The PhotoBook Journal

May 16, 2017

Barbara Peacock – Hometown

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Photographer: Barbara Peacock (b. Waltham, MA – resides Portland, ME)

Publisher: Bazan Photo Publishing (Brooklyn, NY) copyright 2016

Essays: Barbara Peacock, Ernesto Bazan

Text: English

Embossed linen hardcover with tipped in photograph, sewn binding, four-color lithography, list of photographs, printed by Puritan Capital (New Hampshire)

Photobook designer: Kevin Sweeney

Notes: Barbara Peacock documented her own hometown of 30 plus years, while perhaps the citizens of the town grew older, her visual concept of what a hometown meant, continued to evolve. Her subject is a small New England town, Westford, located Massachusetts. There is enough contextual ambiguity as to the actual location that Peacock’s hometown could be representative of any small town in the East or Midwest region of America, which is a factor that draws me and probably other readers into this monograph.

She opens with an urban landscape photograph of a small market, an archetype of the local hang-out for bored kids in a small town. It appears that topic of conversation for her subjects that day was probably her and the view camera balanced on the tripod as the woman who kept darting under the curious black sheet. Her young subjects gaze directly at the lens not realizing that this was a poignant moment in time in 1982 and they were in the process of becoming subjects of nostalgia and memory when this photograph is contemplated some thirty-five years later. We can speculate that some of these same kids probably now have children of their own that are this same age or maybe even older, although Peacock states that this small market is no longer there and that one of these boys has since passed.

We witness an evolution of photographic style, from a formalism of a large format camera with color film to an informal capture in expressive black & white that encompasses digital capture methods. There is also a subtle pairing of the photographs within the book, such as the image below of the contrasting lives of the dejected appearing older woman who Elvis is still adoring and the opposing photograph of the antics of young men hanging out with skate boards and engrossed in what’s on their cell phones.

She records the quite moments of normal life being lived without big drama. We can find ourselves, friends and family in the midst of her hometown investigation and these photographs may trigger memories of our own past “normal” events.

This photobook was juried into the Photo Independent Photo Book Competition and subsequent exhibition.

Cheers!

Douglas

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May 12, 2017

Roger Ballen – The Theatre of Apparitions

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Photographer:  Roger Ballen (born in New York City, NY; resides in Johannesburg, South Africa)

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, London; © 2016

Essays:  Preface by Roger Ballen; introduction by Colin Rhodes

Text:  English

Hardcover with dust jacket, sewn binding; 192 numbered pages; 90 monochrome captioned photographs; printed in China; 17.5×25 cm

 

Notes:

On April 22, 2017, in his keynote address at the annual Photo Independent Exposition (celebrating the Los Angeles Festival of Photography), Roger Ballen said that “everything happens in and with the mind.” Further, in response to a question from the audience regarding the possibility of a photographer exploiting his or her subjects, he further expanded on this theme, expressing his view that we all exploit or make use of others, since we are all programmed to live, and thus as a matter of survival must consume other living matter, be they plants or animals. Leave it to a professional geologist to brazenly uncover that which is hidden, to unearth the earthly as well as the unearthly, the more ethereal forces behind our externalized everyday scenes! The subconscious and the unconscious are powerful forces in the Ballenesque perception of life, guiding our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and he brings them into our visual and emotional awareness.

I consider Ballen the visual Shakespeare of our time, with good measures of Freud and Jung tossed in, especially Jung! He knows the many parts we play externally in the drama of life, but also most especially the archetypal parts within each of us that are struggling and trying to assert themselves, as some of them may wish to be externalized; they hover, cower, act out the most secret of emotions, desires, fears, and drives, and translate them into potential actions in our everyday existence. The shadows know it all… In collaboration with Marguerite Rossouw, Ballen paints and draws these spirits on windows and other panes, then photographs the results, one-of-a-kind and ethereal as works of art, and short-lived except through the photographs and this book, a source of self-discovery and astonishment for those who dare. Inspired originally by such drawings in an abandoned institution, Ballen has moved toward incorporating drawing and painting into his art over the past several years, in this instance to create primeval and primitive effects.

