The PhotoBook Journal

February 4, 2019

Photobook Roundtable at Focus/PhotoLA, February 3, 2019

panel_1109.jpg
The Panel: Khodr Cherri, Aline Smithson, Douglas Stockdale, Dotan Saguy, and Richard S. Chow – Photo © Gerhard Clausing

 

In spite of inclement weather (Southern California is experiencing an above-average wet winter), there was a full house at this very useful photobook panel discussion moderated by Richard S. Chow during the Focus programming this year at PhotoLA 2019.

The participants were all published authors, photographers, and a printer, sharing many years of practical experience: Aline Smithson, well-known Lenscratch Editor and mentor/teacher; Dotan Saguy, who just successfully launched his Venice Beach photobook, which we reviewed here; Douglas Stockdale, who has published/self-published a number of books and reviewed hundreds as Editor of The PhotoBook Journal, who is also a mentor and teaches workshops on the subject; and Khodr Cherri from A&I, a master printer who guides photographers through many technical aspects of producing a book.

All I can do here is highlight some of the main points that I found especially important:

  1. The photobook is an excellent platform to display your art, and it is more permanent than exhibits, and less expensive for your audience to collect than prints. It is also an effective way to disseminate photographs to a wider audience.
  2. Studying other photographers’ books and reading book reviews, such as the ones this journal publishes, can not only provide you with ideas, but also provide you with information as to what the trends are at any particular time. Also a source for book designers and book printers.
  3. There are many ways to publish your work, from inexpensive to the sky’s the limit. Artists can also assemble and produce their own work (hand-made photo art is very collectible), to “zines” that can be produced and distributed.
  4. 90% of the time the financing will come from the photographer and/or his friends; the top publishing houses require substantial advances. Exceptions are projects by well-known photographers with a strong following or featuring those who are no longer with us.
  5. Crowd-funding and pre-selling to your support groups can be effective ways to get your book published.
  6. The selections made in regard to technical details such as paper choice, printing method, binding techniques will substantially add to the success of a book project, and need to be consistent with the size of the edition as well as the book’s affordability.
  7. Distribution channels are often limited to those who self-publish, but you can manage on the basis of your own initiative (your followers, local bookstores, etc.).
  8. Mentors, consultants, designers and PR persons are the people who can take your photobook projects to much higher levels of sophistication and success­­­ than you might be able to do on your own. Some of the panelists also function in such roles or can put you in touch with such specialists that you may need.

Needless to say, the points summarized here merely scratch the surface. There is really no substitute for learning from those who have already created similar projects as to what you might want to accomplish, so seek their advice and/or attend their workshops or mentoring sessions. You can click on the links above that are superimposed on the participants’ names and find them if you wish to use their help.

Gerhard Clausing

January 28, 2019

Dotan Saguy – VENICE BEACH

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_cover

Dotan Saguy, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise

Photographer: Dotan Saguy , born Kibbutz Yehiam, Northern Israel, currently resides in Los Angeles, California

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Berlin, Germany – copyright 2018

Forword by Jamie Rose

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound, 127 pages, 67 black and white images, printed by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Germany

Photobook Design: Kehrer Design Heidelberg (Anja Aronska) and Dotan Saguy

Notes:  For anyone who has ever visited Venice Beach in Southern California, comparisons to New York City’s Coney Island might not seem much of a conceptual stretch. Both are famous urban beachscapes that have been luring tourists from around the world for decades, both are celebrated more for the colorful locals than their glistening shores. But as a viewer first encounters Dotan Saguy’s fine new book, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise, thoughts of Santa Claus might seem antithetical to the fun and funky images of sundrenched beach life. Yet the more time one spends looking through this dynamic body of work, the more it is possible to understand how appropriate the reference is. Please dear reader, hear me out:

Starting with the cover image, repeated as the first photograph in the book, we are introduced to a fit, sundrenched blonde woman in revealing bathing attire, framed by sand and palm trees. Yet it is a boa constrictor wrapped around exercise bars that demands our attention the most. Saguy’s inclusion of sunflare and low angle POV immediately let us know this place is HOT, Wild, and perhaps a bit dangerous. In other words, this is beach is a playground, and we are invited to kick off our shoes and join in.

With the attentive eye of a skilled Street photographer, Saguy show us a world in which unattended children play on the sand; a loose band of musicians are joined by a person wearing a fuzzy bunny head; dudes smoke out; kids peek around corners to see what the grown ups are up to; old guys are playful; young guys climb poles to demonstrate inherent strength; sandy surfers teach eager students new moves; chiseled muscle men and women prepare for yet another competition; skateboarders defy gravity as they shred; working class people dance and laugh and shake their thangs during a weekend drum circle… Saguy’s vision of Venice beach is accurately a little lewd, a lot of fun.

