The PhotoBook Journal

December 6, 2018

Ekaterina Vasilyeva – Shipwrecked

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Ekaterina VasilyevaShipwrecked, Copyright 2018

Artist; Ekaterina Vasilyeva (Екатерина Васильева)(born and residing in St. Petersburg, Russia)

Self-published, St Petersburg, Russia

Afterword: Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Text: English

Stiff cover front with original archive photograph (First #1-30 book covers), board back-cover book, twine sewn binding, four-color lithography, Limited edition, hand-made, signed & numbered, of 50, size: 12 cm x 33 cm, printed in St. Petersburg, RU

Photobook designer: Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Notes: This extremely wide (13 inch) book with the rough twine binding hints at the subject of Ekaterina Vasilyeva’s artist book; a mash of mid-century black and white photographs by an unknown young Sea Scout in conjunction with Vasilyeva’s reinterpretation of a similar current landscape in color. Likewise, her book title, Shipwrecked,provides additional clues to this boat-load of images that were once a drift and now found. The vernacular photographs of the 1940’s and 1950’s are literally intertwined with Vasilyeva’s color landscapes.

This is a wonderful treatise about the bittersweet aspect of nostalgia, the double-edge sword of memory. This forgotten album is filled with images of playful youth; boys who are seemingly unencumbered by the realities of life, although we know that in the early 1940’s there was a terrible war occurring that had a huge impact on the UK. Nevertheless, we observe these photographs knowing that their age of youth has now long passed and the subjects of this archive are perhaps more concerned with their pending mortality.

Who was this young unknown photographer, whose images reveal a certain maturity in these carefully balanced compositions? Perhaps this found British archive is not elevated to the level of photographs by Vivian Maier, nevertheless under the careful editing of Vasilyeva, we can sense this young photographer’s developing photographic skills.

Likewise, I come to wonder how this photographic archive came to rest at a British flea-market; what has happened to this now aging Sea Scout that he was willing to part ways with his past? Why does he or his family no longer have a need to retain this wonderful archive of memories? This book is a collection of mysteries; is the portrait of a young lady a family member of the unknown photographer or perhaps his lover in later years and maybe eventually his spouse? There are clues to this mysterious photographer, such as the school badges on the coats of the young men mugging for this photographer, as to where these events may have occurred so many years ago.

Vasilyeva’s contemporary landscape photographs ground us to the current reality and in juxtaposition with the archive images creates a messy give and take dialog with the past. The vexing and unanswerable question remains; Will you Forget Us? What of this group of boys, who are now aging men who may be grandfathers if not great grandfathers, what has become their fate and stories since their young likenesses was permanently captured?

I find a book design’s that echoes the artistic intent to really amplify the narrative; in this case the rough twine binding is similar in nature to what one might expect a young Sea Scout in the early 1940’s to use if he were to create his photobook. We observe similar hand-made contraptions such as the float lashed together using old oil cans that are utilized for a sea and river adventures. This is a British equivalent to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a story of American youth, which was actually first published in the UK in 1884 before coming to the US in 1885. In reflection, perhaps Huckleberry Finn was an inspiration for Robert Baden- Powell, the founder of Scouting, who in turn inspired the unknown Sea Scout whose delightful photographs we enjoy here.

A very enjoyable read.

Cheers, Doug

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December 3, 2018

MAGNUM China

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Magnum China, Edited by Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu

Published by Thames & Hudson, copyright 2018

Essays; Colin Pantal, Zheng Ziyu, and Jonathan Fenby

Text: English

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommend.

Enjoy!  Melanie Chapman

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

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December 1, 2018

Simon Brugner – The Arsenic Eaters

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

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

Essays and illustration selections:  Simon Brugner

Text:  English

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

Photobook Designers/Editors:  Rob van Hoesel, Simon Brugner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerhard Clausing

 

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November 18, 2018

Ekaterina Solovieva – The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero

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Ekaterina Solovieva, The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero, 2018

Photographer: Ekaterina Solovieva, (Born Moscow, lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher: Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, copyright 2018

Essay: Ekaterina Solovieva

Text: English, Translation by Diego Benning Wang

Softcover, Swiss Binding, 141 pages, 68 images B&W, 7 1/4 ” x 9 1/2″ x 2 inches, printed in Stuttgart by Offizin Scheufele

Art Direction and Design: Konstantin Eremenko, Moscow

Notes: The cover image of this intriguing photo book is of a bearded man with long hair blowing in the winter wind, looking back over his shoulder with fences of a small village dividing the landscape behind him. Thus we begin to know the subject of this book, a “punk” Moscow seminary graduate who traveled to this remote Russian village with friends searching for the meaning of life, ultimately rebuilding the local church that burned down 40 years previous, in the process revitalizing the spiritual community and binding him to the villagers and to the land.

