The PhotoBook Journal

March 6, 2013

Mario Giacomelli – The Black is Waiting for the White


Copyright the estate of Mario Giacomelli published 2009 Contrasto

I know that sharing my thoughts on Mario Giacomelli (b. 1925 Senigallia, Ancona, Italy – d. 2000) retrospective “The Black is Waiting for the White” is a tad overdue. Okay, better late than never, eh?

For the selection of photographs that I have curated to illustrate this book, I have to begin with one of Ciacomelli’s more iconic and surrealist photograph from his series Scanno (1959). I also have to admit that seeing this photograph for the first time a long time ago was a very startling experience for me. My very first impression was that the MoMA (NYC) had made a very big mistake including this photograph in an exhibition. My sensibilities were that such that a photograph should look “natural”, that if there were any retouching, it should not be noticeable to the viewer. And this graphic photograph was in direct contradiction to everything I thought a photograph should look like, as I felt it was very apparent to even the most naive viewer, that it had been heavily manipulated. As you might suspect, I was caught up in the physicality of a photograph, not the symbolism or poetic intent of the image’s content. Interestingly, this single photograph also had the most impact on me as Giacomelli’s name and image were as though seared permanently on my memory.

To not understand that Giacomelli was all about interpreting, not illustrating, poetry is to really miss a basic understanding of his extensive body of work. To creatively interpret a poem allowed Ciacomelli to feely manipulate his black & white photographs, pushing the boundaries, to distill an image as part of a creative act of poetic investigation.

His idea of using photographs as a narrative can be traced to his first series in 1955, “Verra la morte e avra i tuoi occhi” (Death will come and have your eyes) at a time when interpretive photographic narratives were relatively unknown. Life and Look magazines, as well as most others at this time, had been publishing photographic stories, but these were very straight and documentary photographs and the story was relatively easy to read.  Ciacomelli has stated “Why do I tell stories rather than using single images as many do? Because you can develop an idea in a story, whereas a single image is sometimes only a beautiful image and nothing more.”

Giacomelli continued to interpret poetic work by creating photographic series for the remainder of his life. In additional to providing the singular images from his various series, this book provides an overview of each of his series in a compilation of thumb nails, which are sequenced chronologically. It should also be noted that Giacomelli felt that there was a specific sequence for the photographs of a series in which for them to exhibited or displayed.

If you wanted one comprehensive book that examines Giacomelli’s extensive body of work, or to provide a retrospective overview for your Giacomelli collection, I would recommend this book.

This dense hardcover book with dust jacket was edited by Alessandra Mauro with essays by Christian Caujolle, Alistair Crawford, Goffredo Fofi, Simone Ciacomelli, Paolo Morello, Ferdinado Scianna and Roberta Valtoria. This book also includes a Biography, Exhibitions & selected Bibliography and is beautifully printed by EBS in Verona, Italy.

by Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook








March 5, 2013

Emmet Gowin – Photographs

Copyright 2009 Emmet Gowin, Steidl First Edition

I first have to admit that I did not acquire this Emmet Gowin Steidl edition book until 2011 while I was attending the Gowin exhibition at Le BAL (Paris, FR). I had been aware of this book and a number of the now iconic Gowin photographs that are a result of the original Knopf 1976 publication. I had missed the opportunity to purchase the Knopf edition in the mid-70’s and quickly realized that this is a fine alternative. No sense making the same mistake twice, eh?

This book reflects the 1970’s photobook thinking, that a book was a publication of a body of photographic work. It is not until much later that photographers’ start using a photobook to create a narrative. In reading, I still find that there are a series of small narratives that manage to run through this book.

Gowin uses photography to create singular images which collectively investigate the concept of family and personal relationships. In part, what I want to share is that Gowin photographed other subjects as well, perhaps not as well-known as his portraits of Edith, Elijah, Isaac and Edith’s mother Rennie Booher. Thus the page spreads provided below include the iconic photographs as well as the lesser known.

