The PhotoBook Journal

February 14, 2019

Ute and Werner Mahler – Kleinstadt

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Ute and Werner Mahler, Kleinstadt, 2018

Photographers: Ute Mahler born 1949, former GDR and Werner Mahler born 1950, former GDR, both reside in Hamburg, Germany

Publisher; Hartmann Projects, Stuttgart, Germany

Hard Cover, linen with foil-stamped lettering, thread-sewn, 144 pp., 69 Duotone black-white images, Width: 26 cm, Length: 32 cm

Language(s): German/English

Book Designer: Florian Lamm

Notes: “The places where life works – that is not where we photographed,” comments Ute and Werner Mahler, one of the most famous living artist photographer couple in Germany. Over a period of three years, they travelled to more than 100 small towns to take portraits of young people, architecture, and still life. The result is this wonderful photo book, which was sold out after only six months, and is already out in its second edition.

In the same way Robert Frank traveled across America in the 1950s, the Mahlers drove across Germany these days to find small towns that are not listed in any guidebooks and where the last waves of redevelopment already occurred more than 50 years ago. In these small towns, they found neither sights nor attractions, only vacant shops, grazing horses in derelict greenhouses, barking dogs behind shop windows, or simply empty lots overgrown with ferns.

The rhythm of the book has an impressive effect on the viewer. It alternates between portraits, architectural images, and some wondrous still life’s. The black and white portraits, taken with a large-format camera, focus exclusively on young people who were born into these dreary small towns and who must ask themselves upon finishing school: should I stay or should I go?

The group portraits of young people reveals a particular beauty. The photographer couple make a reference here to their previous photo book, Suburban Mona Lisas, which shows young women, who have grown up in dreary prefab housing projects, on their way to becoming adults. From the very beginning, the book took on a cult status, especially among young readers in Germany, and was already out of print shortly after its publication.

Their new long-term project, Kleinstadt, can be read as a very subjective, biographical work by the two German photographers, as they also grew up in small towns, like the protagonists of their pictures. After studying photography in the GDR at the Academy of Fine Arts, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, they founded the Ostkreuz Agency for photographers, as well as the Ostkreuz School, which still attracts young people from all over the world who want to study journalistic reportage.

Why should you buy this book? The book, with its linen cover and red embossing was very elaborately designed and printed in duotones. The book did not require any text. In a very laid-back and sometimes somewhat melancholy, but never boring, manner, the pictures tell their story about forgotten yet still-existent areas all over Germany.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

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Fotografie/ Ute Mahler & Werner Mahler: Kleinstadt

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February 12, 2019

Peggy Levison Nolan – REAL PICTURES

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Peggy Levison Nolan, REAL PICTURES: Tales of a Badass Grandma

Photographer: Peggy Levison Nolan, born Albany, NY currently resides in Hollywood, Florida

Publisher: Daylight Books, Durham, North Carolina, c. 2018

Essays by Abner Nolan, Suzanne Opton, Bonnie Clearwater

Language: English

Hardcover, Clothbound, 130 pages, 85 color photographs, 10 x8 inches, printed by Artron, China

Notes: Having recently attended a panel discussion on the topic of Photo-books, this reviewer was reminded of the value of having access to a photographer’s work within reach, available to visit and revisit whenever the mood occurs. To hold a book in one’s hands, to turn the pages at the pace of our own choosing, to enjoy the tactile experience of a real object, perhaps in the comfort of a favorite chair, or as a way to nourish the creative spirits while living through challenging times…all these pleasures come together in REAL PICTURES the new photo-book by Peggy Levison Nolan.

The full title of this collection of personal imagery is REAL PICTURES: Tales of a Badass Grandma; however the subject of Nolan’s 85 color photographs seems more intimate and gentle than the name suggests. Nolan may in fact be a Badass Grandma, but she is also a keen observer of light, color, joy, and quiet moments. By focusing her lens in the direction of her grandchildren and their parents, Nolan goes beyond the mode of typical family snapshots. REAL PICTURES is an Ode to life’s simple gifts in the fine art tradition of William Eggelston, Robert Frank, and Harry Callahan.

Rarely does the cover of a book warrant as much touch: this hardbound book is covered in a muted orange material reminiscent of sun faded upholstery, immediately evoking feelings of being in someone’s living room. Perhaps Nolan’s, perhaps your own. The first 3 images directly address perception of focus, shadow and reflection as seen through windows, gradually drawing us in to the homes of her adult children while signaling these images have an emotional point of view.

Its hard not to feel Nolan’s love of her subjects, and in turn theirs through willingness to be photographed in toy strewn houses, rumpled bed sheets, sleepy morning kitchens. Infants cry, kids make messes, family members embrace.

Nearly every image is infused with appreciation for color found in natural light, be it the simple blue line of a plastic shower curtain or the tiny pink foot of a napping child. The de-saturated tones of a nursing mother and child are echoed in the wide-angle view of two generations standing at the edge of a shore. Babies are born, stray hairs are left on the side of the bathroom sink; in Nolan’s work we understand why all of this is beautiful.

