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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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 22, 2019

Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden

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Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden (Why Dresden), copyright 2017

Photographer: Seiichi Furuya (born Izu, Shizuoka Japan, lives in Graz, Austria)

Published by Spector Books Leipzig, Germany

Stiff Cover, thread-sewn, 192 pages,  black-white and color photographs, 18cm x 24cm.

Text: German

Esssay: Manfred Wiemer

Designer: Helmut Völter

Notes:  The Japanese photographer Seiichi Furuya arrived in Dresden in 1984 with his wife and then three-year-old son. Today Furuya could be considered as one of the rare authors bringing up a coherent photographical work about the life during the 1980’s in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).  At the end of 2017 Furuya published this photography book, Warum Dresden (English: Why Dresden), which can also be read as a narrative about Dresden at this current time.

Three narrative threads are delicately interwoven one after the other. In the first one, Furuya has photographed everything in Dresden that seemed striking to his Japanese eye: bridges, squares, parks, the Elbe – which flows through the city and significantly shapes the its identity through its width and distinctive hue.

A second narrative thread captures all the various constellations of Dresden people in their everyday lives: walking, going to work, with their families, as citizens of Dresden, who are at home in an almost impossibly beautiful landscape. In a third thread, Furuya documents his wife and son as a small unit of a family in a foreign location.

The book title, Warum Dresden, invokes a deeper reflection into its meaning.  When Furuya revisited Dresden after more than 30 years in 2015, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) was founded as a right-wing citizens’ alliance in the city, which opposed the often xenophobic slogans of the national politics at the time. Furuya photographed this Pegida alliance and has added these images at the end of the book. Furuya is wondering why this alliance continues to flourish in Dresden? He has always praised the city as an idyllic landscape – a city that, in its individual beauty, faces an uncertain future influenced by so many external forces, both from the past with the World War II, communism, reunification and now the present.

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

Note: this book was selected for Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018 by The PhotoBook Journal. Read the full list.

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January 18, 2019

Tema Stauffer – UPSTATE

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Photographer: Tema Stauffer

Born: Durham North Carolina, currently resides in Tennessee

Publisher: Daylight Books, Chapel Hill, NC, copyright 2018

Foreword by Xhenet Aliu and essay by Alison Nordstrom

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound sewn, 84 pages, 33 color photographs, printed by OFSET YAPIMEVI, Turkey

Photobook Designer: Ursula Damm

Notes: Upon opening UPSTATE for the first time, this reviewer was immediately taken back to her own years spent living in the Hudson Valley while attending Bard College. Not only because the subject of Tema Stauffer’s new work is the nearby city of Hudson and the surrounding landscape, but because Stauffer’s visual approach is in comfortable alignment with the work of seminal photographer Stephen Shore and the photography department he has directed at Bard since 1982. Thus while some photo books offer a glimpse into worlds we can never ourselves experience, the landscape and palette of UPSTATE felt so familiar that it has taken a bit of time to put into words the pleasure of this fine body of work.

Especially after reading the excellent essays that bookend Stauffer’s beautiful images. Novelist Xhenet Aliu does an outstanding job of providing context for the recent changes in Hudson, a once mighty industrial city which has become the weekend darling destination of monied Manhattanites. Photo historian Alison Nordstom’s essay references Stauffer’s work in the context of Hudson River painters, the New Topographics “school” of photography, Edward Hopper, and even the Japanese concept of Natsukashii, which loosely translated means nostalgia for something that no longer exists. The quality of writing in these essays complements the quality of Stauffer’s images and thus there is little one can add, other than to share an individual experience of spending time with this must-have book.

For those who are familiar with the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson one might find some similarity in the settings of UPSTATE. However, this reviewer prefers Stauffer’s approach, which is non-fictional, honoring the truth of a real place rather than using it as backdrop for expensive cinematic narratives.

The design of UPSTATE also differs significantly from another recently published (and potential companion piece) photo-book, UPSTATE GIRLS by Brenda Ann Kenneally, which focuses on the chaotic lives of low income inhabitants of nearby Troy New York, and is thus presented in collage-like journalistic manner.  In UPSTATE, Stauffer concentrates more on the architecture of a beautiful yet changing landscape, focusing on fields, winter light, abandoned buildings, and further evidence of blue-collar lives in which the hardware store is more important than the newest knitting store serving six dollar lattes. Thankfully, nothing found in UPSTATE, be they interiors or streetscapes, feels artificial.

There are many pleasures to this book of 33 color images, particularly if one appreciates fine printing and singular 8×10 images with clean white borders filling an entire page, complemented with blank white pages that allow Stauffer’s formal images to breathe, as if on a gallery wall.

