The PhotoBook Journal

February 22, 2013

Jeff Alu – Surrealities


Copyright Jeff Alu 2012 published by Zero+ Publishing

Jeff Alu’s book title Surrealities aptly implies that he is attempting to investigate aspects of surrealism, in which the art work may have qualities that feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. Surrealism also looked to the analysis of dreams as a source of inspiration and the resulting surrealist art and literature usually had dream-like qualities. It is a combination of all of these attributes of surrealism that infuses Alu’s photographs. His subjects have been rendered in black & while, with aspects of his subjects vaguely recognizable, but rendered abstract in his photographic image post visualization process.

This book is essentially a monograph, a collection of singular images. The surrealistic theme collectively ties the resulting photographs together. Each photograph is an investigation of equivalent feelings and emotion, similar in purpose as his accompanying poems. This photobook has many shared qualities with Susan Burnstine’s Within Shadows.  Similar to Burnstine, Alu’s photographs are very dark and moody.

The photographs are not directly captioned, which provides a lot of latitude for the reader to investigate where the photograph make take them. Alu does provide an index of photograph and captions, but includes page numbers for a book that is without pagination, perhaps a touch of surrealistic humor.

As a photobook object, this hardcover book does need to be handled with care. The interfacing glossy black printed pages, although reinforce the darkness of the narrative, are also fingerprint magnets, as only a little natural oil in your fingertips leave beautiful and lasting marks on the page. Regretfully a book that would benefit from reading while wearing gloves. The photographs and poetry text are by Jeff Alu and the introductory essay is provided by Joella March. Last, I note that the printed photographs have are slightly green toned, which provides an eerie effect, perhaps as though Alu is taking us on a trip into the Twilight Zone.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







February 17, 2013

Pietro Mattioli – Two Thousand Light Years From Home

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Photographs copyright 2012 Pietro Mattioli published by Kodoji Press

What might things look like in the dead of night as revealed in the brief moment of a camera flash? This is perhaps one of many questions that Mattioli poses to the viewer in his recent “Two Thousand Light Years from Home”.

Objects are illuminated in the night with a frontal directness, but yet become isolated such that they appear ambiguous. As the books title implies, this is a journey in which brief glimpses of light reveal little, yet still with careful study, a lot of information. Present within the pictorial frame are small, isolated spots of color, not as well defined as the brightly illuminated subject. It appears that these small spots of color represent an unknown entity and create a sense of unease by their presence.

The illuminated subject in each photograph can usually be identified as to what the object is, but made strange and odd within this context. It is like seeing an object new and fresh for the first time, regardless of how many times someone might walk past them by in the light of day.

As a photobook, there are some physical attributes which make this a wonderful object, from the crazy printing and sewn binding to the fragile covers. The essay texts are provided in both English and German. The interior block utilizes “folded pages”, as the litho signature is not entire trimmed after folding, resulting in the photographic images printed on the exterior folded pages, while on the interior of the folded pages, is an interesting shade of Magenta. As stated by Winfried Heininger, the publisher and designer; “The printed, folded sheet of each of the book’s signatures remains uncut on one edge; every page conceals an interior printed in a deep pink”.

The stiff covers are glued with might be a termed a heavy-duty pressure-sensitive adhesive such that if the covers are not creased carefully and held at the spine when folded open, may separate and lift from the printed block. I know and ought to have known better.

After thought: I continue to think about books and book reviews well after they are published and I wonder if there might be something I have overlooked. In this case, it finally dawned on me as to another reason for the design of the book, especially as I take into account Heininger’s description of the interior color being a “deep pink”, rather than what I identified as Magenta. Mattioli is taking walks and photographing while his daughter sleeps at night, thus the interior color of a “deep pink” is representative of his unseen daughter whose presence is then indirectly felt through this body of work. Now I think this book is even more amazing than I first thought, which I thought was pretty cool to start with.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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February 16, 2013

Readings on Contemporary Photography


Photographs copyright of the various photographers

What I sometimes find useful to help me understand the thinking and concepts behind the photobooks I collect and write about here, are the occasional books that attempt to explore or describe the conceptual ideas of the photographer. Thus I wanted to share three books that have been sitting on my nightstand and which I have been poking at for the last couple of months.

