The PhotoBook Journal

March 19, 2013

Brandt Nudes

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Copyright Bill Brandt Estate 2013 published by Thames & Hudson

Throughout his photographic career, Bill Brandt (Hermann Wilhelm Brandt, b. 1904 Hamberg, Germany – 1983) continued to explore the poetry of the nude form. Brandt had assisted Man Ray in his Paris studio in the 1930’s when Brandt started to think of using a nude subject to investigate the unique perspective of a camera versus the normal human visual perspective. Brandt’s poetic experiments resulted in his use of high contrast and the distorted nude subject in conjunction with the built and natural environmental landscapes.

The editor of this book created seven sections to complement the visual design chosen by Brandt in his two earlier books on this same subject. As Brandt mixed earlier and later work in each section, the editors chose to follow this same practice. The sections are; nudes in the interior environment, abstraction with wide-angle perspective, very close perspective in which the nude subject becomes ambiguous shapes and patterns, nude in the natural landscape (beach), then into the structured interior environment (usually artist studios), nudes with objects bordering on surrealism, and finally back in the seashore landscape.

Brandt was attracted to the “unsettling combination of realistically rendered nude women and conventional interiors.” Whether he directed his models to look bored or due to his photographic process, his subjects rarely provide more than a relatively blank expression. While sitting, his models usually have their heads propped up against one arm or their arms are folded, appearing to otherwise be patiently waiting for the modeling session to end. Nevertheless, the averted head and eyes provide a very contemporary appearing gaze. The model’s visual interaction with the photographer, thus the viewer, is minimalistic.

This handsome hardcover book with dust jacket has a preface text by Lawrence Durrell, first published in conjunction with Brandt’s “Perspective of Nudes” (1961), and commentary by Mark Haworth-Booth.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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March 13, 2013

Keith Carter – Fireflies

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Copyright 2009 Keith Carter, published by University of Texas Press

In his 2009 photobook Fireflies, Keith Carter takes the reader on a delightful photographic journey investigating childhood fantasies.  These are ambiguous and mysterious images, which are perhaps stories that are about every-child.

Carter taps into the childhood emotions of joy and elation. Later as an adult, observing the same events can become one of fear and dread of harm, foreseeing potential injury, and the scariest fear for a parent, the death of their child. Nevertheless the photograph of a young girl amidst the fireworks of a sparkler magically transported me to an almost lost place. I can recall my delightful memories when I first held my glowing and sputtering sparkler. I can recall my ooohs and aaaahs of watching these specular fireworks, which were an experience that I think went well beyond wonder and joy.

Carter’s photographs uncannily create emotional triggers for forgotten events of my youth. If there is an overriding narrative beyond these singular images, it is a narrative about naiveté and the state of youth. As to be young is to be direct and carefree and amazed with wonder of new discoveries and those things that abound.

I think back to my first experience, while visiting my grandparents in Pennsylvania, encountering in the early dark spring evening, the flittering and glowing fireflies. That was an amazing experience, perhaps a surreal moment. All too similar to Carter’s photograph of the two boys, my brother and I also chased the fireflies that balmy evening, also capturing them in a glass jar.

Carter is well known for his evocative black and white photographs, with his subject moving in and out of focus within the pictorial frame. As a result, the photographs appeared to be embedded with a sense of mystery, the entire story of each singular image is left undone, waiting for me to fill in the blanks.

Carter states below, from the book “Over the Years I tried to establish a sense of implied narrative in my photographs, hoping viewers might find their own connections”. For me, mission accomplished!

The large hardcover book with dust jacket is classically designed, with most of the photographs having a nice margin of white around each of the black and white photographs. Each photographic plate is numbered and captioned. Carter provides an introduction with his additional thoughts interspersed though this body of work.

