The PhotoBook Journal

September 14, 2017

Brenda Moreno – B to B

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Photographer: Brenda Moreno (born, Mexico City & resides Mexico & Spain)

Publisher: Witty Kiwi, Italy, copyright 2017

Text: Spanish & English

Essay: Carmen Dalmau

Stiff cover, die-cut with French folds, sewn and glued binding, four-color off-set, printed by Artes Graficias Palermo (Spain)

Photobook designer: Brenda Moreno & Paolo Berra

Notes: Brenda Moreno’s photobook B to B is an interesting curiosity as it is a beguiling narrative. We can surmise that it’s an investigation of a family, maybe even hers, located at a place that includes horses and other small animals, both alive as well as inanimate. These are the basic elements that appear to interact and become intertwined with a few individuals and animals having an occasional cameo role.

The photographs are repeated, cut apart, collage and montaged, sewn back together and appear to be clumsily taped in place, perhaps similar to an unsophisticated family album that indirectly attempts to tell us a story. In the process the story line fades and becomes incomplete, if not incoherent, which I find to be a wonderful metaphor for the inaccuracies and false stories created by memory.

Moreno provides factual visual evidence and although a photograph may be worth a thousand words, her photographs provide only a few vague clues that requires us, the viewer, to fill in the blanks. In Moreno’s book there are a lot of blanks in conjunction with many intriguing hints, which like most curiosities will continue to draw you back.

Cheers

Douglas Stockdale

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September 7, 2017

Andrej Lamut – Nokturno

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:57 am

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Photographer: Andrej Lamut (born Ptuj, & resides Ljubljana, (Slovenia))

Published by The Angry Bat, Ljubljana, Slovenia, copyright 2017

Text: English

Without essays, captions, pagination or index

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Hard cover, sewn binding with open (naked) spine, numbered (300), duo-tone lithography, printed by Eurograf, Velenje & binding by Maruji, Ljubljana

Photobook designer: Andrej Lamut & The Angry Bat (Matej Sitar)

Notes:

The night (Nokturno/nocturnal) provides an interesting environment to explore a diverse range of metaphoric potential, from the ominous mysteries that might lurk within to a joyful time when the party really starts to begin. Much can be obscured by darkness with its limited visibility, with things that can go bump in the night and the objects that can be seen, whether by man-made illumination or by the phase of the moon, take on very different appearances.

Technically, making photographs at night, especially outside of a well lite room, due to the low, flat light conditions is very challenging, whether using digital or analog methods. If a longer exposure is used it can allow blurred movement or if using pushed film processing or high ISO, a graininess to the image or areas within the frame that might become over exposed as a high contrast image. Aesthetically night photography can introduce elements of abstraction, ambiguity, obscurity, incompleteness and other vague aspects of a limited vision. All of these elements can be skillfully used to explore a broad and diverse range of investigations and many of these elements can be found in this book project by Andrej Lamut.

Lamut defers to the school of thought of providing only images without any context, either an introduction, captions, index or even pagination. Any meaning is left open to interpretation by the viewer and Nokturno offers many mysterious photographs to explore. It is not clear as to Lamut’s narrative, but I am also guessing that this puzzling project is very intentional. It is ripe for multiple readings.

The dark images are printed full bleed without any bordering margins to provide any visual relief. Where the images are not full page spreads, the paired images are slammed together to create a multilayered context. With a few exceptions, the binding of the book allows a lay-flat reading experience that is delightful.

As a performance photographer (EnKnapGroup, professional ensemble for contemporary dance in Slovenia) and uses this book object to further investigate another aspect of performance, stating “Nokturno is a result of my research on performative acts which construct the final artwork as a physical object. I believe that they are the complete opposite of straight photography. What generates meaning in these images are the performative actions made by the artist. This kind of actions have an impact or an effect on visual and physical appearance of the artwork. The essence of performative photography is not what is depicted on an image, but which acts were executed in the process of creating it. Furthermore, the final artwork itself becomes performative by having some sort of impact on the viewer.”

