The PhotoBook Journal

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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January 2, 2019

Louis Jay – Passing Fancies

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:11 pm

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Photographer:  Louis Jay (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; lives in Miami and Paris)

Publisher:  Luce Press, Miami, Florida; © 2018

Essay:  Introduction by the photographer

Languages:  English and French

Cloth-bound sewn hardback with printed dust cover, in cloth-covered case; 11 x 14.25 inches; 84 pages with pagination; 64 black-and-white duotone photographs and a complete location index; processed and printed in Italy by Litho Art, Turin, and Stamperia Artistica Nazionale, Trofarello

Photobook Designer:  Sally Ann Field

 

Notes:  It is a pleasure to start 2019 with the presentation of such an attractive large-format photobook. Louis Jay, who worked as a commercial photographer for many years, has returned to his early love of photographing on the street, without succumbing to the clichés of street photography, but supplying streetscapes that let us share astute observations from several locales around the world. This project clearly sparkles, as passionate interest and affection shine through, an approach to photography he learned from Lisette Model many years ago.

Passing Fancies contains 64 images that were created in France, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and Florida. Most of these areas share a milder climate and perhaps a greater affinity to being outdoors. So we see city life, people of all ages, old and new structures and symbols, moments of work and leisure. This project has a certain indefinable allure, enhanced not only by the quality of the photography and the printing, but also by the large format and the extraordinarily dynamic and creative pairings and continuity.

This photobook makes you want to go back and look at it again and again, a sign of special quality. It is a marvelous study of the delights of everyday moments and thus a tribute to the universality of human experience!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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December 21, 2018

Jonas Yip and Wai-lim Yip – Somewhere Between

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:16 pm

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Photographer:  Jonas Yip (born in Princeton, New Jersey; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Poetry by Wai-lim Yip; essays by Leo Ou-fan Lee and Wai-lim Yip

Languages:  English and Chinese

Publisher:  National Taiwan University Press, Taipei, Taiwan; © 2017

Stiff cover sewn book; 350 pages with pagination; 15.5 x 21.5 cm; 80+ duotone and color images with poetry

 

Notes:  Many of us have more than one national and ethnic background, and some of our derivation may be recognizable from our physical appearance, habits, or knowing more than one language, and familiarity with more than one culture. Some of us have a sense of affinity to several different cultural worlds at the same time; we live in one and have the other in our hearts and minds, to whatever extent possible. As one who belongs to such a group, I have a special appreciation for the work of the talented photographer Jonas Yip and his renowned father, the poet, translator, and scholar Wai-lim Yip.

It is the task of multicultural individuals to combine the best of each world that they belong to into a feeling of having an existence “somewhere between.” When such individuals are creative, they are able to engage in visualizations and musings and analyses that are cross-functional and cross-cultural, and a fascinating photobook with mysterious visuals and poetry, such as the present one, can result. This is a quest that may also get you involved in longing to belong.

Jonas Yip creatively photographs impressions. Whether he is in Paris, in California, or in China, there is a modern pictorial quality to his depiction of moments and moods, markers and symbols. These powerful images in turn inspire Wai-lim Yip to write poetry, in Chinese and English. The subtitle of this book is “Toward the Middle Space Between Images and Words,” and we do indeed find ourselves enchanted by the fruits of their collaboration.

Fleeting moments are illustrated in a dream-like manner, and the verbal stimuli and thoughts that use the images as points of departure transport us into a realm of memories and shared human values in a gracefully integrated way. We share feelings and thoughts, impressions and opinions, a world that takes us into ambiguity, as all great art should; the presentations marked by many “indecisive moments” are an invitation to lose ourselves in these multi-faceted realms. We are thus privileged to participate in the authors’ mutually inspired travel through time and cultural settings, with all the memories, recognition, and surprises that they may offer.

The visuals/poems sections are divided into four parts – Paris Dialogues, Paris Meditations, A Fertile Darkness, and Memories Displaced. While the first three sections contain duotone images, the last section, photographed in China, contains color work, with tones that are somewhat muted, as if to suggest a more gentle approach to wondrous subjects, a lighter, more tentative touch. Poetry accompanies all sections and is inspiring and thought-provoking.