Though Nan Goldin’s color work is sited as having influenced Nolan to move beyond her initial use of Black and White, REAL PICTURES is less confrontational, and other than a shadow on the wall and a final image of feet in need of a pedicure, Nolan does not visually represent herself. Rather her work feels more in line with the early work of another female photographer Sally Mann, who also turned her lens in the direction of family; both women photographing those she knows best and loves most. In an era saturated with celebrity worship and instagram selfies, Nolan’s work is refreshingly sincere, selling nothing, offering us the richness of deeply invested relationships and the spaces in which they grow..

Upon learning that Nolan’s own mother died tragically when she was a girl and her father burned all the family photos in an attempt to spare further pain, the choice to become not only a mother and grandmother but a photographer herself, adds poignancy to revisiting Peggy Nolan’s beautiful work. Born of a self-made tradition giving her offspring handmade books documenting their own journeys into the wonders of parenthood, to now share these celebratory images with the rest of us, does indeed confirm that Peggy Nolan is in the best sense of the word, Badass.

Put on the kettle, turn off your media, curl up on a comfy couch and allow REAL PICTURES to soothe your eyes and your mind.

Enjoy! –  Melanie Chapman

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February 8, 2019

Katherine Longly – To Tell My Real Intentions, I Want to Eat Haze Like a Hermit

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To Tell My Real Intentions, I Want to Eat Haze Like a Hermit, Katherine Longly, Copyright 2018

Artist/Photographer; Katherine Longly, born Arlon, Belgium, resides Brussels, Belgium

Self-published artist book, 280 pages, many, many gate-folds, edition of 61 hand-made copies, signed and numbered

Essays and found text: Katherine Longly with essays and correspondence by Luca, Ren, Yuki, Martijn, Marina, Kenichi, R.P.K., Mina, Tomoko and Rika.

Text: English, with some French & Japanese

Stiff-cover book, hand-sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by PREFILM in Ixelles, Belgium.

Photobook designer: Katherine Longly with Welmer Keesmaat

Concept, edit and art-direction developed by Katherine Longly in the 2018 Atlas lab photo book making workshop by Alex Bacchetto and Yumi Goto, in collaboration with AKINA and Reminders Photography Stronghold.

Notes: Food. For some a real love – hate relationship. For others it’s just basic fuel to keep the carbon bio-mass moving that day. It’s a complex subject with volumes written about it each year; from describing the preparation of complex epicurean delights to the many ways to manage a diet and hopefully inspire someone to become a slimmer new person. For Katherine Longly, her past issues related to food created some emotion baggage and the reason behind the concept for her artist book. Essentially poking the food boogie-man right in the eye.

First, this is a complex artist book, in part using curated photographs created by Longly’s subjects as they use an inexpensive disposable camera to document their food and eating experiences. The twist is that that their camera use analog film, not an instant feed-back digital capture; first the camera’s are used by her subjects in Japan, then mailed to Longly for processing in Belgium. No careful visual editing by her subjects, thus many of these photographs have that rawness in composition and framing we think of when viewing vernacular photographs. In our current camera-phone or digital capture cameras age it seems we have become very conditioned to view the immediate visual results and then make some instant on-the-fly compositional adjustments for the next exposure.

Next, her subject’s photographs are then mashed up with some contextual photographs made by Longly who then creates a visual juxtaposition by the inclusion of magazine and newspaper articles and clipping that are overlaid with Longly’s diagrams and charts as a visual collage. She then added some more emphasis with yellow highlighters on some text, as though this was a school assignment or to provide quick notes to study by. Much of the additional context is hidden behind small gatefolds (second and third photographs below) of her subject’s photographs that creates another layer as to how to read the top level photograph while revealing additional information about the environmental conditions facing her subjects in Japan.

One quickly realizes that in Japan, as in many developed cultures, there are social norms related to one’s physical appearance, which can create food problems and perceived eating disorders. Each of her subjects photograph and write about their on-going experience with food and eating, creating chapters for each of her subjects; Healthfulness, Shelter, Emptiness, Obsession, Silence, Strength, Judgement, Heritage, Inspiration, and Empathy.

Longly’s artist book confronts some of many aspects of eating food. Eating may not always be a simple act, but potentially loaded with emotional baggage or helping to create a sense of freedom and joy. She provides a symbolic voice to the angst that many individuals have with the complex culture issues surrounding food, as it is not just a Japanese issue. By investigating how food issues haunt those of a different culture, perhaps this project provides Longly with the emotional distance to deal with her own past, and maybe still lurking, food issues, as well as a path forward for others to walk with her.

The folding and unfolding of this complex and layered artist book is a visual and visceral delight.

Cheers! Doug

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January 28, 2019

Dotan Saguy – VENICE BEACH

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Dotan Saguy, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise

Photographer: Dotan Saguy , born Kibbutz Yehiam, Northern Israel, currently resides in Los Angeles, California

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Berlin, Germany – copyright 2018

Forword by Jamie Rose

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound, 127 pages, 67 black and white images, printed by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Germany

Photobook Design: Kehrer Design Heidelberg (Anja Aronska) and Dotan Saguy

Notes:  For anyone who has ever visited Venice Beach in Southern California, comparisons to New York City’s Coney Island might not seem much of a conceptual stretch. Both are famous urban beachscapes that have been luring tourists from around the world for decades, both are celebrated more for the colorful locals than their glistening shores. But as a viewer first encounters Dotan Saguy’s fine new book, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise, thoughts of Santa Claus might seem antithetical to the fun and funky images of sundrenched beach life. Yet the more time one spends looking through this dynamic body of work, the more it is possible to understand how appropriate the reference is. Please dear reader, hear me out:

Starting with the cover image, repeated as the first photograph in the book, we are introduced to a fit, sundrenched blonde woman in revealing bathing attire, framed by sand and palm trees. Yet it is a boa constrictor wrapped around exercise bars that demands our attention the most. Saguy’s inclusion of sunflare and low angle POV immediately let us know this place is HOT, Wild, and perhaps a bit dangerous. In other words, this is beach is a playground, and we are invited to kick off our shoes and join in.

