The PhotoBook

July 1, 2016

Mara Dani – Almost Bari

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Copyright 2015 Mara Dani

Photographer: Mara Dani (born in Brindisi and resides in Bari, Italy)

Self-published

Essays: Gian Luigi Sylos Labini and Alessandro Crilillo

Text: Italian and English

Hardcover book with exposed boards and spine, belly band and elastic band closure, two-color offset printing with sewn binding, various papers, pagination and captions, printed by Presso Grafica & Stampa in Italy

Editor and designer: Alessandro Cirillo

Notes: This is a topological body of work, exploring one small region of Italy, which is a subject that also happens to be the city where Dani lives.

Dani’s urban landscape is a black and white photographic investigation using a documentary style of a city situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. She pays attention to the diverse architectural diversity found here but appears to be critical of the post-modern style, with the spaces in between appearing sterile and devoid of individuals. Likewise, perhaps due to her black and white medium, the appearance of the structures are seemingly functional but cold, gray and monotonous. I am reminded of the New Topographic’s work of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Nicholas Nixon.

One of my few objections is that the tight binding does not allow the book to lay flat, but I was not going to break the binding to ensure flat surfaces to re-photograph the interior pages. Thus, no book was harmed in the writing of this review!

This body of work by Dani further exemplifies why it is not necessary to travel far to create an engaging photographic project.

Cheers

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June 23, 2016

Lorne Resnick – CUBA

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Copyright 2015 Lorne Resnick

Photographer: Lorne Resnick  (born Toronto, Canada, resides Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Publisher: Insight Editions (USA)

Essays: Lorne Resnick, Brian Andreas, Pico Iyer, Gerry Badger

Text: English

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

Photobook designer: Leah Bloise

Notes: In conjunction with the opening of travel by the United States into Cuba, a Caribbean island which due to trade embargos has an economy and physical infrastructure that appears to be frozen in time, there is suddenly an overflow of photographic books that attempt to investigate this charming island.

Resnick is not a stranger to Cuba having started his 50 or more visits to Cuba in 1995. This thick monograph of lyrical photographs by a veteran street photographer using a documentary style has an interesting mix of color and black white photographs. His subjects are a mash up for portraits, landscape, details and social events. I have extensively worked as well as vacationed in the Caribbean, thus I find Resnick’s investigation appears to reveal similarities to but yet awkward differences with its Caribbean island cousins. In attempting to provide a wide view of Cuba, he occasional treads close to some potential Cuban clichés while yet infusing his book with humor, potency, intimacy and the exuberance portrayed by his subjects. Included is a nice book element with poetic text printed on translucent pages that intermittently layers his photographs.

Resnick also has a limited edition version of this book that includes a 60-song Cuban music collection. nice.

Cheers

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June 17, 2016

Sara Terry – Elvis in the Tree

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Copyright 2016 Sara Terry

Photographer: Sara Terry (b. Detroit and resides in Los Angeles, USA)

Self-Published: 10 (X) Editions

Text: English

Hardcover artist book (boards with hand stamp and hand inscription on cover) with elastic belly band, leporello interior design, pigment ink prints with clear corner stays, hand-printed, limited edition book of 10.

Photobook designer: Sara Terry

Notes: Sara Terry’s hand-made artist books in her 10 (X) series are a delight to hold and read. I have known Terry as the founder, artistic director and publisher of the Aftermath Project and her annual War is Half the Story stiff-cover books and that she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 to support the publication of artist book Forgiveness and Conflict: Lessons from Africa. These are all very serious documentary style projects. What I was not aware of was her wonderful 10 (X) Editions until we had adjacent tables at Photo Independent last month. I found out about the not-so-serious side of Sara Terry!

I also quickly found that Terry is very particular about her books when I inadvertently did not place the elastic belly-band back on this book in the right place. Likewise she pays careful attention to the design details and production of her books; they are very well constructed and reading is a fun and enjoyable experience, especially as the leporello design unfolds the interior prints in your hands. For Elvis in the Tree, Terry states “It’s about trees. It’s about visual puns. And yep, it IS about Elvis in the tree.”

A simple but yet elegant book object that is well executed. Recommended.

Cheers

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June 10, 2016

Aline Smithson – Self & Others

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Copyright 2015 Aline Smithson

Photographer: Aline Smithson (born & resides Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Publisher: Magenta Foundation (Canada)

Essays: Paula Tognarelli, Karen Sinsheimer & Aline Smithson (A.S.)

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Office of Gilbert Li

Notes:  This monograph is a wonderful mid-career touch-point (as I know that just about every artist is loath to have a “retrospective” published while still in the midst of developing new work) that chronologically encompasses her early black and white analog projects, then a period of hand-coloring silver gelatin prints and currently exploring portraiture with the color photographic medium.

