The PhotoBook Journal

February 16, 2018

Todd Webb – I See a City: Todd Webb’s New York

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 8:04 pm

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Photographer:  Todd Webb (1905-2000; born in Detroit, Michigan)

Editor:  Betsy Evans Hunt

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY; © 2017

Essays:  Sean Corcoran, Daniel Okrent, Betsy Evans Hunt

Language:  English

Sewn hardback with illustrated dust cover; 10 x 12 inches; 150 black-and-white images; 176 pages, paginated throughout; printed and bound in China

Photobook Designer:  BTD/NYC

 

Notes:

New York City has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of the world. The New York of the mid-1940s through the 1950s had its own unique atmosphere. One of the busiest metropolitan areas, it was characterized by neighborhoods with distinct characteristics and a somewhat more leisurely pace, somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of the commercial areas, which also were more individually distinct than they are today. The troops had come home from World War II and were welcomed warmly by the citizenry; the charm of the past was still to be seen as the future was peeking over the horizon. For the photography world, this was the time of Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe (whom Webb later photographed in New Mexico), the Callahans, the Newhalls, Minor White, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Gordon Parks, and others with whom Todd Webb was well connected.

Todd Webb had a knack for finding the unusual in ordinary subjects. The New York shown in his work is distinguished by the loving depiction of the vestiges of times gone by within the context of the moment; the emphasis is on neighborhoods such as Harlem and the lower East Side, all with their distinct buildings and signage. Often the humans depicted recede into the background, dwarfed by the enormity of the city, buildings of old and other structures such as the “El” (elevated city rail transportation), many of which have since been replaced. In fact, many times Webb would leave out people and merely photograph evidence of their activities or concerns, such as signs welcoming soldiers home or shop windows with their personally or culturally unique visual and verbal messages. There is an appealing timelessness and slower pace to the city as depicted here, mostly from a street-level perspective, a historic window into the many details making the mosaic that was the NYC of that time, a portrait that also gives a certain amount of dignity to subjects not members of the more upscale part of society, as Daniel Corcoran points out in his essay.

This sumptuously printed oversized volume presents the best of Todd Webb’s New York City work, collected in an appealing sequence edited by Betsy Evans Hunt, the Executive Director of the Todd Webb Archive, who also details her connections to Webb in the appendix. There are also two illuminating essays, by Sean Corcoran and Daniel Okrent, that supply details about the background of the photographer and his time. The images are accompanied by captions that provide the place and year for each; the sequencing is well paced to suit the variety of subjects and moods. This publication follows a Fall 2017 exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York; prints of this work of Todd Webb, as well as Africa 1958, will be at AIPAD 2018, The Photography Show, April 2018.

A historical volume of great documentary and artistic significance!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 14, 2018

Lynn Alleva Lilley – Tender Mint

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Photographer: Lynn Alleva Lilley (born Silver Spring, MD & resides Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Published by Eriskay Connection, 2017, the Netherlands

Text: English

Poems: Samih al Qasim, Jane Hirshfield

Stiff cover fine canvas, sewn & glued binding, four-color lithography, printed by Jos Morree (Fine Books)

Photobook designer: Rob van Hoesel

Lithography: Sebastiaan Hanekroot (Colour & Books)

Notes: I have to admit that I feel some aspects of disassociation when I embark on long transcontinental flights for an international assignment and then various degrees during the trip, usually when alone in the evening with only my thoughts. Thus Lilley’s recently released photobook, Tender Mint, which explores similar feelings that resulted from her families long term relocation from Maryland to the country of Jordan emotionally resonates with me. I understand how these personal feelings of displacement can become further acute when the written and spoken word do not resemble your native language, in my case it was the written Mandarin characters of China, while she became suddenly immersed in the Arabic script of Jordan, neither resemble the written English of America.

There are other radical cultural changes for her family to adapt to as well: social norms and policies, housing, infrastructure, shopping, food, aromas, scents and for the Arabic world, the religious customs. For Lilley even the new landscape was foreign; moving from the lush Northeast American costal area to an arid and hot desert region. She also reveals the personal loss that occurred with the passing of her father while she was in this distant location.

