The PhotoBook Journal

August 16, 2018

Michael Kolster – Take Me to the River

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Michael Kolster – Take Me to the River

Photographer: Michael Kolster (born Milwaukee, WI, resides Brunswick, ME, USA)

Publisher: George Thompson Publishing (USA) 2016

Essays: Michael Kolster, Alison Norström and Matthew Klingle

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, tri-tone (black & white) lithography, including 10 gatefolds, printed at ESB, Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: David Skolkin

Notes: Contemporary landscape photograph as an artistic genre sits on the edge of a delicate two edge sword; part objective documentary evidence and part artistic (subjective) personal interpretation. Perhaps vexing is that these two descriptive attributes usually co-exist in the same body of work. I think in an attempt to engage the potential subjective artistic aspects, Michael Kolster for this landscape project deferred to the use of making ambrotype (wet-plate photographic process characteristic of the mid-1800’s) photographs.

Unlike the digital photography, as well as the use of film, the ambrotype is a direct process that requires the preparation of the glass plates on-site immediately prior to exposure, then a rapid return to the chemicals required to fix the image. As evident in this body of work, the process has elements of chance and the inclusion of serendipity as to how the coating process was completed and the resulting visual effects; no two images are alike. To further complicate this process, the emulsion is very UV sensitive, requires long exposures and without any effective means to calculate the proper exposure in advance. The exposure is by educated guess and until the glass plate is developed, the artist does not know if they were successful in their attempt. The resulting glass plate is actually a negative that does not reveal its essence until layered on top of a black background, thus the reason for the black printed pages in the book (although not really required as the glass plates were scanned for this publication, while the black pages provides a symbolic background consistent with viewing a proper ambrotype).

Interestingly, an aspect that keeps me returning to these intriguing images, is the nature of the wet-plate photography process which introduces unanticipated swirls and flow marks that are wonderful visual metaphors consistent with his subjects; four rivers of the eastern coast of the United States. Likewise, the longer durations required for the glass plate exposure allows the things that will move, the water, tree limbs, grass blades or individuals in close proximity, to leave a ghostly blurred image. This blurring provides for me an inherent dynamic element to these images as a departure from a quick fraction of a second that could result in a very static appearance.

A really nice book to consider for the summer, as his subjects were all captured in the duration that spans spring, summer and into the fall. Although the ambrotype process results in black and white images, there is a perceived lushness within these landscapes photographs. His subjects capture not only the beauty of “nature” inherent in these river pathways, but includes a mash-up of the man-built urban landscape that is representative of the early settlements adjacent to most of these vital water ways.

Another subtle element in this project is that the four rivers featured, the Androscoggin, Schuylkill, James, and Savannah, were until the Clean Water Act of 1972, essentially extremely polluted chemical cesspools. The rivers are all in much better condition today, although still not pristine yet, but now potentially rivers that are in a state of renewal (or at least these were at the time of this publication in 2016, prior to the recent American elections). Nevertheless, this book is a story about environmental hope.

Cheers, Doug

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August 10, 2018

Judy Dater – Only Human

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:34 pm

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Photographer:  Judy Dater (born in Hollywood, CA; lives in Berkeley, CA)

Publisher:  Marymount Institute Press and TSEHAI Publishers, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA; © 2018

Essays:  Teresa de Vroom (Foreword); Judy Dater (“Only Human”); Marilyn Symmes (“The Portrait Within”); Gloria Williams Sander (“The Archaeology of a Photograph”); Donna Stein (“Looking Back”)

Text:  English

Linen-bound sewn hardback with illustrated dust cover; 9 ¾ x 12 ¼ inches; 200 pages, paginated; 100 monochrome images printed in the Sepiana process by Inner Workings/Artron Art, China

Photobook Designer: Chuck Byrne, Chuck Byrne Design

 

Notes:

The iconic portrait work of Judy Dater is marked by a tremendous depth as well as an indescribable mystery; these images represent a lifetime of astute perception and observation. Her work is  also marked by a courageous spirit and a multi-layered assertiveness and meaning that translates from the photographer to the subject and back to the viewer. Her image of Imogen Cunningham with Twinka is famous, and, yes, it is included in this book (see below). This volume is, in fact, a retrospective companion to the exhibition ONLY HUMAN, shown at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, whose store also sells this book; the show closes on September 16, 2018.

