The PhotoBook Journal

September 25, 2012

Fotografia Photobook Exhibit – First look

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:17 pm

photograph copyright 2012 Marc Prust

Thanks to Marc Prust, I have my first look at the FotoGrafia di Roma photobook exhibition. Very nice!

Regretfully due to a change in travel plans, I was unable to attend the grand opening of Fotografia di Roma last week. Looking at this photograph by Marc I can see that Margherita Nuti along with Marco Delogu, the Artistic Director of FotoGrafia, Claudia Caprotti and their support teams designed and installed an excellent exhibition space. Thanks to you all!

I have to admit, I feel a bit like those at the turn of the twenty century who were able to for the first time view photographs of far away lands and look at images of sights and views that they could not directly experience themselves. I find it odd that for as often as I view photographs as a photobook review, that this would be an experience I felt. I need to reflect on this experience some more.

Nevertheless, Marc has captured the essence of this exhibit in this one photograph; the physical photobooks that are accessible for viewing and inspection, the stream of interior photographs on the adjacent wall and my artistic statement hung in the midst of this exhibition. Very nice indeed.

I am looking forward to the postings of other photographs and comments of those who attended. Please share!


September 19, 2012

FotoGrafia di Roma XI Photobook exhibition – Work

Photographs copyright of the artists

The concept that the XI FotoGrafia di Roma is intent on exploring is the theme of “Work”. Likewise as curator of the photobook exhibition, I am also interesting in broadly interpreting this theme. I am also intrigued with the idea that  a photobook is a physical product of a photographer’s work and adds another subtle layering to the intent of XI FotoGrafia.

As a photobook commentator and blogger, many, if not most, of the photobooks for this exhibition are being discussed and posted on my blog. As of today, I still have a half-dozen books yet to discussed. Interestingly there are some additional photobooks that I have become aware of since finalizing my exhibition selection that although will not be at FotoGrafia, I will include on my blog to continue this theme of investigating “work” through the month of October.

After some additional consideration, I decided to add yet another layer to the photobook exhibition with a working assignment for the photographers and their respective books. I requested the exhibition photographers to re-photograph a double-page spread of the book’s interior, providing a minimum of direction. Only that they should choose a double page spread which they think captures the essence of their book. The results have been humorous, provocative and revealing.

We will exhibit this mash-up of singular interior book images in conjunction with the photobooks. I hope that this will create a diverse and interesting dialog between the many surrounding interior photographs with the book objects and the viewers and participants of this exhibit. As a preview for the exhibition, many of these interior photographs are now revealed below.

Update: I needed to provide a link to the photobooks selected for this exhibition: exhibition listing

Douglas Stockdale (Curator) for The PhotoBook

September 17, 2012

Charlotte Dumas – Al Lavoro!

Copyright Charlotte Dumas 2011 published by FantomBooks

The animal portrait photographs by Charlotte Dumas for her photobook Al Lavoro! (At Work!) are of dogs at their places of “work”. The book investigates how might “work” be defined for an animal, as surly we can speculate these dogs might not define this “work” in the same manner. For a domesticated animal, “work” maybe what we think of in the traditional sense to help accomplish some task, but in this case, Dumas also investigates the act of companionship as a form of “work”.

Dumas’s subjects are formally centered within the pictorial frame, singling them out and providing them with visual significance. The formal dog’s portrait is a frontal pose and the animal’s eyes in are not always in direct contact with the photographers lens. Each of these animals is identified in her captions as working dogs, although the animals are not photographing performing their “work”. Each dog either sits or lies in repose.

The animal subjects are also revealed without any context relationship to their owners and without any people in the frame. Dumas’s dogs are not groomed as show dogs, nor elegantly posed as found in the stylistic posing of Catherine Ledner’s canine portraits “Glamour Dogs”. The subjects of Dumas investigation are the common dogs in their ordinary working environment, which borders on the common and non-romantic.

A truffle dog rests in the trunk of car, while the details of the car indicate a need of repair. The rescues dogs with attired in their gear, one is lying in wait inside a rescues helicopter while the other sits on the edge of the wild.

A dog that in it’s formerly life was a testing laboratory subject is photographed on what now appears to be an individual’s couch. Likewise a “retired” racing dog is reclining within a personal residence. Neither of these two photograph provides any visual linkage to their past and the reader is only provided the barest clues in the accompanying captions. These two photographs cause me to wonder, what memories might these animals have?