Lilley’s photographic project appears to rise out of trying to make sense of this mysterious land, to find a way to ground her family and herself in this strange culture while dealing with aspects of the changes to their lives that probably seemed beyond their control. That she was also concerned about how she as an American woman might be perceived in this new environment strikes me as a potential feminine quality of this visual project.

Choosing to document and visually investigate the animals within a confined landscape of a local zoo as a part of this project appears to provide metaphoric potential to reveal her feelings. The most striking photograph in that regard is the first image below, that of the small group of monkeys who appear to be cowering in the back edges of their cage. The sense of confinement is made palpable by the slightly out of focus barrier fencing in the foreground that extends over the entire frame. A younger animal appearing to be tightly clinging to an older animal, which we might deduct as one of the animals parents. The two appear to be holding each other in such a way as to provide physical if not emotional comfort. In the foreground at the edge of the frame is a larger animal whose dark features are difficult to discern. Symbolically I read that this could be Lilley’s father, who is distant and although in the same location, metaphorically these two individuals could be in their own confinement in their respective locations, hers in Jordan and his in America.

Lilley has grappled with the daunting and difficult task of not only documenting a new environment but attempting to place this experience in the context of her own feelings that result from the turbulent changes to her and her families lives.

Cheers

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February 3, 2018

Donald Weber – War Sand

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Photographer: Donald Weber (Toronto, Canada & resides in Amsterdam, The Nederland’s) http://donaldweber.com/

Microscopy: Donald Weber and Kevin Robbie

Published by Polygon, Nederland, copyright 2018 https://shop.donaldweber.com/products/war-sand

Essay by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie and Donald Weber

Text: English, French, German

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Stiff covers, map insert, perfect bound (sewn & glued), block trim, four-color lithography, D-day Glossary, printed by Fine Books in Nederland’s

Photobook designer: Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwel

Color management & Lithography, Sebastiaan Hannekroot, Colour & Books

Notes: War. As I have stated before; I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although my house is built on an old WWII bombing range. I think Donald Weber’s War Sand is a similar multi-medic type of publication that has much in common with Louie Palu’s Front Towards Enemy beyond the fact that both are investigating an aspect of war; Weber looking at the traces of World War II’s D-day invasion on the coast of France and Palu is grounded in the present in Afghanistan. Whereas Palu utilizes multiple types of publications for his collective narrative, Weber provides his multi-media story within one set of covers.

Weber’s book is a series of sections in which his investigation changes formats, styles and viewpoints to explore the complexity of his subject; the D-day landing zones. The “introduction” is a lyrical study of the sky, clouds and into the heavens above and then the viewpoint progresses to include the landing beaches (code names: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword) until drilling down (literally) and then into the sand itself. The attributes of sand of these beaches was in of itself a secret commando mission that Weber’s grandfather had partaken in 1943.

A scientific section on microarcheology of current sand samples from the various D-day beaches reveals in minute detail the finding of what was expected as well as some things not expected, while disturbingly some very small shrapnel debris that is no doubt related to this intense battle that began on June 6th.

Weber has created a number of very intriguing set of dioramas to tell the story of his grandfather’s commando raid to get beach samples. The book concludes with a visual storyboard that is a combination of D-day movie stills and archive WWII photographs. Although the latter is an interesting read, it may be the weakest aspect of this multi-layered book, nevertheless for a visual book investigating a complex subject I applaud Weber for taking an artistic risk by including this last section.

The clever book design includes a sleight-of-hand with the utilization of a few Japanese folds that are printed on the concealed interior pages referring to the secret codes names created for the D-day invasion. The cross-word puzzle printed on the interior page of the fold provides a ghostly image with the thinner paper stock, barely discernable of the outer pages in this section of his photobook. The books little secret visually hints at all of the many secrets surrounding this WWII event and indirectly the reason for the book’s creation.