The work shown here includes 100 significant images, mostly individual portraits of humans (in accordance with the title), and also some groupings of two or more, as well as five self-portraits of the photographer, a genre for which Judy Dater is deservedly admired. Her view of people is in itself very human, in that we are given glimpses of inner strength through their outer appearance as depicted in the images. The time period covered is 1964 to 2016; some of those portrayed were early colleagues and/or mentors or hers, such as Ansel Adams, depicted with a slightly dreamy blur – he who always wanted his own images to be razor-sharp! – while others who are not in the public limelight present interesting aspects of themselves as well.

We find an approximately equal number of women and men in the volume, both clothed and not, some displayed more boldly than others. We were pleased to note that the honesty that exudes from these images originates with Judy Dater herself; she was a delight to meet this spring in connection with the Classic Photographs exhibition at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Here is a photo taken by Doug Stockdale where Judy has this book open to one of her favorite photographs:

 

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Judy Dater, Classic Photographs Exhibition, Santa Monica, February 2018 / © Douglas Stockdale

 

Judy Dater’s depiction of humans is refreshing; she shows each of them as individuals in an honest fashion without pretense or fakery. The essays and the select bibliography give us further insights into the intentions and practices of the photographer, as well as the reception history as well as other perspectives of curators and art historians regarding Judy Dater’s work.

We salute Judy Dater for her long career of forthrightly interpreting the minds and souls of so many individuals and sharing them with us, and also thank the team that created this fascinating volume, a treasure to own.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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All black and white images © Judy Dater

 

July 22, 2018

Cat Gwynn – 10-Mile Radius

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 8:17 pm

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Photographer:  Cat Gwynn (born in Glendale, CA; lives in Los Angeles)

Publisher:  Red Bird Books, Los Angeles, CA; © 2017

Essays:  Notes by Cat Gwynn; Quotes

Text:  English

Hardcover, sewn; 136 pages, paginated; color photographs; 10 ¼ x 10 inches; printed in Canada

Photobook Designer:  Kathy Martens

Notes:

Occasionally I have written about the value of art as an important way of getting in touch with yourself and about its therapeutic value, for instance in my review of Rose Lynn Fisher’s The Topography of Tears. In the case of Cat Gwynn’s 10-Mile Radius, we are privileged to accompany a courageous photographer on her journey (that touches many emotions as well as the intellect), in which her visual explorations contributed strength during the tribulations of cancer treatments, leading to a successful outcome of full remission.

An avid devotee of meditation, Cat was diagnosed with a serious form of breast cancer in 2013, and, as the therapy treatments progressed, found that her habit of photographing daily allowed her to strengthen both her resolve to succeed as well as to engage with the world out there, to notice objects that might previously have seemed peripheral, and also to make new friends that she encountered on the short walks her energy allowed. Cat Gwynn’s strength was the authenticity she aimed for – true to herself and with a vision to give the situation a substantial dose of optimism, regardless of momentary difficulties. I would like to quote at length from what she wrote to me, because the advice she gives contains important lessons for all of us:

My 10-mile radius creative process had many layers of meaning to it. Primarily it was one of the only things I had any control over – everything else in my life was so much out of my control and this daily photo making practice was my way of sitting with immense uncertainty and settling into the present moment of ‘what is’ and finding beauty despite everything else. It was also a brilliant ’seeing’ exercise. We tend to not look at the things in our life that scare us or make us uncomfortable so I discovered over time by looking closely at life around me without filtering what I saw it helped me look at the very thing that threatened me with more courage and in doing so it actually helped me be with this illness more fully which opened my heart to myself and helped me heal, and my oncologist and therapist both felt that was true also. As I say to other people I meet going through a serious life threatening illness – you don’t have to be positive, it’s much more important to be authentic. Some days you will be down and that’s okay, feel down. And other days you will feel great and be with that and appreciate it. The most important aspect of being with all of your feelings is you learn they will pass and there’s no need to stay attached to any of them or shame yourself for thinking if you’re not always positive this will bring back the cancer. It won’t. Just be authentic.

