The PhotoBook

May 2, 2015

Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis – Islands of the Blest


Copyright 2014 Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis, Published by Silas Finch

Islands of the Blest is a collaboration by an American photographer, Bryan Schutmaat (b. 1983 Houston, Texas, currently resides in Austin, Texas), and an American writer, Ashlyn Davis (b. 1986 Port Arthur, Texas, currently resides in Austin, Texas) constructing a historical narrative that explores the American expansion into the “West”. Schutmaat and Davis created this photobook utilizing found photographs that were residing in the digital public archives of the United States Library of Congress and the United States Geological Survey.

I had initially suspected that Schutmaat is the visually oriented contributor while Davis would be the story teller who provides the essence of the story line. In an interview with the pair, I was a way off-base as Schutmaat has an undergraduate degree in History while Davis was a photo major and subsequently changing to art history with an emphasis on photography for her graduate studies. They point to their mutual aesthetical and historical literacy.

Davis states “I had been thinking about the complexities of the West for quite some time, so this project was not only a way to think about the photographic antecedents of Bryan’s work, but for me to explore the history of these landscapes through the shared history of the public archive. This photobook evolved out of preparing for a prelude exhibition to Schutmaat’s beautiful photobook Grays the Mountain Sends published by Silas Finch in 2013. The concept was to collect and exhibit historical photographs of the American West, which resulted in the pair making an extensive road trip from West Texas through New Mexico, Utah and Arizona visiting national parks while reading to each other history books on the American West. We think we still hope that it (the photobook) is not a true narrative but more of a poem.”

The subjects appear to have been captured in the midst of an act, doing something, which is really unknown to the reader, thus perplexing and yet intriguing. Their effort appears to be related to working in the mines or mining claims; essentially searching for their fortunes.  Another aspect that I find interesting is the mash up of ambiguous portraits and grand landscape photographs, each with a uniqueness in framing, perspective and scale between the two. The individuals are framed close and tight without much environmental context, while the landscape images are made from a distance to create an open grandeur in scale. As such it appears that the landscape is overwhelming the individual while attempting to establish a place that might be characteristic of the American West; mountainous, rugged, difficult, rough and tumble.

This photobook reminds me the meandering rural Colorado landscape that borders the I-70 interstate highway and is a conduit between Grand Junction and Denver. There are still some old gold mine towns intermingled with structures dating back to the turn of the 20th century; towns with their wonderfully descriptive names; Idaho Springs, Turkey Gulch, Breeze, Lawson, Georgetown, Silver Plume, Loveland, Dillon, Silvertorne, Frisco, Eagle, Avon, Beaver Creek, & Minturn. These old towns seem to be calling me from the highway to stop and spend some time exploring their passages and memories.

As to the development of the book, Davis goes on to say “we both went through several rounds of independent sequencing before we got to the final version, although one thing Bryan was really great at was sequencing. He was thinking more conceptually, whereas I was initially thinking a bit more literally up until the end and then I think I turned super conceptual. So if anything, that was the tension. We didn’t go into these archives with a specific story in mind. The photos really did a lot of the speaking and we did a lot of the listening to them and to each other before the more nuanced narratives or stanzas began to emerge. I think that patience is integral to the photobook form – it’s like meditating. There are both aesthetic and narrative elements that lead the eye from one image to the next.

I would agree that they did achieve their goal; this is a very poetic body of work.

This photobook has a heavy cloth cover with staple binding (saddle stitch), black & white photographs that are offset printed with UV inks on uncoated paper, with a poem by Michael McGriff.

I choose this as one of my interesting photobooks of 2014.









April 14, 2015

Andreas Oekter-Kast – Looking for (auf der suche nach) Wonderland

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Copyright 2013 Andreas Oekter-Kast, Published by bt:st Verlag

This photobook is photographed in a documentary style and could be considered a quintessential American Road-Trip, perhaps without the same amount of angst as found in Robert Frank’s The Americans. Both Frank and Andreas Oekter-Kast (Born 1964, Baden-Baden, Germany, currently lives in Kiel, Germany) are Europeans who are examining the American landscape and culture, with Frank originally from Switzerland and Oekter-Kast is from Germany. Much has occurred in the span of fifty-five years between the publications of their two photobooks.

As Oekter-Kast has shared in our exchange while I prepared this review; this is actually a road trip that was envisioned in 2001. At that time, he and his family had moved to Seattle from Germany and was now required to relocate to Boston, MA, but regretfully, time was of the essence and the ensuing drive was rushed. Since then, he has since moved back to Germany but this missed opportunity was omnipresent to both he and his wife’s mind and then they had the opportunity to recently revisit this journey.

