The PhotoBook

February 16, 2011

Andrej Krementschouk – No Direction Home

Copyright  Andrej Krementschouk 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag

In the Thomas Wolfe book, aptly titled You Can’t Go Home Again, in which the title comes from the finale of the novel when protagonist George Webber realizes, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” 

As explained in Wikipedia (becoming one of my favorite sources for meaningless trivia as you might deduce from previous reviews), “You can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that after you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life, and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.

Andrej Krementschouk was born in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Russia has since moved to Germany and is now residing in Leipzig, but has been returning to his homeland Russia to investigate what remains. What he has found is illustrated in his 2009 book No Direction Home.

The rural countryside of Russia is not similar to the conditions that are found in the rural countryside of Germany, where there is air-conditioned farm tractors in Germany, while in Russia it is the natural air providing any relief to the process of farming. It is the contradiction in Krementschouk’s German reality that clashes with his memories of his Russian home that appears to provide the fuel for his discovery and attempt in understanding the contrasts. He straddles the two geographic and cultural locations, with a foot now firmly entrenched in both regions. He has the sophisticated and trained eye of a German photographer, but the soul and cultural heritage of a Russian artist. It seems that Kremenshouk is almost helpless in his the desire to be drawn back time and time again to his homeland; looking, seeing and investigating.

In the case of Krementschouk, returning home is also realizing that the reality of his youth is far different from what he perceived at the time, that he now experiences events and situations in a much different frame of reference and perhaps realizes the dire economic and social situations more acutely.

A personal journey by a man who is returning to his homeland after an absence and now experiences it with new eyes. The many things that might have been taken for granted are now questioned and examined, open to new investigation. The landscape, the villages, the culture, the society and family are not as familiar, they now seem different, probably much as KrementschoukKrementschouk now appears different to those friends, families, acquaintances and even the strangers of these villages, he acts different, seems different, perhaps even sounds different, and has become a stranger in strange land.

Some of us may not have ventured far from home and may have some difficulty comprehending Krementschouk’s perceptual shift. Personally, my family relocated back and forth across the United States while I was a youth, and at the time, I did not fully realize the cultural and social disorientation that were occurring. Today I understand it a little better now, such that this photobook resonates in a strange way with me, but looking back, as at the time I was taking it all for granted. I erroneously thought, this is just normally what families do. By the way, I think moving from the Western Pennsylvania to the Southwest of Phoenix and Yuma Arizona, and then back to the Midwest of SouthEastern edge of Michigan is a fairly decent cultural shift even within America, encompassing some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers). I have not really provided this cultural shifts much voice, but I now realize that it has altered the way I perceive things, many times in a different way than others who have not had similar experiences.

Krementschouk utilizes very saturated color in his documentary style photographs and the resulting images are usually crisp and clear. The excellent printing of this book really works to Krementschouk’s advantage. What I have found to be especially intriguing is the paring of photographs across the spread of this photobook.

In one of the early paring, first below, there is an older woman appearing to be asleep or resting comfortably on a single bed, the background wall is bare and the pillow, bedstead and her clothing appear simple and uncomplicated. On the facing page is a photograph of a sunlight window and a television on which appears to be two younger men in the military. This facing page is in color, while the television screen is in a surreal black and white, representing a dream like state for the older woman, that this is her dreams and fantasies of the young men in her past life.

In the second pared photographs below, on one side is an older woman who stands outside a log cabin building, but concealing her face and more importantly, her eyes. On the facing page is another dream like surreal photograph, this time a layer of grim or other layer of debris, a larger building is faintly seen, with a bright region in the upper quadrant. The two facing photographs create an interesting dialog and speculative narrative surrounding this older woman and this mysterious dream like state.

Then the next pair of photographs below are another strange narrative, the nature and condition of the reclining and potentially sleeping man is in similar disrepair and condition as the ratty and dirty snowman. Krementschouk appears to be asking us, how are these two similar or are they really that different? More questions and less obvious any answers.

