The PhotoBook

June 10, 2016

Aline Smithson – Self & Others

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Copyright 2015 Aline Smithson

Photographer: Aline Smithson (born & resides Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Publisher: Magenta Foundation (Canada)

Essays: Paula Tognarelli, Karen Sinsheimer & Aline Smithson (A.S.)

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Office of Gilbert Li

Notes:  This monograph is a wonderful mid-career touch-point (as I know that just about every artist is loath to have a “retrospective” published while still in the midst of developing new work) that chronologically encompasses her early black and white analog projects, then a period of hand-coloring silver gelatin prints and currently exploring portraiture with the color photographic medium.

She has learned to masterly fill the square frame with her subjects, frequently her family as well as family of friends and make excellent use of her training as a painter in creating the accompanying background sets. One can see the early influence of the ambiguous style of Keith Carter or the family in masks of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, evolving to when her vision becomes more uniquely her own with her hand-colored photographs and subsequent color portrait projects. Portrait as Autobiography is thus a very apt subtitle to Smithson’s book Self & Others, an on-going collection of portraits by the photographer.

The late Karen Sinsheimer states in the forward; “Smithson manages to explore and explicate larger questions and issues as she remains true to who she is. She does not flinch from unpleasant or painful memories, nor does she shy away from an honest assessment of her work. Smithson maintains a sense of humor as well as a humanity; her photographs reflect her kind nature. One never senses meanness nor voyeuristic “gotcha” moments. She is unafraid of trying new ideas as she is of failing; she simply learns from and analyzes the experience and stores it in her memory for future reference.”

Cheers!

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June 3, 2016

Kurt Simonson – Northwoods Journals

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Copyright 2015 Kurt Simonson

Photographer: Kurt Simonson (born St Paul, MN, resides Long Beach CA, USA)

Publisher: Flash Powder Projects (USA)

Essay by George Slade, Poem by Franz Wright

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, multiple gate-folds, tipped-in tri-fold page, four-color lithography, printed by Bigger Dot in South Korea

Photobook designer: Kurt Simonson, David Bram, Jennifer Schwartz

Notes: Kurt Simonson’s Northwoods Journals was one of the immediate standouts while I was judging the Photo Independent Book Competition last month. Even now after the first impressions formed during the book judging process have faded, I find his body of photographs to appear both factual, in a documentary style, as well as mysterious, as to the potential content, creating an interesting, although at times dark narrative. I realize that Simonson’s ambiguous photographs allow me the room to fill in some spaces from my own Midwest upbringing, a personal layer that I can add onto to his story. I like when that happens.

The body of work opens with a photograph that might be his grandmother’s envelop and unopened letter, a sly node to the late Roland Barthes. Simonson follows with a playful twist to include a tipped-in tri-fold page with a photograph of a hand-written text that contains his own introduction, as a surrogate of his grandmother’s letter, which may also have been hand-written, similar again to Barther’s photograph of his mother; we don’t know. Nor does it really matter.

Playful, mysterious and a ample ambiguity that allows the reader to make the story their own. Nice.

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April 22, 2016

Brad Temkin – Rooftop

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Copyright 2015 Brad Temkin

Photographer: Brad Temkin  (born & resides Chicago, IL)

Publisher: Radius Books (USA)

Essays: John Rohrbach, Steven Peck, Roger Schickedantz

Text: English

Hardcover with glued boards and accompanying perfect-bond booklet (essay and list of plates), Lucite slipcase, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: David Chickey and David Skolkin

Notes:

The rooftops of industrial buildings could well be one of the last frontiers for ecological exploration, usually a place that is a maintenance crew’s worst nightmare as a source for water leaks. This no-man’s landscape has more recently been envisioned as a potential location for huge panels for solar energy with an eye towards reducing electrical cost in conjunction with reducing the carbon footprint. Likewise, a relatively new concept for industry is the green roof, which Temkin has investigated in his book Rooftop. The concept is not entirely new as the top of many apartment complexes have for generations’ harbored gardens and other green sanctuaries.

Temkin has found these industrial oasis in the midst of heavy commerce and high rise commercial complexes, an otherwise sea of concrete, steel and glass. What is not apparent is that these green places are usually meant for popular use or even by those who inhabit the commercial space just below these beautiful vistas. Temkin has framed many of his images in a manner that makes the location ambiguous, even to the point of recognizing that the location is on top of commercial building. One poignant exception is the photograph that captures both the natural habitat on the roof and the stark contrast of the business personnel boxed inside the building below, attentive to their computer monitors and headsets. Nevertheless, Tempkin’s clearly seen photographs offers hope as to our industrial future.

Additional Footnote: I was part of the 2016 PhotoBook Competition jury during which we selected Tempkins’ photobook Rooftop as one of the three Best in Show.

