The PhotoBook Journal

March 31, 2012

Wintergarten LTD – Chinese Bondage in Peru – Volumes I, II, III

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:44 pm

Copyright Wintergarten LTD 2012

Chinese Bondage in Peru is a trilogy of artists’ books featuring a mashed-up collection of found photographs, printed matter and accompanying text organized around the vague fictitious narrative of a North American journalist’s travels between the continents of Latin America andAsia.  

While the title of the series is taken from an academic publication on the exploitation of Chinese migrant laborers in Peruvian guano pits by 19th century colonists, in the context of these images it might just as easily refer to the Sendero Luminoso, a group of Maoist inspired revolutionaries organizing indigenous Peruvians to overthrow the country’s government, or to the questionable role currently played by Chinese investors in Peru’s mineral extraction sector.  While constructed from “real” ephemera of vernacular image production, the work is anything but documentary, taking its cues instead from sources such as Japanese “pink films” and the French photo-anthropology magazine “Zoom.”

Wintergarten Ltd. is a Los Angeles-based art collective whose work is generated by a growing collection of found photographs and printed ephemera.  They have exhibited their work at Night Gallery(Los Angeles) and been reviewed in ArtForum.

Ed Steck is a writer from Southwestern Pennsylvania. His work has most recently been published by West Galerie (Netherlands).  He currently lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA.

Publisher: Wintergarten Ltd.
Type: 3-zine set, zine trilogy
Number of pages: 108
Dimensions: 5.5″x8.5″, 14cm x 21.6cm

December 29, 2011

Mitch Epstein – American Power

Mitch Epstein 2009 copyright courtesy Steidl

I think one of the better photographed and designed photobooks to shed light on the complexities and the enormity of the environmental, economic, political and social issues of the production and consumption of energy is Mitch Epstein’s American Power, published in 2009 by Steidl.

In reading Edward Burtynsky’s Oil, a photographic project that investigates the same subject, the landscape is photographed on a grand scale, frequently using an aerial perspective that literally provides the reader with an “overview”. The trade-off between the grand “Ansel Adams scale” and a mid-range framing for me is that the subject becomes impersonal and thus a little more difficult to directly relate to the issues. Burtynsky has also included fewer individuals in his project, also reducing the personalization and increasing the abstraction of the issues.

Interestingly both Burtynsky’s Oil (Steidl, 2009) and Epstein’ American Power are large, thick massive books, which would seem to consume large amounts of energy to print, bind and transport. Perhaps it was Gerhard Steidl’s intent to create these large books to capture the reader’s attention about a large, pressing and important issue.

Another photobook that was also released in 2009 on a similar subject was Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers (2009) using symbolic subjects and thus more abstract, such as looking at a scientific notation for water and being able to relate to a body of water or a glass of water. For me, it was Chris Jordan’s earlier photobook In Katrina’s Wake (2006) that in examining the after-effects of the hurricane Katrina, makes the environmental issues of the production and consumption of power more comprehensible and a wonderful predecessor to Epstein’s American Power. Unlike Epstein and Burtynsky, both of Jordan’s photobooks are of a more traditional (and reasonable) size and heft.

Epstein explores the production and consumption of energy and in a broad and expansive investigation similar to Burtynsky, but using a moderate scale, along with a little dark humor, that can connect with the reader. Similar to both Burtynsky and Jordan, Epstein effectively uses balanced compositions and saturated color to create some beautiful, although troubling, photographs to capture the viewer’s attention. This was a project that would span between 2003 to 2008 and take him and his photographic support team to almost half of the States in America, as well as dealing the political and legal issues of publicly photographing energy sites post 9/11. Epstein’s subjects included the production of coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, fuel cell, wind and solar.

The book as an object; linen and embossed hardcover with dust jacket and the color photographic plates are beautifully printed and are slightly larger than the original 8 x 10” photographs, thus loaded with wonderful details. There is one color plate per page spread, with a neat white margin around each photograph and the plate numbers with a title (place and date of the photograph) are on the facing page. The Afterword is by Epstein to provide more of a personal context to his concept and the execution of this project.

Note: Mitch Epstein won the third annual Prix Pictet photography prize with the publication of American Power, an award which recognizes work on the subject of sustainability.

