The PhotoBook

December 26, 2014

Alejandro Cartagena – Carpoolers

Alejandro_Cartagena-Carpoolers_cover

Copyright Alejandro Cartagena 2014, self-published

“Carpooling” is an American, maybe Southern Californian, term for an occasion when multiple individuals ride in the same vehicle to the same destination. On the freeways of California the need to increase the quantity of carpoolers in order to relive the increasing congestion has raised the process and infrastructure of carpooling to an art form. Alejandro Cartagena (b. April 1977 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, now lives in Monterrey, Mexico) became aware of the American phoneme of carpools and diamond lanes on a visit to Southern California and riding on those congested freeways must have been an amazing experience compared to the highways of his home in Monterrey. Nevertheless this southern California experience created the seed of a conceptual idea that would play out later in Monterrey.

The actual process of carpooling is a well-known practice outside of America, where vehicles can be rare, expensive to own as well as operate. Upon first seeing a family of five on an electric scooter in China a few years back was a bit of a cultural shock which quickly wore off when this sight became a common occurrence. Likewise, Cartagena observed how pick-up truck loads of workers were routinely traversing from dense urban sites to new housing and construction areas on the expanding outskirts of the Monterrey region. The carpooling of the Monterrey workers was an economic necessity for the reasons stated above; trucks are both expensive to own and operate and there are few reasonable alternatives to travel to these new construction sites.

Cartagena found a high advantage point, a pedestrian overpass, to create this topology project; a study in carpooling, in which he could look almost straight down into the passing vehicles. The resulting layout of these vehicles take on abstract shapes, a visual mapping that we do not frequently observe, and further reinforcing the topological nature of his project.

There exists both a sameness of his subjects; similar models of the pick-up trucks, organizational layout of the front hood, cab and the back bed of the truck, the differences in the paint and condition, the open bed in which there is a mash-up of workers, equipment and tools; that varied over time and season. It is evident that he became known for making this series of photographs with many of his subjects gazing back at the photographer and thus connecting also with the reader. Many of these photographs are humorous; worker stretched out sleeping during their trip, gazing up and interacting with the photographer, and others showing a bit of concern. His subjects frequently appear cold and huddled together to protect themselves from the windy, chilling ride.

The subtext is an investigation into identity and culture. There are the economic differences between the poorer construction workers providing the labor to the unseen nicer homes and estates of the upper class. Even within the photographs there is an economic narrative; the “first class” ride; which is inside the protected cab along with the driver, and the “economy coach” section, in the open and unprotected back bed of the truck.

To further understand his subjects, Cartagena took a similar ride in the back bed of a truck to see what his subjects were experiencing. Evident was the expansive blue sky marked by the occasional objects that were seen from this prone perspective; overpasses, signage, etc. Cartagena then intertwined these alternative viewpoint photographs to help break up the flow and cadence of his book that in turn provides more tension and dynamics to what could become a very static and repetitive sequencing.

The book layout provides one top view of a pick-up truck one each of the facing pages inviting the reader to provide comparison and take note of the subtle differences between them. The differences over time, who they are and where they are from, as well as where they are going and what are they going to do when they arrive. The interior of the truck bed provides some clues; equipment, tools, and the clothing of his subjects.

As a book object, the hard covers are constructed from raw boards, printed and die cut to reveal an interior pick-up truck that is the subject of the cover’s line drawing; creating an interesting three dimensional visualization. The heavy cover boards provides some heft and protection for the photobook and the color printing by a Mexico City press and bindery is nicely finished. The insightful Afterword essay was provided by Jessica S. McDonald.

Cheers!

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December 23, 2014

Laura Curran – Lots of Cake!

Laura_Curran-Lots_of_Cake!_cover

Copyright Laura Curran, 2014 self published/After Image Publishing

From the moment that I first saw the photographs from Laura Curran’s photobook Lots of Cake!, her project resonated with me. The project was made all the more delightful in the layout and design of this photobook object.

Curran uses a documentary style to investigate her family, with her mother as the focal point of this introspective study. She focuses in on small details to identify for the reader the various talismans for this family’s memory.

She includes a series of four hand-written family recipes printed on a semi-translucent sheet of vellum and sequenced in conjunction with photographs of what the resulting recipe may create, an interesting layering of this narrative. The recipe for the Easter Bunny Cake (aka Easter Carrot Cake) faces a page with a photograph of two bunny shaped cakes on top of a table with English china. In turn, this translucent page provides a hint of the photograph on the following page, of someone, whom we might guess is her mother, sitting at a table perhaps eating the ears of one of these wonderful Bunny Cakes.

As the photographs sequence through the book, her subjects appear to be more and more involved in the celebration, holding up glasses for a toast, sitting a bit askew on a chair and other hints of evidence that a good times are occurring. Likewise, the first recipe appears orderly and clean, but subsequent recipes appear more and more distressed.  The final Chowder Recipe is almost illegible due to something liquid falling on the recipe and creating a large lake of ink. As an autobiographical narrative, this hints that sometimes her family and events become similarly messed up.