With the attentive eye of a skilled Street photographer, Saguy show us a world in which unattended children play on the sand; a loose band of musicians are joined by a person wearing a fuzzy bunny head; dudes smoke out; kids peek around corners to see what the grown ups are up to; old guys are playful; young guys climb poles to demonstrate inherent strength; sandy surfers teach eager students new moves; chiseled muscle men and women prepare for yet another competition; skateboarders defy gravity as they shred; working class people dance and laugh and shake their thangs during a weekend drum circle… Saguy’s vision of Venice beach is accurately a little lewd, a lot of fun.

Shooting exclusively with a 35mm prime lens, Saguy is not afraid to get up close. There is an intimacy and exuberance in all of his images; you can hear the music, feel the sea breezes, smell the garbage and a reefer, taste the sweat. His Venice beach is contrasty and dirty, full of action and interesting detail. Local characters are well framed by his camera, be it in doorways, handball courts, or stepping out in the tiniest of speedos to face an excited crowd. But such is Saguy’s skill as an observer that in that particular image, we are drawn as much to the young man holding open the door as to the well oiled silhouette of the man walking through. Every image contains dynamic tension; of line, of gaze, of sumptuous black and white tones. Earth bound men leap towards flying seagulls, children buried in sand observe police cars in the background. Tattoos in the foreground compete with macho acrobatics in the background, a zaftig street woman’s natural gifts are echoed in the mural behind her, revelers frolic in the powerful surf, freak-show denizens sit peacefully on storefront steps. No one seems to be selling anything, other than the guy with the sign for $1.99 pizza. Sure, if you want to throw some coins in the rag tag band of gypsies knit hat, that’d be cool, but they are going to sing no matter what.

This kind of freedom cannot be commoditized. And this, my friends, is where the concept of Santa Claus comes in. Not visually represented in Dotan’s images, but found in the ethos he shares with the inhabitants of his Venice Beach.

When this reviewer’s son was in elementary school, he one day said “If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?” Ok, yes, I promise, go ahead. He then asked what most parents know will come sooner or later, and yet it fills us with existential dread. “Is there really such a thing as Santa Claus?” And there it is. Do we answer honestly and break the illusion we have so diligently constructed over many years? We want to preserve the joy of believing; that people are Free and so too can be Fun, that a group of strangers can come together to dance, laugh, get high, make out; that races and classes are united at the edge of an ocean and all warmed by the same blazing sun. We don’t want to know that the Grinch can steal Christmas, and by that I mean the gobbling up of buildings and boardwalk by the corporate juggernaut known as SnapChat. We want to hold back the tide of gentrification, yet Saguy’s Venice is not one of wealth. Despite the mighty muscles and passionate protests, the greatest tension of all is enjoying his found moments, all the while knowing how this is going to play out.

Thus VENICE BEACH is like believing in Santa Claus, as we go back to the sand we become again like a child. The most powerful image in a book full of great photos, is that of the cover-girl’s young son, shot from behind. A spitting image of the late rule-breaking skate legend Jay Adams, his handmade sign asks as they face eviction “Why are you doing this?” Why beautiful boy, why indeed.

Light it up, pump it up, open it up, and enjoy. Dotan Saguy’s VENICE BEACH is a heartbreakingly fun book.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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January 22, 2019

Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden

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Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden (Why Dresden), copyright 2017

Photographer: Seiichi Furuya (born Izu, Shizuoka Japan, lives in Graz, Austria)

Published by Spector Books Leipzig, Germany

Stiff Cover, thread-sewn, 192 pages,  black-white and color photographs, 18cm x 24cm.

Text: German

Esssay: Manfred Wiemer

Designer: Helmut Völter

Notes:  The Japanese photographer Seiichi Furuya arrived in Dresden in 1984 with his wife and then three-year-old son. Today Furuya could be considered as one of the rare authors bringing up a coherent photographical work about the life during the 1980’s in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).  At the end of 2017 Furuya published this photography book, Warum Dresden (English: Why Dresden), which can also be read as a narrative about Dresden at this current time.

Three narrative threads are delicately interwoven one after the other. In the first one, Furuya has photographed everything in Dresden that seemed striking to his Japanese eye: bridges, squares, parks, the Elbe – which flows through the city and significantly shapes the its identity through its width and distinctive hue.

A second narrative thread captures all the various constellations of Dresden people in their everyday lives: walking, going to work, with their families, as citizens of Dresden, who are at home in an almost impossibly beautiful landscape. In a third thread, Furuya documents his wife and son as a small unit of a family in a foreign location.