Shooting exclusively with a 35mm prime lens, Saguy is not afraid to get up close. There is an intimacy and exuberance in all of his images; you can hear the music, feel the sea breezes, smell the garbage and a reefer, taste the sweat. His Venice beach is contrasty and dirty, full of action and interesting detail. Local characters are well framed by his camera, be it in doorways, handball courts, or stepping out in the tiniest of speedos to face an excited crowd. But such is Saguy’s skill as an observer that in that particular image, we are drawn as much to the young man holding open the door as to the well oiled silhouette of the man walking through. Every image contains dynamic tension; of line, of gaze, of sumptuous black and white tones. Earth bound men leap towards flying seagulls, children buried in sand observe police cars in the background. Tattoos in the foreground compete with macho acrobatics in the background, a zaftig street woman’s natural gifts are echoed in the mural behind her, revelers frolic in the powerful surf, freak-show denizens sit peacefully on storefront steps. No one seems to be selling anything, other than the guy with the sign for $1.99 pizza. Sure, if you want to throw some coins in the rag tag band of gypsies knit hat, that’d be cool, but they are going to sing no matter what.

This kind of freedom cannot be commoditized. And this, my friends, is where the concept of Santa Claus comes in. Not visually represented in Dotan’s images, but found in the ethos he shares with the inhabitants of his Venice Beach.

When this reviewer’s son was in elementary school, he one day said “If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?” Ok, yes, I promise, go ahead. He then asked what most parents know will come sooner or later, and yet it fills us with existential dread. “Is there really such a thing as Santa Claus?” And there it is. Do we answer honestly and break the illusion we have so diligently constructed over many years? We want to preserve the joy of believing; that people are Free and so too can be Fun, that a group of strangers can come together to dance, laugh, get high, make out; that races and classes are united at the edge of an ocean and all warmed by the same blazing sun. We don’t want to know that the Grinch can steal Christmas, and by that I mean the gobbling up of buildings and boardwalk by the corporate juggernaut known as SnapChat. We want to hold back the tide of gentrification, yet Saguy’s Venice is not one of wealth. Despite the mighty muscles and passionate protests, the greatest tension of all is enjoying his found moments, all the while knowing how this is going to play out.

Thus VENICE BEACH is like believing in Santa Claus, as we go back to the sand we become again like a child. The most powerful image in a book full of great photos, is that of the cover-girl’s young son, shot from behind. A spitting image of the late rule-breaking skate legend Jay Adams, his handmade sign asks as they face eviction “Why are you doing this?” Why beautiful boy, why indeed.

Light it up, pump it up, open it up, and enjoy. Dotan Saguy’s VENICE BEACH is a heartbreakingly fun book.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_1

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_2

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_3

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_4

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_5

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_6

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_7

dotan_saguy_venice_beach_8

January 16, 2019

Ikuru Kuwajima – Tundra Kids

00-Tundra_Kids.jpg

Photographer:  Ikuru Kuwajima (born in Japan; lives in Moscow, Russia)

Publisher:  Schlebrügge.Editor, Vienna, Austria; © 2015

Texts:  Introduction; folktale “How the mighty eagle returned the sun to the Nenets people”

Languages:  Nenets, English, German

Stiff covers leporello (accordion) foldout; 83 pages with 58 color images; 16 x 16 cm; printed in Austria by Rema Print Wien (Vienna)

Photobook Design:  Ikuru Kuwajima, Dorothea Brunialti

 

Notes:  Every once in a while we see a photobook that hits all the right spots. In Tundra Kids, Ikuru Kuwajima, a multicultural photographer – born in Japan, studied in the United States, and now lives in Russia – has successfully created a book that shows us a minority at the edge of “civilization” through the eyes of their children. They pose for portraits in their schoolrooms and in their rugged northern arctic Russian environment, and show us their perceptions through everyday objects, toys, and drawings, as well as with a native folk tale with a nod to Soviet influence.

It is a real pleasure to handle this photobook of 83 pages of color work, presented in leporello* (accordion) foldout style, printed on both sides. The effect is to create a continuity of images and subjects which, while linear, is more flexible than a conventionally bound book. You can pick up the whole sequence of images, turn them, look at both sides, and view many more than a couple of images at the same time. We get a feeling of interconnectedness as we view the enthusiasm and cooperation of the children who are learning about the big world out there, against the backdrop of their Nomad home areas, in which they spend the rest of their year when school is out.

Images include portraits of the kids joyfully posing in a studio setting created in their classroom; they show us such things as their tents and reindeer antlers, glimpses of their native environment to which they seem proudly connected as they are gaining a global understanding. It is the artwork they share with us that also lets us wonder about how they may maintain their identity in a faster-moving larger context so dominated by helicopters and planes and other forms of intrusion, in contrast to their natural home settings.

