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 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 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 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 29, 2017

Interesting Photobooks of 2017 (plus a few from 2016)

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Interesting Photobooks of 2017, copyright Douglas Stockdale

As in years past, we have been providing a short list of photobooks we have found interesting, whether it was the photographic content, concept of the project, the book’s design or production qualities; and most interesting when it was a delightful combination of all of these book elements.

For our editorial team selection we limited ourselves to the photobooks we received with time to really evaluate the book object in its entirety. I have readily admitted in the past we do not have access to read and study every photobook that was published during the year, thus our list is not meant to be inclusive as there are a great many other interesting photobooks that were published this year. Our list may not be the “Best” photobooks of 2017, but rather we have selected some of the more interesting photobooks for your consideration. In a couple of cases, we have included books that were published in late 2016 that have come to our attention this year.

We have published commentaries for most of these, which are linked-up. It is our intent to publish commentaries for the remaining photobooks shortly. So in alphabetic order:

Roger Ballen, Ballenesque, Thames & Hudson, 2017, a really interesting retrospective of Ballen’s creative body of work, also The Theatre of Apparitions, Thames & Hudson, 2016 (we did not see this until early this year); An astute personal investigation of the mind against intercultural backgrounds.

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Roger Ballen

Paula Bronstein, Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear, University of Texas Press, 2016; a long term photo-documentary project about the on-going social impact of war in Afghanistan.

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Paula Bronstein

Claire Felicie, Only the Sky Remains Untouched, Self-published, 2016; provides an intriguing layered visual design that creatively investigates the concepts of lingering trauma after warfare.

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Claire Felicie

Lea Habourdin, Survivalists, Fuego Books, 2017; an intriguing book design that investigates a concept about personal/cultural survival. (Review pending)

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Lea Habourdin

Ellen Korth, CHARKOW, Self-published, 2016; presenting difficult parts of a personal history using a very innovative set of books.

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Ellen Korth

Andrej Lamut, Nokturno, The Angry Bat, 2017; a dark and moody investigation which provides an interesting environment to explore a diverse range of metaphoric potentials.

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Andrej Lamut

Robert Lyons, Pictures From the Next Day, Zatara Press; An introspective project that explores aging, personal relationships and American culture. (Review pending)

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Robert Lyons

Tymon Markowski, Flow, Self-published, 2017; a great utilization of a book design that captures the essence of photo-documentary project’s investigation of a region.

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Tymon Markowski

Duane Michals, Portraits, Thames & Hudson, 2017; a retrospective of his portrait work in the context of his trademark, if not iconic, creative storytelling.

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Duane Michals

Nancy Rexroth, IOWA, University of Texas Press, 2017 (first edition, self-published, 1977); an updated and re-edited edition of this fine art photobook “classic”, which still maintains its artistic vitality. (Review pending)

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Nancy Rexroth

Douglas Stockdale, Bluewater Shore, self-published, 2017; (A little bit of personal bias) Exploring American culture and family as well in part for its production merit as it is the first photo book that was printed with a duotone (black & white) digital lithography printing process.

Bluewater Shore limited edition artist book

Cheers!

Douglas & Gerhard

November 28, 2017

Duane Michals – Portraits

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:44 pm

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Photographer:  Duane Michals (born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania; resides in New York City)

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

Essays and commentary:  Duane Michals

Text:  English

Hard cover with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color printing; 176 numbered pages; 178 captioned photographs with additional notes and commentary; 12×10 inches; printed and bound in China

Photobook designer:  Mark Melnick

Notes:

It seems Duane Michals has been a creative storyteller forever (more than half a century). He has a great mind that is always bubbling with new ideas, and the application of these ideas has found its way into our consciousness as the decades have gone by. He has not been afraid to forge ahead to tackle the problems that life generates by transforming them into some therapeutic sequences and mixed-media images. He even hand-writes text to go with his images or sequences so that we may share his trains of thought and insights. Best of all, he is one of the most honest and straight-forward people I have ever met, and he is an entertainer full of earthy humor on top of all that! Below there is a sequence of two photographs I took of him at the 2014 Palm Springs Photo Festival, showing the master photographer as performer in a moment of self-awareness during a lecture:

 

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The Magic Theater: Duane Michals as Duane Michals – © 2014 Gerhard Clausing

 

This is the latest of his many books, and it is a fascinating collection of portraits with an emphasis on well-known personalities, including actors, musicians, artists, and writers, as well as some of his self-portraits and personal portraits, occasionally combining the two categories through an incorporation of his reflection. Included are many well-known people, such as Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Richard Gere, Barbara Streisand, Liza Minelli, Johnny Cash, Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, to name just a few. There are also a number of personal photographs, such as the one of his grandmother (double page four below, right side), elevated to celebrity status through these juxtapositions.