This volume is all black and white, with black backgrounds on all the pages, as shown below, and with only white and simulated shades of gray used for the drawings and paintings. On 192 pages, 90 photographs are reproduced, comprising seven sections, labeled “acts,” true to the title promising theatrical apparitions: persona – burlesque – eros – transmuted – melancholy – fragmentation – ethereal. There is usually only one image per double-page spread, either on the left or on the right, with a short title and the year of creation opposite each image. I am showing a representative image from each section below, in sequence. The image titles are kept short on purpose, since Ballen is of the school of thought that many words are only needed for bad images. Occasionally there is a playful use of language, e.g. “Hold Up” (page 87), third image below. The sum total is a contribution that invites the viewer to engage in introspection against an ancient and transient stage full of surprises, a mirror of our collective internal world, to be examined with some measure of daring and acumen.

A challenging work, full of fascinating encounters.

The PhotoBook previously featured two reviews by Douglas Stockdale of Roger Ballen’s Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds.

Gerhard Clausing

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May 5, 2017

Manca Juvan – Guardians of the Spoon

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:27 pm

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Photographer: Manca Juvan (b. & resides Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Publisher: ZRC Publishing

Essays: Manca Juvan, Sasa Petejan, Urska Strle

Text: English (Slovene e-book edition is available)

Hardcover book with slip-cover, ring binding, four-color lithography, split pages, Fascist internment timeline, printed at optimal media, Germany

Photobook designer: Prapesa (Sara Badovinac & Peter Zabret)

Notes: The opening photographs are dark with each succeeding photograph allowing more light to illuminate and reveal a bit more tantalizing information about the unfolding landscape. This visual metaphor for secrets and concealed information becomes more apparent as the viewer confronts portraits and personal testimonies of events that occurred during WWII (1939 – 1943) by the Italian Fascist. Probably for political reasons and since the Italian Fascist camps were not as horrific as the Germany Nazi counterparts, these camp sites and the events that took place are not well known.

From the authors regarding the concept of this book; “Acknowledgement of Italian war crimes in the larger international context today, is as uncommon as it is inconsistent. Indeed a survey of various references and encyclopedias rarely turns up any mention whatsoever of the many Italian concentration camps that served as instruments of political and racial persecution. While the most notorious Nazi camps have become widely embedded in popular culture and our collective imagination, history has little if anything to say about the Italian Fascist camps.

Juvan’s photobook was a recent winner of the Photo Independent International Photo Book Competition that I was a jurist for. I was immediately taken by the four elements we use as criteria to evaluate the book submissions; photography, project concept execution, book design and book production. One design element I found brilliant was within the body of the book, most of the interior pages are horizontally split, which allows the reader to change and modify the sequencing and pairing of the page spreads, thus the narrative. This book design is an excellent physical metaphor relating to the fragmentation of memory, that memory can be incomplete and jumbled with time. Likewise, this book design speaks to ability to alter facts and change meanings.

Juvan has confronted an uncomfortable subject and with the current political turmoil in the world, I feel that it is a danger that we must continue to remind ourselves about and guard ourselves against. Recommended

Other book review we featured for Manca Juvan, Unordinary Lives – Afghanistan

Cheers

Douglas

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March 13, 2017

Bronx Photo League – Jerome Ave

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Copyright 2016 Members of the Bronx Photo League

Photographers: Bronx Photo League (Bronx, NYC)

Publisher: Bronx Documentary Center Editions, Bronx, NY

Essays: Mike Kamber, Ed Murphy

Text: English & Spanish

Hardcover book, linen covers with tipped in image, sewn binding, 93 Black & white photographs, duo-tone printing with spot varnish, captions, member biographs, printed by Fort Orange Press, NY

Photobook designer: Bonnie Briant & Katie Khouri

Notes: Jerome Ave is an investigation of a community within the Bronx of New York by a group of young, budding photojournalist that have come together as the Bronx Photo League. Their purpose and intent is not all-together different from than that of the Photo League of the 1940’s; a collective of inspired photographers who want to learn their craft in conjunction with documenting the local environmental, economic and social changes that surround them.

This hard cover book is a result of one of their recent projects; attempting to document the pending changes to an area of the South Bronx. This is currently one of the city’s poorest regions, much of it situated under the elevated “4” train, a “gritty two-mile stretch of low-slung buildings where thousands of immigrants work in small stores, factories and car repair shops.”

Their focus is principally on the individuals who work and live in this small region to narrative this study, usually including some environmental context that provides clues to the working conditions, thus creating an indirect portrait of the South Bronx. It is evident to the reader that these photographers know their subjects very well by the close and tightly composed portraits, not a quick snap-shot from an impersonal distance.

