The PhotoBook Journal

April 29, 2014

Paris Photo LA – 2014

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Untitled (stack of new books) copyright 2014 Douglas Stockdale.

One of the nice aspects of LA becoming a regional center for photography is the growing number of photographic events occurring locally. Even though I live a good hour drive south of LA (if the traffic behaves), much easier to attend than similar events in NYC, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Tokyo. Nevertheless, I usually only attend one day and if the event is a three day weekend, I make it a point to attend on Friday. Basically there is a much smaller crowd with more accessibility to exhibits and meet-ups, the downside is the grander presentations are usually on Saturday.

This past weekend was Paris Photo LA and the smaller Photo Independent (my review of the Photo Independent on Singular Images) located adjacent to the Paris Photo LA. My interest was primarily on the Paris Photo LA is the presence of the photobook publishers and distributors. This year the book publishers was Aperture (US), Kehrer (Germany), MACK (UK), Taschen (US) and Bookshop M (Japan) along with Printed Matter (US) and the U.S. mega photobook distributor Artbook D.A.P. Also a couple of photobook dealers, such as Harper Books and Dirk K. Bakker Boeken. There are also a few photobooks found amongst the various exhibitors, but this took more time to hunt down than I had available this year with the exception of Andy Freeberg’s recently published Art Fare, but this was a prearranged meet-up.

Most of the publishers have recently published titles and frequently titles that are not going to be released in the U.S. until late summer or early Fall, so a nice opportunity to see what’s coming out. Most of the publishers and distributors were organizing book signings, so an opportunity to meet up with the photographer behind the book. I have already reviewed Douglas Ljungkvist’s Ocean Beach, nevertheless this was an opportunity to meet the guy behind the book as we had already been trading email and Facebook messages leading up to his book being reviewed. Thus a chance to meet Rachael Jablo and an introduction to her photobook My Days of Losing Words, Nancy Baron and her photobook The Good Life, Robert Pittman and his photobook Anonymization and Catherine Leutenegger and her photobook Kodak City. As you can see in the photograph above, I also acquired the Harry Callahan book, but a bit too late to meet up with him. I had a chance to meet up with Cristina De Middel, Renee Jacobs and Wendy Hicks during my meandering as well as there were a couple of missed opportunities.

The big tension for Friday night was the darkening clouds and the forecast for rain that evening. Some of the store fronts where either books or pictures were hanging are true Hollywood facades sans roofs. So below are some of the sights of Paris Photo LA, which by the way was held again on the back-lot of Paramont Picture Studios in Hollywood. How LA is that?

Cheers!

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April 18, 2014

Laura Braun – Metier – Small Businesses in London

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Copyright Laura Braun 2013 published by her imprint Paper Tigers Books

The recent book self-published under her imprint by Laura Braun, Metier, investigates the Small Business in London, which is a region where Braun resides.  The book is a combination of environment portraits of the persons engaged in a small business, a study of the business interiors and all in conjunction with brief statements made by her subjects, usually in the context of how they arrived at this business.

Since the term Metier was not well known to me, (a term that I never heard mentioned amongst the other small business owners in Southern California where our shop was residing), I thought it expansive to know more about this word in order to ground me as a reader.  Perhaps this is a far more common term in England, as in California those folks who run the small businesses are more commonly known as store owners, small businessman/women or for the hip stores, entrepreneur.

  1. A profession or trade, especially that to which one is well suited.
  2. A field of activity in which one has special ability or training; forte.

I suspect that the last part of the first definition creates more ambiguity in the reading of this book, as I find it extremely difficult to tell by looking a portrait or reading their statement that they are well suited to that professional trade.  The later found definition seems to have a better connotation and connection with Braun’s sociological study.

This book immediately resonates with me as many photographers, whether full time or part time profession, commercial, portrait or fine art, usually fall into this broad category of commerce.  And in fact she features three photographic oriented small businesses in her book.

