The PhotoBook Journal

March 15, 2019

Deanna Templeton and Ed Templeton – Contemporary Suburbium

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Deanna and Ed TempletonContemporary Suburbium, 2017

Photographers: Deanna Templeton (born and resides Huntington Beach, CA, USA) & Ed Templeton (born Garden Grove, CA & resides Huntington Beach, CA, USA)

Publisher: Nazraeli Press

Introduction essays; Deanna Templeton and Ed Templeton

Text: English

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Hardcover book, tipped in image, leporello design, clear slip-cover with hot stamp lettering, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Ed Templeton

Notes: This is a collective body of work by the husband and wife team of Deanna and Ed Templeton that investigates their upper middleclass Southern California neighborhood. Their Huntington Beach (HB) neighborhood is also not far from my residence/studio in Orange County and appears somewhat similar, except for their heavy “beach” influence, as their community directly borders the Pacific Ocean. They provide quick glimpses of their adjacent beach and flying pelicans as to establish their proximity and to anchor the environmental context.

Implied in the book’s leporello (accordion) book design is that each of the Templeton’s provide their photographs on one side of the printed page. Reading from one cover and direction you follow the street photography of the male gaze, while corresponding reading from the opposite cover and direction you can observe the street photography of the female gaze. Perhaps one has documented some cars juxtaposed in this SoCal location while the other appears to be more interested in the human element. It might be hard to look at an individual photograph to determine its authorship, but also understand that as a couple they have been doing street photograph of similar subjects together for almost twenty years. That they begin to see and photograph like things can be understood.

This is a mellow body of work as compared to their earlier rough and tumble street photographs, and more akin to Mark Steinmetz book that is based in suburbs of Southern California. A slice of life without the drama.

Likewise, the book’s layout by Ed Templeton reminds me of Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers, in which the photographic images slide over the edges to the following page panel. It seems apparent to me that Templeton is gently coaxing the reader to really open and expand the leporello pages to create a long panorama and read the almost endless narrative. An invitation to take a walk along with him and his wife, perhaps peak in their back yards, join in a children’s plays, and watch the grass grow because this is where they hang out together.

Other photo books by the photographers which have been previously featured on TPBJ; Random & Pointless and 17 Days.

Cheers

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March 6, 2019

Lorena Turner – A Habit of Self Deceit

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Lorena TurnerA Habit of Self Deceit copyright 2017

Photographer: Lorena Turner, born Camp Springs, MD, resides in both New York and Los Angeles, (USA)

Self-published, released in late 2018

Essays & captions: Lorena Turner

Text: English

Hardcover book (printed paper glued to boards), sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Belgium

Photobook designer: John Hubbard

Notes: Lorena Turner provides an emotional complex personal narrative in her self-published photobook A Habit of Self Deceit. She reveals her lasting emotional trauma sustained during her youth from her alcoholic mother and now after many years, the futility to obtain reconciliation due to her mother’s steady memory decline as a result of very advanced dementia. An investigation into how do we deal with changes beyond our control that do not permit us to find closure in a relationship?

Perhaps due to both my mother and grandmother suffering from advanced dementia, I find Turner’s visual symbolism very poignant with an underlying sadness. Turner is dealing with her mother being present while being absent to all of her past memories, thus a living shell of who she once was, for better or worse. Turner narrates conversations that her mother’s husband has with her mother now; not unlike attempting to comfort a person who is in coma or on life support while clinically dead. One talks of current family events, who has done what; vacations, holidays, and other common events to someone who has no comprehension. It brings back sad memories for me; likewise, I see the intermittent sadness and raw emotion intertwined in Turner’s visual narrative.

Turner shares her childhood pain, long term emotional impact, and current attempts to find healing while facing the realization that due to her mother’s lack of cognitive abilities due to the progressing dementia, that no real reconciliation is possible. She will have to live with the fact that her mother who inflicted all of her emotional pain is now incapable of saying “I am sorry”.

