The PhotoBook Journal

November 24, 2013

Carolyn Drake – Two Rivers

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Copyright Carolyn Drake 2013 self-published

Carolyn Drake has self-published a very interesting book this year, titled Two Rivers. This excellent and creative book has garnered a number of insightful reviews that discuss this body of work much better than I, so I am going to defer to others as to how this book came to be and her photographic oeuvres. The links are provided below.

As this book is crazy good, I am instead gong to discuss this book as an object, such as the design, sequencing, printing, etc. While trying to sort out the various aspects these past months, I have been fortunate to trade a series of emails with Drake about the making of her first book. Yes, her first book, but what a book!

As self-published photobooks go, Drake makes no bones about this being a collaborative effort between her book designer, Sybren (aka Syb or –SYB-) Kuiper, who is located in the Netherlands as well as a lot of input from various photographers, editors and friends. She is no stranger to collaboration; for the five year of photographing this project her success depended on her relationships and collaborations with guides, locals and others to assist in gaining access to or communicating with her subjects in Central Asia.

From my emails with Drake and reading her interviews about making the book, it is apparent that there are some specific conceptual aspects that she wanted to incorporate, but she was really open to other ideas and suggestions. As the photography of the body of work was ending, Drake found that she was get blocked into seeing a project in a specific way, bogged down with a part of the project or unable to solve how to mash certain groups of photographs cohesively together. She states that working with Kuiper provided her some needed conceptual break throughs. One example is the order of the photographs, when Kuiper proposed starting the book’s sequence at where the two rivers appear to end versus where the river’s originates high in the mountains.

The very first thing that strikes the reader upon seeing Two Rivers are the short covers, they do not extend out to overlap the interior book block. There were specific metaphors in mind for this cover design; the two rivers she investigates due to man’s (government) interventions no longer reach the two lakes that these rivers have historically fed. In leaving the interior block exposed, she has also created a tension for the reader, as the block of photographs are no longer safely protected by the exterior covers. Thus metaphorically her subjects are also left exposed and are placed at risk, a subtle criticism of the governmental policies affecting those who had depended on the rivers to survive in this region.

Upon opening the covers, the reader immediately confronts a mashup and disjointed series of photographs that is further confounded by the photographic layout on the Japanese style binding.   Glenna Gordon states about the books interior “In this work, the viewer is often denied the pleasure of seeing Drake’s images completely—communicating the frustrations she felt during her working process, and allowing us a rush of delayed gratification when we finally arrive at the magical, full-bleed images of starry nights, elaborate feasts, handmade bridges, and ladies with gold teeth.”

The photographic images frequently hang precariously on the edge of the page and roll onto the following page. In a standard photobook, this layout would literally break the photographic image in two, but with the Japanese style of double fold page printing (fukuro toji), it allows readers to roll their finger between the pages to get a glimpse of the whole image. To create the double fold page, it might appear that the signature is trimmed to create a continuous concertina binding, but actually each folded page is a separate folio, held to the spine with cold glue, versus a perfect binging which uses hot glue. The opposite (inside) side of the page is unprinted.

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In describing how this double folded page book came to fruition, Drake stated “The Japanese binding was Syb’s idea. When he suggested it, he just called it “Japanese binding.”  The idea was that the pages would be folded on the outside edge and images would wrap over the fold. But there are different kinds of bindings for folded pages. One thing I was very concerned about was whether the book would be able to lay flat open. I didn’t want to have images in the gutter be hard to read if they were also going to be folded over the edges of the pages. A lot of the examples you see online of Japanese binding are sewn in a way that makes it very difficult to fully open the book… I went to Arles the year we were working on it and I came across A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi. I think Cristina Middel pointed it out to me. I bought it and took it to Syb and asked him if he knew someone who could make a binding like that. He then showed it to a printer who contacted a binder in Holland who does that. They made a model for us with no images, just a couple cover options, the paper, and the binding. It was beautiful, so I decided I would commit to it. It works because of the “cold glue” and thin, uncoated paper”.

