The PhotoBook Journal

January 28, 2019

Dotan Saguy – VENICE BEACH

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Dotan Saguy, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise

Photographer: Dotan Saguy , born Kibbutz Yehiam, Northern Israel, currently resides in Los Angeles, California

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Berlin, Germany – copyright 2018

Forword by Jamie Rose

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound, 127 pages, 67 black and white images, printed by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, Germany

Photobook Design: Kehrer Design Heidelberg (Anja Aronska) and Dotan Saguy

Notes:  For anyone who has ever visited Venice Beach in Southern California, comparisons to New York City’s Coney Island might not seem much of a conceptual stretch. Both are famous urban beachscapes that have been luring tourists from around the world for decades, both are celebrated more for the colorful locals than their glistening shores. But as a viewer first encounters Dotan Saguy’s fine new book, VENICE BEACH: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise, thoughts of Santa Claus might seem antithetical to the fun and funky images of sundrenched beach life. Yet the more time one spends looking through this dynamic body of work, the more it is possible to understand how appropriate the reference is. Please dear reader, hear me out:

Starting with the cover image, repeated as the first photograph in the book, we are introduced to a fit, sundrenched blonde woman in revealing bathing attire, framed by sand and palm trees. Yet it is a boa constrictor wrapped around exercise bars that demands our attention the most. Saguy’s inclusion of sunflare and low angle POV immediately let us know this place is HOT, Wild, and perhaps a bit dangerous. In other words, this is beach is a playground, and we are invited to kick off our shoes and join in.

With the attentive eye of a skilled Street photographer, Saguy show us a world in which unattended children play on the sand; a loose band of musicians are joined by a person wearing a fuzzy bunny head; dudes smoke out; kids peek around corners to see what the grown ups are up to; old guys are playful; young guys climb poles to demonstrate inherent strength; sandy surfers teach eager students new moves; chiseled muscle men and women prepare for yet another competition; skateboarders defy gravity as they shred; working class people dance and laugh and shake their thangs during a weekend drum circle… Saguy’s vision of Venice beach is accurately a little lewd, a lot of fun.

Shooting exclusively with a 35mm prime lens, Saguy is not afraid to get up close. There is an intimacy and exuberance in all of his images; you can hear the music, feel the sea breezes, smell the garbage and a reefer, taste the sweat. His Venice beach is contrasty and dirty, full of action and interesting detail. Local characters are well framed by his camera, be it in doorways, handball courts, or stepping out in the tiniest of speedos to face an excited crowd. But such is Saguy’s skill as an observer that in that particular image, we are drawn as much to the young man holding open the door as to the well oiled silhouette of the man walking through. Every image contains dynamic tension; of line, of gaze, of sumptuous black and white tones. Earth bound men leap towards flying seagulls, children buried in sand observe police cars in the background. Tattoos in the foreground compete with macho acrobatics in the background, a zaftig street woman’s natural gifts are echoed in the mural behind her, revelers frolic in the powerful surf, freak-show denizens sit peacefully on storefront steps. No one seems to be selling anything, other than the guy with the sign for $1.99 pizza. Sure, if you want to throw some coins in the rag tag band of gypsies knit hat, that’d be cool, but they are going to sing no matter what.

This kind of freedom cannot be commoditized. And this, my friends, is where the concept of Santa Claus comes in. Not visually represented in Dotan’s images, but found in the ethos he shares with the inhabitants of his Venice Beach.

When this reviewer’s son was in elementary school, he one day said “If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?” Ok, yes, I promise, go ahead. He then asked what most parents know will come sooner or later, and yet it fills us with existential dread. “Is there really such a thing as Santa Claus?” And there it is. Do we answer honestly and break the illusion we have so diligently constructed over many years? We want to preserve the joy of believing; that people are Free and so too can be Fun, that a group of strangers can come together to dance, laugh, get high, make out; that races and classes are united at the edge of an ocean and all warmed by the same blazing sun. We don’t want to know that the Grinch can steal Christmas, and by that I mean the gobbling up of buildings and boardwalk by the corporate juggernaut known as SnapChat. We want to hold back the tide of gentrification, yet Saguy’s Venice is not one of wealth. Despite the mighty muscles and passionate protests, the greatest tension of all is enjoying his found moments, all the while knowing how this is going to play out.

Thus VENICE BEACH is like believing in Santa Claus, as we go back to the sand we become again like a child. The most powerful image in a book full of great photos, is that of the cover-girl’s young son, shot from behind. A spitting image of the late rule-breaking skate legend Jay Adams, his handmade sign asks as they face eviction “Why are you doing this?” Why beautiful boy, why indeed.

Light it up, pump it up, open it up, and enjoy. Dotan Saguy’s VENICE BEACH is a heartbreakingly fun book.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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January 2, 2019

Louis Jay – Passing Fancies

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:11 pm

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Photographer:  Louis Jay (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; lives in Miami and Paris)

Publisher:  Luce Press, Miami, Florida; © 2018

Essay:  Introduction by the photographer

Languages:  English and French

Cloth-bound sewn hardback with printed dust cover, in cloth-covered case; 11 x 14.25 inches; 84 pages with pagination; 64 black-and-white duotone photographs and a complete location index; processed and printed in Italy by Litho Art, Turin, and Stamperia Artistica Nazionale, Trofarello

Photobook Designer:  Sally Ann Field

 

Notes:  It is a pleasure to start 2019 with the presentation of such an attractive large-format photobook. Louis Jay, who worked as a commercial photographer for many years, has returned to his early love of photographing on the street, without succumbing to the clichés of street photography, but supplying streetscapes that let us share astute observations from several locales around the world. This project clearly sparkles, as passionate interest and affection shine through, an approach to photography he learned from Lisette Model many years ago.