Oekter-Kast and his wife were able to restart this journey in Seattle, visiting their American friends in conjunction with a strong desire to really see America. This road trip narrative is about making connections, with the past and the present while investigating what home is, having earlier made some strong connections in American while now living in Germany.

The itinerary was to meander from Seattle (WA) south through Portland (OR) to Northern California, then a hard left turn towards Chicago (IL), passing through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming before moving South into Illinois and Chicago then again due East to New York City (NY), up to Boston (MA) and return back to New York for the flight back to Germany.

So did Oekter-Kast find the Wonderland he was looking for? Perhaps. This photobook is a bit of diary that documents a personal quest and I suspect that he and his wife did experience more the complexity, contradictions and vastness that encompass the vast amount of space that we call America. It is evident to me and perhaps to the reader that he found some touchstones, some in small details, and others in his attempt to capture the grand landscape. Not an easy task to accomplish in a short span of time.

Having lived and worked in America for a while, Oekter-Kast is not a complete stranger to this complex culture and multi-faceted landscape, but yet it is still evident to me that he has perspective of someone who is somewhat a stranger in a very strange land and leaves us with something new to consider.

auf der suche nach / looking for / wonderland

This is a stiff cover book that is encased within a printed paperboard sleeve that also holds an accompanying DVD in an opposing pocket. The photobook/DVD sleeve is further packaged within a printed and embossed paperboard slip-cover. The text is in German and English, while the DVD has German subtitles. The introduction is provided by Richard Tooke and essays by Oekter-Kast. The filming for the DVD was by Angelika Oekter-Kast and co-edited by Andreas Oekter-Kast.

Previous Andreas Oekter-Kast photobook reviewed on this blog: Man-Power


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April 11, 2015

Bull City Summer


copyright, 2014, the various photographer, writers and published by Daylight Books

It is April and the American baseball season is now in full swing, to savor the pun. I had obtained this photobook shortly after it was published in the Fall of last year, right smack in the middle of the American Football season, not exactly the time of year to be thinking about a collective project that explores the subject of baseball. Thus I waited until the pre-season baseball games were well in progress to started thinking about this photobook.

The subject encompasses a sporting event with well-choreographed players, at a specific location that is also a local social event. This project revolves around the Triple-A farm team Durham Bulls (not the hit movie Bull Durham) who play at their stadium, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, located Durham, North Carolina for the 72 game season in 2013.

I am usually more interested in photobook projects authored by a singular photographer but found myself intrigued by this commissioned body of work. The invited photographs are Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey, Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas, and Hiroshi Watanabe. The book does not provide any clues as to why these photographers were selected, but does state that the photographs were not encumbered with any specific assignments.

Each photographer provides a unique perspective, but interesting that it is also difficult to identify some of the photographers by their work as to the similarity of their photographs. The tintypes of Leah Sobsey stand out as very unique as are the meditative black and white photographs by Watanabe, who grew up in a place where baseball was not the local pastime.

I can see myself in these pages, not necessarily attending a Triple-A baseball game, but thinking back to when my dad and I would walk over to watch the local high school games and on that rare occasion heading downtown with my dad, my glove in hand, to Tiger stadium, sitting high up in the bleachers wildly cheering on Norm Cash, Denny McLain, Jerry Lumpe, Willie Horton, Al Kaline and the rest of the team so long ago. At that time the Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A teams that lurked in the background, essentially the underbelly of this sport, were totally unknown to me.

In reading this book the photographers capture aspects of the unfolding events that take place outside and within the stadium, the atmospheric conditions that prevail in this part of the country at night, the social milieu in the bleachers, the players on the field, and the back story of the stadium operations. This narrative does not try to explain the game of baseball and the photographs are not the norm of the newspaper sporting pages. The book results in an interesting mix and blend and is a nice read. A definite recommendation if you are a baseball fan and enjoy great photography.

The hardcover photobook has an image-wrap cover and includes a photographic index and biographies for both the photographer and writers. The book was edited by Sam Stephenson and the essays are provided by Howard Craft, Michael Croley, David Henry, Emma Miller, Adam Sobsey and Ivan Weiss and the book designer is Ursula Damm. The four-color book was printed and bound in China.









