The PhotoBook Journal

August 12, 2017

Harvey Benge – The Month Before Trump

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Photographer: Harvey Benge (resides Auckland (NZ) and Paris (FR))

Self-Published & Limited Edition with signed print (Edition – 50): New Zealand copyright 2017

Text: English

Stiff cover, saddle stitch binding, four-color lithography, printed NZ

Photobook designer: Harvey Benge

Notes: x

Harvey Benge’s The Month Before Trump is a collection of photographs made in the United States, specifically San Francisco and New York in October 2016, the month before the presidential elections. As a New Zealander who spends equal time between Auckland and Paris, he provides a sophisticated outsider’s eye which reminds me of a contemporary Robert Frank and his 1950’s seminal photobook The Americans.

While I believe Frank is a bit more searing in his vision, I find Benge to be a bit more subtle, while both photographers provide a unique while sarcastic view of the American urban landscape. As in earlier Benge photobooks, the paring of the mostly horizontal images create wonderful dialogs while usually sharing a spot of color or tonality to complement the resulting juxtaposition narrative.

Benge explains;

My pictures explore the strange anthropology of cities. The unusual and overlooked in the human landscape. I am asking the viewer to question the idea that photographs as documents are complete representations of subject. I’m interested in the universality of life and the idea of parallel lives – when one thing is happening here, something else is happening over there. The democracy of non-places fascinates me, in the knowledge that inevitably nothing is as it seems.

While the making his observations of the morphing American landscape was at a time prior to knowing the political outcome, the subsequent editing for his book was with the full realization of who had inadvertently landed a White House job. Thus perhaps the reason for what I perceive as an underlying dark edginess to his urban investigation.

Other photobooks by Harvey Benge that have been reviewed on The PhotoBook Journal; Sri Landa Diary, Birds, Against Forgetting, Eat me, Still Looking for It, All the Places I’ve Even Known, One day – Ten Photographers.

 

 

Cheers, Douglas Stockdale

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September 6, 2015

One Day – Ten Photographers

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Copyright 2010 the photographers; Jessica Backhaus, Gerry Badger, Harvey Benge, John Gossage, Todd Hido, Rob Hornstra, Rinko Kawauchi, Eva Maria Ocherbauer, Martin Parr, Alec Soth

Publisher: Kehrer Heidleberg Verlag

Text: English

A set of ten individual hardcover books in a printed chipboard slipcover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: Harvey Benge (Editor)

Notes: The concept was developed by Harvey Benge, who subsequently acted as the project Editor. Essentially the ten selected photographers would produce a photobook based on the photographs of a specific day; June 21, 2010. Other than that, no rules. The resulting photobooks were Jessica Backhaus’s Neukolln, Berlin, Gerry Badger’s Weltmeister Blues, Harvey Benge’s Auckland, New Zealand, John Gossage’s Waking in Warhol’s Bed, Todd Hido’s Oakland+Modesto, Rob Hornstra’s Utrecht, the Netherlands, Rinko Kawauchi’s Fundamental Cycles, Eva Maria Ocherbauer’s A Midsummer Day’s Dream, Martin Parr’s Bristol, England, Alec Soth’s Gus the Great. What results is an eclectic set of photobooks with a mash-up of content, themes and subjects. The books which were the most intriguing for me are by Badger, Benge, Kawauchi and Parr.

Cheers, Doug

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March 23, 2012

Harvey Benge – Still Looking For It

Copyright Harvey Benge 2011 courtesy of the artist, self-published

I think that this book is best said by Benge:

These photographs follow my recent four part series AS IT IS? Here I continue to question the nature and substance of the things I see and the idea of ITness itself.

December 16, 2011

Harvey Benge – All of the Places I’ve Ever Known

Copyright Harvey Benge 2010 – courtesy Kehrer Publishing

My first impression of Harvey Benge’s  photobook All of the Places I’ve ever Known was that this book is meant to be autobiographical.  It is also a statement of the obvious: that you cannot take a photograph of a place unless you have been to that place. Cheeky.

