The PhotoBook Journal

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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November 21, 2018

Rose Steinmetz – Techenie (течение)

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 4:41 pm

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Photographer:  Rose Steinmetz (born in the country of Georgia; lives in São Paulo, Brazil)

Self-published, edition of 30; © 2017

Text:  Notes inserted into an envelope, in English and Portuguese

Soft covers, loose-leaf, held by central elastic band with an envelope containing a message, 5.5 x 7.5 inches; 80 pages, unpaginated in black and white

Notes:  I asked to review this project because it struck me as a challenging enigma. The photographer, Rose Steinmetz, who originally hails from the country of Georgia and now lives in Brazil, herself has a background that shares several cultural streams and influences. So it only seems fitting that this photographic project would have an effect that resembles a stream of consciousness of evocative imagery.

20 sheets, printed on both sides and folded in half, constitute 80 pages, of which a few are intentionally left blank to create pauses; they are loosely held together by an elastic string to which an envelope is attached containing some key words that relate to the term techenie, which is meant to imply current, flow, [uncontrolled] movement.

What further makes this interesting is that the viewer of this photobook can first study the flow of the original sequence (participating in the author’s journey), and then reassemble the pages to create different juxtapositions, creating a flow of his or her own, even subtracting some images if desired. I have praised this format before, most recently in my reviews of Douglas Stockdale’s Bluewater Shore and of Rodrigo Ramos’ Ex Corde (From the Heart; De todo corazón). Since there is no flowchart of the original arrangement of the pages, it would be necessary to view the video on the photographer’s website to reassemble the book in its original sequence, or else to decide to keep it in your own arrangement as your very own personal book inspired by the original.

The image sequence is stream-of-consciousness or dream-like, almost like a psychology test; the viewer is clearly transported into a world that resembles a bit of a twilight zone, sequences which challenge you to participate in the interpretation. What is your own flow, what is your own imagination of how things assemble and how life continues? Where do your own cultural influences come to bear, what small details about everyday life do you observe and focus on? And what are you able to ignore?

The images include a range, from tangible everyday objects and a few portraits, bodyscapes, animals, and landscapes, all the way to semi-abstract and abstract compositions. The printing is simple, in glorious copy-machine-like monochrome, which has been practiced by other photographers before, most prominently by Nobuyoshi Araki, and might encourage others to attempt similar photobooks. A delightful project!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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November 18, 2018

Ekaterina Solovieva – The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero

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Ekaterina Solovieva, The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero, 2018

Photographer: Ekaterina Solovieva, (Born Moscow, lives in Hamburg, Germany)

Publisher: Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, copyright 2018

Essay: Ekaterina Solovieva

Text: English, Translation by Diego Benning Wang

Softcover, Swiss Binding, 141 pages, 68 images B&W, 7 1/4 ” x 9 1/2″ x 2 inches, printed in Stuttgart by Offizin Scheufele

Art Direction and Design: Konstantin Eremenko, Moscow

Notes: The cover image of this intriguing photo book is of a bearded man with long hair blowing in the winter wind, looking back over his shoulder with fences of a small village dividing the landscape behind him. Thus we begin to know the subject of this book, a “punk” Moscow seminary graduate who traveled to this remote Russian village with friends searching for the meaning of life, ultimately rebuilding the local church that burned down 40 years previous, in the process revitalizing the spiritual community and binding him to the villagers and to the land.

The photographer, Ekaterina Solovieva, whose work primarily focuses on country folk-life in the former Soviet Union with a special emphasis on religious customs, also provides text to accompany her poetic black and white imagery.  This book takes a bit of time to absorb and fully appreciate. On first viewing, the presentation of the images is compelling: some pages filled entirely with a borderless single image, some images printed on black pages, the next on white. The book is divided into nine segments with titles such as “Easter”, “Fall- Grape of the North”, and “The Interlude to Winter”.

Solovieva’s images convey the essence of this small rural community: bundled up children, older women wearing traditional scarfs inside to keep warm, small shacks barely visible through the brush, abandoned fishing boats swallowed up by the weeds, simple log homes illuminated by window light and candles, some heated with the consumption of strong vodka and late-night conversation, wet mud roads, the metallic shine of cooking pots, the unadorned beauty of apples spilled onto a wooden table.

