The PhotoBook

August 25, 2016

Rania Matar – L’Enfant-Femme

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Copyright 2015 Rania Matar

Photographer: Rania Matar (b. Lebanon – resides Boston, MA, USA)

Publisher: Damiani (Italy)

Essays: Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, Louis Lowry, Kristen Gresh

Text: English

Hardcover book with tipped in photo, sewn binding, four-color lithography, captions and pagination, Plates, printed by Grafiche Damiani in Italy

Photobook designer: Jesse Holborn, Design Holborn

Notes: This is Rania Matar’s third book, L’Enfant-Femme (French: The Child Woman) is a continuation of her previous feminine exploration, A Girl in Her Room, of young girls on the cusp of womanhood. Likewise, this is also a study of the similarities and subtle differences of two geographic regions and their associated cultures; Northeastern U.S.A. and Lebanon, places that Matar knows equally well.

Her young subjects have a direct gaze towards the photographer and her lens, thus a direct connection with the viewer. As pointed out in essay by Kristen Gresh, Matar’s analog photographic methods do not provide the immediacy of visual feedback that her subjects probably have become so accustomed to. We view their meditative gaze, not smiling as requested by Matar, but sometimes I can still detect the hint of a smile in the corner of their mouths or in stark contrast, a guarded, if not defiant stare.

Matar’s captions provide a minimum of information about her subjects; age at the time of the portrait, and the young girl’s first name, although to dispel some of the ambiguity about her subjects, the location of each photograph is provided in the concluding page of Plates. To further reveal that these young women are in a stage of rapid transition, the concluding section has a series of facing pages with her subjects at the age of when this project began in in 2011 and then close to its conclusion in 2015.

As elegantly stated by Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan “work that inspires the viewers to reassess their stereotypes of girls and women, particularly in the Middle East. In calling these boundary-building preconceptions into question, Matar brings emphasis instead to what is both unique and universal, and thus to what connects us all.”

Like many great photographers, this photobook also provides a glimpse into her latest on-going portrait project in which she is working that I expect will be published soon (hint: daughters and their mothers).

Rania Matar has been previously featured on The PhotoBook: A Girl in Her Room (2012) and Ordinary Lives (2009).

Cheers

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August 13, 2016

Robert Adams – The New West

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Copyright 2015 (Steidl Edition) Robert Adams

Photographer: Robert Hickman Adams, Ph.D. (b. Orange, NJ – resides USA)

Publisher: Steidl Verlag (Germany) (first published by Colorado Associated University Press, 1974)

Essays: John Szarkowski & Robert Adams

Text: English

Hardcover book with illustrated dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, pagination and captions, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: Paul Weaver

Notes: This is a Steidl version of Robert Adams 1974 photobook of the same title which is a published photographic project resulting from his 1973/74 Guggenheim grant. Black and White photographs selected from this same project were also included in the now famous 1975 “New Topographics” exhibition at the George Eastman House (NY). There is not any overlap of the images in this book with the Eastman exhibition. Both this book and the Eastman exhibition share similar dispassionate urban and rural landscape images and I find it interesting to look at both of these bodies of work to grasp the larger context of Adam’s work at the time. And yes, I was drawn back in again to re-read Steidl’s 2009 edition of New Topographics, which I enjoy doing from time to time anyhow. Also interesting to note that Robert Adams was on the fence about participating in the Eastman exhibit as he was a fan of Ansel Adams’s environmental work at this same time.

Regretfully I do not own a copy of the 1974 version of The New West to compare with this version, but from prior experience with Steidl’s republication of seminal photobooks, I expect that it is equal to and potentially better in printing and binding than the original (which was clothbound with illustrated jacket). I also do not have the $1,000 plus to purchase a 1974 copy either.

This now classic book is divided into five sections that lead the viewer from the rural to the urban and concludes in the mountains; Prairie, Tracts and Mobile Homes, The City, Foothills, Mountains. You also get a subtle glimpse of Adams wry sense of humor as he usually seems to avoid signage, but apparently he could not resist with the house being built on the corner of Darwin Place. The body of work is a series of an anti-Modernist landscape images which document mankind’s encroaching developments in the New West of Colorado, providing what Adam’s calls “a normal view of the landscape”. And in the process Adams became a part of the continual process of redefining what “normal” is in the context to the landscape photography.

My only minor gripe is that each image has a huge white margin around it on the page and if the margins were reduced, could have allowed these wonderful images to be printed larger.

Recommended for those interested in the historical context of contemporary landscape photography.

Related photobook reviewed on The PhotoBook: Steidl’s edition, New Topographics 

Cheers

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August 4, 2016

Alejandro Cartagena – Rivers of Power

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Copyright 2016 Alejandro Cartagena

Photographer: Alejandro Cartagena (born Dominican Republic, resides Mexico)

Archive images: Fototeca de Nuevo Leon

Publisher: Newwer

Essays: Ximena Peredo, Gonzalo Ortega

Text: English and Spanish

Stiffcover book with printed slip cover, naked-sewn binding, printed insert, four-color lithography, printed in Spain

Photobook designer: Alejandro Cartagena & Fernando Gallegos

Notes: Rivers of Power is Alejandro Cartagena’s recently released photobook that explores the relationship between man and nature and the futile attempts by man to try to control nature, which in this case is the Catarina River running through the Mexican city of Monterrey.