She photographed street signs from the back side which does not reveal the signage contents; the text is an unknown mystery. By providing the urban environmental context surrounding the mysterious signs, the reader if left to their imagination; perhaps these signs pertain to the bend in the road seen just beyond the mute signs. A fitting metaphor for someone who is trying to connect with a person who has dementia; the affected person can only verbalize some unintelligent clues and it is up to others to assign some kind of meaning as to what is heard and observed.

One of Turner’s subject’s is a lone structure covered by a tent, perhaps for treatment for termites which is common to living in Southern California, revealing only the outline form of the underlying structure. A wonderful bittersweet symbolism as an attempt to describe a person who is suffering from dementia; we can observe their exterior form, but the inner contents, who they once were, is concealed from us and we have only a hint as to the form of who they once were.

Turner likewise subtly raises questions about situations when there are no longer possible answers; how does one deal with traumatic past memories and loss in the face of the current reality? This is similar to situations with the unexpected and sudden passing of friends or family; conversations that have been left hanging without any possible chance of a conclusion. A discussion that was planned for a later day that will never occur. How does one cope with this?

Nevertheless, Turner continues her visual quest as she states about how she works on reconciliation with those who are left as well as attending to understand who she is, thus instilling a sense of hope even in the face of this daunting adversity.

Cheers, Doug

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March 1, 2019

Scot Sothern – Little Miss

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Photographer:  Scot Sothern (born in Pittsburg, Kansas; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Publisher:  drkrm editions, Los Angeles, CA; © 2019

Text:  English

Hardcover; 54 pages; 12 x 8 ½ inches; four-color lithography

Photobook Designer:  John Matkowski

 

Notes: 

Scot Sothern has an extensive record photographing and publishing provocative portraits and scenes. In an interview published in Vice (UK) in 2012, he stated in connection with his book featuring prostitutes,

“I hope the book makes the viewer pause and think about the implications of the work; the fucked-up-ness people are living through on curbs and gutters not all that far from where we live. … I made the pictures because I was angry and I’d been angry all my life; I came from an angry generation and I kind of wanted to tell the world to go fuck itself and take notice of me. It just seemed that a lot of things in this country were very wrong and nobody gave a shit. …  I think I can safely say I was never tempted to tone anything down.”

And so here we have his latest work, and fully in-your-face, as were his previous series. This time sexual harassment and exploitation are at the center of the constructed photographic narratives. At first one might feel outrage at the form of Sothern’s presentation, and thus fail to understand the messages which the content is trying to convey. This is a mistake often made, when viewers and readers might be tempted to confuse form and content, message and messager, a customary response in our current climate full of accusations and misinterpretations. My view is that especially in this #MeToo era, a male photographer is to be praised for calling attention to exploitation through in-your-face depictions and commentary, delving into the realm of the forbidden.

Sothern has taken a child-like female mannequin and created a series of photographic fictions: the “doll” is confronted with situations of hurtful exposure and exploitation through others, placed into a range of settings, as a character that is a child-adult mix. The situations covered range from “bad” company, physical and sexual abuse and violence, to other verbal and physical traumas. The “Little Miss” mannequin maintains a certain child-like naiveté throughout these adventures, and is a kind of helpless or at least somewhat uninformed puppet of her surroundings in all of this. She is dressed, undressed, or disguised for various occasions, and her facial expression is constant and neutral, as we would expect from a mannequin.

From a psychological perspective, this makes a lot of sense, as the figure does not age nor develop further throughout these abusive experiences, but rather is caught up in it all, unable to show emotions, and would be expected to be experiencing difficulties regarding her development. In fact, the explanations that the author voices through Little Miss are those often heard from abuse victims, who may side with their abusers;  we also note quite a bit of social and cultural criticism in the form of clichés voiced through the Little Miss character: “around powerful men” — “going to be a dancer, then all the boys will want to kiss her” — “have a baby of her own to love her” etc.

