The PhotoBook Journal

November 11, 2013

Mitch Epstein – New York Arbor

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Copyright Mitch Epstein 2013 published by Steidl

Mitch Epstein’s recent photobook New York Arbor is a slight departure from his earlier photographic work, most recent of which is American Power (2009) and Berlin (2011), also published by Steidl. Although New York Arbor was photographed with his trademark 8 x10” view camera, the film and resulting images are in Black & White.

Epstein is investigating a subject in a place that is close to home, the trees found in the four sections of New York City. The images are sequentially ordered in a manner that the reader travels through time, passing through the four seasons. The viewer begins by confronting the large looming trees, nude of leaves, standing in the gray light of winter. The form and lines of a tree is fully exposed and evident unlike the warm summer days when these trees are darkly cloaked and concealed by dense leaves and vegetation.

These are much like environmental portraits, but instead of individuals the subjects are trees. They co-exist with us and like us become battered, injured, damaged and yet resilient. The trees cannot under their own power relocate themselves; they must survive in the serendipitous circumstances of where they took root many decades ago as the city continues to encircle them.

Some trees are presented multiple times reflecting the seasonal variation. Epstein is drawn to revisit his subjects for further re-examination and contemplation. The lighting is frequently flat, the artifact of an early morning light on a gray Eastern sunless day, reminding me of the portraiture of Paris trees by Eugene Atget. Similar gray lighting is preferred by Bernd and Hilla Becher for their large format industrial “sculptural” portraits, a flat lighting that allows details and features to not become lost in the shadows. Unlike the Becher’s, Epstein is not as clinical and coldly objective, although his subjects are similarly centered, but frequently the trees spill out of the frame. Epstein allows the tree to determine the right composition as well as he is willing to include individuals and other evidence of humanity into his pictorial frame.

To maintain perspective of his large subjects, even with the use of a large format view camera with its swings, tilts and shifts, it appears that Epstein has frequently found elevated camera positions. For many of the trees, without the ability to compare and contrast with a known object, say a two story house or multistory office building, the breath and size of his subjects is ambiguous and uncertain.

The hard cover book with dust jacket arrives in a printed slip case. For me, this is a case in which a large book (14” x 12”) is befitting of the interior images. The interior plates (12 ½” x 10”) are only a small enlargement over the original negative size (10” x 8”), thus reading this book is a similar opportunity to examine his contact prints.

Other Mitch Epstein photobooks reviewed on The PhotoBook:  American Power

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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Le PhotobookFest – Paris November 15 – 17, 2013

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:34 pm

Since I was soooo busy with finishing Pine Lake, my artist book, I neglected to provide some updates on other events such as Le PhotobookFest which will be occurring this coming weekend in conjunction with Paris Photo. The Le PhotobookFest will be at a different venue, L’Ancienne Imprimerie/Picture Tank, 19 rue Bisson 75020 Paris, than the Grand Palais for Paris Photo, so if you want to attend both, it will take a little time to get between venues. The good news that I can testify to is the Paris Metro (underground) is really nice and pretty efficient.

Le PhotobookFest is being organized by the Paris Photobook Club so it is a real grass roots organization. In conjunction with Le PhotobookFest, there is also a book dummy exhibition and public attendee jury of the book dummy’s called “Rock Your Dummy!“. As a non-disclosure, I am also a member of the “Rock Your Dummy!” Advisory team, along with Elinor Carucci, Wayne Ford, Hans Gremmen, Taco Hidde Bakker, Larissa Leclair,  Lesley A. Martin and  Iris Sikking.

So it was a bit of conflict when Matt Johnston, the guy who has started and organized the entire Photobook Club program, requested that I provide my book dummy for Pine Lake to exhibit in Paris at Rock Your Dummy! Much like everyone else, especially with how Pine Lake is as much an artist book object that you need to hold to appreciate, I wanted to have this additional exposure. Thus we worked out that thje Pine Lake dummy will be on exhibit as part of the Advisory Team, but not part of the public jury event. Nice compromise!

Here are the links and I hope that you have the opportunity to take it all in;

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LePhotobookFest2013?directed_target_id=0

Rock Your Dummy!: http://lephotobookfest.wordpress.com/rock-your-dummy/

Le PhotobookFest: http://lephotobookfest.wordpress.com

Cheers!

Photobook Reviews

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:15 am

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Photograph copyright Jane Alt

For the past couple of months I have been pretty self-absorbed in getting my own artist photobook Pine Lake published. While developing the book dummy, I did not anticipate how much band width would be consumed in producing the 25 copies of this hand made book. Essentially my last photobook review was published mid September, about two months ago. Yikes, time flies.

