The PhotoBook Journal

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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December 15, 2017

Robert Lyons – Pictures From The Next Day

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:05 pm

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Photographer: Robert Lyons (born Malden, MA & resides in Portland, OR and Berlin, Germany)

Published by Zatara Press (250): Richmond, VA USA copyright 2017

Text: English

Hardcover, Leporello design with glued binding, four-color lithography, printed by Wanderer Drucker, Germany

Photobook designer: Zatara Press

Notes:

The ephemeral nature of life is inclusive of the final days, something that is never thought about in our youth, maybe there are hints as one thinks about opportunities yet to achieve in light of recent accomplishments in middle age, until when the concept really sets in as parents become deathly ill or friends and acquaintances unexpectantly pass away. The former was the situation for Robert Lyons’s return from Europe in the summer of 2008 when his mother’s health was failing and his brother needed assistance in caring for her. Lyons was inspired to capture his mother’s likeness as a personal memorial, but she forbade him to photograph her in her remaining days.

What appears as serendipity is an introduction to Walter Niemiec, the uncle of his studio assistant, Erica Ann Flood. Niemiec, who like his mother, was in his advanced years but he was open to Lyons photographic investigation. The resulting photobook Pictures From The Next Day is part environmental portrait, part visual metaphor and part investigation of the ephemeral end of life.

I will have to admit that this book struck an emotional cord regarding the failing health of my mother. Regretfully due to the later stages of Alzheimer’s, she no longer resembled the woman or mother that I knew, thus leading to my other artist projects that investigate her and our relationship. Likewise, Lyons gracefully acquiesce to her wishes not to be photographed (remembered) at this stage of her life and thru Niemiec, he was given an opportunity to “glimpse into my own mortality and aging, something I had not really given much thought to prior

Lyons has attempted to create a visual biography that would speak for who Niemiec is (and was) in the many still life documents. We are introduced to his subject’s various interests, someone who liked to fish, root for his favorite baseball team, the Red Sox, and an interest in building model airplanes. The home appears as a time capsule; dated chairs and lamps, usually in disarray, a typewriter harkening to a pre-computer era, a dust covered VHS unit, portable radios, a not so modern kitchen that includes a telling line-up of now essential medication bottles.

I was also intrigued by the books layout using a leporello design as another metaphoric layer for this environmental portrait. The continuous fold-out of the page-spreads are symbolic of the continuity of a person’s essence, that the various aspects of someone’s life is complex and interrelated, not defined by one particular defining moment. An interesting and well thought out design element, one that I think we will be seeing more of in the future.

This book was selected as one of Interesting PhotoBooks of 2017.

Cheers!

Douglas Stockdale

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December 7, 2017

The PhotoBook Journal interview – John Gossage

Filed under: Photo Book Discussions — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:35 am

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John Gossage, San Diego, 2017 copyright Douglas Stockdale

I have been following John Gossage’s photographic book publication career for some time and when I noted that he would be at the Medium Festival in San Diego, it seemed like a really great time to discuss his book making and publishing background. We have traded messages off and on for years, but this was the first opportunity we had to actually meet-up. We found a corner of the café of the Lafayette Hotel to talk about his experience and background which resulted in a really free-wheeling discussion, as one memory triggered another (and not all of which is included, especially as we talked a little gossip and Gossage shared some very personal experiences). He has been the photographer or co-author of 36 photobooks, with the next to be released shortly by Steidl; Looking up Ben James – A Fable (Martin Parr is his subject).

DS (Douglas Stockdale): Tell us about growing up and what brought you to photography?

JG (John Gossage): After leaving school at 16 (maybe I was asked to leave?), I was lucky to be living in NYC and able to meet other professional photographers. I found that I was more visually oriented and photography just connected with me. These were the days before someone would be called a Fine Art Photographer, at this time photographers had their commercial work and maybe a personal project on the side.

I was fortunate to be adopted by Lisette Model for her private photography workshop classes. She had a minimum age for her students and when she looked at me, she said; just how old are you? When I told her, she gave that wonderful smile of hers with a twinkle in her eye, she said with her thick accent; that will do.

Another NYC opportunity I had was hanging out at the Magnum photography offices. I became the unofficial mascot of Magnum picking up a lot of “grunt” projects that the other photographers really did not want to photograph. I was very happy to have the Magnum photographers receive a dull project that nobody really wanted to photograph and they decide to “give it to the kid”. That paid for a lot of camera equipment and then some. I was doing really well for just being a kid of 17.

During this time I had W. Eugene Smith teach me how to print. I would pay Smith 10 bucks for an hour printing lesson and that usually turned into four hours of printing.

DS: What brought you in to book making? In particular, what led you to your second book, The Pond?

JG: When starting in photography in NYC, there were plenty of photobooks to look at. I have an affinity to photobooks. My first photobook was Eugene Atget, which was an assignment by Lisette Model that inspired me to purchase the book, but I did not really get it until much later and when I did, then it really connected. I also bought Robert Frank’s The Americans. In the early 1960’s I could still buy a 1930’s Atget book that is like new for ten bucks. I knew I wanted to do a book project and I wanted to develop a narrative landscape.