December 16, 2011

Harvey Benge – All of the Places I’ve Ever Known

Copyright Harvey Benge 2010 – courtesy Kehrer Publishing

My first impression of Harvey Benge’s  photobook All of the Places I’ve ever Known was that this book is meant to be autobiographical.  It is also a statement of the obvious: that you cannot take a photograph of a place unless you have been to that place. Cheeky.

Benge has self-published numerous photobooks and in his usually style he provides his readers with a minimum of textual information to help the reader relate to his photographs. He is a bit of the minimalist in terms of providing some potential insight. You can make of what you want from his titles which usually has a healthy amount of ambiguity. In this book, he provides an interesting quotation from Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1364); “Since everything is but an apparition, Perfect in being what it is, Having nothing to do with good or bad, Acceptance or rejection, You might as well burst out laughing!” My take-away from this and many of Benge’s proliferate photobooks is that his photographs are a joyful observation of what “is” as a result of the powers of seeing and observing random urban serendipity.

What primarily seems to catch Benge’s discerning eye is color, especially finding the interesting interplay of hues and tonalities that can be found as he walks through the urban environment. As such, this photobook is a kinetic pin-wheel of colors. Although color is the primary found subject of his photographs, he isolates and frames his subjects with the sensibilities of graphic design; taking into account and layering such elements of line, mass, and shape.

He isolates and frames his subjects such that he will establish a primary color object, then introduce a secondary color object, such as a blue pipe rising in the midst of a verdant field, below. The secondary color object(s) balance or complement the composition, sometimes creating a jarring dissonance, as the red on red with yet an adjacent red, below, other times appears to be a quiet and meditative harmony, as the cool blue-gray panel with the two blue rectangles centered at the base of his pictorial framing, also below.

Although attracted to color, he reframes from hyping the color up in his photographs by increasing saturation of the hues, rather attempting to allow the “natural” and found compositions speak for themselves; “Perfect in being what it is”. Nevertheless Benge’s photographs have an interesting energy that seems to be intensified as a collective whole with the design and layout of this book. For my tastes, the sequencing of the color photographs in this photobook creates more of a slightly psychotic experience.

Benge is about framing and isolating what he has found. He moves in close, usually providing a tight framing, so that he fills the picture with color. Benge has also stylistically created a niche for his vertical photographs, as this is his predominate choice in pictorial framing and on occasion a horizontal composition will make an interlude, perhaps to create a little tension or provide a slight change of pace. In this book, all of the photographs are presented as verticals, although one is a horizontal composition but due to the ambiguity of the subject, appears acceptable as a vertical layout. Nice.

The photographs are single image on the right page per spread, with a classic white margin bordering the photograph. On the facing page is a plate number and at the end of the book is an image index, providing the city location and year photographed for each plate. The book design and photographic presentation is very spare and minimalistic.

As a book object the dark red color of the spine extends over into the image wrap cover and is a complementary color to the cover photograph, echoing the contents within.  This hardcover book and contents is beautifully printed in Germany consistent with the high standards I have grown to expect from Kehrer Verlag Heidlberg.


June 17, 2011

Myles Haselhorst interview – Ampersand

Filed under: Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:19 am


Ampersand, Portland, OR

While in Portland, Oregon recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Myles Haselhorst, the guy behind counter at Ampersand Vintage, a nice place to find both new and slightly read photobooks, gallery, vintage printed material and photographs, and most recently, Ampersand published books. Here are excerpts from our conversation;

Hi Myles, it is really nice to meet you and have an opportunity to discuss your background and how Ampersand came about. Would you mind providing some details on your back story? I understand your degree is in lit, so how did you make the transition from school to a shop keeper for a photographic book store?

I started Ampersand in 2005, first as a home-based business, & now as a gallery & showroom in NE Portland that I opened in fall 2008. In essence, the business grew out of my love for literature, reading & the book as an object, but I’ve also always been drawn to photographic images & visual culture in general. The idea of owning a bookstore has always been with me, but when I really started to work toward that goal, finding & selling used books on the internet was becoming a viable thing. One effect the internet had on book selling was a dramatic reduction in the value of certain types of books. In response, I chose to specialize & seek out items that tended to be unique & thereby hold their value. Photobooks, for a number of reasons, tend to increase in value over time. Economics aside, photobooks were a draw because of their inherent narrative value. A good photobook can produce an experience equal to reading the richest of novels or a well-composed poem.  