In the following pair of photographs, we can observe what appears to be in one photograph, a broken home, literally with the roof caving in. This damaged house borders a primitive dirt road, with two ruts that were probably worn down by a horse-drawn wagon, and the ominous sky lurking overhead. It has a sense of mystery as well foreboding, a dying house perhaps in a dying rural village. The facing photograph is four men who have religious symbols, as though there to watch over and give last rites to this house and maybe the village itself. One man steadfastly holds the lantern, but is slightly bowed and has turned his head and eyes down, perhaps has difficulty with the emotional weight of what he is observing on the facing page. Another younger man stands upright, but is not looking upwards, yet grasping his throat, perhaps feeling a choking feeling. The man holding the orthodox cross barely has his eyes open, more closed than open, as the sight of what he is looking at is too difficult to comprehend. Finally the fourth man is holding a decorated staff, but he too is looking up and away from the scene on the opposing page, perhaps too difficult to look at directly.

I really enjoy the way the facing photographs play off each other, although at times I am not always sure of the narrative, as though I am not privy to a secret language. I am guessing that to be the case, that there is an odd mix of the German and Russian cultures relating to the ancient stories that have been handed down in this surreal smash-up, in the complex set of experiences that Krementschouk is attempting to sort out, both for himself and the viewer.

The text in this hardcover book is provided in English, German and Russian

by Douglas Stockdale

February 15, 2011

Vicki Topaz – Silent Nests

Coyright Vicki Topaz 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag

In his foreword to William Wylie’s photobook Route 36, the poet and essayist Merrill Gilfillan states, “It seems continually necessary to reassert that landscape study and its reflective arts are anything but passive disciplines, that civilization in a sustaining, daily sense emerges most surely from good relations with one’s surroundings (the perfect word) and the inner landscape of possibility held in the head and heart.” This is aptly applicable to the photographs of Vicki Topaz of her rural French landscape photographs that encompass her photobook Silent Nests.

Topaz is investigating the old dovecote dwellings, also called colombier or pigeonries, of Northern France, specifically in the regions of Normandy and Brittany. She experiences the presence of these decaying structures from the perspective of an American, without a French heritage, thus she is not emotionally tied to the fading memory of these symbolic French structure. Her outsider’s perspective enables her to place these structures into a different cultural context, to observe the structures as they exist today and attempt to create a dialog with their past.

The colombier structures are relics of a past grandiose period, symbolizing power, prestige, status, wealth, privilege and essentially the French aristocracy. In France, the size of the building, number of nests (boulins, literally pigeon holes) and even their presence was regulated by law, known as the droit de colombier. For the aristocracy, these were important economic resources during medieval and later times as they provided sustainable supplies of meat, eggs, feathers, and manure. As such, the pigeons were also protected by law, and these same birds prayed on the commoner’s crops, threatening their livelihood, even their existence. Immediately after the French revolution, the colombeir structures, which were such a threat and so despised that they were subsequently destroyed in mass. Now the animosity for these structures has mellowed with time and as Topaz has found, can be seen in a calmer light.

Most of these buildings are no longer in active use, the spaces once reserved for the pigeons are empty and bare, many of which have been abandoned, crumbling under their own weight from disrepair and a lack of maintenance. Similar to other structures that are left to its demise, these are gradually disappearing from the landscape. They are fading memories of another time, which is bittersweet and in front of Topaz’s lens, now provide a sense of silent brooding, empty and elicit a sense of melancholy.

Topaz has elected to eliminate the direct presence of the people who reside near these forlorn structures, which may be due in part as to where these buildings reside, on grand estates or in fallow fields. Nevertheless, these intricately built structures reflect the hand of mankind in their intricate design and construction. As symbols of power and status, they were very carefully built with enduring materials, unlike the nearby villages and homes of the commoners. But even so, when left to the elements, they slowly deteriorate as nature gradually reclaims the stones and timber.

In the flat lighting, overcast skies and barren trees, these structures appear like silent soldiers on a melancholy watch, standing guard over ghostly memories.

Topaz’s black and white photographs are composed with a square format that is static and lends to a sense of formality, perhaps in keeping with their aristocratic past. The narrow focus that abstracts the foreground and blurs the background has a shared impressionistic quality with the photographic work of Keith Carter, Maruro Florese, and Susan Burnstein. Likewise, photographing French structural relics that are quickly fading from the present in a documentary style is reminiscent of Eugene Atget’s turn of the century Parisian photographic work. Only on a few occasions do Topaz’s photographs tip the scale towards sentimentality, such as the cliché of a colombier framed with blossoms from the branches of a tree in Spring bloom. On the other hand, she creates moody, introspective and poetic narratives, with slightly dark undertones that are both mysterious and delightful.