March 27, 2015

Matej Sitar – Morning Sun


Copyright 2014 Matej Sitar, published by Angry Bat, Ljubljana

Admittedly, this photobook review for Matej Sitar’s Morning Sun has been very slowly developing and for all of the right reasons. There are photobooks I have received which are over the top and very obvious as to subject, concept and content. Some of these are really good, some not, as to be so obvious as to leave me wondering why it was even published, a waste of perfectly good paper. The later do not warrant a review; my time is too precious, thus the reason that I am usually very positive about the photobooks that I write about, the others are usually donated to a library or good cause. (It is very difficult for me to put any book in the rubbish bin, no matter how awful it appears)

Morning Sun is a book that immediately connects with me, but it has been hard for me to put into words as to why. The book’s title is a fun play on words, as the subject of this book is his wife who is pregnant, as well as bit autobiographical, awaiting the arrival of their son. So each morning the sun arises to a new day, new events, and a new life.

As a father with two children, I get what it was like facing the unknown challenges and yet excited with anticipation for the first child. For guys, no matter how much we think that we are prepared, the first child is fun, exciting yet a mystery and an enigma and can be overwhelming. We are just not prepared for all about what is to occur, but I think we really do the best we can to prepare.

This is what I believe Sitar is exploring with this book; to be a guy who is soon to be a dad, attempting to understand the changes occurring on this nine month pathway to fatherhood.

I found this photobook subtle as to the subject, sequencing and layout. It is one that I experience in a non-verbal way, thus has been difficult to find the right words to provide meaning.  This is a personal and intimate body of work; a poetic sonnet rather that a narrative.

It contains an interesting mix of portraits and landscapes. The landscapes are mid-distance and also intimate exploring phases of life. The metaphoric photographs are introspective; changes, new life, attempting to anticipate what might soon be, while being open to the changes occurring now, external/internal,

Morning Sun was selected as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2014.

This is a hardcover book with linen covers and tipped in photograph on the front cover with embossed title. The printing is four color offset on 150 gm paper with a sewn binding.

Matej Sitar photobook previously reviewed on the photobook: America, My Way & America, My Way (Collectors Edition)









February 12, 2015

Carolyn Drake – Wild Pigeon


Copyright Carolyn Drake 2014, self-published

This photobook by Carolyn Drake (b. 1971 Los Angeles, CA and currently resides in Mississippi) incorporates an allegory story of the same name, Wild Pigeon, written by Nurmuhemmet Yasin who is a Uyghur author. The Yasin story narrates the Uyghur experience in this remote region of Western China (XinJiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Like much of China the Western region has been undergoing extensive changes to “modernize” the country, with huge scale dismantling of the pre-existing structures.

This dismantling and rebuilding process was very evident to me while visiting Eastern China six years ago and from what I learned, the “modernization” process was occurring simultaneously across this huge nation. The Chinese reaction to this modernization process is extremely mixed. In the Western region of the Uyghur, it takes on another layered meaning, as the Uyghur besides being physically different as compared to the Han Chinese are also predominantly Muslim. The underlying conflict is palpable in her narrative.

Drake’s resulting photobook is an interesting mix of photography; her photographs, found photographs, photographs that have been altered by her subjects within a meandering text from Yasin’s story. The sequencing of the photographs are pared to reveal the region’s contradictions; a fully concealed women across the book’s gutter from the photograph of unabashed men bathing, a lush oasis resplendent with amusement water-toys facing a photograph of an arid and dry desert landscape, a woman who sits in a pose that appears to be in prayer which is across and facing a man who leans over his motorcycle’s handlebars, fingers intertwined and illuminated by the evening light, as might be coming of a lion on the prowl, and whose gaze is directed across the page back at the girl on the opposing spread. The pairing of her photographs creates a subtle tension that runs through out this book.

Drake in an attempt to help facilitate communication and bridge cultures provided opportunities for her subjects to creatively interact with her photographic prints. They in turn created personal and layered messages by means of drawings, text and collages, of which the ensuring results remind me of Jim Goldberg’s photobook  Open See.

Her narrative is perhaps similar to the story line in the novel Animal Farm written by George Orwell; that in modern China, not all equals are in fact equal.

The hardcover book has sections of irregular sized pages and continuously shifting photographic image orientations (horizontal and vertical images) and includes a smaller stiff-cover booklet, sewn binding, that is glued to the inside of the back cover. The Wild Pigeon story is by Nurmuhemmet Yasin and translated into English by Dr. Dolkun Kamberi and interspersed throughout the book, with an Afterword by Drake.

As in her pervious self-published photobook, Two Rivers, she has teamed up with the talented Dutch photobook designer Sybern (-SYB-) Kuiper as her collaborator. Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers was previously reviewed on the The Photobook and was selected as one of my Interesting Photobooks for 2013 that was published in the annual photo-eye Best Photobooks listings.