 It appears that your current objectives extends beyond just the buying and selling of photographic books, to include vintage photographs and ephemera. Has that always been the case? What is the interacting dialog amongst these three genres; photographic books, vintage photographs and ephemera?

A large part of owning a business like Ampersand is scouting & hunting for new material. In the process of collecting like this, one’s eye can’t help but stray to other types of material such as the vintage snapshots & ephemera that I sell alongside photobooks. In general, it’s a reflection of my disparate interests, but as you’ve noted I’m trying to create a space where there’s a dialog between books produced by artists & the vernacular visual materials that our culture creates as a byproduct of existing. The connection between the two is strong & my hope is that Ampersand is space where both can be viewed in close proximity.     

You have chosen to create a gallery space amongst your book stacks, did you originally envision a gallery or did this evolve? Interestingly a number of galleries how include a small book store, but for you, it appears that the books came first. These do seem complementary but adds another layer of complexity.

I’d say my passion for books came first & the gallery followed as an experiment. Again, I think it traces back to the diversity of my interests. It’s an engaging (& often exhausting) exercise trying to find work that relates to my book & vintage materials inventory. More importantly, I try to find work that relates to my interest in how pedestrian visual culture ultimately gets reproduced as art. In that sense, most of the work I’ve shown is derived from found materials of one kind or another, or it has been vintage material that I’ve found & formed into a show, sometimes successfully, often times not. The gallery is also a response to my opinion of galleries in general. Few people live in starkly-lit, white-walled boxes. Chances are that if one collects art, he or she also collects photobooks & maybe old photos, antique correspondence, arcane recipe books, etc. Collections of this sort & art coexist in our homes & apartments, which I find fascinating, so I wanted to create a space that celebrates this kind of interrelation.

Speaking of complexity, with your recent exhibition, Our Time, you have pursued a new venture in publishing a catalog. I have noted that a number of galleries have taken similar steps in self-publishing their exhibitions in a book form, so what was this experience like and what do you now foresee as your future in book publishing? Are you going to consider only exhibition catalogs or venture beyond this, and if so, where would you want to take this?

Our first book coincides with our current show, Our Time, which features paintings by Dan Gluibizzi. Though not a photobook per se, Dan’s work does address issues of photography in that all his watercolors are derived from anonymous digital photos people post on the web. In most cases the figures are nude—they are exhibitionist, nudist, amateur porn makers—& Dan’s work invites us to consider how digital photography & the internet has allowed for a proliferation of this type of photograph. As with all catalogs, the basic idea was to create a record of the show that provides context & also serves as an alternative to owning one of Dan’s works. We also wanted to create something that is collectible in its own right, hence the limited edition & our attention to design & production standards. Whether or not the book came out exactly as I envisioned it is arguable, but it does successfully convey the nature, complexity & character of Dan’s work, which was the primary goal.

I’ll continue publishing exhibition catalogs in cases where the work lends itself to reproduction & the artist wants to participate in the process. In fact, our next show features work by Portland photographer John Ryan Brubaker, who first showed me his photographs in the form of a small photobook he had made by hand. Over the year he made several changes & it eventually occurred to us to make a show that deconstructs the book & presents it as art pieces on the wall. Of course, the book itself will also be available in a limited edition, a few of which will come with original silver prints & others that will be completely handmade by Ryan. 

Beyond that, I’d like to produce small edition books that further investigate the sheer abundance of found visual material that finds its way into Ampersand. Returning again to the idea of experimentation, small edition, self-published books allow one to experiment with papers, inks, printing  & binding without much financial risk, which is exciting. A mistake in one publication can be refined & corrected in the next. In that, I guess the process is as paramount as the final product–it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.

What are your thoughts about photography and Photobooks here in Portland and generally in the Northwest?

There’s an active photography community here in Portland. Galleries like Charles Hartman & Blue Sky continue to exhibit great shows. The Newspace Center for Photography provides an excellent platform for photographic eduction with juried shows & incredible resources. The new Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan, has thus far been very active in engaging the community from her position as curator. Plus we have Nazraeli Press here in town & photographers like Raymond Meeks (we showed his work in April), who is active in making photographic artist books. & there’s Photolucida, the portfolio review that takes place every two years & brings a large influx of photographers, gallery owners & curators to the community. All that said, I’d say that serious buyers & collectors of photography & photobooks here in Portland are still rare birds. But in general the photobooks are selling well, even without listing online, & I’m optimistic that local interest in photography books will continue to grow.