The book Cat has created is full of authentic moments, and I also detect much optimism. The excellent fine-art images and well-chosen interspersed quotes allow us to share an astute observer’s inner and outer worlds and the connections between them. Tension, anxiety, calm contemplation, and moments of enlightenment and joy are all connected in such a journey. Some of the titles she gives to her images give you glimpses of her process as well:  “Hung Out to Dry” – “Hit the Wall” – “Connected” – “Belonging” – “At Peace with the Obvious.” We are also privileged to read several essays dealing with her experiences and with the significance of visualization and grounding. We are able to share many observations that we might otherwise not be able to find out about. For an artist, such “moments of creation” have a significant impact, in that the world out there and what is inside of you can merge to provide some meaningful bits of closure. We also are pleased to see and read about some of the Angelenos she met and befriended on her walks. Thus we not only are able to enjoy this photobook, but can also share in her profound journey.

An amazing experience to share this volume and its meanings on many levels!

Gerhard Clausing

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June 20, 2018

David Lynch – Nudes

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 6:03 pm

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Photographer:  David Lynch (born in Missoula, Montana; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY in association with Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris; © 2017; published in the United States in June 2018

Cloth-bound hardback with transparent printed dust cover; 240 unpaginated pages with 125 black-and-white and color photographs; 10¼ x 13¾ inches (26 x 35 cm); printed and bound by Grafiche Antiga, Treviso, Italy

Text:  English and French

Photobook Designer:  Atelier Dyakova, London

 

Notes:

David Lynch, multi-talented storyteller of mysteries and well-received artist working in several media, has applied his keen eye to observing and photographing women’s bodies, culminating in this interesting project. In this sumptuously printed large-format volume he presents 125 images, most in black and white, with a color section in the center portion.

Unlike some predecessors whose work is marked by in-your-face grit (Araki, Moriyama) or distorted representations of the female body (Brandt, Fellig, Kertész, among others), Lynch presents a more mysterious, cinematically influenced celebration of forms, lines, and juxtapositions to entice the viewer. The black and white photographs at times seem semi-abstract, to the point where the viewer might not recognize what portions of the body are gazed upon, which encourages guessing; the color section, on the other hand, emphasizes red and reddish tones – lips, skin – and seems to make a more direct, erotically charged presentation. While the volume is entitled NUDES, the project includes all kinds of body forms and body locations, including faces – a landscape approach to the body that keeps the viewer marveling from beginning to end of the entire sequence.

This volume also intrigues the viewers with interruptions and detours in the progression of curves and lines. The light areas are pointers to the sections in darkness whose continuation can often only be imagined. In addition to being a superb master of light and shadow,  Lynch also uses focus to great effect in order to increase suspense and tension in his compositions; out-of-focus curves and areas imply parts unknown or out of reach of the viewer, and are teasingly left to the imagination. The work in color has a dreamy, mysterious quality to it, possibly best described as free-flowing portraiture mixed with ethereal eroticism. There is a playful mix of semi-abstract representation and lively realism in the flow of the work. The images speak for themselves; there is no preface or other essay.

