The PhotoBook

March 26, 2017

Klaus Pichler and Clemens Marschall – Golden Days Before They End

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Photographer:  Klaus Pichler (Austrian, lives and works in Vienna)

Texts compiled and edited by Clemens Marschall

Translations (English Edition): Charlotte Maconochie and Clemens Marschall

Design: Roland Hörmann

Publisher:  Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich, Switzerland, 2016

Hardcover book, sewn binding; 250 unnumbered pages; 120 color photographs; German and English editions; including 100/96 pages of text, with quotes by owners and patrons, list of venues, and glossary; printed and bound in Austria; 29×23 cm

Copyright © 2016 – Photography: Klaus Pichler; Texts: Clemens Marschall; Publication: Edition Patrick Frey

Notes:

This work contains a pictorial portion of 120 color photographs by Klaus Pichler and four interspersed text portions totaling 96 pages (English edition) and 100 pages (German edition), bound in four segments within the picture sections. These text portions consist of a huge number of quotes (collected and edited by Clemens Marschall) that give fascinating insights into the lives of both the owners and the patrons of small Viennese bars that are the subject of the photographs, as well as a list of these 70 or so venues that the authors visited and depicted, a glossary of some of the choice phrases and terms from the quotes (how about “Baucherl” and “Strizzi” for starters!), and the customary publishing information. The German text portion is slightly larger because it includes an expanded glossary of choice local dialect and colloquial expressions. Wherever the images contain relevant language material, a translation is thoughtfully provided below the picture. An impressive collection of visual and textual data!

So here we have Vienna (not Hamburg as in the case of Anders Petersen’s Café Lehmitz), a documentation of not just one but many similar small bars, often on the brink of financial disaster and destined for a subsequent demise, and patrons that derive a “good time” both from the liquid refreshments consumed as well as from a shared coexistence marked by comfort and camaraderie. As for the photographic documentation, Pichler ably demonstrates the efficacy of color for this stark documentary work, where formerly monochrome images were the standard. Color is just fine for the impact that is required for this in-your-face dramatic presentation of people tableaus and “barscapes.” The horizontal format predominates. In 2013, Doug Stockdale reviewed a previous work by Klaus Pichler that also demonstrated his eye for the unusual.

A world that is not always so observable is shown here. These small bars are mostly very funky and idiosyncratic. Their customers are depicted in various stages of inebriation and sometimes acting out or clowning for the camera – they are being themselves and sharing their special world with us. In control of themselves or not, they do not seem to feel shame to show us their definition of togetherness and belonging. As outsiders looking in on them, we marvel at their narrowly defined bit of paradise. One of the intriguing tasks for the viewer is to imagine who said what, since the quotes articulated by owners and patrons, though attributed, are not assigned to any specific individuals depicted in the picture section, but they do allow us to study a variety of insider perspectives to complement the visual documentation.

I consider this comprehensive volume a most enjoyable new classic!

Gerhard Clausing

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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

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

Essays:  Preface by John Loengard

Text:  English

Copyright © 2016 John Loengard

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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Copyright © 2016 Getty Images and Paula Bronstein

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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