Nokturno is a dark poetic body of work that hints at mysterious objects and landscapes which delightfully challenges the reader.

Cheers

Douglas Stockdale

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August 12, 2017

Harvey Benge – The Month Before Trump

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Photographer: Harvey Benge (resides Auckland (NZ) and Paris (FR))

Self-Published & Limited Edition with signed print (Edition – 50): New Zealand copyright 2017

Text: English

Stiff cover, saddle stitch binding, four-color lithography, printed NZ

Photobook designer: Harvey Benge

Notes: x

Harvey Benge’s The Month Before Trump is a collection of photographs made in the United States, specifically San Francisco and New York in October 2016, the month before the presidential elections. As a New Zealander who spends equal time between Auckland and Paris, he provides a sophisticated outsider’s eye which reminds me of a contemporary Robert Frank and his 1950’s seminal photobook The Americans.

While I believe Frank is a bit more searing in his vision, I find Benge to be a bit more subtle, while both photographers provide a unique while sarcastic view of the American urban landscape. As in earlier Benge photobooks, the paring of the mostly horizontal images create wonderful dialogs while usually sharing a spot of color or tonality to complement the resulting juxtaposition narrative.

Benge explains;

My pictures explore the strange anthropology of cities. The unusual and overlooked in the human landscape. I am asking the viewer to question the idea that photographs as documents are complete representations of subject. I’m interested in the universality of life and the idea of parallel lives – when one thing is happening here, something else is happening over there. The democracy of non-places fascinates me, in the knowledge that inevitably nothing is as it seems.

While the making his observations of the morphing American landscape was at a time prior to knowing the political outcome, the subsequent editing for his book was with the full realization of who had inadvertently landed a White House job. Thus perhaps the reason for what I perceive as an underlying dark edginess to his urban investigation.

Other photobooks by Harvey Benge that have been reviewed on The PhotoBook Journal; Sri Landa Diary, Birds, Against Forgetting, Eat me, Still Looking for It, All the Places I’ve Even Known, One day – Ten Photographers.

 

 

Cheers, Douglas Stockdale

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July 31, 2017

Alla Mirovskaya – Old family Photos and Deep Sky Objects

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Artist: Alla Mirovskaya (born & resides Moscow, RU)

Self-Published & Limited Edition (100): Moscow (RU) copyright 2016

Text: English & Russian

Stiff cover with glued printed panels, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Moscow (RU)

Photobook designer: Alla Mirovskaya

Notes: I will have to admit that lately I have become fascinated with artist books that utilize vernacular photographs to create a narrative. Perhaps even more so when it becomes apparent that the archive source for the photographic material is from one’s own family. This is probably due in no small part to my personal artistic book practice that utilize photographic material from my own family archive. Thus I find Alla Mirovskaya’s artist book Old family Photos and Deep Sky Objects extremely intriguing in how she layers and creates juxtapositions of her archive photographs with found photographs of distant galaxies and star systems.

One aspect of her vernacular photographs is that these appear to be of family, friends and acquaintances. The same subjects keep reappearing throughout her narrative. Another layer of this charming narrative is the inclusion the images of unknown individuals, which are photographs that have been found but without any notes or other information to inform Mirovskaya as to their identity. We would suspect that these photographs are included in a family archive for a reason. With the inclusion of these additional unknown subjects she further acknowledges how complex memory can be when there are potentially related persons and now their identity appears to be lost to the current generation. In some ways I think that this is another form of death as the memory as to who this person represents has died for the family. I think it might be easy to read that these photographs of individuals relate to the transitional nature of memory and its fragility.

