The PhotoBook Journal

August 16, 2018

Michael Kolster – Take Me to the River

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Michael Kolster – Take Me to the River

Photographer: Michael Kolster (born Milwaukee, WI, resides Brunswick, ME, USA)

Publisher: George Thompson Publishing (USA) 2016

Essays: Michael Kolster, Alison Norström and Matthew Klingle

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, tri-tone (black & white) lithography, including 10 gatefolds, printed at ESB, Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: David Skolkin

Notes: Contemporary landscape photograph as an artistic genre sits on the edge of a delicate two edge sword; part objective documentary evidence and part artistic (subjective) personal interpretation. Perhaps vexing is that these two descriptive attributes usually co-exist in the same body of work. I think in an attempt to engage the potential subjective artistic aspects, Michael Kolster for this landscape project deferred to the use of making ambrotype (wet-plate photographic process characteristic of the mid-1800’s) photographs.

Unlike the digital photography, as well as the use of film, the ambrotype is a direct process that requires the preparation of the glass plates on-site immediately prior to exposure, then a rapid return to the chemicals required to fix the image. As evident in this body of work, the process has elements of chance and the inclusion of serendipity as to how the coating process was completed and the resulting visual effects; no two images are alike. To further complicate this process, the emulsion is very UV sensitive, requires long exposures and without any effective means to calculate the proper exposure in advance. The exposure is by educated guess and until the glass plate is developed, the artist does not know if they were successful in their attempt. The resulting glass plate is actually a negative that does not reveal its essence until layered on top of a black background, thus the reason for the black printed pages in the book (although not really required as the glass plates were scanned for this publication, while the black pages provides a symbolic background consistent with viewing a proper ambrotype).

Interestingly, an aspect that keeps me returning to these intriguing images, is the nature of the wet-plate photography process which introduces unanticipated swirls and flow marks that are wonderful visual metaphors consistent with his subjects; four rivers of the eastern coast of the United States. Likewise, the longer durations required for the glass plate exposure allows the things that will move, the water, tree limbs, grass blades or individuals in close proximity, to leave a ghostly blurred image. This blurring provides for me an inherent dynamic element to these images as a departure from a quick fraction of a second that could result in a very static appearance.

A really nice book to consider for the summer, as his subjects were all captured in the duration that spans spring, summer and into the fall. Although the ambrotype process results in black and white images, there is a perceived lushness within these landscapes photographs. His subjects capture not only the beauty of “nature” inherent in these river pathways, but includes a mash-up of the man-built urban landscape that is representative of the early settlements adjacent to most of these vital water ways.

Another subtle element in this project is that the four rivers featured, the Androscoggin, Schuylkill, James, and Savannah, were until the Clean Water Act of 1972, essentially extremely polluted chemical cesspools. The rivers are all in much better condition today, although still not pristine yet, but now potentially rivers that are in a state of renewal (or at least these were at the time of this publication in 2016, prior to the recent American elections). Nevertheless, this book is a story about environmental hope.

Cheers, Doug

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April 13, 2018

Rose-Lynn Fisher – The Topography of Tears

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Photographer:  Rose-Lynn Fisher (born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, lives in Los Angeles)

Publisher:  Bellevue Literary Press, New York, NY; © 2017

Essays:  William H. Frey II, Ph.D., Ann Lauterbach, Rose-Lynn Fisher

Text:  English

Paperback, stiff cover with French flaps; 128 pages with duotone images; 8×8 inches; printed and bound in China

Photobook Designer:  Mulberry Tree Press, Inc.

 

Notes:

I love landscape-like images of all sorts, but most especially those given out-of-the-ordinary approaches that reach into the realm of abstraction, whose representation can be considered other kinds of “scapes.”  In my own work, I have featured the body as landscape, resulting in unusual macro images, labeled “bodyscapes,” published in Blur magazine.  Of course, I also believe in the role of art as therapy, especially as a tool of self-observation, both for the photographer and the viewer. Rose-Lynn Fisher has gone in a similar direction in her visualizations, into the “micro” realm, examining the visual nature of tears (a product of emotional or onion-chopping moments) under the microscope for a number of years – a fascinating world in miniature, the world of what I would consider “tearscapes,” is the outcome, as published in this volume, entitled The Topography of Tears.

Of course it is expected that there are connections between art and the emotions, especially in a project like this. And sure enough, the titles given the images bear this out, since the author hints at moments that gave rise to the tears. The foreword and afterword by the author, as well as the essays, written by a neuroscientist and a poet, provide further contexts. Such titles as “Grief and gratitude,” “I remember you,” and “Nervous exhaustion” show a range of moments that gave rise to the examined outpourings.

