The PhotoBook

June 27, 2011

Squale – New York City.

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 8:37 pm

Copyright Squale 2010 self-published photobook

I recently received Squale’s 2010 self-published photobook New York City. and find myself in my usual bind. I have a number of photobooks reviews in progress that I need to finish or that I need to complete in order to maintain some semblance of current relevancy. So with this brief shout-out for Squale’s recent photobook, I am going to strike some kind of compromise. Firstly to help promote his book, because I think it is warranted, and second to initiate a virtual review process. As this small book is very travel worthy, I can add it to my travel stash, reflect on it and add more content to this review at a later time. I hope you agree.

As you might quickly surmise, this is a semi-documentary of the city of New York City (period) photographed in Black & White by a French photographer. Semi-documentary in that he uses a street-photographer’s stylistic method of creating his images, but these are his personal observations that have been altered by framing, exposure, vantage point, focus and focal perspective and subsequently edited and filtered through his personal and cultural experiences.

The stiff cover book has a translucent dust cover printed with the book’s title, printed in the United States, with perfect binding and without pagation or accompanying text. Similar to his earlier self-published photobook, Mauerreste, the photographs have a high contrast, but the photobook is printed in low contrast on matte papers.

By Douglas Stockdale


June 17, 2011

Myles Haselhorst interview – Ampersand

Filed under: Photo Book Stores, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:19 am


Ampersand, Portland, OR

While in Portland, Oregon recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Myles Haselhorst, the guy behind counter at Ampersand Vintage, a nice place to find both new and slightly read photobooks, gallery, vintage printed material and photographs, and most recently, Ampersand published books. Here are excerpts from our conversation;

Hi Myles, it is really nice to meet you and have an opportunity to discuss your background and how Ampersand came about. Would you mind providing some details on your back story? I understand your degree is in lit, so how did you make the transition from school to a shop keeper for a photographic book store?

I started Ampersand in 2005, first as a home-based business, & now as a gallery & showroom in NE Portland that I opened in fall 2008. In essence, the business grew out of my love for literature, reading & the book as an object, but I’ve also always been drawn to photographic images & visual culture in general. The idea of owning a bookstore has always been with me, but when I really started to work toward that goal, finding & selling used books on the internet was becoming a viable thing. One effect the internet had on book selling was a dramatic reduction in the value of certain types of books. In response, I chose to specialize & seek out items that tended to be unique & thereby hold their value. Photobooks, for a number of reasons, tend to increase in value over time. Economics aside, photobooks were a draw because of their inherent narrative value. A good photobook can produce an experience equal to reading the richest of novels or a well-composed poem.  

 It appears that your current objectives extends beyond just the buying and selling of photographic books, to include vintage photographs and ephemera. Has that always been the case? What is the interacting dialog amongst these three genres; photographic books, vintage photographs and ephemera?

A large part of owning a business like Ampersand is scouting & hunting for new material. In the process of collecting like this, one’s eye can’t help but stray to other types of material such as the vintage snapshots & ephemera that I sell alongside photobooks. In general, it’s a reflection of my disparate interests, but as you’ve noted I’m trying to create a space where there’s a dialog between books produced by artists & the vernacular visual materials that our culture creates as a byproduct of existing. The connection between the two is strong & my hope is that Ampersand is space where both can be viewed in close proximity.     

You have chosen to create a gallery space amongst your book stacks, did you originally envision a gallery or did this evolve? Interestingly a number of galleries how include a small book store, but for you, it appears that the books came first. These do seem complementary but adds another layer of complexity.

I’d say my passion for books came first & the gallery followed as an experiment. Again, I think it traces back to the diversity of my interests. It’s an engaging (& often exhausting) exercise trying to find work that relates to my book & vintage materials inventory. More importantly, I try to find work that relates to my interest in how pedestrian visual culture ultimately gets reproduced as art. In that sense, most of the work I’ve shown is derived from found materials of one kind or another, or it has been vintage material that I’ve found & formed into a show, sometimes successfully, often times not. The gallery is also a response to my opinion of galleries in general. Few people live in starkly-lit, white-walled boxes. Chances are that if one collects art, he or she also collects photobooks & maybe old photos, antique correspondence, arcane recipe books, etc. Collections of this sort & art coexist in our homes & apartments, which I find fascinating, so I wanted to create a space that celebrates this kind of interrelation.