Note: Carolyn Drake states that Yasin, the author of this story, was imprisoned ten years ago for “inciting separation” (subversive or ideologically corrupting) in the publication of Wild Pigeon and currently his fate is unknown.










January 16, 2015

Michelle Frankfurter – Destino


Copyright Michelle Frankfurter 2014 published by FotoEvidence

This is my first review of the photobook series published by Svetlana Bachevonaova and FotoEvidence, which is a non-profit organization that focuses on the global issues of Social Justice.

Michelle Frankfurter (b. April 1961, Jerusalem, Israel – living in the US since 1967 and currently resides near Washington DC) is using a classic black and white photographic medium (film) in a documentary style to investigate the illegal influx into southern United States. Frankfurter sequences her photographs to allow us to follow the progress of a journey, laden with boredom and interspersed with moments of sheer terror, from Central America to the various Mexican borders of the United States.

Her subjects, single individuals to entire multi-generational families, have meager economic means thus they leverage the available Central America commercial transportation infrastructure, primary riding atop freight trains. To further understand what lengths these individuals were willing to undertake, Frankfurter similarly hopped onto one of these same freight trains to ride alongside her subjects. In so doing she shared a part of their perilous journey while enduring the same risks and become an insider, not a casual and emotionally distant observer.

Since I live in Southern California I interact on an almost daily basis with Latinos, and many due to their difficultly with English are most likely a product, directly or indirectly, of a similar journey. In discussions with them about their heritage, they will eventually open up to the circumstances of their arrival and current situation. For those who are “undocumented”, the Politically Correct term for illegal, their lives which although are much better now than where they originated is still fraught with great danger. Nevertheless the enormous efforts and risks undertaken to arrive in the United States are seldom discussed and for the most part unknown to me and most others who live here. Usually discussed in the local news are the events around a terribly failed attempt at a border crossing, perhaps a family who has passed away attempting the trek through the arid desert that lurks in the midst of the U.S. and Mexico borders.

The photographs are very sensitively composed with her subjects photographed from a close and intimate distance. These portraits are intermingled with the passing landscape photographs, slightly larger in scope and providing a context to her subject’s journey. As an example the photobook’s cover image is a subtle story. The man in the right side within the frame has his eyes focused slightly to his right. Then I realize that he is not shifting his gaze away from the photographer, but to whom is probably his family, a woman and small child who are covered with a black plastic cover to protect them from the natural elements on top of the freight car. This photograph provides a poignant narrative as to what this man is actually risking, not just himself, but his entire family. The photograph also asks the reader to consider the uneasy question as why would someone take such a huge risk? These are the unanswered questions that Frankfurter elegantly raises throughout this photobook.

The resulting openness of her subjects comes through in her photographs, perhaps as Frankfurter shares in her introduction, she and her family are also immigrants into the United States, be by much different circumstances. I found that her visual narrative reminds me of the Freedom Train, the illegal movement of the African-Americans preceding the United States Civil War in the 1860’s, a much earlier era of the American history, pursuing similar dreams of freedom.

Her black and white photographs alternate between a full bleed images to a classic border with paper white margins. The images alternate between a single photograph on a double page spread, which provides singular emphasis, to pairs of photographs facing across the book’s gutter. Most of the paired images one image is full frame while the facing image is smaller encircled with large white paper margins, which creates an interesting interaction between the two photographs.

As a book object, this is an Image-wrap hardcover book, while the interior Black & White photographs beautiful printed and bound by the printer in Istanbul, Turkey. The Forward text is provided by Susan Terrio with an Introduction by Frankfurter and the book design is by Mark Weinberg. The photobook includes pagination and the captions are summarized within the end notes as well as an extensive listing of the backers for this publication. This is a book that I also selected for my blog as an Interesting Photobook for 2014.








January 11, 2015

Julia Borissova – Running to the Edge


Copyright Julia Borissova 2014, self-published (with Limited Edition slip cover)

I am intrigued by Julia Borissova’ s (b. Tallinn, Estonia and lives in St. Petersburg, Russia) recent concept that led to her self-published photobook Running to the Edge, with the way that history and memory is perceived through images. Using found Black & White photographs, some dating back to the Russian Revolution, over which she juxtaposes a collage of objects, flowers and petals that anchor these images to the present. She attempts to create a visual analogy of the idea of memory slipping away over time with the archival photographs married with the fragile flowers, which the reader knows will decay all too quickly.