A wonderful book that lets us share a different world. Kudos to the Nenets kids and Ikuru Kuwajima!

*The leporello folding of paper, in an accordion-like fashion as shown below, is derived from the character Leporello in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, who, for comic effect, customarily is performed displaying a long list of his employer’s conquests on a long piece of paper folded in that manner. Note another effective use of this method of photobook presentation in Douglas Stockdale’s Middle Ground, which I reviewed in The PhotoBook Journal previously.

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Tundra_Kids.jpg

02-Tundra_Kids.jpg

03-Tundra_Kids.jpg

04-Tundra_Kids.jpg

 

05-Tundra_Kids.jpg

06-Tundra_Kids.jpg

07-Tundra_Kids.jpg

08-Tundra_Kids.jpg

09-Tundra_Kids.jpg

 

 

 

 

January 10, 2019

John Divola – Vandalism

john_divola_vandalism_cover

John Divola – Vandalism, 2018

Artist/Photographer: John Divola (born Los Angeles, resides Riverside, California) (USA)

Publisher: MACK (UK)

Without essays, pagination or captions

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed paper cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by EBS (Italy)

Photobook designer: Ben Seeley

Notes: This retrospective monograph that explores one of John Divola’s urban landscapeprojects created between 1974 and 1975 while finishing his MFA at UCLA (1974). His practice was a form of what today we would call “staged photography”; creating (spray painting) structures and staging events for the single purpose of being photographed, which a photographic print is the end product. For this series, the photographs were monochromatic black and white. Divola would later follow this series with Zuma Beach, in 1977, similar in staging, but photographed in color.

To place Divola’s body of work in perspective at this time in the early to mid-1970’s was the artistic practice of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field artists; Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly and at UCLA, Richard Diebenkorn. The photographer Aaron Siskind was working on his “After Franz Kline” series starting in 1973 through 1975, photographing “found art” that were graphic black and white studies that channeled the similar graphic abstract paintings of Franz Kline.

Although this book does not contain any text that provides the context for this body of work, a minimalist book in its own right, I was fortunate to hear Divola’s Medium Festival presentation last October in San Diego during which he placed this project within his larger body of work. Essentially a twenty-something year old guy who was tagging the interior of some abandon structures with an informed artistic twist.

His painting style due to the use of spray paint cans is very loose versus something tighter that would result from use brushes and acrylic or oil paint. Like other Abstract Expressionist, the over-spray, heavy applications that might create run-off drips and lines, was a source of relatively uncontrolled serendipity. He selected a silver spray paint that had a kind of visual luminance when photographed that contrasted with the dense black spray paint applications.

His “canvas” or work medium was another element of serendipity; the structure and surface textures of the found walls varied and there maybe some pre-existing damage or structures to interact with. On occasion Divola introduced some sculptural elements, using nails, string and other objects to create lines and patterns to work with. Likewise, he introduced his flying books (or magazines) that after the painting work was completed, to then fling a book or magazine into the frame and attempt to capture its wild flight. An act in his attempt to explore dynamic serendipity as another element of chance in his staging; just to see what might happen.

Looking at his photographs I sense the current mood at the time (thinking back to the CalArts presentations); a desire to be anti-modernism and against everything of the grand West Coast landscape photography of Adams, Weston and others of the f/64 in which the framing of the subject was studied for every little element. The edges of Divola’s photographs have odd elements and the subjects are “unbalanced” compositions pushing a visual rawness as to celebrate entropy, havoc and messiness. To introduce “real life” into to an image in which things are not perfectly ordered, e.g. picture-perfect in the advertising age.

Cheers,

Douglas

john_divola_vandalism_1

john_divola_vandalism_2

john_divola_vandalism_3

john_divola_vandalism_4

john_divola_vandalism_5

john_divola_vandalism_6

john_divola_vandalism_7

john_divola_vandalism_8

January 2, 2019

Louis Jay – Passing Fancies

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:11 pm

00-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

 

Photographer:  Louis Jay (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; lives in Miami and Paris)

Publisher:  Luce Press, Miami, Florida; © 2018

Essay:  Introduction by the photographer

Languages:  English and French

Cloth-bound sewn hardback with printed dust cover, in cloth-covered case; 11 x 14.25 inches; 84 pages with pagination; 64 black-and-white duotone photographs and a complete location index; processed and printed in Italy by Litho Art, Turin, and Stamperia Artistica Nazionale, Trofarello

Photobook Designer:  Sally Ann Field

 

Notes:  It is a pleasure to start 2019 with the presentation of such an attractive large-format photobook. Louis Jay, who worked as a commercial photographer for many years, has returned to his early love of photographing on the street, without succumbing to the clichés of street photography, but supplying streetscapes that let us share astute observations from several locales around the world. This project clearly sparkles, as passionate interest and affection shine through, an approach to photography he learned from Lisette Model many years ago.