Speaking of complexity, with your recent exhibition, Our Time, you have pursued a new venture in publishing a catalog. I have noted that a number of galleries have taken similar steps in self-publishing their exhibitions in a book form, so what was this experience like and what do you now foresee as your future in book publishing? Are you going to consider only exhibition catalogs or venture beyond this, and if so, where would you want to take this?

Our first book coincides with our current show, Our Time, which features paintings by Dan Gluibizzi. Though not a photobook per se, Dan’s work does address issues of photography in that all his watercolors are derived from anonymous digital photos people post on the web. In most cases the figures are nude—they are exhibitionist, nudist, amateur porn makers—& Dan’s work invites us to consider how digital photography & the internet has allowed for a proliferation of this type of photograph. As with all catalogs, the basic idea was to create a record of the show that provides context & also serves as an alternative to owning one of Dan’s works. We also wanted to create something that is collectible in its own right, hence the limited edition & our attention to design & production standards. Whether or not the book came out exactly as I envisioned it is arguable, but it does successfully convey the nature, complexity & character of Dan’s work, which was the primary goal.

I’ll continue publishing exhibition catalogs in cases where the work lends itself to reproduction & the artist wants to participate in the process. In fact, our next show features work by Portland photographer John Ryan Brubaker, who first showed me his photographs in the form of a small photobook he had made by hand. Over the year he made several changes & it eventually occurred to us to make a show that deconstructs the book & presents it as art pieces on the wall. Of course, the book itself will also be available in a limited edition, a few of which will come with original silver prints & others that will be completely handmade by Ryan. 

Beyond that, I’d like to produce small edition books that further investigate the sheer abundance of found visual material that finds its way into Ampersand. Returning again to the idea of experimentation, small edition, self-published books allow one to experiment with papers, inks, printing  & binding without much financial risk, which is exciting. A mistake in one publication can be refined & corrected in the next. In that, I guess the process is as paramount as the final product–it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.

What are your thoughts about photography and Photobooks here in Portland and generally in the Northwest?

There’s an active photography community here in Portland. Galleries like Charles Hartman & Blue Sky continue to exhibit great shows. The Newspace Center for Photography provides an excellent platform for photographic eduction with juried shows & incredible resources. The new Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan, has thus far been very active in engaging the community from her position as curator. Plus we have Nazraeli Press here in town & photographers like Raymond Meeks (we showed his work in April), who is active in making photographic artist books. & there’s Photolucida, the portfolio review that takes place every two years & brings a large influx of photographers, gallery owners & curators to the community. All that said, I’d say that serious buyers & collectors of photography & photobooks here in Portland are still rare birds. But in general the photobooks are selling well, even without listing online, & I’m optimistic that local interest in photography books will continue to grow.

As you are actively buying, trading and selling photobooks, what trends and future do you foresee in photobooks, which seems to be a hot button in photographic conversations on the web and elsewhere? What are your thoughts on the increasing quantity and varying quality of self-published books?

The sheer abundance of photographic books being made is remarkable. As a buyer for a store, it’s difficult keeping up with everything that is available. I’m sure collectors face the same problem—making sense of what & what not to buy, especially when edition numbers are often low & certain books sell quickly. That’s why online resources such as yours, Jeffrey Ladd’s blog & The Indie Photobook Library are so important. Which is all to say that beyond the books being published by the main photography publishers, there’s this rich culture of independent, self-published & small press photography books. So, that’s one obvious trend.