Borissova states “I saw a diary of 1917-20’s in an antique shop and I could not but buy it. I realized that this diary gives me a chance to show another layer of time to which I refer in my projects, to show it not like a text, as some additional information, but rather through the beauty of the script, through the sense of a touching hand that wrote these letters almost 100 years ago. Besides, this diary was made in a wooden cover with a painted bird on it. And it all together just captivated me.”

“Since the book contains texts in Russian, I decided to make a translation into English, by placing it on a separate insert, so as not to distort the impression of the book as of the found object. I wanted the color of the paper for the insert to be in contrast with the main book block, but at the same time, it should be understood that it is an integral part of the book, so I chose the designer paper to match the cover.”

The resulting photographs are whimsical, humorous while yet having an undercurrent of melancholy. A young girl’s eyes have become over-sized pink flowers, signifying the wide-eyed amazement of youth and the pink color almost universal of young girls. In another image, a young child is wearing a flower and petals while an older man adjacent to the child has a disturbing brown stem covering his eyes which metaphorically would block his vision. In yet another, a young woman lies prone on the ground, her apparel is now a layer of red petals in stark contrast to the original black and white photograph. Borissova creates beautiful new contexts with her collages and offers few clues as to their meaning, of which fully captivates me.

This book and the concept to alter found photographs have really touched me and it resonates with my parallel interest investigating the various aspects of memory and the attempts to preserve it. That in conjunction with a brilliant design and beautiful construction made this photobook an easy choice for Interesting Photobook of 2014, both for my blog and my selection for Emaho magazine.

As a book object, the hardcover book has an embossed cover and an overall elegant feel created by a careful selection of the interior papers and is accompanied by two inserts, one of which is the English translation of the hand written text, the other is an introduction by Borissova. The hand written text is not in English, assuming Russian, and the ensuing marks on the paper are as abstract as the photographs.  Borissova incorporates tracing paper as a means to signify a break between the beginning of the first and second sections of this photobook. Borissova has indeed ““attach(ed) importance to every detail and there can’t be any minor things.”










January 7, 2015

Kate Nolan – Neither


Copyright Kate Nolan 2014, self-published

Neither is a three year project by Kate Nolan (b. 1979 Dublin, Ireland, where she currently resides) that takes place in Kalingrad, formerly called Königsberg (German), a seaport city and the administrative center of Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. This place was formed following World War II with the displacement of the native Germans with those who relocated from the interior regions of Russia. What results is a multi-dimensional photobook that is a mashup of written narratives and visual poetry that attempts to investigate feminist identity in the context of a memory of an ambiguous place.

Nolan’s photographs the women of Kalingrad, a mix of portraits, those who directly confront the photographer, thus the viewer, and those who look pensively away. Inter-woven are urban landscapes of a place that shift from the lyrical, a beautiful tree in colorful bloom, to terrifying landscape, a field ablaze in flames. The latter photograph (below) is adjacent to and faces a photograph of a women with a child playing on a ride, while a child faces away unaware of the “approaching” danger.

The smaller stiff-cover booklet contains narratives and is bisected by the larger stiff-cover book containing the full bleed photographs with a floating and separate narrative as a physical sub-text. The front booklet acts as a Forward with hand-written short stories to describe current conditions .The book’s Afterward, formed by the other half of the smaller booklet, contains stories that describe events occurring in 1946 during the formation of Kalingrad, written by the women who were involved in this transition.


Her photographs are printed full bleed, so the photographs are physically joined at the seamless gutter, one photograph slamming into the other, creating interesting diptychs, that can be read singularly or as a panoramic whole.

This project appears autobiographical as Nolan is investigating the subject of the identity of young women within society with perhaps some similarities to her own circumstances.

As a book object, this is a crazy and complex design with a lot of moving parts that include three distinct sections; one smaller stiff-cover book that is bisected by the larger stiff-cover volume, held together by a sewn binding and a clear poly band. Within the larger volume is another narrative on separate pages, essentially a mini-booklet within a book and can be read independent of the pages above.

Due to the design and sewn binding of the larger volume, the interior narrative pages slightly brush and physically interact with the photographic pages, creating a subtle tension between the two. The book is a lay-flat book design that makes it a joy to read.

This photobook was designed and developed in collaboration with the creative Dutch photobook designer -SYB- (Sybren Kuiper). The publication of her book was supported by a successful Indiegogo fund raising campaign and I have selected this photobook as one of the Interesting Photobooks for 2014.









December 26, 2014

Alejandro Cartagena – Carpoolers


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.










December 23, 2014

Laura Curran – Lots of Cake!


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.








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