The PhotoBook Journal

December 29, 2015

Ken Schles – Invisible City


Copyright 2014 Ken Schles

Photographer: Ken Schles (born & resides in Brooklyn, NY)

Publisher: Steidl (Germany)

Excerpts: Lewis Mumford, George Orwell, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Jean Baudrillard

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: Ken Schles and Jack Woody

Notes: This is a new Steidl version of Schles photobook Invisible City, which was first published by Jack Woody and his Twelvetrees Press in 1988. In an interview with Ken, he states:

Long story on the prints. I’ll go back to when I first made the work and the struggles I had with the material. I always saw myself as a fairly accomplished printer. I built a dry darkroom in a boarded up room in my old tenement from cobbled parts and pieces of old Omega D2 enlargers. I worked as a custom printer for the likes of Magnum photographers Gilles Peress, Eliott Erwitt, Burt Glinn, Erich Hartmann and others who were quite exacting. After the landlord abandoned the building I added filtered running water to the mix.

Printing my own work, given the limits I was pushing the slow film material at the time, printing had its challenges. Working in low light, the resultant negs were thin and contrasty by nature. The photogravure printing of the first edition of Invisible City gave the work another dimension that was hard to replicate (and played nicely off my very contrasty prints). After the work came out in book form, the work became known in that way. A funny thing to say, but I even identified the work with that gravure printing technique. The fact was that the original/traditional silver gelatin prints didn’t look like the gravure and the gravure didn’t have qualities of the silver prints. The look of the book was something I tried to replicate with available silver papers, largely failing. I shouldn’t say failing: it was simply different. A different interpretation. Over the years I sometimes moved radically far in that interpretation. For a time I used a very warm Hungarian paper called Fortezo. I tried matte papers.

When it came time to work with Gerhard on the reprint he asked how I would like to work the images. We could do a facsimile by two methods: I still had a set of prints the original book was made from and we almost went with that. We could also scan an extant copy of the original book as Gerhard did so wonderfully with the reprint of Fabrik. In that facsimile reprint he reproduced not only the original images, but the structure of the original gravure technique.

But even though I wanted the feel of the original gravure, I didn’t want to scan from the book. That certainly would have been easiest for my situation. But after spending so many years struggling to get the prints just so, I knew there were better solutions to be had with the original printing of Invisible City. Back when I made the original prints papers were slower and burning and dodging laborious. I knew the negs had more information to give up. And while the original IC had a great quality to it, I wasn’t convinced that simply porting it to a new edition using contemporary technology would be the answer either. Contemporary printing is quite better. More detail, more precision …what looked good in 1988 using what was, even then, an archaic process (albeit beautiful process) might not work so well now. I decided to scan everything and work from there. This way I was able to shift a few things… get more detail in the blacks, more detail in the highlights without the image blowing out or getting too flat. And I was able to use the same files to make pigment prints so now there is consistency even across media: pigment prints, offset prints and screen images.

The images look different in the different media and have a different presence, but there is a thread that unites the images now, provided by using the same base scans. But even saying that, the final decision to make the exhibition prints using scans and printing with pigment inks wasn’t a predetermined outcome. Working with Howard Greenberg we explored most every silver paper available, even tested making negs from the digital files and Lama printing onto silver paper. I think we all wanted the traditional “wet” silver materials to work. In the end we came back to the pigment prints I had made myself. They seemed the most direct and “honest.” And then tested all variations of ink jet papers available. In the end I went with the Harman Baryta Gloss: it doesn’t have a strange “artsy” texture to it and doesn’t feel too glossy. Surprising how hard it was to find a paper that simple and clean. In the end I made several hundred prints: for the exhibition for Howard Greenberg and the large show at Noorderlicht in The Netherlands. The prints look fantastic. And I think the years of work I put into fine-tuning shows. Prints were just acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MoCP in Chicago, Museum of the City of New York and the Chicago Art Institute for their permanent collections.

As for the Steidl printing: we used the book that Gerhard printed of Koudelka’s Gypsies as a reference point while on press (that Aperture book was where Gerhard felt he perfected this five plate quadratone technique to replicate the feel of the old gravure process). I’d pull a sheet off press and compare. I think we did a better job with my book. I told Gerhard that. He said, “Well, you hope to get better the more you do it. The Koudelka book was the breakthrough.” He’s been perfecting the technique since and it shows.

Now to compare the two editions? They each use their respective technologies to ultimate ends. I was able to correct a few things in the original after 26 years. But the original has a real quality to it as well. I still love to flip through the two together and compare the differences in printing. Some are obvious, some subtle. Some only I notice. But both printings sing and they sing loudly.


