The PhotoBook Journal

February 14, 2019

Ute and Werner Mahler – Kleinstadt

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Ute and Werner Mahler, Kleinstadt, 2018

Photographers: Ute Mahler born 1949, former GDR and Werner Mahler born 1950, former GDR, both reside in Hamburg, Germany

Publisher; Hartmann Projects, Stuttgart, Germany

Hard Cover, linen with foil-stamped lettering, thread-sewn, 144 pp., 69 Duotone black-white images, Width: 26 cm, Length: 32 cm

Language(s): German/English

Book Designer: Florian Lamm

Notes: “The places where life works – that is not where we photographed,” comments Ute and Werner Mahler, one of the most famous living artist photographer couple in Germany. Over a period of three years, they travelled to more than 100 small towns to take portraits of young people, architecture, and still life. The result is this wonderful photo book, which was sold out after only six months, and is already out in its second edition.

In the same way Robert Frank traveled across America in the 1950s, the Mahlers drove across Germany these days to find small towns that are not listed in any guidebooks and where the last waves of redevelopment already occurred more than 50 years ago. In these small towns, they found neither sights nor attractions, only vacant shops, grazing horses in derelict greenhouses, barking dogs behind shop windows, or simply empty lots overgrown with ferns.

The rhythm of the book has an impressive effect on the viewer. It alternates between portraits, architectural images, and some wondrous still life’s. The black and white portraits, taken with a large-format camera, focus exclusively on young people who were born into these dreary small towns and who must ask themselves upon finishing school: should I stay or should I go?

The group portraits of young people reveals a particular beauty. The photographer couple make a reference here to their previous photo book, Suburban Mona Lisas, which shows young women, who have grown up in dreary prefab housing projects, on their way to becoming adults. From the very beginning, the book took on a cult status, especially among young readers in Germany, and was already out of print shortly after its publication.

Their new long-term project, Kleinstadt, can be read as a very subjective, biographical work by the two German photographers, as they also grew up in small towns, like the protagonists of their pictures. After studying photography in the GDR at the Academy of Fine Arts, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, they founded the Ostkreuz Agency for photographers, as well as the Ostkreuz School, which still attracts young people from all over the world who want to study journalistic reportage.

Why should you buy this book? The book, with its linen cover and red embossing was very elaborately designed and printed in duotones. The book did not require any text. In a very laid-back and sometimes somewhat melancholy, but never boring, manner, the pictures tell their story about forgotten yet still-existent areas all over Germany.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

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Fotografie/ Ute Mahler & Werner Mahler: Kleinstadt

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Fotografie/ Ute Mahler & Werner Mahler: Kleinstadt

 

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 22, 2019

Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden

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Seiichi Furuya – Warum Dresden (Why Dresden), copyright 2017

Photographer: Seiichi Furuya (born Izu, Shizuoka Japan, lives in Graz, Austria)

Published by Spector Books Leipzig, Germany

Stiff Cover, thread-sewn, 192 pages,  black-white and color photographs, 18cm x 24cm.

Text: German

Esssay: Manfred Wiemer

Designer: Helmut Völter

Notes:  The Japanese photographer Seiichi Furuya arrived in Dresden in 1984 with his wife and then three-year-old son. Today Furuya could be considered as one of the rare authors bringing up a coherent photographical work about the life during the 1980’s in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).  At the end of 2017 Furuya published this photography book, Warum Dresden (English: Why Dresden), which can also be read as a narrative about Dresden at this current time.

Three narrative threads are delicately interwoven one after the other. In the first one, Furuya has photographed everything in Dresden that seemed striking to his Japanese eye: bridges, squares, parks, the Elbe – which flows through the city and significantly shapes the its identity through its width and distinctive hue.

A second narrative thread captures all the various constellations of Dresden people in their everyday lives: walking, going to work, with their families, as citizens of Dresden, who are at home in an almost impossibly beautiful landscape. In a third thread, Furuya documents his wife and son as a small unit of a family in a foreign location.

The book title, Warum Dresden, invokes a deeper reflection into its meaning.  When Furuya revisited Dresden after more than 30 years in 2015, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) was founded as a right-wing citizens’ alliance in the city, which opposed the often xenophobic slogans of the national politics at the time. Furuya photographed this Pegida alliance and has added these images at the end of the book. Furuya is wondering why this alliance continues to flourish in Dresden? He has always praised the city as an idyllic landscape – a city that, in its individual beauty, faces an uncertain future influenced by so many external forces, both from the past with the World War II, communism, reunification and now the present.

Review – Kristin Dittrich, Director, Shift School for contemporary Photography, Dresden, Germany

Note: this book was selected for Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2018 by The PhotoBook Journal. Read the full list.