Benge has self-published numerous photobooks and in his usually style he provides his readers with a minimum of textual information to help the reader relate to his photographs. He is a bit of the minimalist in terms of providing some potential insight. You can make of what you want from his titles which usually has a healthy amount of ambiguity. In this book, he provides an interesting quotation from Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1364); “Since everything is but an apparition, Perfect in being what it is, Having nothing to do with good or bad, Acceptance or rejection, You might as well burst out laughing!” My take-away from this and many of Benge’s proliferate photobooks is that his photographs are a joyful observation of what “is” as a result of the powers of seeing and observing random urban serendipity.

What primarily seems to catch Benge’s discerning eye is color, especially finding the interesting interplay of hues and tonalities that can be found as he walks through the urban environment. As such, this photobook is a kinetic pin-wheel of colors. Although color is the primary found subject of his photographs, he isolates and frames his subjects with the sensibilities of graphic design; taking into account and layering such elements of line, mass, and shape.

He isolates and frames his subjects such that he will establish a primary color object, then introduce a secondary color object, such as a blue pipe rising in the midst of a verdant field, below. The secondary color object(s) balance or complement the composition, sometimes creating a jarring dissonance, as the red on red with yet an adjacent red, below, other times appears to be a quiet and meditative harmony, as the cool blue-gray panel with the two blue rectangles centered at the base of his pictorial framing, also below.

Although attracted to color, he reframes from hyping the color up in his photographs by increasing saturation of the hues, rather attempting to allow the “natural” and found compositions speak for themselves; “Perfect in being what it is”. Nevertheless Benge’s photographs have an interesting energy that seems to be intensified as a collective whole with the design and layout of this book. For my tastes, the sequencing of the color photographs in this photobook creates more of a slightly psychotic experience.

Benge is about framing and isolating what he has found. He moves in close, usually providing a tight framing, so that he fills the picture with color. Benge has also stylistically created a niche for his vertical photographs, as this is his predominate choice in pictorial framing and on occasion a horizontal composition will make an interlude, perhaps to create a little tension or provide a slight change of pace. In this book, all of the photographs are presented as verticals, although one is a horizontal composition but due to the ambiguity of the subject, appears acceptable as a vertical layout. Nice.

The photographs are single image on the right page per spread, with a classic white margin bordering the photograph. On the facing page is a plate number and at the end of the book is an image index, providing the city location and year photographed for each plate. The book design and photographic presentation is very spare and minimalistic.

As a book object the dark red color of the spine extends over into the image wrap cover and is a complementary color to the cover photograph, echoing the contents within.  This hardcover book and contents is beautifully printed in Germany consistent with the high standards I have grown to expect from Kehrer Verlag Heidlberg.

 

August 14, 2011

Harvey Benge – Eat Me

Copyright Harvey Benge 2010 FAQEditions

At first reading, Havery Benge’s self-published “Eat Me”, is a photobook that documents the results of cooking peaches as a family treat. It even includes the recipe for cooking peaches.

In typical Benge style, there is a minimum of text to provide guidance as to what you are viewing. In this case, a series of color abstract photographs that might be peach halves that have recently cooked. The subject is made a little more abstract by placing it on a black background that also appears to accentuate the deep colors. Likewise this is not a normal cookbook illustration as the external context to a kitchen or serving plate is not established. The flat lighting continues to abstract his subjects, which does not provide any modeling to provide depth, roundness or weigh. Nevertheless, there is some hint of texture.

Thus with his subject disassociated from any external context, the viewer is free to construct their own meanings and memories with these photographs. For my take, let’s just say that his photographs could be a Freudian equivalence to one of Edward Weston’s shell photographs.

About the book object, it is a thin stiff cover book with saddle stitch binding, printed in color. The book was published in April 2011 in an edition of 75 signed and numbered copies. The text, in English, is the recipe for the cooked peaches.