The book title, Warum Dresden, invokes a deeper reflection into its meaning.  When Furuya revisited Dresden after more than 30 years in 2015, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) was founded as a right-wing citizens’ alliance in the city, which opposed the often xenophobic slogans of the national politics at the time. Furuya photographed this Pegida alliance and has added these images at the end of the book. Furuya is wondering why this alliance continues to flourish in Dresden? He has always praised the city as an idyllic landscape – a city that, in its individual beauty, faces an uncertain future influenced by so many external forces, both from the past with the World War II, communism, reunification and now the present.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director, Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

Note: this book was selected for Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018 by The PhotoBook Journal. Read the full list.

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January 18, 2019

Tema Stauffer – UPSTATE

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Photographer: Tema Stauffer

Born: Durham North Carolina, currently resides in Tennessee

Publisher: Daylight Books, Chapel Hill, NC, copyright 2018

Foreword by Xhenet Aliu and essay by Alison Nordstrom

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound sewn, 84 pages, 33 color photographs, printed by OFSET YAPIMEVI, Turkey

Photobook Designer: Ursula Damm

Notes: Upon opening UPSTATE for the first time, this reviewer was immediately taken back to her own years spent living in the Hudson Valley while attending Bard College. Not only because the subject of Tema Stauffer’s new work is the nearby city of Hudson and the surrounding landscape, but because Stauffer’s visual approach is in comfortable alignment with the work of seminal photographer Stephen Shore and the photography department he has directed at Bard since 1982. Thus while some photo books offer a glimpse into worlds we can never ourselves experience, the landscape and palette of UPSTATE felt so familiar that it has taken a bit of time to put into words the pleasure of this fine body of work.

Especially after reading the excellent essays that bookend Stauffer’s beautiful images. Novelist Xhenet Aliu does an outstanding job of providing context for the recent changes in Hudson, a once mighty industrial city which has become the weekend darling destination of monied Manhattanites. Photo historian Alison Nordstom’s essay references Stauffer’s work in the context of Hudson River painters, the New Topographics “school” of photography, Edward Hopper, and even the Japanese concept of Natsukashii, which loosely translated means nostalgia for something that no longer exists. The quality of writing in these essays complements the quality of Stauffer’s images and thus there is little one can add, other than to share an individual experience of spending time with this must-have book.

For those who are familiar with the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson one might find some similarity in the settings of UPSTATE. However, this reviewer prefers Stauffer’s approach, which is non-fictional, honoring the truth of a real place rather than using it as backdrop for expensive cinematic narratives.

The design of UPSTATE also differs significantly from another recently published (and potential companion piece) photo-book, UPSTATE GIRLS by Brenda Ann Kenneally, which focuses on the chaotic lives of low income inhabitants of nearby Troy New York, and is thus presented in collage-like journalistic manner.  In UPSTATE, Stauffer concentrates more on the architecture of a beautiful yet changing landscape, focusing on fields, winter light, abandoned buildings, and further evidence of blue-collar lives in which the hardware store is more important than the newest knitting store serving six dollar lattes. Thankfully, nothing found in UPSTATE, be they interiors or streetscapes, feels artificial.

There are many pleasures to this book of 33 color images, particularly if one appreciates fine printing and singular 8×10 images with clean white borders filling an entire page, complemented with blank white pages that allow Stauffer’s formal images to breathe, as if on a gallery wall.

However, experiencing these images presented in book form offers the viewer a chance to appreciate not only Stauffer’s eye for detail and active frame lines, but also her meditation on the subtle power of color. The opening image “River’s Edge” offers complementary tones of blues and yellow via steel grey buildings and farming equipment, and is then answered by a distant red door in the following image “Furgary Shacks.” Picking up on the musicality of Stauffer’s color sense makes UPSTATE a fun book to spend time with. As with themes which rise and diminish throughout a musical suite, UPSTATE offers the viewer a delightful dance between cool tones of winter and exciting pops of warmth; some found in nature, some created by man.

A minuet of red returns in the collar of “Reggie” (a portrait of a distinguished yet paint splattered gentleman), crescendos in the following image aptly titled “Red House”, finally diminishing yet still heard in the geometric lines of houses on “Cross Street.” Stauffer’s melodic images return to blues and yellows of “Rear Bedroom” and continues through the next four photographs, then red chimes back in with the appearance of Sumac trees, reaching a masterful pitch with the vinyl seats and ketchup bottle in the Elizaville “Diner”. The passepied of this passage can be found in the blue eyes and pinkish flesh of the bare-chested “Mike”, one of only three portraits contained in the book. The polonaise of “Allen Street” and “White Car” evoke the architectural work of Walker Evans and the time-stamping inclusion of vehicles found throughout Stephen Shore’s UNCOMMON PLACES. These two elements are successfully united with the inclusion of “Brown Dodge”.

Though these gorgeous 8×10 images can be appreciated formally, there are also traces of humor, best seen in “Interior, Furgary Shack #6.” For those who study the very edges of the frame, a game we lovers of large format photography can’t help but play, pay attention to the wall art in the background. Rarely does a photograph make you laugh out loud. This one did.

Throughout UPSTATE, Tema Stauffer shares her gift of seeing the inherent beauty of what is, and what was.