As Lynch has stated in his book Catching the Big Fish, the greatest ideas are in the deepest water, and some daring is required to delve into them and do a thorough exploration. This volume is a creative and appealing presentation of female bodyscapes, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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June 16, 2018

Simon Roberts – Merrie Albion

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Photographer: Simon Roberts (born & resides Great Britain)

Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, UK, 2017

Text: English

Introduction by David Chandler and essays by A L Kennedy, Alex Vasudevan, Carol Ann Duffy, David Matless, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Ian Jeffrey, Irenosen Okojie, Nikesh Shukla and Tristram Hunt.

Hard cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, detailed captions, pagination, printed by Petit S.K. Lublin, Poland

Photobook designer: Ben Weaver

Notes: Urban and cultural landscape photographer Simon Roberts photobook Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island is another visual investigation of his homeland, the encompassing urban landscape of the United Kingdom. That he chose a title which in old English would mean Merry Britain might imply that he is investigating the heritage of this country, perhaps with a nod towards the evil spirits of Nationalism. Happily it is anything but.

This book also draws on the time of his earlier investigating English rituals in 2007 that resulted in We English, subsequently the outer edges of the British urban landscape in Pierdom, as well as his time when he was commissioned to photograph the U.K elections of 2010. The book contains only photographs that until now have been unpublished. This is a compilation body of work that attempts to take a straight forward pulse on the many social changes that create the current fabric of this island nation. The on-going flux of those coming to this country from other places, a process which can trace its roots to the early colonial age of this nation, thus creating a melting pot of cultures. The pending political and economic changes of its disassociation from the European Union (E.U.).

Suffice to say, what might constitute current Britain is mash-up of the old with the new. As has been noted in the accompanying essays, Roberts landscape photography has attained a subtle trademark look; using a large format camera, non-romantic (aka factual, dead-pan) framing and frequently a viewpoint from a higher elevation that creates an interesting depth to his landscapes. The later due mostly in part to his use of the top of his motor-home as a camera platform. This camera position provides a pictorial framing that is broader in scope, but conversely, such as the Download Festival at Castle Donington, can also make him the center of attention.

The resulting photobook is complex and visually layered, much as his subject Merry Britain, and a delight to read. Recommended.

Other photobooks by Simon Roberts featured on The PhotoBook Journal: Pierdom, and We English.

Cheers!

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May 31, 2018

Douglas Stockdale – Middle Ground / En Medio Tierra

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Photographer:  Douglas Stockdale (born in Butler, PA; living in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA)

Self-published artist book of 31 images hand-bound by the artist in an accordion (leporello) presentation, yielding 66 pages (blank verso), attached to stiff covers with flip-over French fold; 8.5×6.75 inches; printed in four-color lithography by Dual Graphics, Brea, California; edition of 99 plus 5 artist proofs; © 2018

Text:  English and Spanish

Photobook Designer:  Douglas Stockdale

Notes:  This innovative artist book by Douglas Stockdale brings to mind the parable “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka, in which a man is confronted by what seems to be an overwhelming obstacle and fails to overcome it, even though he could have, as we who are the readers readily understand. How often in life are we confronted by small barriers that can easily become seemingly overwhelming …

Here is a volume of innovatively presented and artfully sequenced freeway observations. The 31 photographs that Douglas Stockdale has arranged in leporello (accordion) fashion constitute a panorama of barriers. We sense the static moments of being stuck in stop-and-go traffic, repeated moments sufficient to take photographs of dividers put up for traffic purposes, with ‘beautification’ planters placed behind them. There is the aggravation of heavy traffic along the Interstate 5 route toward the border in San Diego; there is the annoyance and challenge of being separated from that which lies beyond the barriers. And we observe details: some houses, some palm trees, the national flag almost beyond reach, and other structures to which we can’t immediately relate. And yet there must be other people there … who and where might they be? And some of the barriers are much less than perfect, they show damage or are surrounded by debris. It is a less than perfect, seemingly endless constructed landscape.

So we can consider this project, which is a typology of barriers, a metaphor for the barriers and separators of all kinds that people wish to throw between and among us. Especially in our current moment in time there are many whose main task is to foment social, racial, and/or economic anger and pin it on the “others,” whether we are talking about ethnic, social, economic, or other groups.