The higher key lyrical coastal photographs provides an alternative viewpoint and belies the horrors that had occurred at these same locations on that stormy June 6th day in 1944. The casualties for the Allied landing forces on D-day alone include 2,700 British, 946 Canadians and 6,603 Americans. For Germany, the number of casualties are still unknown, but is estimated between 4,000 and 6,000. The Battle of Normandy that resulted from the invasion incurred 425,000 Allied and German troops that were either killed, wounded or went missing. Perhaps not often mentioned are the number of French citizens caught in the middle of this battle which has been estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 casualties. Some of the many statistics of war that this narrative only hints at. That my father landed on D-day plus 3 with the U.S. Second Armor on Omaha beach and at the war’s end came home is something I am grateful for as otherwise I would not be here to delight you with this review. It was also a dark event that my dad refused to talk about, so indirectly I think of this book as being part of his story.

What really intrigues me about this photobook is that as a visual object it is similar to my thought processes and the way I think about a subject; a constant jumble of ideas mixed with various kinds of facts, different memories and recollections that seem to oddly cross-paths. In turn this process creates ideas about things that I want to dig into and tangential thoughts that then result. It makes book development challenging in trying to decide what the narrative should be and how to present it. I enjoy how Weber’s multi-faceted investigated of this complex subject resulted is a photobook that is an visual interesting, nicely organized and a delightfully layered narrative.

Weber states “The war-relics presented here create an immersive experience on the theme of collective memory. They include WWII spy-craft and old Hollywood movies, dioramas and drone-mounted cameras, private post-war memoirs and wistful seaside photographs. These artifacts reveal war’s quantum traces. And they expose our civilization’s longing for a final victory over death.”

Other book by Donald Weber that is reviewed on TPBJ: Bastard Eden, Our Chernobly.

Cheers!

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February 1, 2018

Daidō Moriyama – Record

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:47 pm

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Photographer:  Daidō Moriyama (born in Okeda, Osaka, and lives in Tokyo, Japan)

Editor:  Mark Holborn

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY; © 2017

Essay:  “The Headlights in My Eyes” by Mark Holborn

Language:  English

Sewn hardback with illustrated slipcase; 230+ images, of which some 50 are in color; 424 pages, paginated sections; printed and bound in China by Artron

Photobook Designer:  Jesse Holborn, Design Holborn

Notes: Daidō Moriyama is certainly one of the most prolific photographers, having published well over 70 books. His photographic curiosity is given free rein on the street and other anonymous places, where he illuminates the mysteries of both day and night, be it in his native Japan or in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The gritty images are daring and bold, and some of the darker aspects of life tend to predominate. There is a tough edge to the spontaneous glimpses he shares with us, and we are certainly in his grip as we are reminded about the toughness of life that he presents in his gutsy style. The photographs are rough-and-tumble tableaus in which we play the role of vicarious outsiders.

This handsomely printed volume is a digest of the magazine Record (Kiroku), which Moriyama started to publish in the early 1970s (Issues 1-5) and resumed again starting in 2006 (Issues 6-30). To keep such a momentum going over a period of more than 40 years is an amazing accomplishment. Only “an artist in constant motion” (promotional literature) can develop a style that transcends location and becomes a universal observation mode. The book contains various quotes at the beginning of each of the 30 segments to help set the tone and provide further understanding. An introduction by Mark Holborn provides an interesting discussion of Moriyama, the self-appointed photographic “hunter,” marked by restlessness and briefly drawn to the moment, somewhat analogous to haiku poetry. It is all about the photographer’s self-expression: “I wander around, glance at things, and bark from time to time.”

I have chosen the sample pages below to give you a brief overview regarding the range, breadth, and style. Regardless of the locale, Moriyama is true to himself in how he presents the world to us. Occasionally there is also self-observation: a self-portrait in the form of a reflection. Then also, interspersed, there are scenes with an erotic slant, at other times there is a distinct atmosphere that might imply loneliness or longing. Color is used very seldom, but effectively, either muted or over the top, depending on what is required.

An important publication, well done!