As background, at one time my family owned and operated a storefront retail store selling a combination of picture framing services, do-it-yourself framing supplies as well a broad selection of fine arts materials. We were on the far end of main street and we quickly noticed the changes that began to occur with the local store businesses with the opening of a huge open mall near by. Similar to Braun’s environmental portraits of the store owner’s enclave, we also had the “back room” where all of the framing magic occurred and our framing team could relax a moment out of the spotlight of the customers gaze.

Her portraits are at once a look into the past and as well as potentially into the future for a small segment of society in North America and Western Europe.  In other parts of the developing world, these small business portraits probably do not appear as strange as family owned enterprises are the norm. Nevertheless with the continuing expansion of McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks other chains, even the far reaches of the globe may soon be similarly impacted.

In studying her photographs it seems that the store interiors provide a biographic environment, from the neat, tidy and well arranged to those on the ragged edge of total chaos, much like her subjects. There are also open questions asked by this body of work, such as to whether there might be a universality to small businesses.

Unlike the current trend of neutral appearing subjects, as if indifferent, it appears that Braun does not attempt to force her subjects into a predetermined formalistic pose. She captures what her subject’s offer, that perhaps this is part and parcel to her subject’s persona. She and her subjects provide the reader a little more of a hint as to one alternative reading of the photograph.

Likewise I find while reading this book recalling the various small shops and businesses I have frequented while some have made a lasting impression and memory to this day.

I do find this book to be a very enjoyable read.

The book has a stiff cover dust cover over a book block that has open thread binding. Okay, Braun describes the book as being naked bound with dust jacket, which I have discussed in much more detail in another post found here.  As a result of this style of binding, the book lays flat and viewing the interior spreads in combination with the smaller size of this publication is a pleasure. The flip side is that this is not a particularly strong type of binding thus the reader is encouraged to take a little more care in the book’s handling. My copy was immediately placed into a protective poly bag. In the captions for each small business, the subject as well as the physical location is identified. The Afterword was written by Dawn Lyon with the book design by Mel Duarte.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook & published concurrently with Emaho magazine.

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April 11, 2014

Naked Bound

Filed under: Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:36 am

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Naked bound with Dust Jacket, Laura Braun, Metier, copyright 2013

Okay, for some of you I’m guessing that the title of this post might not be exactly what you were expecting, eh?

For some time artist, photographers and graphic designers have been pushing the conceptual design envelop of a photobook as an integral extension of the published work.  Thus questioning how a published book should be designed and constructed as to how the resulting object might possibly expand/extend the narrative.

As the traditional photobook becomes morphed into a contemporary photobook, how do we describe the changes that beget the new look and function?

One aspect of the book’s design that has been getting some attention is focused on the spine, the section of the book which holds all of the signatures (pages) together. In the past, the spine had elaborate covers and enabled the publisher to identify the book title and author to allow recognition on the book seller’s shelves. Now book designers have been allowing the spine to be unconcealed, or naked bound as Laura Braun describes in her book’s description and the underlying reason for this post.

My first brush with this open spine design concept was in 2009 with Lee Friedlander’s photobook New Mexico, which the open spine was described as revealing the book’s skeleton (I have since found out that this book design style is call Tape Binding). In an exchange with Darius Himes, who was a principal of Radius Books and the publisher of Friedlander’s book, he stated discussion in response to my question;

No, you’re not going insane. The book is a very intentional object:  no end-pages, the book block “sits” against the raw book boards, naked and exposed on the rough terrain of those boards, if you will.  The back of the book block is secured to the back board as a structural device.  This very raw object is clothed in a very elegant dust-jacket with a debossed and duo-tone printed, inlaid image.  Again, the effect is a raw object clothed with elegance (kind of like New Mexico and Santa Fe itself).  So, no, the book is not supposed to have front end-pages and the spine is not meant to be glued to anything…. you’re seeing right to the skeleton of a book.

In retrospect, I guess I should have paid closer attention to Himes description of this design (…naked and exposed…) and probably Braun’s description for Metier would not have struck me as it did. I have deferred to calling this spine design an open thread stitching and included this in my photobook definitions (sidebar).