I find a subtle undercurrent of humor in her photobook, perhaps of my own making as I recall the times when my great aunts, also of Irish descent, would get together in the kitchen to cook, gossip, laugh and tell family stories while preparing some delicious meals. The photograph of the broken egg on the floor with the two pair of legs & feet in the background is wonderful, full of suspense as to what might occur next; a torrent of laughing or some evil eye followed by quick scurrying to clean up this little mishap. In our family it was going to be the former, hearty laughing which was always a good reason to begin to recounting the endless other funny stories of similar past events.

There is more than enough ambiguity to allow the reader to relate to their own family history and memories that for me always seem to be linked to the preparation and consumption of meals.

As a book object, this is a little more complex stiff-cover book that is perfect bound (nice to hold and read, but terrible to lay out for display or photograph), includes two gatefolds and four recipes printed on velum. This photobook is printed in four color, with ample white margins, but no captions. The layout of the photographs on each page appears to be in a random position located on a different part of each subsequent page. This image layout provides a bit of dynamics implying that even when the events could seem routine, such as baking a cake, serendipity can create some unanticipated, if not dynamic, results. The introduction is provided by Curran.

Cheers!

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December 19, 2014

Interesting Photobooks for 2014

My interesting Photobooks of 2014

For those who follow my posts already know that I am a strong believer that anyone who has the endurance, determination and guts to publish their photobook deserves a strong pat on the back. You are all winners! The following photobooks have that little something extra, which may be exceeding hard to define or explain, but these photographers, usually in cahoots with a great (if not brilliant) book designer and backed by a diligent printer and bindary team, stand out.

Enjoy!

Laia Abril – The Epilogue, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing (Also selected for my list published in Emaho magazine)

Roger Ballen – Asylum Of The Birds, Thames & Hudson

Julia Borissova – Running to the Edge, Self-published (Also selected for my list published in Emaho magazine)

Jan Brykczynski – Boiko, self-published

Alejandro Cartagena – Carpoolers, self-published

Laura Curran – Lots of Cake!, self-published

Carolyn Drake – Wild Pigeon, self-published

Michelle Frankfurter – Destino, published by FotoEvidence

Robin Maddock – III, published by Trolley Books

Paula McCartney – A Field Guide to Snow and Ice, published by Silas Finch (Also selected for my list published in Emaho magazine)

Kate Nolan – Neither, self-published (Also selected for my list published in Emaho magazine)

Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis – Islands of the Blest, published by Silas Finch

Matej Sitar – Morning Sun, self-published (his imprint)

Gytis Skudzinskas – Albumas, published by Nerutina

Ed Templeton – Random & Pointless, Deadbeat Club Press (#19) (Also selected for my list published in Emaho magazine)

Hiroshi Watanabe – The Day the Dam Collapses, published by Daylight Books & Tosei-sha Publishing, Ltd, 2014 (as a note about potential conflicts, I was the Text Editor for Watanabe’s book)

This list of photobooks as I hope you noted are in alphabetical order by last name, so please do not read into whose name/photobook is first or last. Not all of these photobooks have been reviewed yet, but I should have the missing reviews published soon ;- )

Thanks to all of you for your on-going support this past year and I am eagerly looking forward to the creative endeavors or 2015.

Cheers!!

The photobook covers are as follows:

Laia_Abril-The_Epilogue_cover

Laia AbrilThe Epilogue

Roger_Ballen-Asylum_Of_The_Birds_cover

Roger Ballen – Asylum Of The Birds

Julia_Borissova-Running_to_the_Edge_book_cover_n_slip_cover

Julia BorissovaRunning to the Edge

Jan_Brykczynski-Boiko_cover

Jan Brykczynski – Boiko

Alejandro_Cartagena-Carpoolers_cover

Alejandro Cartagena – Carpoolers

Laura_Curran-Lots_of_Cake!_cover

Laura Curran – Lots of Cake!

Carolyn_Drake–Wild_Pigeon_cover

Carolyn Drake – Wild Pigeon

Michelle_Frankfurter-Destino_cover

Michelle Frankfurter – Destino

Robin_Maddock-III_cover

Robin Maddock – III

Paula_McCartney-A_Field_Guide_to_Snow_and_Ice_cover

Paula McCartneyA Guide to Snow and Ice

Kate_Nolan_Neither_cover

Kate Nolan – Neither

Bryan_Schutmaat_&_Ashlyn_Davis-Islands_of_the_Blest_cover

Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis – Islands of the Blest

Matej_Sitar-Morning_Sun_cover

Matej Sitar – Morning Sun

Gytis_Skudzinskas-Albumas_cover

Gytis Skudzinskas – Albumas

Ed_Templeton-Random_&_Pointless_cover

Ed Templeton – Random & Pointless, Deadbeat Club Press (#19)

Hiroshi_Watanabe-The_Day_The_Dam_Collapses_cover

Hiroshi Watanabe – The Day the Dam Collapses, published by Daylight Books & Tosei-sha Publishing, Ltd, 2014

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