The PhotoBook Journal

January 25, 2019

Dawoud Bey – Seeing Deeply

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:48 pm

00a-seeing_deeply.jpg

Photographer:  Dawoud Bey (born in Queens, New York City; lives in Chicago, Illinois)

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, TX; © 2018

Essays:  Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford

Language:  English

Clothbound hardcover with illustrated dust jacket; 400 pages, paginated, with 129 color and 136 black-and-white photographs; 11 ½  x 12 ¼ inches; printed in Germany by Dr. Cantz’sche Druckerei Medien GmbH

 

Notes:   This photobook is a 40-year retrospective of the work of the distinguished photographer Dawoud Bey, who is also a well-received Professor of Art at Columbia College in Chicago. Others before him have contributed perspectives on some of the same US communities, especially James Van Der Zee, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and Roy DeCarava; some of these predecessors of his left us with interesting insights into individuals and their surroundings, especially Harlem and other NYC neighborhoods. Over time there has been a significant shift, from a “social documentary” point of view (perhaps as previously expected peering in from the outside) to a more late 20th century and contemporary perspective, a more egalitarian position, that treats the individuals photographed as persons whose lives and creative contributions are to be shared on an equal level.

Bey is certainly a master of peering into the individual’s psyche, while also a master of light and shadow as he crafts his portraits with artistic acumen and compassion. Page after page in this photobook delights us with portraits that are forthright, direct, and honest. We feel we can almost touch the individuals shown; most of them make direct eye contact and share their pride and hope – it is clear that the rapport between the photographer and the individuals photographed was very strong, and this directness also creates a bond between those shown and the viewer.

This large and beautifully printed photobook is divided into nine major sections, with excellent introductory essays that shed light on each particular phase of Bey’s work, as well as illuminating commentary about various related contexts:

1  Harlem

2  Small camera work

3  Polaroid street work

4  Large-size Polaroid portraits (20 x24 inch)

5  Class pictures

6  Character project

7  Stranger / Community

8  The Birmingham Project

9  Harlem redux

Bey’s work features all those photographed as distinct individuals belonging to interesting groups, across various strata of society. There are also some landscapes and cityscapes to present the character of communities. The care this photographer shows with his students is demonstrated in section 5; each of the portraits is accompanied by a brief text that gives us further insights about the individual and his or her connections to others. Section 7 is also quite intriguing – Bey created staged portraits of sets of two different strangers from the same environment that might otherwise not have met, and thus raises a very crucial issue of our time: how united or how divided do we feel or are we really, and most important, what are we moving toward (see image 7 below)?

Some of the other portraits make use of a collage technique, which makes us curious about a particular individual’s other moments and moods, and hints at the individual as more multi-faceted than a single image can show. It is a great testament to Bey that even the Acknowledgments section in the back makes for interesting reading, as it allows us to see his method of collaboration with all who were involved.

This retrospective is much more than that: it is a magnificent testament to what  can be shown about people’s pride and hope, and in an exemplary yet subtle manner seems to posit the idea that all us individuals, no matter what our background and heritage may be, are interested in building a better future and would benefit from collaboration. This photobook is destined to become a classic!

Gerhard Clausing

 

01a-seeing_deeply.jpg

02-seeing_deeply.jpg

03-seeing_deeply.jpg

05-seeing_deeply.jpg

04-seeing_deeply.jpg

06-seeing_deeply.jpg

07-seeing_deeply.jpg

08a-seeing_deeply.jpg

 

December 12, 2018

Andreas Herzau – AM

00-Herzau-AM.jpg

Photographer:  Andreas Herzau (born in Mainz, Germany; lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher:  Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Wädenswil, Switzerland; © 2018

Stiff cover book (partial front cover) with French fold pages and “Blockbuch” binding; 108 pages with 55 monochrome images; 20.5 x 27.5 cm; printed and bound in Germany by Gulde Druck (Tübingen) and Josef Spinner (Ottersweier) respectively

Texts: Andreas Herzau; Baudrillard and Barthes quotes

Languages:  German and English

Photobook Designer:  Andreas Herzau

 

Notes:  Angela Merkel is certainly one of the wonders of the 21st century. As the first female German Chancellor, she wields her power in a rather unassuming and dutiful manner, without much of the pomp and swagger that marks other leaders. Photographs taken of her, for the most part, are marked by a certain predictable sameness that reflects that predictable style of leadership.