She has learned to masterly fill the square frame with her subjects, frequently her family as well as family of friends and make excellent use of her training as a painter in creating the accompanying background sets. One can see the early influence of the ambiguous style of Keith Carter or the family in masks of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, evolving to when her vision becomes more uniquely her own with her hand-colored photographs and subsequent color portrait projects. Portrait as Autobiography is thus a very apt subtitle to Smithson’s book Self & Others, an on-going collection of portraits by the photographer.

The late Karen Sinsheimer states in the forward; “Smithson manages to explore and explicate larger questions and issues as she remains true to who she is. She does not flinch from unpleasant or painful memories, nor does she shy away from an honest assessment of her work. Smithson maintains a sense of humor as well as a humanity; her photographs reflect her kind nature. One never senses meanness nor voyeuristic “gotcha” moments. She is unafraid of trying new ideas as she is of failing; she simply learns from and analyzes the experience and stores it in her memory for future reference.”

Cheers!

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June 3, 2016

Kurt Simonson – Northwoods Journals

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Copyright 2015 Kurt Simonson

Photographer: Kurt Simonson (born St Paul, MN, resides Long Beach CA, USA)

Publisher: Flash Powder Projects (USA)

Essay by George Slade, Poem by Franz Wright

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, multiple gate-folds, tipped-in tri-fold page, four-color lithography, printed by Bigger Dot in South Korea

Photobook designer: Kurt Simonson, David Bram, Jennifer Schwartz

Notes: Kurt Simonson’s Northwoods Journals was one of the immediate standouts while I was judging the Photo Independent Book Competition last month. Even now after the first impressions formed during the book judging process have faded, I find his body of photographs to appear both factual, in a documentary style, as well as mysterious, as to the potential content, creating an interesting, although at times dark narrative. I realize that Simonson’s ambiguous photographs allow me the room to fill in some spaces from my own Midwest upbringing, a personal layer that I can add onto to his story. I like when that happens.

The body of work opens with a photograph that might be his grandmother’s envelop and unopened letter, a sly node to the late Roland Barthes. Simonson follows with a playful twist to include a tipped-in tri-fold page with a photograph of a hand-written text that contains his own introduction, as a surrogate of his grandmother’s letter, which may also have been hand-written, similar again to Barther’s photograph of his mother; we don’t know. Nor does it really matter.

Playful, mysterious and a ample ambiguity that allows the reader to make the story their own. Nice.

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May 5, 2016

Jan Brykczynski – Boiko

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Copyright 2014 Jan Brykczynski

Photographer: Jan Brykczynski   (born & resides Warsaw, Poland)

Self-published (Poland) with support by Sputnik Photos

Essays: Taras Prokhas’ko

Text: English on a double-gate spread with Polish and Ukrainian text insert

Hardcover book, embossed cover with magnetic closure, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Poland.

Photobook designer: Ana Natecka, Tapir Book Design

Notes: Brykczynski has uses a documentary style to photograph a small village in the Ukraine that is composed of a Boiko culture. This is a primitive region where sleds and sleighs are drawn by horses, animals are slaughtered on open tables exposed to the harsh elements, the floors of homes are mostly dirt and fields of grain are cut by hand. The portraits of those who live in the region portray a warmth and strong religious belief that belies the struggling economics. It appears that this region is in a transitional phase of old beliefs mixed with the new technology of electrical lighting, automobiles and contemporary clothing. A poignant study of an old culture battled by contemporary elements.

Cheers

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April 22, 2016

Brad Temkin – Rooftop

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Copyright 2015 Brad Temkin

Photographer: Brad Temkin  (born & resides Chicago, IL)

Publisher: Radius Books (USA)

Essays: John Rohrbach, Steven Peck, Roger Schickedantz

Text: English

Hardcover with glued boards and accompanying perfect-bond booklet (essay and list of plates), Lucite slipcase, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: David Chickey and David Skolkin

Notes:

The rooftops of industrial buildings could well be one of the last frontiers for ecological exploration, usually a place that is a maintenance crew’s worst nightmare as a source for water leaks. This no-man’s landscape has more recently been envisioned as a potential location for huge panels for solar energy with an eye towards reducing electrical cost in conjunction with reducing the carbon footprint. Likewise, a relatively new concept for industry is the green roof, which Temkin has investigated in his book Rooftop. The concept is not entirely new as the top of many apartment complexes have for generations’ harbored gardens and other green sanctuaries.

Temkin has found these industrial oasis in the midst of heavy commerce and high rise commercial complexes, an otherwise sea of concrete, steel and glass. What is not apparent is that these green places are usually meant for popular use or even by those who inhabit the commercial space just below these beautiful vistas. Temkin has framed many of his images in a manner that makes the location ambiguous, even to the point of recognizing that the location is on top of commercial building. One poignant exception is the photograph that captures both the natural habitat on the roof and the stark contrast of the business personnel boxed inside the building below, attentive to their computer monitors and headsets. Nevertheless, Tempkin’s clearly seen photographs offers hope as to our industrial future.

