The PhotoBook

August 12, 2015

Mary Ellen Mark – Man and Beast


Copyright 2014 the estate of Mary Ellen Mark

Photographer: Mary Ellen Mark (1940 – 2015)

Published & copyright: 2014

Publisher: University of Texas Press, Austin (TX)

Essays: Melissa Harris

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed & bound in China

Photobook designer: Mary Ellen Mark & Ellen McKie

Notes: A photo project that the late Mary Ellen Mark started in the late 1970’s that resulted in her earlier photobook Indian Circus (1981). She would continue to return to this subject for the following 40 years and this photobook was published just before her passing. I think that the publisher may have described this book best, in stating “Infused with an unsentimental poignancy and fully intentional anthropomorphism, Mark’s photographs of animals, circus performers, children and others are sometimes ironic, occasionally unsettling, but always remarkably engaging”.

Cheers, Doug







August 11, 2015

Kenny Braun – Surf Texas


Copyright 2014 Kenny Braun

Photographer: Kenny Braun (born & resides TX, USA)

Published & copyright: 2014

Publisher: University of Texas Press, Austin, TX

Essays: Stephen Harrigan

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, lithographic printing, printed & bound in China

Photobook designer: DJ Stout & Barret Fry

Notes: Braun’s lyrical black and white photographs investigate the excitement and emotional rush of surfing in the context of the culture and lifestyle of those who participate in this coastal sport. This narrative is from an insider’s perspective as this is Braun’s own Texas surfing turf.

Cheers, Doug






August 7, 2015

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin – Scarti


Copyright 2013 Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

Photographers: Adam Broomberg (born South Africa) & Oliver Chanarin (born UK) both reside in UK

Concept: Gigi Giannuzzi (d. December 2012), publisher Trolley Books

Published & copyright: 2013

Publisher: Trolley Books (UK)

Text: English

Hardcover book with tipped in image, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Italy

Photobook designer: Fernando Gutierrez

Notes: A photographic concept envisioned by the late Gigi Giannuzzi, created by the double printing of the interior press sheets (scarti di avviamento) to clean the press drums, which these were created after the printing of Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin’s photobook Ghetto. The random and unanticipated resulting images would have been equally enjoyed by the Surrealist. nice.

Cheers, Doug








August 6, 2015

A change in my photobook commentaries


Photograph copyright Dragana Jursic 2015 (YU The Lost Country)

I have been contemplating some changes to this blog for a while now, due to a combination of factors. First is the large quantity of photobooks that are being published at an almost dizzying rate since I started this blog in 2008. Second is the growing quantity of high quality, creative and delightful contemporary photobooks and self-published artists books. At times I am overwhelmed with wonderful photobooks, and while taking the necessary to spend time to enjoy each of these, this precludes having the time to writing about them. Yet these great books deserve a shout out to the photographic book community at large to increase the awareness, part of the purpose of this blog.

Second half of this is the time that I have available to write about photobooks is shared with time I can spend on my personal photographic projects and photobooks (yes, I do have a day job that can be equally demanding). Thus the more time I spend with the books of others, the less time I have to spend on developing my own. Regretfully this is a balancing act and one that I have not been too good at with both parts suffering as of late.

Now here is the thing, I really enjoy creative photobooks, so I will continue to collect. Second, I am a photo-blogger so I will continue to write about photobooks. Thus I am going to try using my Facebook format on this blog for a while to provide a more concise shout out about the books I like. You should see more book shout outs and a lot more often that before. That in turn should allow me some guilt-free time to work on my own photographic projects. nice!

So let’s see how this works for a while.


June 10, 2015

Paula McCartney – A Field Guide to Snow and Ice


Copyright 2014 Paula McCartney Published by Silas Finch

Paula McCartney (b. 1971, Pittsburgh, PA & currently residing in Minneapolis, MN) has chosen a familiar subject for her photobook A Field Guide to Snow and Ice, a natural manifestation occurring frequently during the cold and chilly winters of Minnesota. For those who live in the northern states of the United States, as elsewhere at the extremes of our worldly hemisphere, snow and ice are more like family, not readily chosen but come with the territory.

Similar to her pervious photobook Bird Watching, McCartney purports to provide us a Field Guide on how to recognize the various types of snow and ice. She explores the idea of constructed icy landscapes using scientific practice of collecting, cataloging, identifying, classifying and organizing as a starting point for her work. Also very similar in concept to her photobook Bird Watching, what the reader encounters may not really be what they think it is. She employs a very cleaver sleight of hand in creating many of her photographs of her subject.