The tears visualized are mostly the author’s own, and emotional conditions are necessary and concomitant contexts for these visualizations. The author essentially interrupted her emotions to capture the tears for visual examination. There two major ways in which this artistic inquiry examined tear samples: air-dried or compressed under a cover glass. Whereas the former often resulted in branchy, estuary-like structures, the latter often produced more free-form irregular patterns. Still others produced unexpected surprises that defy description. The viewer has a feeling of sitting in an elevated, drone-like position, looking in on someone’s inner turmoil that has been released for all to see. It is a bit like divining meaning from tea leaves or coffee grounds or lead castings on New Year’s Eve. You are welcome to derive your own meanings from the images; some sample pages are shown here without the titles to keep you guessing.

This volume is an excellent study in self-examination through art. I feel inspired to dig out my microscope and start exploring!

For those readers interested in an overview regarding the therapeutic possibilities of art, I refer you to the volume edited by Judith Aron Rubin:  Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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October 15, 2017

Dronescapes: The New Aerial Photography from Dronestagram

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Editor:  Ayperi Karabuda Ecer

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, © 2017

Essays:  Eric Dupin (foreword); Ayperi Karabuda Ecer (introduction)

Text: English

Hard cover, sewn binding, four-color printing, 288 numbered pages; 250+ captioned color images; 10×8.5 inches; drone user guide, author biographies, supplementary image references, index of photographers and websites, index of locations; printed in China by C&C Offset

Photobook designer:  Michael Lenz, Draught Associates

Notes:

It seems that drones (quadcopters and other multirotors) and images taken with them are everywhere these days. The website Dronestagram was founded in 2013 to provide a place where extraordinary images taken with such small aircraft by their owners/remote pilots/photographers can be shared. It should be noted that a few years later, when certain communities are severely restricting the use of drones because of some irresponsible owners, this website as well as this volume advocate and give instructions for their effective and safe implementation.

This printed volume of images selected from Dronestagram, edited by Ayperi Karabuda Ecer, provides us with some 250 bird’s-eye views of the world, in ways that might otherwise be impossible, since we do not have large birds that take us to the skies allowing us to ride on their backs to create such images, nor do most of us have access to personal mini-helicopters (yet!). Each image is accompanied by a short or expanded caption regarding its location and story if applicable, as well as the exact latitude, longitude, and altitude at which it was taken. The editor has divided the work into nine thematic areas, constituting chapters of the book, with the following titles: Drones Are Us (playful, humorous); Close (unusual angles); Urban; Fauna (animals); Probe (environment); Space; Pattern/Shadow (images emphasizing composition and seen as more artistic rather than straight-forward); Move (sports and leisure); and I Do (wedding photography). This is quite an assortment of topics to cover; examples are reproduced below, in the order of the chapters. At times, the volume provides biographical features on some photographers and further explanations as well.

The images include startlingly different ways of telling stories, often taken from directly above the subject(s) to provide dynamic perspectives, especially when making good use of shadows. Other images provide startling angles, for instance, combining a close-up of the top of a high-rise building with the ground below as background. Still others could also have been taken from a small plane or helicopter as well, if it were not for the safety issues already discussed. I would hope that as the use of this technology matures, sequences of shots would also be created to allow the viewing of a story from several angles (virtually) simultaneously.

A most interesting volume to give to someone who treasures this new form of aerial photography, as well as to others who appreciate seeing things from new perspectives! This book is a finalist in the 2017 Lucie Photo Book Prize competition.

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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June 24, 2012

Gytis Skudzinskas – Tyla – Silence

Photographs copyright Gytis Skudzinskas 2011 published by Culture Menu (Kulturos Meniu)

Gytis Skudzinskas joins the minimalist ranks of the 1960’s color field painters and the recent cadre of long exposure photographers who reveal that with the passing of elastic time, that there are other “realities” that exist beyond our everyday comprehension and perception.

He creates contemplative images with beautiful lyrical colors of things that are, but yet are not. The results can be somewhat serendipitous as the final results are seldom visualized yet there is a core essence that can be anticipated.

The photographs are created with a neutral and static composition with the boundary between the upper and lower sections drawn mid way, dividing the two color fields into equal halves. This ccompositional tool is then consistently employed providing a sameness and interrelationship to and between the various photographs.

Beyond a contemplative opportunity for these photographs I regretfully do not find anything of sustaining value. The photographic content exists entirely within the boundaries of these photographs and other than the variations in color there is little else to hold my attention, to tweak my curiosity or create a desire to return.

The hardcover book is nicely printed and bound, the color photographs are suburb, but the textual design element of using a light color font on a paper of similar value increases the difficulty to read and comprehend the essays. This may be a case in which the attempt to be creative in design fell short, but an attempt to challenge the basics of book design is applauded. As an artist, risk need to be ventured and creative failure is a surrogate for success, as nothing ventured, nothing gained.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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