As you are actively buying, trading and selling photobooks, what trends and future do you foresee in photobooks, which seems to be a hot button in photographic conversations on the web and elsewhere? What are your thoughts on the increasing quantity and varying quality of self-published books?

The sheer abundance of photographic books being made is remarkable. As a buyer for a store, it’s difficult keeping up with everything that is available. I’m sure collectors face the same problem—making sense of what & what not to buy, especially when edition numbers are often low & certain books sell quickly. That’s why online resources such as yours, Jeffrey Ladd’s blog & The Indie Photobook Library are so important. Which is all to say that beyond the books being published by the main photography publishers, there’s this rich culture of independent, self-published & small press photography books. So, that’s one obvious trend.

To be honest, I really haven’t decided what my role as a bookstore should be in relation to this type of book. By & large, it’s a type of media that has been facilitated & fertilized by the internet. That’s not to say that the books are created because of the internet, but rather the internet has created a community of distribution & commentary that allows the books to be viewed, discussed & ultimately purchased. At a basic economic level, a bookstore may question carrying a title that collectors can in most cases buy direct from the artist. That said, independent books that I do carry sell best when there is a strong relation between the content & the design of the book. That’s an obvious statement, but it’s actually something that’s very difficult to achieve. An example of a recent title that did achieve this is Firework Studies by Pierre Le Hors, published by Hassla. At surface it’s an understated & simple book, but it invites one to perceive multiple layers of meaning. In a way, it’s kind of taxonomy of fireworks & the word “studies” lends to it this sense of scientific pursuit, so, appropriately, the book has the shape & feel of a field manual. I sold several copies out of the store & in each case the buyer’s were drawn as much to the design of the book as its content. Hassla always seems to produce nice books, so it’s a sure bet ordering in their titles. How to judge the quality of all the other books out there is difficult. Perhaps I should invite photographic bookmakers to submit examples so that I can consider selling them at Ampersand.

The impulse to create photographically illustrated books & documents is obviously not new. Though “trend” may not be the right word to describe it, more & more attention is being paid to photographic books & albums that were made by anonymous persons or commercial entities in the past. Aperture recently published a book titled Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography & there are others like it. While it’s engaging reading books of this kind, it’s even more rewarding collecting examples of the albums & books they investigate. Though abundant, it’s not always obvious where to find them & when you do, chances are you may own the only copy that exists. Among the examples that I’ve found recently is a stapled book of photographs & text documenting the working procedures & machinery of a Japanese wire rope manufacturer. Beyond the pleasure of seeing a very specific form of industry, the book is remarkable in that it was so obviously handmade—looking at it, you really get a sense of the design decisions made by its creator. So, that’s one aspect of Ampersand that I’ve always tried to cultivate, this notion of finding examples of photographically illustrated books, albums & documents that are one of a kind & say a lot about our impulse to use photographs to convey & illustrate information.

Myles, this was a great discussion and I appreciate the opportunity to spend this time with you. Are there any other thoughts you want to share in closing that perhaps I missed?

Thanks for showing interest in the space & proposing the interview. It’s been fun. I’d like to add that one thing I take for granted owning a space like this is the small community of regular customers that has developed over time. It really makes coming here everyday an enriching experience. Small galleries & bookstores become hubs for dialog & conversation in ways the internet can’t quite reproduce. Everything I have here at Ampersand is carefully selected; I have a personal attachment to it. As a result, buying something from Ampersand is not just an act of paying for & acquiring a thing, it’s a way of participating in the act of curation, in the dialogs & creative impulse I hope the space encourages. There are places like Ampersand dotted all over the world; at the risk of sounding preachy, I really encourage readers of your blog outside of Portland to seek them out (if they have not already) & patronize them.

Myles Haselhorst with Douglas Stockdale

Note: Ampersand has expanded their bookstore and gallery in late 2011.



April 5, 2011

La Fabrica – Madrid Spain

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Book Stores — Doug Stockdale @ 9:35 pm

La Fabrica Bookstore, Madrid, Spain 2011 copyright Douglas Stockdale

A couple of months ago when I was preparing to spend a couple of nights in Madrid, some Facebook fans of The Photobook alerted me to the La Fabrica Bookstore located in downtown near the Museum de Prado. I did not make to their store in January, but I did visit it this week late one evening. Fortunately the bookstore stays open until 8pm (20:00), but check their web site in advance for the exact hours.