A subtle symphony of images, UPSTATE is a gorgeous collection of work. Highly Recommend.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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December 19, 2018

Tobias Kruse – Material

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:13 pm

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Photographer: Tobias Kruse, born Mecklenburg and residing Berlin, Germany

Publisher: Kerber Verlag Berlin/Nürnberg, Germany

Text(s): German and English

Softcover, Width: 17cm x Length: 24cm, bound, 42 places, 35 people, 216 pages

Design: Neue Gestaltung Berlin

Notes: Berlin is a hot spot where the good life is lived, toasted, and celebrated. But truth be told, the strong art making of my generation (ages 35 to 45) in Berlin today leaves much to be desired. I see many people looking for the meaning of life in Berlin, as well as that of their own individual lives. Perhaps the contrast between the once divided city and the Berliners who live there today is so strong, creating art with meaning might be quite a complicated task within Berlin itself. Good Berlin art is created outside of Berlin, on trips, or on the outskirts of the city, in the surrounding areas.

Tobias Kruse has lived as a photographer in Berlin for 20 years and has now published his first photography book called “Material” . The title is pointedly provocative right off the bat. Don’t we dream of photography books that form a narrative out of a clever assembly and sequence of images, thereby taking the reader on a journey that unfolds through fine observations of perceptions? As a reader of this book, you want to see more than just material. But our senses are obscured. The author works with a reserved title, but once one begins reading, an explosion of thoughts and emotions erupt around life, life in one’s late 30s.

It turned out to be a dense book, about the situation of the author himself. Kruse came to Berlin 10 years ago to train professionally as a photographer at the Ostkreuz Photography School in Berlin. He studied under Arno Fischer – the Henri Cartier Bresson of the former GDR – in the last years of Fischer’s life. He was thereby brought up in the milieu of East German humanist documentary photography and has developed his own visual language over the years.

Few artists succeed in already developing their own visual language at such a young age. Again and again, Kruse’s peers can be seen in all facets of young life, confronted with dreams, the search for happiness, often together, and then alone again. They are images of being at home in Berlin, travelling around the country, encounters in Europe in Arles, Athens, and Tel Aviv. The pictures in the book become a kind of rush of life: its blooming, its transience. Out of this community of friends over many years, a family has emerged. Kruse dedicates the book to his children, Karl and Carla, who also appear frequently in the book.

Why should you buy this book? Because Kruse is one of the exceptionally strong gifted artists of the younger generation to come out of the environment of the Ostkreuz School and Agency. Because it has turned out to be a book that describes the attitude to life of a generation that was born in the ‘70s, grew up in the ‘90s, and have now become the generation on whom society has pinned its hopes. Hopefully, we will be seeing and hearing a lot more about Kruse’s personal work in the future.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

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December 14, 2018

Josue Rivas – Standing Strong

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Photographer: Josue Rivas (born Mexico, residing in Portland, Oregon)

Publisher: FotoEvidence Press, Brooklyn NY, Copyright 2018

Afterword: Winona LaDuke

Text: English

Stiff Cover, Swiss Binding on Left and Right Sides, open at center, 56 images, 74 pages, Printed by Ofset Yapimevi, Istanbul, Turkey

Design: Bonnie Briant Design, NYC

Notes: As many photo-book collectors may agree, each book has its own personality. Some are small and intimate, some large and comprehensive. Some offer confection for the eyes, some serve to feed the mind. The more one spends time with STANDING STRONG, the new book of black and white photographs by Josue Rivas, the more one can appreciate how special it is. Both personal and with the potential to educate, STANDING STRONG is a compelling opportunity to not only view documentary images of the Water Protectors fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but if one is so inclined, to open oneself to an alternative understanding of humanity’s relationship to the earth.

STANDING STRONG is the 2018 publication of the FotoEvidence Book Award in partnership with World Press Photo.  For those not already familiar with FotoEvidence, it is “a platform for documentary photographers whose work focuses on human rights and social justice.”  Documenting the David vs. Goliath dynamic of the 2016-17 protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built on First Nations land (South Dakota) and under essential sources of fresh water, STANDING STRONG is a worthy choice for this year’s selection.

The small but impactful book feels good to hold in your hands, and certainly makes the case for presenting work in a physical form rather than scrolling through images on a computer screen.As an object, perhaps the first thing you will discover is the unique use of Swiss binding. Rather than a traditionally bound book which starts at page one and progresses in a linear fashion from front to back cover, STANDING STRONG opens at the center and the pages turn outward on both the left and right sides. Thus the experience of STANDING STRONG feels more interactive.

While there is clear correlation to how one page relates to the next, the binding allows the reader to experience the spirit of interconnectedness that Rivas describes on the final pages of the book:  ” Many tribes in Turtle Island (North America) believe in the interconnectedness of the natural world, the cosmos, the four legged and the two legged…I would like to acknowledge those that came before me and the land that I’m standing on. I pray that they receive this book as an offering and my words as a testimony to the resilience of my ancestors. I acknowledge you, the reader, and want to thank you for taking the time to explore these images and opening your heart to the movement to protect the water.”

