The PhotoBook

May 25, 2017

Cheryl Dunn – This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 11:48 pm

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Photographer:  Cheryl Dunn (born in Old Tappan, NJ; resides in New York City, NY)

Publisher:  Deadbeat Club Press, Los Angeles, CA; © 2017

Stiff cover, saddle-stitched; 52 unnumbered pages with 43 black-and-white and color images; digital offset printing, 6×9 inches, edition of 300.  (Deadbeat Club #53)

Notes: 

For all those who are wondering what the United States is currently struggling with, this is a very timely volume of telling photographs. Cheryl Dunn is a photographer from New York City who effectively visualizes both heart and soul of this divided country and turns it into a brief but iconic presentation. No wonder, she has a strong record in editorial and advertising work, as well as portraiture, and has also directed an amazing feature-length documentary film on street photography in New York City, Everybody Street, seen through the eyes of well-known photographers (details on her website, as linked above). NYC can certainly be considered a most representative amalgam of cultures and therefore of opposing viewpoints as well.

So in this very important volume we see the forces of a healthy democracy at work. There is a divisiveness fueled by particular political interests, by economic needs, by the crude realities of long-standing military strife, by the marginalization of and disdain for minority groups, and other factors. Here we see a visualized panorama of opinions, driven by many emotions, such as anxiety, fear, anger, dismay, and sadness – of the groups opposing the election of a government by a minority of voters due to electoral college rules and some voter lethargy, of the groups that find themselves at minimal existence levels and are hoping for government magic, while blaming the “others” for their woes, of the young people who as a more accepting population segment are hoping for a better future with less violence and hatred, and with more varied economic opportunities. Some representative double pages are shown below. The pacing of the volume and the pairing of images are designed to keep the viewers curious and interested throughout. Observations of minute detail that shows everyday life as it transpires everywhere under any circumstances are also refreshing. Well done!

Congratulations and thanks to the photographer and Deadbeat Club for making such interesting work available at such an affordable price, and kudos for encouraging the use of film-based photography as well!

Gerhard Clausing

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May 5, 2017

Manca Juvan – Guardians of the Spoon

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

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

Publisher: ZRC Publishing

Essays: Manca Juvan, Sasa Petejan, Urska Strle

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

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

Photobook designer: Prapesa (Sara Badovinac & Peter Zabret)

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

Douglas

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April 21, 2017

Christian Nilson – The Swiss

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Photographer: Christian Nilson (born Lerum, Sweden; resides Zürich, Switzerland)

Publisher:  Scheidegger & Spiess, Zürich, Switzerland, © 2016

Essay:  Jon Bollmann

Text:  English and German

Cloth-bound sewn hardcover with debossed circles and cut holes; 96 numbered pages, four-color lithography, 67 images, not captioned; 19.5×26.5 cm, printed in Germany

Photobook Designer:  Greger Ulf Nilson

 

Notes:

The essay by Jon Bollmann makes reference to Robert Frank’s The Americans (1956); we are also reminded of Rene Burri’s Die Deutschen (1962+); both of these forerunners are Swiss. And way before that, the German photographer August Sander’s approach to the portraiture of a nation’s people is also well known. While it does not seem possible to capture all the characteristics of a people in a single project, there are always particular reference points and points of view. (Frank and Sander were reviewed here previously: Robert Frank; August Sander.)

Christian Nilson’s viewpoint is different. As a Swede who has lived in Switzerland for over a decade, he shows what the country means to him, in color and in a modern style. There are touches of street photography (somewhat reminiscent of the in-your-face type of work by people like Bruce Gilden). Nilson also often uses flash, even in sunlight, to illuminate every corner of those shots. This gives the images a bright and cheerful appearance. He also has a strong eye for detail, along with humorous juxtapositions and overviews. One detects a sense of respect and wonder, which rubs off on the viewer, and allows an appreciation of his work as fine art photography as well. Nilson displays many of the expected clichés: mountains, traditional folk costumes and local customs, and others that we expect to see when we think of Switzerland. And for good measure, the designer has added a simulated cheese cover with actual holes, and cheese wrapping paper for the special edition! At the same time we see modern everyday life that is not any different than that in other countries – people in their rooms, eating, shopping, and similar daily activities.