I now realize that the bookstore is but one of their many venues, as La Fabrica publishes their own titles (using local printers and binders here in Madrid) and about 50 meters down the street from the bookstore is their photographic gallery. Both the bookstore and gallery are intimate places, you will not get lost in either one. In the bookstore they carry a wide variety of photobook publishers, with a strong emphasis on Spanish photographers. For the titles that they carry have prodominately only have Spanish text. Likewise, as a publisher, they are focused on the photographers of Spain, but also create imprints of well known books prodominately in conjunction with Steidl, with a Spanish text, e.g. the recent reissue of Robert Frank’s The Americans.

Regretfully I was still in browse mode when 8pm rolled up, so it is probably one of the few times I left a new bookstore without a package tucked under my arm. But now that I know where it is at, I suspect that I will be back again.

Best regards, Doug

October 30, 2010

Jasper Howard – Photo Books International

Filed under: Photo Book Stores — Doug Stockdale @ 6:54 pm


Jasper Howard Copyright 2010 Douglas Stockdale

Located near the heart of London is a quaint and almost quintessential London book seller, but with a wonderful focus that is exclusively on photobooks. This is a small, well organized and run book shoppe, just as I have imagined my distant relative John Stockdale, publisher and bookseller of Piccadilly in the late 1700’s in London. Photo Books International (BPI) is a 13 year joint venture between Jasper Howard (above) and Bill Herbert. I had the opportunity to drop into their tidy and very well stocked shoppe and was immediately lost among the potentialities. Their inventory is extensive and decently priced. And yes, very recommended!

Not evident are the three books I left with, the Roni Horn’s 2000 stiff-cover edition of PI, Mona Kuhn’s 2004 hard-cover edition of Mona Kuhn Photographs (completing my collection of her three published by Steidl and I will soon be reviewing the series) and Jock Struges 1991 stiff-cover edition of The Last Days of Summer. I was self-limited by what I could carry during the remainder of my current trip.

While discussing with Jasper about his shoppe and his observations about the state of photobooks, he did mention that they were still interested in purchasing photobooks. If you are interested in selling your photobooks, please first send him an email of what titles and condition before dropping in with the over-stuffed bag. Since his inventory is large, he is interested in filling in his missing spaces. And yes, it seems he knows where every title is lurking within the store.

This was my first visit to London and I will have to say, when I return again, PBI will be on my short list of places to revisit.

Best regards, Douglas

Update: Photo Books International is now closed. I had heard rumors of this, but as noted in one of the comments below, it is now a fact. I also realized that the portrait of Howard was really terrible regarding the color balance, so it needed a do-over and update, above. Now Howard is looking pretty good.

February 1, 2010

Graciela Iturbide – El Bano de Frida

Copyright Graciela Iturbide 2008, courtesy Edizioni Punctum

It is always interesting for me to compare how two photobook publishers manage the design and layout of the same photographer’s body of work. In this case, it is the publication of Garciela Iturbide’s bathroom of Frida Kahlo by ROSEGALLERY titled El Bano de Frida Kahlo and Edizioni Punctum title El Bano de Frida. In June of 2009 year I reviewed Itrurbide’s project published by the ROSEGALLERY and recently acquired the Edizioni Punctum publication while in Italy this month.

On the surface, Itubide is using a documentary style to reveal the private bathroom of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who also was the wife of Diego Rivera, also a renowned Mexican artist. How these two publishers curate their respective photobooks provides subtle differences in emphasis and how we might read Itrubide’s project as a whole.

As described in my ROSEGALLERY review, their book is actually two books in one, part literary, and part photography. From one side you encounter the photographs of Iturbide, and then you flip the book over for the short fictional novel by Mario Bellatin. There are 21 black and white photographs, which may be the entire project and provides a broader perspective of Kahlo’s bathroom environment.

The Edizioni Punctum photobook is entirely the photographs of Itrurbide without the literary story by Bellatin, with an introduction by Cristiana Perrella and afterword by Giovanna Calvenzi, both essays are in Italian and English. This book contains only 11 of her black and white images. For my taste, the 11 photographs selected are a tighter curatorial edit of the bathroom and the devices and articles that Kahlo depended on, both in her private sanctuary and for her public persona. There are few visual distractions in reading the intent of these medical devices, to see them as they are, to potentially understand what the function was and what it might mean to be the person who had to endure it.

