The PhotoBook

January 29, 2017

Left coast photobook news: Ruscha at OCMA

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Every Building on the Sunset Strip copyright 1966 Ed Ruscha

Currently OCMA (Orange County Museum of Art) is exhibiting Pop Art Design and included are a few works by Ed Ruscha, but probably the most interesting to those who enjoy photobooks is a very long display of Ed Ruscha’s 1966 Every Building on the Sunset Strip.

This is a deadpan photographic project in which a 35mm motor-drive camera with a bulk feed was used to photograph all the adjacent buildings while driving up and then back again on Sunset Blvd. This street was commonly called the Sunset Strip, thus Ruscha’s resulting photobook plays a visual  pun of the street nickname by creating a long continuous strip of images. On the top of the pages is one side of the street and positioned below this in reverse is the other side of this street.

This photobook design was very innovative for its time with stiff covers and the interior was bound to display as an accordion (also known as Leporello or Concertinas) layout, which is to say each page was connected and continuous. A very long strip of photographic images. As a part of the Pop moment, his book was also meant to be a very inexpensive, which is apparent in the rough and uneven gluing of the accordion page binding.

My photographs of this exhibit were a grab shot and dose not do the Ruchas’s photobook enough justice, thus I recommend for you to go check it out and see the real thing!

The OCMA exhibition runs thru April 2nd, 2017.

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January 17, 2017

Nancy Baron – Palm Springs > The Good Life Goes On

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Photographer:  Nancy Baron (born in Illinois, residing in California, USA)

Publisher:  Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany

Published October 2016. Hardcover book with 120 pages; 63 numbered and titled color photographs; sewn binding, printed and bound in Germany. 22.5 x 22.5 cm.

Essays:  Foreword by Alexa Dilworth; statements by Matthew Weiner and Nancy Baron; quotations by Martha Stewart and Hugh Kaptur

Text:  English

Photobook designer:  Kehrer Design Heidelberg – Katharina Stumpf

Copyright  © 2016 Nancy Baron and Kehrer Verlag

Notes:  Palm Springs has been a geographical and cultural mecca (not only for Southern Californians) since the early twentieth century, a place where a variety of endeavors have had the freedom to unfold. Especially in our time, both celebrities and others consider this desert city a notable attraction, an informed center of cultural activities of all kinds, most notably several film and art festivals, a summer photo festival, an excellent Museum of Art, and many more, also in association with its eight sister communities in the Coachella Valley. The dry air supplies a healthy environment for outdoor activities much of the year as well.

Mid-century modern is the architectural style that makes many of the private residences in Palm Springs especially appealing. Some fifty years later, one marvels at the manner and style that seem to seamlessly integrate residential buildings into the desert environment with its seasonal challenges in temperatures, and at the “good life” it supports. Nancy Baron excels as an observer who lets us look over her shoulder to see the marvels which this impactful town presents. It is almost as if time has stood still: In an era of world turmoil the serenity of the desert and its structures forming an enclave for residents serve as the basis for this second volume of Palm Springs photographs by Nancy Baron. (The first volume was previously featured on The PhotoBook by Douglas Stockdale.)

The volume is designed with a square format, as are almost all of the photographs; square compositions have a satisfying feeling of completion when well done, as is the case here. This is in line with the feeling of serenity of the “good life” depicted here. The colors are bright, a series of portraits of the environment and its inhabitants to match the bright desert sun. The emphasis is on the structures in their surroundings; the occupants and owners and their possessions seem part of an ever-changing context that is subject to some cultural influences and interpretations, as well as to a great deal of nostalgia. The volume is well thought out and is pleasant to view and read. The writers of the essays share some personal impressions and experiences regarding this unique town. Nancy Baron shows a special knack for portraying the special characteristics of places along with their cultural phenomena. We are looking forward to her future projects!

Gerhard Clausing

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January 11, 2017

Claire Felicie – Only The Sky Remains Untouched

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Copyright 2016 Claire Felicie

Photographer: Claire Felicie (born Breda, NL, resides Amsterdam, NL)

Self-published (the Nederland)

Essays: Claire Felicie

Text: English

Stiffcover book, sewn binding, quad-color (2 blacks, dark grey, warm grey) lithography by Colour and Books, printed in the Nederland

Photobook designer: Sybren Kuiper ( -SYB- )

Notes: Claire Felicie has undertaken a daunting task of investigating the dark inner psyche of war veterans who after engaging in terrifying military combat, have returned home with the invisible wounds of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Felicie carefully chose a symbolic location to stage her portraits, which is a former military weapons factory.  Her portraits and landscapes are subsequently mashed-up and interwoven together in an attempt create a more chaotic and disjointed narrative. The black and white photographs lean heavily into grey and dark tonalities, providing a very somber setting for this body of work.