The manual process of the photographic methods is also a nice metaphor for this project and their subjects who are predominantly providing manual labor to make a living. It appears that another consistent requirement for the photographers is to pay close attention to the framing of their images keeping in mind that there will be no cropping of the negative (a luxury that will come later in their photojournalistic lives).

One nice design aspect of this book that unifies this collective body of work together by the various photographers is the image/page layout; each photograph is framed by the negative’s exterior (yes, old school Tri-X film and manual processing). This design provides a consistency in the reading of the images that I think works very well to illustrate their project.

Cheers

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March 3, 2017

Carol Golemboski – Psychometry

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Copyright 2016 Carol Golemboski

Photographer: Carol Golemboski (b. Shreveport, Louisiana – resides outside Denver, CO)

Publisher: Flash Powder Projects

Essay: Shirley Jackson

Text: English

Hardcover book, embossed cover, duo-tone printing, Smyth sewn binding, captions, printed by EBS, Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: Jordan Swartz

Notes: Golemboski’s monograph of intricate manipulated photographs investigate nostalgia, loss and impermanence. The manipulated prints use an old school Black & White wet-print technique; a mask that is hand-scribe by the photographer to modify her photographic “reality” during the print making process. Her marks are a mash-up of careful delineated lines, scratches, letters, and drawings, which are similar to a digital layer mask in Photoshop. Frequently these masks are pin-registered to the printing paper to ensure precise line-up of the mask with the projected negative. A few of her intricate velum masks are included within the book in perfect alignment with the corresponding print. The effect is to lift the vale on the process that results in the final print. I find the velum’s layers as intriguing as the final print object.

Regarding the book’s title, Golemboski states “In Psychometry, arrangements of old objects in dilapidated spaces serve as metaphors for human emotions and psychological states. The term “psychometry” refers to the pseudo-science of “object reading,” a purported psychic ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact. The objects in these pictures seem haunted. They are designed to transcend their material nature and evoke the mysterious presence of past.”

Personally I have found myself  attempting “object reading” of artifacts of the past; a found photograph, family hand-me-down, or perhaps an old structure that I feel inclined to touch, as though my touch will reveal something of the object’s past. Subliminally I think Golemboski’s photographs connect with me in a similar fashion; that when gazing at her visual poems that I might actually connect with some essence just beyond my comprehension.

In turn, the viewers reading of these hand-altered photographs is as layered as the resulting images, some initially appear to be an easy read, such as Safe house, below, while others are a more complex and ambiguous. In some images the marks attempt to obscure the identity of the object or its external context while in others the marks appear to clarify, instill or attempt to add a layer of meaning. The juxtaposition of found objects with her subsequent inscribed marks creates very magical and beguiling works of photographic art.

Cheers

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February 9, 2017

Paula Bronstein – Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear

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Photographer:  Paula Bronstein (American, lives in Bangkok, Thailand)

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, 2016

Essays:  Foreword by Kim Barker / “Afghan Women” by Christina Lamb / Afterword by Paula Bronstein

Text:  English

Hardcover cloth-bound book with 228 numbered pages, 114 color images with captions; sewn binding, printed in China. Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Series Book 42.

 

Notes:

Paula Bronstein is a courageous and committed photojournalist with a distinguished career. The cultural and political situation of a war-laden country is not easy to depict, and she does not shirk from a gutsy presentation that documents the Afghanistan situation from 2001 through 2015. In comparison to other book reviews I have done, this particular one has been a true emotional challenge. Paula Bronstein gets right to the heart of things; having received amazing access in difficult situations, she confronts the viewer with a very stark reality through stunning, in-your-face photographic documents, each of which is a story in itself, enhanced by situational details in the captions. The entire volume is a heart-wrenching documentation of America’s longest war. As she depicts a variety of problems, she also provides small glimpses of hope that point to possible solutions.

The volume is divided into three sections labeled “The Situation,” “The Casualties,” and “The Reality.” Besides the 114 color photographs comprising these three sections, there are also three essays: A foreword by Kim Barker deals with the photographer and the context. “Afghan Women” by Christina Lamb describes the background as well as the progress that they have made over the years. Paula Bronstein in an ‘Afterword’ (pp. 224-225) also describes some of the difficulties she faced in doing this work.

Subjects covered in this photographic journey include clashes between belief systems, cultural transitions under the influence of modernity, political and military strife, and the promise of educational opportunities for all, against a background of great turmoil. Both people’s fears and hopes are made relevant through the immediacy of the visual documents. Bronstein does her best to illuminate all the things that are often ignored or shoved aside, such as the byproducts of warfare euphemistically labeled “collateral damage” and the difficulties of oppression, be they cultural or religious: she shows the pain of it all, as well as some small joys and pleasures. As the sample double pages from the work shown below illustrate, military and political as well as social and medical challenges are included. Injuries depicted, both physical and mental, cry out for finding solutions to create a better world.