As a result, I found that the Edizioni Punctum photobook provides a more succinct metaphor about how our outward appearances’ can contrast with our private conditions.  That we can construct elaborate masks for of our public person, yet we may be concealing inside a lot of pain and suffering. That underneath our façade, there are the back braces, the artificial legs, supportive railing, and the complicated enemas, but we manage to keep it cloaked and private, essentially the walking wounded.

Resolving one issue I had with the ROSEGALLERY edition, the Edizioni Punctum hardcover book is the same height, but 2 ¼” wider, allowing the interior square photographs to be displayed larger. The interior photographs of the Edizioni Punctum book are 5 ½” x 5 ½” versus the 4 1/8” x 1/8” in the previous book, which for me improves the readability of the photographs.

Also of note, the Edizioni Punctum hardcover is a glued sheet on thick boards, which creates a nice effect by increasing the books heft, but this is a delicate layering. The corners and edges can become easily damaged and frayed, thus requiring careful handling.

The Edizioni Punctum was curated & designed by the publisher, Marco Delogu.

by Douglas Stockdale

July 24, 2009

Dan Nelken – Till the Cows Come Home


Copyright Dan Nelken, 2008, courtesy Kehrer Verlag

Dan Nelken’s Till the Cows Come Home, is a culmination of nine years photographing county fairs in the rural NorthEast region of the United States. His project evolved into creating moving portraits of the farming participants, especially the youth and the animals that they raised.

Not shown are the multitude of games, rides, amusements, food booths and the people who are visiting the fair. Which are the things that I can call most from when I visited our local MidWest county fair with my parents. We were the outsiders, visitors from the suburbs, while Nelken has provided us with a behind the scenes look at the insiders, those who raised the animals behind the gates, pens and stalls.

He provides a warm glimpse of the rural human element that drives one of the basic needs for the county fair.  A place for the coming of age of those who are destined to take their place on the farms. For those on a farm, the county fair is a rite of passage, that marks the end of childhood and prepares one for adulthood. But just like puberty, this is also an awkward time for these young people, one foot still lingering in their childhood, while the other stepping forward to adult size responsibilities.

We see these youth in the context of the animals they raise and have brought to be judged, and they bring a large menagerie. There are goats, sheep, rams, piglets, hogs, horses, calves, cows, ducks, chickens, rosters, hens and chicks, ducks, rabbits, and even fish. There are some wildlife, but usually brought to the fair “stuffed”, to show a competency in the art of taxidermy.

One background element in many of the photographs are the awards, an essential component to the participation at the fair.  The ribbons and trophies are festooned with gold embossed letters, big flowery bows, either in bold colors of red, blue and purple. These awards declare the holder to be Excellent or the most highly desired, Best in Show. The young recipients are proud, smiling and joyful in their recent achievements. The parents and adults appear more focused, almost intense, as if knowing that some of these ribbons could translate to higher prices for the livestock. It is not easy for them to ignore the hard reality of farm economics, animals are bred to be consumed or a source of a steady cash flow

Nelken has caught these young people lost in thought, and although difficult to know about what, it is probably not much different than their young counterparts in the suburbs or the city. And he found them sleeping, perhaps exhausted from the necessary work, as the livestock still need to be fed and cared for.  The young owners are also involved in the extra effort to groom their animals for the judges; washing, shaving, combing and other preparations for the judging. Then a needed pause to catch 40 winks. Any napping place will do, in a chair, a temporary hammock strung up in the stable, on a bale of hay or perhaps just use their animal as a temporary bed, like as if it might be a big, warm, bean-bag.

The youth are seen enjoying the company of their animals they have raised, they are comfortable being around them and show a sense of closeness. They are in that in between stage, evident in the affectionate gestures of touching, foundling, holding, creasing their animals. Some use their larger animals as pillows to sleep against or as a stool to sit on. We can guess that they may have become emotionally attached to these animals who have recently consumed so much of their attention, even thought these young adults know the eventual fate.

