The PhotoBook Journal

December 12, 2018

Andreas Herzau – AM

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Photographer:  Andreas Herzau (born in Mainz, Germany; lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher:  Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Wädenswil, Switzerland; © 2018

Stiff cover book (partial front cover) with French fold pages and “Blockbuch” binding; 108 pages with 55 monochrome images; 20.5 x 27.5 cm; printed and bound in Germany by Gulde Druck (Tübingen) and Josef Spinner (Ottersweier) respectively

Texts: Andreas Herzau; Baudrillard and Barthes quotes

Languages:  German and English

Photobook Designer:  Andreas Herzau

 

Notes:  Angela Merkel is certainly one of the wonders of the 21st century. As the first female German Chancellor, she wields her power in a rather unassuming and dutiful manner, without much of the pomp and swagger that marks other leaders. Photographs taken of her, for the most part, are marked by a certain predictable sameness that reflects that predictable style of leadership.

Andreas Herzau certainly has changed our view of her by providing a refreshingly innovative look at the wherewithal of the publicly visible leadership that characterizes this fascinating politician. With a distinguished record of photographic projects that shed new light on things and transgress traditional photojournalistic boundaries, in this photobook he is providing us with a creative new look at a subject we thought we already knew.

He observed and photographed Angela Merkel’s public appearances from 2009 to 2017. What makes the result of his labors particularly interesting is his astute observations that relate not only to the central figure, but especially also to the surroundings, the contexts with which the figure interacts in a continual public drama of appearances. We see partial shots of her, very many shots of hands in the process of building connections, and both limelight and shadow of events as they transpire. When have we ever seen a shot of her head from the back? Since politics lends itself to humor, there are quite a few amusing juxtapositions as well.

It wouldn’t be a Herzau project if this photobook did not also break new ground in its physical form. The images are all printed in what the publisher calls “duplex” fashion, on sheets folded inward (French fold), as shown in the sample illustrations below. This allows the reader to bend open sheets printed with a single image on such a folded-back sheet to experience an ongoing visual and physical narrative, even to play with the images by bending the opened fold to be amused by some distortion. The result is a certain 3D effect that makes the pages of the book come alive. This manner of presentation also gives the viewer a sense of surprise and adventure, since such a photobook allows some participation by the viewer. There are also a few flaming-red pages with quotes tying the photographs to philosophical thoughts. These inserted sheets are in the color of the SPD, the political party that has been both her opposition as well as her “Grand Coalition” partner at various times during her tenure as Chancellor.

An exciting photographic viewing adventure, sure to become a collector’s item. Highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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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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December 1, 2018

Simon Brugner – The Arsenic Eaters

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Photographer and Concept: Simon Brugner (born in Hartberg, Austria, lives in Vienna, Austria)

Publisher:  The Eriskay Connection, Breda, Netherlands; © 2018

Essays and illustration selections:  Simon Brugner

Text:  English

Stiff covers with yellow vinyl sleeve, bound with the Otabind method; four-color lithography, printed by Wilco Art Books, bound by Patist; 144 pages, with pagination and some captions in Part 2; 21 x 30 cm (8 ¼  x 12 inches); edition of 1250

Photobook Designers/Editors:  Rob van Hoesel, Simon Brugner

 

Notes:  The southeastern Austrian region known in English as Styria, and in German as Steiermark, is a mostly rural area that has the city of Graz as its center of culture and population density. Little has been known about the area’s mostly rural practice of consuming arsenic, which goes back several centuries, and lasted into the last part of the 20th century.

Arsenic was known as “the poor man’s cocaine” – reputed to be a stimulant that had the effects of physical and sexual enhancement, a beauty treatment for women, and even an effective method to temporarily enhance the physical appearance and strength of horses as they were about to be sold. Needless to say, there were also long-term side effects, especially when used to excess, as is the case with many such drugs and substances.