This dark view provided by the creator of these narratives depicting social and sexual expectations and transgressions gives us a visual and mental jolt and quite an impetus for thought and discussion. It is my hope that this book, which is a creative approach to a serious set of problems, will generate lively discussions and contribute to desired solutions.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 21, 2019

Rikard Osterlund – Look, I’m Wearing All The Colours

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Look, I’m Wearing All The Colours, Rikard Osterlund, Copyright 2018

Photographer born Norrköping (Sweden) and currently residing in Rochester, UK

Self-Published: Ampigt Forlag

Essay; Introduction by Rikard Osterlund

Text: English

Hardcover book, pantone colors and foiled titles, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Denmark, bound in Germany.

Photobook designer: Rikard Osterlund

Notes: For better or worse. The marriage vows which can only hint at future possibilities. We are all usually happy about the “better“ events and there is not much to complain about. It’s the “worse” events and conditions that are an unknown and can become ominous. What defines “worse” is also relevant to our expectations, patience and tolerance. For Rikard Osterlund and his wife Zara, the physical and mental health conditions she is facing also changes over time..

Osterlund’s photo-documentary Look, I’m Wearing All The Colours is an intense auto-biographical investigation about their lives together as her conditions change. Zara, although frequently the subject, is also a willing participant in this collaboration. It is a very personal visual narrative about a layered and complex relationship dealing with the conditions surrounding the changes brought on by chronic illness.

Individual photographs can not fully reveal what might be occurring in the moment of the exposure, while some photographs seem to do this better than others. This visual challenge is all the more difficult when attempting to reveal an internal emotional condition: love, hate, dread, concern, or in the case of Zara, anxiety. Osterlund attempts to narrate these internal conditions by pairing visual metaphors with portraits to assist the reader’s understand what might be occurring. His self-portrait with red scratches on his chest is paired with drooping and wilting flowers, a photo of Zara faces a photo of towering electrical structures and power lines with a blurred indistinct background, a photograph of Zara lying in a hospital bed juxtaposition with a black & white image of stark and spiky ice crystals, another of Zara who is facing away from the camera lens, appearing try to comfort herself with a facing black & white image of her holding a bright sparking firework.

There is a nice portrait of his wife holding a bouquet of flowers that appears lovely until noticing the medical identification band still on her wrist and upon closer examination it appears she is leaving a medical facility. There are a pair of dark photographs, one of which is blurry similar to a dream (or a nightmare) which above the doorway proclaims No Way Out of Hospital, as though a terrifying omen that is paired with a self-portrait of a dark shadowy profile. Not exactly up-lifting. Osterlund also photographs moments that appear as blissful events to emphasize that for their married lives the conditions are for better and worse prevails. There are good times even in the face of adversity.

Nevertheless, although visually painful at times, this is also a poetic love story. A love story that includes many tumultuous challenges for them individually and as a couple. A love story that includes testing the boundaries of what might be worsening conditions. And a love story that is perhaps not unique to their relationship as mental conditions can change and evolve over time for many individuals and couples. This book provides a sense of hope for those dealing with chronic issues.

Cheers, Doug

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February 14, 2019

Ute and Werner Mahler – Kleinstadt

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Ute and Werner Mahler, Kleinstadt, 2018

Photographers: Ute Mahler born 1949, former GDR and Werner Mahler born 1950, former GDR, both reside in Hamburg, Germany

Publisher; Hartmann Projects, Stuttgart, Germany

Hard Cover, linen with foil-stamped lettering, thread-sewn, 144 pp., 69 Duotone black-white images, Width: 26 cm, Length: 32 cm

Language(s): German/English

Book Designer: Florian Lamm

Notes: “The places where life works – that is not where we photographed,” comments Ute and Werner Mahler, one of the most famous living artist photographer couple in Germany. Over a period of three years, they travelled to more than 100 small towns to take portraits of young people, architecture, and still life. The result is this wonderful photo book, which was sold out after only six months, and is already out in its second edition.

