The PhotoBook Journal

August 12, 2017

Harvey Benge – The Month Before Trump

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Photographer: Harvey Benge (resides Auckland (NZ) and Paris (FR))

Self-Published & Limited Edition with signed print (Edition – 50): New Zealand copyright 2017

Text: English

Stiff cover, saddle stitch binding, four-color lithography, printed NZ

Photobook designer: Harvey Benge

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Harvey Benge’s The Month Before Trump is a collection of photographs made in the United States, specifically San Francisco and New York in October 2016, the month before the presidential elections. As a New Zealander who spends equal time between Auckland and Paris, he provides a sophisticated outsider’s eye which reminds me of a contemporary Robert Frank and his 1950’s seminal photobook The Americans.

While I believe Frank is a bit more searing in his vision, I find Benge to be a bit more subtle, while both photographers provide a unique while sarcastic view of the American urban landscape. As in earlier Benge photobooks, the paring of the mostly horizontal images create wonderful dialogs while usually sharing a spot of color or tonality to complement the resulting juxtaposition narrative.

Benge explains;

My pictures explore the strange anthropology of cities. The unusual and overlooked in the human landscape. I am asking the viewer to question the idea that photographs as documents are complete representations of subject. I’m interested in the universality of life and the idea of parallel lives – when one thing is happening here, something else is happening over there. The democracy of non-places fascinates me, in the knowledge that inevitably nothing is as it seems.

While the making his observations of the morphing American landscape was at a time prior to knowing the political outcome, the subsequent editing for his book was with the full realization of who had inadvertently landed a White House job. Thus perhaps the reason for what I perceive as an underlying dark edginess to his urban investigation.

Other photobooks by Harvey Benge that have been reviewed on The PhotoBook Journal; Sri Landa Diary, Birds, Against Forgetting, Eat me, Still Looking for It, All the Places I’ve Even Known, One day – Ten Photographers.

 

 

Cheers, Douglas Stockdale

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May 16, 2017

Barbara Peacock – Hometown

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Photographer: Barbara Peacock (b. Waltham, MA – resides Portland, ME)

Publisher: Bazan Photo Publishing (Brooklyn, NY) copyright 2016

Essays: Barbara Peacock, Ernesto Bazan

Text: English

Embossed linen hardcover with tipped in photograph, sewn binding, four-color lithography, list of photographs, printed by Puritan Capital (New Hampshire)

Photobook designer: Kevin Sweeney

Notes: Barbara Peacock documented her own hometown of 30 plus years, while perhaps the citizens of the town grew older, her visual concept of what a hometown meant, continued to evolve. Her subject is a small New England town, Westford, located Massachusetts. There is enough contextual ambiguity as to the actual location that Peacock’s hometown could be representative of any small town in the East or Midwest region of America, which is a factor that draws me and probably other readers into this monograph.

She opens with an urban landscape photograph of a small market, an archetype of the local hang-out for bored kids in a small town. It appears that topic of conversation for her subjects that day was probably her and the view camera balanced on the tripod as the woman who kept darting under the curious black sheet. Her young subjects gaze directly at the lens not realizing that this was a poignant moment in time in 1982 and they were in the process of becoming subjects of nostalgia and memory when this photograph is contemplated some thirty-five years later. We can speculate that some of these same kids probably now have children of their own that are this same age or maybe even older, although Peacock states that this small market is no longer there and that one of these boys has since passed.

We witness an evolution of photographic style, from a formalism of a large format camera with color film to an informal capture in expressive black & white that encompasses digital capture methods. There is also a subtle pairing of the photographs within the book, such as the image below of the contrasting lives of the dejected appearing older woman who Elvis is still adoring and the opposing photograph of the antics of young men hanging out with skate boards and engrossed in what’s on their cell phones.

She records the quite moments of normal life being lived without big drama. We can find ourselves, friends and family in the midst of her hometown investigation and these photographs may trigger memories of our own past “normal” events.