And although Benge recommends vanilla ice cream, I would suggest that it should be a French vanilla ice cream. yum.

April 25, 2011

Harvey Benge – Sri Lanka Diary, February 2011

Copyright Harvey Benge 2011 courtesy of the artist

I recently received another self-published photobook by the prolific photographer and photobook publisher, Havery Benge, titled Sri Lanka Diary, February 2011. This book is the latest in his “Diary” series and results from his recent visit to Sri Lanka earlier this year.

The color photographs appear to be detailed and created in documentary in style, perhaps made with a normal lens, as there is little apparent visual distortion that would result from either a very wide-angle or telephoto lens. The vast majority of the photographs are made directly in front of the subject with the objects tightly filling the frame. Occasionally a larger perspective landscape photograph is included and these are usually printed across a two page spread.

Being a fan of Benge’s photographs, I also find a consistency in his compositions, but even more some with his handling of color. In fact it is his use of color that finally became evident to me after reading his 2010 All of the Places I’ve Ever Known hardcover book published by Kehrer which is now equally evident with Sri Lanka Diary. Benge is a colorist, and secondary is how he uses them in combination with patterns to create rich, complex and interesting photographs.

Benge’s color palette is mostly monochromatic with either a pattern of complementary color that harmonizes or a dissident color that creates an emotional and unstated tension. As an example, the cover of this book is a sea of bluish taupe framing black, gray and white. Within the subjects tie on the bottom edge, there is a subtle hint of blue in the stripes, mixed with the taupe, which creates an interesting harmony and essentially make the photograph complete.

Likewise in the third pair of photographs below, in the photograph on the left, the brown in the picture frame is echoed by a similar hue in the wall’s baseboard running the width of the photograph. This same color is a key component in the colors of the photograph on the facing page, another monochromatic color scheme of a sea of yellow surrounding white and browns on a floor of dark brown. This same dark brown color can then be found in the hand rail on the photograph of the facing page. These two photographs continuously play off of each other.

Perhaps the most interesting set of photographs to me are the pair that are found on one of the early spreads, the first image below, where one photograph is of a religious shrine of worship and on the facing a page, what appears as a wall of riotous color. I found the religious shrine to again be monochromatic of reds and whites with areas of gray, but the red color is very similar to, but inversely located, to the facing photograph. In both photographs, there is a color blend and gradually shifting change from the top of the photograph to the bottom. I also sense that there is a very subtle message from Benge with this pair of photographs; that the viewers need to slow down and contemplate their surroundings and enjoy the complex play of colors and patterns that exist in our every day lives.

This stiffcover book with saddle stitch binding is available in both a trade edition and as a limited edition.

by Douglas Stockdale

October 24, 2010

Harvey Benge – Birds

Copyright Harvey Benge  2010 courtesy of the photographer

Harvey Benge’s latest self published photobook (perhaps termed a zine) Birds is brief, elegant and subtly philosophical. Benge provides a brief background story for this slim narrative; that the photographs were made on one day from the deck of a ferry near Auckland Harbour and the photographs were made on the afternoon of a Thursday in April.

The five color photographs, each of the photographs spanning the two page spread, capture a flock of birds in flight. The identity of the specific bird species remains ambiguous, as the birds are flying far from the photographer who appears to be more interested in the broader perspective of this sky-scape. From the series, we can determine that they fly in a V-shaped pattern and these birds appear to have a profile similar to my memory of US game birds, that of a duck or goose.

Due to the brevity of this photobook, it reads more like a short poem, with a number of interpretative variations. One alternative reading is that this is a narrative about a group of family and friends who are on a “road trip”. They have the freedom to freely move about, living off the land, to literally see the world, soaring through the sky as they are. Wouldn’t it be really nice to have that type of freedom?