The layout of this volume is also varied and keeps us alert. We find a variety of small and large placements of the images, at various aspect ratios, all the way to totally flush double page spreads. The result is that the viewer can puzzle over many of the pictures, trying to figure out the location and meaning of the activity in which the subjects are engaged, as well as their juxtapositions. There is no particular social criticism or political agenda that the author seems to have in mind. The idea we get is that Switzerland is a mixture of old and new, like any other country. It is just that the particulars of the “old” are different (in this case, based on a history of many centuries), while the elements of contemporary life seem universally shared. Thus, for instance, we find adults playing Batman or Superman for their children or for each other’s cosplay amusements, and the vendor of apricots, “Apricot-Andi,” uses techniques of modern marketing, such as his selfie, at his stand, while the stout townsfolk are seen in their expected traditional rural appearance, engaged in the life of country folk. And all of this coexists quite normally, to constitute the contemporary Swiss mix of country and city life, of historical customs and everyday mundane continuity in a modern society.

A thoroughly enjoyable volume!

Gerhard Clausing

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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)

Publisher:  Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich, Switzerland, © 2016

Essay and quotes:  Compiled and edited by Clemens Marschall

Text:  German or English (translated by Charlotte Maconochie and Clemens Marschall

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

Photobook Designer:  Roland Hörmann

 

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

Essays:  Preface by John Loengard

Text:  English

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

Photobook Designer:  Laura Lindgren

 

Notes:

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

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

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

Gerhard Clausing

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February 9, 2017

Paula Bronstein – Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear

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

Publisher:  University of Texas Press, Austin, 2016

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

Text:  English

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

 

Notes:

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

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

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

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

Gerhard Clausing

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May 30, 2013

Manca Juvan – Unordinary Lives – Afghanistan

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Copyright 2012 the photographer, Manca Juvan published by Sanje Publishing

In the United States, the nation of Afghanistan has come to symbolize a weary drawn out war with nightly TV combat clips of the destruction and an endless roll call of the latest military casualties. I think we have become emotionally deaden to the human suffering of what it means to live in conditions of continuous combat and danger.

As a counter-balance to the ongoing images of the Afghan war, Manca Juvan provides the reader with an emotional alternative, perhaps at times only a little less dark.  Her documentary photographic project of this ravaged region spans six years, from 2003 to 2009. Juvan’s investigation is segmented into the following sections: Forgotten, Threat, Privileged, Supporting, Living, Home and Unveiled.

Her natural light photographs are intimate  and captured from a tight and close perspective. She is not photographing her subjects from a far, but rather in their midst. Close and personal. It appears that Juvan has first created trusting relationships with her subjects, who then allow their private lives to be investigated and revealed. As I think about the making of the photographs for this photobook, I suspect that this is a difficult region for a women photographer to work, with the prejudice against women I hear so often about. Thus this body of work that Juvan has compiled is amazing.

The last photographic page spread below is one of those that continues to stay with me. This photobook is comprised mostly of color photographs and as I paged through the book during my first reading, I fully expected that this documentary would be entirely in color. Then the surprise of finding one small section of Black & White images that were toward the end of the book. These photographs have a slightly different read, a little more abstract and graphic. This particular portrait of a woman, below, is minimalistic, a hand, a gesture, and a small part of face reflected in the mirror, while yet telling about her past in the counting down of the days. I find it stunning.

While reading this book, I am reminded of the equally sensitive documentary photographic work of Rania Matar’s “Ordinary Lives”. Both photographers focus mostly on the women and children who appear to be trying to survive in a state of turmoil. They have a shared and unique feminine perspective. Perhaps a common and shared thread between these two women photographers is their ability to symbolize our humanity in the face of adversity and our relentless sense of hope, where perhaps there should not be any.

The book object is an elegant embossed hardcover book within a printed slipcase. The color photographic plates are numbered and captioned and the facing pages interspersed with quotes from the subjects as well as from Afghanistan writers and poets. The Afterwords’ are written by Clare Lockhart and Karim Merchant and the photobook design is by Bostjan Pavletic.

Note: for the embossed cover, above, there are some interesting & ever slight blue artifacts in my cover photograph which are not present on the book boards, so please disregard them. The book cover is in fact a solid dark brown.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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January 18, 2009

Lauren Burke – Birth of a Statesman – Barack Obama

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 9:34 pm

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Photographs 2008 copyright of Lauren Victoria Burke

This is another Print on Demand (POD) that has been published at the end of 2008 immediately after the election of Barack Obama by Lauren Burke Birth of a Statesman – Barack Obama. Where as TheGuardian’s A Message For Obama was a global collaboration of a broad spectrum of photographers Burke’s book is the result of a very professional Washington DC freelance photo/journalist project where “Message” could be viewed as objective while “Statesman” is more subjective.