Understanding the physics of the speed of light in space Mirovskaya’s found photographs of deep sky objects is the documentation of events that have occurred thousands and thousands of years ago, an even longer transitional memory that makes our current memories pale in comparison. Nevertheless, these two bodies of work within her book share the same context for memory; something was recorded and we have the opportunity to ponder who/what these individuals/events are? Mirovskaya has confounded the reader with another aspect; she mixes the captions of the individuals with those of the star systems and we are left adrift as to who might be whom. This tactic also unmoors the reader from a word/name association and allows deeper introspection of the book.

Equally fascinating for me is the close similarities of how a family archive from Russia compares to that of my own, which speaks of a universality of family. Perhaps all that more poignant given the current economic and political friction that is occurring now between the two respective countries of Russian and the United States. I think that we need to remember that at the family unit level we all share similar interests related to making a living, ensuring we have substance and a decent roof over our heads, love of our family and memories of our past that we attempt to hold on to.

Mirovskaya’s artist book is a very delightful and complex narrative about family memories in the context of the big picture of our complex and changing universe.

Cheers! Douglas Stockdale

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July 10, 2017

Elena Kholkina – Time of the Moon

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Artist: Elena Kholkina (born & resides Moscow, RU)

Self-published artist book (Moscow, RU)

Essays: Elena Kholkina

Text: English

Glued Board on cloth with original color transparency in mount on cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, Index of photographs, limited edition artist book (E of 50), printed in Moscow (RU)

Photobook designer: Elena Kholkina

Notes:  Elena Kholkina’s Time of the Moon is a mashup of created and found photographic material, including icon movie images, which is interwoven with quotes. One aspect of her multimedia practice that she has included in her book are the photographs of the resulting images after she projected movie stills and other images onto her subjects at night.

Her artist book is an investigation of a public site located within Moscow that is a collection of large buildings and structures, some dating back to the late 1920’s and associated open spaces. Due to current Russian economics’ many of the buildings in this large site are in a state of “hibernation” and the future appears to be unknown. Even as the political pendulum swings in Russia, it is difficult to foresee what the fate is for such structures that have a strong historical linkage to a different political period.

This situation of what should society do with old buildings that have a defined history but are no longer viable in the current economy or consistent with the political mood is more common that we might want to acknowledge. In America we have similar situations that range from small dusty Midwest towns with almost abandoned Main streets to large cities with dormant and decaying factories and public buildings which became too expensive to retrofit and are considered obsolete and abandoned in place. Chris Mottalini photographed various homes built by the 1950’s avant-garde architect Paul Rudolph which Mottalini documented just prior to demolition, as the design of these homes are considered too severe for current tastes.

Unlike the ruin porn photographs of a decaying city, Elena is attempting to create a dialog with the current structures still potentially variable and in place as a call to action. To potential save the destruction of this region of Moscow while the political bureaucrats slowly ponder what to do next. She raises questions, while recalling the historical past, such as the collective quest to visit the Moon, in hopes of changing the course of history. Reading this book is an emotional roller coaster ride with an unsettling ending.

Cheers! Douglas Stockdale

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June 21, 2017

Julia Borissova – J.B. about men floating in the air

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 4:41 pm

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

Self-published, 2015 (second edition of 300, 2017)

Essays: Julia Borissova

Text: English & Russian

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Linen hardcover with tipped in photographs, handmade sewn binding, Leporello format with one four-panel gate-fold and two three-panel gate-folds, digital lithography, printed St. Petersburg, RU

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Photobook designer: Julia Borissova

Notes: In the Greek mythology there was Icarus who upon being gifted with wings from his father and then learning to fly subsequently flew too close to the sun and perished. “J.B. about men floating in the air” was inspired by the story of two Lithuanian-American pilots who tried to set a new world record by flying over the Atlantic into Eastern Europe in the early 1930s. Regretfully like Icarus these two airmen did not reach their goal and perished in the process. Subsequently Joseph Brodsky wrote a short passage about their attempt;

…over the Baltic wave,

I buzz just like that monoplane,

like some Darius and Girenas,

though not as vulnerable.

which inspired Borissova to artistically created her own “parallel world”.