The book is printed and bound in a hardcover with dust jacket edition, and the accompanying text is provided in both English and French.

By Douglas Stockdale

February 12, 2011

Lucy Hilmer – My Valentines

Copyright Lucy Hilmer 2010 courtesy of the artist

Over a period of twenty one years, Lucy Hilmer in partnership with her husband, daughter and many long stem roses, created a series of black and white photographs. These photographs were subsequently printed as postcards and mailed to family and friends to celebrate Valentines Day, an American holiday of love and romance.

Each year, Hilmer created their annual photograph within a constant motif, daughter in white, her husband in black and of course the long stem rose. The photographs vary in composition in conjunction with the steady aging of both her daughter and husband. Hilmer’s daughter is the principal subject in each photograph, with the flower and her husband providing a foil and counterbalance. In most of the photographs, the young girl gazes directly at the lens, engaging the photographer and subsequently the viewer.

Each valentine’s card is endearing and when viewed in a series, it is wonderful to see the young child develop into adolescence and eventual adulthood. We can perceive the changes, from a young, playful girl who is being directed, to one who is now understanding what the photographic process may create to finally becoming a willing model and partner in the creation of the body of work. The body of work is a sweet visual narrative about change, evolution, memory and the steady passing of time.

The photobook leads into the twenty one valentines and then follows with the background story for each photograph, with the contact sheet for the shoot and the cropping of each photograph. It is enlightening to see the raw shoot the development of the final photograph, but in the case of this photobook, more space is spent on the proofs and the background story than on the project itself.

The book ends with a series of self portraits in conjunction with her family. The subtle narrative of the book is around the creativity and transparency of an artist. For photographers, this is also a story about being out of sight as most artists are, yet having a desire to be seen, known and not forgotten. By reinserting herself into the epilog of the book, Hilmer is attempting to not be forgotten.

In the play Hair, one of the main characters expresses late in the performance that he wants to become invisible, but yet at the end of the performance, when he is no longer perceived to exist amongst his friends, he finds that it is not the result he desired. Likewise, photographers and artist, in creating a body of work, become invisible to the work that they have created. We may become familiar with the images of a photographer, but if that photographer who created these photographs was to walk by us; we would not as much as blink. That just may not be what the photographer has intended to happen, to become invisible.

This self-published hardcover book is beautifully printed and bound in Vancouver, Canada. The photographs are also accompanied by poems written by Hilmer.

by Douglas Stockdale

Henry Horenstein – Show

Copyright Henry Horenstein 2010 – courtesy Pond Press

Henry Horenstein is investigating the many small clubs and theaters that recently have become known as places for the performance of neo-burlesque for his latest photobook titled Show. In the United States the neo-burlesque’ roots dates back to the period of vaudeville, when the multi-act format performances were considered “polite” entertainment. In turn, this form of entertainment with the sexual innuendos, has roots back to the days of William Shakespeare’s bawdy plays in Ole England theaters, with the cheap jokes appealing to the rowdy knowledge of the working crowd.

As described by Wikipedia, burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes grotesque exaggeration. In Horestein’s Show, we have the double entrant characteristic of the neo-burlesque, everything that can be seen is on show and plainly visible, while the performance itself is defiantly a show to watch.

As evident in Horenstein’s photographs, the current neo-burlesque presents a much coarser material in a very thin veneer of respectability, but usually catering to a variety of bawdry and risqué performances. For the women performers, it usually means incorporating versions of the strip tease as clothing is progressively removed.. Performers attempt to illicit sexual fantasy, with sexually suggestive clothing and performances.

Horenstein does not appear that he is necessarily arguing that male and female entertainers who are engaging in burlesque are continuing a practice that objectifies men and women. His documentary style appears to reveal that many of those involved in burlesque are hard-working performers who are attempting to economically make ends meet. Evident is a raw energy, and not a Broadway production, even if you include the Off, Off, Off Broadway theater. Horenstein photographs the working class burlesque joints, which appear seedy, small, cramped, not high glamour or even equivalent to a B film.

His black and white photographs are high contrast and gritty images, part and parcel the result of the late night environmental and stage lighting conditions. The black and white of the photographs represent the abstract lifestyle of those persons involved in burlesque as compared to those who have a day job. His subjects are the performers and there are only the barest of hints about the audience (yes, pun intended) that keep these establishments and entertainers working. As performers, they know they are being observed and provide direct eye contact with the lens and thus the viewer. They invite close scrutiny; knowing that they are playing to the voyeurism of the audience.