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January 18, 2019

Tema Stauffer – UPSTATE

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Photographer: Tema Stauffer

Born: Durham North Carolina, currently resides in Tennessee

Publisher: Daylight Books, Chapel Hill, NC, copyright 2018

Foreword by Xhenet Aliu and essay by Alison Nordstrom

Language: English

Hardcover, Cloth bound sewn, 84 pages, 33 color photographs, printed by OFSET YAPIMEVI, Turkey

Photobook Designer: Ursula Damm

Notes: Upon opening UPSTATE for the first time, this reviewer was immediately taken back to her own years spent living in the Hudson Valley while attending Bard College. Not only because the subject of Tema Stauffer’s new work is the nearby city of Hudson and the surrounding landscape, but because Stauffer’s visual approach is in comfortable alignment with the work of seminal photographer Stephen Shore and the photography department he has directed at Bard since 1982. Thus while some photo books offer a glimpse into worlds we can never ourselves experience, the landscape and palette of UPSTATE felt so familiar that it has taken a bit of time to put into words the pleasure of this fine body of work.

Especially after reading the excellent essays that bookend Stauffer’s beautiful images. Novelist Xhenet Aliu does an outstanding job of providing context for the recent changes in Hudson, a once mighty industrial city which has become the weekend darling destination of monied Manhattanites. Photo historian Alison Nordstom’s essay references Stauffer’s work in the context of Hudson River painters, the New Topographics “school” of photography, Edward Hopper, and even the Japanese concept of Natsukashii, which loosely translated means nostalgia for something that no longer exists. The quality of writing in these essays complements the quality of Stauffer’s images and thus there is little one can add, other than to share an individual experience of spending time with this must-have book.

For those who are familiar with the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson one might find some similarity in the settings of UPSTATE. However, this reviewer prefers Stauffer’s approach, which is non-fictional, honoring the truth of a real place rather than using it as backdrop for expensive cinematic narratives.

The design of UPSTATE also differs significantly from another recently published (and potential companion piece) photo-book, UPSTATE GIRLS by Brenda Ann Kenneally, which focuses on the chaotic lives of low income inhabitants of nearby Troy New York, and is thus presented in collage-like journalistic manner.  In UPSTATE, Stauffer concentrates more on the architecture of a beautiful yet changing landscape, focusing on fields, winter light, abandoned buildings, and further evidence of blue-collar lives in which the hardware store is more important than the newest knitting store serving six dollar lattes. Thankfully, nothing found in UPSTATE, be they interiors or streetscapes, feels artificial.

There are many pleasures to this book of 33 color images, particularly if one appreciates fine printing and singular 8×10 images with clean white borders filling an entire page, complemented with blank white pages that allow Stauffer’s formal images to breathe, as if on a gallery wall.

However, experiencing these images presented in book form offers the viewer a chance to appreciate not only Stauffer’s eye for detail and active frame lines, but also her meditation on the subtle power of color. The opening image “River’s Edge” offers complementary tones of blues and yellow via steel grey buildings and farming equipment, and is then answered by a distant red door in the following image “Furgary Shacks.” Picking up on the musicality of Stauffer’s color sense makes UPSTATE a fun book to spend time with. As with themes which rise and diminish throughout a musical suite, UPSTATE offers the viewer a delightful dance between cool tones of winter and exciting pops of warmth; some found in nature, some created by man.

A minuet of red returns in the collar of “Reggie” (a portrait of a distinguished yet paint splattered gentleman), crescendos in the following image aptly titled “Red House”, finally diminishing yet still heard in the geometric lines of houses on “Cross Street.” Stauffer’s melodic images return to blues and yellows of “Rear Bedroom” and continues through the next four photographs, then red chimes back in with the appearance of Sumac trees, reaching a masterful pitch with the vinyl seats and ketchup bottle in the Elizaville “Diner”. The passepied of this passage can be found in the blue eyes and pinkish flesh of the bare-chested “Mike”, one of only three portraits contained in the book. The polonaise of “Allen Street” and “White Car” evoke the architectural work of Walker Evans and the time-stamping inclusion of vehicles found throughout Stephen Shore’s UNCOMMON PLACES. These two elements are successfully united with the inclusion of “Brown Dodge”.

Though these gorgeous 8×10 images can be appreciated formally, there are also traces of humor, best seen in “Interior, Furgary Shack #6.” For those who study the very edges of the frame, a game we lovers of large format photography can’t help but play, pay attention to the wall art in the background. Rarely does a photograph make you laugh out loud. This one did.

Throughout UPSTATE, Tema Stauffer shares her gift of seeing the inherent beauty of what is, and what was.

A subtle symphony of images, UPSTATE is a gorgeous collection of work. Highly Recommend.