This photobook was juried into the Photo Independent Photo Book Competition and subsequent exhibition.

Cheers!

Douglas

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May 5, 2017

Manca Juvan – Guardians of the Spoon

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:27 pm

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Photographer: Manca Juvan (b. & resides Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Publisher: ZRC Publishing

Essays: Manca Juvan, Sasa Petejan, Urska Strle

Text: English (Slovene e-book edition is available)

Hardcover book with slip-cover, ring binding, four-color lithography, split pages, Fascist internment timeline, printed at optimal media, Germany

Photobook designer: Prapesa (Sara Badovinac & Peter Zabret)

Notes: The opening photographs are dark with each succeeding photograph allowing more light to illuminate and reveal a bit more tantalizing information about the unfolding landscape. This visual metaphor for secrets and concealed information becomes more apparent as the viewer confronts portraits and personal testimonies of events that occurred during WWII (1939 – 1943) by the Italian Fascist. Probably for political reasons and since the Italian Fascist camps were not as horrific as the Germany Nazi counterparts, these camp sites and the events that took place are not well known.

From the authors regarding the concept of this book; “Acknowledgement of Italian war crimes in the larger international context today, is as uncommon as it is inconsistent. Indeed a survey of various references and encyclopedias rarely turns up any mention whatsoever of the many Italian concentration camps that served as instruments of political and racial persecution. While the most notorious Nazi camps have become widely embedded in popular culture and our collective imagination, history has little if anything to say about the Italian Fascist camps.

Juvan’s photobook was a recent winner of the Photo Independent International Photo Book Competition that I was a jurist for. I was immediately taken by the four elements we use as criteria to evaluate the book submissions; photography, project concept execution, book design and book production. One design element I found brilliant was within the body of the book, most of the interior pages are horizontally split, which allows the reader to change and modify the sequencing and pairing of the page spreads, thus the narrative. This book design is an excellent physical metaphor relating to the fragmentation of memory, that memory can be incomplete and jumbled with time. Likewise, this book design speaks to ability to alter facts and change meanings.

Juvan has confronted an uncomfortable subject and with the current political turmoil in the world, I feel that it is a danger that we must continue to remind ourselves about and guard ourselves against. Recommended

Other book review we featured for Manca Juvan, Unordinary Lives – Afghanistan

Cheers

Douglas

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March 13, 2017

Bronx Photo League – Jerome Ave

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Copyright 2016 Members of the Bronx Photo League

Photographers: Bronx Photo League (Bronx, NYC)

Publisher: Bronx Documentary Center Editions, Bronx, NY

Essays: Mike Kamber, Ed Murphy

Text: English & Spanish

Hardcover book, linen covers with tipped in image, sewn binding, 93 Black & white photographs, duo-tone printing with spot varnish, captions, member biographs, printed by Fort Orange Press, NY

Photobook designer: Bonnie Briant & Katie Khouri

Notes: Jerome Ave is an investigation of a community within the Bronx of New York by a group of young, budding photojournalist that have come together as the Bronx Photo League. Their purpose and intent is not all-together different from than that of the Photo League of the 1940’s; a collective of inspired photographers who want to learn their craft in conjunction with documenting the local environmental, economic and social changes that surround them.

This hard cover book is a result of one of their recent projects; attempting to document the pending changes to an area of the South Bronx. This is currently one of the city’s poorest regions, much of it situated under the elevated “4” train, a “gritty two-mile stretch of low-slung buildings where thousands of immigrants work in small stores, factories and car repair shops.”

Their focus is principally on the individuals who work and live in this small region to narrative this study, usually including some environmental context that provides clues to the working conditions, thus creating an indirect portrait of the South Bronx. It is evident to the reader that these photographers know their subjects very well by the close and tightly composed portraits, not a quick snap-shot from an impersonal distance.

The manual process of the photographic methods is also a nice metaphor for this project and their subjects who are predominantly providing manual labor to make a living. It appears that another consistent requirement for the photographers is to pay close attention to the framing of their images keeping in mind that there will be no cropping of the negative (a luxury that will come later in their photojournalistic lives).