Since 2009, I have seen this open thread stitching become more common. I will admit that I am unsure why some book designers have included this particular aspect in their book design perhaps other than gain some attention as the open thread stitching did not see pertinent to the published work. Perhaps it is the cool thing to do for a book. I prefer to think of how form follows function. You should have a reason for ever aspect of your book design; paper selection, layout, text, captions, sequencing, binding, etc. if you desire to present a cohesive concept.

Okay, that said, I will readily admit that there are some interesting aspects of Braun’s naked bound book Metier worth discussing. First, the dust jacket conceals the open thread stitching, thus he book’s design concept is not blatantly revealed but you have to remove the jacket to find out that her book is naked. hmmmm, perhaps I need to think about that aspect a bit more…..

Up until recently, the open thread stitching also included a layer of glue to finish the binding, while Braun’s naked bound does not. As a result, her photobook’s binding is more vulnerable to handling and damage. Early books were notorious for the spine to break which resulted in the pages falling out, which is why the spines were glued after stitching to further reinforce the spine. One result of not having any reinforcing glue is that it allows her book to fully open into a lay flat condition. A wonderful attribute to aid the reading of her photobook.

The second subtly, but more apparent as the reader spends time with the book, is that she has selected multicolored threading for her naked bound book. Thread color is usually selected to appear close to the page color so that the thread does not compete with the interior images and text. In Braun’s book the variety of brightly color thread is hard to miss and the color shifts though out the book. Thus Braun’s book is naked bound with a delightedly colorful flair.

So from time to time I will spend a little time discussing contemporary book designs as another aspect of this blog.

Cheers!

Update: The awesome photobook designer Sybren (-SYB- ) Kuiper pointed out to me that the book design above also falls into the book design category of Swiss Binding: The book cover is not attached to the face top edge, completely detached from the text block. Accordingly, I have added this to the blog sidebar of Photobooks:  definitions and terms.

April 4, 2014

Nico Bick – P.I.

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Nick Bick copyright 2011, self-published

Nico Bick’s P.I. is a study of what is purported to be the one of the most well-known prisons in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the Over-Amstel Penitentiary Institution locally known as Bijlmerbajes (Bijlmer Jail). Using a documentary style, Bick photographed the cells of prisoners, isolation cells, communal rooms and holding cells. Bick also include an area that is most relevant to the prison administration; the control rooms and an area equally important to the prisoners; the doors leading out of the facilities.

Interestingly, the book is unbound and the interior sheets are folded and tucked together. I think that there might have been initially some order to how these pages were arranged, but over the last couple of years, while I continued looking at these sheets I have managed to create a jumble in the presentation. I suspect that that was part of Bick’s plan to allow the reader to rearrange and create their own order out of the inherent madness associated with a tightly regimented prison system.

Perhaps with the exception of the prisoner’s rooms and control rooms, the areas photographed within this institution are ambiguous. The facility appears almost too clean and sterile with the exception of one type of room that seems to invite graffiti. The locations are photographed without the presence of the prisoners or their guards, but we sense that due to the nature of this place, someone maybe just beyond the scope of Bick’s lens. This is a man-built structure with a very specific purpose in mind.

In stark comparison to the photographs of the US jails and prisons interiors, in which the prisoners are living in a mass communal, the individual rooms appear to be only a slight departure from someone’s home residence. Each room appears to be designed for an inhabited by a single individual; each provided a window, blue curtains, a corner table with a small television and coffee maker and an adjoining chair. On the shelves above the single bed is a place to hold books, snacks, or a photograph. Some of these rooms look Spartan as though just occupied, other have the accumulated debris that comes with too much time. Bick’s photographs appear objective and not judgmental of the current situation and circumstances.

As a book object, it has tri-fold stiff cover, with the interior panels containing thumbnail photographs and captions that provide an index to the interior sheets. The four color interior sheets are folded and loose (unbound). An introduction is provided on another loose sheet by Frits Gierstberg while the book was designed by Joost Grootens.