The preface by Leo Ou-fan Lee is entitled “Seeking Forgotten Time and History Among Trembling Light and Shadows” and eloquently sets the tone for viewing and reading this innovative book. Providing a strong background for the study of these collaborative projects, there are two extensive essays by Wai-lim Yip, a foreword and an afterword. These offer a thorough scholarly overview of contexts and connections – historical, literary and philosophical, personal and international, well worth a careful study. All poetry and all essays are presented in English and Chinese, and there are many gems to be discovered.

I spent several months pondering this book, and I must say that the Yip team has succeeded in producing an engrossing experience. I find myself opening it again and again! Also available as a set with an original print. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

 

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December 19, 2018

Tobias Kruse – Material

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:13 pm

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Photographer: Tobias Kruse, born Mecklenburg and residing Berlin, Germany

Publisher: Kerber Verlag Berlin/Nürnberg, Germany

Text(s): German and English

Softcover, Width: 17cm x Length: 24cm, bound, 42 places, 35 people, 216 pages

Design: Neue Gestaltung Berlin

Notes: Berlin is a hot spot where the good life is lived, toasted, and celebrated. But truth be told, the strong art making of my generation (ages 35 to 45) in Berlin today leaves much to be desired. I see many people looking for the meaning of life in Berlin, as well as that of their own individual lives. Perhaps the contrast between the once divided city and the Berliners who live there today is so strong, creating art with meaning might be quite a complicated task within Berlin itself. Good Berlin art is created outside of Berlin, on trips, or on the outskirts of the city, in the surrounding areas.

Tobias Kruse has lived as a photographer in Berlin for 20 years and has now published his first photography book called “Material” . The title is pointedly provocative right off the bat. Don’t we dream of photography books that form a narrative out of a clever assembly and sequence of images, thereby taking the reader on a journey that unfolds through fine observations of perceptions? As a reader of this book, you want to see more than just material. But our senses are obscured. The author works with a reserved title, but once one begins reading, an explosion of thoughts and emotions erupt around life, life in one’s late 30s.

It turned out to be a dense book, about the situation of the author himself. Kruse came to Berlin 10 years ago to train professionally as a photographer at the Ostkreuz Photography School in Berlin. He studied under Arno Fischer – the Henri Cartier Bresson of the former GDR – in the last years of Fischer’s life. He was thereby brought up in the milieu of East German humanist documentary photography and has developed his own visual language over the years.

Few artists succeed in already developing their own visual language at such a young age. Again and again, Kruse’s peers can be seen in all facets of young life, confronted with dreams, the search for happiness, often together, and then alone again. They are images of being at home in Berlin, travelling around the country, encounters in Europe in Arles, Athens, and Tel Aviv. The pictures in the book become a kind of rush of life: its blooming, its transience. Out of this community of friends over many years, a family has emerged. Kruse dedicates the book to his children, Karl and Carla, who also appear frequently in the book.

Why should you buy this book? Because Kruse is one of the exceptionally strong gifted artists of the younger generation to come out of the environment of the Ostkreuz School and Agency. Because it has turned out to be a book that describes the attitude to life of a generation that was born in the ‘70s, grew up in the ‘90s, and have now become the generation on whom society has pinned its hopes. Hopefully, we will be seeing and hearing a lot more about Kruse’s personal work in the future.

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

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December 14, 2018

Josue Rivas – Standing Strong

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Photographer: Josue Rivas (born Mexico, residing in Portland, Oregon)

Publisher: FotoEvidence Press, Brooklyn NY, Copyright 2018

Afterword: Winona LaDuke

Text: English

Stiff Cover, Swiss Binding on Left and Right Sides, open at center, 56 images, 74 pages, Printed by Ofset Yapimevi, Istanbul, Turkey

Design: Bonnie Briant Design, NYC

Notes: As many photo-book collectors may agree, each book has its own personality. Some are small and intimate, some large and comprehensive. Some offer confection for the eyes, some serve to feed the mind. The more one spends time with STANDING STRONG, the new book of black and white photographs by Josue Rivas, the more one can appreciate how special it is. Both personal and with the potential to educate, STANDING STRONG is a compelling opportunity to not only view documentary images of the Water Protectors fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but if one is so inclined, to open oneself to an alternative understanding of humanity’s relationship to the earth.