Gowin states in the afterword; “My pictures are made as a part of everyday life and are not the result of any project or assignment. Most of the pictures here were made with a camera on a tripod. In this situation, both the sitter and photographer become part of the picture. Sometimes my photographs resemble home snapshots, which are among the richest resources of images I know. But I always want to make a picture that is more than a family record.”

The hardcover book is a reprint of Emmet Gowin: Photographs originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, and except for the cover image, the proportions and sequence are identical to the first edition.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







March 4, 2013

Arnold Newman At Work


copyright the estate of Arnold Newman published 2013 Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas Press, Austin

Arnold Newman (b. 1918 NYC – 2006) is known for his numerous iconic and environmental photographic portraits that include Ed Ruscha (1985), Duane Michals (1986), Man Ray (1948), Andy Warhol (1973), Roy Lichtenstein (1976) and of course his almost trademark portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1946).

What makes this book compelling are the proofs and edits made by Newman in conjunction for many of his iconic portraits, essentially providing the photograph’s backstory for him at work. The viewer is provided the opportunity to study the photographic proofs, which can help visualize how Newman explored the various compositions within the context of his subject’s environment. Revealing Newman’s red line crop and printing edits provide additional information as to how Newman continued to explore and distill the essence of his subject well after the sitting was completed.

It is tantalizing to look at his proofs and speculate on which composition that I would have chosen and how might I have cropped and printed that photographic image. It is also an opportunity to reflect on who his subject were in conjunction with the times and conditions these portraits were made.

This dense hardcover book reflects a carefully selection and edited body of Newman’s photographs by Roy Flukinger with an introductory text by Marianne Fulton.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







February 22, 2013

Jeff Alu – Surrealities


Copyright Jeff Alu 2012 published by Zero+ Publishing

Jeff Alu’s book title Surrealities aptly implies that he is attempting to investigate aspects of surrealism, in which the art work may have qualities that feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. Surrealism also looked to the analysis of dreams as a source of inspiration and the resulting surrealist art and literature usually had dream-like qualities. It is a combination of all of these attributes of surrealism that infuses Alu’s photographs. His subjects have been rendered in black & while, with aspects of his subjects vaguely recognizable, but rendered abstract in his photographic image post visualization process.

This book is essentially a monograph, a collection of singular images. The surrealistic theme collectively ties the resulting photographs together. Each photograph is an investigation of equivalent feelings and emotion, similar in purpose as his accompanying poems. This photobook has many shared qualities with Susan Burnstine’s Within Shadows.  Similar to Burnstine, Alu’s photographs are very dark and moody.

The photographs are not directly captioned, which provides a lot of latitude for the reader to investigate where the photograph make take them. Alu does provide an index of photograph and captions, but includes page numbers for a book that is without pagination, perhaps a touch of surrealistic humor.

As a photobook object, this hardcover book does need to be handled with care. The interfacing glossy black printed pages, although reinforce the darkness of the narrative, are also fingerprint magnets, as only a little natural oil in your fingertips leave beautiful and lasting marks on the page. Regretfully a book that would benefit from reading while wearing gloves. The photographs and poetry text are by Jeff Alu and the introductory essay is provided by Joella March. Last, I note that the printed photographs have are slightly green toned, which provides an eerie effect, perhaps as though Alu is taking us on a trip into the Twilight Zone.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







February 17, 2013

Pietro Mattioli – Two Thousand Light Years From Home

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Photographs copyright 2012 Pietro Mattioli published by Kodoji Press

What might things look like in the dead of night as revealed in the brief moment of a camera flash? This is perhaps one of many questions that Mattioli poses to the viewer in his recent “Two Thousand Light Years from Home”.

Objects are illuminated in the night with a frontal directness, but yet become isolated such that they appear ambiguous. As the books title implies, this is a journey in which brief glimpses of light reveal little, yet still with careful study, a lot of information. Present within the pictorial frame are small, isolated spots of color, not as well defined as the brightly illuminated subject. It appears that these small spots of color represent an unknown entity and create a sense of unease by their presence.