Solovieva photographs a place and people without pretense, a digital free environment unpolluted with branding on clothes or advertisements dominating the streets. Kolodozero the village seems to exist beyond the reach of commercialism or the creep of digital technology, the villagers lacking in the self-consciousness of modernity. Solovieva photographs the details and intimate moments that give the viewer an understanding of why a young Muscovite seminarian transformed into the village priest and why, unlike friends “who came here and left their hearts and souls” yet “found the strength to return to normal life”, he says of himself “I am the weak one, as I am unable to leave.”  These final lines of text, written in white on a black page like snow falling into a black night, compel the reader to reverse course and view the images of this remote village and the priest who fell in love with its landscape and inhabitants, from back to front, and then front to back again, each time slowing the pace, like the spiritual journey of Father Arkady himself, absorbing the beauty of this chosen life more deeply.

Best regards! Melanie Chapman

Postscript from Ekaterina Solovieva:  Several days after the book was published, on February 12th 2018, I have got sad news from Kolodozero. Priest Arkady Shlykov suddenly died after a heart attack. He was 45 years old. All the years he lived in Kolodozero he took all the problems and sorrows of the people of the village very personally, helped them selflessly. He used to spend hours hitchhiking to the remote communities to baptize, read the funeral service or just serve in the temple. And at some moment his heart gave up. A new priest has been already appointed to the church in Kolodozero. But he won’t be able to serve regularly, and people are yet to get used to him. – Ekaterina

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October 24, 2018

Kranzler – Phelps – The Drake Equation

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Paul Kranzler & Andrew PhelpsThe Drake Equation, 2018 (book miss-printed 2017)

Photographers: Paul Kranzler, (born Austria, resides Linz,Austria and Leipzig, Germany) & Andrew Phelps (born Mesa, Arizona, resides in Salzburg, Austria)

Publisher: Fountain Books (Verlag), Berlin

Essay: Alard Von Kittlitz

Text: English

Without pagination or captions

Hardcover book, bronze embossed linen over boards, tipped-in image on back cover, sewn binding, bronzed page edges, one double gate-fold, four-color lithography, printed by Optimal Media, GmbH (Germany)

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Book Designer: Isabel Latza

Notes: The rural region of Green Bank, West Virginia is a modern paradox; a mash-up of ultra-high technology in the midst of an almost non-tech community, confounded by the fact that this situation is by careful design. Green Bank is the home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory built in the 1950’s. This high technology site with the astrophysicist who work there, is a series of highly sensitive radio telescopes that are searching the edges of the universe looking for signs of life. Operating this highly sensitive equipment requires the surrounding area is not disturbed by any form of radio activity, such as Wi-Fi, radio stations, cell towers and all forms of electro-magnetic energy, a region classified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a “radio-free” zone. This has become a region that uses dial-up land line phones, correspondence by letters and requires individuals to actually talk to each other.

Photographers Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps co-photographed this project, working together in such a manner that the identity of who actually activated the shutter for a specific image is inconsequential. Both photographers hail from Austria, while Phelps was born in Arizona and has resided in Austria since the early 1990’s and as I have noted in Phelps other photobook looking at the Arizona landscape that over time it appears he has acquired an outsider’s view point. The photographs capture a mash-up of high technology nestled within a community of non-technology, capturing both sides of the Drake Equation. The giant domes are observed facing outward looking into the furthest edges of existence while Kranzler and Phelps photograph those individuals who choose the simple basics of a lifestyle that might be considered the near side of existence.

The visual attributes of the high technology are stunning; the huge organic sculptural shapes of the radio telescopes situated in the sparse rural landscape; massive contradictions of size, shape and mass. These round shapes appear similar to what we think of what alien spacecraft should look like, lurking eerily in this desolate landscape.

In contrast are the intimate studies of those individuals who make this region their home; although there are hard to miss hints, such as the young woman with an off-the-chart iridescent blue hair, that their collective understanding extends beyond this rural community. Nevertheless they create a portrait of a white rural community; a young person cradling a chicken, another young man firing his rifle at something, ball caps, pizza, big belt buckles, camouflage fashion-wear and taxidermy trophies lining the walls.

The writer Alard von Kittlitz’s essay delves into this photographic study of a small region of America as a surrogate for the greater whole. So might Green Bank be a micro-cosmos, a representation of the greater America as postulated by von Kittlitz; I think not. I speculate that Green Bank might have more in common with a David Lynch story that is an odd mix of the surreal with the common, thus it appears like a very mysterious place. Perhaps an interesting place that I would really like to visit if given the opportunity.

Other photobooks by Andrew Phelps previously featured on TPBJ; Not Niigata, and Haboob.