Passing Fancies contains 64 images that were created in France, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and Florida. Most of these areas share a milder climate and perhaps a greater affinity to being outdoors. So we see city life, people of all ages, old and new structures and symbols, moments of work and leisure. This project has a certain indefinable allure, enhanced not only by the quality of the photography and the printing, but also by the large format and the extraordinarily dynamic and creative pairings and continuity.

This photobook makes you want to go back and look at it again and again, a sign of special quality. It is a marvelous study of the delights of everyday moments and thus a tribute to the universality of human experience!

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

02-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

03-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

04-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

05-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

06-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

07-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

08-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

09-Jay-PassingFancies.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2018

Jonas Yip and Wai-lim Yip – Somewhere Between

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:16 pm

00-Yip.jpg

Photographer:  Jonas Yip (born in Princeton, New Jersey; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Poetry by Wai-lim Yip; essays by Leo Ou-fan Lee and Wai-lim Yip

Languages:  English and Chinese

Publisher:  National Taiwan University Press, Taipei, Taiwan; © 2017

Stiff cover sewn book; 350 pages with pagination; 15.5 x 21.5 cm; 80+ duotone and color images with poetry

 

Notes:  Many of us have more than one national and ethnic background, and some of our derivation may be recognizable from our physical appearance, habits, or knowing more than one language, and familiarity with more than one culture. Some of us have a sense of affinity to several different cultural worlds at the same time; we live in one and have the other in our hearts and minds, to whatever extent possible. As one who belongs to such a group, I have a special appreciation for the work of the talented photographer Jonas Yip and his renowned father, the poet, translator, and scholar Wai-lim Yip.

It is the task of multicultural individuals to combine the best of each world that they belong to into a feeling of having an existence “somewhere between.” When such individuals are creative, they are able to engage in visualizations and musings and analyses that are cross-functional and cross-cultural, and a fascinating photobook with mysterious visuals and poetry, such as the present one, can result. This is a quest that may also get you involved in longing to belong.

Jonas Yip creatively photographs impressions. Whether he is in Paris, in California, or in China, there is a modern pictorial quality to his depiction of moments and moods, markers and symbols. These powerful images in turn inspire Wai-lim Yip to write poetry, in Chinese and English. The subtitle of this book is “Toward the Middle Space Between Images and Words,” and we do indeed find ourselves enchanted by the fruits of their collaboration.

Fleeting moments are illustrated in a dream-like manner, and the verbal stimuli and thoughts that use the images as points of departure transport us into a realm of memories and shared human values in a gracefully integrated way. We share feelings and thoughts, impressions and opinions, a world that takes us into ambiguity, as all great art should; the presentations marked by many “indecisive moments” are an invitation to lose ourselves in these multi-faceted realms. We are thus privileged to participate in the authors’ mutually inspired travel through time and cultural settings, with all the memories, recognition, and surprises that they may offer.

The visuals/poems sections are divided into four parts – Paris Dialogues, Paris Meditations, A Fertile Darkness, and Memories Displaced. While the first three sections contain duotone images, the last section, photographed in China, contains color work, with tones that are somewhat muted, as if to suggest a more gentle approach to wondrous subjects, a lighter, more tentative touch. Poetry accompanies all sections and is inspiring and thought-provoking.

The preface by Leo Ou-fan Lee is entitled “Seeking Forgotten Time and History Among Trembling Light and Shadows” and eloquently sets the tone for viewing and reading this innovative book. Providing a strong background for the study of these collaborative projects, there are two extensive essays by Wai-lim Yip, a foreword and an afterword. These offer a thorough scholarly overview of contexts and connections – historical, literary and philosophical, personal and international, well worth a careful study. All poetry and all essays are presented in English and Chinese, and there are many gems to be discovered.