The photographer, Ekaterina Solovieva, whose work primarily focuses on country folk-life in the former Soviet Union with a special emphasis on religious customs, also provides text to accompany her poetic black and white imagery.  This book takes a bit of time to absorb and fully appreciate. On first viewing, the presentation of the images is compelling: some pages filled entirely with a borderless single image, some images printed on black pages, the next on white. The book is divided into nine segments with titles such as “Easter”, “Fall- Grape of the North”, and “The Interlude to Winter”.

Solovieva’s images convey the essence of this small rural community: bundled up children, older women wearing traditional scarfs inside to keep warm, small shacks barely visible through the brush, abandoned fishing boats swallowed up by the weeds, simple log homes illuminated by window light and candles, some heated with the consumption of strong vodka and late-night conversation, wet mud roads, the metallic shine of cooking pots, the unadorned beauty of apples spilled onto a wooden table.

Solovieva photographs a place and people without pretense, a digital free environment unpolluted with branding on clothes or advertisements dominating the streets. Kolodozero the village seems to exist beyond the reach of commercialism or the creep of digital technology, the villagers lacking in the self-consciousness of modernity. Solovieva photographs the details and intimate moments that give the viewer an understanding of why a young Muscovite seminarian transformed into the village priest and why, unlike friends “who came here and left their hearts and souls” yet “found the strength to return to normal life”, he says of himself “I am the weak one, as I am unable to leave.”  These final lines of text, written in white on a black page like snow falling into a black night, compel the reader to reverse course and view the images of this remote village and the priest who fell in love with its landscape and inhabitants, from back to front, and then front to back again, each time slowing the pace, like the spiritual journey of Father Arkady himself, absorbing the beauty of this chosen life more deeply.

Best regards! Melanie Chapman

Postscript from Ekaterina Solovieva:  Several days after the book was published, on February 12th 2018, I have got sad news from Kolodozero. Priest Arkady Shlykov suddenly died after a heart attack. He was 45 years old. All the years he lived in Kolodozero he took all the problems and sorrows of the people of the village very personally, helped them selflessly. He used to spend hours hitchhiking to the remote communities to baptize, read the funeral service or just serve in the temple. And at some moment his heart gave up. A new priest has been already appointed to the church in Kolodozero. But he won’t be able to serve regularly, and people are yet to get used to him. – Ekaterina

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November 9, 2018

Dave Jordano – A Detroit Nocturne

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Dave Jordano – A Detroit Nocturne, 2018

Photographer: Dave Jordano (born Detroit, MI, USA resides Chicago IL, USA)

Publisher: powerHouse Books

Essay, Foreword by Karen Irvine

Text: English with captions and pagination

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

Photobook designer: Sam Silvio

Notes: The investigation of an urban man-built landscape can be a sociological study of those who live in it as part of a photo-documentary practice. Dave Jordano adds another couple of more layers to the study of his subject, the city of Detroit.  His visual framing of this urban landscape is from the adjacent byways of this city, a version of street photography which in this case only a few individuals are observed. Second is the time of day he creates this urban investigation, or perhaps more succinctly, a project created in the wee hours between sunset and when the sun rises again. A time when things might go bump in the night.

For the most part of this study Jordano focuses on the aging structures of Detroit that are illuminated by a variety of lighting, both the natural moon lite sky as well as the various industrial, commercial neon, residential and street lights. The combination of lighting sources creates interesting color palette to an already colorful city and the occasional sharply delineated shadows make for an overall strangeness to his photographs. The night time lighting creates graphic shapes of this urban setting as the structures appear to flatten and visually break down to basic shapes, masses, blocks of color and lines. The overall effect might be best characterized as being surreal.