Thus the ensuing quandary, as much as depicted by Jane Alt’s burning fields, above. The future of this blog is not entirely clear, or rather I should say, there are changes that will be occurring as to what I plan to publish about photobooks.

For the book reviews, I am happy with the visual format and I have not received any comments to the contrary over the past couple of years; thus to be included are the book’s front cover image and then six to seven interior book spreads that I select.

Perhaps what may change is the focus (I just luv that pun) on my commentary about book’s content as to how much I will discuss the photographs as a collective body of work versus discussing the photobook as an object. In the past, I was attempting to place more emphasis on my commentary and leaving the photobook as an object as a closing statement. This will probably flip, with more emphasis place on the book object.

I am not entirely sure of how this will turn out, and as the smoke clears, I hope that it all turns out okay. Let me know if you like the changes, or not.

Cheers!

October 4, 2013

Douglas Stockdale – Pine Lake

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Pine Lake copyright 2013 Douglas Stockdale self-published Limited Edition Artist Book

I am very thrilled to announce the publication of my hand-made artist book Pine Lake. Thus post is not intended to be a book review, as I need to let others provide more objective assessments. This is just blatant self promotion.

Pine Lake is sequenced as a semi-fictional story about an American multi-generational summer rite, a weekend fishing trip.

As to how this project came about, it started with my recently discovered family photographs of my grandfathers fishing, a passion of which was unknown and totally foreign to me. Thus the small, worn vernacular photographs I found became talismans for the lost memories and stories of my family.  This has led me to create this artist book to tell a story of what might have been. Pine Lake is another of my on-going series that investigates memory and its preservation.

The interior flip-book is formatted in a style reminiscent of a promotional processing book common in the 1960′s produced by Kodak and Ansco, which could be purchase with a film processing order. The book is accompanied by a small collection of preserved ephemera that represent the memorabilia that might be saved after a favorite vacation.

The stiff cover book contains 17 black & white photographs. The outer cover is fabricated from a sheet of 120 gm Canson Mi-Teintes paper, hand trimmed to size and inkjet printed which is then hand inscribed.  This cover is bone creased, hand hole punched and an aluminum prong binding is attached to manually bind the interior pages. The book resides inside a hand inscribed poly slip-cover (a zip-lock bag) accompanied with three pieces of ephemera; a fishing stamp, a fishing notice & a section of fishing line with small weight attached mid-way.

The book and ephemera are housed in a hand-made wood frame with a printed cover constructed from 110# Daler-Rowney Canford paper, cut to size, ink-jet printed, hand bone crease and glued to the frame to create a gate fold flap, and has an elastic band closure.

Exterior size is 8 1/2″ x 10″ x 7/16″ (210 mm x  250mm   x 100mm)

The photographic images are anonymous and from my family archive and have been re-photographed and modified to provide a consistent appearance to illustrate this short visual story. Pine Lake is produced in a Limited Edition of 25, with a price of $150.00 USD per book plus shipping (and taxes where applicable).

I hope you enjoy it.

Cheers!

Notes:

price increase to $250 on 2/01/2014 as edition is almost sold out. For the three remaining editions, the price is now $350.00 each.

August 18th, 2017: Pine Lake is now available from Arcana: Books on the Arts (Culver City, CA)

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September 20, 2013

Abe Frajndlich – Penelope’s Hungry Eyes

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copyright Abe Frajndlich 2011 (cover – Cindy Sherman) published by Schirmer/Mosel

This book is a compilation of artist portraits of individuals rarely seen, mainly because Abe Frajndlich’s subjects are the photographers who stand behind the camera, not in front of the lens.  This particular photobook is very interesting for me as a photographer, especially as I know that these are some of the photographers who have an influence on my work.

Most of these are elaborately staged and lit environmental and symbolic portraits, frequently in collaboration with his subject, which provide additional layers to create a dialog with the reader in regard as to who the person is that momentarily stands before the lens. Others are quickly composed and fleeting vignettes captured on the fly.

As so I have made my own selection of portraits below that are of interest to me, and hopefully likewise to you, and perhaps create enough interest to want to see and read more about these interesting & creative individuals.

It is fitting that one of Frajndlich’s photographic role models is Arnold Newman, who essentially created the environment portrait that is so evident now in Frajndlich’s own oeuvres.

The book is a hardcover with dust jacket, nicely printed by EBS in Verona, Italy and contains an essay by Abe Frajndlich and Henry Adams. The concluding index of photographs is a bit charming, as it contains the birth (and passing) dates, where these events occurred, as well as recollections by Frajndlich recalling the portrait event. This interesting index is a bit autobiographical for Frajndlich, as it hints at his literary interests prior to becoming a portrait photographer.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 16, 2013

Paul Schiek – Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me

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Copyright Paul Schiek 2012 published by TBW Books

Paul Schiek has constructed an interesting photobook based on found “mug shots”, an interesting selection of vernacular photographs collected by Mike Brodie at an abandoned Georgia prison.  These identification head shots have isolated from their context as prisoner information, thus in a similar vein to Chris Crites “Mug Shots”, the edits results in opening and expanding the potential narrative.