Andreas Herzau certainly has changed our view of her by providing a refreshingly innovative look at the wherewithal of the publicly visible leadership that characterizes this fascinating politician. With a distinguished record of photographic projects that shed new light on things and transgress traditional photojournalistic boundaries, in this photobook he is providing us with a creative new look at a subject we thought we already knew.

He observed and photographed Angela Merkel’s public appearances from 2009 to 2017. What makes the result of his labors particularly interesting is his astute observations that relate not only to the central figure, but especially also to the surroundings, the contexts with which the figure interacts in a continual public drama of appearances. We see partial shots of her, very many shots of hands in the process of building connections, and both limelight and shadow of events as they transpire. When have we ever seen a shot of her head from the back? Since politics lends itself to humor, there are quite a few amusing juxtapositions as well.

It wouldn’t be a Herzau project if this photobook did not also break new ground in its physical form. The images are all printed in what the publisher calls “duplex” fashion, on sheets folded inward (French fold), as shown in the sample illustrations below. This allows the reader to bend open sheets printed with a single image on such a folded-back sheet to experience an ongoing visual and physical narrative, even to play with the images by bending the opened fold to be amused by some distortion. The result is a certain 3D effect that makes the pages of the book come alive. This manner of presentation also gives the viewer a sense of surprise and adventure, since such a photobook allows some participation by the viewer. There are also a few flaming-red pages with quotes tying the photographs to philosophical thoughts. These inserted sheets are in the color of the SPD, the political party that has been both her opposition as well as her “Grand Coalition” partner at various times during her tenure as Chancellor.

An exciting photographic viewing adventure, sure to become a collector’s item. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Herzau-AM.jpg

02-Herzau-AM.jpg

03-Herzau-AM.jpg

04-Herzau-AM.jpg

05-Herzau-AM.jpg

06-Herzau-AM.jpg

07-Herzau-AM.jpg

08-Herzau-AM.jpg

09-Herzau-AM.jpg

 

 

December 1, 2018

Simon Brugner – The Arsenic Eaters

00-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

Photographer and Concept: Simon Brugner (born in Hartberg, Austria, lives in Vienna, Austria)

Publisher:  The Eriskay Connection, Breda, Netherlands; © 2018

Essays and illustration selections:  Simon Brugner

Text:  English

Stiff covers with yellow vinyl sleeve, bound with the Otabind method; four-color lithography, printed by Wilco Art Books, bound by Patist; 144 pages, with pagination and some captions in Part 2; 21 x 30 cm (8 ¼  x 12 inches); edition of 1250

Photobook Designers/Editors:  Rob van Hoesel, Simon Brugner

 

Notes:  The southeastern Austrian region known in English as Styria, and in German as Steiermark, is a mostly rural area that has the city of Graz as its center of culture and population density. Little has been known about the area’s mostly rural practice of consuming arsenic, which goes back several centuries, and lasted into the last part of the 20th century.

Arsenic was known as “the poor man’s cocaine” – reputed to be a stimulant that had the effects of physical and sexual enhancement, a beauty treatment for women, and even an effective method to temporarily enhance the physical appearance and strength of horses as they were about to be sold. Needless to say, there were also long-term side effects, especially when used to excess, as is the case with many such drugs and substances.

When we first see the cover of this fascinating book, we are not quite sure what we are looking at. Is it a scientific treatise? Is it an investigation with historical significance? Or perhaps a medical reference work? We are certainly curious! Well, it is a little bit of all of these, but most significantly a brilliantly photographed and edited photobook of visuals that tells this story, with a contemporary photographic interpretation by Simon Brugner, along with some insertions of historical material that he collected, in such a way as to retrace the mysteries of the old practice through very creative juxtaposition and sequencing.

This photobook is divided into two parts. The first and major portion is a well-edited visual narrative, of primary interest for purposes of this journal. The images are well sequenced to span the range of mysteries, fables, rumors, and anxieties about the often clandestine use and abuse of this mysterious substance, and to connect the old tales with the environment as it now exists. It seems that a certain tolerance and dependence on arsenic could be built up in some individuals, and thus also a sense of invincibility and anxiety, both for the users as well as for those around them.