The book has a Linen hard cover with an inlaid black foil, with Japanese double folded offset printing and binding. The companion text booklet is stiffcover and a pamphlet stab binding (string). The text is provided by Elif Batuman. The text booklet is held to the back cover of the book by means of an elastic rubber band.

Review links:

Guernia Magazine, Glenna Gordon interviews Carolyn Drake

The Observer, Sean O’Hagan, Saturday 3 August 2013

Adam Bell Blog, Two Rivers by Carolyn Drake

Central Asia Standard blog

Carolyn Drake, Kickstarter

Time Lightbox, Carolyn Drake

Oh, yeah, least I forget: highly recommended.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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November 18, 2013

Massimo Vitali – Natural Habitats

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Copyright Massimo Vitali 2011 published by Steidl

Massimo Vitali’s Natural Habitats was one of the larger photobooks in overall size and mass published by Steidl in 2010, which is a nice match up with the large format photographs that Vitali works with.

I had access to inspect some of Vitali press images, two of which I included below, and it appears to me that the photographic plates within the book are just a tad bit more desaturated in color. The color management and transition from film negative to the pre-press digital file and four (five, six?) printing plates and finally within the limits of the printing press operations is slippery, during which many color, contrast, hue and density minor drifts can accumulate. As well as where the photographer pushes and pulls the image to achieve their desired results, as each of these steps can be an opportunity as well as a challenge.

Color management is where some of the larger photobook publishers like Steidl can shine, as they can chose printers and presses which are best suited to successfully manage these tasks. Especially for the nuances that are particular to exceptional photobook publishing.

In some cases, such as with Steidl, the publisher may allow the photographer to be “on-press” during the book’s production press run. Thus creates an opportunity to make some additional “creative” tweaks during the interaction of the press man and photographer while the sheets/signatures (multiple pages) are being printed. I suspect that this is the case with this exception photobook, as this photobook probably looks very much like what Vitali is envisioning.

The hardcover book is wide, heavy and expansive, with a nice dust cover. The binding permits a lay-flat reading experience, while the photographs have sufficient margins and there is no content lost in the gutter. The large photographic plates and wonderful printing make this body a work a delight to read.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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November 13, 2013

Jefferson Hayman – I’ll Find Another One Prettier Than You

Photographs copyright Jefferson Hayman 2012 published by Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books

This is a smaller stiff-cover book that utilizes the print on demand technology; hence the binding is tight and creates restrictions in opening and reading the book’s contents. As such, this is not a book that the interior pages will lay flat, which can be frustrating for me in order to photograph the interior pages for this article. Nevertheless, I believe that you will obtain a sense of Hayman’s interesting book project.

One aspect of this photobook type of book publishing is the potential for the edge of photographic image to become entrapped and potentially lost in the gutter (glued binding). The designer of this book has taken this aspect of the binding into careful consideration and has provided generous margins around each photographic plate. Thus Hayman’s photographs can be read in their entirety.

Cheers

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

November 11, 2013

Mitch Epstein – New York Arbor

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Copyright Mitch Epstein 2013 published by Steidl

Mitch Epstein’s recent photobook New York Arbor is a slight departure from his earlier photographic work, most recent of which is American Power (2009) and Berlin (2011), also published by Steidl. Although New York Arbor was photographed with his trademark 8 x10” view camera, the film and resulting images are in Black & White.

Epstein is investigating a subject in a place that is close to home, the trees found in the four sections of New York City. The images are sequentially ordered in a manner that the reader travels through time, passing through the four seasons. The viewer begins by confronting the large looming trees, nude of leaves, standing in the gray light of winter. The form and lines of a tree is fully exposed and evident unlike the warm summer days when these trees are darkly cloaked and concealed by dense leaves and vegetation.

These are much like environmental portraits, but instead of individuals the subjects are trees. They co-exist with us and like us become battered, injured, damaged and yet resilient. The trees cannot under their own power relocate themselves; they must survive in the serendipitous circumstances of where they took root many decades ago as the city continues to encircle them.