The illuminated subject in each photograph can usually be identified as to what the object is, but made strange and odd within this context. It is like seeing an object new and fresh for the first time, regardless of how many times someone might walk past them by in the light of day.

As a photobook, there are some physical attributes which make this a wonderful object, from the crazy printing and sewn binding to the fragile covers. The essay texts are provided in both English and German. The interior block utilizes “folded pages”, as the litho signature is not entire trimmed after folding, resulting in the photographic images printed on the exterior folded pages, while on the interior of the folded pages, is an interesting shade of Magenta. As stated by Winfried Heininger, the publisher and designer; “The printed, folded sheet of each of the book’s signatures remains uncut on one edge; every page conceals an interior printed in a deep pink”.

The stiff covers are glued with might be a termed a heavy-duty pressure-sensitive adhesive such that if the covers are not creased carefully and held at the spine when folded open, may separate and lift from the printed block. I know and ought to have known better.

After thought: I continue to think about books and book reviews well after they are published and I wonder if there might be something I have overlooked. In this case, it finally dawned on me as to another reason for the design of the book, especially as I take into account Heininger’s description of the interior color being a “deep pink”, rather than what I identified as Magenta. Mattioli is taking walks and photographing while his daughter sleeps at night, thus the interior color of a “deep pink” is representative of his unseen daughter whose presence is then indirectly felt through this body of work. Now I think this book is even more amazing than I first thought, which I thought was pretty cool to start with.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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February 16, 2013

Readings on Contemporary Photography


Photographs copyright of the various photographers

What I sometimes find useful to help me understand the thinking and concepts behind the photobooks I collect and write about here, are the occasional books that attempt to explore or describe the conceptual ideas of the photographer. Thus I wanted to share three books that have been sitting on my nightstand and which I have been poking at for the last couple of months.

All three of these books are very readable with the underlying concepts not confounded by vague or ambiguous terminology.

Susan Bright’s second edition of Art Photography Now (published by Thames & Hudson, 2011) is a stiff cover book that encompasses a substantial 238 pages, and the trim size is the largest of the three, thus providing large detailed photographs to absorb while in the reading. Bright attempts to explain the underlying concepts of contemporary photography by breaking photographs down into genres: portraits, landscape, narrative, object, fashion, document and city. For each of these sections, she supports her discussion by providing details of the work of a few of the contemporary photographers who may be exemplify this contemporary genre.

Photography the Whole Story (published by Prestel, 2012), is a book that is edited by Juliet Hacking, with the support of a vast team of contributors, with one contributor providing the details for the photographer(s) that accompanies each section. This is a very thick book with 573 pages and is not a quick read. The intent is to provide a chronological progression of how photography has evolved. A nice timeline is provided with the section discussions as trends, styles and types of photography have overlapped and this helps with the understanding of the potential interplay and possible context of the concepts. A photograph of a period photographer is then detailed over a two page spread to provide additional context for the section. As you should suspect, profiling a single photograph by Alfred Stiegiltz or Edward Steichen only hints at the possibilities, but does help with providing an overview of a particular trend. I found it interesting as to what the writer’s discussed of the photographs they analyzed.  This book provides a nice historical grounding and context in which to place the current contemporary practices.

Elisabeth Couturier’s Talk about Contemporary Photography (published by Flammarion, 2012) is the smallest of the tree, a stiff cover book with 254 pages. Contemporary Photography is one of her many titles that she is the editorial director, including Design, Fashion, Cinema, Dance and Architecture. Similar to Bright, Couturier breaks down contemporary photography into genres (major concepts), providing a series of key dates and then profiles 30 photographers. Courturier has a section that discusses geographic influences.

Each of these books provide some interesting information and thoughts for consideration. Contemporary photography is not easy to write about, as the most current thinking is sometimes old news by the time a book is published. And each writer brings their own basis and context to their writing, probably with Courturier’s French background the strongest, and Photography the Whole Story having an equally strong English basis. Which is why they make for interesting reading.