Divided into sections such as WELCOME HOME, GIVING THANKS, PRAYING FOR THE PEOPLE, PRAYING FOR HEALING, the viewer is invited to experience the risks taken by the Water Protectors, from their point of view. Through his straight-forward shooting style, Rivas offers a tangible sense of being on the land, among people who are OF the land. The first image, a painterly vista of canoes paddling under dramatic white clouds, provides context. This is followed by a more heartbreaking landscape intersected by barbed wire, thus the viewer is immediately pulled in and held back simultaneously. Finely observed detail shots reveal muddy ankles at the river’s edge, as well as a tribal Elder facing the sun in prayer, his feather headdress and beaded fringe jacket intrinsically linked to the plains on which he sits. Close-ups of Tipi poles and Indigenous Resistance flags intermingle with wide-angle views of burning barricades. In an interesting reversal of old Western movie tropes, First Nation protesters cross the river toward rows of armed Federal guards silhouetted on the ridge-top. Fire-smoke arising from Tipis in winter, and a dark-clothed figure bundled up against the falling snow, help the viewer feel how harsh the elements became and how strong the commitment was among the hundreds and then thousands of First Nation people and their supporters.

As the months progressed, the Standing Rock protests became more dangerous following the environmental policy reversal of the new Trump Administration. Government forces sent in to protect corporate interests grew substantially in size and degree of weaponry. In a particularly telling progression of images, the grimace of Federal trooper as he sprays tear gas at protesters crossing the river is followed by the pained expression of a young woman who has just been gassed.

In the final months of transition from the Obama Administration to that of an even more Fossil-Fuel friendly Trump Administration, the Dakota Access protests briefly captured the country’s interest and risked becoming a trendy cause celebre, a scenic backdrop to an on-going power struggle over rights and resources. Though some images hint at the growing mass of supporters from elsewhere who preferred/required the warmth of a trailers and RVs, there are no photographs of the celebrities and public figures who came to Standing Rock, to show their support and draw necessary media attention with their presence. Thankfully, STANDING STRONG does not feel like the work of an outsider looking in, and thus avoids the risk of cultural appropriation. One can easily sense Rivas’ familiarity with and deep appreciation for the subject he documents. His focus throughout remains on the people for whom this land is and always will be sacred.

Though STANDING STRONG as a book is light in weight, the body of work is anything but lightweight, particularly if one knows that ultimately the pipeline was approved, the protesters evicted, and oil began flowing under the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and through ancient burial grounds in May of 2017.

In addition to the photographs, STANDING STRONG includes a few intimate drawings, and occasional blank white pages which allow the viewer to breathe between images, and again enjoy the unconventional manner in which they are presented. Additionally, text by Winona Laduke offers context on what it means “TO BE A WATER PROTECTOR”.

As described on his website, Josue Rivas “is a visual storyteller and educator working at the intersection of art, journalism, and social justice. His work aims to challenge the mainstream narrative about Indigenous peoples, build awareness about issues affecting Native communities across Turtle Island, and be a visual messenger for those in the shadows of our society.”

With the well-deserved recognition of FotoEvidence, Josue Rivas has succeeded in his mission. Whether you find this to be a heartbreaking story or reflective of a dignified people’s valiant efforts, STANDING STRONG is indeed an offering in a time of reckoning.  Very worth seeking out and adding to your collection.

Enjoy! Melanie Chapman

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December 3, 2018

MAGNUM China

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Magnum China, Edited by Colin Pantall and Zheng Ziyu

Published by Thames & Hudson, copyright 2018

Essays; Colin Pantal, Zheng Ziyu, and Jonathan Fenby

Text: English

Hardcover with dust jacket, 376 pages, 350+ photographs and illustrations, printed and bound by Pacom, South Korea

Notes: As a child raised on her American grandmother’s stories of moving to China in the early 1920s who then followed in those footsteps with a post-college English teaching job, to say this reviewer was eager to get her hands on a copy of MAGNUM China would be a major understatement. Having arrived just a few months prior to what became the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, I left abruptly on the first passenger flight out in early June 1989 and have not returned since.  China has remained, in my mind and in my dreams, an unresolved puzzle, left yet to be finished on the kitchen table, as if one got up to answer the phone and never came back. Thus I turn the pages of MAGNUM China with hopes of finding all the missing pieces

Like the country itself, the photobook MAGNUM China, is an impressive thing to behold, one that will demand revisiting time and time again in order to take in the full scope of its riches. Featuring the high caliber of imagery that one can reasonably expect for any Magnum publication, this 376 page book includes work of more than 25 of the world’s best photographers, spanning 80 years, from 1938 to 2017.

In fact, as is noted in the section featuring Robert Capa’s 1938 documentary work in Hankou, the language barriers and surveillance challenges he faced provided Capa the time to contemplate not only his own work as a photographer, but to develop the idea of a collective of photographers that would become Magnum. This became the premiere photo agency founded by Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others, in 1947. Thus the argument could be made that without China there might not have been a Magnum, and without Magnum, there would be a less historically significant and culturally influential record by which the world can understand China, and China can understand itself.

The introductory “conversation” between China based photo Editor and Curator Zheng Ziyu and the English writer and photographer Colin Pantall offers insight not only to the selection of images that follow, but also to the shifting perception of China. Once considered an exotic/closed off society rarely seen by Westerners, today’s understanding of China is a more nuanced portrayal in which Chinese photographers, writers, and historians have more authorship over their own story.

MAGNUM China is divided into four sections: A Time of War 1938-1949; The Mao Zedong Years 1950-1976; The Deng Xiaoping Years 1977-1992; and The Era of a Global Superpower 1993- present.  Each section begins with an informative multi-page introduction by Jonathan Fenby which provide context to the images that follow; a timeline of significant political and cultural events during that period, and a list of in country travels for the photographers, a sampling of whose work is then presented.