“My story is about the dream of every person to break out from the vice of all kinds of prohibitions and fly away to a distant unknown in search of unlimited freedom and find there his true motherland and real home.”

This small book is another brilliant body of poetic work by Borissova and a fascinating mashup of made, staged and found photographic materials. The unhinged Leporello book design (see the top view of the book above) allows the reader to start from either end of the book (printed on both sides of the sheet) and create multiple stories as it may seem that one side of the book with the introduction is the start of the book, but not necessarily. Sewn into the book are numerous multi-page gate-folds that reveal and conceal various aspects of Borissova’s layered narrative. A very delightful read.

Borissova reminds of us that at one time or another in our lives we probably wished that we could just fly away and leave the complicated messes of life behind and perhaps if not start anew, at least obtain a temporal breather from current events. We also need to consider the potential consequences if we were to fly to close to sun or beyond our capabilities in doing so.

Other artist books by Julia Borissova feature on The PhotoBook include: Dimitry, DOM, <address>, & Running to the Edge.

Cheers, Douglas Stockdale

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June 6, 2017

Alice Q. Hargrave – Paradise Wavering

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Artist: Alice Q. Hargrave (born & resides Chicago, IL)

Publisher: Daylight Books (North Carolina, USA) copyright 2016

Interview: Alice Hargrave & Kendra Paitz, Essay by Allison Grant

Text: English

Hardcover with sewn binding, four-color lithography, index, printed by Ofset Yapimevi (Turkey)

Photobook designer: Ursula Damm

Notes: I have found Alice Hargrave’s photobook Paradise Wavering to be complex, layered, and very conceptual as an investigation of our global environment.  Perhaps not unlike an episode from the sci-fi television series The Twilight Zone where something is really off kilter from the on-set.

Dark ominous images are interspersed with mysterious landscape of unusual color casts and hues that create a dark undercurrent. The opening photograph is a tropical coastal landscape with looming storm clouds but the color is really strange and immediately places me on edge. Immediately following is a photograph with a darkening sky in conjunction with red and orange tinged clouds that creates mixed message of hope and gloom. As Hargrave states, this book is “a photographic stream of consciousness….exploring the fugitive nature of experience, time, light and the photographic medium itself.”

I found some of the photographic parings visually delightful while others are rather difficult to comprehend. Regretfully I found an unevenness in the flow (note: which should NOT be construed from my own sequence of the book’s interior images below) of the photographs while the theme is one that resonances with me regarding a concern for our environment. I think the book is challenging and will probably delight many readers by the complexity of the visual narrative.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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May 12, 2017

Roger Ballen – The Theatre of Apparitions

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Photographer:  Roger Ballen (born in New York City, NY; resides in Johannesburg, South Africa)

Publisher:  Thames & Hudson, London; © 2016

Essays:  Preface by Roger Ballen; introduction by Colin Rhodes

Text:  English

Hardcover with dust jacket, sewn binding; 192 numbered pages; 90 monochrome captioned photographs; printed in China; 17.5×25 cm

 

Notes:

On April 22, 2017, in his keynote address at the annual Photo Independent Exposition (celebrating the Los Angeles Festival of Photography), Roger Ballen said that “everything happens in and with the mind.” Further, in response to a question from the audience regarding the possibility of a photographer exploiting his or her subjects, he further expanded on this theme, expressing his view that we all exploit or make use of others, since we are all programmed to live, and thus as a matter of survival must consume other living matter, be they plants or animals. Leave it to a professional geologist to brazenly uncover that which is hidden, to unearth the earthly as well as the unearthly, the more ethereal forces behind our externalized everyday scenes! The subconscious and the unconscious are powerful forces in the Ballenesque perception of life, guiding our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and he brings them into our visual and emotional awareness.