One issue with this photobook is although Horenstein does an admirable job of showing these performers at work, at the end of the day, we still know little to nothing about them as individuals. It is probably obvious that these entertainers are not shy, but rather over the top, nothing that they do provides much to hide. His subjects seem to directly deal with what life has dealt them, such as the poignant photograph of the pregnant burlesque performer., who was photographed in 2008. Her child is now about two years old and you wonder, what is her story, is she still performing, is her child in the back wings of some small theater or is someone at home watching over the child, waiting for her return sometime that night?

With these photographs, we do not become very close to his subjects. We are provided with mostly the public performance, makeup, costume jewelry and outfits, with excerpts from the daily bump and grind. The book is more of a documentary of the performance of the burlesque performers. We are not introduced to them as individuals, sans makeup, and routine clothing. They remain symbols of our fantasy, dreams and maybe even our nightmares. We are provided the performers façade, the surface features of who they would like you to think who they are, versus revealing their true identity. His subjects hide themselves in their surface persona, thinking that if you can see all that you can see, you might not probe deeper into their concerns, fears, delights and worries. These performers remain a mystery, essentially their portraits revealing little about their inner selves as any portrait does. We become fascinated and distracted by their surface contours, which are usually fully revealed and thus distract the viewer from asking probing questions about them, a visual sleight of hand which most of them have probably become very adapt at.

There is a similarity in photographic style on this project as compared to his earlier photobooks, such as Anaimilia, reviewed here. Horenstein moves in close to his subject, to the point of abstraction, to pull out graphic details and abstract a subject that we have thought we were already too familiar with. Rarely do we see the entire person, the framing is relatively tight, leaving most subjects truncated, revealing details that imply something about the individual. 

Perhaps as the consummate photographic instructor, Horenstein offers a lesson for those developing a photographic project (and not necessarily with a photobook as an end result). He admits in his end notes that as this project evolved, it has had photographic twists and turns. His project began with environmental photographs using fast 35mm film, fast camera lens in conjunction with push development of the film. This evolved into the next phase utilizing studio set-ups photographing in conjunction with digital photographic equipment. Finally he made the decision to return to the theater environment with film, this time a medium format with flash. While Horenstein was shooting digital, there was also an opportunity to introduce color into the project, but after some consideration, he passed on that idea in order to maintain the consistency of the project in black and white. The project was completed and was held together by a consistent intent and an implied careful post editing.

 This photobook is available in a stiff cover edition, a hardcover with slip cover and a limited edition book with print.

by Douglas Stockdale

February 7, 2011

Hellen van Meene – Tout va Disparaitre

Copyright Hellen van Meene 2009, courtesy Schirmer/Mosel

Dazed and Confused may be an apt subtitle to Hellen van Meene’s 2009 Tout va Disparitre. The usual blank look of most of her young subjects seems to underlie their lack of understanding of why they are being staged as they are and subsequently photographed. The ensuing editing and sequencing of the book does little to provide many clues, thus we are left to depend on some direction from the book’s title (French to English translation “Everything will Disappear”) and the three regional cryptically titled sections; Pool of Tears (The Netherlands), America, Going my own way Home and St. Petersburg, Russia.

The book’s title stating that everything will disappear applies to the age of adolescence, that this period of personal development is transitional and in retrospect, briefer than it seems while enduring it, but is a statement that is applicable about the transitional aspects of life. With the perspective of looking back, time does fly between youth, adolescence, young adult, middle age and into the senior years. Van Meene has chosen to focus her lens on the troublesome period between youth and young adult.

But then again, perhaps dazed and confused is also the theme for those in the chaos of the age of adolescence, that terribly awkward place between youth and adulthood. Their bodies changing in unexpected ways, new emotions popping up in weird ways, desiring the perceived freedoms of adulthood, but still clinging to those safe places afforded the youth.

Only most those of this age do not usually need much coaxing to appear in that awkward state, but perhaps with a little patience, the awkwardness would naturally manifest itself. Thus, there is a more forced appearance to van Meene subjects, an underlying tension, that they appear manipulated in a manner that they are not comfortable with or understand.

The statement provide by the publisher, that of van Meene “showing her models between melancholy and a readiness to break out, between self-abandonment and reinvention” regretfully is lacking and not readily evident in but maybe a few of the photographs.