Like TheGuarian book Burke’s Birth of a Statesman is a hardcover book in a larger horizontal 10 x 8″ format with 240 pages that include 475 color and black & white photographs. This book probably has incorporated every photographic page template known to Blurb, the POD printer, with a nice design sense to add variety and a visual change of pace through the book.

The book documents Obama in the Senate before his presidential run and election as well as segments of his Presidential campaign and final election night in Chicago. It is not meant to be an all inclusive about his campaign as Burke was not an embedded photojournalist for the entire duration of Obama’s campaign. Like some photographers who self-publish a photographic book she has a professional agenda for this book and her Washington DC photo agency as a means to provide wider coverage for the photographs she has available. And I also suspect that she is an Obama Presidential supporter but that is just my suspicion in as she may have had an McCain book in the wings as well.

To her credit as a skilled journalist as well as a skilled photographer she weaves in a story with the photographs. Her story shows the ebb and flow of his days in congress and his supporters during the campaign. I think that this adds to the weakness of the book as her editing is not tight to provide the essence of who Obama might be but instead broad and allowed much weaker photographs to be included. Such as the photograph of Obama and his interns after the fact that they were just photographed together. Huh? Perhaps the editing was an effort to illustrate how broad her available inventory is much like a catalog of walking shoes and dry goods.

I can see the potential of this book as the photographs of his supports as they expectantly wait for “Their” candidate. Burke has captured that certain intensity you find in people who have found something that they can really believe in with that look of expectancy in their faces and especially their eyes. Her subject’s body postures and the resultant sense of anticipation come through. She senses and sees this expectancy and then elegantly captures it.

She documents the social environment that also tells Obama’s story with opportunities she finds in the urban landscape. Burke appears sensitive to the potential humor that lurks within this environment as well.

But I am too disappointed in the great amount of chafe that has been included with the wheat and that the distractions take away too much from the great photographic images and the wonderful story that is hiding in this book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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TheGuardian – A Message For Obama

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All photographs copyright of the photographers courtesy of TheGuardian

I had essentially stated a couple of days ago here, that with the advent of the Print on Demand (POD) book we can have a book in print almost 10 days after an event has occurred. With the recent election of Barrack Obama as President of the United States I am going to review a couple of these “hot off the press” books about his election.

This review is the hardcover 7″ x 7″ book published by Guardian News &  Media in late 2008 titled A Message For Obama. The 120 page book was developed by the Guardian staff as a collaborative effort with the visitors who posted messages about their thoughts and feelings to either the Guardian  or a Flickr site. The editors state that they were able to commission, compile, edit and print their book all within three weeks. Not bad although not at internet or a newspaper speed but amazing to have a published hardcover book available in that short amount of time.

One of the interesting aspects of this small book is that the photographs were contributed from individual located through out the world and that it was edited by a staff in the U.K.  This book might be considered to be a more unbiased and objective assessment of the US politics and the election of Obama.

Regarding the photographs probably the vast majority were non-professional photographers and made by individuals who passionately hoped to pass a personal message to Obama. There is that Flickr rawness to them which is direct and unpolished, sometimes literally wearing their message on their sleeve, forehead or on the back of their hands. The lighting is sometimes poor, the compositions weak, and the images very grainy and overall technically poor photographs. The photographs do carry a big emotional impact, ranging from the totally dedicated, to the non-believers and skeptics.

The book design and layout reflects the edginess and rawness of the photographs within and respectfully not loosing anyone or anything in the gutters. It is not apparent that any relevant content is slipping off with the full bleed images. The book is not monotonous to read and has a nice pace using a variety of the layout templates to provide variety. Will it be on someone’s best of 2009? Very doubtful (well maybe the folks at TheGuardian) and maybe book might have a lot of interest in 10, 20 or 30 years after Flickr is long gone and folks who are interested in what did happen with this election and how did the global community reacted.

It is also very nice that the proceeds from the sale of this book are going to TheGuardian’s long term aid project for Katine, more info here.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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