Gerhard Clausing

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January 25, 2018

Louie Palu – Front Towards Enemy

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Photographer: Louie Palu (born Toronto, Canada & resides Washington DC)

Published by Yoffy Press: Atlanta, GA (USA) copyright 2017

Essay by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu

Text: English

Stiff cover Zine with metal saddle stitch binding, Cards, Leporello (Accordion), soft cover Newspaper, folded without binding, exhibition insert, housed in printed chip-board folder with cover flap, four-color lithography, printed in Turkey

Photobook designer: Jordan Swartz

Notes: War. I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although I live on an old WW2 bombing range, that’s another story. Louie Palu in his new multi-media publication (can we really call this a photobook?) Front Towards Enemy provides a version of a photo-documentary that resulted from a self-assignment investigation of the war conflict in Afghanistan. This is a very complex region; socially, economically, politically and environmentally that Palu has tried to emulate with an equally complex and layered print concept.

His multi-media conceptual photobook immediately reminded me of Alejandro Cartagena’s 2015 self-published Before the War, which in retrospect, I have found so complex at the time as to be visually overwhelming. There are similar aspects about Palu’s publication as well.

Palu’s photobook has four major components and then each of these break down or expand from there. Part newspaper, The Void of War, part zine, The Fighting Season, part leporello, part a pack of picture cards and finally an insert that suggests how to assemble of this into a exhibition. Wow.

Rebecca Senf in her assay discusses the parallels between Palu and W. Eugene Smith as to how Smith after his tiff with Life magazine about his Albert Schweitzer photo essay left the magazine and went independent. As Palu was self-assigned for his Afghanistan project, likewise he did not have to conform to the norms of a picture editor, but completed his project on his own aesthetic terms. We do not always see his subject but are provided indirect evidence of his subject’s presence; a cast shadow, an out of focus form, heads bowed, truncated feet, legs and arms. A photo-documentary that attempts to connect with the heart.

Newspaper; The Void of War; interior pages with images that are an impressive 8-1/2” h x 21-1/2” w; the ultrawide format of the camera lens creates a distorted visualization that echos the frequently un-nerving human situations that are in a state of progress. The photographic quality of the newsprint has low contrast with muddled blacks, typical of an area of newspapers and harken back to newspaper coverage of the Vietnam War era.

Zine; The Fighting Season, saddle stitch binding, with the essays by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu and includes the book’s colophon. A mix of the trauma of warfare with the background of the human element, the children and adults with their animals who try to survive in the region amidst the war.

Leporello (Accordion); 14 continuous panels, printed full bleed that when unfolded extends 13 feet, with the photographs on one side and the caption printed on the reverse. The physical manipulation of the leporello to look at the images and then read the corresponding caption is awkward and not meant to be an easy act. The last image (or depending on how you fold the leporello, the first image) of a seriously wounded Afghan solider in a Medevac helicopter’s blue light is incredibly haunting.

Cards, individual prints, which are printed full bleed, 11”h x 7-1/2”w, on heavy card stock. Captions are provided on the reverse side. These are tightly cropped portraits of his subjects who are soldiers that are engaged in the war in Afghanistan.  I find their eyes and gaze visually riveting.

Single page insert: Instructions and suggestions on how to create one version of an exhibition with this publication.

As one moves from one part of the publication to another, there is a feeling of messiness, an interesting feeling, perhaps a simulation of the awkward and strained social and environmental conditions that Palu is encountering. Another dimension of this body of work.

Palu has stated that although he has experienced some aspect of war, his photographs cannot provide the reader with the full experience of what this is. Similarly, this review is an attempt to describe a complex publication, but cannot provide the reader with the full experience. Highly recommended you obtain your own copy.

Other books published by Louie Palu that have been reviewed on TPBJ: Cage Call

Cheers!

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January 15, 2018

Roger Ballen – Ballenesque: a retrospective

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Artist: Roger Ballen (born New York City & resides Johannesburg, South Africa)

Thames & Hudson, copyright 2017

Introduction: Robert J. C. Young; Essays: Roger Ballen

Text: English

Hard cover with printed dust cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, index, bibliography, collections, picture credits, printed & bound by Artron, China

Photobook designer: Sarah Praill

Notes: This massive book is indeed an extensive collection of Roger Ballen’s unique oeuvre that he has created over the past forty plus years. What may not be as well known is that this book should be considered equal amounts autobiography for the essays Ballen has written to explain his background and artistic development. Ballen’s work became better known primarily through the publication of his photobooks, thus the four chapters of this retrospective follow that linear sequence of these publications; Boyhood (1979), Drops (1986), Platteland (1994), Outland (2001), Shadow Chambers (2005), Boarding House (2009), Asylum of the Birds (2014), and The Theatre of Apparitions (2016) to name a few.