I do find her panoramic environment portraits of keen interest, with the ambiance, lighting and almost surrealist setting recalling the staged and hyper-real photographs of Jeff Walls. There a number of singular images that exsist independently of the attempted internal context of this book. As an example, the first photograph below of the young Russian girl in what appears to be a disheveled kitchen space. It is not known if she is taking us on a tour of her home, or a place that was found, as she looks at us (the camera lens) from the corner of her eyes, with her arms dropping to her sides and a relatively blank expression. She stands to one side, allowing the interior space to be revealed and her location within the frame acts a fulcrum and counterbalance to the disorder and clutter.

Likewise, in the second photograph below, this time in a run down section of America, a group of girls strike a pose on and around the front hood of a parked car. Unlike her other adolescent models, this group pose appears to be more fluid and a pose of their own making. The group of subjects in the center of the frame is very aware that their photograph is being made, but the young boy on the edge is unaware of the panoramic capabilities of the equipment being utilized. Thus his disinterred pose is unintentionally creating a counterbalancing discord and tension within the internal structure of the photograph.

The last photograph in the book, fourth below, reveals a panoramic expanse of a brown couch and adjacent chair on the green patterned carpet with the striped pattern wallpaper. The side lighting provides hints of the furnture’s textures as it fades into the darkness, with no evidence of van Meere’s adoledencent subjects, they are now gone and have disappeared from sight.

The essay by Dr. Colberg is provided in both English and German (Deutsch) text. The large book is beautifully printed in Italy with a hardcover and dust jacket.

by Douglas Stockdale

February 3, 2011

Danielle Mericle – Seneca Ghosts

Copyright Danielle Mericle, 2008 courtesy A-Jump Books

Mericle’s narrative of the white herd of deer in the Seneca Army Depot of Central New York State presents an ecological paradox; a story about restoration and hope. As part of the back story, the Seneca Army Depot is a major environmental pollution site resulting from the disposal of weapons and military waste over the many years of the Depots existence. As a result of the limited public access to areas within this site, it now provides a sanctuary for one of the largest herds of a rare white deer. This paradox is investigated by her photobook Seneca Ghosts.

Mercile provides hints, indications and fleeting glimpses of these weary animals as they transverse this rugged landscape. Similar to the photographic practice of Bernd and Hilla Becher, she has chosen the early winter period to conduct her investigation, where the heavy foliage from the trees has dropped, but yet the winter snow has not blanked the ground.  This is a time in which you can peek further into the landscape with the contrast of the white deer against the gray foliage and brown terrain has the largest amount of contrast.

Perhaps ghost like, the presence of something amongst the trees and brush is almost palpable. The clues provide the necessary hints; there beaten down deer runs, tree bark chewed away and grassy areas showing signs of grazing. When observed, it appears that the white deer’s presence is fleeting, usually of something blurring into the distance.

Where I grew up in Southern Michigan and Western Pennsylvania there are many wooden regions similar in appearance to the Seneca Army Depot of Central New York state. These three regions are “similar in appearance” by the commonality of the relatively flat terrain, variety of trees, brush, and weeds and it would be very difficult to differentiate between them. Nevertheless, Mericle’s photographic style that interprets many of the places within the Seneca Army Depot only faintly resembles my memories of these places.

In part Mericle’s landscapes photographs create an abstraction of nature, which lies within the prowess of the photographic medium, in which a long lens compresses and flattens space and a wide open aperture provides a thin slice of a precisely focused subject. I could not visually experience this place and have similar impressions without the benefit of a camera or other visual aid. Her landscape photographs create a lacy haze of delicate branches and limbs that overlap each other in a slightly crazy and complex kaleidoscope of lines and texture, which are exotically beautiful. Her photographs remind me of the dripped action paintings of Jackson Pollock, the Abstract Expressionist painter whose own studio was in a similar region of New York State.

Lurking in the edges of her photographs, occasionally as a backdrop, are the historical artifacts of this mysterious and abandoned place; artificial mounds grassed over, topped with rusting ventilation towers. The manmade structures are gradually becoming overrun by nature, with the steady encroachment of trees, brush and weeds. The steady reclamation of nature then provides the necessary food and shelter for the animals, birds and other wildlife of this region, especially for this herd of white deer. The concern is that the natural restoration is a very artificial condition and due to the nature of the environmental pollution present. This is also a narrative about adaptation and endurance of nature, that if provided an opportunity, a rebirth is possible, thus a narrative about hope.