STANDING STRONG is the 2018 publication of the FotoEvidence Book Award in partnership with World Press Photo.  For those not already familiar with FotoEvidence, it is “a platform for documentary photographers whose work focuses on human rights and social justice.”  Documenting the David vs. Goliath dynamic of the 2016-17 protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built on First Nations land (South Dakota) and under essential sources of fresh water, STANDING STRONG is a worthy choice for this year’s selection.

The small but impactful book feels good to hold in your hands, and certainly makes the case for presenting work in a physical form rather than scrolling through images on a computer screen.As an object, perhaps the first thing you will discover is the unique use of Swiss binding. Rather than a traditionally bound book which starts at page one and progresses in a linear fashion from front to back cover, STANDING STRONG opens at the center and the pages turn outward on both the left and right sides. Thus the experience of STANDING STRONG feels more interactive.

While there is clear correlation to how one page relates to the next, the binding allows the reader to experience the spirit of interconnectedness that Rivas describes on the final pages of the book:  ” Many tribes in Turtle Island (North America) believe in the interconnectedness of the natural world, the cosmos, the four legged and the two legged…I would like to acknowledge those that came before me and the land that I’m standing on. I pray that they receive this book as an offering and my words as a testimony to the resilience of my ancestors. I acknowledge you, the reader, and want to thank you for taking the time to explore these images and opening your heart to the movement to protect the water.”

Divided into sections such as WELCOME HOME, GIVING THANKS, PRAYING FOR THE PEOPLE, PRAYING FOR HEALING, the viewer is invited to experience the risks taken by the Water Protectors, from their point of view. Through his straight-forward shooting style, Rivas offers a tangible sense of being on the land, among people who are OF the land. The first image, a painterly vista of canoes paddling under dramatic white clouds, provides context. This is followed by a more heartbreaking landscape intersected by barbed wire, thus the viewer is immediately pulled in and held back simultaneously. Finely observed detail shots reveal muddy ankles at the river’s edge, as well as a tribal Elder facing the sun in prayer, his feather headdress and beaded fringe jacket intrinsically linked to the plains on which he sits. Close-ups of Tipi poles and Indigenous Resistance flags intermingle with wide-angle views of burning barricades. In an interesting reversal of old Western movie tropes, First Nation protesters cross the river toward rows of armed Federal guards silhouetted on the ridge-top. Fire-smoke arising from Tipis in winter, and a dark-clothed figure bundled up against the falling snow, help the viewer feel how harsh the elements became and how strong the commitment was among the hundreds and then thousands of First Nation people and their supporters.

As the months progressed, the Standing Rock protests became more dangerous following the environmental policy reversal of the new Trump Administration. Government forces sent in to protect corporate interests grew substantially in size and degree of weaponry. In a particularly telling progression of images, the grimace of Federal trooper as he sprays tear gas at protesters crossing the river is followed by the pained expression of a young woman who has just been gassed.

In the final months of transition from the Obama Administration to that of an even more Fossil-Fuel friendly Trump Administration, the Dakota Access protests briefly captured the country’s interest and risked becoming a trendy cause celebre, a scenic backdrop to an on-going power struggle over rights and resources. Though some images hint at the growing mass of supporters from elsewhere who preferred/required the warmth of a trailers and RVs, there are no photographs of the celebrities and public figures who came to Standing Rock, to show their support and draw necessary media attention with their presence. Thankfully, STANDING STRONG does not feel like the work of an outsider looking in, and thus avoids the risk of cultural appropriation. One can easily sense Rivas’ familiarity with and deep appreciation for the subject he documents. His focus throughout remains on the people for whom this land is and always will be sacred.

Though STANDING STRONG as a book is light in weight, the body of work is anything but lightweight, particularly if one knows that ultimately the pipeline was approved, the protesters evicted, and oil began flowing under the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and through ancient burial grounds in May of 2017.

In addition to the photographs, STANDING STRONG includes a few intimate drawings, and occasional blank white pages which allow the viewer to breathe between images, and again enjoy the unconventional manner in which they are presented. Additionally, text by Winona Laduke offers context on what it means “TO BE A WATER PROTECTOR”.

As described on his website, Josue Rivas “is a visual storyteller and educator working at the intersection of art, journalism, and social justice. His work aims to challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous peoples, build awareness about issues affecting Native communities across Turtle Island, and be a visual messenger for those in the shadows of our society.”