Best regards

February 3, 2013

LA Art Book Fair

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book NEWS, Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 11:59 pm


Copyright the photographers; Paul Schiek’s “Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me” (TBW Books), Dan Gluibizzi’s “Folding Space”/Zefrey Throwell’s “Pressing Time” (Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books), Nicolas Hoosteing’s Matador (Etudes Books), Notes on Fulford’s Raising Frogs for $$$ (The Ice Plant), Alec Soth & Brad Zellar’s “Michigan” (Little Brown Mushroom), The LA Art Book Fair Catalog.

I had an opportunity to attend the LA Art Book Fair this weekend, a cool event by Printed Matter (NYC) that until now was only hosted in NYC. The fair was made up mostly by small press, zines and booksellers/dealers, with only a few larger publishers and distributors present. I have to say it was a really diverse & International show.

I was doing my walk-about on Friday and even still, the fair was well attended. The space was the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, thus the interior lighting was better suited for exhibiting artwork and a bit tricky for reading books although it seemed that everyone adapted pretty quick. The were a number of smaller spaces which provided some sense of intimacy, but also created a maze and the potential of missing some of the exhibitors, as I almost missed one small section when I think I accidentally stumbled into just before closing. To their credit, the Book Fair did provide a map of the booth locations and next time I will take time to look at it from the start, so my bad. 

The Book Fair was not dedicated to photobooks, but there were a fair amount of photobook publishers and dealers/bookshops present and had a special focus, as did the Zines in their section aptly titled Zine World. My issue was there were toooo many photobooks to choose from and I decided to look for photobooks that were about the photobook object, providing a photobook experience that would not translate to an iPad or other digital media. I will have to say that Dan Gluibizzi’s “Folding Space”/Zefrey Throwell’s “Pressing Time” with its pantyhose outer wrap recently published by Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books easily met my criteria.

Encourging news for us in Orange County was provided by Claire Cottrell that  Book Stand ( is looking at a location in San Juan Capistrano in additional to their on-line presence. Very nice!

I hope that this is the first of many LA Art Book Fairs. The discussions that I had with book dealers, publishers and attendees indicated that this is a success event from the very start of the opening night. Nice.


January 5, 2013

Laia Abril – Thinspiration


Copyright 2012 Laia Abril self-published

First be warned, this is a troubling, if not disturbing, photobook.

As such, it is a photo-documentary of a community of mostly young women who appear to obsessively starving themselves to death. In a bazaar twist on social networking, these women post and share self-portraits of their current anorexia state amongst themselves. .

As a social documentary artist, Laia Abril has researched this self-destructing group by re-photographing what these women have posted about themselves on certain web sites and other social media. In by so doing, she calls attention to the act of social networking as well as photography as a medium to propagate an illness.

Abril asks the rhetorical question; does photography help them to be aware of reality or has the camera turned into another trick for anorexia to control their body and perpetuate the distortion of their own image? To what extent does photography influence the deterioration of their illness?

Abril mashes the subject’s self-portraits with text that the members post. Concurrent with the posting of their self-portraits, the pro-ana (anorexia) members provide “encouragement” on their quest to become invisible, to physically waste away.

The photographs reveal how the subjects document their current state of “success”, usually standing partially undressed or nude in front of large mirrors situated in bathrooms or bedrooms, posing to reveal the their protruding rib and hip bones, sunken stomachs or boney wrists or legs that are skinner than their knees. Abril edited and designed the layout of the resulting photographs to create a visual map of this destructive state of mind with the double gate-folds hiding and then revealing this complex condition, perhaps symbolic of how the women attempt to conceal/reveal what they are attempting to accomplish.

Indirectly, Abril has created a social commentary about and an investigation into what constitutes beauty and femininity, while exposing an addiction that has serious, if not deadly, consequences.