Other Keith Carter book reviewed on The PhotoBook: Mauro Fiorese & Keith Carter – “Dream of a Place of Dreams

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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March 9, 2013

Irving Penn – Small Trades

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:48 am

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Copyright 2009 the estate of Irving Penn, published by the Getty Museum

Small Trades is but one of many projects that was completed by Irving Penn (b. 1917 Plainfield, NJ – d. 2009), and one that actually spanned his photographic career. The photographs were created in the early 1950’s in Paris, London and New York. As a body of work, Penn would return to these negatives to continue his investigation of what a photograph print should look like.

The original photographs were made on 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 roll film (Rolliflex), but usually cropped into a vertical image and printed on gelatin silver enlarging paper. Penn has stated that his studies were primary inspired by Eugene Atget’s petits métiers (small trades), early 1900’s photographic studies of workers in their Paris environments. As has frequently been mentioned, the viewer can also find themselves noticing the similarities to August Sander’s “People of the Twentieth Century” environmental studies created in the 1930’s in Germany. Penn on the other hand removed his subjects from their environment to a more neutral sitting located in his studio.

In the 1960’s while investigating the printing qualities of platinum/palladium printing, Penn returned to this body of work to further investigate the potential print qualities of these images. He also found that different negatives could be more expressive in platinum over the earlier gelatin silver paper process. The first image I provide below (Chamois Seller, London, 1950) provides a comparison of these two printing methods. I am not sure if the difference will be apparent on your monitor, but it is apparent in the printed pages of this book. In the book, the cooler silver plates represent his gelatin silver prints, while the warmer plates represent the platinum prints.

As noted in their introductory essay, “Quite often, Penn’s choice of a different negative for the platinum/palladium print triggered a subtle shift from the description of a figure in space to a more fundamental concern with the relationship of figure to space”. The differences between the two printing methodologies are only hinted at in the printing of this book.

In his later printing sessions, Penn would crop the photographic boundaries even tighter around his subject. Then later still, Penn began printing the entire square negative, revealing the edges of the studio and his backdrop which had been cropped out in the earlier versions.

This is a thick and beautifully printed hard cover book. The book was edited by, with an introduction essay, Virginia Heckert with Anne LaCoste.  Anne Lacoste also interviews Edmonde Charles-Roux, Penn’s assistant during his creation of this body of work. My review is completed from the book’s second printing, which is virtually unchanged from the first edition.

Note: In conjunction with the Shpilman Institute for Photography (SIP), this review (ארווינג פן – מקצועות קטנים: ביקורת ספר צילום) has been translated into Hebrew, which is available here.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook Journal

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March 6, 2013

Mario Giacomelli – The Black is Waiting for the White

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Copyright the estate of Mario Giacomelli published 2009 Contrasto

I know that sharing my thoughts on Mario Giacomelli (b. 1925 Senigallia, Ancona, Italy – d. 2000) retrospective “The Black is Waiting for the White” is a tad overdue. Okay, better late than never, eh?

For the selection of photographs that I have curated to illustrate this book, I have to begin with one of Ciacomelli’s more iconic and surrealist photograph from his series Scanno (1959). I also have to admit that seeing this photograph for the first time a long time ago was a very startling experience for me. My very first impression was that the MoMA (NYC) had made a very big mistake including this photograph in an exhibition. My sensibilities were that such that a photograph should look “natural”, that if there were any retouching, it should not be noticeable to the viewer. And this graphic photograph was in direct contradiction to everything I thought a photograph should look like, as I felt it was very apparent to even the most naive viewer, that it had been heavily manipulated. As you might suspect, I was caught up in the physicality of a photograph, not the symbolism or poetic intent of the image’s content. Interestingly, this single photograph also had the most impact on me as Giacomelli’s name and image were as though seared permanently on my memory.

To not understand that Giacomelli was all about interpreting, not illustrating, poetry is to really miss a basic understanding of his extensive body of work. To creatively interpret a poem allowed Ciacomelli to feely manipulate his black & white photographs, pushing the boundaries, to distill an image as part of a creative act of poetic investigation.