I spent several months pondering this book, and I must say that the Yip team has succeeded in producing an engrossing experience. I find myself opening it again and again! Also available as a set with an original print. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

 

01-Yip.jpg

02-Yip.jpg

03-Yip.jpg

04-Yip.jpg

05-Yip.jpg

06-Yip.jpg

07-Yip.jpg

08-Yip.jpg

09-Yip.jpg

10-Yip.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 12, 2018

Andreas Herzau – AM

00-Herzau-AM.jpg

Photographer:  Andreas Herzau (born in Mainz, Germany; lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher:  Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Wädenswil, Switzerland; © 2018

Stiff cover book (partial front cover) with French fold pages and “Blockbuch” binding; 108 pages with 55 monochrome images; 20.5 x 27.5 cm; printed and bound in Germany by Gulde Druck (Tübingen) and Josef Spinner (Ottersweier) respectively

Texts: Andreas Herzau; Baudrillard and Barthes quotes

Languages:  German and English

Photobook Designer:  Andreas Herzau

 

Notes:  Angela Merkel is certainly one of the wonders of the 21st century. As the first female German Chancellor, she wields her power in a rather unassuming and dutiful manner, without much of the pomp and swagger that marks other leaders. Photographs taken of her, for the most part, are marked by a certain predictable sameness that reflects that predictable style of leadership.

Andreas Herzau certainly has changed our view of her by providing a refreshingly innovative look at the wherewithal of the publicly visible leadership that characterizes this fascinating politician. With a distinguished record of photographic projects that shed new light on things and transgress traditional photojournalistic boundaries, in this photobook he is providing us with a creative new look at a subject we thought we already knew.

He observed and photographed Angela Merkel’s public appearances from 2009 to 2017. What makes the result of his labors particularly interesting is his astute observations that relate not only to the central figure, but especially also to the surroundings, the contexts with which the figure interacts in a continual public drama of appearances. We see partial shots of her, very many shots of hands in the process of building connections, and both limelight and shadow of events as they transpire. When have we ever seen a shot of her head from the back? Since politics lends itself to humor, there are quite a few amusing juxtapositions as well.

It wouldn’t be a Herzau project if this photobook did not also break new ground in its physical form. The images are all printed in what the publisher calls “duplex” fashion, on sheets folded inward (French fold), as shown in the sample illustrations below. This allows the reader to bend open sheets printed with a single image on such a folded-back sheet to experience an ongoing visual and physical narrative, even to play with the images by bending the opened fold to be amused by some distortion. The result is a certain 3D effect that makes the pages of the book come alive. This manner of presentation also gives the viewer a sense of surprise and adventure, since such a photobook allows some participation by the viewer. There are also a few flaming-red pages with quotes tying the photographs to philosophical thoughts. These inserted sheets are in the color of the SPD, the political party that has been both her opposition as well as her “Grand Coalition” partner at various times during her tenure as Chancellor.

An exciting photographic viewing adventure, sure to become a collector’s item. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Herzau-AM.jpg

02-Herzau-AM.jpg

03-Herzau-AM.jpg

04-Herzau-AM.jpg

05-Herzau-AM.jpg

06-Herzau-AM.jpg

07-Herzau-AM.jpg

08-Herzau-AM.jpg

09-Herzau-AM.jpg

 

 

December 3, 2018

MAGNUM China

Magnum_China_cover

Magnum China, Edited by Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu

Published by Thames & Hudson, copyright 2018

Essays; Colin Pantal, Zheng Ziyu, and Jonathan Fenby

Text: English

Hardcover with dust jacket, 376 pages, 350+ photographs and illustrations, printed and bound by Pacom, South Korea

Notes: As a child raised on her American grandmother’s stories of moving to China in the early 1920s who then followed in those footsteps with a post-college English teaching job, to say this reviewer was eager to get her hands on a copy of MAGNUM China would be a major understatement. Having arrived just a few months prior to what became the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, I left abruptly on the first passenger flight out in early June 1989 and have not returned since.  China has remained, in my mind and in my dreams, an unresolved puzzle, left yet to be finished on the kitchen table, as if one got up to answer the phone and never came back. Thus I turn the pages of MAGNUM China with hopes of finding all the missing pieces

Like the country itself, the photobook MAGNUM China, is an impressive thing to behold, one that will demand revisiting time and time again in order to take in the full scope of its riches. Featuring the high caliber of imagery that one can reasonably expect for any Magnum publication, this 376 page book includes work of more than 25 of the world’s best photographers, spanning 80 years, from 1938 to 2017.

In fact, as is noted in the section featuring Robert Capa’s 1938 documentary work in Hankou, the language barriers and surveillance challenges he faced provided Capa the time to contemplate not only his own work as a photographer, but to develop the idea of a collective of photographers that would become Magnum. This became the premiere photo agency founded by Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others, in 1947. Thus the argument could be made that without China there might not have been a Magnum, and without Magnum, there would be a less historically significant and culturally influential record by which the world can understand China, and China can understand itself.

The introductory “conversation” between China based photo Editor and Curator Zheng Ziyu and the English writer and photographer Colin Pantall offers insight not only to the selection of images that follow, but also to the shifting perception of China. Once considered an exotic/closed off society rarely seen by Westerners, today’s understanding of China is a more nuanced portrayal in which Chinese photographers, writers, and historians have more authorship over their own story.