Michals comments: “The photo is a document of when and where, not who and why. Is the emotion that I see in your glance authentic or is it just a simulacrum?” He posits four types of portraits:  1. Stand and stare  2. Prose portrait (tells the story of a person)  3. Annotated portrait  4. Imaginary portrait (his idea of what somebody might be). Naturally, almost all his portraits are in categories 2-4. He frequently uses reflections (mirrors, glass) to emphasize interconnectedness and multiplicity. Long exposures and multiple exposures are other methods by which Michals shows movement and action and interprets reality freely through his imagination. Occasionally painting on the image will add his extra interpretive touch (Marlene Dietrich, double page one, right side).

This volume is a compendium of surprise views of those who may otherwise seem familiar; this coffee-table size volume is highly recommended!

TPBJ previously featured a review of Duane Michals – 50

Gerhard Clausing

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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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November 16, 2017

Brandon Thibodeaux – In That Land of Perfect Day

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Photographer: Brandon Thibodeaux (born Beaumont & resides Dallas, TX)

Published by Red Hook Editions: Brooklyn, NY copyright 2017

Text: English

Hardcover, clothbound, gold leaf embossed, sewn binding, quad-tone (two for black and two for grey shades) printing, printed & bound by Wilco Art Books (Amersfoort, Netherlands)

Photobook designer: Heijdens Karwei, Teun van der Heijden

Color Management & Lithography; Sebastiaan Hanekroot, Colour & Books

Notes:

There is something about a long term project that enables a person to patiently dig under the surface façade to create a strong body of work. Like the old metaphor of peeling an onion, it takes time to slowly remove the layers, moving from the distrust of an obvious outsider to eventually allowing access to private moments. Over a period of eight years Brandon Thibodeaux was a frequent visitor and for some, became part of this rural community located in the South. This was not a brief stop, take the photo and then go; to never to be seen again kind of weekend project.

Nevertheless there is still a weariness in the eyes and guarded pose by some of his subjects, while in other photographs his subjects appear to be genuinely open to his presence. I am not sure the latter would have occurred without the long term commitment that Thibodeaux continued to prove by constantly returning to stay for short duration’s in this place.

I believe that Thibodeaux has summarized his project very well with “For eight years I witnessed signs of strength against struggle, humility against pride and a promise for deliverance in the lives I have come to know…for evidence of the tender and yet unwavering human spirit that resides within its fabric…reminded that these themes of faith, identity, and perseverance are common to us all.”

The visual qualities of tenderness, resilience and faith that I find in this body of work resonates with me. The elegant and classical book design with ample margins creates a feeling of dignity for Thibodeaux’s photographs, thus I feel his subjects are afforded that similar dignity.

Cheers

Douglas Stockdale

 

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November 7, 2017

Frank Cancian – Lacedonia – An Italian Town, 1957

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 10:12 am

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Photographer: Frank Cancian (born Stafford Springs, CT and lives in Irvine, CA)

Self-Published (350): Irvine, CA, second edition copyright 2017

Essays: Franco Arminio, Rocco Pagnatiello and Frank Cancian

Text: English

Stiff cover, perfect bound glued binding, digital lithography, printed by Hemlock Printers (Canada)

Photobook designer: Doug daSilva

Notes:

As an anthropologist by training and a photographer as a creative passion, these two elements were fused together in 1957 when Frank Cancian investigated a small Italian hill-top community located east of Naples. This body of work would also pass for a photojournalist story found in either LIFE or LOOK magazines of this same period. It is now a photobook of memories about social and economic conditions that have since evolved.

As a trained observer of culture and society, Cancian’s process did not allow him to remain aloof and at a distance, but to directly interacted with his subjects, catching them in self-reflection as well as allowing them to boldly face his lens. For a small Italian town, an Italian-American stranger with a camera was an oddity, thus his presence was conspicuous. Nevertheless, over time he was able to blend in and become more of an objective observer.

The book is divided into four sections; The Town, The Piazza, Procession of Our Lady of Graces and The Farm, all important elements to life in this region following WWII. The double page spread of a wedding progression as it snakes along the hilltop road winding through the town is beautifully composed. The light drizzle adds an interesting atmospheric effect. Cancian includes in the edge of the frame in the foreground a small knot of townspeople who although are not part of the wedding procession, are still very interested in this local event. Likewise the humorous pairing of the padre and the individual with the up cast eyes could be a metaphor for good and evil, as we suspect the good intentions of the padre, but are not sure of the sly look of his other subject.

The first Edition hardcover book was published by Delta 3 Edizioni, copyright 2013, who regretfully chose a lithographic printer that either had inadequate color management or was asleep at the wheel while this book was being printed; major color shifts that are too noticeable, especially when these occur with a photograph spanning a page spread, with one page in one color, while the other half is another color. To Cancian’s credit he felt compelled to self-publish this book in a second edition under his direct publishing control for the US market. There are 20 additional photographs and the Italian text was not provided in the second edition. Regretfully as with most glued perfect binding, this book design does trap some of the image content in the gutter diminishing the visual effect of photographs that are a double page spread.

Cancian is a first generation American whose family had emigrated from Italy, thus his project is part autobiographical. Cancian’s Lucedonia is a Finalist in the recent Lucie Photobook Awards for this self-published edition.

The first edition of Cancian’s book was reviewed previously here: Lucedonia

Cheers

Douglas Stockdale

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