It is tempting to gorge on all the finely printed photographs in one sitting. However, like an all you can eat image buffet, a bit of pacing and restraint is advised. There is much to satisfy the hungry viewer’s appetite, such as the late 1940s work of Henri Cartier Bresson, the gorgeous color work of Eve Arnold’s sympathetic portraits of the late 1970s, and the confection of Martin Parr’s commissioned portraits of the nouveau riche of 21stCentury Hong Kong. However, it is well worth pausing between courses, to digest the work of each photographer, and read the text for an understanding of their unique relationships to this vast and complicated country. Learning when they first visited China, how often they went, what their impressions were, which publications (if any) they were shooting for, enriches one’s appreciation for the subjects these world class photographers chose (and did not choose) to focus on.

The first section “A Time of War” has the most limited range of work, just that of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier Bresson, due to difficulty of travel and access in the pre-communist era of the late 1930’s-40’s. Here you will see Capa’s work for LIFE magazine, depicting a China still battling Japanese invasion, and Cartier-Bresson’s late 1940’s documentation of the fall of the ruling Kuomintang and the subsequent victory of Mao Zedong’s invading army. Especially moving is the image of “A bewildered old man searching for his son…” as the new recruits are called up and marched off to a certain defeat. The worried man in his black hooded robe tugs on his long white beard, his shadow stretching out behind him to the young soldiers who smile in the background, both the old and new era unaware they will soon be obliviated by the advance of the Communists.

One of the joys of this book is the inclusion of layouts from magazines that first published these images. The reader is able to thus experience how Western audiences first saw what this historically closed society looked like.

The second section “China, 1950-1970” includes not only the fine work of Werner Bischof’s Hong Kong series of shanty towns and growing skyline from the early 1950s, the observation of humanity in Marc Riboud’s first trip to China in 1956 at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, and the early years of China’s re-engagement with the outside world as shown in the 1973 photographs of Bruno Barbey, among others. Also included is ephemera such as Riboud’s press pass and Bischof’s wrinkled caption list for his series The End of the Road. One can feel the impact of the typewriter keys hitting the page before being sent off to the Magnum office in Paris, giving the viewer the sense of being not only in the midst of China’s momentous changes, but in the mind of the photographer as they documented them. Pity there was no way to include the short 16mm films shot by Swiss photographer Rene Burri, though his early work (his was a 30 year “love affair” with China) is nicely represented with his photographs of young pioneers marching in the snow, and dead lotus flowers reflected on a lake that evokes the modernist line drawings of Picasso.

Of particular interest to this reviewer are the photographs in the third section, “The Deng Xiaoping Years, 1977-1992” as they include glimpses of the China familiar to visitors of the post cultural revolution/pre Tiananmen era, a vast society on the cusp of great, though not always comfortable, change. Of equal interest is the inclusion (at last!) of the work of two female photographers, Inge Morath and Eve Arnold, hinting that it was not only China that was opening itself up, albeit ever so cautiously, to the outside world. Perhaps Magnum too was expanding itself to welcome new perspectives; however limited the opportunities, they were long overdue.

Inge Morath’s work from the late 1970s offers fresh, “optimistic” view of everyday life, be it the 6:30am bicycle commuters passing through the dappled light of a roadside tree, or soldiers seated on the mountainside carving of a laughing Buddha, or her husband Arthur Miller directing a 1983 production of his play Death of a Salesman.  Immediately following Ms. Morath’s black and white images comes the saturated tones of reds and greens in Eve Arnold’s well traveled portraits of communes, factory and domestic workers, and farmers on the plains of Mongolia. The text describes the difficulty that Arnold had in photographing common people not yet accustomed to the sight of an independent Western woman, but she “came out of the country with fresh, original and life affirming images” symbolizing the end of tragedies and “changed the way the world viewed China.”

In the early 1980s photographs of Patrick Zachmann, one can begin to feel the presence of the outsider’s gaze and China’s gradual courtship with long forbidden Western influence. Close up faces of average Chinese citizens smile with curiosity back at the camera, actors prepare for film-shoots, young couples waltz in private apartments, and somewhat disturbingly, a bare breasted prostitute sits on a rumpled bedspread, staring directly at the lens, or perhaps the man behind the camera. Subsequent images of modern Chinese culture flaunting their newly acquired bling carry the same troubling impact as this photograph. The prostitute, unlike the old man in Cartier-Bresson’s 1948 image of the old man searching for his son, seems very much aware of the bleakness of her position, and has resigned herself, like her country, to a reality in which the pursuit of money is the new game in town, and everyone is a potential whore.