Footnote: This is one of the photobooks that I received in early 2012 and which never seemed to make through my photobook review cycle. Nevertheless the book’s intriguing design in conjunction with the clearly seen yet stark photographs made a strong impression and this book keeping lingering in my memory as a book that needed to be discussed.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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April 1, 2014

Douglas Ljungkvist – Ocean Beach

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Copyright Douglas Ljungkvist 2013 published by Kehrer Heidelberg Verlag

Ocean Beach is a photographic project that Douglas Ljungkvist (b. 1965, Gothenburg, Sweden, resides in Brooklyn, NY) initiated in 2009. The original intent of Ocean Beach was to investigate a region located in the midst of a 200 mile stretch of the barrier island located off the American coast of the New Jersey. A coastal stretch that is a well-known summer holiday destination.

Ljungkvist’s project took an unanticipated and epic twist when in October 2012 this region was directly slammed by Hurricane Sandy. During the ensuing storm, the magic bubble surrounding this holiday retreat was burst and totally shattered.

The book opens with an investigation of furnished rental structures that are designed and built for a holiday escape. Even the name of the Ocean Beach rental homes, called cottages, is meant to evoke thoughts of a lyrical English country side. The cottage exteriors area characterized by their pastel colors; sea foam greens, peach, tans, light gray, and sky blue. The cottage interiors complement the cottage exteriors with a similar color palette which Ljungkvist humorously pairs together on facing pages. Few individuals are present in his photographs with the exception of one crowed photographed during what appears to be a summer beach party.

The light and airy colors of the cottages are meant to set the mood for the ensuing sunny, balmy, summer vacation days. Ocean Beach is a destination to have fun times and not be reminded of the stuff of home; work, bills and yard work. A sugary and candy sweetness abounds. No distractions, no industrial buildings or high rise offices on this part of the Jersey Shore, just sand and surf and the warm sun to bask in.

As stated by Harvey Benge in his Introduction; “These pictures address issues of conformity and of pervasive empty consumerism. We are confronted with a bizarre version of the American Dream that embodies the unrelenting desire for happiness constructed from a determined yet fragile sense of self-value and apple-pie radiant optimism.”

In October 2012 a Hurricane named Sandy devastated much of the American East Coast region as this huge storm hit landfall. Ocean Beach and the length of the Jersey Shore absorbed the brunt of the savage gale winds and surging ocean. In the twinkling of an eye the fate of nature altered this idyllic landscape, much as nature has wreaked similar havoc in many parts of the world.

In the post-Sandy photographs, his photographic perspective was altered and expanded to include the beach as well as the outlying ocean. In an interview with Ljungkvist, he stated that “it felt important as the ocean and sand was a large contribution to the destruction.”

Ljungkvist photographs of the Ocean Beach destruction have a calm and objective perspective without the drama of the storm. The skies are now clear blue with hints of sea haze, while the ocean is relatively flat and calm and is no longer threatening.

His documentary style photographs are almost coolly clinical in his middle view point perspective.  His photographs of the damaged structure were taken well after the event has transpired and an almost ghostly quietness has come over the area. He reveals the crushed homes with sand drifts flowing through the living areas, bedrooms in shambles, wrecked furniture and kitchens all askew.

Amongst the ruin is the construction equipment attempting to take control of the damage and new piles of dirt are mute testimony of their labor. There are profuse footprints on the layers of sand covering the interiors and other evidence that mankind is now in the midst of wrestling with the consequences of this storm. The devastation is no less, but appears more benign in the light of a clear day.

Ljungkvist narrative has change mid-chapter into a story about uncontrollable nature, chance, unplanned events, much as life itself. It is true serendipity as to where nature’s full impact and fury will occur. If possible, mankind can take cover or get out of its path and then deal with the aftermath the best we know how. His photographs that capture a glimpse of the construction equipment imply that the process of resurrection has begun. Similarly the photograph of the destroyed house in the foreground while in the background, high on a mound of fresh dirt, stands an erect and defiant American flag, signifying hope, determination and American optimism.

The hard book has an image wrap cover book with superb four-color offset litho printing on a semi-luster paper. The book includes essays by Harvey Benge and Steve Bission with the text in English. The pages are numbered while the photographs do not have any captions allowing the reader to create their own stories.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook and co-published by Emaho magazine

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