To be honest, I really haven’t decided what my role as a bookstore should be in relation to this type of book. By & large, it’s a type of media that has been facilitated & fertilized by the internet. That’s not to say that the books are created because of the internet, but rather the internet has created a community of distribution & commentary that allows the books to be viewed, discussed & ultimately purchased. At a basic economic level, a bookstore may question carrying a title that collectors can in most cases buy direct from the artist. That said, independent books that I do carry sell best when there is a strong relation between the content & the design of the book. That’s an obvious statement, but it’s actually something that’s very difficult to achieve. An example of a recent title that did achieve this is Firework Studies by Pierre Le Hors, published by Hassla. At surface it’s an understated & simple book, but it invites one to perceive multiple layers of meaning. In a way, it’s kind of taxonomy of fireworks & the word “studies” lends to it this sense of scientific pursuit, so, appropriately, the book has the shape & feel of a field manual. I sold several copies out of the store & in each case the buyer’s were drawn as much to the design of the book as its content. Hassla always seems to produce nice books, so it’s a sure bet ordering in their titles. How to judge the quality of all the other books out there is difficult. Perhaps I should invite photographic bookmakers to submit examples so that I can consider selling them at Ampersand.

The impulse to create photographically illustrated books & documents is obviously not new. Though “trend” may not be the right word to describe it, more & more attention is being paid to photographic books & albums that were made by anonymous persons or commercial entities in the past. Aperture recently published a book titled Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography & there are others like it. While it’s engaging reading books of this kind, it’s even more rewarding collecting examples of the albums & books they investigate. Though abundant, it’s not always obvious where to find them & when you do, chances are you may own the only copy that exists. Among the examples that I’ve found recently is a stapled book of photographs & text documenting the working procedures & machinery of a Japanese wire rope manufacturer. Beyond the pleasure of seeing a very specific form of industry, the book is remarkable in that it was so obviously handmade—looking at it, you really get a sense of the design decisions made by its creator. So, that’s one aspect of Ampersand that I’ve always tried to cultivate, this notion of finding examples of photographically illustrated books, albums & documents that are one of a kind & say a lot about our impulse to use photographs to convey & illustrate information.

Myles, this was a great discussion and I appreciate the opportunity to spend this time with you. Are there any other thoughts you want to share in closing that perhaps I missed?

Thanks for showing interest in the space & proposing the interview. It’s been fun. I’d like to add that one thing I take for granted owning a space like this is the small community of regular customers that has developed over time. It really makes coming here everyday an enriching experience. Small galleries & bookstores become hubs for dialog & conversation in ways the internet can’t quite reproduce. Everything I have here at Ampersand is carefully selected; I have a personal attachment to it. As a result, buying something from Ampersand is not just an act of paying for & acquiring a thing, it’s a way of participating in the act of curation, in the dialogs & creative impulse I hope the space encourages. There are places like Ampersand dotted all over the world; at the risk of sounding preachy, I really encourage readers of your blog outside of Portland to seek them out (if they have not already) & patronize them.

Myles Haselhorst with Douglas Stockdale

Note: Ampersand has expanded their bookstore and gallery in late 2011.



June 13, 2011

Chris Dickie Passes Away – Ag magazine

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 1:39 am


Ag Journal, UK

As posted on the web site for the Ag Journal:

12th June 2011 Due to the sudden death of publisher Chris Dickie, Ag magazine is currently on hold. All subscribers will be informed as to the future of the publication once a decision has been made. Picture-box media will not be taking any new orders for back issues of Ag or any other Picture-box publication for the time being. If you have any questions about outstanding orders please contact Picture-box media using the contact link below. We thank you for your patience at this difficult time.

Regretfully, I did not have an opportunity to obtain any of the Ag magazine, as they were not readily available in the US. I was frequently on the look out for this magazine while transitioning through the airports in London and Manchester, not always the best of magazines venues, but I have been lucky in the past.