Even for those who have not experienced incarnation, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that prisons are mean and hostile environment and those inside are constantly fighting for basic survival. The portrait of the man with the lingering black eye is a testimonial to the difficult conditions. Thus when facing the camera, does the mask drop to reveal the person in front of the camera or is it essential to maintain a guarded presence, as though to let one’s guard down even momentarily is to show weakness? As the photographer is anonymous, it may be that the photographer is also an inmate as many of the operational chores within prisons are performed by the inmates to keep operating cost down. Or possibly the person on the other side of the camera is a feared guard? We don’t know but it is intriguing to consider.

The one gatefold includes a man who has a sad and soulful look as though he might be one of those who might have been abused by the others in the prison. Befitting Schiek has flanked this portrait with two other male portraits, men that have a hardened and unflinching gaze. The resulting gatefold is a sad narrative as to the possible conditions in these hellish and forbidding places for the damned.

Vince Aletti writes in the book’s introduction “Their anonymity invites speculation.. a fantasy to fill in the blanks. They’re the men pulp fiction was written for and about; the meatheads, the fall guys, the sidekicks, the bruisers, the rogues, the heartbreakers, the cuckolds. Schiek says he selected and sequenced the portraits in a way of evoking what he calls “the American male stench”….sharp and pungent.

The resulting found photographs exhibit much abuse and wear as the result of repeated band handling, metaphoric to the lives of the men who stood in front of the lens. These are not photographs that have been framed and cherished. They reflect a used commodity during at time in which all parties would just as soon wish had never existed and resulting in memories that are best described as bad nightmares.

As a book object, this is a stiff cover with perfect bound binding and includes one gatefold. Regretfully also similar to the perfect binding of Crites “Mug Shots” in which the limited readability of the book’s interior contents is vexing. The introductory essay is by Vince Aletti and the Georgia prison photographs were found by Mike Brodie during his travels.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 11, 2013

Jane Fulton Alt – The Burn

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Copyright 2013 Jane Fulton Alt published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin

Upon initially viewing the color photographs of Jane Fulton Alt’s aptly title photobook “The Burn”, I was feeling more than a bit conflicted. First, her photographs are poetic, surreal, mysterious as well as lyrical.  As aptly stated by Deborah Gribbon in her essay, “Alt has a keen eye for gesture in landscape….the burn photographs are richly visual and invite a lingering inspection that both challenges and rewards the viewer….the majority of the works are vignettes; trees, wildflowers, prairie grass and cattails….the photographs seem mysterious and otherworldly because they confound the usual cues for perceiving space and scale.”

Regretfully living in Southern California, these same photographs also speak to a much darker narrative, that of the Western wild fires. Wild fires can quickly become savagely destructive, literally destroying thousands of homes in one fire season. Even when control fires are needed, like those photographed by Alt, these have not always burned as planned, one of which that went out of control burned thousands of acres and a few homes.

Thus I view these photographs with mixed emotions. But for me, that is a hallmark of a good body of work, that it can stir memories, activate the senses (I can almost smell and taste the dense smoke of a wild fire) and yet be visually interesting.

As an object, this square book is an image-wrap case bound book with four color printing on a semi-luster stock. It is of a medium size that makes handling and reading delightful.  The essays are provided by Jane Fulton Alt, Deborah Gribbon, Gary and Anastasia Friel Gutting and Michael Weinstein.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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September 7, 2013

Andreas Seibert – The Colors of Growth

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photographs copyright Andreas Seibert 2013 published by Lars Muller Publishers

The opening color photographs of Andreas Seibert’s The Colors of Growth, China’s Huai River appear lyrical, what may seem a documentary of a beautiful place for peaceful contemplation. Then the landscape, portraits and captions rapidly transforms into a haunting narrative of a huge ecological disaster that ebbs and crawls through the bowls of China.

This book is about globalization as much as it is an ecological call to action. The photographs record the dire consequences of unchecked progress of yet another developing county in the midst of rapidly transforming itself from a farming economy into an industry economy. Regretfully, these developmental disasters keep repeating themselves, but now at a vast quicker pace. Europe went through these times that spanned many hundreds of years, while the United States condensed this time into less than a hundred years. The notorious Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire thirteen times before the U.S. finally engaged the Clean Water Act in the late 1960’s. Seibert records the economics of a down-river business mentality, as long as the business folks live up-river of the waste-pipe of pollution, it’s not a problem. That is until the entire river essentially becomes a continuous waste-pipe of pollution, which is Seibert’s subject, a documentation of the conditions of the Huai River.