MAGNUM China is divided into four sections: A Time of War 1938-1949; The Mao Zedong Years 1950-1976; The Deng Xiaoping Years 1977-1992; and The Era of a Global Superpower 1993- present.  Each section begins with an informative multi-page introduction by Jonathan Fenby which provide context to the images that follow; a timeline of significant political and cultural events during that period, and a list of in country travels for the photographers, a sampling of whose work is then presented.

It is tempting to gorge on all the finely printed photographs in one sitting. However, like an all you can eat image buffet, a bit of pacing and restraint is advised. There is much to satisfy the hungry viewer’s appetite, such as the late 1940s work of Henri Cartier Bresson, the gorgeous color work of Eve Arnold’s sympathetic portraits of the late 1970s, and the confection of Martin Parr’s commissioned portraits of the nouveau riche of 21stCentury Hong Kong. However, it is well worth pausing between courses, to digest the work of each photographer, and read the text for an understanding of their unique relationships to this vast and complicated country. Learning when they first visited China, how often they went, what their impressions were, which publications (if any) they were shooting for, enriches one’s appreciation for the subjects these world class photographers chose (and did not choose) to focus on.

The first section “A Time of War” has the most limited range of work, just that of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson, due to difficulty of travel and access in the pre-communist era of the late 1930’s-40’s. Here you will see Capa’s work for LIFE magazine, depicting a China still battling Japanese invasion, and Cartier-Bresson’s late 1940’s documentation of the fall of the ruling Kuomintang and the subsequent victory of Mao Zedong’s invading army. Especially moving is the image of “A bewildered old man searching for his son…” as the new recruits are called up and marched off to a certain defeat. The worried man in his black hooded robe tugs on his long white beard, his shadow stretching out behind him to the young soldiers who smile in the background, both the old and new era unaware they will soon be obliviated by the advance of the Communists.

One of the joys of this book is the inclusion of layouts from magazines that first published these images. The reader is able to thus experience how Western audiences first saw what this historically closed society looked like.

The second section “China, 1950-1970” includes not only the fine work of Werner Bischof’s Hong Kong series of shanty towns and growing skyline from the early 1950s, the observation of humanity in Marc Riboud’s first trip to China in 1956 at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, and the early years of China’s re-engagement with the outside world as shown in the 1973 photographs of Bruno Barbey, among others. Also included is ephemera such as Riboud’s press pass and Bischof’s wrinkled caption list for his series The End of the Road. One can feel the impact of the typewriter keys hitting the page before being sent off to the Magnum office in Paris, giving the viewer the sense of being not only in the midst of China’s momentous changes, but in the mind of the photographer as they documented them. Pity there was no way to include the short 16mm films shot by Swiss photographer Rene Burri, though his early work (his was a 30 year “love affair” with China) is nicely represented with his photographs of young pioneers marching in the snow, and dead lotus flowers reflected on a lake that evokes the modernist line drawings of Picasso.

Of particular interest to this reviewer are the photographs in the third section, “The Deng Xiaoping Years, 1977-1992” as they include glimpses of the China familiar to visitors of the post cultural revolution/pre Tiananmen era, a vast society on the cusp of great, though not always comfortable, change. Of equal interest is the inclusion (at last!) of the work of two female photographers, Inge Morath and Eve Arnold, hinting that it was not only China that was opening itself up, albeit ever so cautiously, to the outside world. Perhaps Magnum too was expanding itself to welcome new perspectives; however limited the opportunities, they were long overdue.

Inge Morath’s work from the late 1970s offers fresh, “optimistic” view of everyday life, be it the 6:30am bicycle commuters passing through the dappled light of a roadside tree, or soldiers seated on the mountainside carving of a laughing Buddha, or her husband Arthur Miller directing a 1983 production of his play Death of a Salesman.  Immediately following Ms. Morath’s black and white images comes the saturated tones of reds and greens in Eve Arnold’s well traveled portraits of communes, factory and domestic workers, and farmers on the plains of Mongolia. The text describes the difficulty that Arnold had in photographing common people not yet accustomed to the sight of an independent Western woman, but she “came out of the country with fresh, original and life affirming images” symbolizing the end of tragedies and “changed the way the world viewed China.”

In the early 1980s photographs of Patrick Zachmann, one can begin to feel the presence of the outsider’s gaze and China’s gradual courtship with long forbidden Western influence. Close up faces of average Chinese citizens smile with curiosity back at the camera, actors prepare for film-shoots, young couples waltz in private apartments, and somewhat disturbingly, a bare breasted prostitute sits on a rumpled bedspread, staring directly at the lens, or perhaps the man behind the camera. Subsequent images of modern Chinese culture flaunting their newly acquired bling carry the same troubling impact as this photograph. The prostitute, unlike the old man in Cartier-Bresson’s 1948 image of the old man searching for his son, seems very much aware of the bleakness of her position, and has resigned herself, like her country, to a reality in which the pursuit of money is the new game in town, and everyone is a potential whore.