Can we overcome these barriers? Of course we can. Look at Stockdale’s images: there are gaps one can squeeze through, there are small boards or a bit of sand to help us take the first step beyond, to let the middle ground lead us toward reaching a better understanding of those that may be different, yet almost within reach. In every country there are many ethnic, economic,  religious groups or segments of the population with somewhat different belief systems, individual preferences, or somewhat different shades of skin color that some wish to marginalize or not give the full respect they deserve. It is important to overcome such barriers and to take the all-important steps toward others. Truly united societies require respectful collaboration rather than splintering into subgroups, and Stockdale’s visual compendium can be an impetus toward overcoming barriers and obstacles.

This project invites each viewer to engage with the presentation and to find individual meanings. It is my guess that this volume, which has been given a bilingual slant but no artist admonition as to its interpretation, will become quite a collector’s item. I would advise you to get your copy while you can, as the edition is very small. For those of you who can make it to L.A. this weekend, Stockdale will give an artist presentation about this work at the closing reception of the exhibition on Saturday, June 2, at 4-7 p.m., Fabrik Projects Gallery, 2636 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA (near Culver City).

The PhotoBook Journal has previously featured or reviewed the following other books by Douglas Stockdale:  Ciociaria, In Passing, Pine Lake, Bluewater Shore, and Guide to Self-Publishing an Indie Artist Book.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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May 28, 2018

Christoph Oeschger – They’ve Made Us Ghosts

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 6:51 pm

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Photographer:  Christoph Oeschger (born and living in Zürich, Switzerland)

Publisher:  cpress, Zürich, Switzerland; © 2017

Essay:  Léopold Lambert

Text:  English

Softcover, naked-stitched binding with transparent dust cover; 140 pages, non-paginated, with 1060 photographs; 16×26 cm; edition of 600 copies; printed by Graphius, Ghent, Belgium

Photobook Designers:  Christof Nüssli, Christoph Oeschger, Chiara Zarotti

 

Notes:

Over the last several decades, the world has been especially troubled by new migrations from countries that represent trouble spots to their people. The reasons can be political, religious, cultural, economic, or any combination. Often the destination seems like some kind of paradise in comparison to the place of departure, but the journey toward that supposed paradise is arduous and in itself a major challenge for all concerned, while the nearly impossible dream of a better future keeps the refugees’ hopes alive.

Previously, I have reviewed some photobooks here that concentrated on the fundamental strife in these countries of origin, such as Paula Bronstein’s Afghanistan – Between Hope and Fear, and Giles Duley’s One Second of Light. In this volume, Oeschger examines one geographic area – the refugee detention areas in the Calais region – one of the bottleneck transition sites as people flee from Africa and the Middle East toward European destinations, toward hoped-for relief.

This volume contains 1060 photographs, a veritable typology of unpleasant places to stay, and is arranged in two interspersed types of sections: the environmental surroundings are shown on pages mostly printed flush; the glued inserts are printed on more glossy paper and show glimpses of refugee life in small snapshot-like images, moments that are almost impossible to share, as we almost never see their faces, nor are their activities mostly a part of what we can see clearly either. A distance has been created both physically and visually, to match the physical. Oeschger has managed to create a presentation of these sequestered and walled-in areas that definitely makes us feel uncomfortable – “there but for fortune go you or I,” as the old Phil Ochs/Joan Baez song goes. The indignities of imposed structures or self-created improvised sleeping quarters, as well as the overall semi-clinical sequestering, heaped on top of old horrors experienced by the refugees and migrants in their home countries, are indeed a heavy burden to bear. This volume is a visual wake-up call for  those (people and countries) who want to push these pressing problems aside. The essay by Léopold Lambert and the historical chart provide further background on the issues and their contexts.  Those who are truly in need of protection do deserve decent treatment. And aren’t we all fervently hoping for a better future?