The capture of these lonely night-lite structures as a documentary practice attempts to reveal the underlying social order of this area. I am struck by a combination of visual humor mixed with moments of melancholy, as many of these photographs seem to reveal an underlying sadness about what is occurring in this region. Like Jordano, I grew up near these same locations many years ago, so viewing these mostly dated, sometimes seriously deteriorating, structures remind me of my own aging and mortality.

Dave Jordano has been previously featured on TPBJ: Detroit Unbroken Down

Cheers, Doug

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October 29, 2018

Richard S. Chow – Urbanscape

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:34 pm

 

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Photographer:  Richard S. Chow (born in Hong Kong; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Self-published, edition of 50; © 2017

Text:  Notes by the photographer, in English

Soft covers, spiral-bound (Wire-O), 10.75 x 8.25 inches; 66 pages, unpaginated; black and white and color sections with 18 and 12 images respectively; printed by MagCloud (a division of Blurb)

 

Notes:

Having recently curated the ABSTRACT VISIONS Exhibition, I was very pleased to come across this work by Richard S. Chow. He is a prolific exhibitor in the Los Angeles area and internationally, has received a number of important awards for his work, and is also very active in furthering the exposure of other photographers through Open Show LA events, along with his colleague Jonas Yip, whose work I will be reviewing shortly.

This photobook by Richard S. Chow is entitled Urbanscape, and consists of some 30 photographic images, with two additional arrangements of three and six as collages. The work displays an astute vision, an impressive ability both to isolate shapes and lines and to combine forms into distinct and pleasing and/or riveting patterns and juxtapositions, both in monochrome and color. This work gives us the impression that we are contemplating architectural archetypes that have their own rules and aesthetic systems. As Chow himself states in his notes in the book, one of his main goals is to give the viewer a participatory projection experience as a member of the society whose architects and builders have created the distant beauty of these forms for their structures.

The first part of the photobook is comprised of 18 images in monochrome, while the latter part contains 12 color plates, well printed and of a good size; they also have interesting titles, such as “Between the Lines” and “Hip to be Square.” I was especially pleased to note that all double pages lie perfectly flat on the table with this kind of binding. All the images display a dynamic optimism, a sense of beauty that is characterized by distance yet beckons the viewer to get involved in the image in leisurely contemplation to get a bit closer. These are not the kinds of images that leave you cold, in spite of what may at first appear, and as might be one’s initial reaction upon first glance. The level of abstraction varies across this work; sometimes there are some natural elements or quirky human objects in the periphery (the sky with or without clouds, rain gutters and/or their shadows, and other such bits not so high-tech) that remind us of the human needs behind the structures. Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray might be pleased by Chow’s contemporary treatment of the abstractions that urban spaces present to us today. Most intriguing!

The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed Richard S. Chow’s Distant Memories.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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October 24, 2018

Kranzler – Phelps – The Drake Equation

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Paul Kranzler & Andrew PhelpsThe Drake Equation, 2018 (book miss-printed 2017)

Photographers: Paul Kranzler, (born Austria, resides Linz,Austria and Leipzig, Germany) & Andrew Phelps (born Mesa, Arizona, resides in Salzburg, Austria)

Publisher: Fountain Books (Verlag), Berlin

Essay: Alard Von Kittlitz

Text: English

Without pagination or captions

Hardcover book, bronze embossed linen over boards, tipped-in image on back cover, sewn binding, bronzed page edges, one double gate-fold, four-color lithography, printed by Optimal Media, GmbH (Germany)

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Book Designer: Isabel Latza

Notes: The rural region of Green Bank, West Virginia is a modern paradox; a mash-up of ultra-high technology in the midst of an almost non-tech community, confounded by the fact that this situation is by careful design. Green Bank is the home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory built in the 1950’s. This high technology site with the astrophysicist who work there, is a series of highly sensitive radio telescopes that are searching the edges of the universe looking for signs of life. Operating this highly sensitive equipment requires the surrounding area is not disturbed by any form of radio activity, such as Wi-Fi, radio stations, cell towers and all forms of electro-magnetic energy, a region classified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a “radio-free” zone. This has become a region that uses dial-up land line phones, correspondence by letters and requires individuals to actually talk to each other.