One book that I am very aware of is Dickie’s how-to book Photo Projects (pub 2006 Argentum, an imprint of Aurum Press Ltd) which I had found in 2007 during a pivotal developmental period while I was beginning to investigate my utilization of photographic projects. Dickie’s book appeared at just the right time for me.  I found his writing easy to comprehend, articulate without being becoming too abstract, and making  a whole lot of sense for the concept of working on photographic projects. He provided excellent rationale and reasons for photographic projects and I have subsequently leaned on these during my photobook workshops.

One of the photographers featured in Photo Projects to illustrate one of Dickie’s points was Simon Dension and his book Quarry Land, especially as Quarry Land resonated so strongly with a personal project that I was in mid-development at that time: In Passing. I went on to acquire Quarry Land and Dension subsequently gave me permission to use one of his statements in his book to use as a quote for In Passing. BTW, my brief comments about Quarry Land was posted on my personal blog Singular Images prior to starting The PhotoBook, so I guess I need to provide an updated book review some time soon, eh?

Also a related post on FaceBook by Beth Dow > I’m sad to report the death of Chris Dickie, the tireless and witty engine behind the fabulous English photography journal AG. I met him way back in the day he was still publisher and editor of the British Journal of Photography (BJP) and was honored to also be featured in AG as well as his Photo Projects book. My husband, Keith Taylor, wrote several articles for AG. His voice was unique in the industry, and he will be missed.

BTW, it was in Photo Projects that I first became aware of Beth Dow’s striking photographs.

June 10, 2011

CCNY – Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:25 pm

CCNY – Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair

open call for entries

The CCNY Zine and Self-Published Photo Book Fair is a two day fair, July 16th & 17th
The public is welcome to submit as well as check out self-published photo-books and photo-zines
All the proceeds go back to the artists (unless they wish to donate to us)
It’s a awesome, free event for people to come and check out photo books.

As part of this year’s Zine and Self-Published Book Fair, CCNY is offering a special workshop course, ZINE IT ALL, taught by Tuomas Korpijaakko.


Artists and small publishers are welcome to submit up to 3 different books or zines (limited to 3 copies of each). There is no fee to submit, and all proceeds will be returned to the artist or small publisher. To submit your zine or self-published book please mail or drop off your book during our gallery hours, Monday-Saturday, 12-6pm.
All submission must arrive at CCNY by July 9th, 2011.

Organized by Lindsey Castillo

May 25, 2011

Renate Aller – Oceanscapes

Copyright Renate Aller 2010 courtesy photo-eye, Oceanscapes co-published by Radius Books & Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg

Renate Aller began to photograph and investigate the ocean landscape near her adopted American home, perhaps wistfully looking out towards her native home across the Atlantic Ocean. In the ensuring ten years, her studies developed into this titled work, Oceanscapes. Her spirit is similar to Edward Steichen, when he photographed the small section of hisConnecticut backyard, intrinsically being drawn to the same place, photographing as a cathartic act.

Her photographs are minimalistic and embody three simple elements, the ocean, the sky and a horizontal line between them. As to where she actually photographed her subject remains ambiguous. She states that the photographs were made from the same advantage point, but there are no artifacts in her landscape that might verify this fact, such that these photographs appear that they might be made anywhere along the Eastern coast where there is an unobstructed viewpoint.

Over ten years she has captured a wide range of the atmospheric conditions that embody a full range of moods played out in a diverse palette of hues and tonalities. She has diligently maintains a practiced eye for the atmospheric conditions that occurs both over the span of a day as well as seasonally. Her sensitivity to the moods emanating from the atmospheric light, which are played out and reflected back by the conditions of the ocean, has allowed her to orchestrate the sky and ocean into an elegant dance around the horizontal boundary. The sky and ocean has provided her with a seemingly endless palette for a minimal subject.

The ocean is real and tangible, endlessly stretching out to meet the horizon, while the sky has a minimal tactical essence and extends out to infinity, but the horizontal line is an artifact, an optical allusion, a boundary which does not occur in nature. The ocean and the sky are two relatively limitless entities. Contemplated for centuries, water is a source of physical nourishment, while the sky extends to the heavens, a source of spiritual nourishment. The horizon is where these two entities meet, a place where the physical encounters the spiritual.