With the well-deserved recognition of FotoEvidence, Josue Rivas has succeeded in his mission. Whether you find this to be a heartbreaking story or reflective of a dignified people’s valiant efforts, STANDING STRONG is indeed an offering in a time of reckoning.  Very worth seeking out and adding to your collection.

Enjoy! Melanie Chapman

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December 12, 2018

Andreas Herzau – AM

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Photographer:  Andreas Herzau (born in Mainz, Germany; lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher:  Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Wädenswil, Switzerland; © 2018

Stiff cover book (partial front cover) with French fold pages and “Blockbuch” binding; 108 pages with 55 monochrome images; 20.5 x 27.5 cm; printed and bound in Germany by Gulde Druck (Tübingen) and Josef Spinner (Ottersweier) respectively

Texts: Andreas Herzau; Baudrillard and Barthes quotes

Languages:  German and English

Photobook Designer:  Andreas Herzau

 

Notes:  Angela Merkel is certainly one of the wonders of the 21st century. As the first female German Chancellor, she wields her power in a rather unassuming and dutiful manner, without much of the pomp and swagger that marks other leaders. Photographs taken of her, for the most part, are marked by a certain predictable sameness that reflects that predictable style of leadership.

Andreas Herzau certainly has changed our view of her by providing a refreshingly innovative look at the wherewithal of the publicly visible leadership that characterizes this fascinating politician. With a distinguished record of photographic projects that shed new light on things and transgress traditional photojournalistic boundaries, in this photobook he is providing us with a creative new look at a subject we thought we already knew.

He observed and photographed Angela Merkel’s public appearances from 2009 to 2017. What makes the result of his labors particularly interesting is his astute observations that relate not only to the central figure, but especially also to the surroundings, the contexts with which the figure interacts in a continual public drama of appearances. We see partial shots of her, very many shots of hands in the process of building connections, and both limelight and shadow of events as they transpire. When have we ever seen a shot of her head from the back? Since politics lends itself to humor, there are quite a few amusing juxtapositions as well.

It wouldn’t be a Herzau project if this photobook did not also break new ground in its physical form. The images are all printed in what the publisher calls “duplex” fashion, on sheets folded inward (French fold), as shown in the sample illustrations below. This allows the reader to bend open sheets printed with a single image on such a folded-back sheet to experience an ongoing visual and physical narrative, even to play with the images by bending the opened fold to be amused by some distortion. The result is a certain 3D effect that makes the pages of the book come alive. This manner of presentation also gives the viewer a sense of surprise and adventure, since such a photobook allows some participation by the viewer. There are also a few flaming-red pages with quotes tying the photographs to philosophical thoughts. These inserted sheets are in the color of the SPD, the political party that has been both her opposition as well as her “Grand Coalition” partner at various times during her tenure as Chancellor.

An exciting photographic viewing adventure, sure to become a collector’s item. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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December 6, 2018

Ekaterina Vasilyeva – Shipwrecked

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Ekaterina VasilyevaShipwrecked, Copyright 2018

Artist; Ekaterina Vasilyeva (Екатерина Васильева)(born and residing in St. Petersburg, Russia)

Self-published, St Petersburg, Russia

Afterword: Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Text: English

Stiff cover front with original archive photograph (First #1-30 book covers), board back-cover book, twine sewn binding, four-color lithography, Limited edition, hand-made, signed & numbered, of 50, size: 12 cm x 33 cm, printed in St. Petersburg, RU

Photobook designer: Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Notes: This extremely wide (13 inch) book with the rough twine binding hints at the subject of Ekaterina Vasilyeva’s artist book; a mash of mid-century black and white photographs by an unknown young Sea Scout in conjunction with Vasilyeva’s reinterpretation of a similar current landscape in color. Likewise, her book title, Shipwrecked, provides additional clues to this boat-load of images that were once a drift and now have been found. The vernacular photographs of the 1940’s and 1950’s are literally intertwined with Vasilyeva’s color landscapes.

This is a wonderful treatise about the bittersweet aspect of nostalgia, the double-edge sword of memory. The forgotten album is filled with images of playful youth; boys who are seemingly unencumbered by the realities of life, although we know that in the early 1940’s there was a terrible war occurring that had a huge impact on the UK. Nevertheless, we now observe these photographs with the advantage of knowing that their age of youth has now long passed and the subjects of this archive are perhaps more concerned with their pending mortality.