His story reveals an empty and seductive river bed that seems to beckon entrepreneurs to take advantage of the unobstructed wide open spaces. A story about how mankind soon forgets that the usually trickle of river water can be deceiving evil in the face of the next horrific hurricane advancing in from the Caribbean.

Cartagena mixes historical photographs of the early riverbed construction to control this waterway to set the context for his story, then introduces his investigation using a documentary style of color photographs. The brilliant design of his book is a wonderful metaphor for his subject; the flexible interior book, like the river water, is encased in a hard shell, much like the conducts and pipes to control the water, which almost collapses when the interior book is removed. The stiffcover naked-binding allows the book to lay flat and in conjunction with the photographs printed full bleed across the two page spread, creates an enjoyable reading experience. Recommended.

Other Alejandro Cartagena photobooks previously featured: Before the War and Carpoolers.

Cheers

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July 28, 2016

Christoph Lingg – By The World Forgot – Portraits of the Indigenous Peoples of Asia

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Copyright 2014 Christoph Lingg

Photographer: Christoph Lingg (b. Schoppernau – resides Vienna, Austria)

Publisher: Editions Aufbruch (Austria)

Essays: Christoph Lingg, Diana Vinding

Text: English, Deutsch

Hardcover book with wood veneer (8 options to choose from), sewn binding, four-color lithography (black and white images), pagination and geographical chapters, Reading List, printed in Czech Republic, covers produced and bound by Lingg in Vienna.

Photobook designer: Christoph Lingg

Notes: Over the past years, Christoph Lingg has been creating black and white portraits of the Indigenous People in the broadly defined geo-region of Asia, including Pakistan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Siberia, Myanmar, India and China. This is not an attempt to be fully inclusive investigation of the cultures of Kalasha, Dani, Buriad, Nenets, Palaung, Apatani, Yao and Hani to name a few that are featured in his book.

His subjects are frequently backed with a simple white cloth and I am reminded of the earlier on-location portraits of Irving Penn. It is a technique to isolate the subject from their environment and which focuses the viewers on the individual captured in front of the lens. Interspersed are environmental portraits in which his subjects are situated in their local cultural elements to provide more context about their living conditions.

Frequently the viewer is met by a weary gaze at or a slightly off-lens look that is telling about the economic and political conditions that could be considered characteristic of Indigenous people, a cultural sub-group within a larger population. Lingg may have only been among his subjects for a short time and due to language and custom barriers, probably not sufficient time to establish or develop a really deep and open relationship. Nevertheless the portraits are powerful and well presented in this hardcover book, although the decision to print on a warm matte paper creates a lower contrast image lacking deep blacks.

Christoph Lingg’s photobook, Shut Down, was previously featured on The PhotoBook.

Cheers

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July 22, 2016

Chris Mottalini – After You Left – They Took It Apart

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Chris Mottalini – After You Left – They Took It Apart

Copyright 2013 Chris Mottalini

Photographer: Chris Mottalini (b. Buffalo, NY – resides Brooklyn, NY, USA)

Published by The Center for American Places/Columbia College Chicago Press

Essays: Allison Arieff, Charlie and Marlene Cerrito

Text: English

Hardcover book with tipped in photograph, sewn binding, four-color lithography, Notes on the Plates, printed in Singapore

Photobook designer: Center for American Places

Notes: The subtext for the book title, Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes, reveals the subject of Chris Mottalini’s investigation; various homes built by the 1950’s avant-garde architect Paul Rudolph, which are documented just prior to demolition.

Mottalini uses an objective documentary style to investigate the Rudolph architecture as a design element situated within a landscape, but also a study of aging and impermanence. Rudolph’s designs were the cutting edge of the 50’s and 60’s, severe in style and now the materials of construction and infrastructure appear dated and left languishing. Mottalini focuses on the unique architectural details of these period structures, as one would construct a portrait. The wiring and technical infrastructure appear aged and in need of some care, like some wonderful beauty marks, but instead the structures are rendered absolute, ignored and essentially discarded.

The book is laid out in a clean classic design, the photographs framed by sufficient white margins and with sub-chapters dedicated to each subject. One nagging detail with the layout of this book and creating a small bit of confusion, the pages are numbered, while the plates are not, and yet the index refers to the plate numbers which are not the same as the page numbers. So with a little image counting, you can eventually figure it out.

Cheers

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July 15, 2016

Erik Schubert – How to Win Friends and Influence People

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Copyright 2013 Erik Schubert

Photographer: Erik Schubert (b. Omaha, Nebraska resides Denver, Colorado, USA)

Publisher: Lavallette (USA)

Text: English

Stiffcover book with French folds, perfect bound, four-color lithography, printed in Syracuse, NY (USA)

Photobook designer: Lavalette

Notes: The investigation of the corporate business world has continued to intrigue me for some time, having worked in the corporate environment for many, many years as my day job. It was one of the underlying reasons that I curated the photobook exhibition “Work” in Rome for Fotografia Festival Internazionale. In the case of Erik Schubert’s first photobook, he investigates this subject viscerally through his father’s experiences utilizing found and constructed artifacts.

