The PhotoBook

April 25, 2013

10 x 10 American Photobooks

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:34 am

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copyright Douglas Stockdale

I am honored to be among those who are the ten on-line curators for the 10 x 10 American Photobooks exhibition. There are another ten curators who are selecting the photobooks for the reading room exhibition, which will preview in NYC next month (May 3-5), then move to Braddock PA for the PGH Photo Fair (May 18 – 19) and then the photobooks will move to Tokyo at the Tokyo Institute of Photography (September 11 – October 6, 2013). A book for this event is being developed and I will provide more details as they become available.

For continuing information on the 10 x 10 Photobook projects, please check here: http://www.10x10photobooks.org/

In making my selection for 10×10 American Photobooks, I believe that photobooks published over the last twenty-five years have evolved in style, design and content, as has photography. The challenge for me as a curator is to consider photobooks by American photographers within this time period that are under the radar and reflect these changes. To be under the radar, I interpret as book-objects that are not involved in current photobook discussions, but deserve more consideration. Fortunately, with the exception of Ken Schles – Invisible City: Photographs by Ken Schles, I did not have to look any further than my bookshelf and again with the exception of Schles, I have provided my narrative for the photobook on this blog.  My selection is a very broad and diverse look at American photographer’s work from the past twenty-five years that reflect this continuing photographic and photobook evolution.

Here is my selection of ten photobooks, in alphabetical order.  As a bonus, I am including two additional books that I think warrant consideration and are going to be available in the reading room exhibitions.

Bonus selection:

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Nick Brandt – On This Earth, A Shadow Falls (Big Life Editions, 2010)

Nick Brandt’s photobook reflects a self-publishing trend that allows a photographic project to continue to evolve. In this case, Brandt is very passionate about the ecology and plight of the wild animals in Africa, a situation that does not appear to be improving.

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Kevin Bubriski – Pilgrimage (PowerHouse Books, 2002)

Ken Bubriski’s photobook is a personal documentary of the events in NYC immediately after 9/11, a project that is understated and for me, one that has been under the radar.

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Keith Carter – Fireflies (University of Texas Press, 2009)

Ketith Carter’s photobook embodies a similar mysterious body of work to what is created by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, although investigating a different theme but with the same creative spirit.

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Lee Friedlander – New Mexico (Radius Books, 2008)

Lee Friedlander is a prolific photobook artist and his photobook New Mexico is a combination of a Friedlander investigation and subsequent collaboration with the book design team at Radius Books. There is an elegant rawness to this publication, with the uncover boards and open spine, that was on the forefront of incorporating self-publishing design aesthetics into a trade book.

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Renee Jacobs – Slow Burn (Penn State Press, 1986)

Renee Jacobs documentation of an ecological tragedy with economic and personal consequences that still continues to this day is a photobook that I fell has dropped off the radar.

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Bill Jacobson – A Series of Human Decisions (Decode, 2009)

Bill Jacobson’s photobook is amongst those that facilitate the reader’s gaze of banal objects, a growing trend in photobooks during this period and perhaps became overlooked.

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Rania Matar – Ordinary Lives (The Quantuck Lane Press, 2009)

A very personal photographic narrative that embodies what I feel is from a female perspective, part of a growing documentary trend to permit the photographer’s identity to permeate the narrative.

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Paula McCartney – Bird Watching (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010)

This book by Paula McCartney is wonderful example of the transition of a self-published artist book to a trade book that still warrants attention.

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Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison – The Architect’s Brother  (Twin Palms Publishers, 2000)

The Architect’s Brother created by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison garnered much praise at it’s publication and a photobook that steadily lurks just under the radar. This book is a wonderful combination of mysterious photographs, sublime concept and great book design and printing.

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Ken Schles – Invisible City: Photographs by Ken Schles (Twelvetrees Press, 1988)

A gritty documentary project that brought the essence of Robert Frank into the city. A photobook that is a classic and a wonderful example of the progression in photobook publishing

My bonus selection:

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Darin Mickey – Stuff I Gotta Remember Not to Forget (J and L Books, 2007) – selected by Alec Soth and available in the reading room

I had selected Darin Mickey’s photobook for my 2012 FotoGrafia International di Roma photobook exhibition and I continue to feel that this photobook is still lurking under the radar.

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Joel Sternfeld – American Prospects (Time Books, 1987)

I feel that Joel Sternfeld’s photobook American Prospects is at the forefront of early color documentary road-trip projects that revitalized a genre developed by Robert Frank. I also felt this photobook was lurking under the radar until it was recently revised, enlarged and beautifully printed D.A.P. The review is linked to the early edition and I will be providing my commentary on the D.A.P. edition later this year.

April 24, 2013

Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison – The Architect’s Brother

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Copyright Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison 2000 published by Twin Palms Publishers

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s photobook The Architect’s Brother is a beautiful enigma.  The book is composed of eight sections that were developed over a span of seven years (1993 – 2000). The sections are sequenced serially, The Architect’s Brother (1993 – 1994), Cardboard Sky (1994), Witnessland (1995 – 1996), Exhausted Globe (1997), Industrial Land (1997), Promisedland (1998), Earth Elegies (1999 – 2000), and Kingdom (2000).

I find it easy to become visually captivated with the underlying techniques that the ParkeHarrison’s utilized to create and embellish these magical photographs; the elaborate staged sets, backdrop paintings, and complex sculptural structures of their own invention. The reader will also recognize one consistent individual who is found within each photograph, as the subject for these photographs is Robert ParkeHarrison, who portrays the role that has become known as “everyman”.