One nice design aspect of this book that unifies this collective body of work together by the various photographers is the image/page layout; each photograph is framed by the negative’s exterior (yes, old school Tri-X film and manual processing). This design provides a consistency in the reading of the images that I think works very well to illustrate their project.

Cheers

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February 25, 2017

John Loengard – Moment By Moment

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Photographer:  John Loengard (American, born and lives in New York City)

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, © 2016

Essays:  Preface by John Loengard

Text:  English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding; 152 numbered pages; 135 duotone photographs, titled and captioned; name and place index; printed in China; 10.1 x 12.9 inches

Photobook Designer:  Laura Lindgren

 

Notes:

John Loengard is a photojournalist with many decades of experience. As part of his distinguished career with Life magazine and beyond, he has photographed many notables and others along the way. Thus one will find among the 135 photographs in this volume some interesting shots of singers such as the Beatles (as shown on the dust jacket) and Judy Garland, of visual artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Annie Leibovitz, of politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, and many others. The well-known are often shown in conjunction with less well-known individuals across various locations and times. All of the photographs are well-reproduced duotones, since Loengard considers black and white “often more convincing” than color. He sums up his approach to photography as follows: “The shutter opens briefly to let the camera marry reality to form. Their union gives the picture structure and defines the moment that lives on” (Preface).

Often Loengard captures the viewer’s attention with unusual viewpoints: he depicts the Beatles in a swimming pool, the writer Philip Roth looks away from the camera to answer the question of a visitor who is not shown, John Updike is presented in a very minimalistic fashion: his eyes look back at the viewer in the rear view mirror of a car – thus the unseen helps define that which is seen, and the less familiar casts a new light on the seemingly familiar. The captions for the images merely have the function of supplying a few words of background information, rather than to diminish the viewer’s capacity to get involved in the story told by each picture.

While one could consider this volume merely an excellent retrospective of a renowned photographer’s work, it is much more than that: it also is a compendium of many delightful surprises. Where this volume especially shines, in my opinion, is in the exquisite juxtaposition of images on double-page spreads. Below I have excerpted a few to whet your appetite; some of the intriguing combination principles, besides subject matter from different times and places, are: shapes, patterns, movements, scale, among others.

Gerhard Clausing

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February 9, 2017

Paula Bronstein – Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear

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Photographer:  Paula Bronstein (American, lives in Bangkok, Thailand)

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, 2016

Essays:  Foreword by Kim Barker / “Afghan Women” by Christina Lamb / Afterword by Paula Bronstein

Text:  English

Hardcover cloth-bound book with 228 numbered pages, 114 color images with captions; sewn binding, printed in China. Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Series Book 42.

 

Notes:

Paula Bronstein is a courageous and committed photojournalist with a distinguished career. The cultural and political situation of a war-laden country is not easy to depict, and she does not shirk from a gutsy presentation that documents the Afghanistan situation from 2001 through 2015. In comparison to other book reviews I have done, this particular one has been a true emotional challenge. Paula Bronstein gets right to the heart of things; having received amazing access in difficult situations, she confronts the viewer with a very stark reality through stunning, in-your-face photographic documents, each of which is a story in itself, enhanced by situational details in the captions. The entire volume is a heart-wrenching documentation of America’s longest war. As she depicts a variety of problems, she also provides small glimpses of hope that point to possible solutions.

The volume is divided into three sections labeled “The Situation,” “The Casualties,” and “The Reality.” Besides the 114 color photographs comprising these three sections, there are also three essays: A foreword by Kim Barker deals with the photographer and the context. “Afghan Women” by Christina Lamb describes the background as well as the progress that they have made over the years. Paula Bronstein in an ‘Afterword’ (pp. 224-225) also describes some of the difficulties she faced in doing this work.