Christoph Oeschger and his team have managed to create a compelling presentation that makes its points by combining techniques from photojournalism and fine art. The vast number of images of the walled-in areas have the effect of showing the humans as being seen as quite marginal. Many of the shots are intentionally blurry or indistinct, to give us something to puzzle over. The colors are mostly muted, to convey the dreariness of the place. The transparent red cover creates a feeling of immediate urgency and danger; the vast surroundings of the camp areas and the furtive glimpses of the refugees cause in us a cathartic sharing of conditions full of improvisation and emergency, a sense of void and emptiness for which we wish there were better solutions. A powerful volume, check it out for yourself!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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May 14, 2018

LA Pages – Book Fair for Independent West Coast Publishers

LA Pages – Book Fair for Independent West Coast Publishers

Dates: May 18-19-20th

Times: 11am – 8pm

Location: Mayra’s Banquet Hall, 6075 Normandie Ave, Los Angeles (yes, believe it or not, just below South Park)

This event is produced by 8-Ball Community, Bunny Jr and Ooga Booga, and it’s a one time only, not for profit and in memory of Shannon Michael Cane. Everyone is welcome, & FREE entry!

With 80+ exhibitors.

THU 5/17 – FUNDRAISER EVENT
Food by Familia Romero
Music performance by Yanga (8pm)

FRI 5/18
Music curated by 8-Ball Radio
Food by Natural Soul Food
Music performance by Black Congress (7pm)
Future Preservation / Short film festival curated by 8-Ball TV & Symposium (8pm)

SAT 5/19
Music curated by Bunny Jr.
Food by Mai Downs
Music performance by É Arenas (7pm)

SUN 5/20
Music curated by Kchung Radio
Food by Natural Soul Food
Music performance by Jazzy Romero (7pm)

May 6, 2018

Acid-Free Los Angeles Art Book Market 2018

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Acid-Free LA Art Book Market, Blum & Poe 2018 copyright Douglas Stockdale

This past weekend, May 4-6th, 2018 was the first Acid-Free LA Art Book Market held at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, near the Culver City Art District.

This is a new left coast art book event that occurred this weekend here in Southern California/Los Angeles. Regretfully this event did not get onto my radar until the last few days until various publishers and galleries announced their booth information. Fortunately for me, the location at Blum and Poe is literally across the street from the gallery that represents me, Fabrik Projects and where my exhibition was opening Saturday morning.

So a two-fer for a Saturday; check-in at Fabrik Projects to ensure everything was copacetic for my exhibition, Middle Ground/En Medio Tierra, and then pop across the street to quickly check out Acid-Free. Since my leporello book dummy for Middle Ground/En Medio Tierra was also being exhibited, this allowed me to Segway to my exhibition while talking self-published books and book designs. A win-win. Or at least I thought so (yuk, yuk).

Acid-Free is a three-day art book market organized by a collective of Los Angeles based independent publishers. Approximately 80 exhibitors, both local and International, with video, music, programming, and some food and drink.  I am still unsure of the reason for this Art Book Market’s name of Acid-Free and no one present could explain it either. Another mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Attendance was lighter than I expected compared to the Saturday mob usually found at the alternative event hosted by Printed Matter and their LA Art Book Fair. (note: LA Art Book Fair was canceled this year due to unforeseen events). Most of my book friends were not aware of this event until the middle of last week.

Nevertheless, still in attendance were some of my local and international favorite publishers and book stores; Lucy Soto with Artbook, Clint Woodside with his Dead Beat Club, Tricia at The Ice Plant, Morel Books, Chris and his Nazraeli Press, TBW Books, Hassla, Winfried Heininger (he was putting more money in the meter and missed photographing him) and his Swiss Kodoji Press and some local galleries were present as well, such as Kopeikin Gallery (Paul giving me his stoic gallery gaze) and Peter Fetterman Gallery.