The book has stiff covers and is perfect bound, illustrated with color plates. The full bleed photographs imply that we are glimpsing but a small part of this region that the space is more expansive than the photographs on the small pages portray.

By Douglas Stockdale

January 23, 2011

Kassel Photobook Festival – Dummy Book Award

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Doug Stockdale @ 9:12 pm

The 4th annual Kassel Photobook Festival is again sponsoring their 2011 Dummy Book Award.

From the Festival:  Enter your unpublished photobook for our Dummy Award 2011 now and win a complete book production.
The inaugural Dummy Award 2010 was one of the highlights of the last festival. From a total of 489 registrations and 431 submitted dummies, 56 books were chosen for the exhibition and competition.

Win a complete photobook production

Unpublished photobooks of any kind are admissible. This includes handmade artist books as well as digitally created editions. A jury made up of internationally renowned members will select the 3 best books. The winning book will once again be produced and published by our publishing and printing partner seltmann+söhne. This work will also be portrayed in the magazine European Photography. The 2nd and 3rd prizes will be sponsored by our partner blurb: The 2nd prize is books produced by blurb to the value of 500 Euros, the 3rd prize books to the value of 300 Euros. Both prizes include publication on blurbs »bluberati blog« (, »staff picks« (book presentations on the blurb bookstore website) and free entry to the blurb »Photo Book Now« 2011 competition. 3 works which catch the attention of our jury due to their outstanding photographic excellence but don’t fulfil the specific book design criteria will be rewarded with photobook dummy reviews by / White Press.

A major criterion for the prize selection is the successful merging of excellent photographic work with the special design elements of the book medium. To prepare for our annual Dummy Award we strongly recommend participation in one of the festival workshops that focus on the design and production of photobooks. One of the goals of the Dummy Award is to raise the quality of the photographic book.

So if you are interested and what more information, check it out here:

January 20, 2011

Kiyoshi Suzuki – Soul and Soul 1969 – 1999

Copyright estate of Kiyoshi Suzuki courtesy Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht, copyright 2008

In 1972 Kiyoshi Suzuki self-published his first photobook, Nagare no uta, which is known by the English translation Soul and Soul. Suzuki passed away in 2000 after self-publishing eight photobooks between 1972 and 1998. In 2008 Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht (Groningen, The Nederlands) created a retrospective photobook of Suzuki’s photobooks, titled Kiyoshi Suzuki, Soul and Soul, 1969 – 1999. It was after Suzuki’s passing that while working on a retrospective exhibition by the Noorderlicht gallery that the curator, Machiel Botman, and Suzuki’s widow, Yoko Suzuki, stumbled upon the book dummy for Soul and Soul.

The first ten pages of this photobook are re-photographed pages from Suzuki’s own book dummy for Nagare no uta, resplendent with penciled cropping marks and notes for margins, photograph layouts, page sequencing, and subsequent corrections. This is not a clean look at a polished photobook, but a candid peek into the personal development process, as these pages are a raw work-in-progress. My specific issue in arriving at a more encompassing appreciation of these pages is my inability to read Japanese, nevertheless Suzuki’s energy and desire to produce a photobook as he envisions is readily apparent.

This photobook is not meant to emulate a complete re-photographic presentation of Suzuki’s book dummy of Nagare no uta similar to Jeffery Ladd’s Arrata photo book replications, but more about the development of a book dummy that will eventually lead to the photobook. Like wise, counter to the book’s title and implied intent, the book is not restricted to only the photographic work of Nagare no uta.

After the first 10 pages of book dummy re-photographs, we can investigate five pages of the finished Nagare no uta, and are provided the reason for why Suzuki’s style is described as chaos with layer upon layer upon layer, as was his penchant for tiling and overlapping photographs on top of photographs.

The book is interceded with contact sheets, dummy book pages and finished photobook pages, but in a relatively incoherent manner, a mashup of Suzuki’s various photobook projects colliding together. It is extremely difficult to determine where you are in Suzuki’s career and which book you are peering into, creating a jumble of incoherent thoughts. What concerns me is that Suzuki seemed to be almost at the point of obsession of designing each of his photobook, that it was critical to him that the viewer would experience each page in a specific sequence and yet that is exactly what is not provided in this book. Instead we are provided with disjointed glimpses into the potential of Suzuki’s photobooks and it remains for us to seek out his original photobooks if we are intrigued by his vision.