Enjoy! – Melanie Chapman

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January 10, 2019

John Divola – Vandalism

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John Divola – Vandalism, 2018

Artist/Photographer: John Divola (born Los Angeles, resides Riverside, California) (USA)

Publisher: MACK (UK)

Without essays, pagination or captions

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed paper cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by EBS (Italy)

Photobook designer: Ben Seeley

Notes: This retrospective monograph that explores one of John Divola’s urban landscapeprojects created between 1974 and 1975 while finishing his MFA at UCLA (1974). His practice was a form of what today we would call “staged photography”; creating (spray painting) structures and staging events for the single purpose of being photographed, which a photographic print is the end product. For this series, the photographs were monochromatic black and white. Divola would later follow this series with Zuma Beach, in 1977, similar in staging, but photographed in color.

To place Divola’s body of work in perspective at this time in the early to mid-1970’s was the artistic practice of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field artists; Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly and at UCLA, Richard Diebenkorn. The photographer Aaron Siskind was working on his “After Franz Kline” series starting in 1973 through 1975, photographing “found art” that were graphic black and white studies that channeled the similar graphic abstract paintings of Franz Kline.

Although this book does not contain any text that provides the context for this body of work, a minimalist book in its own right, I was fortunate to hear Divola’s Medium Festival presentation last October in San Diego during which he placed this project within his larger body of work. Essentially a twenty-something year old guy who was tagging the interior of some abandon structures with an informed artistic twist.

His painting style due to the use of spray paint cans is very loose versus something tighter that would result from use brushes and acrylic or oil paint. Like other Abstract Expressionist, the over-spray, heavy applications that might create run-off drips and lines, was a source of relatively uncontrolled serendipity. He selected a silver spray paint that had a kind of visual luminance when photographed that contrasted with the dense black spray paint applications.

His “canvas” or work medium was another element of serendipity; the structure and surface textures of the found walls varied and there maybe some pre-existing damage or structures to interact with. On occasion Divola introduced some sculptural elements, using nails, string and other objects to create lines and patterns to work with. Likewise, he introduced his flying books (or magazines) that after the painting work was completed, to then fling a book or magazine into the frame and attempt to capture its wild flight. An act in his attempt to explore dynamic serendipity as another element of chance in his staging; just to see what might happen.

Looking at his photographs I sense the current mood at the time (thinking back to the CalArts presentations); a desire to be anti-modernism and against everything of the grand West Coast landscape photography of Adams, Weston and others of the f/64 in which the framing of the subject was studied for every little element. The edges of Divola’s photographs have odd elements and the subjects are “unbalanced” compositions pushing a visual rawness as to celebrate entropy, havoc and messiness. To introduce “real life” into to an image in which things are not perfectly ordered, e.g. picture-perfect in the advertising age.

Cheers,

Douglas

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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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November 9, 2018

Dave Jordano – A Detroit Nocturne

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Dave Jordano – A Detroit Nocturne, 2018

Photographer: Dave Jordano (born Detroit, MI, USA resides Chicago IL, USA)

Publisher: powerHouse Books

Essay, Foreword by Karen Irvine

Text: English with captions and pagination

Hardcover book with illustrated dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed and binding in China

Photobook designer: Sam Silvio

Notes: The investigation of an urban man-built landscape can be a sociological study of those who live in it as part of a photo-documentary practice. Dave Jordano adds another couple of more layers to the study of his subject, the city of Detroit.  His visual framing of this urban landscape is from the adjacent byways of this city, a version of street photography which in this case only a few individuals are observed. Second is the time of day he creates this urban investigation, or perhaps more succinctly, a project created in the wee hours between sunset and when the sun rises again. A time when things might go bump in the night.

For the most part of this study Jordano focuses on the aging structures of Detroit that are illuminated by a variety of lighting, both the natural moon lite sky as well as the various industrial, commercial neon, residential and street lights. The combination of lighting sources creates interesting color palette to an already colorful city and the occasional sharply delineated shadows make for an overall strangeness to his photographs. The night time lighting creates graphic shapes of this urban setting as the structures appear to flatten and visually break down to basic shapes, masses, blocks of color and lines. The overall effect might be best characterized as being surreal.

The capture of these lonely night-lite structures as a documentary practice attempts to reveal the underlying social order of this area. I am struck by a combination of visual humor mixed with moments of melancholy, as many of these photographs seem to reveal an underlying sadness about what is occurring in this region. Like Jordano, I grew up near these same locations many years ago, so viewing these mostly dated, sometimes seriously deteriorating, structures remind me of my own aging and mortality.