His idea of using photographs as a narrative can be traced to his first series in 1955, “Verra la morte e avra i tuoi occhi” (Death will come and have your eyes) at a time when interpretive photographic narratives were relatively unknown. Life and Look magazines, as well as most others at this time, had been publishing photographic stories, but these were very straight and documentary photographs and the story was relatively easy to read.  Ciacomelli has stated “Why do I tell stories rather than using single images as many do? Because you can develop an idea in a story, whereas a single image is sometimes only a beautiful image and nothing more.”

Giacomelli continued to interpret poetic work by creating photographic series for the remainder of his life. In additional to providing the singular images from his various series, this book provides an overview of each of his series in a compilation of thumb nails, which are sequenced chronologically. It should also be noted that Giacomelli felt that there was a specific sequence for the photographs of a series in which for them to exhibited or displayed.

If you wanted one comprehensive book that examines Giacomelli’s extensive body of work, or to provide a retrospective overview for your Giacomelli collection, I would recommend this book.

This dense hardcover book with dust jacket was edited by Alessandra Mauro with essays by Christian Caujolle, Alistair Crawford, Goffredo Fofi, Simone Ciacomelli, Paolo Morello, Ferdinado Scianna and Roberta Valtoria. This book also includes a Biography, Exhibitions & selected Bibliography and is beautifully printed by EBS in Verona, Italy.

by Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook

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March 5, 2013

Emmet Gowin – Photographs

Copyright 2009 Emmet Gowin, Steidl First Edition

I first have to admit that I did not acquire this Emmet Gowin Steidl edition book until 2011 while I was attending the Gowin exhibition at Le BAL (Paris, FR). I had been aware of this book and a number of the now iconic Gowin photographs that are a result of the original Knopf 1976 publication. I had missed the opportunity to purchase the Knopf edition in the mid-70’s and quickly realized that this is a fine alternative. No sense making the same mistake twice, eh?

This book reflects the 1970’s photobook thinking, that a book was a publication of a body of photographic work. It is not until much later that photographers’ start using a photobook to create a narrative. In reading, I still find that there are a series of small narratives that manage to run through this book.

Gowin uses photography to create singular images which collectively investigate the concept of family and personal relationships. In part, what I want to share is that Gowin photographed other subjects as well, perhaps not as well-known as his portraits of Edith, Elijah, Isaac and Edith’s mother Rennie Booher. Thus the page spreads provided below include the iconic photographs as well as the lesser known.

Gowin states in the afterword; “My pictures are made as a part of everyday life and are not the result of any project or assignment. Most of the pictures here were made with a camera on a tripod. In this situation, both the sitter and photographer become part of the picture. Sometimes my photographs resemble home snapshots, which are among the richest resources of images I know. But I always want to make a picture that is more than a family record.”

The hardcover book is a reprint of Emmet Gowin: Photographs originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, and except for the cover image, the proportions and sequence are identical to the first edition.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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March 4, 2013

Arnold Newman At Work

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copyright the estate of Arnold Newman published 2013 Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas Press, Austin

Arnold Newman (b. 1918 NYC – 2006) is known for his numerous iconic and environmental photographic portraits that include Ed Ruscha (1985), Duane Michals (1986), Man Ray (1948), Andy Warhol (1973), Roy Lichtenstein (1976) and of course his almost trademark portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1946).

What makes this book compelling are the proofs and edits made by Newman in conjunction for many of his iconic portraits, essentially providing the photograph’s backstory for him at work. The viewer is provided the opportunity to study the photographic proofs, which can help visualize how Newman explored the various compositions within the context of his subject’s environment. Revealing Newman’s red line crop and printing edits provide additional information as to how Newman continued to explore and distill the essence of his subject well after the sitting was completed.

It is tantalizing to look at his proofs and speculate on which composition that I would have chosen and how might I have cropped and printed that photographic image. It is also an opportunity to reflect on who his subject were in conjunction with the times and conditions these portraits were made.

This dense hardcover book reflects a carefully selection and edited body of Newman’s photographs by Roy Flukinger with an introductory text by Marianne Fulton.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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