However, experiencing these images presented in book form offers the viewer a chance to appreciate not only Stauffer’s eye for detail and active frame lines, but also her meditation on the subtle power of color. The opening image “River’s Edge” offers complementary tones of blues and yellow via steel grey buildings and farming equipment, and is then answered by a distant red door in the following image “Furgary Shacks.” Picking up on the musicality of Stauffer’s color sense makes UPSTATE a fun book to spend time with. As with themes which rise and diminish throughout a musical suite, UPSTATE offers the viewer a delightful dance between cool tones of winter and exciting pops of warmth; some found in nature, some created by man.

A minuet of red returns in the collar of “Reggie” (a portrait of a distinguished yet paint splattered gentleman), crescendos in the following image aptly titled “Red House”, finally diminishing yet still heard in the geometric lines of houses on “Cross Street.” Stauffer’s melodic images return to blues and yellows of “Rear Bedroom” and continues through the next four photographs, then red chimes back in with the appearance of Sumac trees, reaching a masterful pitch with the vinyl seats and ketchup bottle in the Elizaville “Diner”. The passepied of this passage can be found in the blue eyes and pinkish flesh of the bare-chested “Mike”, one of only three portraits contained in the book. The polonaise of “Allen Street” and “White Car” evoke the architectural work of Walker Evans and the time-stamping inclusion of vehicles found throughout Stephen Shore’s UNCOMMON PLACES. These two elements are successfully united with the inclusion of “Brown Dodge”.

Though these gorgeous 8×10 images can be appreciated formally, there are also traces of humor, best seen in “Interior, Furgary Shack #6.” For those who study the very edges of the frame, a game we lovers of large format photography can’t help but play, pay attention to the wall art in the background. Rarely does a photograph make you laugh out loud. This one did.

Throughout UPSTATE, Tema Stauffer shares her gift of seeing the inherent beauty of what is, and what was.

A subtle symphony of images, UPSTATE is a gorgeous collection of work. Highly Recommend.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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January 10, 2019

John Divola – Vandalism

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John Divola – Vandalism, 2018

Artist/Photographer: John Divola (born Los Angeles, resides Riverside, California) (USA)

Publisher: MACK (UK)

Without essays, pagination or captions

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed paper cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by EBS (Italy)

Photobook designer: Ben Seeley

Notes: This retrospective monograph that explores one of John Divola’s urban landscapeprojects created between 1974 and 1975 while finishing his MFA at UCLA (1974). His practice was a form of what today we would call “staged photography”; creating (spray painting) structures and staging events for the single purpose of being photographed, which a photographic print is the end product. For this series, the photographs were monochromatic black and white. Divola would later follow this series with Zuma Beach, in 1977, similar in staging, but photographed in color.

To place Divola’s body of work in perspective at this time in the early to mid-1970’s was the artistic practice of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field artists; Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly and at UCLA, Richard Diebenkorn. The photographer Aaron Siskind was working on his “After Franz Kline” series starting in 1973 through 1975, photographing “found art” that were graphic black and white studies that channeled the similar graphic abstract paintings of Franz Kline.

Although this book does not contain any text that provides the context for this body of work, a minimalist book in its own right, I was fortunate to hear Divola’s Medium Festival presentation last October in San Diego during which he placed this project within his larger body of work. Essentially a twenty-something year old guy who was tagging the interior of some abandon structures with an informed artistic twist.

His painting style due to the use of spray paint cans is very loose versus something tighter that would result from use brushes and acrylic or oil paint. Like other Abstract Expressionist, the over-spray, heavy applications that might create run-off drips and lines, was a source of relatively uncontrolled serendipity. He selected a silver spray paint that had a kind of visual luminance when photographed that contrasted with the dense black spray paint applications.

His “canvas” or work medium was another element of serendipity; the structure and surface textures of the found walls varied and there maybe some pre-existing damage or structures to interact with. On occasion Divola introduced some sculptural elements, using nails, string and other objects to create lines and patterns to work with. Likewise, he introduced his flying books (or magazines) that after the painting work was completed, to then fling a book or magazine into the frame and attempt to capture its wild flight. An act in his attempt to explore dynamic serendipity as another element of chance in his staging; just to see what might happen.

Looking at his photographs I sense the current mood at the time (thinking back to the CalArts presentations); a desire to be anti-modernism and against everything of the grand West Coast landscape photography of Adams, Weston and others of the f/64 in which the framing of the subject was studied for every little element. The edges of Divola’s photographs have odd elements and the subjects are “unbalanced” compositions pushing a visual rawness as to celebrate entropy, havoc and messiness. To introduce “real life” into to an image in which things are not perfectly ordered, e.g. picture-perfect in the advertising age.

Cheers,

Douglas

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