This slim vertical hardcover book alternates the layout of the photographic plates, with the more formalized Polaroid’s in a horizontal layout, with a single photographic image on the double-page spread with the caption facing. The text and captions are provided in Italian and English and the accompanying essays are provided by Francesco Zanot

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

September 14, 2012

Christian Patterson – Redheaded Peckerwood

Copyright Christian Patterson 2011 published by MACK

This photobook is Christian Patterson’s retelling of the murder spree of a psychopath, Charles Starkweather, and his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, that occurred in late 1958 and early 1959. As elegantly described by Luc Sante “(Patterson) followed Starkweather and Fugate’s trail, visiting all the places where they stopped, rooting through civic archives and newspaper morgues, seeking out material survivals of their lives and actions. Some of the photographs are of actual settings, some of actual artifacts, some of symbolic landscapes, and some of metonymic objects; there are also archival photos and reproductions of pertinent documents.”

In other words, a real complicated mash-up of fact and fiction, Patterson’s photographs co-mingled with found photographs and documents that create an extremely interesting novella.

Patterson created a faux detective’s dossier to solve a mystery, in this case a series of murders. Just as odd and random clues are acquired during an investigation, the documents, some real, some red-herrings, are stuck in a random order inside the dossier. In this case, the murders do not require solving, but the mystery and retelling continues unabated.

Karen Irvine assists with my conclusion as she writes “Patterson demonstrates that photographs are highly subjective interpretations of reality, and makes us aware of the seductive power of aesthetic effect even as we succumb to it.”

The text wrap hardcover book is bound with other printed pages interspersed within the book. The essays are by Karen Irvine and Luc Sante is printed and bound in a separate booklet that is included with the book. Similar to the main book’s dossier theme, the essay booklet is designed to look like a pocket notepad, the text using an old typewriter font, including typewritten “mistakes” that I easily recognize from my early (mis)use of this equipment.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Michal Chelbin – The Black Eye

Copyright Michal Chelbin 2010 published by Twin Palms Publishers

Wrestling is a sport requiring intense exertion with direct and intimate contact between two opponents. This is not the wrestling entertainment common to late night television, but an athletic sport that harkens back to the first Olympic Games conducted in Greece. Two individuals grapple together, each attempting to gain some advantage over the other, slipping in and out of holds, or attempting to maintain a take-down in an effort to pin the other to the mat.

Michal Chelbin focuses her lens on the young and adolescent boys and girl wrestlers who are learning the necessary skills to compete. The place of these portraits is kept neutral with an attempt to stay relatively nondescript, nevertheless the location conveys as someplace with economic limitations and in Eastern Europe. The equipment and facilities appears Spartan, crude and very basic.

When confronted by portraits the viewer is drawn to the eyes, the posture and what is present, as well as to ponder what is not. Chelbin’s subjects’ objectively stare into the photographer’s lens, establishing direct contact with the photographer as well as with the viewer. The posturing may appear as neutral with most of her subjects directed to provide a forward facing stance, frequently in front of a colorful wall, perhaps similar to a mug shot. Unlike a studio portrait, the background wall is close and the painted surface’s condition is in focus and becomes an intricate component of these portraits. The use of a contemporary pose allows latitude for the viewer to construct their own narrative

For me these portraits recall memories of my high school wrestling team which I trained and competed with for three consecutive years. Thus I notice that the eyes in these portraits are not entirely expressionless as I sense fatigue by their tired and vacant stares. There is the presence of band-aids (known as plasters by my European friends), sweat, disheveled hair and wrestling attire, indicating that these individuals were plucked mid-stream from intense exertion during training. The personal combat is not seen, sometimes staged, but certainly felt.

Are we being in the presence of future Olympians? Chelbin teases us with these portraits and we are left to wonder what is the hope and aspirations of these individuals?

As a book object, this large hardcover with dust jacket is printed and bound in China. The captions are captured in an ending index with an Afterword story by Etgar Keret.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

September 11, 2012

Pieter Hugo – Permanent Error

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 10:04 pm

Copyright Pieter Hugo 2011 published by Prestel Verlag

Pieter Hugo observes and photographs workers toiling in debris fields for the recycling of technology trash. I read this as an elegant ecological criticism of the one of many underlying issues that surrounds technology; the dizzying pace of obsolensces. The toxic nature of the technology discards has created “disposal outsourcing” to low-income countries, which regretfully welcome this opportunity because it has few viable economic alternatives. The “civilized” countries do have waste dumps for regular trash and by-products of their consumerism, but these are not suitable for the toxic nature of the technology waste.

What I see in Hugo’s photographs is repugnant, although for his subjects it appears they are accepting this salvage work as a working opportunity. It appears that the worker’s perspective is very limited and uniformed with little understanding of the ecological terror that they creating and working amongst.