Seibert states in his introduction “My aim was to illustrate what I consider the most pressing questions of our ear in which economy is the leading paradigm; What is man’s relationship to nature, and, accordingly, what price is society wiling to pay for economic growth?”

Intertwined amongst the narrative of the personal impact of this polluted river are photographs of the polluted water, which are abstract and hauntingly beautiful.  These photographs would be easier to contemplate if they did not represent the amount of chemical s and human waste present in the water. Fortunately, the book is visual and does not provide the foul and terrible odors present at these locations, for that we have representative documentation, both visual and his subject’s quotes, provide by Seibert. Even so, these conditions are hard to fathom. Likewise it is very unfortunate how people can become trapped in these miserable conditions, perhaps a home to generations that within in a short duration has become intolerable.

The hardcover book has a dust cover and a horizontal format that is ideally suited to maximize a 35mm horizontal format image. The photographs are framed with a traditional white margin and the binding allows the book to fully open and be enjoyed. The book’s text and captions are provided by Seibert.

Note: From my six weeks in China, one of which was in the port city of LianYungGang where the Huai, after meeting the Yangtze River, empties in the Yellow Sea, I can attest to some of these dismal ecological conditions in China.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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August 17, 2013

Jacquie Maria Wessels – Cityscapes & Birdmen

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copyright Jacquie Maria Wessels 2010 published by Voetnoot Publishing (Amersterdam)

There are two really large genres in photography; one of which is the landscape (an investigation of where) and the other portraiture (an investigation of who). Of growing interest to me is where these two intersect, which is the case in both title and content of Jacquie Maria Wessels photobook Cityscapes & Birdman. Her book is akin to an interactive media as both inform the other and thus collectively creates a layered investigation about personal identity.

Wessels subject are the men of Republic of Suriname as well as the many Suriname men who emigrated to The Netherlands. Her subjects are obsessed with a weekly songbird contest which is conducted on every Sunday morning. The portraits of her subjects, made in the Republic of Suriname and The Netherlands, vary in pose and composition provides a sense of diversity as to who these men are.

The tightly framed urban landscape photographs provide an external context of her subject’s home environment situated on the northern coast of South America. Wessel’s is drawn to the colorful folk-art advertising on the storefronts and commercial buildings of Suriname, with the inclusive text frequently a mix of English and Dutch. Wessels has sequenced similar built-landscape compositions on facing pages, but slightly off-set from each other, which provides the reader with a sense of looking off to your side while walking down the street.

I find this photobook a delightful intersection of landscape and portraiture and a similar narrative to Amy Stein and Stacy Mehrfar’s photobook Tall Poppy Syndrome.

The interior photographs are printed on matte paper, each bordered by a small white margin of this image-wrap hardcover book. The binding allows the interior pages to be easily open and the book is a nice reading experience.  The image captions are provided with thumb-nail photographs in the “Legends” section at the end of the book. Essays are provided by Michiel Van Kempen with the text provided in both English and Dutch.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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August 13, 2013

Matej Sitar – America My Way

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 11:24 pm

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copyright Matej Sitar 2012 self-published by The Angry Bat

Tucked away inside the deceivably simple folding cover is an interesting and complex set of overlapping photobooks. The entirety focuses on selected moments of a road-trip journey, which in this case Sitar’s subject is the Pacific coast of the United States.

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Interior and three books – America, My Way

The three interior photobooks have a shared text but vary in regard to the photographic plates, where some of the images and text are repeated and common to all three book copies. To help illustrate, I have included examples below of the two alternative layouts; unique or shared.

I find that this is an interesting way to explore the differences in that can occur when experiencing a road trip amongst friends. It seems that whenever we gather after one of these events, regardless of length or duration, there are those things seen uniquely and others experienced as a group. The repeated photographs represent those events that for whatever reason are seared into the shared memory and become a common touch point.

Likewise, this is a very nice narrative on the aspects of memory and its preservation. The photographs that vary are a reflection of our individuality in looking and seeing, as well as how memory will change events over time.

Another alternative in reading these books is offed by Sitar as “to show the vast amount of possibilities that a journey can offer.” These books can be read singularly or as a group to create a triptych that increases the complexity of this narrative.

As a book object, it is rather complex and layered. The outer folding cover, with the essay by James A. Reeves printed on the interior side, is complete with a magnetic closure. The three interior stiff-cover photobooks are four-color offset printing with saddle stitch binding.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

Note: getting the color balance correct for the book interiors was very vexing this time, so just know that all of the books have the same off-white color of paper for each of the three books. I will take the credit for not getting the color corrected. Please limit your use of poison darts to just three.

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