Her subjects recline half-dressed on a minimalist and symbolic military style cot within a stark space. Some cannot confront the camera, needing to turn their backs to look away. The remaining gazes appear blank, dull, without energy and momentarily without resistance. Many of her portraits are truncated with the interleaving of pages, see images 2 and 3 below, and as well as images 5 and 6, visually revealing only a partial embodiment of her subject, as though that person is no longer whole and symbolically broken.

Many of portraits are paired with images of a decaying structure; a desolate and foreboding environmental context that seems well suited to the disturbing war stories her subjects share in the afterword. Her subjects have experiences that are difficult for a non-combatant viewer to fathom, even after reading about the events that have been witnessed. These are the experiences that subsequently result in sudden bouts of intense anxiety, fear, and sadness accompanied with a loss of trust and a sense of security. Thus pairing a portrait with an abstract marking that could be representative of a weeping wall, bottom image below, is a beautiful symbolic metaphor for a depressing sadness.

Essentially all conceptual projects, although especially portraits, attempt to find ways to explain the unexplained and visualize the invisible. Books and photographs become a silent witness. Nevertheless, I find her photographs of these veterans sequenced among the moody rural and urban landscape photographs elicits a perceived sadness emulating from her subjects and although I don’t know the extent of their pain, it feels palpable.

The surrounding forest, although rendered darkly, is steadily reclaiming the man-made structures, thus offers hope for a slowly regenerative healing for her subjects and mankind as well.

In closing, a beautiful book object that results from the creative collaboration of Felicie with the smart book designer Sybren Kuiper and the beautifully lithography by Sebastiaan Hanekroot at Colour and Books. Recommended.

Cheers

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January 8, 2017

Barbara Kyne – By Fire

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Ph­otography:  Barbara Kyne (Oakland, California)

Fall 2015, self-published. Softcover book with 32 pages, not numbered; 10 duotone photographs; 8.75 x 7.25″; $20. Marketed by Norfolk Press  and by the photographer.  For a limited time included as a bonus upon purchase of the second book, A Crack in the World, to be reviewed here shortly.

Essay:  “On Contemplation and Perception” by Barbara Kyne

Text:  English

Photobook design: Yon Sim

Notes:  By Fire is a fascinating seminal volume that has as its goal creating a connection between severe personal tragedy and the universe of nature as a sphere of continuity and as a context permitting some healing. In ten well-chosen images that have also been given intriguing titles, Barbara Kyne allows the viewer to enter a foreboding yet promising atmosphere: we can project events that have fundamentally affected our lives into a series of fiery depictions of nature. These often include a shadowy figure – a stand-in and ethereal spirit, hinting at a gutsy universality beyond the comprehension of any one individual being, as well as pointing toward some solace and an understanding that we are not alone.

Barbara Kyne has a keen interest in pursuing the deeper meaning of reality and discovering clues to the great existential questions, using her photography to serve as a conduit to understanding “the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, often and surprisingly connecting pathos and joy.” Regarding this volume, she states, “If we move through the metaphorical fire with awareness, we may find that facing mortality creates expansion and renewed life.” Indeed, there is a mysterious and mythical quality to her photography that envelops and fascinates the viewer, inviting several types of discovery.

Barbara Kyne is continuing her important photography in further volumes. We admire her work and are looking forward to further illuminations.

Gerhard Clausing

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January 6, 2017

Young-hwan Choi – BABEL

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Copyright 2014 Young-hwan Choi

Photographer: Young-hwan Choi (born & resides in Seoul, South Korea)

Self-Published (South Korea)

Essays: Young-hwan Choi, Dong-sun Jin, Sang-yong Shim

Text: Korean & English

Stiffcover book with tipped in image, perfect binding, four-color lithography, printed by Photonet in South Korea

Photobook designer: Photonet, South Korea

Notes: Choi’s self-published photobook BABEL is a tall, thin collection of black and white photographs that investigate a towering urban landscape in which the vegetation is either attacking a structure or attempting to conceal it, as though a futile potential reclamation is in process.

This is a dark poetic and surreal allegory about the pursuit of happiness by means of accumulating power and wealth through the construction of tall looming structures, similar to the vain construction of the towers of Babel, is but a hollow chase. None of these structures has been able to truly reach heaven.