Subjects covered in this photographic journey include clashes between belief systems, cultural transitions under the influence of modernity, political and military strife, and the promise of educational opportunities for all, against a background of great turmoil. Both people’s fears and hopes are made relevant through the immediacy of the visual documents. Bronstein does her best to illuminate all the things that are often ignored or shoved aside, such as the byproducts of warfare euphemistically labeled “collateral damage” and the difficulties of oppression, be they cultural or religious: she shows the pain of it all, as well as some small joys and pleasures. As the sample double pages from the work shown below illustrate, military and political as well as social and medical challenges are included. Injuries depicted, both physical and mental, cry out for finding solutions to create a better world.

If ever there was a volume that shows the follies of strife and the need to make a huge effort to find peaceful solutions, this is the one. As I write this review, the press reports that the Afghan war killed 25% more children in 2016 than in 2015, as well as causing injuries to 23% more children than the previous year, affecting thousands of families (Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2017, p. A4), along with all of the equally lamentable adult casualties.

Gerhard Clausing

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January 13, 2017

David Carol – No Plan B

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Copyright 2016 David Carol

Photographer: David Carol (born and resides NYC, NY)

Publisher: Peanut Press (Los Angeles, CA)

Essays: David Carol Introduction, Afterword by Jason Eskenazi

Text: English

Hardcover book with debossed cover, sewn binding, duotone printing with slight varnish, captions, printed by Meridian Printing in RI

Photobook designer: Ashly Stohl

Notes: This monograph of David Carol’s photographs recaps twenty-three years of candid and ironic black and white street photography and is a visual testament to his love of this medium. He has been fortunate to have a career as working photographer, but these are his personal out-takes of situations that momentarily captured his wild imagination. These mini-narratives speak to the power of always having a camera available and constantly looking for the possibilities, open to what might unexpectedly come by your way.

His photographs range from the subtle reflection in a window that juxtapositions oil wells with wedding dresses, the surreal image of an oversized white gorilla sitting in front of a suburban home, humorous photographs of his son doing funny kid’s stuff, to the poignant  self-portrait of his cast shadow on the snow holding his symbolic son’s hand. Who has not found themselves trying to talk to someone and something is blocking their face, but Carol recognized this humorous situation and captured it.

Carol seizes upon the opportunity to create humorous antidotes about mankind and as he states “My job is to find stuff and report back”. Which he is doing quite well and he has no plans to do otherwise.

Other photobooks by David Carol featured on The PhotoBook: All of My Lies are True

Cheers

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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 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 30, 2016

Ara Oshagan – Mirror

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Copyright 2015 Ara Oshagan

Photographer: Ara Oshagan (born Beirut, Lebanon, resides Glendale, CA, USA)

Self-Published (USA)

Essay by Ara Oshagan

Music & Lyrics by Gor Mkhitarian

Text: English & Armenian

Hardcover exposed boards with tipped in image, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Ara Oshagan & Varoujan Hovakimyan

Notes: Ara Oshagan and his self-published photobook Mirror uses a documentary style to create a predominately black and white diary of the Gor Mkhitarian band but with an unusual twist; he incorporates some new technology that allows the viewer to scan the appropriate interior pages and link up the related music on their phone. Oshagan has incorporated the free Aurasma.app (available from Apple or Google) that after downloading and subsequently pointing the phone’s camera to the red icon pages of his book, the reader will be able to experience Mkhitarian’s band play the related music.

Oshagan states “Images mirror music. Music is a mirror of images. Darkness and light reflected in both. The diary’s very structure is a mirror; the lexicon of the pages that follow one another has a visual rhythm, an echo of the ebb and flow of music itself.”

Oshagan was present at Photo Book Independent last spring when I had an opportunity to meet him and discuss his photographs as well as the technology lurking in this book. I usually do not provide reviews of musical band documentaries, but this was really an intriguing collaboration of a nice physical photobook with the download of the related music, which I find more interesting that an iPad experience. I am guessing that once the reader downloads this app, that they should even be able to scan the photographs in this review and interact with the music. Cool.

Cheers

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