Who was this young unknown photographer whose images reveal a certain maturity in these carefully balanced compositions? Perhaps this found British archive that comprises part of Vasilyeva’s artist book is not fully elevated to the level of photographs by Vivian Maier, nevertheless under the careful editing of Vasilyeva, we can sense this young photographer’s developing photographic skills.

Likewise, I come to wonder how this photographic archive came to rest at a British flea-market; what has happened to this now aging Sea Scout that he was willing to part ways with his past? Why does he or his family no longer have a need to retain this wonderful archive of memories? This book is a collection of mysteries; is the portrait of a young lady a family member of the unknown photographer or perhaps his lover in later years and maybe eventually his spouse? There are clues to this mysterious photographer, such as the school badges on the coats of the young men mugging for this photographer, as to where these events may have occurred so many years ago.

Vasilyeva’s contemporary landscape photographs ground us to the current reality and in juxtaposition with the archive images creates a messy give and take dialog with the past. The vexing and unanswerable question remains; Will you Forget Us? What of this group of boys, who are now aging men who may be grandfathers if not great grandfathers, what has become their fate and stories since their young likenesses was permanently captured?

I find a book design’s that echoes the artistic intent to really amplify the narrative; in this case the rough twine binding is similar in nature to what one might expect a young Sea Scout in the early 1940’s to use if he were to create his photobook. We observe similar hand-made contraptions such as the float lashed together using old oil cans that are utilized for a sea and river adventures. This is a British equivalent to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a story of American youth, which was actually first published in the UK in 1884 before coming to the US in 1885. In reflection, perhaps Huckleberry Finn was an inspiration for Robert Baden- Powell, the founder of Scouting, who in turn inspired the unknown Sea Scout whose delightful photographs we enjoy here.

A very enjoyable read.

Cheers, Doug

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December 3, 2018

MAGNUM China

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Magnum China, Edited by Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu

Published by Thames & Hudson, copyright 2018

Essays; Colin Pantal, Zheng Ziyu, and Jonathan Fenby

Text: English

Hardcover with dust jacket, 376 pages, 350+ photographs and illustrations, printed and bound by Pacom, South Korea

Notes: As a child raised on her American grandmother’s stories of moving to China in the early 1920s who then followed in those footsteps with a post-college English teaching job, to say this reviewer was eager to get her hands on a copy of MAGNUM China would be a major understatement. Having arrived just a few months prior to what became the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, I left abruptly on the first passenger flight out in early June 1989 and have not returned since.  China has remained, in my mind and in my dreams, an unresolved puzzle, left yet to be finished on the kitchen table, as if one got up to answer the phone and never came back. Thus I turn the pages of MAGNUM China with hopes of finding all the missing pieces

Like the country itself, the photobook MAGNUM China, is an impressive thing to behold, one that will demand revisiting time and time again in order to take in the full scope of its riches. Featuring the high caliber of imagery that one can reasonably expect for any Magnum publication, this 376 page book includes work of more than 25 of the world’s best photographers, spanning 80 years, from 1938 to 2017.

In fact, as is noted in the section featuring Robert Capa’s 1938 documentary work in Hankou, the language barriers and surveillance challenges he faced provided Capa the time to contemplate not only his own work as a photographer, but to develop the idea of a collective of photographers that would become Magnum. This became the premiere photo agency founded by Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others, in 1947. Thus the argument could be made that without China there might not have been a Magnum, and without Magnum, there would be a less historically significant and culturally influential record by which the world can understand China, and China can understand itself.

The introductory “conversation” between China based photo Editor and Curator Zheng Ziyu and the English writer and photographer Colin Pantall offers insight not only to the selection of images that follow, but also to the shifting perception of China. Once considered an exotic/closed off society rarely seen by Westerners, today’s understanding of China is a more nuanced portrayal in which Chinese photographers, writers, and historians have more authorship over their own story.

MAGNUM China is divided into four sections: A Time of War 1938-1949; The Mao Zedong Years 1950-1976; The Deng Xiaoping Years 1977-1992; and The Era of a Global Superpower 1993- present.  Each section begins with an informative multi-page introduction by Jonathan Fenby which provide context to the images that follow; a timeline of significant political and cultural events during that period, and a list of in country travels for the photographers, a sampling of whose work is then presented.