When we first see the cover of this fascinating book, we are not quite sure what we are looking at. Is it a scientific treatise? Is it an investigation with historical significance? Or perhaps a medical reference work? We are certainly curious! Well, it is a little bit of all of these, but most significantly a brilliantly photographed and edited photobook of visuals that tells this story, with a contemporary photographic interpretation by Simon Brugner, along with some insertions of historical material that he collected, in such a way as to retrace the mysteries of the old practice through very creative juxtaposition and sequencing.

This photobook is divided into two parts. The first and major portion is a well-edited visual narrative, of primary interest for purposes of this journal. The images are well sequenced to span the range of mysteries, fables, rumors, and anxieties about the often clandestine use and abuse of this mysterious substance, and to connect the old tales with the environment as it now exists. It seems that a certain tolerance and dependence on arsenic could be built up in some individuals, and thus also a sense of invincibility and anxiety, both for the users as well as for those around them.

Brugner has done a most effective job of photographing contextual connections – geography, mining locations, and contemporary objects and detail, including deterioration and decay – and mixing them with images of individuals from the area, both portraits and parts of the anatomy, as to keep the mystery of the story going. Particularly noteworthy is his use of colors, especially green and brown for the calming background of forests and nature above ground, dark orange-brown as the color of the caves and rocks from which arsenic is extracted, red as the color of blood and sensuality, as well as a harbinger of danger (check out those mushrooms), and, or course, stark monochrome for the historical images.

The second part of the book, consisting of some 30 pages, presents the contextual detail and explanations for the use of arsenic in this region. Brugner provides a number of historical illustrations, abstracts from scientific discussions, as well as other insights gained during the three-year period that it took to prepare this project. This is a highly useful section that sheds a bit of light on the mysteries that were visually presented in the first part.

I consider this photobook a new classic, recommended both as a well-designed narrative that deals with an issue that concerns us in different forms even today – from the fine art perspective, as well as for the presentation of this subject within a context of social and scientific understanding, against a historical perspective.

We have selected this photobook as one of our choices for “Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018.”

Gerhard Clausing

 

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September 17, 2018

War is only Half the Story – 10 years of the Aftermath Project

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:10 am

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War is only Half the Story10 years of the Aftermath Project, Edited by Sara Terry & Teun Van Der Heijden, Copyright 2018

Director/Founder/sustaining editor; Sara Terry (resides in Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Photographers: various, all copyrights apply to the photographers

Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing (Manchester, UK)

Introduction: Sara Terry, essays by Donald Weber, Clare Cavanagh, poems by Wislawa Szymborska

Text: English

Stiff-cover book, Concertina cover with belly bands, sewn naked binding, captions, listing of The Aftermath Grant Winners & Finalist, four-color lithography, printed by EBS, Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: Teun van der Heijden

Notes: Background: The Aftermath Project is a non-profit, grant-making organization which for the past ten years has supported the work of photographers documenting the aftermath of conflict. Their stated mission is to change the way the media covers conflict, and to broaden the public’s understanding of the true cost of war and the real price of peace.

This is a retrospective monograph of the series of annual War is only Half the Story photobooks that have been curated and published by Sara Terry’s The Aftermath Project. It is a collection of singular images, extracted from the various photographic investigational projects that have been supported over the past 10 years, structured around the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. This is an extremely impressive recall of the broad scope of this important initiative.

Terry states that her goal with this monograph is “to let the images speak to each other… created a dialogue that’s never been heard before, a post-conflict visual symphony, one that invites you to listen over and over again.”

The individual images are visually searing; images and narratives that I first came to know as each of these annual stiff-cover books were published by The Aftermath Project. Which have, if it seems possible, even a stronger emotional impact in the context of this monograph. Some of these images can be very difficult to view; to witness what someone else has experienced and the tragic enormity of the consequences of events like war and hatred have created.