Brugner has done a most effective job of photographing contextual connections – geography, mining locations, and contemporary objects and detail, including deterioration and decay – and mixing them with images of individuals from the area, both portraits and parts of the anatomy, as to keep the mystery of the story going. Particularly noteworthy is his use of colors, especially green and brown for the calming background of forests and nature above ground, dark orange-brown as the color of the caves and rocks from which arsenic is extracted, red as the color of blood and sensuality, as well as a harbinger of danger (check out those mushrooms), and, or course, stark monochrome for the historical images.

The second part of the book, consisting of some 30 pages, presents the contextual detail and explanations for the use of arsenic in this region. Brugner provides a number of historical illustrations, abstracts from scientific discussions, as well as other insights gained during the three-year period that it took to prepare this project. This is a highly useful section that sheds a bit of light on the mysteries that were visually presented in the first part.

I consider this photobook a new classic, recommended both as a well-designed narrative that deals with an issue that concerns us in different forms even today – from the fine art perspective, as well as for the presentation of this subject within a context of social and scientific understanding, against a historical perspective.

We have selected this photobook as one of our choices for “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018.”

Gerhard Clausing

 

01-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

02-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

03-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

04-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

05-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

06-Brugner-Arsenic.JPG

07-Brugner-Arsenic.JPG

08-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

09-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

10-Brugner-Arsenic.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 25, 2018

A Place Both Wonderful and Strange

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:31 am

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_cover

A Place Both Wonderful and Strange, Edited by Gustavo Aleman

Artists/Photographers with essays; Anna Beeke, Carl Bigmore, Melissa Catanese, Salvi Danes, Cristina De Middel, Enrico Di Nardo + Valentina Natarelli, Antone Dolezal, Philippe Fragniere, Jason Fulford, Rory Hamovit, Sara Palmieri, Sarah Walker

Publisher: Fuego Books, 2017 (book is not dated)

Afterword: David Company

Text: English and Spanish

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_back_cover

back cover

Hardcover book, flocking and embossed, sewn binding, four-color lithography, Biographies, printed in Spain at Artes Graficas Palermo

Photobook designer: Rubio & del Amo

Notes: This collection of narrative works is inspired by a creative idea of Gustavo Aleman, the Editor-in-Chief of Fuego Books, by the television series Twin Peaks created by David Lynch. If you are not already a fan of either David Lynch or this short run TV series from 1990-1991, then this and this can provide a decent primer.

Each artist/photographer created a body of work that draws from the concept of Twin Peaks, per the definition offered by David Foster Wallace; Lynchian refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.

There are 12 unique storylines that although are not directly connected yet are held together by a conceptual thread. Likewise, each has an aspect of the Lynchian Twin Peaks element; the potential Doppleganger’s in the narrative by Christina De Middel and Antone Dolezal, a cinematic narrative by Philippe Fragniere, odd but related fragments offered by Rory Hamovit and Salvi Danes, slightly disjoined narratives by Melissa Catanese and Jason Fulford. The strange ironies and juxtapositions of Enrico Di Nardo and Valentina Natarelli, the surreal moments in the investigations by Sara Palmieri and Sarah Walker and the mundane environmental context offed by Carl Bigmore and Anna Beeke. Each artist offers the readers some tantalizing visual clues, a perplexing narrative or are these photographic stories in fact providing us with evidence? And yes, there are no answers.

This collection reminds us that all photographs are mysterious, or a take-off of the famous Orwellian 1984 statement; all photographs are strange, some are just stranger than others.

Having avidly watched the original TV series while living in Valencia at the time, a popular Los Angeles bedroom community, one of local residents was Ray Wise who played Leland Palmer aka BOB in this series. Early during the second season Wise showed up with his hair bleached stark white. What? Wise would only smile when asked what does this dramatic hair change mean, knowing that the related episode would air in about three weeks to inform all of us of the next strange twist in the Twin Peaks tale. Perhaps this earlier brush with the unfolding events of Twin Peaks and now a personal project that I am developing about a local mystery has made this collection of Lynchian stories all the more beguiling for me, and I think will for you as well. Rated Delightful.

Cheers, Doug

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_1

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_2

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_3

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_4

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_5

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_6

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_7

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_8

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_9

A_Place_Both_Wonderful_and_Strange_10

Blog at WordPress.com.