This is also a narrative about the social patterns we develop, the sense of culture that becomes instilled in a group of people, the memory of history that becomes ingrained and passed from generation to generation. The birds fly in this pattern for a reason that is probably only really known by them. If they are on a migratory route, it probably is so engrained from an ancient memory so that the need to make this journey is so hard-wired, they may have little to no cognitive choice. Suggesting that the cultural patterns of behavior we have are also being passed from generation to generation.

If indeed these are ducks or geese, we recognize that these birds are also considered game birds, pursued by not only other animals but by the most dangerous of hunters, mankind. Our knowledge of their potential plight provides a bittersweet tinge to this narrative, that these birds may be unknowingly flying towards imminent danger. The same migratory instinct will also take them repeatability near known hunting sites, where men will be lying in wait with shotguns and retriever dogs.B

By no means is the last reading about the abstract patterns that groups of birds and other social animals create, that evolve in real-time. From the infinitive number of variations that is occurring, Benge has selected these five. The dark flecks of birds providing an indistinct but slightly recognizable pattern framed on the background sea of blue, gray and white. The photographs start with a tight and recognizable V pattern, but slowly evolve in the five sequences into an almost straight line. We can recognize that this results as the visual perspective changes relative to the bird’s flight and the position of the ferry that Benge is photographing from. That patterns change, morph and what we may see at one point in time, may not be a good indication of all the possibilities of the design in space.

Birds is a self published photobook in a limited edition of 50, with stiff covers and bound with a saddle stitch.

by Douglas Stockdale

July 18, 2010

Harvey Benge – Against Forgetting

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 2:39 pm

copyright Harvey Benge 2010 courtesy the artist

Memory is a very tricky thing. Sometimes it just seems that the things that you want to forget are somehow stuck between your eyebrows regardless of what you attempt to do to forget them. Other times, there are those memories you cherish and never want to lose, and the more you attempt to hold on to them, it seems the more transit they become.  This is the subject that Havey Benge is investigating in his recent DIY photobook, Against Forgetting.

Our brains are utterly fascinating as the suck up all of our life experiences and tuck them all away in our bio-memory cells. Over time, we have trouble finding them in that big soft gray mass between our ears, but on occasion, something triggers them to shout out, we are still here! That emotion trigger can be a smell, a touch, or a sound but for a lot of us, that trigger is a photograph. This is not lost on Kodak, Fuji, Canon and Nikon to name but a few, as millions and millions in cash has been spent on the attempt to capture a precious moment for prosperity.

Benge’s photobook is a record of personal memories, very autobiographical but embodied with symbolism about memories, as well as a narrative about change, loss, grief, pain, celebration and life. When attempting to recall the past, sometime the flood waters of memory can also carry with it some debris, that memories can be delightful or saddening or both, bittersweet.

Benge utilizes a wonderful narrative device; the past is represented with black and white photographs, while the current “reality” is in glorious Technicolor. Perhaps in reality, there were only a few events photographed in color due to the additional expense and color prints had a notorious habit of fading over time. Nevertheless, it is an effective tool in Benge’s hands.

The category of bittersweet is the feeling that I take away from Benge’s photographic story. I sense the naivety of youth and enjoying the moment, not knowing about the complexities of the world. The house he lives in probably seems huge, the yard expansive and the neighborhood a delight to play in and the parents are there forever and probably taken for granted. The black and white photograph of a young couple, as if photographed from a child’s perspective, are immortalized with dark hair, easy smiles, standing tall, and timeless. They do not show the ravages of time.

We are provided with the compare and contrast of the house that Benge’s father build in the 1940’s, in the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The boxy house is blurred in the black and white photograph, as indistinct and out of focus as all of the memories that are shrouded around it. The memories are not as sharp and delineated as the original experience that occurred in the moment. Yes the photograph does capture the outline of the house, the placement of the bushes and the flow of the front walk. But hazy and indistinct, similar to the blurry photograph of the house, are the faded memories of the sounds and noises, the smell of the air, the feel of the breeze or heat and humidity.

A photograph is a two-dimensional object, but we hope that this object triggers all of the other tactile memories as well.

By Douglas Stockdale

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