The PhotoBook Journal

September 20, 2013

Abe Frajndlich – Penelope’s Hungry Eyes

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copyright Abe Frajndlich 2011 (cover – Cindy Sherman) published by Schirmer/Mosel

This book is a compilation of artist portraits of individuals rarely seen, mainly because Abe Frajndlich’s subjects are the photographers who stand behind the camera, not in front of the lens.  This particular photobook is very interesting for me as a photographer, especially as I know that these are some of the photographers who have an influence on my work.

Most of these are elaborately staged and lit environmental and symbolic portraits, frequently in collaboration with his subject, which provide additional layers to create a dialog with the reader in regard as to who the person is that momentarily stands before the lens. Others are quickly composed and fleeting vignettes captured on the fly.

As so I have made my own selection of portraits below that are of interest to me, and hopefully likewise to you, and perhaps create enough interest to want to see and read more about these interesting & creative individuals.

It is fitting that one of Frajndlich’s photographic role models is Arnold Newman, who essentially created the environment portrait that is so evident now in Frajndlich’s own oeuvres.

The book is a hardcover with dust jacket, nicely printed by EBS in Verona, Italy and contains an essay by Abe Frajndlich and Henry Adams. The concluding index of photographs is a bit charming, as it contains the birth (and passing) dates, where these events occurred, as well as recollections by Frajndlich recalling the portrait event. This interesting index is a bit autobiographical for Frajndlich, as it hints at his literary interests prior to becoming a portrait photographer.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 16, 2013

Paul Schiek – Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me

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Copyright Paul Schiek 2012 published by TBW Books

Paul Schiek has constructed an interesting photobook based on found “mug shots”, an interesting selection of vernacular photographs collected by Mike Brodie at an abandoned Georgia prison.  These identification head shots have isolated from their context as prisoner information, thus in a similar vein to Chris Crites “Mug Shots”, the edits results in opening and expanding the potential narrative.

Even for those who have not experienced incarnation, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that prisons are mean and hostile environment and those inside are constantly fighting for basic survival. The portrait of the man with the lingering black eye is a testimonial to the difficult conditions. Thus when facing the camera, does the mask drop to reveal the person in front of the camera or is it essential to maintain a guarded presence, as though to let one’s guard down even momentarily is to show weakness? As the photographer is anonymous, it may be that the photographer is also an inmate as many of the operational chores within prisons are performed by the inmates to keep operating cost down. Or possibly the person on the other side of the camera is a feared guard? We don’t know but it is intriguing to consider.

The one gatefold includes a man who has a sad and soulful look as though he might be one of those who might have been abused by the others in the prison. Befitting Schiek has flanked this portrait with two other male portraits, men that have a hardened and unflinching gaze. The resulting gatefold is a sad narrative as to the possible conditions in these hellish and forbidding places for the damned.

Vince Aletti writes in the book’s introduction “Their anonymity invites speculation.. a fantasy to fill in the blanks. They’re the men pulp fiction was written for and about; the meatheads, the fall guys, the sidekicks, the bruisers, the rogues, the heartbreakers, the cuckolds. Schiek says he selected and sequenced the portraits in a way of evoking what he calls “the American male stench”….sharp and pungent.

The resulting found photographs exhibit much abuse and wear as the result of repeated band handling, metaphoric to the lives of the men who stood in front of the lens. These are not photographs that have been framed and cherished. They reflect a used commodity during at time in which all parties would just as soon wish had never existed and resulting in memories that are best described as bad nightmares.

As a book object, this is a stiff cover with perfect bound binding and includes one gatefold. Regretfully also similar to the perfect binding of Crites “Mug Shots” in which the limited readability of the book’s interior contents is vexing. The introductory essay is by Vince Aletti and the Georgia prison photographs were found by Mike Brodie during his travels.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 11, 2013

Jane Fulton Alt – The Burn

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Copyright 2013 Jane Fulton Alt published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

Upon initially viewing the color photographs of Jane Fulton Alt’s aptly title photobook “The Burn”, I was feeling more than a bit conflicted. First, her photographs are poetic, surreal, mysterious as well as lyrical.  As aptly stated by Deborah Gribbon in her essay, “Alt has a keen eye for gesture in landscape….the burn photographs are richly visual and invite a lingering inspection that both challenges and rewards the viewer….the majority of the works are vignettes; trees, wildflowers, prairie grass and cattails….the photographs seem mysterious and otherworldly because they confound the usual cues for perceiving space and scale.”

Regretfully living in Southern California, these same photographs also speak to a much darker narrative, that of the Western wild fires. Wild fires can quickly become savagely destructive, literally destroying thousands of homes in one fire season. Even when control fires are needed, like those photographed by Alt, these have not always burned as planned, one of which that went out of control burned thousands of acres and a few homes.

Thus I view these photographs with mixed emotions. But for me, that is a hallmark of a good body of work, that it can stir memories, activate the senses (I can almost smell and taste the dense smoke of a wild fire) and yet be visually interesting.

As an object, this square book is an image-wrap case bound book with four color printing on a semi-luster stock. It is of a medium size that makes handling and reading delightful.  The essays are provided by Jane Fulton Alt, Deborah Gribbon, Gary and Anastasia Friel Gutting and Michael Weinstein.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 7, 2013

Andreas Seibert – The Colors of Growth

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photographs copyright Andreas Seibert 2013 published by Lars Muller Publishers

The opening color photographs of Andreas Seibert’s The Colors of Growth, China’s Huai River appear lyrical, what may seem a documentary of a beautiful place for peaceful contemplation. Then the landscape, portraits and captions rapidly transforms into a haunting narrative of a huge ecological disaster that ebbs and crawls through the bowls of China.

This book is about globalization as much as it is an ecological call to action. The photographs record the dire consequences of unchecked progress of yet another developing county in the midst of rapidly transforming itself from a farming economy into an industry economy. Regretfully, these developmental disasters keep repeating themselves, but now at a vast quicker pace. Europe went through these times that spanned many hundreds of years, while the United States condensed this time into less than a hundred years. The notorious Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire thirteen times before the U.S. finally engaged the Clean Water Act in the late 1960’s. Seibert records the economics of a down-river business mentality, as long as the business folks live up-river of the waste-pipe of pollution, it’s not a problem. That is until the entire river essentially becomes a continuous waste-pipe of pollution, which is Seibert’s subject, a documentation of the conditions of the Huai River.

Seibert states in his introduction “My aim was to illustrate what I consider the most pressing questions of our ear in which economy is the leading paradigm; What is man’s relationship to nature, and, accordingly, what price is society wiling to pay for economic growth?”

Intertwined amongst the narrative of the personal impact of this polluted river are photographs of the polluted water, which are abstract and hauntingly beautiful.  These photographs would be easier to contemplate if they did not represent the amount of chemical s and human waste present in the water. Fortunately, the book is visual and does not provide the foul and terrible odors present at these locations, for that we have representative documentation, both visual and his subject’s quotes, provide by Seibert. Even so, these conditions are hard to fathom. Likewise it is very unfortunate how people can become trapped in these miserable conditions, perhaps a home to generations that within in a short duration has become intolerable.

The hardcover book has a dust cover and a horizontal format that is ideally suited to maximize a 35mm horizontal format image. The photographs are framed with a traditional white margin and the binding allows the book to fully open and be enjoyed. The book’s text and captions are provided by Seibert.

Note: From my six weeks in China, one of which was in the port city of LianYungGang where the Huai, after meeting the Yangtze River, empties in the Yellow Sea, I can attest to some of these dismal ecological conditions in China.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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