Aller’s photographs are meant to extend beyond literal interpretations, as were Alfred Stieglitz’s famous “equivalent” photographs of clouds over his summer home onLake George. To attempt to focus on either the season or time of day that the photograph was created is to miss the subtle narrative about time and memory. Aller avoided the cliché of long photographic exposures to investigate the concept of time but rather utilizes the sequencing of the photographs in her book to create this narrative.  Contemplating these photographs, I also find that the solitude and emptiness elicits a darker sense of melancholy, an undercurrent in contradiction to the more apparent light and open space that is portrayed.

Aller’s Oceanscapes are sharply delineated with saturated colors, which are beautiful rendered by the fine printing of this book.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 22, 2011

Michael O’Brien – Hard Ground

Copyright Michael O’Brien 2011 courtesy of University of Texas Press

Over a period from 2006 until 209, Michael O’Brien embarked on a different journey for a photographic project, picking up from an earlier self-assignment that harkened back to 1978 soon after starting his photojournalism career. Over this three years on Tuesday evenings, he photographed the faces of the homeless at the Mission Possible Community Center located  East Austin Texas.

O’Brien states “I was again finding my place with the disenfranchised, using the camera to document, and relate. The more I photographed, the more I felt the need to connect with the human beings before my camera. These gentle, worn and vulnerable souls sat quietly across from me and looked directly into the lens. Whatever energy was going out was coming back in kind. These urban wanders were giving me a reason and purpose for my work

The process of photographing his subjects with a combination of a view camera and Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film, a black and white photographic medium, creates many possibilities for O’Brien. Using a view camera is a slow and deliberate process and provides opportunities to initiate a dialog with his subjects. The positive/negative film provides immediacy in the feedback of the photographic process to both the photographer and more importantly, to his subjects. The positive layer creates a delicate black and white print that O’Brien provides to his subjects, holding back the negative layer for subsequent printing. O’Brien’s portrait project finally came to a conclusion when the Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film he was using ceased to be available.

O’Brien subjects are photographed in front of neutral mid-gray seamless background, temporarily suspended from their current conditions. Unlike his photojournalism photographs, we do not see his subject’s surrounding environment, unless his subject desires to introduce these elements; Bobby and William in their wheelchairs, Ronnie and Robert standing with might be the entirety of their worldly possessions. The consistency of this gray background also symbolizes that all of his subjects are now in a similar place, regardless of their journey on the road that brought them to this place. O’Brien also appears to flex his portrait framing in collaboration with his subjects, varying from a very tight facial framing, to a middle viewpoint that allows inclusion of couples with their children and occasional a full standing portrait to reveal his subject in their entirety.

His lighting provides a mix of soft highlights balanced with open and revealing shadows, in conjunction with a medium contrast range with the shadows falling away into a mysterious darkness. I sense this lighting is symbolic of his subject’s lives on the street, open but not concealing everything, warily holding back a little while continuing to assess each situation. To read their stories, many of his subjects have suffered too many ill consequences while homeless to entirely let their guard down.

O’Brien also chooses a photographic methodology that creates a narrow slice of sharpness, focusing on their eyes, the allegoric pathway to their souls, allowing the remaining details of the person to fall softly away. He allows his subjects to determine how they wish to be seen, many looking into the lens with a prolonged gaze. By focusing on the subjects eyes in combination with the catch light from his lighting creates portraits that are riveting, perhaps similar to Martin Schoeller’s Female Bodybuilders and Marco Delogu’s The Thirty Assassins.

There are also present on the edges of the photograph images the latent marks that are indicative of the Type 55 P/N film. These marks create a consistent framing mechanism, allowing the photographs to be frequently printed full bleed in the book, while allowing the principal portrait content to remain within the pages. Another subliminal message from using this framing technique is to inform the reader that you now see exactly what he witnessed. These uncropped documents are a direct capture and a testimony to his creative pre-visualization. Regardless of aesthetics’, I find the use of this framing technique to create a subtle rawness that is complementary and in this case, it works.