This body of work has been written about frequently since its inception over the past thirteen years, with one statement by Marc Ruby that I think summarizes it well; “Many of the images are ambivalent, touching on both darkness and light, making a clear decision impossible. The figure seems melancholy, engaged in strange almost hopeless acts. But he persists, carrying on a quest intended to heal or repair a desolate world.”

The ParkeHarrisons have stated “We create works in response to the ever-bleakening relationship linking humans, technology, and nature. These works feature an ambiguous narrative that offers insight into the dilemma posed by science and technology’s failed promise to fix our problems, provide explanations, and furnish certainty pertaining to the human condition.  Strange scenes of hybridizing forces, swarming elements, and bleeding overabundance portray Nature unleashed by technology and the human hand.”

The hard cover folio is in black cloth with a tipped-in print on the front boards. The photobook used in conjunction with this review is from the 7th printing, whereas the first edition has a dark blue cloth and tipped-in print. The first edition was initially attributed only to Robert ParkeHarrison but in subsequent printings his wife Shana, his artistic partner, is included as a co-author of the work. For the second edition, another chapter, Passage created in 2001, was included with an additional five plates.

Other Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison book reviewed on the The Photobook: counterpoint

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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April 19, 2013

Bernhard Fuchs – Roads and Paths

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Copyright Bernhard Fuchs 2009 published by Koenig Books

In Bernhard Fuchs Roads and Paths, the vacant roads and byways of a rural region of Austria create lyrical metaphors for various aspects of life’s journey. Fuchs creates a sense of ambiguity at the moment of exposure; whereas the viewer is not certain if they are looking at the future of the journey to come or in the past, of the journey taken.

The photographs are metaphors for the journeys of one’s life, the seasonality, as well as the ups and downs. For me, the photographs of this book were at first perhaps a little too much of a cliché for this metaphor, thus it was necessary for me set it aside for a long while before the inclination to pick it up again for a deeper inspection.

The photographs are imbued with a type of light that portrays a sense of time, as stated by Heinz Liesbrock in the Afterword “In the pictures light remains indirect, all direct manifestations of the sun are avoided. It is a warm, almost human light. It has discreet quality that gives the pictures an unmistakable tone. Fuchs does not seek out the light at high noon, but in the intermediate zones, the morning and the late afternoon hours….moments of transition between the visible and hidden.”

Concrete and paved roads speak to a rigid and exacting journey that will lead to a known destination. I sense that these roadways can be symbolic of our youth, attending schools that have a very specific learning regime that will lead to graduation and then to a potential career; whether that be a carpenter, teacher, scientist or a business mogul. While the unpaved roads hint of rough trip, implying the potential difficulty, rough patches and travails to come. It is a bumpy journey, but perhaps more interesting.

The snowy road is a tale of the seasonal difficulties encountered on life’s journey, that it is not always easy and smooth sailing. The pathways enveloped in fog are symbolic of the uncertainty of life’s travels, not knowing what lies ahead. It could be a scary future or just beyond the dense layer of fog a clearing of blue sky and unlimited visibility. Fuchs reminds the viewer that during these times and circumstances the unknown lies ahead.

For me, the slightly worn pathway through the meadow talks to an infrequently journey, the relatively lesser known journey taken by an adventurer or an artist. This is the pathway of unknown possibilities, of exploring vague ideas that inherently have greater risks and corresponding, more interesting rewards. As you might suspect, the photographs of these faint pathways resonate most with me.

Fuchs raises the inevitable questions, what does the future hold? What are the stories that have come to pass?

The photobook has a cloth hardcover with a tipped in image on the front cover. The color plates, one per spread, each encased in a classic white margin, are printed on a soft luster paper that allow the photographs to display beautifully. The Afterward essay was provided by Heinz Liesbrock.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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April 16, 2013

Nick Brandt – On This Earth, A Shadow Falls

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Copyright Nick Brandt 2010 published by Big Life Editions

This photobook is a sublime compilation of Nick Brandt’s two earlier published photobooks, On This Earth and A Shadow Falls. This book containing 90 photographs selected from the first two books. What seems to be missing in this new book are photographs of the animals in the context of man-made structures and most the bluish toned photograph plates that are in the photobook On This Earth.

There is a dichotomy between the underlying sadness regarding the state of the environment and future for these animals in Africa found in the essays and the lyrical portraits of these animals. As a result, this dichotomy reminds me of Mitch Epstein’s American Power, non-confrontational environmental portraits that hint at the dark undercurrent of the economics and consumption of energy, while Brandt is very concerned with the ecological changes occurring in Africa. In turn, the situation in Africa is also symbolic of a myriad of other global situations in which local economics (survival/profiteering) is running counter to ecological and environmental survival.

Brandt states in his 2004 introduction “Ultimately, I’m not interested in creating work that is simply documentary or filled with action and drama, which has been the norm in the field of photographing animals in the wild. What I am interested in is showing the animals simply in the state of Being. In the state of Being before they no longer are. Before, in the wild at least, they cease to exist.”

Thus the photographs draw the reader deep into the book, only then to confront the difficult text of the accompanying essays. Indirectly the photographs are a call to action. Perhaps the last photograph in the book, the abandon egg sitting on the dry, parched earth is a final symbolic reminder of the dismal possibilities.

The texts by Jane Goodall, Alice Sebold, Vicki Goldberg, Peter Singer & Nick Brandt

My earlier commentary about Nick Brandt’s photobook: On This Earth

by Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook

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