The documentary photographers and photo-journalist whose work is included is extremely broad, a virtual who’s-who of this genre of investigative work. To Terry and her editorial team’s credit, their grants and support represents an extremely broad international selection of photographers, from the well-known to the relatively unknown, including Donald Weber, Nina Berman, Jim Goldberg, Louie Paul, Jessica Hines, Stanley Greene, Kathryn Cook, Javad Parsa, and Justyna Mielnikiewicz to name only a few. All of whom have a difficult story to share and narrate.

There is still a measure of hope of in how the individuals and groups are documented in their attempts to rebuild their lives after such devastating carnage and loss. It can be difficult to comprehend the emotional impact to these individuals, especially when we are confronted with similar images of loss every day in the news. At times it just seems unrelenting.

This monograph is an elegant and touching ten year synopsis of this extensive body of work by Terry and the Aftermath Project. A testimony to the fact that after the conflict ends, not all of the photographers leave.

Nevertheless, one has to wonder how does another ignorant and ill-informed world leader come to power, who does not seem to know or even want to understand “the cost of war and the price of peace”?

The Aftermath Project annual editions (Volumes) that have been previously featured on TPBJ include: Volume IIVolume VVolume VIII

The Aftermath Project just announced a $25,000 grant for 2019. Details on their web site.

Cheers, Doug

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September 5, 2018

FotoEvidence Book Award – deadline approaching

Filed under: Photo Books, Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 10:07 am

590pix FEBA Covers

FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo

The annual 2019 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo will recognize a documentary photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in addressing a violation of human rights, a significant injustice or an assault on human dignity. The selected project will be published as part of a series of FotoEvidence books dedicated to long-form projects of documentary photographers working in the humanistic tradition.

The 2019 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo winner and two selected finalists will be exhibited during the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019 in Amsterdam in conjunction with the launch of the book.

Deadline:

Submissions for the 2019 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photomust be received by midnight (E.S.T.) on October 15, 2018. Submissions received after October 15, 2018 will be considered for the following year’s Book Award.

Professional, amateur photographers and photographer’s collectives can apply for the Book Award.
•    Submit up to 15 images from one project. If you are selected for the Book Award you will be asked to submit 100-120 photographs on the same topic.
•    $50 entry fee, payable to FotoEvidence during the online entry process

Awards will be announced in February, 2019.

May 28, 2018

Christoph Oeschger – They’ve Made Us Ghosts

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 6:51 pm

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Photographer:  Christoph Oeschger (born and living in Zürich, Switzerland)

Publisher:  cpress, Zürich, Switzerland; © 2017

Essay:  Léopold Lambert

Text:  English

Softcover, naked-stitched binding with transparent dust cover; 140 pages, non-paginated, with 1060 photographs; 16×26 cm; edition of 600 copies; printed by Graphius, Ghent, Belgium

Photobook Designers:  Christof Nüssli, Christoph Oeschger, Chiara Zarotti

 

Notes:

Over the last several decades, the world has been especially troubled by new migrations from countries that represent trouble spots to their people. The reasons can be political, religious, cultural, economic, or any combination. Often the destination seems like some kind of paradise in comparison to the place of departure, but the journey toward that supposed paradise is arduous and in itself a major challenge for all concerned, while the nearly impossible dream of a better future keeps the refugees’ hopes alive.

Previously, I have reviewed some photobooks here that concentrated on the fundamental strife in these countries of origin, such as Paula Bronstein’s Afghanistan – Between Hope and Fear, and Giles Duley’s One Second of Light. In this volume, Oeschger examines one geographic area – the refugee detention areas in the Calais region – one of the bottleneck transition sites as people flee from Africa and the Middle East toward European destinations, toward hoped-for relief.