I enjoy Nelken’s light hearted composition of a young man posing with his cow. The cow’s hind quarters falling out of the frame to the left, but magically, as if by slight of hand, reappears again on the right edge of the backdrop. The young man stands before a crude backdrop that is representational of a farming field, while to his right, the hind quarters of the cow is standing in a real landscape setting. An interesting juxtaposition of the real and surreal.

The country fair queen in her long flowing gown, crowned with the silver teaera and a string of pearls.  She is not standing on a stage, but by a barn, with the hem of her gown bunched up and lying on the grass. She is not holding a beautiful flora arrangement fitting a new crowned queen, but cuddling the head of a freshly shorn sheep. Meanwhile a man gamely tries to place the sheep’s legs into place, probably for what he feels should be the formal group photograph. She appears to be well aware of this humorous situation. A queen in her rural court.

The exuberance of a young woman, holding on to her award winning rooster, with the two hands thrusting in from the edges offering her awards. From Nelken’s caption, apparently these awards that have been a long time coming. She is laughing and enjoying this obviously set-up, both about her good fortune as well as sophisticated enough to realize how amusing this might appear.

Almost mid-way through the book, Nelken provides an interlude, much like an intermission at a play. Momentarily stepping away from the human play, to view the displays for judging the cakes, vegetables, and flowers. The displays are very basic, with no fan-fare, no frills. The vegetables for judging lay on white, paper plates, and those are sitting on plastic floor tiles stapled to the wooden table tops, symbolic of the utilitarian farm life.

I enjoy the direct eye contact that the Nelken has captured. His subjects appear at easy, open, momentarily with their guard let down, perhaps reveling a little more about themselves. I sense that these young people are enjoying the events that are swirling about them. I see the effects of daily grind of the farm evident in the eyes and faces of many of the adults, meanwhile the young participants still have that sparkle of youth, hope, innocence and enthusiasm for what might lay ahead. This is also an indirect portrait of Nelken, reflecting the trust that he establishes.

The photographs are nicely printed, single photograph to a page with small white margins framing the images. The color photographs are printed clean and crisp, appear well defined, much like most of Nelken’s subjects. The book’s introduction is nicely written by Roy Flukinger, who provides the apt quote from Roy Stryker during his days in the 1930’s with the FSA;

“Documentary is an approach, not a technic [sic]; an afformation, not a negation…the question is not what to picture or what camera to use. Every phase of our time and our surroundings has vital significance and any camera in good repair is an adequate instrument. The job is to know enough about the subject matter to find its significance in itself, and in relation to its surroundings, its time and its function.”

While many contemporary books are being printed quite large, although making the photographs a pleasure to enjoy, the books become very unwieldy to hold. This book is refreshingly sized at 9” x 9”, with a sound binding that allows it to lay open comfortably in my hands. A design and style I find in sync with the utilitarianism of the rural life that Nelken has documented here.


Nelken_Grants   Nelken_Finally

Nelken_Winner   Nelken_Dairy_Winner

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by Douglas Stockdale

May 26, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book Stores — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:19 pm


Photographs copyright of the Estate of William Henry Fox Talbot, courtesy Phaidon Press

This retrospective book is edited by Geoffrey Batchen about William Henry Fox Talbot (b. 1800, d. 1877). It is very nicely written and printed book which does a wonderful job of keeping William Henry Fox Talbot’s extensive early photographic work in perspective.

The book provides Talbot’s early technical photographic achievements such the contact negative print known as the (salt-paper) Calotype and his insight that if you used the negative print to contact print another photograph the results would be a positive. Along the way Talbot figured out the basic formula to “fix” an image from a suggestion from John Herschel to ensure that the image did not fade away. In 1852 Talbot worked out the photogravure printing process making it possible to have high quality images in books. He may be the first person to use flash photography in 1851.

Talbot also made some nice photographic images including both urban and natural landscapes, botany details (salt-paper Calotypes), family photographs and documentary of upper class life on the estate. I find that the book includes a number of wonderful images such as the natural landscape photograph of the Oak Tree in Winter created between 1842-43 that is tipped into the book cover and included within the book, above.

I was equally captivated by plate 31, High Street, Oxford, 1843 the third image below. This photograph has similar qualities to the photographic work of Eugene Atget.  Due to the long exposure the people of the street almost disappear leaving only slight traces of their presence with the exception of the horse and carriage far up the street. The foreground is slightly out of focus providing depth to the image while the domed building far down the street is starting to fade into the sky. The image has a nice flow to it and the light reflecting off the near windows on the left provides a nice balance.