Cheers

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April 21, 2016

Curatorial walk thru at Photo Book Independent

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The schedule for talks, book signings and curatorial discussions has just been posted for Photo Book Independent, a part of Photo Independent later this month in LA (Hollywood)

I am honored to have an opportunity to provide two curatorial walk-through’s to discuss the photobooks that were recently juried-in for the book competition as well as those that are being exhibited by the participating photographers.

The first curatorial walk will be held first on Friday night at 6pm just prior to the VIP opening of the exhibition space at Raleigh Studios (yes, a functioning sound stage in the midst of the film capital). The second walking discussion will be on Sunday morning at 10:30 am just prior to the opening for the general public. I am planing on an hour discussion, but be prepared, it could last a little longer depending on the questions and answers.

For the juried-in photo books, since I was part of the judging and had developed the judging process, I am planning to provide a little back-ground on the judging criteria. How did we decide which books were interesting and provocative and which did not seem to past muster and capture our attention?

The good news, my curatorial discussions are free to participate, but the space is limited and if you want to join for what I hope is an interesting, fun and informative event, you need to sign up for it NOW: http://photoindependent.com/talks-and-book-signings/

Leave a comment if you have any questions.

Cheers!

April 1, 2016

Sara J. Winston – Homesick

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Copyright 2015 Sara J. Winston

Photographer: Sara J. Winston (born & resides New York, USA)

Publisher: Zatara Press (USA)

Short Story: Ani Katz

Text: English

Stiffcover book with Wire-O binding with fold back covers, four-color lithography, printed in Richmond, VA (USA)

Photobook designer: Sara J. Winston & Andrew Fedynak

Notes: Winston’s book title hints at a state of mind and her photographs are a mix of ambiguous and telling as to a potential homesickness (Sick of Home; Sick for Home, or Sick at Home). There is evidence of underlying issues; a bunged-up cat’s head, a sea of pills on a bed, hospital probes and monitoring wires and someone working with a non-functioning clock. Winston interweaves photographs of various tussled beds indicating an uneasiness that comes from not sleeping well in conjunction with food in various states of preparation, as though nourishment (health) is pending and not complete. Something is out of kilter and as a reader, I am left with a lingering sense of things not as they should be. This narrative about mortality and the circle of life is one in which Winston regretfully plays an unexpected role.

Best regards

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March 28, 2016

The Aftermath Project – WAR is Only Half the Story – Volume VIII

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Copyright 2015 the photographers

Photographers: Philippe Dudouit (Switzerland), Olga Ingurazova (Russia), Luca Locatelli (Italy), Diana Markossian (USA), Javad Parsa (Iran)

Publisher: The Aftermath Project (USA)

Essays: Sara Terry and the photographers

Text: English

Stiff-cover book with hand stamp, sewn binding with hand applied butcher tape on the spine, four-color lithography, printed in the United States

Photobook designer: Sara Terry & Mika Toyoura Mingasson

Notes: The Mission of the Aftermath Project and their annual publication WAR is Only Half the Story, is to broaden the public’s understanding of the true cost of war the real price of peace. They believe that while stories of war must be told, war itself is the story of man’s inhumanity to man. The Aftermath Project strives to illumine what it means to be human, to explore specific stories with universal themes that affirm our common humanity – and alert us to the dangers of equating a mere end of violence with sustainable peace.

This year’s submissions resulted in the winning grant awarded to Luca Locatelli (Italy) for United Colors of War, his four part project investigating the Industry of War, the commercial infrastructure that has swelled to make war possible, and perhaps a little too profitable. Locatelle includes one part investigating the industry of training combat photographers who subsequently make a living documenting war.

This edition also provides selections from the four Finalist; Philippe Dudouit (Sahel the Dynamics of Dust), Olga Ingurazova (Scars of Indeprndence), Diana Markossian (Goodbye My Chechnya) and Javad Parsa (Moments of Freedom). Collectively, a strong narrative that affirms our common humanity and that we need to avoid war.

Cheers

 

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March 25, 2016

Tim Richmond – Last Best Hiding Place

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Copyright 2015 Tim Richmond

Photographer: Tim Richmond (born England, resides Somerset, UK)

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag (Germany)

Essay: Jorg Colberg

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: Mark Tappin (London)

Notes: Richmond’s opening one-line statement summarizes his body of work; “Places, like people, can seem alone, filled with melancholy”. As an English photographer, he investigates a version of the American West that is found in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado, perhaps chasing movie myths while facing current realities. His photographs indeed appear to be layered with melancholy; open spaces devoid of people while sparsely populated by cattle, abandoned dusty western streets, boarded up small town store-fronts, old beat-up cars and empty bars. He has found those lonely in-between places where the American West dream has seemed to fizzle and become something much less. I am left wondering about his subjects; the faceless cowboys, the old biker, the young boy and others captured in a pensive moment.

Richmond’s photographs are well made and have an objective, documentary appearance that capture the nuances of the wide open expanses in Big Sky country. As his book title implies, and his photographs tend to support, the American West is still a large, sparse and desolate space where someone can escape to and become lost, leaving all one’s past baggage behind.