When I curated Schles Invisible City into the 10×10 American Photobooks exhibition (2013), I stated:  A gritty documentary project that brought the essence of Robert Frank into the city. A photobook that is a classic and a wonderful example of the progression in photobook publishing.

Other Ken Schles photobook reviewed on The PhotoBook: Oculus









December 28, 2015

Alejandro Cartagena – Before the War



Copyright 2015 Alejandro Cartagena

Photographer: Alejandro Cartagena (born Dominican Republic, resides Mexico)

Publisher: Self-published (Mexico)

Text: English & Spanish

Multiple components, variable sizes, unbound in a heavy printed board folder, black & white lithography (newsprint), printed in Mexico

Photobook designer: Alejandro Cartagena & Fernando Gallegos

Notes: For Cartagena, “in 2008 the war against the drug cartels erupted in México. The State of Nuevo León in northeastern México became an increasingly violent place. The book project is a compilation of images and texts that obsessively revisit places where the war was eventually fought and look for signs of an evil that lay underneath but was invisible to everyone´s eyes at the moment these images were shot.” This complex project is indirectly a critique of photography itself which questions the “meaning” that photographic images seem to hold for the viewer. What do we really know by looking at a photograph of a landscape or a portrait at a given moment in time?

Previous Alejandro Cartagena photobooks reviewed on The Photobook: Carpoolers











December 23, 2015

Alec Soth – Songbook


Copyright 2015 Alec Soth

Photographer: Alec Soth (born & resides Minneapolis WI, USA)

Publisher: MACK (UK)

Text: English

Embossed hardcover book, sewn binding, Photographic Index, black & white lithography, printed by Ofset Yapimevi in Turkey

Photobook designer: Alec Soth & Gregoire Pujade-Lauraine

Notes: The black and white photographs in this photobook are extracted from a photo-reportage style collaborative project, The LBM Dispatch, a newspaper like series of publications that Soth and Brad Zellar created as they toured various states, such as Michigan, in the USA. The photographs emulate a small newspaper documentary style, attempting to capture the daily local events that would be of interest to the community. In a newspaper the photograph would have a well-documented caption and probably related to an accompanying story. Many of Soth’s photographs appear more like out-takes that a newspaper editor would round-file. His photographs move between ambiguous & awkward faceless individuals, to full-faced frontal portraits that appear to describe a person. This is the stuff of local news including that which is not fit to print and without the normal newspaper provided context, all together a strange brew.

Other Alec Soth photobooks reviewed on The PhotoBook: Kin Subscription number two (Hido, Mueller, Soth, Nolan), One Day – Ten Photographers, Le Belle Dame sans Merci & Michigan










December 22, 2015

Lukas Felzmann – Gull Juju


Copyright 2015 Lukas Felzmann

Photographer: Lukas Felzmann (born Zurich, CH, resides SF, CA, USA)

Publisher: Lars Muller Publishers (Switzerland)

Essays: Lukas Felzmann,

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed and bound by Kosel in Germany

Photobook designer: Lukas Felzmann & Integral Lars Muller

Notes: Much like his scientific subject, Felzmann provides a well organized investigation of a unique place, a bird and animal sanctuary located on Farallon Island off the coast of California. It is an introspective study, probing a place where birds roost, mice have gone wild, and the scientific man is interested in how all of the elements and animals thrive and seemingly co-exist over time. Felzmann states “My own work is an archive, formed through an emotional relationship to place and the photographic possibility of creating a metaphor….observing the scientists, I realized that working together in a system or as a community is a creative act.”

Previous Lukas Felzmann photobooks reviewed on The PhotoBook: Swarm (2012), Waters in Between (2009)










December 20, 2015

Jenny Riffle – Scavanger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Doug Stockdale @ 10:48 pm


Copyright 2015 Jenny Riffle

Photographer: Jenny Riffle (born WA, resides Seattle, WA, USA)

Publisher: Zatara Press (USA)

Essays: None

Text: English

Stiffcover book, glued binding, four-color lithography, two gate folds, Photographic Index, printed in Virginia (USA)

Photobook designer: Not stated

Notes: Documentary style photographic project by Riffle, a visual biography of an individual who is on a quest for treasures, but perhaps a metaphor about chasing happiness. What is a treasure or personal happiness? The unknown, simple pleasures, past memories, elusive mysteries, or objects of desire? A search can become a lifestyle of planning treasure hunts as a reason to travel, which as a photographer I can relate to. Seeking out new territories that have not been searched before. What forgotten remnant or memory that now over time transform into a new found treasure? These found objects can raise speculation as to its history and significance by those who left it behind.










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