Some trees are presented multiple times reflecting the seasonal variation. Epstein is drawn to revisit his subjects for further re-examination and contemplation. The lighting is frequently flat, the artifact of an early morning light on a gray Eastern sunless day, reminding me of the portraiture of Paris trees by Eugene Atget. Similar gray lighting is preferred by Bernd and Hilla Becher for their large format industrial “sculptural” portraits, a flat lighting that allows details and features to not become lost in the shadows. Unlike the Becher’s, Epstein is not as clinical and coldly objective, although his subjects are similarly centered, but frequently the trees spill out of the frame. Epstein allows the tree to determine the right composition as well as he is willing to include individuals and other evidence of humanity into his pictorial frame.

To maintain perspective of his large subjects, even with the use of a large format view camera with its swings, tilts and shifts, it appears that Epstein has frequently found elevated camera positions. For many of the trees, without the ability to compare and contrast with a known object, say a two story house or multistory office building, the breath and size of his subjects is ambiguous and uncertain.

The hard cover book with dust jacket arrives in a printed slip case. For me, this is a case in which a large book (14” x 12”) is befitting of the interior images. The interior plates (12 ½” x 10”) are only a small enlargement over the original negative size (10” x 8”), thus reading this book is a similar opportunity to examine his contact prints.

Other Mitch Epstein photobooks reviewed on The PhotoBook:  American Power

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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Le PhotobookFest – Paris November 15 – 17, 2013

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:34 pm

Since I was soooo busy with finishing Pine Lake, my artist book, I neglected to provide some updates on other events such as Le PhotobookFest which will be occurring this coming weekend in conjunction with Paris Photo. The Le PhotobookFest will be at a different venue, L’Ancienne Imprimerie/Picture Tank, 19 rue Bisson 75020 Paris, than the Grand Palais for Paris Photo, so if you want to attend both, it will take a little time to get between venues. The good news that I can testify to is the Paris Metro (underground) is really nice and pretty efficient.

Le PhotobookFest is being organized by the Paris Photobook Club so it is a real grass roots organization. In conjunction with Le PhotobookFest, there is also a book dummy exhibition and public attendee jury of the book dummy’s called “Rock Your Dummy!“. As a non-disclosure, I am also a member of the “Rock Your Dummy!” Advisory team, along with Elinor Carucci, Wayne Ford, Hans Gremmen, Taco Hidde Bakker, Larissa Leclair,  Lesley A. Martin and  Iris Sikking.

So it was a bit of conflict when Matt Johnston, the guy who has started and organized the entire Photobook Club program, requested that I provide my book dummy for Pine Lake to exhibit in Paris at Rock Your Dummy! Much like everyone else, especially with how Pine Lake is as much an artist book object that you need to hold to appreciate, I wanted to have this additional exposure. Thus we worked out that thje Pine Lake dummy will be on exhibit as part of the Advisory Team, but not part of the public jury event. Nice compromise!

Here are the links and I hope that you have the opportunity to take it all in;

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LePhotobookFest2013?directed_target_id=0

Rock Your Dummy!: http://lephotobookfest.wordpress.com/rock-your-dummy/

Le PhotobookFest: http://lephotobookfest.wordpress.com

Cheers!

Photobook Reviews

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:15 am

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Photograph copyright Jane Alt

For the past couple of months I have been pretty self-absorbed in getting my own artist photobook Pine Lake published. While developing the book dummy, I did not anticipate how much band width would be consumed in producing the 25 copies of this hand made book. Essentially my last photobook review was published mid September, about two months ago. Yikes, time flies.

Thus the ensuing quandary, as much as depicted by Jane Alt’s burning fields, above. The future of this blog is not entirely clear, or rather I should say, there are changes that will be occurring as to what I plan to publish about photobooks.

For the book reviews, I am happy with the visual format and I have not received any comments to the contrary over the past couple of years; thus to be included are the book’s front cover image and then six to seven interior book spreads that I select.

Perhaps what may change is the focus (I just luv that pun) on my commentary about book’s content as to how much I will discuss the photographs as a collective body of work versus discussing the photobook as an object. In the past, I was attempting to place more emphasis on my commentary and leaving the photobook as an object as a closing statement. This will probably flip, with more emphasis place on the book object.

I am not entirely sure of how this will turn out, and as the smoke clears, I hope that it all turns out okay. Let me know if you like the changes, or not.

Cheers!

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