It is fascinating to observe the artistic progression of Ballen’s work, specifically the inclusion of his drawings that are best defined by discussing his attributes of line, flow, shape and mass in conjunction with his “primitive” sculptures. We can follow the transition of found-art that created a background to construct the social environmental context to eventually becoming the primary expression as the process of photography appears to become more a means of facilitation.

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Ballen philosophically expands on the reasons for his creations which might explain his dark, ambiguous, layered, complex and multi-media oriented photographs, much better than I. In his later works since his Boarding House project, I find that each photograph is so complex and layered that I can spend entire day absorbed in a single image and perhaps the reason for my delay in writing this review. I eventually had to put this book down and write.

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One aspect that I really enjoy about this book is the inclusion of so many of the photographs from each of Ballen’s book projects presented in a way that is similar to reading the referenced book. Although this book is not meant to replace his various books, this retrospective is a very inclusive experience and a great edition to a Ballen collection.

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Roger Ballen’s Ballenesque was selected as one of the editors Interesting Photo Books of 2017 and reviews of the following Ballen books are available on TPBJ; Boarding House, Asylum of the Birds, and The Theatre of Apparitions.

Cheers!

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January 11, 2018

Gerard Boyer – Ser de La Cala

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Photographer:  Gerard Boyer (born in L’Ametlla de Mar, Spain; lives in Tarragona, Spain)

Publisher:  Fuego Books, Murcia, Spain; © 2011-2016 by Gerard Boyer

Texts:  Quotes in Catalan, Spanish, and English

Zine-style, naked-bound and glued, with stiff printed wrap; 22.6 x 32 cm; 64 pages; edition of 500; printed in Spain by CeGe

Photobook Design and Art Direction:  Gerard Boyer, Ignasi López, Román Yñán

Notes: Our memories are very tricky things – they are partial, emotional, full of gaps and uncertainties, and prone to embellishment. Good ones, bad ones, and everything in between. What was, might have been, could have been, should have been? And what is our role in what we have made prominent in all of this, or shoved aside as faded bits and pieces?

Gerard Boyer is from Catalonia, an area politically part of Spain, but with its own language and proud identity. Along the eastern coast there is a certain rugged landscape by the sea and an independent spirit to go with it. This had its impact on this volume of recollections: a view of childhood and its contexts in the “La Cala” (The Cove). The book, professionally designed to make an impression of incidentally “found” detail, illustrates these feelings very well, in that it approximates how detail swerves in and out of our consciousness. The format is that of a large-size glossy magazine; the binding is “naked” (check out our discussion “Naked Bound”), and we get the impression of a past that is full of distinct yet partial memories. Some text portions with quotes are bound to the front and also internally, to evoke further associations in the viewer. There is also a map of the area, with a small window, perhaps suggesting the distant access for an outside viewer. The volume is contained in an intriguing folded, cover-like wrap-around, with an abstract design suggesting land and sea.

The images are an appropriate mix of subjects, showing childhood portraits, family members, area landscapes and other local markers, and some of the folks from the family and the community. Some of the images show a certain ruggedness and imperfection, such as large out-of-focus areas, light-struck film exposures, and faded color to parallel fading memories and thought intrusions.  Themes such as the rugged camaraderie and sensory strength among anglers and the major role of motherhood emerge. As we view this multilayered sequence of images that are presented effectively to approximate the workings of the mind as it comes up with its recollections, we are confronted with doing our own memory work, remembering things from our own childhood as well. And isn’t that precisely what an effective photobook will do, to make us also get in touch with ourselves. An innovative treatment, well done!