In the same way Robert Frank traveled across America in the 1950s, the Mahlers drove across Germany these days to find small towns that are not listed in any guidebooks and where the last waves of redevelopment already occurred more than 50 years ago. In these small towns, they found neither sights nor attractions, only vacant shops, grazing horses in derelict greenhouses, barking dogs behind shop windows, or simply empty lots overgrown with ferns.

The rhythm of the book has an impressive effect on the viewer. It alternates between portraits, architectural images, and some wondrous still life’s. The black and white portraits, taken with a large-format camera, focus exclusively on young people who were born into these dreary small towns and who must ask themselves upon finishing school: should I stay or should I go?

The group portraits of young people reveals a particular beauty. The photographer couple make a reference here to their previous photo book, Suburban Mona Lisas, which shows young women, who have grown up in dreary prefab housing projects, on their way to becoming adults. From the very beginning, the book took on a cult status, especially among young readers in Germany, and was already out of print shortly after its publication.

Their new long-term project, Kleinstadt, can be read as a very subjective, biographical work by the two German photographers, as they also grew up in small towns, like the protagonists of their pictures. After studying photography in the GDR at the Academy of Fine Arts, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, they founded the Ostkreuz Agency for photographers, as well as the Ostkreuz School, which still attracts young people from all over the world who want to study journalistic reportage.

Why should you buy this book? The book, with its linen cover and red embossing was very elaborately designed and printed in duotones. The book did not require any text. In a very laid-back and sometimes somewhat melancholy, but never boring, manner, the pictures tell their story about forgotten yet still-existent areas all over Germany.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

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February 12, 2019

Peggy Levison Nolan – REAL PICTURES

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Peggy Levison Nolan, REAL PICTURES: Tales of a Badass Grandma

Photographer: Peggy Levison Nolan, born Albany, NY currently resides in Hollywood, Florida

Publisher: Daylight Books, Durham, North Carolina, c. 2018

Essays by Abner Nolan, Suzanne Opton, Bonnie Clearwater

Language: English

Hardcover, Clothbound, 130 pages, 85 color photographs, 10 x8 inches, printed by Artron, China

Notes: Having recently attended a panel discussion on the topic of Photo-books, this reviewer was reminded of the value of having access to a photographer’s work within reach, available to visit and revisit whenever the mood occurs. To hold a book in one’s hands, to turn the pages at the pace of our own choosing, to enjoy the tactile experience of a real object, perhaps in the comfort of a favorite chair, or as a way to nourish the creative spirits while living through challenging times…all these pleasures come together in REAL PICTURES the new photo-book by Peggy Levison Nolan.

The full title of this collection of personal imagery is REAL PICTURES: Tales of a Badass Grandma; however the subject of Nolan’s 85 color photographs seems more intimate and gentle than the name suggests. Nolan may in fact be a Badass Grandma, but she is also a keen observer of light, color, joy, and quiet moments. By focusing her lens in the direction of her grandchildren and their parents, Nolan goes beyond the mode of typical family snapshots. REAL PICTURES is an Ode to life’s simple gifts in the fine art tradition of William Eggelston, Robert Frank, and Harry Callahan.

Rarely does the cover of a book warrant as much touch: this hardbound book is covered in a muted orange material reminiscent of sun faded upholstery, immediately evoking feelings of being in someone’s living room. Perhaps Nolan’s, perhaps your own. The first 3 images directly address perception of focus, shadow and reflection as seen through windows, gradually drawing us in to the homes of her adult children while signaling these images have an emotional point of view.

Its hard not to feel Nolan’s love of her subjects, and in turn theirs through willingness to be photographed in toy strewn houses, rumpled bed sheets, sleepy morning kitchens. Infants cry, kids make messes, family members embrace.

