The PhotoBook Journal

January 25, 2018

Louie Palu – Front Towards Enemy

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Photographer: Louie Palu (born Toronto, Canada & resides Washington DC)

Published by Yoffy Press: Atlanta, GA (USA) copyright 2017

Essay by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu

Text: English

Stiff cover Zine with metal saddle stitch binding, Cards, Leporello (Accordion), soft cover Newspaper, folded without binding, exhibition insert, housed in printed chip-board folder with cover flap, four-color lithography, printed in Turkey

Photobook designer: Jordan Swartz

Notes: War. I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although I live on an old WW2 bombing range, that’s another story. Louie Palu in his new multi-media publication (can we really call this a photobook?) Front Towards Enemy provides a version of a photo-documentary that resulted from a self-assignment investigation of the war conflict in Afghanistan. This is a very complex region; socially, economically, politically and environmentally that Palu has tried to emulate with an equally complex and layered print concept.

His multi-media conceptual photobook immediately reminded me of Alejandro Cartagena’s 2015 self-published Before the War, which in retrospect, I have found so complex at the time as to be visually overwhelming. There are similar aspects about Palu’s publication as well.

Palu’s photobook has four major components and then each of these break down or expand from there. Part newspaper, The Void of War, part zine, The Fighting Season, part leporello, part a pack of picture cards and finally an insert that suggests how to assemble of this into a exhibition. Wow.

Rebecca Senf in her assay discusses the parallels between Palu and W. Eugene Smith as to how Smith after his tiff with Life magazine about his Albert Schweitzer photo essay left the magazine and went independent. As Palu was self-assigned for his Afghanistan project, likewise he did not have to conform to the norms of a picture editor, but completed his project on his own aesthetic terms. We do not always see his subject but are provided indirect evidence of his subject’s presence; a cast shadow, an out of focus form, heads bowed, truncated feet, legs and arms. A photo-documentary that attempts to connect with the heart.

Newspaper; The Void of War; interior pages with images that are an impressive 8-1/2” h x 21-1/2” w; the ultrawide format of the camera lens creates a distorted visualization that echos the frequently un-nerving human situations that are in a state of progress. The photographic quality of the newsprint has low contrast with muddled blacks, typical of an area of newspapers and harken back to newspaper coverage of the Vietnam War era.

Zine; The Fighting Season, saddle stitch binding, with the essays by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu and includes the book’s colophon. A mix of the trauma of warfare with the background of the human element, the children and adults with their animals who try to survive in the region amidst the war.

Leporello (Accordion); 14 continuous panels, printed full bleed that when unfolded extends 13 feet, with the photographs on one side and the caption printed on the reverse. The physical manipulation of the leporello to look at the images and then read the corresponding caption is awkward and not meant to be an easy act. The last image (or depending on how you fold the leporello, the first image) of a seriously wounded Afghan solider in a Medevac helicopter’s blue light is incredibly haunting.

Cards, individual prints, which are printed full bleed, 11”h x 7-1/2”w, on heavy card stock. Captions are provided on the reverse side. These are tightly cropped portraits of his subjects who are soldiers that are engaged in the war in Afghanistan.  I find their eyes and gaze visually riveting.

Single page insert: Instructions and suggestions on how to create one version of an exhibition with this publication.

As one moves from one part of the publication to another, there is a feeling of messiness, an interesting feeling, perhaps a simulation of the awkward and strained social and environmental conditions that Palu is encountering. Another dimension of this body of work.

Palu has stated that although he has experienced some aspect of war, his photographs cannot provide the reader with the full experience of what this is. Similarly, this review is an attempt to describe a complex publication, but cannot provide the reader with the full experience. Highly recommended you obtain your own copy.

Other books published by Louie Palu that have been reviewed on TPBJ: Cage Call

Cheers!

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November 3, 2011

Louie Palu – Cage Call

Copyright Louie Palu 2007 published by Photolucida

At the conclusion of the Photolucida‘s Critical Mass event in 2006, three photographers were awarded monographs, Hiroshi Watanabe, Sage Sohier and Louie Palu, for his photo-project Gage Call: Life and Death in the Hard Rock Mining Belt. For Palu, along with Charlie Angus who conducted the interviews, their project was a personal odyssey conducted between 1991 and 2003.

Palu’s creative and moving narrative brings us on a journey from the distant and abstract qualities of working deep in a mine to the up-close and personal lives of the miners and their families. The project was photographed in a documentary style, utilizing black and white film, a medium that creates a resonance with the inky blackness of the mining shafts that are deep and hiding far from the sun, where artificial light is similar to the sun, intense relative to the darkness.

Interestingly, in Palu’s interview published in LensWork #73 (Nov-Dec 2007) just after his project was awarded Photolucida‘s Critical Mass award, he states “It was not until I met photographer Ken Light and legendary photo editor John G. Morris in 2004, that I was schooled in the art of photo editing, and the importance of sequencing images. After insights from them, I spent more than a year re-editing the Cage Call body of work.”

The viewer initially witnesses the act of mining deep in the earth. The miners are captured in silhouette or in mass; the workers are faceless and impersonal men, representing hard-working “mankind”.  The workers and their equipment seem to lurk in the edges of the looming and forbidding darkness. Palu documents the working conditions that make it easy for me to perceive that this is not an easy career that the work is hard and the working conditions are harsh. Similarly, the landscape terrain around the area of the mining operations is a mass of nondescript buildings with a mine tower hovering in the background, a constant reminder of the dark catacombs waiting below.

Palu then gradually introduces us to the miners, providing them with a face and then their personal activities to allow us to become familiar with them, to think of them as individuals and to speculate about their personalities. But in doing so, he also introduces the personal dangers of this particular profession, perhaps one of the most dangerous of jobs. Without drama, he documents men who had been vibrant and whole one moment and permanently maimed the next. He leaves it to the viewer to image the ensuing terror that occurred.

The book concludes with an essay by Charlie Angus, an interesting combination of text and interviews. Angus and Palu worked together during periods of this project, each with a desire to add another dimension to their collective story.

As a book object, the book has stiff covers, offset printed in China with a sewn binding. The black and white photographs in the interior plates provide a full, rich tonal range.

Cheers

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