The PhotoBook Journal

March 30, 2018

Robert Stivers – Staging Pictures – Early Polaroids by Robert Stivers

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:32 pm

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Artist: Robert Stivers (born Palo Alto, CA & resides Santa Fe, NM and Los Angeles, CA)

Published by Dark Spring Press, copyright 2017

Essay: Robert Flynn Johnson

Text: English

Hard cover, with image index, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by Arizona Lithography and binding by Roswell Bookbinders, AZ

Photobook designer: Andy Burgess and Dawne Osborne

Notes: This is a small retrospective body of early photographic work of Robert Stivers using Polaroid (Polaroid back on a Hasselblad) film to experiment and play with visual ideas. Stivers was in the transition from being a dancer (with recent back issues) to that of a visual artist. As aptly pointed out in the Introduction by Robert Flynn Johnson, a transition from “a sensitivity to balance, form, grace, beauty and movement (as a dancer)….into the fixed imagery of photography was an early challenge.”

As such there is a rawness in the Polaroid remnants that remain, reminding me of the concept behind Stephen Gill in which he buried photographic prints to see what might happen. In the case of Stivers these Polaroids were not meant to be the final artistic object, but his attempts to understand the potentials of the medium; thus creating collages, scratching and burning the image surface and other experiments to push and pull the potential narrative. What we see are out-takes and an inventory of the early work-in-progress, similar to the hand-written notes of an author or the preliminary drawings for a painting.

What results are mysterious images cloaked in darkness that became the building blocks of Stivers photographic oeuvre. The book design by Andy Burgess and Dawne Osborne push that concept of mystery and the elements of surrealism even further with the utilization of black pages and black image borders.

Cheers, Douglas Stockdale

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February 26, 2018

Harvey Benge – Home Town Dream

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Photographer: Harvey Benge (born New Zealand & resides Auckland, New Zealand & Paris)

FAQEDITIONS (Self-Published) Limited Edition, signed and numbered book + print (E 50): Auckland, NZ copyright 2017

Text: English

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Stiff cover, saddle-stitch binding, four-color printing, printed in NZ

Photobook designer: Harvey Benge

Notes: A mysterious and ambiguous narrative with dark hints of surrealism, which in some ways appears that I am attempting to describe a fine bottle of wine. Perhaps I am.

In Harvey Benge’s introduction, he states that this smaller body of work is an extraction from a trade book intended to be published in 2018 and that this compilation of photographs was created over a ten year duration. “In this experimental work I simply wanted to see what would happen if I constructed this book only using the Auckland pictures, placing them in the same order that they will appear in the expanded trade edition. This makes for a picture sequence that is totally random and constructed without the use of logic or intuition. Make of it what you will.”

Nevertheless there are still some characteristics of Benge’s photo-documentary style that resonates with me apparently irrespective of this attempt at randomness. Each page spread is a mini-drama echoing some element; be it shapes, color or a similar poignant moment. This stylistic thread that runs thru the book probably hearkens back to the larger edit in his investigation of the nature of dreams. His short narrative creates an interest in what still lies ahead.

Other photobooks of Harvey Benge reviewed on TPBJ: The Month Before TrumpStill Looking for ItAll of the Places I’ve Even Known,  Eat Me, Sri Lanka Diary, February 2011BirdsAgainst Forgetting

Cheers

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January 15, 2018

Roger Ballen – Ballenesque: a retrospective

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Artist: Roger Ballen (born New York City & resides Johannesburg, South Africa)

Thames & Hudson, copyright 2017

Introduction: Robert J. C. Young; Essays: Roger Ballen

Text: English

Hard cover with printed dust cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, index, bibliography, collections, picture credits, printed & bound by Artron, China

Photobook designer: Sarah Praill

Notes: This massive book is indeed an extensive collection of Roger Ballen’s unique oeuvre that he has created over the past forty plus years. What may not be as well known is that this book should be considered equal amounts autobiography for the essays Ballen has written to explain his background and artistic development. Ballen’s work became better known primarily through the publication of his photobooks, thus the four chapters of this retrospective follow that linear sequence of these publications; Boyhood (1979), Drops (1986), Platteland (1994), Outland (2001), Shadow Chambers (2005), Boarding House (2009), Asylum of the Birds (2014), and The Theatre of Apparitions (2016) to name a few.

It is fascinating to observe the artistic progression of Ballen’s work, specifically the inclusion of his drawings that are best defined by discussing his attributes of line, flow, shape and mass in conjunction with his “primitive” sculptures. We can follow the transition of found-art that created a background to construct the social environmental context to eventually becoming the primary expression as the process of photography appears to become more a means of facilitation.

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Ballen philosophically expands on the reasons for his creations which might explain his dark, ambiguous, layered, complex and multi-media oriented photographs, much better than I. In his later works since his Boarding House project, I find that each photograph is so complex and layered that I can spend entire day absorbed in a single image and perhaps the reason for my delay in writing this review. I eventually had to put this book down and write.

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One aspect that I really enjoy about this book is the inclusion of so many of the photographs from each of Ballen’s book projects presented in a way that is similar to reading the referenced book. Although this book is not meant to replace his various books, this retrospective is a very inclusive experience and a great edition to a Ballen collection.

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Roger Ballen’s Ballenesque was selected as one of the editors Interesting Photo Books of 2017 and reviews of the following Ballen books are available on TPBJ; Boarding House, Asylum of the Birds, and The Theatre of Apparitions.

Cheers!

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