It is tempting to gorge on all the finely printed photographs in one sitting. However, like an all you can eat image buffet, a bit of pacing and restraint is advised. There is much to satisfy the hungry viewer’s appetite, such as the late 1940s work of Henri Cartier Bresson, the gorgeous color work of Eve Arnold’s sympathetic portraits of the late 1970s, and the confection of Martin Parr’s commissioned portraits of the nouveau riche of 21stCentury Hong Kong. However, it is well worth pausing between courses, to digest the work of each photographer, and read the text for an understanding of their unique relationships to this vast and complicated country. Learning when they first visited China, how often they went, what their impressions were, which publications (if any) they were shooting for, enriches one’s appreciation for the subjects these world class photographers chose (and did not choose) to focus on.

The first section “A Time of War” has the most limited range of work, just that of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson, due to difficulty of travel and access in the pre-communist era of the late 1930’s-40’s. Here you will see Capa’s work for LIFE magazine, depicting a China still battling Japanese invasion, and Cartier-Bresson’s late 1940’s documentation of the fall of the ruling Kuomintang and the subsequent victory of Mao Zedong’s invading army. Especially moving is the image of “A bewildered old man searching for his son…” as the new recruits are called up and marched off to a certain defeat. The worried man in his black hooded robe tugs on his long white beard, his shadow stretching out behind him to the young soldiers who smile in the background, both the old and new era unaware they will soon be obliviated by the advance of the Communists.

One of the joys of this book is the inclusion of layouts from magazines that first published these images. The reader is able to thus experience how Western audiences first saw what this historically closed society looked like.

The second section “China, 1950-1970” includes not only the fine work of Werner Bischof’s Hong Kong series of shanty towns and growing skyline from the early 1950s, the observation of humanity in Marc Riboud’s first trip to China in 1956 at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, and the early years of China’s re-engagement with the outside world as shown in the 1973 photographs of Bruno Barbey, among others. Also included is ephemera such as Riboud’s press pass and Bischof’s wrinkled caption list for his series The End of the Road. One can feel the impact of the typewriter keys hitting the page before being sent off to the Magnum office in Paris, giving the viewer the sense of being not only in the midst of China’s momentous changes, but in the mind of the photographer as they documented them. Pity there was no way to include the short 16mm films shot by Swiss photographer Rene Burri, though his early work (his was a 30 year “love affair” with China) is nicely represented with his photographs of young pioneers marching in the snow, and dead lotus flowers reflected on a lake that evokes the modernist line drawings of Picasso.

Of particular interest to this reviewer are the photographs in the third section, “The Deng Xiaoping Years, 1977-1992” as they include glimpses of the China familiar to visitors of the post cultural revolution/pre Tiananmen era, a vast society on the cusp of great, though not always comfortable, change. Of equal interest is the inclusion (at last!) of the work of two female photographers, Inge Morath and Eve Arnold, hinting that it was not only China that was opening itself up, albeit ever so cautiously, to the outside world. Perhaps Magnum too was expanding itself to welcome new perspectives; however limited the opportunities, they were long overdue.

Inge Morath’s work from the late 1970s offers fresh, “optimistic” view of everyday life, be it the 6:30am bicycle commuters passing through the dappled light of a roadside tree, or soldiers seated on the mountainside carving of a laughing Buddha, or her husband Arthur Miller directing a 1983 production of his play Death of a Salesman.  Immediately following Ms. Morath’s black and white images comes the saturated tones of reds and greens in Eve Arnold’s well traveled portraits of communes, factory and domestic workers, and farmers on the plains of Mongolia. The text describes the difficulty that Arnold had in photographing common people not yet accustomed to the sight of an independent Western woman, but she “came out of the country with fresh, original and life affirming images” symbolizing the end of tragedies and “changed the way the world viewed China.”

In the early 1980s photographs of Patrick Zachmann, one can begin to feel the presence of the outsider’s gaze and China’s gradual courtship with long forbidden Western influence. Close up faces of average Chinese citizens smile with curiosity back at the camera, actors prepare for film-shoots, young couples waltz in private apartments, and somewhat disturbingly, a bare breasted prostitute sits on a rumpled bedspread, staring directly at the lens, or perhaps the man behind the camera. Subsequent images of modern Chinese culture flaunting their newly acquired bling carry the same troubling impact as this photograph. The prostitute, unlike the old man in Cartier-Bresson’s 1948 image of the old man searching for his son, seems very much aware of the bleakness of her position, and has resigned herself, like her country, to a reality in which the pursuit of money is the new game in town, and everyone is a potential whore.