McCartney self-published an artist book titled On Thin Ice – In a Blizzard in 2011 which is a sub-series to this more encompassing photobook, in which all of the images were constructed as photograms in the darkroom. She states that this earlier artist book is “a winter of my imagination. Snow begins to fall, grows denser, and obliterates my view while exposing the cosmos. Ice shifts, opening a beautiful black void. A wondrous view as I begin my descent.”

Her subjects are tightly composed, revealing graphic blacks and white masses, the contrast of the snow against the anti-snow, the blackness of non-snow. These are ambiguous forms, if not entirely abstract, difficult to comprehend as to the relative size. She provides little context; these could be small bits found in her back yard or large slabs of free ice wondering on one of the huge inland lakes adjacent to where she resides in Minnesota. Her snow accumulates dirt and debris that over time creates molded form and shape, textures are created by the change of state of the frozen mass of water. Changes are created by the melting and then re-freezing; resulting from the cycles of day and night; warming and then freezing as the sun recedes for the night, the radiant heat slowly dissipates and a chilly wind sweeps away all of the warmth.

I find that I connect with this body of work in a number of ways, one of which is my not so fond memory of snow and ice growing up in the Midwest region of Michigan, where winters can be extremely harsh. I had to endure these freezing elements while trudging to school and back, which left lingering bad memories of blowing, freezing snow (yes, even going side-ways) while attempting to maintain my footing on slippery ice. Not that it was all bad, in fact totally beautiful while looking out on the first morning of a new snow, but regretfully that view quickly turned to nasty slush as I needed to shovel huge amounts caked onto the sideway and driveway. Perhaps a strong underlying reason we live in Southern California and take brief winter ski vacations to “visit” the snow.

This photobook published by Silas Finch is perhaps better thought of as a large production artist book as it does not have the appearance of a traditional photo book. It is printed and bound with a Leporello binding (see below), which means that each page is continuous bound to the adjoining page and the entire book can unfolded to reveal a continuous series of images that extent 34 feet in length. Once unfolded, one side is printed while the reverse (verso) is unprinted. The effect is mesmerizing and yes, I needed both my adjacent dining room and living room floors to display the book’s interior and I was still about a foot or two short of the length of space I needed. Viewing the unfurled interior from my second story studio loft is when I was able to appreciate the slight repetitiousness of the subject’s form, color, mass, lines and shapes.


A second unusual aspect of this book design is the variation in the width of the interior pages/images. There are three page widths, one that encompasses the entire width of the book, and there are two which are narrower, which creates a variation in the sequencing cadence. While looking at one of the narrower images, the reader can observe the edges of a preceding page. These overlap images are a reminder to the other images that are present and that the singular image needs to be kept within the context of the whole; thus the world of snow and ice is both layered and complex.

This is essentially a brilliantly designed book that is a reflection of McCartney’s creativity and vision, equally supported by Kevin Messina and his Silas Finch publishing team. Likewise, I also find myself looking at snow and ice differently. I selected this photobook as one of the more interesting photobooks for 2014 for Emaho Magazine, as well as here for The PhotoBook.

The photobook has stiff covers with a detachable spine (which can create an installation piece approximately 34 feet in length) and the color plates are printed with UV inks on uncoated paper with Leporello binding of the multiple panels. The interior photographs are printed full bleed, thus no pagination or captions are provided. The spine closure is printed on synthetic paper which includes an essay by Mark Alice Durant and a quote from Roger Caillois printed on the inner wrapper, which requires disassembly of the spine to access and read. The intriguing book design is by McCartney with Creative Direction by Kevin Messina and was printed in Minnesota by the Avery Group at Shapco Printing.

Previously featured on The PhotoBook is McCartney’s Bird Watching








May 2, 2015

Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis – Islands of the Blest


Copyright 2014 Bryan Schutmaat & Ashlyn Davis, Published by Silas Finch

Islands of the Blest is a collaboration by an American photographer, Bryan Schutmaat (b. 1983 Houston, Texas, currently resides in Austin, Texas), and an American writer, Ashlyn Davis (b. 1986 Port Arthur, Texas, currently resides in Austin, Texas) constructing a historical narrative that explores the American expansion into the “West”. Schutmaat and Davis created this photobook utilizing found photographs that were residing in the digital public archives of the United States Library of Congress and the United States Geological Survey.