Nearly every image is infused with appreciation for color found in natural light, be it the simple blue line of a plastic shower curtain or the tiny pink foot of a napping child. The de-saturated tones of a nursing mother and child are echoed in the wide-angle view of two generations standing at the edge of a shore. Babies are born, stray hairs are left on the side of the bathroom sink; in Nolan’s work we understand why all of this is beautiful.

Though Nan Goldin’s color work is sited as having influenced Nolan to move beyond her initial use of Black and White, REAL PICTURES is less confrontational, and other than a shadow on the wall and a final image of feet in need of a pedicure, Nolan does not visually represent herself. Rather her work feels more in line with the early work of another female photographer Sally Mann, who also turned her lens in the direction of family; both women photographing those she knows best and loves most. In an era saturated with celebrity worship and instagram selfies, Nolan’s work is refreshingly sincere, selling nothing, offering us the richness of deeply invested relationships and the spaces in which they grow..

Upon learning that Nolan’s own mother died tragically when she was a girl and her father burned all the family photos in an attempt to spare further pain, the choice to become not only a mother and grandmother but a photographer herself, adds poignancy to revisiting Peggy Nolan’s beautiful work. Born of a self-made tradition giving her offspring handmade books documenting their own journeys into the wonders of parenthood, to now share these celebratory images with the rest of us, does indeed confirm that Peggy Nolan is in the best sense of the word, Badass.

Put on the kettle, turn off your media, curl up on a comfy couch and allow REAL PICTURES to soothe your eyes and your mind.

Enjoy! –  Melanie Chapman

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February 8, 2019

Katherine Longly – To Tell My Real Intentions, I Want to Eat Haze Like a Hermit

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To Tell My Real Intentions, I Want to Eat Haze Like a Hermit, Katherine Longly, Copyright 2018

Artist/Photographer; Katherine Longly, born Arlon, Belgium, resides Brussels, Belgium

Self-published artist book, 280 pages, many, many gate-folds, edition of 61 hand-made copies, signed and numbered

Essays and found text: Katherine Longly with essays and correspondence by Luca, Ren, Yuki, Martijn, Marina, Kenichi, R.P.K., Mina, Tomoko and Rika.

Text: English, with some French & Japanese

Stiff-cover book, hand-sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by PREFILM in Ixelles, Belgium.

Photobook designer: Katherine Longly with Welmer Keesmaat

Concept, edit and art-direction developed by Katherine Longly in the 2018 Atlas lab photo book making workshop by Alex Bacchetto and Yumi Goto, in collaboration with AKINA and Reminders Photography Stronghold.

Notes: Food. For some a real love – hate relationship. For others it’s just basic fuel to keep the carbon bio-mass moving that day. It’s a complex subject with volumes written about it each year; from describing the preparation of complex epicurean delights to the many ways to manage a diet and hopefully inspire someone to become a slimmer new person. For Katherine Longly, her past issues related to food created some emotion baggage and the reason behind the concept for her artist book. Essentially poking the food boogie-man right in the eye.

First, this is a complex artist book, in part using curated photographs created by Longly’s subjects as they use an inexpensive disposable camera to document their food and eating experiences. The twist is that that their camera use analog film, not an instant feed-back digital capture; first the camera’s are used by her subjects in Japan, then mailed to Longly for processing in Belgium. No careful visual editing by her subjects, thus many of these photographs have that rawness in composition and framing we think of when viewing vernacular photographs. In our current camera-phone or digital capture cameras age it seems we have become very conditioned to view the immediate visual results and then make some instant on-the-fly compositional adjustments for the next exposure.

Next, her subject’s photographs are then mashed up with some contextual photographs made by Longly who then creates a visual juxtaposition by the inclusion of magazine and newspaper articles and clipping that are overlaid with Longly’s diagrams and charts as a visual collage. She then added some more emphasis with yellow highlighters on some text, as though this was a school assignment or to provide quick notes to study by. Much of the additional context is hidden behind small gatefolds (second and third photographs below) of her subject’s photographs that creates another layer as to how to read the top level photograph while revealing additional information about the environmental conditions facing her subjects in Japan.