All three of these books are very readable with the underlying concepts not confounded by vague or ambiguous terminology.

Susan Bright’s second edition of Art Photography Now (published by Thames & Hudson, 2011) is a stiff cover book that encompasses a substantial 238 pages, and the trim size is the largest of the three, thus providing large detailed photographs to absorb while in the reading. Bright attempts to explain the underlying concepts of contemporary photography by breaking photographs down into genres: portraits, landscape, narrative, object, fashion, document and city. For each of these sections, she supports her discussion by providing details of the work of a few of the contemporary photographers who may be exemplify this contemporary genre.

Photography the Whole Story (published by Prestel, 2012), is a book that is edited by Juliet Hacking, with the support of a vast team of contributors, with one contributor providing the details for the photographer(s) that accompanies each section. This is a very thick book with 573 pages and is not a quick read. The intent is to provide a chronological progression of how photography has evolved. A nice timeline is provided with the section discussions as trends, styles and types of photography have overlapped and this helps with the understanding of the potential interplay and possible context of the concepts. A photograph of a period photographer is then detailed over a two page spread to provide additional context for the section. As you should suspect, profiling a single photograph by Alfred Stiegiltz or Edward Steichen only hints at the possibilities, but does help with providing an overview of a particular trend. I found it interesting as to what the writer’s discussed of the photographs they analyzed.  This book provides a nice historical grounding and context in which to place the current contemporary practices.

Elisabeth Couturier’s Talk about Contemporary Photography (published by Flammarion, 2012) is the smallest of the tree, a stiff cover book with 254 pages. Contemporary Photography is one of her many titles that she is the editorial director, including Design, Fashion, Cinema, Dance and Architecture. Similar to Bright, Couturier breaks down contemporary photography into genres (major concepts), providing a series of key dates and then profiles 30 photographers. Courturier has a section that discusses geographic influences.

Each of these books provide some interesting information and thoughts for consideration. Contemporary photography is not easy to write about, as the most current thinking is sometimes old news by the time a book is published. And each writer brings their own basis and context to their writing, probably with Courturier’s French background the strongest, and Photography the Whole Story having an equally strong English basis. Which is why they make for interesting reading.

Best regards

February 3, 2013

LA Art Book Fair

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 11:59 pm


Copyright the photographers; Paul Schiek’s “Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me” (TBW Books), Dan Gluibizzi’s “Folding Space”/Zefrey Throwell’s “Pressing Time” (Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books), Nicolas Hoosteing’s Matador (Etudes Books), Notes on Fulford’s Raising Frogs for $$$ (The Ice Plant), Alec Soth & Brad Zellar’s “Michigan” (Little Brown Mushroom), The LA Art Book Fair Catalog.

I had an opportunity to attend the LA Art Book Fair this weekend, a cool event by Printed Matter (NYC) that until now was only hosted in NYC. The fair was made up mostly by small press, zines and booksellers/dealers, with only a few larger publishers and distributors present. I have to say it was a really diverse & International show.

I was doing my walk-about on Friday and even still, the fair was well attended. The space was the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, thus the interior lighting was better suited for exhibiting artwork and a bit tricky for reading books although it seemed that everyone adapted pretty quick. The were a number of smaller spaces which provided some sense of intimacy, but also created a maze and the potential of missing some of the exhibitors, as I almost missed one small section when I think I accidentally stumbled into just before closing. To their credit, the Book Fair did provide a map of the booth locations and next time I will take time to look at it from the start, so my bad. 

The Book Fair was not dedicated to photobooks, but there were a fair amount of photobook publishers and dealers/bookshops present and had a special focus, as did the Zines in their section aptly titled Zine World. My issue was there were toooo many photobooks to choose from and I decided to look for photobooks that were about the photobook object, providing a photobook experience that would not translate to an iPad or other digital media. I will have to say that Dan Gluibizzi’s “Folding Space”/Zefrey Throwell’s “Pressing Time” with its pantyhose outer wrap recently published by Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books easily met my criteria.

Encourging news for us in Orange County was provided by Claire Cottrell that  Book Stand ( is looking at a location in San Juan Capistrano in additional to their on-line presence. Very nice!

I hope that this is the first of many LA Art Book Fairs. The discussions that I had with book dealers, publishers and attendees indicated that this is a success event from the very start of the opening night. Nice.


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