Despite the quantity and caliber of photographers that covered the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the brutal crackdown in which “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of peaceful demonstrators, a majority of which were idealistic University students, were killed, MAGNUM China offers surprisingly few pages devoted to this world event. Thankfully included is an image by photographer Abbas which shows the early student gatherings mourning the death of beloved Communist party official Hu Yaobang. For those who know that these gatherings were the start of what became the Tiananmen demonstrations in the weeks preceding the official state visit of Mikail Gorbachev, (thus the world press arrived in Beijing and broadcast an embarrassing political moment that highlighted internal power struggles), this image is an important inclusion in the Portfolio. (Full disclosure, this reviewer had the honor of meeting Abbas on the day this image was taken, and his comment “This feels just like Iran”, referencing the start of the Iranian revolution, sent chills down my spine). The significance of this gathering is not fully conveyed by the placement of Abbas’ image opposite Patrick Zachmann photo of a theatrical student writhing on the ground as she “performs the pain of the Chinese people”. Real people died, brutally, and it was well covered. The avoidance of those images is, to this viewer, the only disappointment of this otherwise magnificent book, and despite the inclusion of Stuart Franklin’s view of the famous “Tank Man” on the wide boulevard leading away from the bloodied square, causes one to reflect on the compromise that countries and cultural entities alike have made in order to continue to do business with and in the economic powerhouse that is now China.

However, in the final section “The Era of a Global Superpower, 1993-present” there are hints that it is not only the photographers (Ian Berry, Stuart Franklin, Jim Goldberg, Chris Steele Perkins, among others) who are conscious of the price China’s citizens have paid for its ascent to the top of the global ladder. So too the editors of MAGNUM China, in their choice of image sequence, make the subtle point that while some Chinese now enjoy luxuries such as fancy cars and amusement parks, others have lost their homes to the development of the Three Gorges Dam.

In a particularly moving series, Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang documents mental patients who are literally chained together, forcing a level of cooperation that may neither be sincere nor lasting. These haunting black and white images immediately follow Martin Parr’s bold color work focusing on rapacious consumption, which with all Parr’s work, are very strong on their own merit. But taken in as the editors intend, one senses that not everything about China’s great success has been without great cost. Chien-Chi Chang also documents North Korean defectors who must hide their identities from the authorities as well as the camera while traveling through mainland China en route to what they hope is freedom in South Korea. China may have many riches, as beautifully demonstrated throughout this book, but freedom is not yet one of them.

Highly recommend.

Enjoy!  Melanie Chapman

Editor’s note: This photobook was selected as one of the “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018” by The PhotoBook Journal editorial team.

Magnum_China_1

Magnum_China_2

Magnum_China_3

Magnum_China_4

Magnum_China_5

Magnum_China_6

Magnum_China_7

December 1, 2018

Simon Brugner – The Arsenic Eaters

00-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

Photographer and Concept: Simon Brugner (born in Hartberg, Austria, lives in Vienna, Austria)

Publisher:  The Eriskay Connection, Breda, Netherlands; © 2018

Essays and illustration selections:  Simon Brugner

Text:  English

Stiff covers with yellow vinyl sleeve, bound with the Otabind method; four-color lithography, printed by Wilco Art Books, bound by Patist; 144 pages, with pagination and some captions in Part 2; 21 x 30 cm (8 ¼  x 12 inches); edition of 1250

Photobook Designers/Editors:  Rob van Hoesel, Simon Brugner

 

Notes:  The southeastern Austrian region known in English as Styria, and in German as Steiermark, is a mostly rural area that has the city of Graz as its center of culture and population density. Little has been known about the area’s mostly rural practice of consuming arsenic, which goes back several centuries, and lasted into the last part of the 20th century.

Arsenic was known as “the poor man’s cocaine” – reputed to be a stimulant that had the effects of physical and sexual enhancement, a beauty treatment for women, and even an effective method to temporarily enhance the physical appearance and strength of horses as they were about to be sold. Needless to say, there were also long-term side effects, especially when used to excess, as is the case with many such drugs and substances.

When we first see the cover of this fascinating book, we are not quite sure what we are looking at. Is it a scientific treatise? Is it an investigation with historical significance? Or perhaps a medical reference work? We are certainly curious! Well, it is a little bit of all of these, but most significantly a brilliantly photographed and edited photobook of visuals that tells this story, with a contemporary photographic interpretation by Simon Brugner, along with some insertions of historical material that he collected, in such a way as to retrace the mysteries of the old practice through very creative juxtaposition and sequencing.