Photographers Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps co-photographed this project, working together in such a manner that the identity of who actually activated the shutter for a specific image is inconsequential. Both photographers hail from Austria, while Phelps was born in Arizona and has resided in Austria since the early 1990’s and as I have noted in Phelps other photobook looking at the Arizona landscape that over time it appears he has acquired an outsider’s view point. The photographs capture a mash-up of high technology nestled within a community of non-technology, capturing both sides of the Drake Equation. The giant domes are observed facing outward looking into the furthest edges of existence while Kranzler and Phelps photograph those individuals who choose the simple basics of a lifestyle that might be considered the near side of existence.

The visual attributes of the high technology are stunning; the huge organic sculptural shapes of the radio telescopes situated in the sparse rural landscape; massive contradictions of size, shape and mass. These round shapes appear similar to what we think of what alien spacecraft should look like, lurking eerily in this desolate landscape.

In contrast are the intimate studies of those individuals who make this region their home; although there are hard to miss hints, such as the young woman with an off-the-chart iridescent blue hair, that their collective understanding extends beyond this rural community. Nevertheless they create a portrait of a white rural community; a young person cradling a chicken, another young man firing his rifle at something, ball caps, pizza, big belt buckles, camouflage fashion-wear and taxidermy trophies lining the walls.

The writer Alard von Kittlitz’s essay delves into this photographic study of a small region of America as a surrogate for the greater whole. So might Green Bank be a micro-cosmos, a representation of the greater America as postulated by von Kittlitz; I think not. I speculate that Green Bank might have more in common with a David Lynch story that is an odd mix of the surreal with the common, thus it appears like a very mysterious place. Perhaps an interesting place that I would really like to visit if given the opportunity.

Other photobooks by Andrew Phelps previously featured on TPBJ; Not Niigata, and Haboob.

Cheers, Doug

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October 19, 2018

Nathaniel Grann – Midwest Sentimental

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 10:14 am

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Photographer:  Nathaniel Grann (born in Minneapolis, Minnesota; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Publisher:  Peperoni Books, Berlin, Germany; © 2018

Introductory Remarks:  Nathaniel Grann, in English

Hardcover, sewn, textured wood imitate with tipped-in image; 64 pages with 33 color images; 22.5 x 28.5 cm; printed in Germany by Wanderer

Photobook Design:  Nathaniel Grann

 

Notes:

Nathaniel Grann, who grew up in the Midwest of the United States, raises three major questions in the introductory remarks to this photobook: “What makes a family click? – What holds a family together? – And, what allows for a family to move on from a troubled past?”  As a young man he travels back in time and spends an extended period in his childhood contexts, and he realizes that the answers to these questions are most elusive: The places still look similar, the folks are still the same folks, maybe a bit older, the places are similar yet different, but most of all, he himself has changed and moved beyond what once was, and perhaps still is. And indeed, any looking back through the eyes of the present encompasses both joys and difficulties within constellations of shared family memories.

As the author wrote us: “With this project, I am interested in exploring the idea of Family and my relationship to those who make up my own. Love, sadness, and humor are at the core of this project for me, as I engage with my family through photography to ask questions about the bonds that hold us together, … I had naively hoped to find answers while working through this body of work, but instead it accumulated into a collective exhale of momentary release and reflection.”

In a well-sequenced series of astute observations, Nathaniel Grann shows us a bemused but loving look at his surroundings of origin and the folks that now populate it; at the same time we see feelings for the complicated life that the eyes of a child might have considered to be global truths – the charms of the home that once was his origin. The relatives and friends are depicted with respect and care, and were collaborators in creating this glance into the past through the eyes of the present. They are ensconced in their lives, and the depiction is through the eyes of the son who has explored the expanded horizons of the wide world that bursts the cocoon of origin. It is charming to see his careful recreation of that life as it now strikes him: remnants of the long existence that his elders have lived, with some bittersweet sense of future loss behind it all. We see knickknacks and mementos, things that may only mean a great deal to those whose world they still adorn, and perhaps not so much to anyone else. Heredity and environment act as a major blanket that protects and can also be a damper, but the youngest generation is also around, and full of optimism. The sum total of this carefully selected and sequenced set of 33 images adds up to a coming-of-age journey we all have taken and identify with: the particulars may vary, but the mix of nostalgia and newly found self-actualization is a universal experience.