Gerhard Clausing

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January 5, 2018

Nancy Rexroth – IOWA

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Photographer: Nancy Rexroth (born Arlington, VA & resides Cincinnati, OH, USA)

University of Texas Press, Austin

First University of Texas Press Edition: copyright 2017

Text: English

Essays: Nancy Rexroth (1977, 2016), Mark L. Power (1977, 2016), Anne Wilkes Tucker, Alec Soth

Hard cover with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Derek George

Notes:  I was delighted to hear about a second edition of Nancy Rexroth’s IOWA, a photobook that although I had not actually seen, was a photobook that keep coming up during various photobook discussions. The backstory is the first edition was self-published by Rexroth in 1977, which in of itself is remarkable forty years ago by today’s self-publishing standards.

While this photobook might be considered the Second edition of IOWA, it has been re-imagined and perhaps slightly resembles its original name-sake. I have been informed that 20 images removed and 22 new ones added, a stronger emphasis placed on the children and Emmet Blackburn, in conjunction with a new edit and additional essays. So with all of the changes to this photobook and in line with other publisher’s practices it is appropriate that this is a First edition of University of Texas Press, Austin. Likewise, with this much time to reflect, it makes perfect sense that a work of art might undergo some visual synthesis.

Her journey stated with the acquisition of a “toy” camera, the Diana, with its single element plastic lens and square images captured on 120mm film. She has stated that although the plastic lens did soften the quality of the image, the results was still too well defined for her purposes. Thus her need to slightly move (jiggle) the camera during exposure to create a little extra blur that further degrades the sharpness of the image and obtain an visual artifact that is more poetic, less exact and only hinted at what the subject might actually be. Her story telling approach was very different from her early 1970 contemporaries, such as Sally Mann, Arthur Tress, Clarence John Laughlin, Minor White, Duane Michals or Ralph Gibson and more in alignment with the narrative photographs of Linda Connor.

Her mysterious photographs that comprise IOWA still appear as fresh today as they were when the first edition of this book was published in 1977. The images are ambiguous as to location, which hint of the Midwest, the actual subject and have a timelessness quality. By now it is no secret that although the book is titled IOWA, there are only four photographs made in this state and the remainder predominantly created in Ohio. This is an investigation of faint and distant memories of a child, experiences and transcendent feelings, with photographs that are not to be taken literally. An artist book that needs to be read by the heart.

IOWA was selected as one of the Interesting Photobooks of 2017 by the editors.

Cheers!

Douglas Stockdale

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December 24, 2017

Martin Parr – Autoportrait: 1996-2015

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 11:39 am

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Photographer:  Martin Parr (born in Epsom, UK; lives in Bristol, UK)

Publisher:  Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport, UK; © 2015/2016

Hardbound sewn book with plastic labyrinth puzzle inlaid in cover; 144 pages with 89 full-color photographs; 11.8x16cm; printed in China by Toppan Leefung

Photobook Designer:  Ėditions Xavier Barral

Notes: Martin Parr, prominent Magnum photographer and photobook collector, as well as prolific author, editor, and curator, is an astute observer and critic of popular culture, and he has an appealing sense or humor that gives his work a bit of a lighter touch as well. It takes a top member of our photographic profession to present himself in photographic self-observation, as Parr has done here, in a playful yet rigorous way to make fun of formal and informal (self-)portraiture, somewhat analogous to Cindy Sherman presenting her skewed selfies in recent Instagram posts and in other self-created roles in the past.

A popular view is that such types of self-representation are self-deprecating. Far from it, if I may add my opinion, also on behalf of my own self-portraits. Parr presents  himself in a variety of portrait roles that popular culture “calls for” – the macho hero, the seemingly relaxed luxury vacationer, the wannabe space traveler, the know-it all explorer of exotic lands, and many other such photographic clichés. By doing so, he holds up a mirror to his viewers, some of whom may have seen or may have wished to see themselves in such roles as well. He is presenting himself in these photographic “autoportraits” or self-portrayals in the manner of an actor-photographer, and we are not seeing the photographer as himself, but rather the figure of the photographer acting out specific roles. This is an important distinction: the photographer-actor is not endorsing what he is portraying, but merely slipping into a role for each image and out of the role right afterwards.