The turning point came when I realized that photographs in a sequence is a myth, a fiction. This allowed me to include photographs that I made in Berlin to complete the narrative about a “pond” that I had come across while in Maryland. I had self-published The Pond with two friends and for the first edition Aperture was the distributor. Later for the Aperture edition, I was able to add four photographs as we had run out of money for the first edition and we could not include these.

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DS: In addition to publishing with Steidl, you have your own imprint, Loosestrife Editions, how did that come about?

JG: In 1987 I published Stadt des Schwarz and Katie Schlumberger had supported this publication, she had mentioned that her favorite flower was the Loosestrife, thus we chose this as the name of the imprint (publisher). Later when I was in the process of self-publishing another new book, we decided that since I had already used that name for an imprint, why not stick with it?

DS: What do you think is the future for photobooks?

JG: Currently there are too many mediocre photobooks out there. You can look at them once and you’re done; nothing draws you back. I am looking for photographers who put themselves into a book and I can learn from. Right now I am constantly inspired by the photobooks of Roe Ethridge.

DS: What do you look for and consider when developing a new photobook?

JG: Gerry Badger has stated that the magic number for a great photo book is including 68 photographs. I am now working a photobook that will contain 68 photographs.

DS: Do you have advice for photographers thinking about creating a photobook?

JG: The photographs are the most important aspect of a book, thus make the work (photographs) that can stand as singular images. Don’t depend on transformational images to help make connections. Then create the context with the photographs. Don’t expect a great book design to save the photographs.

Likewise, making photobook should be treated as a hobby and understand that the book distribution (selling) is the devil.

DS: What are some of your proudest achievements?

JG: Never got caught! (big smile) If you are not from New York City, you might not know that this is used by the connected wise-guys (wink-wink)

DS: What is some unexpected that we don’t know about you?

JG: I was on the New York State Championship Bowling team while in High School.

DS Any last thoughts as we close?

JG: Yeah, let’s go for a walk. I have a new mirrorless Hasselblad (X1D with XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens) that I want to test. It does not have a normal lens yet, my favorite focal length, but I am interested in seeing how it does while walking the local neighborhood.

DS: John, Excellent and thanks again for this opportunity to discuss your interesting artistic and book making practice. Let’s go. (Stage right; out the front door of the Lafayette Hotel into San Diego’s North Park side streets)

Biography

Review of John Gossage’s photobook: Thirty-two Inch Ruler, Map of Babylon and One Day – Ten Photographers

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December 4, 2017

Lea Habourdin – Survivalists

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Artist: Lea Habourdin (born Lille & resides Paris, FR)

Published by Fuego Books, Murcia (ES) copyright 2017

Text: English, French, Spanish

Stiff cover with French-fold over-covers, sewn & glued binding, four-color lithography, Edition size: 500, printed by Artes Graficas Palermo (ES)

Photobook designer: Jorge Fernandez Puebla

Notes: Regretfully in today’s political climate with two mentally unstable leaders of nuclear-armed military armies who are playing a stupid game of chicken (you are bigly fat…No, you are fat, really old with fake yellow hair), the potential need to know how to survive after a nuclear war is now actually plausible. Lea Habourdin’s photobook Survivalist really resonates; it taps into some of my dark feelings that I have with today’s current events. For me, her photobook hearkens back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960’s and the proliferation of personal fall-out shelters.

Survivalist has the essential elements of what someone might need to survive on their own. As others might point out, the very basics of a manual. Habourdin’s narrative has three chapters; the first (untitled) is the prologue, is there any imminent danger; Chapter 2 – Objects you will need to survive for three days, emergency evacuation maps, plots of land; Chapter 3 – Re-frame from melancholy.  The three groups of photographs include a series of black & white for the prologue, then in conjunction with Chapter 2 are color natural landscapes with some hand-written text and drawings (flipped on the vertical axis, thus a need for the reader to change the book’s position), and then in the Chapter 3 a mix of black & white with color while the layout orientation changes back to the original.

One small gripe about this small book’s design is the sewn pages are subsequently glued at the spine which really tightens up the binding, as observed in my interior photographs below. In addition to making the book harder to photograph (okay, my issue), there are some photographs which are two-page span with some critical content lost in the gutter due to this book binding design. I am not sure if this was planned, but one outcome of this lost content is to increase the ambiguity and mystery of these two-page spreads.

This is a dark (both in concept as well as many of the photographs) photobook in conjunction with an occasional photographs that has a bit of black humor that overall does not seem to sway my many fears.