Cheers, Doug

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September 9, 2018

Julia Borissova – Let Me Fall Again

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Let Me Fall Again, Julia Borissova, Copyright 2018

Artist: Julia Borissova (born Talinn, Estonia, resides St. Petersburg, RU)

Self-Published: St Petersburg, Russia

Essay, Julia Borissova

Text: Russian, English

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Stiffcover book, handsewn binding, stitching, inserts, gate-folds, First edition of 239, hand-made in Russia

Photobook designer: Julia Borissova

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Notes: It was not until I had a chance to spend time with Julia Borissova’s latest photobook, Let Me Fall Again, did I reflect on the act of what constitutes “failure” for an artist, versus the perspective of the corporate/business person. For a business venture failure is the worst possible event. I will have to admit as a person who has been involved in the development of countless pharmaceutical drugs that researchers are probably more in alignment with artist in that a “failure” can considered to be on a path to success.

She states in her artist statement, which is complexly folded and partially hidden within the book, …this word (failure) means something else in the art world. The gap between the initial intention and realization of artwork can be seen as an artistic failure. However, if unsuccessful attempts are not regarded as the final result, it encourages artist to work more and gives them opportunities to grow.

The subject of her book is Charles Leroux who was an early (1890’s) adapter in the act of parachuting, which eventually led to his early demise in Estonia (Russia). The book is complex and lots of parts are mashed together, a continuous series of small and large gatefolds that reveal text, posters, images and illustrations. I will have to say, I wonder if all of these page folds are a bit overdone, but I sense the reason behind the complexity and sculptural qualities; an attempt to create an interaction by the reader for more engagement with the contents.

Second regarding her layered narrative; on the surface it would appear to be about her subject, but lurking below the surface, I sense it’s about the lives of creative persons. Granted most artist do not jump out of high-flying balloons on makeshift ropes, but figuratively most artist are constantly taking chances with their creative endeavors while they put at great risk a chance at making a sustaining livelihood.

In an interview with Julia, she states Regarding the collages in my book, I used the wire to create three-dimensional objects, I have been inspired by the works of Miró and Calder. These works do not illustrate the history of the balloonist, I just wanted to visualize a sense of lightness & fragility – I tried to draw in the air.

As a book artist, I find Borissova’s book to be very inspirational for my creativity; especially if after working for a year on a new book for it to be greeted with a luke-warm response. Thus, like Borissova, every time I feel I might fail in my work, I now think about Charles, who not being able to fall would have meant great failure.

Btw, I will not divulge the little hidden secret found at the end of each book concealed in a very complex folded insert glued into the ending pages. Perhaps an Icarus metaphor. And to say I am a big fan of Borissova’s artistic work is an understatement. Very inspirational!

Other artist books by Julia Borissova on TPBJ; J. B. About Men Floating in the AirDimitryDOM, address, Running to the Edge

Cheers,

Douglas

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August 28, 2018

Todd Weaver – 36

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books, Photographers — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:56 pm

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Photographer:  Todd Weaver (born in Kansas City, Missouri; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Publisher:  Self-published; © 2018

Essays:  Devendra Banhart; Rodrigo Amarante

Text:  English

Hardcover book, sewn, cloth-bound, debossed cover with tipped-in illustration; 212 paginated pages; 9 ¼ x 11 ¾ inches; printed in the USA by Dual Graphics

Photobook designer:  Todd Weaver

 

Notes: 

What would happen if people portrayed by photographers were given more freedom and control over the process than is usually the case? Who would really be in control?

The title of this innovative photobook refers to the 36 persons who appeared in a specific space, to be photographed by Todd Weaver as THEY might like, moving at will for three minutes for a total of 36 exposures, taken every 5 seconds, while the camera location remained the same. If ever there was true collaboration between photographer and person portrayed, this is it – unprecedented and most intriguing! This project reminded me a bit of the work of Canadian photographer Arnaud Maggs, who photographed individuals from various angles to arrive at a more complete depiction of each person, but Weaver’s approach goes even further.

Here the individuals photographed externalized and structured their appearance and movements and bared their insides as well. We can see a most eclectic series of self-portrayals, produced in collaboration with the photographer as uber-visualizer. The fact that the 36 individuals are artists helps a bit, I think, since their self-concepts and their understanding of self-presentation may be somewhat more developed than in others. This also presented major challenges to the photographer to capture the appearances authentically and with technical dexterity in the short amount of time and with physical restrictions. We see a gamut of emotions and degrees of physicality – some made use of objects that are meaningful to them, some appearing with clothes and some without or fewer than usual. The photographic techniques employed by Weaver also encompass the range of possibilities – from close-ups to full-body renderings, from sharply defined specifics to somewhat longer exposures that are able to trace movement or quick gestures that the eye might not register sharply either.