I had initially suspected that Schutmaat is the visually oriented contributor while Davis would be the story teller who provides the essence of the story line. In an interview with the pair, I was a way off-base as Schutmaat has an undergraduate degree in History while Davis was a photo major and subsequently changing to art history with an emphasis on photography for her graduate studies. They point to their mutual aesthetical and historical literacy.

Davis states “I had been thinking about the complexities of the West for quite some time, so this project was not only a way to think about the photographic antecedents of Bryan’s work, but for me to explore the history of these landscapes through the shared history of the public archive. This photobook evolved out of preparing for a prelude exhibition to Schutmaat’s beautiful photobook Grays the Mountain Sends published by Silas Finch in 2013. The concept was to collect and exhibit historical photographs of the American West, which resulted in the pair making an extensive road trip from West Texas through New Mexico, Utah and Arizona visiting national parks while reading to each other history books on the American West. We think we still hope that it (the photobook) is not a true narrative but more of a poem.”

The subjects appear to have been captured in the midst of an act, doing something, which is really unknown to the reader, thus perplexing and yet intriguing. Their effort appears to be related to working in the mines or mining claims; essentially searching for their fortunes.  Another aspect that I find interesting is the mash up of ambiguous portraits and grand landscape photographs, each with a uniqueness in framing, perspective and scale between the two. The individuals are framed close and tight without much environmental context, while the landscape images are made from a distance to create an open grandeur in scale. As such it appears that the landscape is overwhelming the individual while attempting to establish a place that might be characteristic of the American West; mountainous, rugged, difficult, rough and tumble.

This photobook reminds me the meandering rural Colorado landscape that borders the I-70 interstate highway and is a conduit between Grand Junction and Denver. There are still some old gold mine towns intermingled with structures dating back to the turn of the 20th century; towns with their wonderfully descriptive names; Idaho Springs, Turkey Gulch, Breeze, Lawson, Georgetown, Silver Plume, Loveland, Dillon, Silvertorne, Frisco, Eagle, Avon, Beaver Creek, & Minturn. These old towns seem to be calling me from the highway to stop and spend some time exploring their passages and memories.

As to the development of the book, Davis goes on to say “we both went through several rounds of independent sequencing before we got to the final version, although one thing Bryan was really great at was sequencing. He was thinking more conceptually, whereas I was initially thinking a bit more literally up until the end and then I think I turned super conceptual. So if anything, that was the tension. We didn’t go into these archives with a specific story in mind. The photos really did a lot of the speaking and we did a lot of the listening to them and to each other before the more nuanced narratives or stanzas began to emerge. I think that patience is integral to the photobook form – it’s like meditating. There are both aesthetic and narrative elements that lead the eye from one image to the next.

I would agree that they did achieve their goal; this is a very poetic body of work.

This photobook has a heavy cloth cover with staple binding (saddle stitch), black & white photographs that are offset printed with UV inks on uncoated paper, with a poem by Michael McGriff.

I choose this as one of my interesting photobooks of 2014.









April 14, 2015

Andreas Oekter-Kast – Looking for (auf der suche nach) Wonderland

Andreas_Oekter-Kast- Looking_for_Wonderland_cover

Copyright 2013 Andreas Oekter-Kast, Published by bt:st Verlag

This photobook is photographed in a documentary style and could be considered a quintessential American Road-Trip, perhaps without the same amount of angst as found in Robert Frank’s The Americans. Both Frank and Andreas Oekter-Kast (Born 1964, Baden-Baden, Germany, currently lives in Kiel, Germany) are Europeans who are examining the American landscape and culture, with Frank originally from Switzerland and Oekter-Kast is from Germany. Much has occurred in the span of fifty-five years between the publications of their two photobooks.

As Oekter-Kast has shared in our exchange while I prepared this review; this is actually a road trip that was envisioned in 2001. At that time, he and his family had moved to Seattle from Germany and was now required to relocate to Boston, MA, but regretfully, time was of the essence and the ensuing drive was rushed. Since then, he has since moved back to Germany but this missed opportunity was omnipresent to both he and his wife’s mind and then they had the opportunity to recently revisit this journey.

Oekter-Kast and his wife were able to restart this journey in Seattle, visiting their American friends in conjunction with a strong desire to really see America. This road trip narrative is about making connections, with the past and the present while investigating what home is, having earlier made some strong connections in American while now living in Germany.