The images from the book shown here were selected to represent the overall narrative rather than the smaller subsequences, which will be yours to ponder when you get the book. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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October 12, 2018

Max Sher – Palimpsests

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Max Sher Palimpsests, Copyright 2018

Photographer: Max Sher, born St Petersburg (then Leningrad), resides Moscow (RU)

Published by Ad Marginem with support from Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany/Russia), 2018

Essays: Kate Bush, Maxim Trudolyubov, Nuria Fatykhova

Text: Russian, English

Hardcover book, embossed cloth over boards, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by IPK Pareto-Print, Russia

Photobook designer: Veronika Tsimfer

Notes: This is a study of the current urban landscape of modern Russia, now called a post -Soviet period that reveals the underlying layers of the older Russian architecture driven by its economy and social order. The book’s title, Palimpsests, is a very old term for recycling, dating back when precious parchment writing materials were scraped off to create a new writing surface, yet contain faint traces of the older writing. Likewise Sher documents the new “modern” post-Soviet architecture sitting on the bones of the Soviet era brutalism, while yet traces of the earlier Romanov-era layer are still slightly visible.

As a topographic study of this immense region, Sher uses a slightly elevated view point similar to a few of those included in New Topographics; Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape and other contemporary social-landscape photographers such as Robert Adams and Simon Roberts. One aspect of the visual subtly of Sher’s urban landscape study is that until recently many of his subjects were strictly forbidden landscape topics; bridges, harbors, certain restricted cities and even an elevated view point. These are subjects that one did not document or photograph as it related to the “security” of the government.

Frequently Sher creates a juxtaposition with his image paring throughout his book; on one side is an earlier Soviet/Romanov mash-up while contrasting on the facing page spread is a shiny, bright new modern structure, that has all of the visual trappings of European and America commercialization. Sprinkled throughout are traces of a vaguely familiar mint-green or a green shade of turquoise, another visual trace of the earlier Soviet decor.

We become a witness to the older Soviet era architecture that appears to contain a sense of design that might be characterized as Soviet-Communistic. This architecture was meant to be a no-nonsense, basic to needs, utilitarian, inexpensive (the relator code word for “cheap”) and quickly constructed structures for the common-man. In other words; dreadfully boring, on the verge of in-human and barely inhabitable.

The “new Soviet order” appears to sit on top of the previous urban structures of the Romanov period, which are agrarian, religious, crude, rustic, individualized, and private within the confines of what was acceptable to the czar. It is this architectural mashup that Sher investigates as symbolic of the underlying social, economic and political turbulence within Russia. Similar to Simon Roberts continuing attempts to capture the essence of the British, Sher creates a similar indirect portrait to take a pulse of this broad expense known as Russian, his homeland.

Max Sher’s photobook A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz was previously reviewed on TPBJ.

Cheers,

Douglas

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October 4, 2018

Ernesto Esquer – In No Time

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:05 pm

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Photographer – Ernesto Esquer – In No Time, 2017

Photographer: Ernesto Esquer, resides Tucson, AZ, USA

Publisher: Dark Spring Press (Tucson, AZ, USA)

Introduction: Ken Rosenthal

Text: English

Stiff-cover book with side sewn stitching, four-color lithography, printed in Arizona

Photobook designer: Andy Burgess and Ernesto Esquer

Notes: This is a slim volume with a series of understated, elegant images framed with an expansive amount of classic white margins. The photographs are a combination of toned and hand colored silver gelatin photographs in which the subjects appear to be only casually related without a real sense of a specific narrative.

The contemplative images as sequenced evoke a state of visual mediation. Each photograph appears to be carefully arranged, composed and then paired with a slightly contrasting image. I sense a cross-over of the early modernism of Minor White within a more contemporary framing and yet perhaps a hint of the still earlier Camera Work published by Stieglitz.

These images have a slight hint of the surreal, such as the floating glass vase of flowers that appear to be illuminated by the glowing light that emanates just off the side of the right border. A pensive and delicate set of images that are housed in a similar style softcover book, where the physical form appears to echo the visual style.

Cheers, Doug

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