His subject is usually centered within the square frame of the picture and the focus is shallow, the backgrounds fading away. Perhaps due to the environment conditions, the colors are neither vibrant nor uplifting. The compositional treatment renders the subject as a static object, almost beautiful, attempting to render these individuals and animals with banal objectivity. I am reminded of Nathalie Herschdorfer’s narrative of Lea Eouzan’s Auschwitz photographs; “(She) has no desire to arouse emotions or crate a spectacle, yet the viewer feels a certain tension when confronted with these images of a place that represents the unbearable.”

In the edges of the photographs I can see open and clear fields and upon closer examination, I detect that this particular third world technology waste treatment center is not very expansive. Hugo is investigating a small area that is representative of similar technology recycling sites located world-wide. These photographs are hauntingly symbolic of the inherent issues in the design and manufacture of high technology goods that industrialized countries are addicted.

The snowy white keys of a computer keyboard protruding up through the dirt and debris, symbolic of the death of modern technology found in a killing field. Workers are observed patiently waiting while the fire and flames do the work, while the ironic text on a man’s shirt proclaims “sun city”.

I am not surprised to find photographs of a pissing cow or a pissing man, paused mid-stride, in this strong social criticism. The man and animal do not care where they urinate; it is immaterial as they are already in the midst of a dump. It is relatively easy to read into this that man and animal, as well as the photographer, are pissed off about this current state of affairs.

In another incongruous photograph there is the juxtaposition of young girl in white lace dress with pink bow in midst of the hellish landscape and dismal conditions.

As a photobook object, it is a case-bound hardcover book, with two essays provided by Federica Angelucci and Jim Puckett. Photographic plates do not have the accompanying captions, which are provided in a separate section at the ending of the book, as well as a listing of Recycling Abbreviations provided after the Foreword by Angelucci. After a couple of readings of Pieter Hugo’s photobook, I think that the opening photograph that I selected best summarizes his subject; a small Hell on earth.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

September 7, 2012

Kendall Messick – The Projectionist

copyright Kendall Messick 2010 published by Princeton Architectual Press

Over a period of years Kendall Messick employed a documentary style to photograph the life of a retired movie projectionist; Gordon Brinckle (1915 – 2007). This is also an investigation into personal identity, when one becomes so consumed with their profession work, that they re-create a similar workplace at home. In this case Brinckle has built in fastidious detail a grand mini-movie palace (theater) in the basement of his home. Oddly it was a home-theater of which very few were aware of or visited, as Brinckle was a social recluse.

In his project Messick has incorporated a wonderful cinematic metaphor to narrate this, which when it finally dawned on my, I found to be absolutely delightful. Messick has mashed up Black & White with Color photographs to reveal the two aspects of Brinckle’s life while paying homage to the classic film, The Wizard of Oz.

Just as Dorothy was revealed in Black & White living in her Kansas home before the tornado struck, Gordon Brinckle and his wife Dot are documented in Black & White while living upstairs in their very ordinary appearing lifestyle. Messick switches to a vibrant Technicolor to document Brinckle in his basement fantasy theater, same as this movie transformed from Black & White to Color film when shifting to Dorothy’s dreamlike fantasy episode.

The black and white world of the Brinckle’s reality appears plain, simple and very middle gray if not bordering on sad. Their modest home is symbolic of the retired working class, one that appears to be very ordinary if not stuck in a time-warp. Similar to “Dorothy” at home, the Brinckles deal with all the normal tasks needed to survive, where things are not perfect or ideal, may be difficult or not very exciting, a variable monotone, day-to-day existence, and the antithesis of the dreamlike Oz awaiting downstairs. The relatively flat photographs seems to add an external context that the Brinckles are not that joyful or living a life of one’s dreams.

Where as Dorothy ran away from the awful Miss Almira Gulch, Gordon Brinckle descends down the basement stairs to find his santuary.  We do not know if Brinckle is attempting to escape from his wife Dot or the plain world of his upstairs existence to a place of colorful place of fantasy. Like Dorothy, Gordon takes his shelter in his home, and specifically in this case, his home basement, an even better environment to avoid the destruction of a tornado.

As there was a sudden transformation for Dorothy when she found herself in Oz, there appears to be equally fascinating transformation of Brinckle. It as though what also lurks in the basement is Brinckle’s Alter Ego, the Great and Powerful Oz. He is now the amazing, sparkling and colorfully costumed man behind the walls and curtains, projecting the images of his choosing, pulling the various curtains back to reveal what images he wishes to. He is now in total command of all that is before him, a truly Great and Powerful Oz. Which similar to the movie is also a sham and a fantasy, but of Brinckle’s careful and deliberate choosing.