Cheers

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March 11, 2016

Ron Jude – Lago

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Copyright 2015 Ron Jude

Photographer: Ron Jude (born Los Angeles, resides Eugene, OR, USA)

Publisher: MACK (London)

There are no essays, pagination or captions

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed and printed linen cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Germany by Optimal Media

Photobook designer: Ron Jude with Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine

Notes: Although not stated in Ron Jude’s 2015 photobook Lago (Spanish for Lake), his title is a sideways reference for his subject, the Salton Sea and the surrounding Southern California desert community located not far from the Mexican border. In fact this photobook is minimalist in design; photographs only without any essays or captions, thus intending the reader to create their own narrative.

I will admit that this storied location out in the desert is not that far from my studio but its current downward spiraling conditions, both economically and environmentally, have had no appeal for me. Probably why I am a bit late to acquire and review Jude’s photobook, but I became more interested as I read other books reviews and interviews with Jude about his project.

The decaying structures, plants and isolated details appear ambiguous as to their actual location other than a place in a desert setting. When his subjects are illuminated by a warm light, this creates an emotional disparity for the dismal vision in front of Jude’s lens. Nevertheless, when his subjects are in the harsh, direct light of the cloudless desert, this seems to provide a more appropriate illumination of the found conditions. The Salton Sea due to the economic decay matched with the increasing alkalinity of the lake, has become a frequent photographic “ruin porn” destination, in line with the similar sad conditions surrounding Detroit, while I find that Jude’s photographs transcend the vast majority of photographs created at the Salton Sea. I feel that is probably due to Jude’s concept which goes beyond a documentary style project investigating failure.

Although his photographs capture some of the sad economic conditions that surround the location, once thought in the 1950’s to become another desert Palm Springs on the lake, his photographs can be read as visual metaphors for memory, hope, loss and stubborn reality. Jude stated in another interview about this project “These things you mention—the harsh light and the fishbone beaches—served as strange, almost violent embodiment’s of how difficult it is to come to terms with the gap that exists between the smooth edges of memory and the staccato nature of actual experience.”

Other Ron Jude photobooks that I have discussed on this blog in the past: Lick Creek Line, Other Nature

Cheers

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February 29, 2016

Ralph Gibson – Political Abstraction

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Copyright 2014 Ralph Gibson

Photographer: Ralph Gibson (born Los Angeles, resides NYC, USA)

Publisher: Lustrum Press (USA) (Distributed: University of Texas Press, Austin)

Essays: Ralph Gibson

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography

Photobook designer: not stated

Notes: This is Gibson’s first stated foray into digital photography and the book is also meant to be an exhibition catalog. His vertical photographs, now incorporating color in combination with his classic black & white images, are ambiguous photographs and not unlike those of his earlier seminal photobooks Somnambulist and Deja-vu. Gibson’s current book, Political Abstraction again provides Surrealistic juxtapositions, as his stated intent is to provide photographic diptychs for the reader/viewer to compare and contrast.

The Abstraction aspect of the book’s title is somewhat easy to grasp, as his truncated photographs are simplified and ambiguous forms, lines, shapes and colors without revealing the greater context of what (or where) the subject actually is. Gibson does pull back to provide more contextual information to the female nude forms, one of his stated sources from which all shapes are derived from. In his introduction, Gibson bullet-points almost 50 definitions of what he considers Synapses, including three repetitions of the “in democratic cosmopolitan culture a book can begin or end on any page in the book”, a key element of his Political theme, thus signaling that his paired pages can stand alone and his book does not necessarily provide an overall narrative save what the reader might glean form their appraisal of his collective pairings. Gibson concludes that “the reader is the subject of this book”, an interesting, if not confounding statement, born of his Ed Ruscha/ LA generation.

Cheers

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February 23, 2016

Alessandra Kila – Calabria Upon Return

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Copyright 2015 Alessandra Kila

Photographer: Alessandra Kila (born Reggio di Calabria, IT, resides: London UK)

Publisher: Paper Tiger Books (London)

Poems: Alessandra Kila

Text: English

Stiff-cover book with French folds and elastic strap closure, loose binding, concertina insert four-color off-set, printed in UK by Jigsaw Colour in a numbered addition of 300

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Photobook designer: Laura Braun

Notes: Kila’s investigating the concept of “never being able to go home again”, as that once you leave a place, perhaps even for a short while, many things are not perceived the same upon returning. A person returns with different “eyes”, the new experiences change and modifies one’s memory and the subtle day-to-day changes that once went unnoticed become very staggering in retrospect.

This small photobook has a very smart, if not brilliant design. The text is printed on a concertina insert that weaves through the interior literally and conceptually holding the loose photographs, thus the book content’s, together. A photobook that immediately captures my imagination; recommended and I hope you can obtain one, as I suspect that these will disappear fast.

Cheers, Doug

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