As anticipated, I left with my share of photobooks tucked in my kit-bag; Deanna Templeton’s They Should Never Touch the Ground, pub 2015 by Dead Beat Club (#31); Lucas Foglia’s Human Nature, pub 2017 Nazraeli Press; Alejandro Cartagena’s Santa Barbara Shame on US, pub 2017 Skinnerboox & distributed by Kopekin Gallery, and Mark Klett’s Traces of Eden: Travels in the Desert Southwest, pub 1986 David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc (also signed by Klett) and copies are still available from Kopekin Gallery.

And of course, just a tiny bit of book publishing gossip. Really, just a tiny bit.

Cheers,

Douglas

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May 5, 2018

Nuno Moreira – She Looks Into Me

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 4:56 pm

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Photographer:  Nuno Moreira (born and lives in Lisbon, Portugal)

Texts:  Poem by Paul Éluard; prose by Adolfo Luxúria Canibal; foreword by M. F. Sullivan; afterword by Jesse Freeman

Languages:  English and Portuguese

Self-published softcover with flaps; naked-bound and glued to the rear board; 22×28 cm (8.7×11 inches); 84 unnumbered pages with 42 black-and-white photographs; first limited edition of 200 copies, printed in Portugal by Guide; © 2018

Photobook designer:  NM Design

 

Notes:

This photographic project by Nuno Moreira, as presented in this volume, creates a very puzzling and potentially moving experience for the viewer. Relationships and all that they engender – genesis, growth, possibly also decline, and the specter of cessation – are ever-present themes in this book, which provides both visual depth and tactile pleasure. This is a volume that can have a strong effect on the viewer: it is a journey to the interior via the exterior.

The images are presented in three sections:  I. Being; II. Becoming; III. Unbecoming. This choice of headings suggests a process, and, indeed, the sections show a progression of  dreamlike appearances of figures oscillating and interacting between light and shadow. This is definitely the work of a photographer’s photographer. Canibal in the prose piece writes: “She knows that time swallows life and drains the light away, leaving the faces with the infinite sadness of primordial grief.” And: “The whispering figures represent the fleeting expression of this unspeakable disturbance that consumes her.” We get impressions of bodies and souls interacting and parting, the carousel of life, dancing in a circle, as it goes round and round to its beginnings, over and over. Thus you can traverse the book from front to end and back again. The double meaning of the word unbecoming also supports the idea that loss is always harder to take, not only personally, but also in a social context.

The individuals shown are of different ages and genders, in a variety of combinations, with females constituting the central figure “She.” We can surmise the possibilities or the existence of one or a variety of relationships, to be projected into the pictures by each viewer, depending on his or her life experiences and preferences. We see individuals touching each other or not, partly clothed or not, tastefully presented. There are also moments of being alone. The ambiguity of who belongs to whom, for what purpose, and for how long (if at all!) is where the mystery of the book comes into play. There is also a large bone-like structure in some of the images, perhaps a tusk or other part that seems to have once belonged to a large animal. In the shape of a boomerang, it perhaps reminds us about the mutuality and universality of interactions and of the circularity of life itself. Perhaps it is a reminder of loss, or of death as the ultimate loss; wilted flowers are also shown at the end of the book. Ambiguity consistently drives the visuals, and the untangling of the interplay between fantasy and reality becomes the viewer’s personal task.

The literary pieces and the essays – poem, foreword, afterword, prose (the latter presented in a separate, attractive bilingual booklet) – are also interesting, as they support the wholistic approach of Nuno Moreira, and also shed light on his previous work. I am also very pleased that the author chose naked stitched binding as a tool for the pages of the volume, as it allows the double-page spreads to lie flat, giving the viewer a closer viewing experience, as if glancing at an album, rather than a more tightly bound conventional book.

An important work of fine art photography that engages the viewer/reader in a variety of ways – visually, textually, and viscerally.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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