In writing about Choi’s photograph, Sang-young Shim states “the excessive deficiency of light, which often comes close to absence. Sometimes all light is extinguished except for the minimum required for perception. Even that is reflected light, with the light source nowhere to be seen. The main tones range between grey and black, but as the darkness advances to the extreme level, it often threaten the middle tones as well…the plant is a place that should be brighter, for sure. One should poke a hole through the sky cover in ash-colored clouds. The ominous grey that pressed down should be covered with brilliant colors. But the signs of dawn are too faint.”

I met Choi at Photo Independent last spring in Los Angeles and I was impressed with his photographic exhibit and his two self-published photobooks, this and his earlier REQUIEM (published in 2011).

I find BABAL’s visual narrative to be extremely relevant to the current global events, especially those occurring in the United States. Anyone who builds large and tall structures with their name bronzed in large letters across the front for all to see (hoping for admiration) is indeed pursuing a dark folly that was characteristic of Babel.

Best regards

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January 1, 2017

Daniel Alexander & Andrew Haslam – When War is Over

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Copyright 2016 Daniel Alexander & Andrew Haslam

Photographer: Daniel Alexander (born Edinburgh, Scotland, resides London, UK)

Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing (UK)

Essay: Daniel Alexander

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed cover, inserts, multiple gatefolds, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Italy

Photobook designer: Daniel Alexander

Notes: Towards the end of World War I in 1917, the United Kingdom made a decision to establish the Imperial War Graves Commission that currently tracks and maintains the burial of 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead from World War I and II in perpetuity. Daniel Alexander’s photobook When War is Over provides a documentary style investigation of this on-going process of memorialization.

Alexander and Haslam’s photographic project took on more meaning for me as I had recently completed a related photographic project documenting road-side memorials. In my investigation I was documenting what family and friends had erected as a personal memorial at the site of a tragic accident in an attempt to create a remembrance and deal with their personal grief. Similarly Alexander and Haslam investigate an organized process of remembrance for those who tragically passed while serving in the military with the government acting on the behalf of families who might not otherwise have a means or capacity to do so, such that those who passed were honored equally.

For me this photobook calls into the question of how we create a remembrance of those who we have known and loved, but who have now passed on. How do we maintain that memory and how that memory is passed on to later generations? Does a well maintained cemetery create this experience, or does it provide an associated remembrance as an example that is available to us all? Likewise this photobook, although not about someone specifically still elicits a poignant remembrance of my family members who were lost in military action during these wars as well as those who were in the war but have passed since, such as my own father who was in the American army during World War Two.

This photobook documents the various aspects of maintaining these burial sites, which engages administrators, quarry-men, stone cutters, and gardeners for the upkeep of 2,500 cemeteries, 21,000 other burial grounds and 200 memorials for the missing in 154 countries. I also find that this photobook is a sober narrative about the terrible price of war, but if so engaged, those valiantly involved will be remembered.

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December 16, 2016

David Taylor – Monuments

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Copyright 2015 David Taylor

Photographer: David Taylor (resides Tucson, Arizona)

Publisher: Radius Books (Santa Fe)

Essays: Claire C. Carter, Daniel D. Arreola, William L. Fox, Rebecca Senf (interview)

Text: English, Spanish

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, Document section (essay, maps, articles, Plate details), printed in Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: David Chickey, David Taylor

Notes: This photobook is an investigation of the borderland straddled by the United States on one side, Mexico the other that extends the 690 miles between the two El Paso/Juarez and Tijuana/San Diego. Marking that transition point are 276 boundary obelisks, with 52 constructed initially of stone (1883) standing 11 feet high then later 224 additiaonl were fabricated of iron (1891-1895) and slightly smaller at 6 and a half feet tall.  Taylor has photographed these boundary Monuments in a documentary and visually objective style, similar in idea to that of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typologies. His photographic project was initiated in 2007, well before this borderland became a contested subject in the recent American presidential election and a book that probably has not been viewed in its entirety by the president-elect. This photobook project is essentially an expansion on Taylor’s 2008 Guggenheim fellowship that resulted in his earlier photobook, Working The Line, also published by Radius Books.