If ever there was a volume that shows the follies of strife and the need to make a huge effort to find peaceful solutions, this is the one. As I write this review, the press reports that the Afghan war killed 25% more children in 2016 than in 2015, as well as causing injuries to 23% more children than the previous year, affecting thousands of families (Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2017, p. A4), along with all of the equally lamentable adult casualties.

Gerhard Clausing

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February 7, 2017

Barbara Kyne – A Crack In The World

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Copyright 2016 Barbara Kyne

Photographer: Barbara Kyne (b. Hoboken, New Jersey – resides. Oakland, CA)

Publisher: Daylight Books (USA)

Essays: Barbara Kyne, Susan Griffin, Jasmine Moorhead

Text: English

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

Photobook designer: Ursula Damm

Notes: Barbara Kyne and her partner Fran Lowe have property in Mariposa, located east of the San Francisco bay in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. The land is a bit rough and tumble, which is to say a little on the wild side. Although her book appears to be an abstraction of the natural landscape, Kyne is seeking to go beyond the apparent and investigate an aspect of nature that we do not usually think may be occurring; how does nature view itself?

In nature we take for granted that there is an active interplay between the wildlife animals, birds and other crawly creatures, but we have not been taught or made aware that perhaps the trees and vegetation may actively communicating among themselves. Kyne has tapped into the writings and scientific investigations that gives credence that plants and trees are in a sense actively communicating with each other. Thus raising the question; if plants and trees can perceive, what might they comprehend and what could that vision look like?

In discussing this book, she stated “And my work is about reality. Reality and time. I’m just looking at reality from what I imagine is the perception of another species. I’m attempting to expand our perception of reality and let go of or at least loosen the grip of our human-centric perception.”

Her photographs are abstract and very lyrical as I find Kyne’s hypothesis and subsequent investigating to be very intriguing and visually beautiful.

Other photobooks by Barbara Kyne reviewed on The Photobook: Gerhard Clausing’s review of By Fire

Cheers

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September 1, 2016

Susan Burnstine – Absence of Being

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Copyright 2016 Susan Burnstine

Photographer: Susan Burnstine (b. Chicago, IL  & resides Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Publisher: Damiani Editore (Italy)

Essays: Text by Del Zogg, Chantel Paul, Susan Burnstine

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, Biography, printed in Italy

Photobook designer: Masumi Shibata

Notes: Susan Burnstine’s second photobook Absence of Being is a collection of singular poetic black & white photographs, which are dreamy and mysterious landscapes. These photographic images result in part from her photographic equipment, a series of homemade photographic contraptions she created that utilized medium format film, but to a larger extent the concept and visions she is cathartically engaging. The overall darkness that engulfs her moody photographs hints at the underlying tension of her poetic narratives, what has been described has “an idiosyncratic and deeply personal visual landscape”.

Another visual theme woven in this body of work, more so than her first monograph, is the presence of a singular person or vehicle, which can be found in the midst of these landscapes. This is a strongly autobiographic element that visually places her within these narratives. Her subjects appear to be engaged in a journey, a dark metaphor that relates back to her night terrors as the source of her artistic endeavors and the mystic road she alone is traveling.

This wonderful body of work is sequenced with a single image per double page per spread; the left edge is run into the gutter with an edge bleed on the right, accompanied with a facing pagination and caption. The layout is metaphoric, with the binding providing the central source from which the pages and photographs radiate, while the bleed off the end of the page implying that her narrative does not simply end on this page. There are two styles of captions that reflect the two different states Burnstine deals with her dreadful night terrors. Also interwoven through the body of work are handwritten excerpts from Burnstine’s personal dream journal that provides some insights to the internal dialogue she is working against.

Burnstine’s photobook is a beautiful object and her wonderful luminous interior images are printed on a warm coated paper with a spot coat of luster varnish that emulates her photographic prints. Viewing this photobook is very similar to the experience of studying her print portfolio, which I was fortunate to do this last spring when we had adjacent tables at Photo Independent and the final galleys for her book were being completed. Recommended.

Susan Burnstine has been previously featured on The PhotoBook: Within Shadows (2011)

Cheers

Cheers!

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