Passing Fancies contains 64 images that were created in France, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and Florida. Most of these areas share a milder climate and perhaps a greater affinity to being outdoors. So we see city life, people of all ages, old and new structures and symbols, moments of work and leisure. This project has a certain indefinable allure, enhanced not only by the quality of the photography and the printing, but also by the large format and the extraordinarily dynamic and creative pairings and continuity.

This photobook makes you want to go back and look at it again and again, a sign of special quality. It is a marvelous study of the delights of everyday moments and thus a tribute to the universality of human experience!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 16, 2018

Todd Webb – I See a City: Todd Webb’s New York

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 8:04 pm

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Photographer:  Todd Webb (1905-2000; born in Detroit, Michigan)

Editor:  Betsy Evans Hunt

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY; © 2017

Essays:  Sean Corcoran, Daniel Okrent, Betsy Evans Hunt

Language:  English

Sewn hardback with illustrated dust cover; 10 x 12 inches; 150 black-and-white images; 176 pages, paginated throughout; printed and bound in China

Photobook Designer:  BTD/NYC

 

Notes:

New York City has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of the world. The New York of the mid-1940s through the 1950s had its own unique atmosphere. One of the busiest metropolitan areas, it was characterized by neighborhoods with distinct characteristics and a somewhat more leisurely pace, somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of the commercial areas, which also were more individually distinct than they are today. The troops had come home from World War II and were welcomed warmly by the citizenry; the charm of the past was still to be seen as the future was peeking over the horizon. For the photography world, this was the time of Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe (whom Webb later photographed in New Mexico), the Callahans, the Newhalls, Minor White, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Gordon Parks, and others with whom Todd Webb was well connected.

Todd Webb had a knack for finding the unusual in ordinary subjects. The New York shown in his work is distinguished by the loving depiction of the vestiges of times gone by within the context of the moment; the emphasis is on neighborhoods such as Harlem and the lower East Side, all with their distinct buildings and signage. Often the humans depicted recede into the background, dwarfed by the enormity of the city, buildings of old and other structures such as the “El” (elevated city rail transportation), many of which have since been replaced. In fact, many times Webb would leave out people and merely photograph evidence of their activities or concerns, such as signs welcoming soldiers home or shop windows with their personally or culturally unique visual and verbal messages. There is an appealing timelessness and slower pace to the city as depicted here, mostly from a street-level perspective, a historic window into the many details making the mosaic that was the NYC of that time, a portrait that also gives a certain amount of dignity to subjects not members of the more upscale part of society, as Daniel Corcoran points out in his essay.

This sumptuously printed oversized volume presents the best of Todd Webb’s New York City work, collected in an appealing sequence edited by Betsy Evans Hunt, the Executive Director of the Todd Webb Archive, who also details her connections to Webb in the appendix. There are also two illuminating essays, by Sean Corcoran and Daniel Okrent, that supply details about the background of the photographer and his time. The images are accompanied by captions that provide the place and year for each; the sequencing is well paced to suit the variety of subjects and moods. This publication follows a Fall 2017 exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York; prints of this work of Todd Webb, as well as Africa 1958, will be at AIPAD 2018, The Photography Show, April 2018.

A historical volume of great documentary and artistic significance!

Gerhard Clausing

 

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February 1, 2018

Daidō Moriyama – Record

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:47 pm

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Photographer:  Daidō Moriyama (born in Okeda, Osaka, and lives in Tokyo, Japan)

Editor:  Mark Holborn

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, New York, NY; © 2017

Essay:  “The Headlights in My Eyes” by Mark Holborn

Language:  English

Sewn hardback with illustrated slipcase; 230+ images, of which some 50 are in color; 424 pages, paginated sections; printed and bound in China by Artron

Photobook Designer:  Jesse Holborn, Design Holborn

Notes: Daidō Moriyama is certainly one of the most prolific photographers, having published well over 70 books. His photographic curiosity is given free rein on the street and other anonymous places, where he illuminates the mysteries of both day and night, be it in his native Japan or in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The gritty images are daring and bold, and some of the darker aspects of life tend to predominate. There is a tough edge to the spontaneous glimpses he shares with us, and we are certainly in his grip as we are reminded about the toughness of life that he presents in his gutsy style. The photographs are rough-and-tumble tableaus in which we play the role of vicarious outsiders.

This handsomely printed volume is a digest of the magazine Record (Kiroku), which Moriyama started to publish in the early 1970s (Issues 1-5) and resumed again starting in 2006 (Issues 6-30). To keep such a momentum going over a period of more than 40 years is an amazing accomplishment. Only “an artist in constant motion” (promotional literature) can develop a style that transcends location and becomes a universal observation mode. The book contains various quotes at the beginning of each of the 30 segments to help set the tone and provide further understanding. An introduction by Mark Holborn provides an interesting discussion of Moriyama, the self-appointed photographic “hunter,” marked by restlessness and briefly drawn to the moment, somewhat analogous to haiku poetry. It is all about the photographer’s self-expression: “I wander around, glance at things, and bark from time to time.”

I have chosen the sample pages below to give you a brief overview regarding the range, breadth, and style. Regardless of the locale, Moriyama is true to himself in how he presents the world to us. Occasionally there is also self-observation: a self-portrait in the form of a reflection. Then also, interspersed, there are scenes with an erotic slant, at other times there is a distinct atmosphere that might imply loneliness or longing. Color is used very seldom, but effectively, either muted or over the top, depending on what is required.

An important publication, well done!

Gerhard Clausing

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