This volume contains 1060 photographs, a veritable typology of unpleasant places to stay, and is arranged in two interspersed types of sections: the environmental surroundings are shown on pages mostly printed flush; the glued inserts are printed on more glossy paper and show glimpses of refugee life in small snapshot-like images, moments that are almost impossible to share, as we almost never see their faces, nor are their activities mostly a part of what we can see clearly either. A distance has been created both physically and visually, to match the physical. Oeschger has managed to create a presentation of these sequestered and walled-in areas that definitely makes us feel uncomfortable – “there but for fortune go you or I,” as the old Phil Ochs/Joan Baez song goes. The indignities of imposed structures or self-created improvised sleeping quarters, as well as the overall semi-clinical sequestering, heaped on top of old horrors experienced by the refugees and migrants in their home countries, are indeed a heavy burden to bear. This volume is a visual wake-up call for  those (people and countries) who want to push these pressing problems aside. The essay by Léopold Lambert and the historical chart provide further background on the issues and their contexts.  Those who are truly in need of protection do deserve decent treatment. And aren’t we all fervently hoping for a better future?

Christoph Oeschger and his team have managed to create a compelling presentation that makes its points by combining techniques from photojournalism and fine art. The vast number of images of the walled-in areas have the effect of showing the humans as being seen as quite marginal. Many of the shots are intentionally blurry or indistinct, to give us something to puzzle over. The colors are mostly muted, to convey the dreariness of the place. The transparent red cover creates a feeling of immediate urgency and danger; the vast surroundings of the camp areas and the furtive glimpses of the refugees cause in us a cathartic sharing of conditions full of improvisation and emergency, a sense of void and emptiness for which we wish there were better solutions. A powerful volume, check it out for yourself!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 21, 2018

Charles-Frédérick Ouellet – Le Naufrage

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Photographer:  Charles-Frédérick Ouellet (born in Chicoutimi; lives in Québec City, Canada)

Publisher:  Les Éditions du renard, Montréal, Canada; © 2017

Text:  Poem “Dompter le naufrage” by Fabien Cloutier

Language:  French

Illustration:  Frédérik Lévesque

Hardback, sewn; 108 pages with 55 images, paginated; 9 x 10.5″; printed in Canada by Deschamps Impression; edition of 500 and special edition of 30

Photobook Design:  Charles-Frédérick Ouellet and CRITERIUM

 

Notes:

I recently reviewed a book by Gerald Boyer from Catalonia, in which the main emphasis was childhood recollections and family connections around the rugged terrain along the northeastern coast of Spain. Part of those recollections concerned the camaraderie of going fishing in “the cove.” In the present work, things get much rougher.  Charles-Frédérick Ouellet has been documenting the very traditional work of the fishermen of the Quebec/St. Lawrence River area and its connected bodies of water, men who earn their livelihood by braving rough waters and other natural turmoil to bring home their catch; they follow in the path of ancient traditions.

The title of this volume is Le Naufrage (The Shipwreck), and that title certainly makes us wonder if the specter of tragedy and unforeseen events are in the minds of such men pursuing their rugged trade. And sure enough, in the back of the volume there is a fitting poem by Fabien Cloutier entitled, “Dompter le naufrage” (“Dodging the Shipwreck,” perhaps with the implication, “Against all odds”), which lets us in on the images floating about in the fishermen’s minds: separated from their people, they will brave the storm, overcome their fear of disaster, and get back safely to the land and their loved ones again…

This narrative of fishermen is well photographed and handsomely presented. Ouellet rode along on the boats for several years and got to know the men well, pitched in when needed, and was subject to the same adverse conditions as they were. Thus they fully accepted him; he was able to obtain honest views of both calm and rough moments. There is some effect of pictorialism to the work, and I mean that in a very complimentary way. The overall feeling of nostalgia, survival, and temporality is generalized through choices of light and composition that nudge the work toward the abstract and support its strong graphic impact. The longing for the safety of the land exists along with the urge for excitement; the romantic veneer has been removed and the images show the best photojournalistic vision that is enveloped in an artistic presentation. The segment of images taken on the water is surrounded by an initial and a final portion that show terra firma and recollections of nature as a kind of “before”and “after,” which complete the contexts these men experience. The use of small Leica film-based rangefinder cameras on the water, and large-format film cameras for the landscapes and clouds, was a very effective strategy that provided Ouellet with technical ruggedness when needed and an overall artistic look. We are put in the midst of the action in well-composed images and nicely sequenced scenic views. The ever-changing weather conditions certainly also provide a strong background for this narrative. Paisley endpapers, a very pleasing matte paper stock for the printed pages (both ivory and gray), a bound bookmark, and a painting showing rough waves also support the elegant appearance of this book.