Talbot had used contact prints of plants while investigating his photographic discover, first photograph below.  Later he returned in 1853 to further explore the possibilities of his salt-paper Calotype by contact printing more of his botany specimens such as Seeds, second photography below. An interesting process still being utilized by artist today.

This book is a nice reference for those who are interested in the history and development of the photographic and printing processes. It is well thought out and provides interesting information about the man who started the art of photography as we know it today. I found that although I was familiar with Talbot’s technical achievements that I was not as aware of his photographic body of work.

The 8 3/4″ x 10 7/8″ hardcover book with a tipped-in image on the front cover was printed in China in 2008. There are 55 plates and each plate has a facing caption, proximal dating and a brief background article about the accompanying photograph. The book is paginated in the introductory text while the remaining pages are not with 124 pages per my count, plus end-papers. There is also a Biography for Talbot at the end of the book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale





April 30, 2009

The Best of Helmut Newton

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book Stores — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 6:03 pm


Photographs copyright of the Helmut Newton Estate courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel

Schirmer/Mosel which is the late Helmut Newton’s long term publishing partner has just re-issued a softback version their Best of Helmut Newton edited by Zdenek Felix with the art direction by June Newton, Helmut’s wife. The first edition hardbound book was initially published by Schirmer/Mosel in 1991.

This book provides a broad sampling of Newton’s body of work including his commercial fashion work and portraits as well as his personal nude projects, such as Big Nudes. The black and white photographs have a wonderful tonality and contrast. The color photographs in this book appear over saturated and perhaps many were made using Kodachrome which is a rather notorious high contrast color positive 35mm film.

Newton’s long term theme was sexuality ranging from subtle sensuality to overt eroticism usually utilizing one of his many fetish’s that he had became famous for. Most of the European publications did not have the same editorial limitations for the use of nudity and Newton used the nude models extensively. What is interesting to me is that many of his famous nudes were created in collaboration with his wife June Newton (who’s photographic pseudonym was Alice Springs a name taken from her native Australia).

A rather interesting photograph on the book’s back cover is a dual-self portrait of the couple with one of their athletic nude models photographed in Europe. Helmut is taking the photograph while wearing a trench-coat, hunched over his twin lens reflex camera and not unlike the cartoon charter of the “dirty old man” who opens his trench coat on the occasion to fully reveal himself. Meanwhile June sits to the side intently watching the two, but who really has her rapt gaze: her husband or the nude model? This juxtaposition creates a sexual tension beyond photographing a nude woman is a potential hint at a three way relationship. Alternatively  is June there to protect her husband from the temptations of the flesh, or is she there to protect the model from her “dirty old man”? The model being photographed appears strong and very comfortable with her nudity. She has an air of nobility about her posture and appears very confident about her lean and young body. The standing model is also looking in the direction of the sitting June; for her approval or is it a mutual interest? But in so looking at the model, you become aware of another pair of nude legs just beyond. Who is she and why is this other person there?

The setting is also interesting as we have been provided a larger view of not only of the photographer himself, the model and his wife, but also beyond. Behind June is the exit (sortie) to the studio with the door open and we can see cars either parked or driving by. It is very possible that those outside the studio can see in and view the posing nude model.  We can make out a silhouette of someone in a car which has paused at the entrance of the open studio door introducing another element that of voyeurism and creating additional sexual tension.

Newton imbues this sexual tension in his fashion photographs with one of my favorite photographs included below,of the woman seated on the couch intently observing the shirtless man. As required for a fashion photograph the details of the dress are evident. There is the overtly suggestive sexual element of how that this same dress can be effectively used to communicate her interest in a relationship such as the untied and open neck line. Like wise the models pose is very suggestive with her legs spread wide apart playing with a strand of her hair. She is wearing slippers and not high heels and since the man is shirtless is this moment a flirtation or post-glory?

Not every photograph by Newton is so layered with meaning, but many are, and his photographs warrant a revisit.

The 8 5/8″ x 10 5/8″ softcover book has 156 pages, with 105 color and duotone plates, and nicely printed in Verona Italy. The two insightful essays, translated from German in the English version, are by Noemi Smolik and Urs Stahel.

By Douglas Stockdale








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