The itinerary was to meander from Seattle (WA) south through Portland (OR) to Northern California, then a hard left turn towards Chicago (IL), passing through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming before moving South into Illinois and Chicago then again due East to New York City (NY), up to Boston (MA) and return back to New York for the flight back to Germany.

So did Oekter-Kast find the Wonderland he was looking for? Perhaps. This photobook is a bit of diary that documents a personal quest and I suspect that he and his wife did experience more the complexity, contradictions and vastness that encompass the vast amount of space that we call America. It is evident to me and perhaps to the reader that he found some touchstones, some in small details, and others in his attempt to capture the grand landscape. Not an easy task to accomplish in a short span of time.

Having lived and worked in America for a while, Oekter-Kast is not a complete stranger to this complex culture and multi-faceted landscape, but yet it is still evident to me that he has perspective of someone who is somewhat a stranger in a very strange land and leaves us with something new to consider.

auf der suche nach / looking for / wonderland

This is a stiff cover book that is encased within a printed paperboard sleeve that also holds an accompanying DVD in an opposing pocket. The photobook/DVD sleeve is further packaged within a printed and embossed paperboard slip-cover. The text is in German and English, while the DVD has German subtitles. The introduction is provided by Richard Tooke and essays by Oekter-Kast. The filming for the DVD was by Angelika Oekter-Kast and co-edited by Andreas Oekter-Kast.

Previous Andreas Oekter-Kast photobook reviewed on this blog: Man-Power


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April 11, 2015

Bull City Summer


copyright, 2014, the various photographer, writers and published by Daylight Books

It is April and the American baseball season is now in full swing, to savor the pun. I had obtained this photobook shortly after it was published in the Fall of last year, right smack in the middle of the American Football season, not exactly the time of year to be thinking about a collective project that explores the subject of baseball. Thus I waited until the pre-season baseball games were well in progress to started thinking about this photobook.

The subject encompasses a sporting event with well-choreographed players, at a specific location that is also a local social event. This project revolves around the Triple-A farm team Durham Bulls (not the hit movie Bull Durham) who play at their stadium, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, located Durham, North Carolina for the 72 game season in 2013.

I am usually more interested in photobook projects authored by a singular photographer but found myself intrigued by this commissioned body of work. The invited photographs are Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey, Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas, and Hiroshi Watanabe. The book does not provide any clues as to why these photographers were selected, but does state that the photographs were not encumbered with any specific assignments.

Each photographer provides a unique perspective, but interesting that it is also difficult to identify some of the photographers by their work as to the similarity of their photographs. The tintypes of Leah Sobsey stand out as very unique as are the meditative black and white photographs by Watanabe, who grew up in a place where baseball was not the local pastime.

I can see myself in these pages, not necessarily attending a Triple-A baseball game, but thinking back to when my dad and I would walk over to watch the local high school games and on that rare occasion heading downtown with my dad, my glove in hand, to Tiger stadium, sitting high up in the bleachers wildly cheering on Norm Cash, Denny McLain, Jerry Lumpe, Willie Horton, Al Kaline and the rest of the team so long ago. At that time the Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A teams that lurked in the background, essentially the underbelly of this sport, were totally unknown to me.

In reading this book the photographers capture aspects of the unfolding events that take place outside and within the stadium, the atmospheric conditions that prevail in this part of the country at night, the social milieu in the bleachers, the players on the field, and the back story of the stadium operations. This narrative does not try to explain the game of baseball and the photographs are not the norm of the newspaper sporting pages. The book results in an interesting mix and blend and is a nice read. A definite recommendation if you are a baseball fan and enjoy great photography.

The hardcover photobook has an image-wrap cover and includes a photographic index and biographies for both the photographer and writers. The book was edited by Sam Stephenson and the essays are provided by Howard Craft, Michael Croley, David Henry, Emma Miller, Adam Sobsey and Ivan Weiss and the book designer is Ursula Damm. The four-color book was printed and bound in China.









March 27, 2015

Matej Sitar – Morning Sun


Copyright 2014 Matej Sitar, published by Angry Bat, Ljubljana

Admittedly, this photobook review for Matej Sitar’s Morning Sun has been very slowly developing and for all of the right reasons. There are photobooks I have received which are over the top and very obvious as to subject, concept and content. Some of these are really good, some not, as to be so obvious as to leave me wondering why it was even published, a waste of perfectly good paper. The later do not warrant a review; my time is too precious, thus the reason that I am usually very positive about the photobooks that I write about, the others are usually donated to a library or good cause. (It is very difficult for me to put any book in the rubbish bin, no matter how awful it appears)

Morning Sun is a book that immediately connects with me, but it has been hard for me to put into words as to why. The book’s title is a fun play on words, as the subject of this book is his wife who is pregnant, as well as bit autobiographical, awaiting the arrival of their son. So each morning the sun arises to a new day, new events, and a new life.