Schubert photographs objects that have layered meanings for him, his father and the role of a professional sales person. He also investigates the personal desire to go beyond a current business role, such as develop a pyramid marketing group or an idea for a device or service that might become an avenue to financial success and wealth. The idea that you can truly develop a “better mouse trap” and benefit by it is very alluring to many entrepreneurs, but is a fleeting concept to visual capture.

He captures a strange mash-up and dispassionate view of trade shows booths and cheap trinkets that are covered with corporate logos and slogans. The environment context that surrounds these sites of enterprise are framed to appear as a place that is less than inspiring, if not outright depressing. He also includes photographs that leave me scratching my head, as I am not sure of the relevance or connection with his subject but to assume that these are unusual metaphors for some aspect related to the acts of business. In some ways, perhaps like Ed Ruscha’s earlier photobooks, the inclusion of such strange photographic images creates a strong curiosity and continued interest in this photobook.

Cheers

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July 7, 2016

Susan S. Bank – Piercing the Darkness

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Copyright 2016 Susan S. Bank

Photographer: Susan S. Bank (b. Portsmouth, NH and resides in both Philadelphia, PA & Portsmouth, NH USA)

Publisher: Brilliant Press, Exton (PA)

Essays: Susan S. Bank, John T. Hill

Text: English

Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, List of Plates, printed by Brilliant Press in USA

Photobook designer: Jesse Holborn

Notes: As I had stated in an earlier review, there will be a number of photobooks forthcoming about Cuba. Nevertheless, there are a few photographers, such as Susan S. Bank, who is investigating the island, people and subsequently the culture of Cuba for an extended period.

This is Bank’s second book about Cuba and for this poignant project she is focusing on the people of Havana. She has carefully chosen to photograph her subject utilizing analog black & white with her Leica to get up close and personal. She is an urban photographer who can capture the various Havana street activities as well as someone who appears to be able to gain trust and probe inside the cultural boundaries to observe life as it unfolds. All the while Bank steers clear of the potential Cuban clichés to dive beneath the veneer and focus on capturing quiet and intimate personal moments. This is a gritty photobook that connects with me and I feel provides a real sense of who the people are that reside in Havana. Recommended.

Cheers

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July 1, 2016

Mara Dani – Almost Bari

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Copyright 2015 Mara Dani

Photographer: Mara Dani (born in Brindisi and resides in Bari, Italy)

Self-published

Essays: Gian Luigi Sylos Labini and Alessandro Crilillo

Text: Italian and English

Hardcover book with exposed boards and spine, belly band and elastic band closure, two-color offset printing with sewn binding, various papers, pagination and captions, printed by Presso Grafica & Stampa in Italy

Editor and designer: Alessandro Cirillo

Notes: This is a topological body of work, exploring one small region of Italy, which is a subject that also happens to be the city where Dani lives.

Dani’s urban landscape is a black and white photographic investigation using a documentary style of a city situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. She pays attention to the diverse architectural diversity found here but appears to be critical of the post-modern style, with the spaces in between appearing sterile and devoid of individuals. Likewise, perhaps due to her black and white medium, the appearance of the structures are seemingly functional but cold, gray and monotonous. I am reminded of the New Topographic’s work of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Nicholas Nixon.

One of my few objections is that the tight binding does not allow the book to lay flat, but I was not going to break the binding to ensure flat surfaces to re-photograph the interior pages. Thus, no book was harmed in the writing of this review!

This body of work by Dani further exemplifies why it is not necessary to travel far to create an engaging photographic project.

Cheers

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June 17, 2016

Sara Terry – Elvis in the Tree

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Copyright 2016 Sara Terry

Photographer: Sara Terry (b. Detroit and resides in Los Angeles, USA)

Self-Published: 10 (X) Editions

Text: English

Hardcover artist book (boards with hand stamp and hand inscription on cover) with elastic belly band, leporello interior design, pigment ink prints with clear corner stays, hand-printed, limited edition book of 10.

Photobook designer: Sara Terry

Notes: Sara Terry’s hand-made artist books in her 10 (X) series are a delight to hold and read. I have known Terry as the founder, artistic director and publisher of the Aftermath Project and her annual War is Half the Story stiff-cover books and that she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 to support the publication of artist book Forgiveness and Conflict: Lessons from Africa. These are all very serious documentary style projects. What I was not aware of was her wonderful 10 (X) Editions until we had adjacent tables at Photo Independent last month. I found out about the not-so-serious side of Sara Terry!

I also quickly found that Terry is very particular about her books when I inadvertently did not place the elastic belly-band back on this book in the right place. Likewise she pays careful attention to the design details and production of her books; they are very well constructed and reading is a fun and enjoyable experience, especially as the leporello design unfolds the interior prints in your hands. For Elvis in the Tree, Terry states “It’s about trees. It’s about visual puns. And yep, it IS about Elvis in the tree.”

A simple but yet elegant book object that is well executed. Recommended.

Cheers

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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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