The photobook is a pleasure to view and peruse; the design is attractive and varied, full of surprises. It is as if you are sitting in a theater and 36 characters that will appear in the play briefly introduce themselves to the audience, both as actors and also in the roles they are playing. The volume constitutes a refreshingly different visual record of thirty-six creative individuals captured by their innovative artistic photographer. The process of baring their souls is well described in the impressions written by Rodrigo Amarante. The project concludes with notes on the 36 artists who participated in this project. A most impressive and creative work!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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August 10, 2018

Judy Dater – Only Human

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 2:34 pm

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Photographer:  Judy Dater (born in Hollywood, CA; lives in Berkeley, CA)

Publisher:  Marymount Institute Press and TSEHAI Publishers, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA; © 2018

Essays:  Teresa de Vroom (Foreword); Judy Dater (“Only Human”); Marilyn Symmes (“The Portrait Within”); Gloria Williams Sander (“The Archaeology of a Photograph”); Donna Stein (“Looking Back”)

Text:  English

Linen-bound sewn hardback with illustrated dust cover; 9 ¾ x 12 ¼ inches; 200 pages, paginated; 100 monochrome images printed in the Sepiana process by Inner Workings/Artron Art, China

Photobook Designer: Chuck Byrne, Chuck Byrne Design

 

Notes:

The iconic portrait work of Judy Dater is marked by a tremendous depth as well as an indescribable mystery; these images represent a lifetime of astute perception and observation. Her work is  also marked by a courageous spirit and a multi-layered assertiveness and meaning that translates from the photographer to the subject and back to the viewer. Her image of Imogen Cunningham with Twinka is famous, and, yes, it is included in this book (see below). This photobook is, in fact, a retrospective companion to the exhibition ONLY HUMAN, shown at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, whose store also sells this book; the show closes on September 16, 2018.

The work shown here includes 100 significant images, mostly individual portraits of humans (in accordance with the title), and also some groupings of two or more, as well as five self-portraits of the photographer, a genre for which Judy Dater is deservedly admired. Her view of people is in itself very human, in that we are given glimpses of inner strength through their outer appearance as depicted in the images. The time period covered is 1964 to 2016; some of those portrayed were early colleagues and/or mentors or hers, such as Ansel Adams, depicted with a slightly dreamy blur – he who always wanted his own images to be razor-sharp! – while others who are not in the public limelight present interesting aspects of themselves as well.

We find an approximately equal number of women and men in the volume, both clothed and not, some displayed more boldly than others. We were pleased to note that the honesty that exudes from these images originates with Judy Dater herself; she was a delight to meet this spring in connection with the Classic Photographs exhibition at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Here is a photo taken by Doug Stockdale where Judy has this book open to one of her favorite photographs:

 

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Judy Dater, Classic Photographs Exhibition, Santa Monica, February 2018 / © Douglas Stockdale

 

Judy Dater’s depiction of humans is refreshing; she shows each of them as individuals in an honest fashion without pretense or fakery. The essays and the select bibliography give us further insights into the intentions and practices of the photographer, as well as the reception history as well as other perspectives of curators and art historians regarding Judy Dater’s work.

We salute Judy Dater for her long career of forthrightly interpreting the minds and souls of so many individuals and sharing them with us, and also thank the team that created this fascinating photobook, a treasure to own.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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All black and white images © Judy Dater

 

June 27, 2018

Yehlin Lee – Raw Soul

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 9:40 pm

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Photographer:  Yehlin Lee (born and lives in Taipei, Taiwan)

Publisher:  Akaaka Art Publishing, Kyoto, Japan; © 2017

Afterword:  Yehlin Lee

Text:  Japanese, Chinese, English

Hardback, sewn, with debossed illustrated cover; 118 unpaginated pages with 76 color photographs; 26 x 26 cm (10 ¼ x 10 ¼ inches); printed and bound in Japan by Live Art Books

Photobook Designers:  Yehlin Lee, Kimi Himeno, Hisaki Matsumoto

 

Notes:

Haven’t we all tried to make sense of our environment many times over? Lucky are those of us who can use our photography to help us provide access to how the rhythms of our environment flow. Those who also have a connection with and a touch for more than the visual mode, such as sound, music, film, to guide their instincts, have the good fortune to be inspired in more ways than one.