 In viewing these portraits, I really have difficulty understanding where they are coming from and I do not know where they are going next. They stand before his lens as a mute witness to the fact that they have survived to this moment in time. These are beautiful photographs of people who for whatever reason have now found themselves homeless or otherwise in need.

In conclusion, O’Brien states; “I felt a kinship with the people I was photographing. True, I have a home, a wife and three children. I wasn’t close to living on the street. But I was uprooted by the (photojournalism) industry’s changes; I, too, was unsettled, floundering, often unemployed, trying to find a way to regain my balance and place. This project, and these subjects, gave me back my anchor.”

The hardcover book is accompanied by a dust cover, printed and bound in China. The introduction is provided by O’Brien and the project is complemented by the poetry of Tom Waits. In the Notes contained in the Afterword, many of the subjects provide a voice to their current situation, mostly unimagined while viewing their portraits.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 16, 2011

Mariken Wessels – Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut off


Copyright Mariken Wessels 2010 courtesy Alauda Publications

Mariken Wessels has again created another interesting and complex narrative based on found photographs in conjunction with borrowed memories for her photobook Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut off. Wessels’s earlier book, which was re-published by Alauda Publications, Elisabeth – I want to eat, was an investigation into the dichotomy between a normal external appearance and internal downward spiral and chaos. In Queen Ann, the discourse has been reversed, where the subject of this narrative is in denial with her external reality as to who she has become.

Wessels, who orchestrates this semi-fictional story about Anne, (Dutch name is Anika), combines found photographs to mesh with those appropriated from Anne. It is implied that Anne is responsible for defacing, decorating or otherwise attempting to alter the obvious reality of who she is at the moment. Wessels investigates how a person will choose denial; avoiding accountability and dealing with the consequences of personal choices.

As with her earlier book Elisabeth, this story unfolds sequentially, focusing on the attractiveness of her mother when she was younger. The earlier portrait of her mother has subsequently been marked over with dark lines and scribbles as marks of rejection. The there is a transition to Anne when she was young, a pudgy young girl standing next to her attractive mother, but who now is decorated to resemble a clown, while Anne has an additional hand-colored garment, what Anne describes as a sailor suite, but effectively to conceal her size even at that age.

When Anne becomes older, there appears to be a dark episode, perhaps a dream or even a nightmare, narrated by a set of blurry black and white images. The borders have thick black edges, almost engulfing the image, adding an ominous and mysterious element. Anne is running nude with her mouth gaping open, perhaps mid-scream? It is a traumatic event, perhaps even life altering, an event that is so traumatic as to be suppressed, and has subsequently emotionally scared her for life. In one frame, Anne appears to a willing participant in this sexual event, that this might have been an extra-marital fling, and now her hidden scarlet letter? Wessels opens a question about repressed and unspoken events that have lasting consequences but are difficult to deal with when concealed, dark secrets that can not be mentioned, to anyone.

It is after this dark event, that we witness the rapidly increasing size of Anne, who appears to have little or no control over her situation. Now in these subsequent photographs, Anne has been hand-coloring hats, scarves or altering her make-up to clownish proportions as well as attempting to conceal her overweight girth. The act of altering these photographs introduces an underlying tension and friction between Anne and the viewer, as the viewer becomes engulfed with the obvious subterfuge.

Wessels increases the complexity of this book with the inclusion of a sealed glassine envelope, which the translucency is sufficient to be able to discern that there are five individual photographs enclosed. The question; is it necessary to open the envelope and examine the additional photographs? And what consequence would that act have in providing clues and understanding to this narrative? The alternative is keep the envelope sealed; only to examine the photographs through the glassine envelope to attempt to gain further information?

