book also serves as a touch point to a developing artist who was quickly approaching his prime. As with other street photographers, as I am thinking of Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus, who were looking with their cameras in the open while yet themselves were being observed.

Tress does show his powers of observation, finding the fleeting absurd and humorous moments in every day urban life. The juxtaposition of people observed during events, such as the young woman resplendent in a bathing suit while standing on the street next to a very formally dressed (gloves?) and dour “conservative-looking older women”. Two older women perched on a bench suspended on a wall with no visible means as to how they arrived at such a place. The interesting narrative pairing of photographs; a man holding a newspaper is looking across the book’s gutter towards a photograph of man, while the newspaper proclaims Murder in the Park. Did the man in the suit think he saw the murderer?

The book provides an insight into Tress’s photographic process, providing finished photographs adjacent to the raw data of his contact sheets. Throughout this body of work and how it is presented in this book, there is an undercurrent of subtle humor. This book should be of keen interest of those who are following Tress’s career or this genre of stet photography.

A Hardcover with dust jacket and an accompany essay and interview of Tress by James A. Ganz.

April 11, 2012

Lukas Felzmann – Swarm

Photographs copyright Lukas Felzmann 2011 published by Lars Muller Publishers

When first reading Lukas Felzmann’s recent photobook “Swarm”, my immediate recollection was a similar visual experience while in Rome. As the afternoon approached dusk, dense flocks of birds continue to create the most mesmerizing patterns overhead. From a distance, it appears as though there was an undulating plume of smoke, but upon approach, the pixelization materialized into feathers, wings and heads of a large mass of birds in flight.

Felzmann is investigating the aesthetics of group behaviors using as his subject birds which flock together during certain times of year in Central California. During these periods, a variety of birds will maintain a mysterious sense of order that provides a visual impression of organization, when logically it seems that none should exist.

Felzmann subject is relatively simple as Peter Pfrunder summarizes very nicely “Even if the pictures seem poor in content at first glance – just birds, sky, earth – they acquire a richness through their dense sequencing, the rhythm of near and far, the alternation of profusion and sparseness, the dynamic of small and large changes, and through the variety of that which is always the same.”

He provides a viewpoint from both the outside looking in at these swirling masses and what it might be to be on the inside looking out. That looking at a mob from a great distance is a completely different perspective from the middle or even on the edges. The view from the inside appears to be chaos, but with some underlying and potentially unsaid purpose: why do these groups move en-mass as they do? The view from the outside is a series of random shifting patterns, with some cohesiveness of the ebb and flow of the mass around a difficult to define and seemingly elusive heavy density in the centermost. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful poetry found in this abstract body of work.

The hardcover book has a dust cover and belly band. The essays are provided by Peter Pfrunder, Gordon H. Orians, Deborah M. Gordon, Wallace Stevens, and Lukas Felzmann.

April 10, 2012

Yaniv Waissa – Butterflies I Haven’t Seen There

Photographs copyright Yaniv Waissa 2012, self published

Yaniv Waissa has chosen to investigate a difficult memory that still seems to haunt the people of Israel; the Holocaust.

He does not find it necessary to evoke large dramatic and dark vestiges of the places where past horrors occurred. His photographs are a glimpse here and a slight glance over there, with a stated intent of capturing incomplete fragments that float around the reader as though lost in a sea of ambiguity.

His subject’s dreadlocks are completely shorn and his shaven head bowed, or stands mute in a room whose sinister purpose is not fully revealed.  The memories of the Holocaust are placed into juxtaposition with the current events and places of and around Israel. This book is a troubling narrative, as though his homeland is driving haphazardly forward towards an unknown destiny while everyone is steadfastly staring into the car’s mirror.

The stiff-cover book is self-published and printed in an edition of 200, with the text provided in both English and Hebrew.

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