As a father with two children, I get what it was like facing the unknown challenges and yet excited with anticipation for the first child. For guys, no matter how much we think that we are prepared, the first child is fun, exciting yet a mystery and an enigma and can be overwhelming. We are just not prepared for all about what is to occur, but I think we really do the best we can to prepare.

This is what I believe Sitar is exploring with this book; to be a guy who is soon to be a dad, attempting to understand the changes occurring on this nine month pathway to fatherhood.

I found this photobook subtle as to the subject, sequencing and layout. It is one that I experience in a non-verbal way, thus has been difficult to find the right words to provide meaning.  This is a personal and intimate body of work; a poetic sonnet rather that a narrative.

It contains an interesting mix of portraits and landscapes. The landscapes are mid-distance and also intimate exploring phases of life. The metaphoric photographs are introspective; changes, new life, attempting to anticipate what might soon be, while being open to the changes occurring now, external/internal,

Morning Sun was selected as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2014.

This is a hardcover book with linen covers and tipped in photograph on the front cover with embossed title. The printing is four color offset on 150 gm paper with a sewn binding.

Matej Sitar photobook previously reviewed on the photobook: America, My Way & America, My Way (Collectors Edition)









February 12, 2015

Carolyn Drake – Wild Pigeon


Copyright Carolyn Drake 2014, self-published

This photobook by Carolyn Drake (b. 1971 Los Angeles, CA and currently resides in Mississippi) incorporates an allegory story of the same name, Wild Pigeon, written by Nurmuhemmet Yasin who is a Uyghur author. The Yasin story narrates the Uyghur experience in this remote region of Western China (XinJiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Like much of China the Western region has been undergoing extensive changes to “modernize” the country, with huge scale dismantling of the pre-existing structures.

This dismantling and rebuilding process was very evident to me while visiting Eastern China six years ago and from what I learned, the “modernization” process was occurring simultaneously across this huge nation. The Chinese reaction to this modernization process is extremely mixed. In the Western region of the Uyghur, it takes on another layered meaning, as the Uyghur besides being physically different as compared to the Han Chinese are also predominantly Muslim. The underlying conflict is palpable in her narrative.

Drake’s resulting photobook is an interesting mix of photography; her photographs, found photographs, photographs that have been altered by her subjects within a meandering text from Yasin’s story. The sequencing of the photographs are pared to reveal the region’s contradictions; a fully concealed women across the book’s gutter from the photograph of unabashed men bathing, a lush oasis resplendent with amusement water-toys facing a photograph of an arid and dry desert landscape, a woman who sits in a pose that appears to be in prayer which is across and facing a man who leans over his motorcycle’s handlebars, fingers intertwined and illuminated by the evening light, as might be coming of a lion on the prowl, and whose gaze is directed across the page back at the girl on the opposing spread. The pairing of her photographs creates a subtle tension that runs through out this book.

Drake in an attempt to help facilitate communication and bridge cultures provided opportunities for her subjects to creatively interact with her photographic prints. They in turn created personal and layered messages by means of drawings, text and collages, of which the ensuring results remind me of Jim Goldberg’s photobook  Open See.

Her narrative is perhaps similar to the story line in the novel Animal Farm written by George Orwell; that in modern China, not all equals are in fact equal.

The hardcover book has sections of irregular sized pages and continuously shifting photographic image orientations (horizontal and vertical images) and includes a smaller stiff-cover booklet, sewn binding, that is glued to the inside of the back cover. The Wild Pigeon story is by Nurmuhemmet Yasin and translated into English by Dr. Dolkun Kamberi and interspersed throughout the book, with an Afterword by Drake.

As in her pervious self-published photobook, Two Rivers, she has teamed up with the talented Dutch photobook designer Sybern (-SYB-) Kuiper as her collaborator. Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers was previously reviewed on the The Photobook and was selected as one of my Interesting Photobooks for 2013 that was published in the annual photo-eye Best Photobooks listings.


Note: Carolyn Drake states that Yasin, the author of this story, was imprisoned ten years ago for “inciting separation” (subversive or ideologically corrupting) in the publication of Wild Pigeon and currently his fate is unknown.










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