Best regards,

Douglas

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November 22, 2017

Paweł Jaszczuk – Everything You Do Is A Balloon

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Photographer:  Paweł Jaszczuk (born in Warsaw, Poland; lives and works in Warsaw and Tokyo, Japan)

Publisher:  Lieutenant Willsdorff, Bordeaux, France, © 2016

Essay:  Sophie Knight

Text:  English

Hard cover with sewn binding and black nylon hosiery wrapper; four-color offset printing; 74 pages, not numbered; 44 images; 6×9 inches; printed in Poland by Drukarnia Klimiuk, Warsaw

Photo book designer:  Full Metal Jacket, Poland

Photo Editor:  Aga Bilska

Notes:

Photographing extreme, exotic, even “kinky” behaviors has been with us since photography began, and there are many instances in other art forms as well, especially in painting and sculpture, the Dutch painter Kees van Dongen being a good example. Take photography: Weegee (Arthur Fellig) made his livelihood chasing around New York for accident photos and other situations showing people in unusual circumstances (while on the side he also indulged himself producing fine art photography, by the way). Here at The PhotoBook Journal, we recently discussed images of customers in the bars of Vienna as photographed by Klaus Pichler in Golden Days Before They End.

When it comes to Japan, life in their densely populated “megacities” seems especially anxiety-producing, as for instance Michael Wolf has shown in his images produced in crowded subways. Others, such as Nobuyoshi Araki, have shown more intimate and gritty sides of life in Japan in stark monochromatic images.

Here we have Paweł Jaszczuk from Poland, who documents the leisure activities of some Japanese diversion-seekers. Their clothes vary: some indulge in cosplay by acting out different personalities or identities away from the constraints of their straight-laced everyday work existence; others shed their clothes to engage in a variety of activities that suit them. Based on some of the surrounding paraphernalia, we assume alcohol and other substances might also play a role at times. Fetish-based behaviors, involving latex, cross-dressing, uniforms, and other props, abound in the scenes that are shown. Some of the nudity is presented furtively, some of it is brazen.

This hard-bound volume is entirely in color, comes with a wrap-around piece of hosiery (for willful draping of the cover as shown above and/or other uses as the customer wishes!) and is a kind of artful-journalistic compendium of unfettered behaviors, it seems in response to the stress of the work week, as explained in Sophie Knight’s essay: “… you burst like a balloon. The weekend has begun.”

An interesting body of work, part of a genre with precedents, and yet in its own way seductively idiosyncratic and refreshing.

Gerhard Clausing

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November 18, 2017

Matthew Thompson – Camino

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: — Gerhard Clausing @ 6:02 pm

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Photographer:  Matthew Thompson (born Fullerton, California, USA; resides Ostrava, Czech Republic)

Publisher:  Self-published, Ostrava, Czech Republic, © 2017

Essays:  Introduction by the photographer

Text:  English and Spanish

Sewn hard cover with dust jacket; 112 numbered pages; 54 images; four-color lithography; 15×21 cm; edition of 500; printed by Printo, CZ

Photobook designer:  Jiří Šigut – Concept, 2017, CZ

 

Notes:

This is another interesting photo book dealing with pilgrimages (previously, I presented Andrea Huddleston’s East or West). There is a perpetual spiritual and communal fascination with trekking the paths of the past while hoping to find oneself in the company of other kindred seekers, all against a background of those who came before and were striving toward similar self-exploration in union with a mystic environment. In this case we are dealing with the very popular Camino de Santiago that has its destination in Spain.

Matthew Thompson is an astute observer of both himself and others. Having traveled to many places in the world and honing his art of documenting local rituals and customs, he participated in this pilgrimage several times, culminating in his photographing the experience, as shown in this interesting book. It is good to find out that one can even find one’s future wife on such a pilgrimage!

He prefers to work with film, here mostly color negative film, as well as a few slide film exposures. Nowadays, of course, as he reminded me, having a small digital camera along for backup is also advisable to prevent losses, as it not possible any more to get your color film developed around the next corner. And a moderate wide-angle lens is his preferred way of viewing things, for those of you who like some of these technical details.

And so we get a beautifully printed and well-designed volume that is a pleasure to hold and view. The dust cover has a particularly pleasant sturdiness to it, giving a feeling of permanence, as it is of particularly heavy stock and endowed with ridges, resulting in tactile pleasure. The design and layout are nicely done and sufficiently varied, both in regard to the sizes of the printed images as well as the layout of the double pages, thus keeping the viewer’s interest. Several drawings by Aleksandra Sienkiewicz lend a bit of historical mysticism to the volume.

The photographs are both respectful and intimate at the same time. They let the viewer participate vicariously in this endeavor, as they also reflect some ardor and strife. The frequent use of a wide-angle view allows Thompson to include several layers in the images; from the self in the immediate foreground we are privileged to view both the “other” and the environment further in the distance. Close-ups and medium shots of some key structures and of encounters with local individuals (human, canine, et al.) are also included. The volume presents a pilgrimage from beginning to end in the sequencing of the images and creates the impression of a cinematic touch. We get a strong sense of both private and shared parts of the experience. Color is used well, somewhat more muted for more routine moments, while at times more saturated when more emotional scenes are shown. Thompson demonstrates his affection for the participants and the whole experience very well; this is reflected in the refreshing directness and immediacy of his photographs.

A very successful volume; note that the photographer offers very affordable print/book combos!

Gerhard Clausing

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