This is a obsessive investigation, as he has stated “the obelisks have ended up familiar figures invested with enormous meaning for me“. Each of the 276 boundary markers rests within an urban or rural landscape relative to the two respective countries. His photographs of the urban marker landscape provides a sharp visual contrast to the lives on either side of the borderland. The urban markers these are usually adjacent to a high fence or barrier to impede (or control) clandestine foot traffic. The urban photographs are in sharp contrast to the rural markers found in the mountains and large expanses of the desert, as these lonely markers provide the only evidence that a man-designated boundary occurs.

In terms of current social-political discussions about borders, especially as one contemplates the lonely markers high in the mountains or in the open desert, these photographs beg the question about what does a border really means?  Is a location/site more “American” or more “Mexican” ten feet, or even one thousand feet, on either side of the marker?

This is a large and thick volume, beautifully designed and printed, which results in a book object that is a pleasure to read.

Note: As one of the photobook judges earlier this year for Photo Book Independent, I had juried Taylor’s Monuments submission into the subsequent exhibition.

Cheers!

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October 28, 2016

Yanina Shevchenko – Crossing Over

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Copyright 2013 Yanina Shevchenko

Photographer: Yanina Shevchenko (born: Russia – resides: Barcelona, Spain)

Publisher: The Velvet Cell (London, Taipei)

Essays: Yanina Shevchenko

Text: English

Stiffcover book, saddle-stitch binding, four-color lithography, printed in Taiwan

Photobook designer: Velvet Cell Graphics

Notes: In America a “road-trip” in which one wants get up-close and personal with the land is usually by accomplished by means a car. To cross an even greater expanse of Russia and attempt to create a personal relationship with the land, a road-trip one usually associates with is by means of the Trans-Siberian Railway. This photobook is Yanina Schevchenko’s narrative using a documentary style and resulting from riding the rails over a duration of fourteen days; from Moscow to the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway and then immediately returning. Her subject was the expansive rural and intermittent urban landscape of Russia in an attempt to investigate the regional culture along this route.

As a reader who has traveled by railway in both the United States and Europe, what can be observed in Shevchenko’s photographs appears similar in one aspect but not all-together different; stretches of open and frequently monotonous rural landscape with short duration’s of the urban industrial landscape. I also found myself recently returning to this book as I am now make frequent commutes to a laboratory space about an hour and half away that involves a long drive with a short stretch of stop and go traffic. During the drive, the ensuing landscape is a soft blur, but due to the serendipity and chance of where I made the brief stops in heavy traffic, the adjacent landscape takes on a startling clarity. These are similar elements that Shevchenko captures in her investigation. Perhaps some of the structures of the steppes are a bit unique, but the land adjacent to a noisy rail line is a place that is not usually attractive but can still be a very interesting to contemplate.

Cheers

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September 15, 2016

Lisa Elmaleh – Everglades

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Copyright 2016 Lisa Elmaleh

Photographer: Lisa Elmaleh (b. Miami, FL & resides in West Virginia, USA)

Publisher: Zatara Press

Essays: Ann McCary Sullivan & Lisa Elmaleh

Text: English

Hardcover book with wrap around cover with interior pocket, Smyth-sewn binding, interior booklet saddle stiched, lithography, without captions or pagination, printed in Richmond, VA

Photobook designer: Andrew Fedynak and Lisa Elmaleh

This photobook, Everglades, by Lisa Elmaleh is a beautiful sonnet about the Florida Everglades and a testimony to her vision and patience. I had enough issues with a 4×5” camera with sheet film on dry land, least taking on the use of huge 8×10” camera (aptly named Fitzgerald Fitzwilliam Fitzgeorge) and the finicky wet collodion glass negative process while stomping around in a swamp. If you are not familiar with the wet collodion process, which dates back to 1851, it requires that the glass plate be prepared and exposed while still “wet” and immediately developed with acid on site after exposure to further complicate her photographic process even more.

Her landscapes photographs of the Everglades wilderness are lyrical and haunting. The resulting imperfections of the wet collodion process add a measure of serendipity and chance, while creating mysterious poetic images, from all that I am told, not unlike the complexity of the Everglades itself. Due to the limitations of her process, this body of work is not meant to be an exacting documentary style investigation of this massive location, but more attuned to capture the emotional essence of her experience.

The hardcover book has contemporary elements in the binding and inclusion of the introductory booklet while the photographs are sequenced and laid out in a classic style, each plate with ample white margins. The plates have an additional coating that provides a very nice sheen that adds to the visual quality of these beautiful black and white images. The Smyth sewn binding allows the book to almost lay flat upon opening that make this book a delightful experience to read.

The photographic titles and date of exposure is available on Lisa Elmaleh’s web site.

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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