One quickly realizes that in Japan, as in many developed cultures, there are social norms related to one’s physical appearance, which can create food problems and perceived eating disorders. Each of her subjects photograph and write about their on-going experience with food and eating, creating chapters for each of her subjects; Healthfulness, Shelter, Emptiness, Obsession, Silence, Strength, Judgement, Heritage, Inspiration, and Empathy.

Longly’s artist book confronts some of many aspects of eating food. Eating may not always be a simple act, but potentially loaded with emotional baggage or helping to create a sense of freedom and joy. She provides a symbolic voice to the angst that many individuals have with the complex culture issues surrounding food, as it is not just a Japanese issue. By investigating how food issues haunt those of a different culture, perhaps this project provides Longly with the emotional distance to deal with her own past, and maybe still lurking, food issues, as well as a path forward for others to walk with her.

The folding and unfolding of this complex and layered artist book is a visual and visceral delight.

Cheers! Doug

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February 4, 2019

Photobook Roundtable at Focus/PhotoLA, February 3, 2019

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The Panel: Khodr Cherri, Aline Smithson, Douglas Stockdale, Dotan Saguy, and Richard S. Chow – Photo © Gerhard Clausing

 

In spite of inclement weather (Southern California is experiencing an above-average wet winter), there was a full house at this very useful photobook panel discussion moderated by Richard S. Chow during the Focus programming this year at PhotoLA 2019.

The participants were all published authors, photographers, and a printer, sharing many years of practical experience: Aline Smithson, well-known Lenscratch Editor and mentor/teacher; Dotan Saguy, who just successfully launched his Venice Beach photobook, which we reviewed here; Douglas Stockdale, who has published/self-published a number of books and reviewed hundreds as Editor of The PhotoBook Journal, who is also a mentor and teaches workshops on the subject; and Khodr Cherri from A&I, a master printer who guides photographers through many technical aspects of producing a book.

All I can do here is highlight some of the main points that I found especially important:

  1. The photobook is an excellent platform to display your art, and it is more permanent than exhibits, and less expensive for your audience to collect than prints. It is also an effective way to disseminate photographs to a wider audience.
  2. Studying other photographers’ books and reading book reviews, such as the ones this journal publishes, can not only provide you with ideas, but also provide you with information as to what the trends are at any particular time. Also a source for book designers and book printers.
  3. There are many ways to publish your work, from inexpensive to the sky’s the limit. Artists can also assemble and produce their own work (hand-made photo art is very collectible), to “zines” that can be produced and distributed.
  4. 90% of the time the financing will come from the photographer and/or his friends; the top publishing houses require substantial advances. Exceptions are projects by well-known photographers with a strong following or featuring those who are no longer with us.
  5. Crowd-funding and pre-selling to your support groups can be effective ways to get your book published.
  6. The selections made in regard to technical details such as paper choice, printing method, binding techniques will substantially add to the success of a book project, and need to be consistent with the size of the edition as well as the book’s affordability.
  7. Distribution channels are often limited to those who self-publish, but you can manage on the basis of your own initiative (your followers, local bookstores, etc.).
  8. Mentors, consultants, designers and PR persons are the people who can take your photobook projects to much higher levels of sophistication and success­­­ than you might be able to do on your own. Some of the panelists also function in such roles or can put you in touch with such specialists that you may need.

Needless to say, the points summarized here merely scratch the surface. There is really no substitute for learning from those who have already created similar projects as to what you might want to accomplish, so seek their advice and/or attend their workshops or mentoring sessions. You can click on the links above that are superimposed on the participants’ names and find them if you wish to use their help.