Additional Footnote: I was part of the 2016 PhotoBook Competition jury during which we selected Tempkins’ photobook Rooftop as one of the three Best in Show.

Cheers

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April 14, 2016

Jamey Stillings – The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar

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Copyright 2015 Jamey Stillings

Photographer: Jamey Stillings (born Springfield, MO, resides Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA)

Publisher: Steidl Verlag (Germany)

Essays: Jamey Stillings, Robert Redford, Anne Wilkes Tucker and Bruce Barcott

Text: English

Hardcover book with printed belly-band, sewn binding, four-color lithography, captions, line drawing, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: David Chickey

Notes: While driving north on I-15 from LA to Las Vegas and nearing the conclusion, one drives down and out of the mountain terrain towards the small city of Primm, clearly delineating California from the Nevada border. The descent provides a magnificent view of the Mojave Desert stretching out for miles ahead. As the descent continues towards Primm, there appears a strange apparition on the left out in the desert; three glowing towers amidst a field of small glowing objects. What this odd structure was mystified  me until I recently read Jamey Stillings’ photobook The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar.

In October 2010, Stillings commenced an aerial photography project over the future site of the Ivanpaph Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert of California. At the end of 2013, Ivanpaph Solar became the world’s largest concentrated solar thermal power plant with the capacity to produce 377 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 140,000 American homes. Stillings photographs, created in a documentary style, are equally fascinating and mysterious as the site itself. Stillings oscillates, perhaps similarly to the mirrors on the site, between grand and sweeping aerial landscapes of Michael Light to the abstract expressionist of David Maisel. What results is a mix of technological and artistic contemplation.

Stillings states in his essay “While black and white represent the tonal end points of imagery in this book, shades of gray bring structure, detail, and nuance to each photograph. And while our rash obsession in contemporary culture is to embrace extreme postions, real progress lies in understanding the importance and great complexity found between these poles.”

Additional Footnote: I was part of the 2016 PhotoBook Competition jury during which we selected Stillings’ photobook The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar as one of the three Best in Show.

Cheers

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April 5, 2016

Kenneth Josephson – The Light of Coincidence

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Photographs Copyright 2016 Kenneth Josephson

Photographer: Kenneth Josephson (born Detroit, MI, resides IL, USA)

Publisher: University of Texas, Austin (USA)

Essays: Gerry Badger and Lynne Warren

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, includes List of Plates, Chronology, Exhibition History & listing of Collections, printed in China

Photobook designer: not stated

Notes: This thick, retrospective monograph examines the photographic works of Kenneth Josephson, an early innovative conceptual photographer. Early in his career, Josephson’s photographs ran counter to Szarkowski’s MoMA (1960 – 70’s) trend towards documentary photography, during which Josephson created photographs as objects that are “made”, not taken.

As Gerry Badger states in his forward to this book; “These images may contain meanings that are primarily private and personal to their maker. However, although Kenneth Josephson exemplifies the turn inward toward a self-reflective vision that marks post-World War II photography – he was taking selfies, though very complex selfies, decades before the iPhone generation – he was also enough of an artist to look outward.”

Many of Josephson’s photographs probably will appear hauntingly familiar, probably much more recognizable than his name.  His humor and wit is an undercurrent in many of his photographs, such as a car with a white shadow, which is not uncommon sight where the sun quickly melts the snow except for that which is in the shadows. Or when he frames his own shadow (early selfie) cast over his son laying on the ground, or his outstretched arm holds a photograph to create a juxtaposition of myth/reality into his composition. Josephson warrants a second look as someone who is providing a conceptual foundation for much of the current photographic practices.

Cheers

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April 1, 2016

Sara J. Winston – Homesick

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Copyright 2015 Sara J. Winston

Photographer: Sara J. Winston (born & resides New York, USA)

Publisher: Zatara Press (USA)

Short Story: Ani Katz

Text: English

Stiffcover book with Wire-O binding with fold back covers, four-color lithography, printed in Richmond, VA (USA)

Photobook designer: Sara J. Winston & Andrew Fedynak

Notes: Winston’s book title hints at a state of mind and her photographs are a mix of ambiguous and telling as to a potential homesickness (Sick of Home; Sick for Home, or Sick at Home). There is evidence of underlying issues; a bunged-up cat’s head, a sea of pills on a bed, hospital probes and monitoring wires and someone working with a non-functioning clock. Winston interweaves photographs of various tussled beds indicating an uneasiness that comes from not sleeping well in conjunction with food in various states of preparation, as though nourishment (health) is pending and not complete. Something is out of kilter and as a reader, I am left with a lingering sense of things not as they should be. This narrative about mortality and the circle of life is one in which Winston regretfully plays an unexpected role.

Best regards

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