A most enjoyable volume!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 3, 2018

Donald Weber – War Sand

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Photographer: Donald Weber (Toronto, Canada & resides in Amsterdam, The Nederland’s) http://donaldweber.com/

Microscopy: Donald Weber and Kevin Robbie

Published by Polygon, Nederland, copyright 2018 https://shop.donaldweber.com/products/war-sand

Essay by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie and Donald Weber

Text: English, French, German

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Stiff covers, map insert, perfect bound (sewn & glued), block trim, four-color lithography, D-day Glossary, printed by Fine Books in Nederland’s

Photobook designer: Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwel

Color management & Lithography, Sebastiaan Hannekroot, Colour & Books

Notes: War. As I have stated before; I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although my house is built on an old WWII bombing range. I think Donald Weber’s War Sand is a similar multi-medic type of publication that has much in common with Louie Palu’s Front Towards Enemy beyond the fact that both are investigating an aspect of war; Weber looking at the traces of World War II’s D-day invasion on the coast of France and Palu is grounded in the present in Afghanistan. Whereas Palu utilizes multiple types of publications for his collective narrative, Weber provides his multi-media story within one set of covers.

Weber’s book is a series of sections in which his investigation changes formats, styles and viewpoints to explore the complexity of his subject; the D-day landing zones. The “introduction” is a lyrical study of the sky, clouds and into the heavens above and then the viewpoint progresses to include the landing beaches (code names: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword) until drilling down (literally) and then into the sand itself. The attributes of sand of these beaches was in of itself a secret commando mission that Weber’s grandfather had partaken in 1943.

A scientific section on microarcheology of current sand samples from the various D-day beaches reveals in minute detail the finding of what was expected as well as some things not expected, while disturbingly some very small shrapnel debris that is no doubt related to this intense battle that began on June 6th.

Weber has created a number of very intriguing set of dioramas to tell the story of his grandfather’s commando raid to get beach samples. The book concludes with a visual storyboard that is a combination of D-day movie stills and archive WWII photographs. Although the latter is an interesting read, it may be the weakest aspect of this multi-layered book, nevertheless for a visual book investigating a complex subject I applaud Weber for taking an artistic risk by including this last section.

The clever book design includes a sleight-of-hand with the utilization of a few Japanese folds that are printed on the concealed interior pages referring to the secret codes names created for the D-day invasion. The cross-word puzzle printed on the interior page of the fold provides a ghostly image with the thinner paper stock, barely discernable of the outer pages in this section of his photobook. The books little secret visually hints at all of the many secrets surrounding this WWII event and indirectly the reason for the book’s creation.

The higher key lyrical coastal photographs provides an alternative viewpoint and belies the horrors that had occurred at these same locations on that stormy June 6th day in 1944. The casualties for the Allied landing forces on D-day alone include 2,700 British, 946 Canadians and 6,603 Americans. For Germany, the number of casualties are still unknown, but is estimated between 4,000 and 6,000. The Battle of Normandy that resulted from the invasion incurred 425,000 Allied and German troops that were either killed, wounded or went missing. Perhaps not often mentioned are the number of French citizens caught in the middle of this battle which has been estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 casualties. Some of the many statistics of war that this narrative only hints at. That my father landed on D-day plus 3 with the U.S. Second Armor on Omaha beach and at the war’s end came home is something I am grateful for as otherwise I would not be here to delight you with this review. It was also a dark event that my dad refused to talk about, so indirectly I think of this book as being part of his story.