Similar to the original Soul and Soul, the photobook is published with stiff covers and the dust jacket illustration is a replica of the Suzuki’s 1972 book dummy. The photobook is accompanied by includes a separate smaller colophon, in my case I have the English version.

by Douglas Stockdale

January 16, 2011

Mona Kuhn – Evidence

Copyright Mona Kuhn 2007 courtesy Steidl

In Mona Kuhn’s her first book, Photographs, there is an interesting mix of singular images with those that hint at a more complex narrative. Kuhn’s later photographs in her first book, with the shift to a color palette and groups of individuals, provides evidence that her style was evolving, cumulating in her next book, fittingly titled Evidence.

Providing an external context to her book title’s is the introductory statement; “The most immediate form of evidence available to an individual is the observation of that person’s own senses. An observer wishing for evidence that the sky is blue need only look at the sky.” Thus, we are invited to look and observe so that we find our own personal evidence.

As in her first book, the vast majority of her subjects are young men and women, athletic, tan and nude. Her subjects assume stances and positions per her direction, who seem to be vaguely interacting amongst themselves. Kuhn has continued to utilize a shallow depth of field to create an illusion of three dimensional space. The soft focus of Kuhn’s photographs still remind me of a color version of Keith Carter’s work and very close in feeling to that of Susan Burnstine’s surreal photographs. For her daytime photographs, as befitting the photographing of naturalist, there is a flood of nature light illuminating her subjects.

Kuhn does introduce a new spacial quality into this book, incorporating  the simultaneous reflective and transparent features of window glass. These qualities of the glass further enhances her illusion of three-dimensional space. By careful framing, without using polarizer to eliminate the mirror like reflections, she skillful utilizes the windows to create a larger volume of space. The sky and adjacent tree limbs are combined with the view inside the room, as on the cover of the book and the example at the bottom of this review. From experience, we can decifer these abstract photographs, but do so is to miss the abstract and surreal qualities that hints at a mystery and the unknown.

The reflective/transparency of glass speak to the traits of time and memory. To observe an object while catching a reflection of objects behind you is suggestive of being grounded in the current moment while having a glimpse into the past. Kuhn’s reflections on the glass windows are also similar in nature to memories; which become indistinct, hazy and not entirely focused.

I would also assert that Kuhn’s use of glass is very suggestive of the abstract traits of individuals regarding the duality of informing and concealing, perhaps similar to the state of nudity of her subjects. Like a glass window, we can permit others to see what is inside, simultaneously it is evident as to what resides on the surface, while yet concealing information. Glass is also a solid barrier, although translucent, it separates the inside from the outside.When an individual is nude and revealing their surface features, we know little, if most probably nothing, of what resides and is concealed in their hearts and minds. We may seek evidence of who these individuals are, but in the case of Kuhn’s subjects, other than the two-dimensional form on the page and their implied and frozen gestures, they are a complete and unknown mystery.

The photographs sequence concurrently with the passing of time, morning into night, and a shifting viewpoint, from an outside observer to an intimate insider.The passing of time in the sequencing is probably the easier of these two elements to discern. The initial photographs are full of morning light that moves quickly to mid-day and ends with an evening glow and the dark shadows of night. Although each photograph contains very static subjects, this sequencing provides a feeling of passing time.

In Kuhn’s initial photographs, she is positioned as an outsider, a voyeur who, like us the viewer, is looking in through the translucent glass windows. She is observing, while being observed. The returned steady gaze of her subjects inside the dwelling do not reveal any alarm, implying their passive acceptance. Kahn is perhaps an implied participant, as in one photograph on the bottom edge, we catch a small reflected glimpse of the photographer, whose own bare shoulders hints of her participation as a fellow naturalist, not an outsider attempting to create a documentary investigation.

Kuhn’s photographic point of reference then shifts, the implied barrier of the glass window is removed and the viewpoint becomes more direct and personable. There is more of sense of closeness conveyed by the proximity of the subjects to her lens, and the positions of the subjects amongst themselves. It does not appear to be always an easy  or comfortable relationship, with the viewpoint moving forward, then backing off, the focus shifting to other object emerging between us, the viewer, and her subjects. Likewise, her subjects are not always in the focus, sometimes sharply delineated, other times shifting to the background, becoming hazy, indistinct and less personable.