Gerhard Clausing

January 28, 2019

Dotan Saguy – VENICE BEACH

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Dotan Saguy, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise

Photographer: Dotan Saguy , born Kibbutz Yehiam, Northern Israel, currently resides in Los Angeles, California

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Berlin, Germany – copyright 2018

Forword by Jamie Rose

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound, 127 pages, 67 black and white images, printed by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Germany

Photobook Design: Kehrer Design Heidelberg (Anja Aronska) and Dotan Saguy

Notes:  For anyone who has ever visited Venice Beach in Southern California, comparisons to New York City’s Coney Island might not seem much of a conceptual stretch. Both are famous urban beachscapes that have been luring tourists from around the world for decades, both are celebrated more for the colorful locals than their glistening shores. But as a viewer first encounters Dotan Saguy’s fine new book, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise, thoughts of Santa Claus might seem antithetical to the fun and funky images of sundrenched beach life. Yet the more time one spends looking through this dynamic body of work, the more it is possible to understand how appropriate the reference is. Please dear reader, hear me out:

Starting with the cover image, repeated as the first photograph in the book, we are introduced to a fit, sundrenched blonde woman in revealing bathing attire, framed by sand and palm trees. Yet it is a boa constrictor wrapped around exercise bars that demands our attention the most. Saguy’s inclusion of sunflare and low angle POV immediately let us know this place is HOT, Wild, and perhaps a bit dangerous. In other words, this is beach is a playground, and we are invited to kick off our shoes and join in.

With the attentive eye of a skilled Street photographer, Saguy show us a world in which unattended children play on the sand; a loose band of musicians are joined by a person wearing a fuzzy bunny head; dudes smoke out; kids peek around corners to see what the grown ups are up to; old guys are playful; young guys climb poles to demonstrate inherent strength; sandy surfers teach eager students new moves; chiseled muscle men and women prepare for yet another competition; skateboarders defy gravity as they shred; working class people dance and laugh and shake their thangs during a weekend drum circle… Saguy’s vision of Venice beach is accurately a little lewd, a lot of fun.

Shooting exclusively with a 35mm prime lens, Saguy is not afraid to get up close. There is an intimacy and exuberance in all of his images; you can hear the music, feel the sea breezes, smell the garbage and a reefer, taste the sweat. His Venice beach is contrasty and dirty, full of action and interesting detail. Local characters are well framed by his camera, be it in doorways, handball courts, or stepping out in the tiniest of speedos to face an excited crowd. But such is Saguy’s skill as an observer that in that particular image, we are drawn as much to the young man holding open the door as to the well oiled silhouette of the man walking through. Every image contains dynamic tension; of line, of gaze, of sumptuous black and white tones. Earth bound men leap towards flying seagulls, children buried in sand observe police cars in the background. Tattoos in the foreground compete with macho acrobatics in the background, a zaftig street woman’s natural gifts are echoed in the mural behind her, revelers frolic in the powerful surf, freak-show denizens sit peacefully on storefront steps. No one seems to be selling anything, other than the guy with the sign for $1.99 pizza. Sure, if you want to throw some coins in the rag tag band of gypsies knit hat, that’d be cool, but they are going to sing no matter what.

This kind of freedom cannot be commoditized. And this, my friends, is where the concept of Santa Claus comes in. Not visually represented in Dotan’s images, but found in the ethos he shares with the inhabitants of his Venice Beach.

When this reviewer’s son was in elementary school, he one day said “If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?” Ok, yes, I promise, go ahead. He then asked what most parents know will come sooner or later, and yet it fills us with existential dread. “Is there really such a thing as Santa Claus?” And there it is. Do we answer honestly and break the illusion we have so diligently constructed over many years? We want to preserve the joy of believing; that people are Free and so too can be Fun, that a group of strangers can come together to dance, laugh, get high, make out; that races and classes are united at the edge of an ocean and all warmed by the same blazing sun. We don’t want to know that the Grinch can steal Christmas, and by that I mean the gobbling up of buildings and boardwalk by the corporate juggernaut known as SnapChat. We want to hold back the tide of gentrification, yet Saguy’s Venice is not one of wealth. Despite the mighty muscles and passionate protests, the greatest tension of all is enjoying his found moments, all the while knowing how this is going to play out.

