The PhotoBook Journal

June 26, 2012

Thijs Heslenfeld – Men at Work (Nil Sine Labore)

Copyright Thijs Heslenfeld published by Oost West Thijs Best

Heslenfeld appears to have traveled the global in search of men who are performing some unique work, or happen across a subject while in search of another.  In reading Thijs Heslenfeld’s introduction to his fourth photobook “Man at Work”, he raises a rhetorical question: “The question raised by each of these images: is a man’s identity based on his work, or is his work based on his identity?” Personally I find this question vexing and having universal appeal and depending on the status in life, economic conditions, geographic location or culture a person was raised in, will undoubtedly vary.

Tantalizingly, the answer to his question is not directly provided by Heslenfeld, but rather broadly hinted at. What is evident is a series of portraits of men who appear to be at or about their work. The portraits are placed in context with an extended caption from a brief conversation he has with his subject.

Heslenfeld does offer this observation:  In the wealthy, capitalist Western world, men seem to identify strongly with their work: they are what they do. So their existence seems to be based on their job. In less advanced countries, this is often quite different. Here it works the other way around: people tend to do work that suits them.

Reading this photobook, I find that the vast majority of Heslenfeld’s subjects are the later and that he gravitates to subjects who are doing the work that seems to suits them. Although Heslenfeld appears to be focusing mostly on one half of the equation, the photographs and body of work is still very compelling.

As a reader, we do have the vaguest hint of information about these men which has been provided by an interaction with the photographer and an out-take from a conversation. Interestingly, it seems to be enough to engage me, as though we have just been introduced and then I am left to finish the conversation. Heslenfeld’ tease is enough so that I find myself wanting to know more, while in some cases, I think I know more than enough. These photographs are filled with fragments’ and bits of random information that draw me, as a reader, in.

How can a man with such dirty hands and soiled face yet still keep his white shirt so clean? Can a man with such a sad-looking clown outfit and in the midst of poverty really bring joy and happiness as he portends? Might I trust a man in such conditions to weld a razor so close to my neck such that I might still walk away? How would I be smiling while working and living in such sad appearing conditions? Why does Heslenfeld keep photographing men while they hold such deadly weapons in such remote locations, especially when they are not exactly smiling? Can this overweight guy really be a Club Med aficionado?

The ending quote is provided by Benjamin Franklin “It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.”

This hardcover book is very self-evident with the English title silkscreen on the front exposed kraft board and the Latin motto (Nothing Without Work) silkscreen on the back kraft board, with the exposed spine revealing the sown and glued binding. Book design and color printing was completed in the Nederland’s.

Update: The design of the book by the Dutch agency Koning Harder won a Red Dot Award, a very nice European design award. Nice.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

June 24, 2012

Hiroshi Watanabe – 99 Findings

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book NEWS — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 5:58 pm


copyright the photographers

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure to be included in a iPad App project that brought together my friend and photographer Hirohsi Watanabe, videographer Michal Kastenam and myself, as the interviewer, to expand on an earlier Watanabe photobook Findings a photobook which I had reviewed in 2009. Watanabe was a Critical Mass winner and the resulting Findings was published by Photolucida, Portland, OR. The iPad App is titled 99 Findings and increases the number of Watanabe’s photographs to 99 for this digital project.

The iPad app is being produced by Hibiku, Inc in Japan this summer and 99 Findings will be available very soon on iTunes. In addition to the 99 photographs there is my interview in which we discuss some of these photographs as well as Watanabe’s background and philosophy. There is also a segment of Watanabe working in his beautiful darkroom which I featured on a post in Singular Images.

As an iPad app more content can be provided that traditional found in a photobook and one that Watanabe is very interested is a photo-site linkage best described in his words  “There are also links in each photograph to specific locations (where the photographs were taken) in Google Map. In some case, you will see the actual view of the landscape and surroundings by the Street View in the Google Map.”

This iPad app should be very interesting. I have not seen any of the post-production edits yet and this app just might be the reason I finally break down and purchase an iPad. I hope that I make a good “talking head” but thankfully all eyes will be on Watanabe and his delightful and open-ended photographs.

He has published a photobook before Findings as well as couple more since, including his first color photobook Ideology in Paradise  and most recently Love Point, published by Toesisha Publishing and subsequently a One Book by Nazareli Press.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Gytis Skudzinskas – Tyla – Silence

Photographs copyright Gytis Skudzinskas 2011 published by Culture Menu (Kulturos Meniu)

Gytis Skudzinskas joins the minimalist ranks of the 1960’s color field painters and the recent cadre of long exposure photographers who reveal that with the passing of elastic time, that there are other “realities” that exist beyond our everyday comprehension and perception.

He creates contemplative images with beautiful lyrical colors of things that are, but yet are not. The results can be somewhat serendipitous as the final results are seldom visualized yet there is a core essence that can be anticipated.

The photographs are created with a neutral and static composition with the boundary between the upper and lower sections drawn mid way, dividing the two color fields into equal halves. This ccompositional tool is then consistently employed providing a sameness and interrelationship to and between the various photographs.

Beyond a contemplative opportunity for these photographs I regretfully do not find anything of sustaining value. The photographic content exists entirely within the boundaries of these photographs and other than the variations in color there is little else to hold my attention, to tweak my curiosity or create a desire to return.

The hardcover book is nicely printed and bound, the color photographs are suburb, but the textual design element of using a light color font on a paper of similar value increases the difficulty to read and comprehend the essays. This may be a case in which the attempt to be creative in design fell short, but an attempt to challenge the basics of book design is applauded. As an artist, risk need to be ventured and creative failure is a surrogate for success, as nothing ventured, nothing gained.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

June 23, 2012

Silvia Camporesi – La Terza Venezia – The Third Venice

Copyright Silvia Camporesi 2011 published by Trolley Books

To say the least, Venice is a daunting subject for a photographic project, as are the over photographed venues of New York City, Paris, Rome and San Francisco. This Italian city is a virtual cliché of photographic images. Silvia Camporesi is choosing to travel a different route employing vestiges and façades mixed with a wonderful dose of her own imagination to create a beautiful and haunting narrative.

Little is provided to help interpret the dreamlike and mysterious images, thus a story of your making. Sharply detailed photographs reveal out of the ordinary elements within the photographic borders, with the inclusion of animals as one of many motifs. These animals, both the type and stature are out of context within this place: shark, deer, bear, elephant and rabbit.

A prone woman with her closed eyes is lying on the banks of the shore, floating in and submerged in the water, provides metaphoric images of sleep. Suggesting that perhaps what are floating on the pages around her are a fragment of the dreams (madness) found in sleep. Her landscape, floating in the mist and fog, is softly defined as one might think of a past memory, which can floating in and out of sharp focus with aspects dulled to the effects of time. Water, not only ubiquitous to Venice, is also symbolic of birth and a life providing substance. The presence of water is a constant subtext to most of her photographs.

Camporesi’s melding of images at times appears unnatural and a bit forced; it is these juxtapositions that tweak our interest as they jar our perception of accepted reality. We can quickly accept that these are constructed images and then proceed to allow ourselves to delve deeper into the question of why.

Camporesi states: “The book is a dreaming diary, composed of views of the city and short texts. The project explores places through the filter of imagination and dreams, divided in 4 thematic series: “Foghorns” (city images lost in the fog); “Souvenirs” (typical Venetian objects staged in anonymous locations around the city); “Ghosts” (legends and surreal places which take place in Venice); and finally “where water begins” (tales of real and imagined floodings, of buildings and churches).”

The hardcover book is very nicely printed with an essay provided by Bruno Cora.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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