Dave Jordano has been previously featured on TPBJ: Detroit Unbroken Down

Cheers, Doug

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October 29, 2018

Richard S. Chow – Urbanscape

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Gerhard Clausing @ 5:34 pm

 

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Photographer:  Richard S. Chow (born in Hong Kong; lives in Los Angeles, California)

Self-published, edition of 50; © 2017

Text:  Notes by the photographer, in English

Soft covers, spiral-bound (Wire-O), 10.75 x 8.25 inches; 66 pages, unpaginated; black and white and color sections with 18 and 12 images respectively; printed by MagCloud (a division of Blurb)

 

Notes:

Having recently curated the ABSTRACT VISIONS Exhibition, I was very pleased to come across this work by Richard S. Chow. He is a prolific exhibitor in the Los Angeles area and internationally, has received a number of important awards for his work, and is also very active in furthering the exposure of other photographers through Open Show LA events, along with his colleague Jonas Yip, whose work I will be reviewing shortly.

This photobook by Richard S. Chow is entitled Urbanscape, and consists of some 30 photographic images, with two additional arrangements of three and six as collages. The work displays an astute vision, an impressive ability both to isolate shapes and lines and to combine forms into distinct and pleasing and/or riveting patterns and juxtapositions, both in monochrome and color. This work gives us the impression that we are contemplating architectural archetypes that have their own rules and aesthetic systems. As Chow himself states in his notes in the book, one of his main goals is to give the viewer a participatory projection experience as a member of the society whose architects and builders have created the distant beauty of these forms for their structures.

The first part of the photobook is comprised of 18 images in monochrome, while the latter part contains 12 color plates, well printed and of a good size; they also have interesting titles, such as “Between the Lines” and “Hip to be Square.” I was especially pleased to note that all double pages lie perfectly flat on the table with this kind of binding. All the images display a dynamic optimism, a sense of beauty that is characterized by distance yet beckons the viewer to get involved in the image in leisurely contemplation to get a bit closer. These are not the kinds of images that leave you cold, in spite of what may at first appear, and as might be one’s initial reaction upon first glance. The level of abstraction varies across this work; sometimes there are some natural elements or quirky human objects in the periphery (the sky with or without clouds, rain gutters and/or their shadows, and other such bits not so high-tech) that remind us of the human needs behind the structures. Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray might be pleased by Chow’s contemporary treatment of the abstractions that urban spaces present to us today. Most intriguing!

The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed Richard S. Chow’s Distant Memories.

Gerhard Clausing

 

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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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October 12, 2018

Max Sher – Palimpsests

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Max Sher Palimpsests, Copyright 2018

Photographer: Max Sher, born St Petersburg (then Leningrad), resides Moscow (RU)

Published by Ad Marginem with support from Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany/Russia), 2018

Essays: Kate Bush, Maxim Trudolyubov, Nuria Fatykhova

Text: Russian, English

Hardcover book, embossed cloth over boards, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by IPK Pareto-Print, Russia

Photobook designer: Veronika Tsimfer

Notes: This is a study of the current urban landscape of modern Russia, now called a post -Soviet period that reveals the underlying layers of the older Russian architecture driven by its economy and social order. The book’s title, Palimpsests, is a very old term for recycling, dating back when precious parchment writing materials were scraped off to create a new writing surface, yet contain faint traces of the older writing. Likewise Sher documents the new “modern” post-Soviet architecture sitting on the bones of the Soviet era brutalism, while yet traces of the earlier Romanov-era layer are still slightly visible.

As a topographic study of this immense region, Sher uses a slightly elevated view point similar to a few of those included in New Topographics; Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape and other contemporary social-landscape photographers such as Robert Adams and Simon Roberts. One aspect of the visual subtly of Sher’s urban landscape study is that until recently many of his subjects were strictly forbidden landscape topics; bridges, harbors, certain restricted cities and even an elevated view point. These are subjects that one did not document or photograph as it related to the “security” of the government.

Frequently Sher creates a juxtaposition with his image paring throughout his book; on one side is an earlier Soviet/Romanov mash-up while contrasting on the facing page spread is a shiny, bright new modern structure, that has all of the visual trappings of European and America commercialization. Sprinkled throughout are traces of a vaguely familiar mint-green or a green shade of turquoise, another visual trace of the earlier Soviet decor.

We become a witness to the older Soviet era architecture that appears to contain a sense of design that might be characterized as Soviet-Communistic. This architecture was meant to be a no-nonsense, basic to needs, utilitarian, inexpensive (the relator code word for “cheap”) and quickly constructed structures for the common-man. In other words; dreadfully boring, on the verge of in-human and barely inhabitable.

The “new Soviet order” appears to sit on top of the previous urban structures of the Romanov period, which are agrarian, religious, crude, rustic, individualized, and private within the confines of what was acceptable to the czar. It is this architectural mashup that Sher investigates as symbolic of the underlying social, economic and political turbulence within Russia. Similar to Simon Roberts continuing attempts to capture the essence of the British, Sher creates a similar indirect portrait to take a pulse of this broad expense known as Russian, his homeland.

Max Sher’s photobook A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz was previously reviewed on TPBJ.

Cheers,

Douglas

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