What really intrigues me about this photobook is that as a visual object it is similar to my thought processes and the way I think about a subject; a constant jumble of ideas mixed with various kinds of facts, different memories and recollections that seem to oddly cross-paths. In turn this process creates ideas about things that I want to dig into and tangential thoughts that then result. It makes book development challenging in trying to decide what the narrative should be and how to present it. I enjoy how Weber’s multi-faceted investigated of this complex subject resulted is a photobook that is an visual interesting, nicely organized and a delightfully layered narrative.

Weber states “The war-relics presented here create an immersive experience on the theme of collective memory. They include WWII spy-craft and old Hollywood movies, dioramas and drone-mounted cameras, private post-war memoirs and wistful seaside photographs. These artifacts reveal war’s quantum traces. And they expose our civilization’s longing for a final victory over death.”

Other book by Donald Weber that is reviewed on TPBJ: Bastard Eden, Our Chernobly.

Cheers!

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January 25, 2018

Louie Palu – Front Towards Enemy

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Photographer: Louie Palu (born Toronto, Canada & resides Washington DC)

Published by Yoffy Press: Atlanta, GA (USA) copyright 2017

Essay by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu

Text: English

Stiff cover Zine with metal saddle stitch binding, Cards, Leporello (Accordion), soft cover Newspaper, folded without binding, exhibition insert, housed in printed chip-board folder with cover flap, four-color lithography, printed in Turkey

Photobook designer: Jordan Swartz

Notes: War. I don’t understand it and fortunately I have not had to experience it, although I live on an old WW2 bombing range, that’s another story. Louie Palu in his new multi-media publication (can we really call this a photobook?) Front Towards Enemy provides a version of a photo-documentary that resulted from a self-assignment investigation of the war conflict in Afghanistan. This is a very complex region; socially, economically, politically and environmentally that Palu has tried to emulate with an equally complex and layered print concept.

His multi-media conceptual photobook immediately reminded me of Alejandro Cartagena’s 2015 self-published Before the War, which in retrospect, I have found so complex at the time as to be visually overwhelming. There are similar aspects about Palu’s publication as well.

Palu’s photobook has four major components and then each of these break down or expand from there. Part newspaper, The Void of War, part zine, The Fighting Season, part leporello, part a pack of picture cards and finally an insert that suggests how to assemble of this into a exhibition. Wow.

Rebecca Senf in her assay discusses the parallels between Palu and W. Eugene Smith as to how Smith after his tiff with Life magazine about his Albert Schweitzer photo essay left the magazine and went independent. As Palu was self-assigned for his Afghanistan project, likewise he did not have to conform to the norms of a picture editor, but completed his project on his own aesthetic terms. We do not always see his subject but are provided indirect evidence of his subject’s presence; a cast shadow, an out of focus form, heads bowed, truncated feet, legs and arms. A photo-documentary that attempts to connect with the heart.

Newspaper; The Void of War; interior pages with images that are an impressive 8-1/2” h x 21-1/2” w; the ultrawide format of the camera lens creates a distorted visualization that echos the frequently un-nerving human situations that are in a state of progress. The photographic quality of the newsprint has low contrast with muddled blacks, typical of an area of newspapers and harken back to newspaper coverage of the Vietnam War era.

Zine; The Fighting Season, saddle stitch binding, with the essays by Rebecca Senf and Louie Palu and includes the book’s colophon. A mix of the trauma of warfare with the background of the human element, the children and adults with their animals who try to survive in the region amidst the war.

Leporello (Accordion); 14 continuous panels, printed full bleed that when unfolded extends 13 feet, with the photographs on one side and the caption printed on the reverse. The physical manipulation of the leporello to look at the images and then read the corresponding caption is awkward and not meant to be an easy act. The last image (or depending on how you fold the leporello, the first image) of a seriously wounded Afghan solider in a Medevac helicopter’s blue light is incredibly haunting.