Despite the quantity and caliber of photographers that covered the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the brutal crackdown in which “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of peaceful demonstrators, a majority of which were idealistic University students, were killed, MAGNUM China offers surprisingly few pages devoted to this world event. Thankfully included is an image by photographer Abbas which shows the early student gatherings mourning the death of beloved Communist party official Hu Yaobang. For those who know that these gatherings were the start of what became the Tiananmen demonstrations in the weeks preceding the official state visit of Mikail Gorbachev, (thus the world press arrived in Beijing and broadcast an embarrassing political moment that highlighted internal power struggles), this image is an important inclusion in the Portfolio. (Full disclosure, this reviewer had the honor of meeting Abbas on the day this image was taken, and his comment “This feels just like Iran”, referencing the start of the Iranian revolution, sent chills down my spine). The significance of this gathering is not fully conveyed by the placement of Abbas’ image opposite Patrick Zachmann photo of a theatrical student writhing on the ground as she “performs the pain of the Chinese people”. Real people died, brutally, and it was well covered. The avoidance of those images is, to this viewer, the only disappointment of this otherwise magnificent book, and despite the inclusion of Stuart Franklin’s view of the famous “Tank Man” on the wide boulevard leading away from the bloodied square, causes one to reflect on the compromise that countries and cultural entities alike have made in order to continue to do business with and in the economic powerhouse that is now China.

However, in the final section “The Era of a Global Superpower, 1993-present” there are hints that it is not only the photographers (Ian Berry, Stuart Franklin, Jim Goldberg, Chris Steele Perkins, among others) who are conscious of the price China’s citizens have paid for its ascent to the top of the global ladder. So too the editors of MAGNUM China, in their choice of image sequence, make the subtle point that while some Chinese now enjoy luxuries such as fancy cars and amusement parks, others have lost their homes to the development of the Three Gorges Dam.

In a particularly moving series, Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang documents mental patients who are literally chained together, forcing a level of cooperation that may neither be sincere nor lasting. These haunting black and white images immediately follow Martin Parr’s bold color work focusing on rapacious consumption, which with all Parr’s work, are very strong on their own merit. But taken in as the editors intend, one senses that not everything about China’s great success has been without great cost. Chien-Chi Chang also documents North Korean defectors who must hide their identities from the authorities as well as the camera while traveling through mainland China en route to what they hope is freedom in South Korea. China may have many riches, as beautifully demonstrated throughout this book, but freedom is not yet one of them.

Highly recommend.

Enjoy!  Melanie Chapman

Editor’s note: This photobook was selected as one of the “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018” by The PhotoBook Journal editorial team.

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November 18, 2018

Ekaterina Solovieva – The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero

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Ekaterina Solovieva, The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero, 2018

Photographer: Ekaterina Solovieva, (Born Moscow, lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher: Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, copyright 2018

Essay: Ekaterina Solovieva

Text: English, Translation by Diego Benning Wang

Softcover, Swiss Binding, 141 pages, 68 images B&W, 7 1/4 ” x 9 1/2″ x 2 inches, printed in Stuttgart by Offizin Scheufele

Art Direction and Design: Konstantin Eremenko, Moscow

Notes: The cover image of this intriguing photo book is of a bearded man with long hair blowing in the winter wind, looking back over his shoulder with fences of a small village dividing the landscape behind him. Thus we begin to know the subject of this book, a “punk” Moscow seminary graduate who traveled to this remote Russian village with friends searching for the meaning of life, ultimately rebuilding the local church that burned down 40 years previous, in the process revitalizing the spiritual community and binding him to the villagers and to the land.

The photographer, Ekaterina Solovieva, whose work primarily focuses on country folk-life in the former Soviet Union with a special emphasis on religious customs, also provides text to accompany her poetic black and white imagery.  This book takes a bit of time to absorb and fully appreciate. On first viewing, the presentation of the images is compelling: some pages filled entirely with a borderless single image, some images printed on black pages, the next on white. The book is divided into nine segments with titles such as “Easter”, “Fall- Grape of the North”, and “The Interlude to Winter”.

Solovieva’s images convey the essence of this small rural community: bundled up children, older women wearing traditional scarfs inside to keep warm, small shacks barely visible through the brush, abandoned fishing boats swallowed up by the weeds, simple log homes illuminated by window light and candles, some heated with the consumption of strong vodka and late-night conversation, wet mud roads, the metallic shine of cooking pots, the unadorned beauty of apples spilled onto a wooden table.

Solovieva photographs a place and people without pretense, a digital free environment unpolluted with branding on clothes or advertisements dominating the streets. Kolodozero the village seems to exist beyond the reach of commercialism or the creep of digital technology, the villagers lacking in the self-consciousness of modernity. Solovieva photographs the details and intimate moments that give the viewer an understanding of why a young Muscovite seminarian transformed into the village priest and why, unlike friends “who came here and left their hearts and souls” yet “found the strength to return to normal life”, he says of himself “I am the weak one, as I am unable to leave.”  These final lines of text, written in white on a black page like snow falling into a black night, compel the reader to reverse course and view the images of this remote village and the priest who fell in love with its landscape and inhabitants, from back to front, and then front to back again, each time slowing the pace, like the spiritual journey of Father Arkady himself, absorbing the beauty of this chosen life more deeply.

Best regards! Melanie Chapman

Postscript from Ekaterina Solovieva:  Several days after the book was published, on February 12th 2018, I have got sad news from Kolodozero. Priest Arkady Shlykov suddenly died after a heart attack. He was 45 years old. All the years he lived in Kolodozero he took all the problems and sorrows of the people of the village very personally, helped them selflessly. He used to spend hours hitchhiking to the remote communities to baptize, read the funeral service or just serve in the temple. And at some moment his heart gave up. A new priest has been already appointed to the church in Kolodozero. But he won’t be able to serve regularly, and people are yet to get used to him. – Ekaterina

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