Despite the quantity and caliber of photographers that covered the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the brutal crackdown in which “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of peaceful demonstrators, a majority of which were idealistic University students, were killed, MAGNUM China offers surprisingly few pages devoted to this world event. Thankfully included is an image by photographer Abbas which shows the early student gatherings mourning the death of beloved Communist party official Hu Yaobang. For those who know that these gatherings were the start of what became the Tiananmen demonstrations in the weeks preceding the official state visit of Mikail Gorbachev, (thus the world press arrived in Beijing and broadcast an embarrassing political moment that highlighted internal power struggles), this image is an important inclusion in the Portfolio. (Full disclosure, this reviewer had the honor of meeting Abbas on the day this image was taken, and his comment “This feels just like Iran”, referencing the start of the Iranian revolution, sent chills down my spine). The significance of this gathering is not fully conveyed by the placement of Abbas’ image opposite Patrick Zachmann photo of a theatrical student writhing on the ground as she “performs the pain of the Chinese people”. Real people died, brutally, and it was well covered. The avoidance of those images is, to this viewer, the only disappointment of this otherwise magnificent book, and despite the inclusion of Stuart Franklin’s view of the famous “Tank Man” on the wide boulevard leading away from the bloodied square, causes one to reflect on the compromise that countries and cultural entities alike have made in order to continue to do business with and in the economic powerhouse that is now China.

However, in the final section “The Era of a Global Superpower, 1993-present” there are hints that it is not only the photographers (Ian Berry, Stuart Franklin, Jim Goldberg, Chris Steele Perkins, among others) who are conscious of the price China’s citizens have paid for its ascent to the top of the global ladder. So too the editors of MAGNUM China, in their choice of image sequence, make the subtle point that while some Chinese now enjoy luxuries such as fancy cars and amusement parks, others have lost their homes to the development of the Three Gorges Dam.

In a particularly moving series, Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang documents mental patients who are literally chained together, forcing a level of cooperation that may neither be sincere nor lasting. These haunting black and white images immediately follow Martin Parr’s bold color work focusing on rapacious consumption, which with all Parr’s work, are very strong on their own merit. But taken in as the editors intend, one senses that not everything about China’s great success has been without great cost. Chien-Chi Chang also documents North Korean defectors who must hide their identities from the authorities as well as the camera while traveling through mainland China en route to what they hope is freedom in South Korea. China may have many riches, as beautifully demonstrated throughout this book, but freedom is not yet one of them.

Highly recommend.

Enjoy!  Melanie Chapman

Editor’s note: This photobook was selected as one of the “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018” by The PhotoBook Journal editorial team.

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December 1, 2018

Simon Brugner – The Arsenic Eaters

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Photographer and Concept: Simon Brugner (born in Hartberg, Austria, lives in Vienna, Austria)

Publisher:  The Eriskay Connection, Breda, Netherlands; © 2018

Essays and illustration selections:  Simon Brugner

Text:  English

Stiff covers with yellow vinyl sleeve, bound with the Otabind method; four-color lithography, printed by Wilco Art Books, bound by Patist; 144 pages, with pagination and some captions in Part 2; 21 x 30 cm (8 ¼  x 12 inches); edition of 1250

Photobook Designers/Editors:  Rob van Hoesel, Simon Brugner

 

Notes:  The southeastern Austrian region known in English as Styria, and in German as Steiermark, is a mostly rural area that has the city of Graz as its center of culture and population density. Little has been known about the area’s mostly rural practice of consuming arsenic, which goes back several centuries, and lasted into the last part of the 20th century.

Arsenic was known as “the poor man’s cocaine” – reputed to be a stimulant that had the effects of physical and sexual enhancement, a beauty treatment for women, and even an effective method to temporarily enhance the physical appearance and strength of horses as they were about to be sold. Needless to say, there were also long-term side effects, especially when used to excess, as is the case with many such drugs and substances.