Metaphorically, the photographs in the glassine envelope are similar to photographs that are not in a glassine envelope, only that with the photographs in the glassine envelope; there is a realization that only part of the information can be obtained. When looking at an unencumbered photograph, we suppose that all of the information is readily available, which in reality it is not. The photographs in the glassine envelope provides the same limited information as one that is out of the glassine envelop, we just are not aware of that condition, much as we are not aware of what Anne is concealing and not fully divulging.

As Wessels narrative evolves towards the conclusion, she includes another decorated photograph by Anna (Anika), who pens within the margins a very rhetorical question; Ben ik nog te redden? (Is there any hope for me?) As with any rhetorical question, this and the questions raised by this book proceed unanswered.

Identical in size to Alauda Publications edition of Wessels’s Elisabeth – I want to eat, the book has stiff covers with perfect binding, with all of Anne’s handwritten notes translated from Dutch into English, accompanied by a sealed glassine envelope containing what appears to be five photographs.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 14, 2011

Mona Kuhn – Native

Copyright Mona Kuhn 2009 courtesy Steidl

It has taken me a little longer to review Native, the third of the Kuhn titles published by Steidl (Photographs, 2004, and Evidence, 2007) as I am intrigued by her photographic books. I very interested in acquiring and reviewing her earlier work to place this book into a broader context. I sense that her vision has matured and see evidence of the subtle but wonderful changes reflected in each subsequent photobook.

Native is in essence a landscape book in the broadest sense, perhaps better described as an intimate, maybe even private, landscape. There is a wonderful mix of natural habitants which explore inner emotions and feeling combined with interior landscapes that frame an inner place, again both physically and emotionally. The explorations of the terrain are poetic descriptions of dense eco-system; tightly framed and composed in lush saturated greens with sparkling dewy highlights, resulting in an abstraction, without really defining an actual location and place.

What might be best described as interior landscapes are bare walls, translucent windows and an interior space. In and amongst these places are her nude subjects, who provide an introspective chemistry to this body of work. In contemplating these intimate landscapes, it becomes all the more private as Kuhn indirectly reveals herself.

Consistent with her earlier practice, Kuhn’s photographic style embraces her use of a mix of sharply focused with narrow or out of focused images, which are not sharply defined and in fact abstract, as though she is providing the opportunity to participate in a shared but softly defined memory.

One key aspect of a book versus an exhibition, or even a group of individual photographs, is the sequencing and order of the photographs. I will admit, while initially scanning a new book, I don’t always proceed from the beginning of the book and sequence to the back, nevertheless, a book is planned for that eventuality.  Native shares with Kuhn’s prior book, Evidence, in sequencing from a sun drenched daytime to a final eerie and inky black night-scape, creating a sense of passing time. The duration of time is an unanswered, but intriguing question. Since this is Kahn’s second consecutive book providing a subtle narrative alluding to the passing of time, the passing of time is an important concept for her, but the details of which are both vague and alluring. She creates sufficient space to insert our individual stories about the meaning of the passing of time.

The very first photograph in the book is an interior photograph; the viewpoint includes curtains in disarray bordering a window, beyond which appears an early morning light. It is the start of a new day as well as the beginning of her narrative for the place of her birth. The subsequent photographs of the terrain, interiors and her models, progress from open light to cast shadow, ending with the mysteriously darken jungle.

In this book, Kuhn’s subjects evoke a sense of intimacy that they are comfortable in their skin and situation, without the feeling of being forced into unnatural positions and static interactions. In her first Steidl book, Photographs, the models in the Black and White series appear to be friends and acquaintances. On the contrary, the arrangement of her models in Evidence feels pushed, creating an unrequited tension that runs counter to the potentially relaxed situations. It feels that with the transition to the photographs for Evidence, Kuhn has to provide more direction without the opportunity to develop the same sense of personal connection, trust and intimacy.

The men and women who inhabit Kuhn’s Native are allowed to directly connect with the viewer. I am not sure of the reason for the changes in her working methods for this current book, but for me it is noticeable and appears to me that she has created a very interesting body of work as a result.