Cards, individual prints, which are printed full bleed, 11”h x 7-1/2”w, on heavy card stock. Captions are provided on the reverse side. These are tightly cropped portraits of his subjects who are soldiers that are engaged in the war in Afghanistan.  I find their eyes and gaze visually riveting.

Single page insert: Instructions and suggestions on how to create one version of an exhibition with this publication.

As one moves from one part of the publication to another, there is a feeling of messiness, an interesting feeling, perhaps a simulation of the awkward and strained social and environmental conditions that Palu is encountering. Another dimension of this body of work.

Palu has stated that although he has experienced some aspect of war, his photographs cannot provide the reader with the full experience of what this is. Similarly, this review is an attempt to describe a complex publication, but cannot provide the reader with the full experience. Highly recommended you obtain your own copy.

Other books published by Louie Palu that have been reviewed on TPBJ: Cage Call

Cheers!

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December 17, 2017

Matthew James O’Brien – No dar papaya

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Photographer:  Matthew James O’Brien (born in San Mateo, California; resides in San Francisco, California)

Publishers:  Icono Editorial, Bogota, Colombia and Placer Press, San Francisco, California; © 2014; introduced in the United States in 2016

Essays:  Juan Alberto Gaviria Vélez; Matthew James O’Brien

Text:  English and Spanish

Hard cover, sewn binding, four-color printing; 129 numbered pages; 190 photographs with time and location identification and map; 9.5×12 inches; printed and bound in Spain by Artes Gráficas Palermo, Madrid

Notes:  The Spanish phrase “No dar papaya” has a special meaning in Colombia, something like “Don’t be an easy target.” In a country that has seen much strife and turmoil and has only slowly come to a more reasonable overall existence, this is good advice, as the photographer Matthew O’Brien describes in his essay “Expect the Unexpected,” based on his own experiences in that country. As the gallery owner Juan Alberto Gaviria Vélez states in the introduction, the people of Colombia have a collective desire to live in peace one day. O’Brien’s overall approach focuses on the positive; this volume can be considered a love affair with Colombia’s people, who in general seem very welcoming and approachable.

O’Brien visited Colombia a number of times, as a student, photographer, and as a teacher of photography, during the years 2003-2013. He decided that the softer, somewhat dreamy look of vintage color Polaroid was the ideal vehicle for presenting a more optimistic view of a people striving for a better future. At one time, when there still was a more plentiful and affordable supply of these materials (manufacture of this specific Polaroid material ceased in 2008), he could also take a second shot and give it to his subjects on location as a memento. In any case, this medium requires a more considered approach.

The book presents many contrasts: country and desert scenes and seashore settings, cityscapes and many activities observed in all these varied locations, as the country itself is full of variety and contrasts – cities vs. countryside, jungles and deserts, agriculture and fishing, religion, the sensuous vs. the intellectual, the varieties of ethnic groups. The generously laid out and juxtaposed images are not always obvious as to their meaning; our interpretations can be given free reign, and perhaps that is a good thing, up to a point. On the other hand, I found O’Brien’s stories and anecdotes also very enlightening, especially regarding his personal experiences with the individuals depicted and referenced, and I would have liked even more of those personal and cultural notes to go with the images presented. The author is an excellent storyteller, both visually and verbally, and should not shy away from expanding the verbal explanations in a second edition or in future projects; it would be nice to have such further cultural enrichment to go with his images. The appendix contains a map of Colombia, as well as a complete list of the location and year each image was taken. One is reminded of the work of August Sander; this is a kind of “Colombians of the 21st Century” project, with the people portrayed facing the camera without pretense. The shots are well composed and pleasant to survey. The chronological presentation of images gives the book the feel of a family album, and perhaps that was the intent for this supportive portrayal of the people O’Brien encountered.

This volume is a refreshing and positive new view of a country about which we have received many decades of bad reports, and it allows us glimpses of all the good people who live there and are longing for a better future.

Gerhard Clausing

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