Thus VENICE BEACH is like believing in Santa Claus, as we go back to the sand we become again like a child. The most powerful image in a book full of great photos, is that of the cover-girl’s young son, shot from behind. A spitting image of the late rule-breaking skate legend Jay Adams, his handmade sign asks as they face eviction “Why are you doing this?” Why beautiful boy, why indeed.

Light it up, pump it up, open it up, and enjoy. Dotan Saguy’s VENICE BEACH is a heartbreakingly fun book.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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January 25, 2019

Dawoud Bey – Seeing Deeply

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:48 pm

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Photographer:  Dawoud Bey (born in Queens, New York City; lives in Chicago, Illinois)

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, TX; © 2018

Essays:  Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford

Language:  English

Clothbound hardcover with illustrated dust jacket; 400 pages, paginated, with 129 color and 136 black-and-white photographs; 11 ½  x 12 ¼ inches; printed in Germany by Dr. Cantz’sche Druckerei Medien GmbH

 

Notes:   This photobook is a 40-year retrospective of the work of the distinguished photographer Dawoud Bey, who is also a well-received Professor of Art at Columbia College in Chicago. Others before him have contributed perspectives on some of the same US communities, especially James Van Der Zee, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and Roy DeCarava; some of these predecessors of his left us with interesting insights into individuals and their surroundings, especially Harlem and other NYC neighborhoods. Over time there has been a significant shift, from a “social documentary” point of view (perhaps as previously expected peering in from the outside) to a more late 20th century and contemporary perspective, a more egalitarian position, that treats the individuals photographed as persons whose lives and creative contributions are to be shared on an equal level.

Bey is certainly a master of peering into the individual’s psyche, while also a master of light and shadow as he crafts his portraits with artistic acumen and compassion. Page after page in this photobook delights us with portraits that are forthright, direct, and honest. We feel we can almost touch the individuals shown; most of them make direct eye contact and share their pride and hope – it is clear that the rapport between the photographer and the individuals photographed was very strong, and this directness also creates a bond between those shown and the viewer.

This large and beautifully printed photobook is divided into nine major sections, with excellent introductory essays that shed light on each particular phase of Bey’s work, as well as illuminating commentary about various related contexts:

1  Harlem

2  Small camera work

3  Polaroid street work

4  Large-size Polaroid portraits (20 x24 inch)

5  Class pictures

6  Character project

7  Stranger / Community

8  The Birmingham Project

9  Harlem redux

Bey’s work features all those photographed as distinct individuals belonging to interesting groups, across various strata of society. There are also some landscapes and cityscapes to present the character of communities. The care this photographer shows with his students is demonstrated in section 5; each of the portraits is accompanied by a brief text that gives us further insights about the individual and his or her connections to others. Section 7 is also quite intriguing – Bey created staged portraits of sets of two different strangers from the same environment that might otherwise not have met, and thus raises a very crucial issue of our time: how united or how divided do we feel or are we really, and most important, what are we moving toward (see image 7 below)?

Some of the other portraits make use of a collage technique, which makes us curious about a particular individual’s other moments and moods, and hints at the individual as more multi-faceted than a single image can show. It is a great testament to Bey that even the Acknowledgments section in the back makes for interesting reading, as it allows us to see his method of collaboration with all who were involved.

This retrospective is much more than that: it is a magnificent testament to what  can be shown about people’s pride and hope, and in an exemplary yet subtle manner seems to posit the idea that all us individuals, no matter what our background and heritage may be, are interested in building a better future and would benefit from collaboration. This photobook is destined to become a classic!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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