This photobook is divided into two parts. The first and major portion is a well-edited visual narrative, of primary interest for purposes of this journal. The images are well sequenced to span the range of mysteries, fables, rumors, and anxieties about the often clandestine use and abuse of this mysterious substance, and to connect the old tales with the environment as it now exists. It seems that a certain tolerance and dependence on arsenic could be built up in some individuals, and thus also a sense of invincibility and anxiety, both for the users as well as for those around them.

Brugner has done a most effective job of photographing contextual connections – geography, mining locations, and contemporary objects and detail, including deterioration and decay – and mixing them with images of individuals from the area, both portraits and parts of the anatomy, as to keep the mystery of the story going. Particularly noteworthy is his use of colors, especially green and brown for the calming background of forests and nature above ground, dark orange-brown as the color of the caves and rocks from which arsenic is extracted, red as the color of blood and sensuality, as well as a harbinger of danger (check out those mushrooms), and, or course, stark monochrome for the historical images.

The second part of the book, consisting of some 30 pages, presents the contextual detail and explanations for the use of arsenic in this region. Brugner provides a number of historical illustrations, abstracts from scientific discussions, as well as other insights gained during the three-year period that it took to prepare this project. This is a highly useful section that sheds a bit of light on the mysteries that were visually presented in the first part.

I consider this photobook a new classic, recommended both as a well-designed narrative that deals with an issue that concerns us in different forms even today – from the fine art perspective, as well as for the presentation of this subject within a context of social and scientific understanding, against a historical perspective.

We have selected this photobook as one of our choices for “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018.”

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

02-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

03-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

04-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

05-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

06-Brugner-Arsenic.JPG

07-Brugner-Arsenic.JPG

08-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

09-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

10-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 29, 2018

Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018

As in years past TPBJ has been providing a short list of artistbooks and photobooks we have found to be very Interesting. These are books that we continue to return to in order to enjoy again. Our selection derives from books with intriguing photographic content, brilliant project concepts, excellent book designs that support the artist/photographer’s intent in conjunction with spot-on production qualities; and the books that are the most Interesting have a delightful combination of all of these creative, if not critical, elements.

For our editorial team’s selection we have limited ourselves to the artistbooks and photobooks that we received with time to really evaluate the book object in its entirety. I have readily admitted in the past we do not have access to every photobook that was published during the year, thus our list is not meant to be in any way inclusive. Our list is also not meant be the “Best” photobooks of 2018, but rather we have selected some of our more Interesting photobooks that might warrant your consideration and time.

Our list includes; Laia Abril, Julia Borissova, Simon Brugner, Seiichi Furuya, Tobias Kruse, Melissa Lazuka, Yehlin Lee, David Lynch, Ute & Werner Mahler, Nuno Moreira, Colin Pantall & Zheng Ziyu (Editors) & Antonio Perez Rio.

Some artist and photographers are list repeats and others have published their First book. One of these books is massive in breath, scale and size and some are petite poetic treasures. This list represents a truly internationals group of artists, photographers, designers, printers and publishers; Congratulations to all!

We have published commentaries for most of these books, which are linked-up below. It is our intent to finish publishing reviews for all of these artistbooks and photobooks shortly. We hope you enjoy these as much as we have.

In alphabetic order by last name:

 

Laia_Abril-On_Abortion_cover

Laia Abril, On Abortion

 

Julia_Borissova_Let_Me_Fall_Again_cover

Julia Borissova, Let Me Fall Again

 

Simon_Brugner_Arsenic_Eaters_cover

Simon Brugner, The Arsenic Eaters

 

seiichi_furuya_why_dresden_book

Seiichi Furuya, Warum Dresden (Why Dresden)

 

Tobias Kruse, Material

 

Melissa_Lazuka-Song_of_the_Cicadas_cover

Melissa Lazuka, Song of the Cicadas

 

00&A-Raw_Soul.jpg

Yehlin Lee, Raw Soul

 

00-Lynch-N-720

David Lynch, Nudes

 

Ute and Werner Mahler, Kleinstadt (review pending)

 

00-Moreira-762

Nuno Moreira, She Looks Into Me

 

Magnum_China_cover

Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu (Editors), Magnum China

 

Antonio_Perez_Rio_Masterpieces_cover

Antonio Perez Rio, Masterpieces – Obras Maestras (review pending)

 

Cheers!

The PhotoBook Journal Editorial team: Douglas Stockdale, Gerhard Clausing, Kristin Dittrich, Melanie Chapman, Dan Johns

 

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.