Yehlin Lee from Taipei is one of these lucky people who are guided by more than one modality. Having an artistic connection with sound, with a career as a sound artist (check out some soundscapes on his website), he is guided toward special moments where sounds give him cues for locating and interpreting the visual moments that he chooses to share with us. As he states in his latest artist statement, “My way of looking is deeply influenced by my past experience in listening – unconditional acceptance. Like a submarine, I try to feel without bearing any intention and dive into the collective consciousness of Taiwanese as well as mine. When sound is heard from within, I click the shutter.” Lee’s goal is, as he states, to capture “a certain suppressed force of life, a spiritual intensity …”

And indeed, the photographer has produced a very special and sensitive journey into the heart and soul of a very complex metropolitan region. Raw Soul reminded me a bit of the film Into the Night (1985), in which the character played by Jeff Goldblum searches the night for meanings and encounters various cultural layers. Taiwan, with many customs and belief systems that have a history going back many centuries, is a multifaceted conglomeration of cultures and backgrounds. To capture its spirit and flow in a mere 76 images is quite a feat.

We see many hidden places and mysterious juxtapositions of nature and man, such as a sharp plant leaf and a culturally interesting knife. We get glimpses of ancient remnants and current practices and combinations of these; we see a variety of age groups, old and young, and some interaction. Many of the folks shown are not readily identifiable or are shown as a small portion of a larger universe; thus we are able to project ourselves into this world in which the photographer immerses us. Mysterious figures behind glass, young folks in various roles, subject to influences of old and new, East and West, spiritual and mundane … a respectful look by an artist that understands the layers and the sublayers as well. Yehlin Lee also makes excellent use of selective focusing and unfocusing and blurring/longer exposures to add mystery. The layout and sequencing keep us in suspense from beginning to end. We, the observers, share in the artist’s resonating moments that let us in on a very special metropolitan area.

A complex work, attractively presented – highly recommended!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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May 5, 2018

Nuno Moreira – She Looks Into Me

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 4:56 pm

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Photographer:  Nuno Moreira (born and lives in Lisbon, Portugal)

Texts:  Poem by Paul Éluard; prose by Adolfo Luxúria Canibal; foreword by M. F. Sullivan; afterword by Jesse Freeman

Languages:  English and Portuguese

Self-published softcover with flaps; naked-bound and glued to the rear board; 22×28 cm (8.7×11 inches); 84 unnumbered pages with 42 black-and-white photographs; first limited edition of 200 copies, printed in Portugal by Guide; © 2018

Photobook designer:  NM Design

 

Notes:

This photographic project by Nuno Moreira, as presented in this photobook, creates a very puzzling and potentially moving experience for the viewer. Relationships and all that they engender – genesis, growth, possibly also decline, and the specter of cessation – are ever-present themes in this book, which provides both visual depth and tactile pleasure. This is a volume that can have a strong effect on the viewer: it is a journey to the interior via the exterior.

The images are presented in three sections:  I. Being; II. Becoming; III. Unbecoming. This choice of headings suggests a process, and, indeed, the sections show a progression of  dreamlike appearances of figures oscillating and interacting between light and shadow. This is definitely the work of a photographer’s photographer. Canibal in the prose piece writes: “She knows that time swallows life and drains the light away, leaving the faces with the infinite sadness of primordial grief.” And: “The whispering figures represent the fleeting expression of this unspeakable disturbance that consumes her.” We get impressions of bodies and souls interacting and parting, the carousel of life, dancing in a circle, as it goes round and round to its beginnings, over and over. Thus you can traverse the book from front to end and back again. The double meaning of the word unbecoming also supports the idea that loss is always harder to take, not only personally, but also in a social context.

The individuals shown are of different ages and genders, in a variety of combinations, with females constituting the central figure “She.” We can surmise the possibilities or the existence of one or a variety of relationships, to be projected into the pictures by each viewer, depending on his or her life experiences and preferences. We see individuals touching each other or not, partly clothed or not, tastefully presented. There are also moments of being alone. The ambiguity of who belongs to whom, for what purpose, and for how long (if at all!) is where the mystery of the book comes into play. There is also a large bone-like structure in some of the images, perhaps a tusk or other part that seems to have once belonged to a large animal. In the shape of a boomerang, it perhaps reminds us about the mutuality and universality of interactions and of the circularity of life itself. Perhaps it is a reminder of loss, or of death as the ultimate loss; wilted flowers are also shown at the end of the book. Ambiguity consistently drives the visuals, and the untangling of the interplay between fantasy and reality becomes the viewer’s personal task.

The literary pieces and the essays – poem, foreword, afterword, prose (the latter presented in a separate, attractive bilingual booklet) – are also interesting, as they support the wholistic approach of Nuno Moreira, and also shed light on his previous work. I am also very pleased that the author chose naked stitched binding as a tool for the pages of the photobook, as it allows the double-page spreads to lie flat, giving the viewer a closer viewing experience, as if glancing at an album, rather than a more tightly bound conventional book.

An important work of fine art photography that engages the viewer/reader in a variety of ways – visually, textually, and viscerally.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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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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