The PhotoBook Journal

August 17, 2013

Jacquie Maria Wessels – Cityscapes & Birdmen

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copyright Jacquie Maria Wessels 2010 published by Voetnoot Publishing (Amersterdam)

There are two really large genres in photography; one of which is the landscape (an investigation of where) and the other portraiture (an investigation of who). Of growing interest to me is where these two intersect, which is the case in both title and content of Jacquie Maria Wessels photobook Cityscapes & Birdman. Her book is akin to an interactive media as both inform the other and thus collectively creates a layered investigation about personal identity.

Wessels subject are the men of Republic of Suriname as well as the many Suriname men who emigrated to The Netherlands. Her subjects are obsessed with a weekly songbird contest which is conducted on every Sunday morning. The portraits of her subjects, made in the Republic of Suriname and The Netherlands, vary in pose and composition provides a sense of diversity as to who these men are.

The tightly framed urban landscape photographs provide an external context of her subject’s home environment situated on the northern coast of South America. Wessel’s is drawn to the colorful folk-art advertising on the storefronts and commercial buildings of Suriname, with the inclusive text frequently a mix of English and Dutch. Wessels has sequenced similar built-landscape compositions on facing pages, but slightly off-set from each other, which provides the reader with a sense of looking off to your side while walking down the street.

I find this photobook a delightful intersection of landscape and portraiture and a similar narrative to Amy Stein and Stacy Mehrfar’s photobook Tall Poppy Syndrome.

The interior photographs are printed on matte paper, each bordered by a small white margin of this image-wrap hardcover book. The binding allows the interior pages to be easily open and the book is a nice reading experience.  The image captions are provided with thumb-nail photographs in the “Legends” section at the end of the book. Essays are provided by Michiel Van Kempen with the text provided in both English and Dutch.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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August 13, 2013

Matej Sitar – America My Way

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:24 pm

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copyright Matej Sitar 2012 self-published by The Angry Bat

Tucked away inside the deceivably simple folding cover is an interesting and complex set of overlapping photobooks. The entirety focuses on selected moments of a road-trip journey, which in this case Sitar’s subject is the Pacific coast of the United States.

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Interior and three books – America, My Way

The three interior photobooks have a shared text but vary in regard to the photographic plates, where some of the images and text are repeated and common to all three book copies. To help illustrate, I have included examples below of the two alternative layouts; unique or shared.

I find that this is an interesting way to explore the differences in that can occur when experiencing a road trip amongst friends. It seems that whenever we gather after one of these events, regardless of length or duration, there are those things seen uniquely and others experienced as a group. The repeated photographs represent those events that for whatever reason are seared into the shared memory and become a common touch point.

Likewise, this is a very nice narrative on the aspects of memory and its preservation. The photographs that vary are a reflection of our individuality in looking and seeing, as well as how memory will change events over time.

Another alternative in reading these books is offed by Sitar as “to show the vast amount of possibilities that a journey can offer.” These books can be read singularly or as a group to create a triptych that increases the complexity of this narrative.

As a book object, it is rather complex and layered. The outer folding cover, with the essay by James A. Reeves printed on the interior side, is complete with a magnetic closure. The three interior stiff-cover photobooks are four-color offset printing with saddle stitch binding.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Note: getting the color balance correct for the book interiors was very vexing this time, so just know that all of the books have the same off-white color of paper for each of the three books. I will take the credit for not getting the color corrected. Please limit your use of poison darts to just three.

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August 5, 2013

Jerry Spagnoli – American Dreaming

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Copyright Jerry Spanoli 2012 published by Steidl

Jerry Spanoli’s second photobook “American Dreaming” is a cryptic, layered and complex book, which in the wake of the recent NSA operational leaks from Edward Snowden, this book now appears almost prophetic. The subject of Spanoli’s book is the years of the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), although not focused on the events of the war occurring in the Gulf but to the subtle changes to the social fabric within the United States.

The images within the book are literally layered, with one, two or more photographs juxtaposed on top of a background photograph. The resulting layout and design make for an interesting read as the foreground and background photographs create a complex tension, pushing and pulling the narrative. The grainy black and white photographs are themselves metaphors, representing the grains of sand on which the Gulf war was being waged (the back story). The tight cropping of his subjects is reminiscent of the earlier photographic work of Ralph Gibson who also investigated allegorical and emotionally symbolic concepts.

Intertwined through his book, sometimes subtle, perhaps at times a little more explicit, is a narrative of surveillance; unknown individuals on the edges who are observing and watching. These individuals appear as indistinct and faceless individuals who lurk in the gray midst and fog, a metaphor for the ghosts or spooks of the government spies and their shadow organizations. The grainy photographs can also visual represent white noise, a form of background static made by electronic instruments. It is said that lurking in the white noise is where the electronic eavesdropping, another form of surveillance, which Snowden has recently brought to light, may occur.

The flip side of Spanoli’s surveillance narrative is a critical viewpoint of society, which seems to be in a dream land state, seemingly unaware of the changes unfolding about them. Like the birds of the air, the culture flocks from one point and place to another, seemingly free, but by their own actions, limited in their perception of reality.

In my initial pre-Snowden revelation read of this book, I though it to have an overly dark and pessimistic viewpoint, but now I am not so sure any more.

As a book object, it is cloth bound with tipped in image and with the sewn binding, it lays relatively flat for an enjoyable read. The book design is by Jeffy Spagnoli and does not contain an essay, captions or pagination.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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