This volume is the second edition of the successful original publication with the same title from the year 2000, increased in size by many additional pictures. They are all in color, and an amusing set to view for all ages. There are many amusing discoveries and cultural icons to connect to as one studies his survey of portraits with cultural and other icons, from wax museums and posters, and political figures are also included, of course. The thing that makes this collection all the more amusing is the similarly serious, dutiful expression we see on his face in virtually all the images. Very proper indeed, the stiff upper lip in the presence of all these impinging cultural expectations and assorted stereotypes and figures such as 007 and Putin, part of the mimicry. We can see all of the things good portraits should NOT be – flattering over-retouching, cheesy studio sets, awful fake compositions (such as merging his head with a muscle-man body). Questions of identity and self-image, wishful thinking in projecting one’s self through images, and cultural stereotypes as perpetuated by tourists are just three of the discussion topics raised by these images.

Even after this season of gift-giving, this volume would be a nice little present. Not only can you study lots of wacky and idiosyncratic portraits (imitation not necessarily recommended!), but you can also try the puzzle embedded in the cover that lets you jiggle two small balls toward the center portrait of the author himself … good luck!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Gerhard Clausing

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December 17, 2017

Matthew James O’Brien – No dar papaya

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Photographer:  Matthew James O’Brien (born in San Mateo, California; resides in San Francisco, California)

Publishers:  Icono Editorial, Bogota, Colombia and Placer Press, San Francisco, California; © 2014; introduced in the United States in 2016

Essays:  Juan Alberto Gaviria Vélez; Matthew James O’Brien

Text:  English and Spanish

Hard cover, sewn binding, four-color printing; 129 numbered pages; 190 photographs with time and location identification and map; 9.5×12 inches; printed and bound in Spain by Artes Gráficas Palermo, Madrid

Notes:  The Spanish phrase “No dar papaya” has a special meaning in Colombia, something like “Don’t be an easy target.” In a country that has seen much strife and turmoil and has only slowly come to a more reasonable overall existence, this is good advice, as the photographer Matthew O’Brien describes in his essay “Expect the Unexpected,” based on his own experiences in that country. As the gallery owner Juan Alberto Gaviria Vélez states in the introduction, the people of Colombia have a collective desire to live in peace one day. O’Brien’s overall approach focuses on the positive; this volume can be considered a love affair with Colombia’s people, who in general seem very welcoming and approachable.

O’Brien visited Colombia a number of times, as a student, photographer, and as a teacher of photography, during the years 2003-2013. He decided that the softer, somewhat dreamy look of vintage color Polaroid was the ideal vehicle for presenting a more optimistic view of a people striving for a better future. At one time, when there still was a more plentiful and affordable supply of these materials (manufacture of this specific Polaroid material ceased in 2008), he could also take a second shot and give it to his subjects on location as a memento. In any case, this medium requires a more considered approach.

The book presents many contrasts: country and desert scenes and seashore settings, cityscapes and many activities observed in all these varied locations, as the country itself is full of variety and contrasts – cities vs. countryside, jungles and deserts, agriculture and fishing, religion, the sensuous vs. the intellectual, the varieties of ethnic groups. The generously laid out and juxtaposed images are not always obvious as to their meaning; our interpretations can be given free reign, and perhaps that is a good thing, up to a point. On the other hand, I found O’Brien’s stories and anecdotes also very enlightening, especially regarding his personal experiences with the individuals depicted and referenced, and I would have liked even more of those personal and cultural notes to go with the images presented. The author is an excellent storyteller, both visually and verbally, and should not shy away from expanding the verbal explanations in a second edition or in future projects; it would be nice to have such further cultural enrichment to go with his images. The appendix contains a map of Colombia, as well as a complete list of the location and year each image was taken. One is reminded of the work of August Sander; this is a kind of “Colombians of the 21st Century” project, with the people portrayed facing the camera without pretense. The shots are well composed and pleasant to survey. The chronological presentation of images gives the book the feel of a family album, and perhaps that was the intent for this supportive portrayal of the people O’Brien encountered.

This volume is a refreshing and positive new view of a country about which we have received many decades of bad reports, and it allows us glimpses of all the good people who live there and are longing for a better future.

Gerhard Clausing

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