As a photobook object, it is a complex stiff cover book constructed of a series of double gatefolds. The introduction is by Silvia Omedes and the Afterword is by Abril with the text provided in Spanish and English.

As an interesting publishing note, the book was designed in collaboration with Ramon Pez and Guillermo Brotons with Edition Consulting by Christina de Middel and Silvia Omedes. Pez and Abril had similar roles in the publication of Christina de Middel’s The Afronauts, one of the most interesting artist photobook in 2012.

Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook






January 4, 2013

Andre Cepeda – Ontem


Photographs copyright 2010 Andre Cepeda published by Le caillou bleu

Andre Cepeda  in his photobook titled Ontem (English translation: Yesterday) provides an interesting investigation of a specific set of places that abound around Porto, called islands. Apparently these are areas that were previously built as working class neighborhoods which over time have seemed to have outlived their intended function. As structural shells, these buildings can still provide a place of habitation, even a sense of community, for those who have little or no alternatives.

Even under the bright sunshine of Portugal, Cepeda reveals an undercurrent of grayness and melancholy that seems to pervade these neighborhoods. The sad structures are surrounded by looming high-rise building and flanked by vacant and razed lots, foretelling of a dismal future for these places. The reader can sense that the economics of development will eventually prevail, providing yet another layer of gloom over those who attempt to call this home.

Nevertheless, I found the inclusion of the photograph of the bird in the small, dingy cage to be an excellent metaphor for those indivuals who are living in these harsh conditions. Regretfully, it appears that most of those who live in these islands, they are like this bird, trapped by their circumstances.

What is unsettling for me is the inclusion of the nude couples, who are caught explicitly in the act of having sex. I am just not sure how this helps with the narrative and creates unevenness to the flow of photographs. I suspect that this is an attempt to show a sense of “normality” to these dismal conditions that even in the face of adversity and misery, individuals continue to function. There is still rawness to these nudes that creates a not so subtle tension, which for me transfers to the entire work. Perhaps this added tension is the author’s intent.

As a book object, the cover has a tipped-in image on a broad cloth hard cover book. There are no captions accompanying the photographic plates. The introductory essay is by Miguel von Hafe Perez and Afterword interview of Andre Cepeda is provided by Jean-Louis Gedefroid, with the text provided in three languages, Portuguese, French and English. As an English speaking reader, the translation from Portuguese to English is a little rough.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook






December 29, 2012

Renee Jacobs – Slow Burn



Copyright 1986, 2010 Renee Jacobs published by The Pennsylvania State University Press (Stiff cover)


Limited Edition hard cover book with print (Sonny Mekosh)

Renee Jacobs first photobook is subtitled A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania and investigates a city and region of Pennsylvania that is slowly being eroded away by an underground coal fire that has been burning since 1962. This book constitutes an environmental portrait and snapshot of the conditions in the mid-1980’s, an area that is today almost devoid of all inhabitants.

Jacobs focuses her narrative on the human element of this natural/man-made disaster. The gritty black and white photographs provide a tense undercurrent to her photographs, intensifying the discomfort of the reader and symbolic of the difficulties of her subjects. She captures attempts at obtaining normalcy and while failing to ignore all of the ominous warning signs and pending changes that will obviate their presence and thus their history and eventually their memories of this place.

She provides a face, hence a voice, to this slowly evolving environmental disaster, a problem that will not easily go away and that over many years slowly displaces every person in this town and surrounding area. As a reader of this narrative, I find myself hoping that we have learned a valuable lesson from this sad situation, but regretfully, I am not sure.

And this underground fire still burns today, slowly clawing its way under the skin of this terrain.

The book object; I am reviewing the 2010 edition of this book, which is published as a stiff cover, while the 1986 first edition is a cloth bound hard cover photobook. The introductory text is provided by Margaret O. Kirk and the book contains maps, captions and supporting text for most of the photographic plates.

Update: I have since acquired the 2010 hardcover Limited Edition book and accompanying print. The Limited Edition hardcover has a tipped-in photograph on the black case bound book.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







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