When we first see the cover of this fascinating book, we are not quite sure what we are looking at. Is it a scientific treatise? Is it an investigation with historical significance? Or perhaps a medical reference work? We are certainly curious! Well, it is a little bit of all of these, but most significantly a brilliantly photographed and edited photobook of visuals that tells this story, with a contemporary photographic interpretation by Simon Brugner, along with some insertions of historical material that he collected, in such a way as to retrace the mysteries of the old practice through very creative juxtaposition and sequencing.

This photobook is divided into two parts. The first and major portion is a well-edited visual narrative, of primary interest for purposes of this journal. The images are well sequenced to span the range of mysteries, fables, rumors, and anxieties about the often clandestine use and abuse of this mysterious substance, and to connect the old tales with the environment as it now exists. It seems that a certain tolerance and dependence on arsenic could be built up in some individuals, and thus also a sense of invincibility and anxiety, both for the users as well as for those around them.

Brugner has done a most effective job of photographing contextual connections – geography, mining locations, and contemporary objects and detail, including deterioration and decay – and mixing them with images of individuals from the area, both portraits and parts of the anatomy, as to keep the mystery of the story going. Particularly noteworthy is his use of colors, especially green and brown for the calming background of forests and nature above ground, dark orange-brown as the color of the caves and rocks from which arsenic is extracted, red as the color of blood and sensuality, as well as a harbinger of danger (check out those mushrooms), and, or course, stark monochrome for the historical images.

The second part of the book, consisting of some 30 pages, presents the contextual detail and explanations for the use of arsenic in this region. Brugner provides a number of historical illustrations, abstracts from scientific discussions, as well as other insights gained during the three-year period that it took to prepare this project. This is a highly useful section that sheds a bit of light on the mysteries that were visually presented in the first part.

I consider this photobook a new classic, recommended both as a well-designed narrative that deals with an issue that concerns us in different forms even today – from the fine art perspective, as well as for the presentation of this subject within a context of social and scientific understanding, against a historical perspective.

We have selected this photobook as one of our choices for “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018.”

Gerhard Clausing

 

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November 29, 2018

Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018

As in years past TPBJ has been providing a short list of artistbooks and photobooks we have found to be very Interesting. These are books that we continue to return to in order to enjoy again. Our selection derives from books with intriguing photographic content, brilliant project concepts, excellent book designs that support the artist/photographer’s intent in conjunction with spot-on production qualities; and the books that are the most Interesting have a delightful combination of all of these creative, if not critical, elements.

For our editorial team’s selection we have limited ourselves to the artistbooks and photobooks that 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 every photobook that was published during the year, thus our list is not meant to be in any way inclusive. Our list is also not meant be the “Best” photobooks of 2018, but rather we have selected some of our more Interesting photobooks that might warrant your consideration and time.

Our list includes; Laia Abril, Julia Borissova, Simon Brugner, Seiichi Furuya, Tobias Kruse, Melissa Lazuka, Yehlin Lee, David Lynch, Ute & Werner Mahler, Nuno Moreira, Colin Pantall & Zheng Ziyu (Editors) & Antonio Perez Rio.

Some artist and photographers are list repeats and others have published their First book. One of these books is massive in breath, scale and size and some are petite poetic treasures. This list represents a truly internationals group of artists, photographers, designers, printers and publishers; Congratulations to all!

We have published commentaries for most of these books, which are linked-up below. It is our intent to finish publishing reviews for all of these artistbooks and photobooks shortly. We hope you enjoy these as much as we have.

In alphabetic order by last name:

 

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Laia Abril, On Abortion

 

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Julia Borissova, Let Me Fall Again

 

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Simon Brugner, The Arsenic Eaters

 

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Seiichi Furuya, Warum Dresden (Why Dresden)

 

Tobias Kruse, Material

 

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Melissa Lazuka, Song of the Cicadas

 

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Yehlin Lee, Raw Soul

 

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David Lynch, Nudes

 

Ute and Werner Mahler, Kleinstadt (review pending)

 

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Nuno Moreira, She Looks Into Me

 

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Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu (Editors), Magnum China

 

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Antonio Perez Rio, Masterpieces – Obras Maestras (review pending)

 

Cheers!

The PhotoBook Journal Editorial team: Douglas Stockdale, Gerhard Clausing, Kristin Dittrich, Melanie Chapman, Dan Johns

 

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