The static posing of Kuhn’s subjects, although initially intriguing, does not always seem to provide me with the desired narratives I had come to earlier expect. There are singular photographs within this book that I find exemplary, but the body of work as a whole appears too static and forced. Her subjects exhibit a consistent nonchalance, without much indication of any inner emotion. There is a strong sense of contemplation by the way the individuals look, carry themselves and are posed.  They have longing looks, indirect gazes, staring off the edges of the page and for the most part, not interacting amongst themselves. The early warmth within the photographs begins to cool with the arrested motion, repose and extensive objectivity. This is not unlike viewing an arrangement of ancient Greek statuary. As a result, I sense a slight uneasiness and awkwardness that creates an undercurrent of tension that becomes palpable, almost in direct contradiction to the more apparent easy lifestyle of the naturalist

I found one photograph, top image below, which has a beautiful elegance. In this case the graceful pose of her subject, although not appearing natural in the manner of her twisting on the chair with the shoulders pulling back, does create delightful flowing lines, tracing from the side of the head down to her chin and down the line of her neck, then connecting to her shoulder and down her arm to her hand draped on the cloth. Wonderful. In this case, the quite expression, slightly closed eyes, does appear contemplative, looking off the page, as though lost in thought, creating an interesting narrative. In this case, Kuhn has reverted to her early tight framing found in her first book, and using the shallow depth of field to throw both her subjects back shoulder out of focus, as well as the background interior space.

In another photograph, second below, I read an Adam and Eve narrative. The softly focused nude male and female are in the mid-area, the tree of life in the foreground and complete with a dark and menacing presence lurking in the background edges of the shadows.

Initially I found the photographs to be perhaps a little too structured, her subjects appearing to be lacking sufficient cohesiveness and the book having a feeling of being too stilted and static. The wonderful essence that Kuhn instilled into the color photographs of her first book, with a few beautiful exceptions, has seemed to elude her in this second book.

This book is very nicely printed and bound as are all of the Steidl photobooks

by Douglas Stockdale

January 11, 2011

The Gernsheim Collection at the Harry Ransom Center


Copyright the artist and respective estates 2010 co-published by Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press

In 1963 the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas, Austin made a wonderful investment by purchasing one of three photographic collections amassed by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim. It was, and probably still is, considered one the largest and finest collection of photographs in private hands. The collection included 35,000 photographic prints from the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, a research library of 3,600 book and journals, 250 autographed letters and approximately 200 pieces of early photographic equipment.

This book, The Gernsheim Collection, was published in conjunction with a large exhibition of this collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, which is the owner of the collection. As you might expect, this book provides only a hint of the breath and depth of this collection, as well as providing an exciting look at the history of photography.

I found that this collection, perhaps like most personal collections, directly reflecting the aesthetic tastes and opinions held by the Gernsheims, predominately by Helmut, who was at one time a professional photographer, and for a while, a member of the Royal Photographic Society. Helmut enjoyed landscapes, portraits, and especially architecture, which are well represented, but there is few if any fashion, news reportage or commercial photographs, which at the time the Gernsheims were collecting, were not really considered to be aesthetic photographs.

With a concentration on early English photographers, many of the names may not be familiar, such as Robert Hunt, George Cundell, John Shaw Smith, Sir William Crookes, John Spiller, and Benjamin Brecknell Turner to name a few. It was Helmut who early on became aware of the photographic body of work by the Rev. Charles Dodgson, who was better known by his literary name, Lewis Carroll. Helmut was also responsible for tracking down one of the earliest know photographic objects, the heliograph of Joseph Nicephore Niepce, which was created about 1826. The collection is also a reflection of fastidious and detailed research by Alison coupled with the dogged determination of Helmut and has provided us with historical information that might have been lost for the ages.

The essays by Alison Nordstrom and Mark Haworth-Booth complement the biography and narratives provide by Roy Flukinger, the book’s editor, which are a delightful and a relative easy read. Their thoughts are concise and flow evenly through this massive book.

The size of the book permits many of the photographic prints to be illustrated at scale, as well as appearing to have the original hue and tonality. Without the equivalent prints to compare, I think reading this book might be very similar to having the original object in your hands. For those with even a passing interest in the history of photography, I recommend seeking this photobook out, and you will soon become a master in photographic trivia pursuit.

by Douglas Stockdale

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