Kuhn has captured a sense of calm and a strong feeling of introspection. I also note that in this book, her subjects are native to the environment and have shared backgrounds and potential relationships. There appears to be a desire to avoid complex multi-subject arrangements and by simplifying the compositions, has created more intriguing narratives. Through the book, her portraits are occasionally pared up with photographs of the natural terrain, creating another complex layer of questions about relationships, equivalence and connections, and I find no easy answers.

In traditional Steidl style, this photobook is beautifully printed and hard bound, with splendid essays by Shelley Rice and Wayne Vesti Anderson, both provided in English. This is Kuhn’s best book to date and recommended.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 8, 2011

Swann Galleries photobook auction – May 19, 2011

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:39 pm

Swann Galleries Important Photobooks and Photographs catalog – May 19, 2011

For photobook collectors, the annual Swann Galleries PhotoBook auction in NYC is quickly approaching. Their illustrated catalog in and of itself is a wonderful collection of trivia, information and a pulse on the relative value of the photobooks that you are sitting in your library. The catalog is inclusive of both the photobooks and photographs in the auction, thus a great two for one value at $35.00 US.

by Douglas Stockdale

May 6, 2011

Stefan Vanthuyne – From Here Into Oblivion

Copyright Stefan Vanthuyne 2010 published by Art Paper Editions courtesy of the artist

I must admit, the first photobook by the Belgium photographer Stefan Vanthuyne is very cryptic, with only a quotation from Oscar Wilde to provide any hint of guidance. His color photographs depict a combination of medium distance landscapes intermingled amongst portraits of people.

The landscapes are all devoid of people and predominately located in urban places. The photographs investigate in a documentary style that attempts to objectively describe what is before the lens. In many of these landscape photographs, there is an object that seems to stand out and which is centered within the pictorial frame, as though this is a portrait of that natural object. The photograph of a singular and sunlit exposed tree root amongst the wooded forest is very similar to the photograph on the preceding page of the young child standing in a grassy clearing before a wooded lot. The photograph of a small dead pine tree centered on the book’s end page is the portrait of a small dead pine tree.

All of the people photographed are intimate and close, looking at something other than the camera lens, save one. Vanthuyne also professes to be interested in exploring the concepts of identity and self, thus the casual and personal relationship between subject and camera implies that the individuals photographed are probably friends, family and acquaintances of Vanthuyne. It is not evident from the photographs that this is necessarily a true statement, but seems to be implied.

The occasional pairing within the book of a landscape and portrait photograph hints at a relationship and potential evidence about the identity of the individual. One pair of photographs that I found very intriguing, second below, is a road with a pile of household trash on the edge of the woods and on the facing page is a photograph of a young woman sitting on a couch inside a room of a house. For me, this pair of photographs raises many questions; why are these two photographs paired up, as this is not an accidental pairing, is there a correlation between this pair of subjects, and is this statement about the trash heap as it may relate to the young woman or about the woman as she relates to the trash heap? Is this about equivalence or a contradiction of differences? Does the mangled heap of trash relate to the disarray of the clothing and messy spread that is under and surrounding the girl as she sits on the couch? Unanswerable questions abound.

I feel similar to the Oscar Wilde quote that Vanthuyne has provided, in which I am unmoved by this photobook. But that may be a key point of this photobook;

The great events of life often leave one unmoved; they pass out of consciousness, and, when one thinks of them, become unreal. Even the scarlet flowers of passion seem to grown in the same meadows as the poppies of oblivion – Oscar Wilde

I have too many questions and not enough answers. Yet I have now carried this slim book with me on numerous trips over the past four months; looking, reading, wondering and questioning. To say that the book is subtle is an understatement, perhaps to the point that it may not have enough structure. The book leaves me off-balance, which in the end, is not a bad thing.

The book has a soft cover with the pages creased, folded and assembled, without any binding. The afterword, in English text, is a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde.

By Douglas Stockdale

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