I find that this is a poignant narrative, bittersweet as the final ending is revealed for Gordon Brinckle. But like Toto before him, Messick opens a metaphoric curtain, revealing his subject to be an ordinary man.

The book is hardcover with dust jack, and the essays are by Brooke Davis Anderson and Mark Sloan with a biography of Gordon Brinckle by Kendall Messick. The photographs are captioned and the book contains numerous drawings, layout and theater artwork created by Gordon Brinckle.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

September 6, 2012

Andy Freeberg – Guardians

Copyright Andy Freeberg 2009 published by photolucida

This is an investigation about women who are docents and guardians of artworks, whose job is to provide mute testimony as to the importance of the adjacent art works. There is universality to this project in which the actual location, even thought these art museums are located the Soviet Union, is not really relevant. The docents work is to sit amongst art and be present. They are placed in specific locations to both observe as well as be observed, to scold, admonish, explain or be a deterrent.

Freeberg is likewise observing those whose work is to be observed, although the docents reside in the edges and boundaries, while the art itself is centered in the photographs. The multi-layered composition reflects a relationship that would be a common experience to his subjects; guests of the museums photographing the art objects while they patiently wait to the side.

In viewing these photographs, it appears that there are very few other museum guests, that the docents are the only inhabitants of these vast facilities. Occasionally, even the docents appear to be missing from their posts. I sense isolation and silence in the lack of personal interaction within the museum, which is counterbalanced by the ironic and humerous compositions by Freeberg. Perhaps his subjects stoic stances are per protocol and when the museum visitors vanish, who knows what then transpires?

Freeberg appears to be patient, playful and have a keen power observation for his subject’s positions, postures and poses. His photographs are not unlike street photography and in this case the pace is much slower and allows for methodical observation and framing.

His underlying sense of dry humor is revealed in the various juxtapositions of docent and the adjacent art. There appears to be an unspoken dialog between his subjects and the art they appear to guard, observed by the photographer and subsequently shared with the viewer. Perhaps over time, the docents create bonds to the art that they have been assigned to oversee, either becoming one with that art or ironically in complete contrast. Freeberg photographs one woman who is fully concealed to the point of wearing additional layers which are zipped up for maximum personal security while the adjacent painting is of a semi-nude woman whose revealing herself. In another a docent begins to wear clothing of the same hue and pattern of the statuary she oversees to the point of blending in and becoming indistinguishable with the art itself. As a result, I sense that Freeberg’s investigation is probing his subject’s identity.

The hardcover book is published in horizontal format that was becoming a standard for Photolucida, subsequently a standard no longer held to, but in this case is well suited to Freeberg’s body of work.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

September 5, 2012

Nina Poppe – ama

Copyright Nina Poppe 2011 published by Kehrer Verlag

Nina Poppe spent time on the coast of Japan investigating the commercial work of Japanese women who “free dive” in the pursuit of abalone, a type of sea-snail. These abalone hunters, known as “ama-san”, the majority of which are women, typify an aging Japanese profession. They dive and work in a traditional manner that is without any tanks or other contemporary diving gear.

Her narrative is broader than a focus on the work, as she investigates a lifestyle which appears to be fading as there are few young women who are taking up this profession. She mashes portraits of the aging women divers with those of young girls who are preoccupied with almost everything but diving. Fashionable dressed adolescent girls are placed into context with the functional clothing and attire worn by the divers. There appears to be little glamour or appeal for the lifestyle of the abalone divers.

Poppe reveals the companionship amongst the women away from the ocean, while the work itself appears difficult, lonely and isolated. The diver’s residences and work-shops appear to be located in places that are near or adjacent to the sea. The exterior of simple homes is adorned with the diving clothes hanging to dry in preparation of the next day’s labor. Her book speaks to an investigation into a cottage industry lifestyle as well as womanhood and identity.

At the end of the book, there is a photograph of two older girls at the waters edge, one is sitting and appears to be contemplating the water before her, while the second girl barely stands in the water with a ripple left from where she placed her other foot. Perhaps they testing the water out? What might they be thinking? Are these the next generation, tentative in their response to this possible career?

The book is a hardbound cover with an exposed spine, revealing the sewn and glued binding of this book. The limited text is provided in English and Japanese and is published without any essays, pagination or captions.

The exposed spine is a wonderful metaphor that the interior photographs (contents) reveal an investigation into the workings of something.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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