I consider Ballen the visual Shakespeare of our time, with good measures of Freud and Jung tossed in, especially Jung! He knows the many parts we play externally in the drama of life, but also most especially the archetypal parts within each of us that are struggling and trying to assert themselves, as some of them may wish to be externalized; they hover, cower, act out the most secret of emotions, desires, fears, and drives, and translate them into potential actions in our everyday existence. The shadows know it all… In collaboration with Marguerite Rossouw, Ballen paints and draws these spirits on windows and other panes, then photographs the results, one-of-a-kind and ethereal as works of art, and short-lived except through the photographs and this book, a source of self-discovery and astonishment for those who dare. Inspired originally by such drawings in an abandoned institution, Ballen has moved toward incorporating drawing and painting into his art over the past several years, in this instance to create primeval and primitive effects.

This volume is all black and white, with black backgrounds on all the pages, as shown below, and with only white and simulated shades of gray used for the drawings and paintings. On 192 pages, 90 photographs are reproduced, comprising seven sections, labeled “acts,” true to the title promising theatrical apparitions: persona – burlesque – eros – transmuted – melancholy – fragmentation – ethereal. There is usually only one image per double-page spread, either on the left or on the right, with a short title and the year of creation opposite each image. I am showing a representative image from each section below, in sequence. The image titles are kept short on purpose, since Ballen is of the school of thought that many words are only needed for bad images. Occasionally there is a playful use of language, e.g. “Hold Up” (page 87), third image below. The sum total is a contribution that invites the viewer to engage in introspection against an ancient and transient stage full of surprises, a mirror of our collective internal world, to be examined with some measure of daring and acumen.

A challenging work, full of fascinating encounters.

The PhotoBook previously featured two reviews by Douglas Stockdale of Roger Ballen’s Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds.

Gerhard Clausing

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April 28, 2017

Douglas Stockdale – Bluewater Shore

Bluewater Shore limited edition artist book

Artist:  Douglas Stockdale (born Butler, PA; resides Rancho Santa Margarita, CA)

Publisher: Self-published, hand-inscribed, limited signed edition of 99; Copyright © 2017

Text: English

Stiff-cover book of 32 pages with 16 prong-bound images, unnumbered; in poly slip-cover; Fultone® digital lithography, printed by Dual Graphics, Brea, California

Notes: Photobooks that present their images in a loose format, i.e., not permanently bound and sequenced but changeable, are still the exception. One such successful work was David Alan Harvey’s 2012 project entitled (based on a true story), dealing with life in Rio, with real and imagined storylines. That innovative volume (which received a number of important awards) was designed with double pages whose sequence could be rearranged to tell a different story from the viewer’s perspective, using the same images, but with new juxtapositions. A more recent predecessor to Bluewater Shore is Douglas Stockdale’s Pine Lake, reviewed previously; it shares a similar image presentation format with Bluewater Shore, which is its sequel.

In the case of Douglas Stockdale’s Bluewater Shore, we have a hand-inscribed and hand-assembled limited edition artist book presenting a simulated drugstore-issued set of 16 prints that take the viewer on an imaginary trip taking place in the 1940s: a young woman traveling to “bluewater shore” with her women friends. Since that was a time in which women were able to feel some greater sense of self and independence, they were not accompanied by males as might have been the expected practice in previous times. We see them on their journey, we see them at the beach in various activities, and – lo and behold! – suddenly males also appear in the pictures. That’s where the story gets interesting – we don’t know who they are, or what relationships there are between them and the women, but we can project our ideas into the pictures. There are also some children in the photographs, and we don’t know whether they are relatives, or bystanders, or symbols of things to come. Since the roll of film fictitiously presented in this publication is made up of only 16 pictures and the people depicted are not available, we are only able to guess what might be taking place. Consider it a story puzzle that allows us to participate vicariously. Creative photographic storytelling at its finest!

Douglas Stockdale has taken vernacular images from his family’s archives and has repurposed them for this semi-fictitious narrative as a new single set of 16. They have been appropriately aged and once printed slightly enlarged, prong-bound into a folder that simulates how prints were once delivered with processed rolls for a small additional fee (Kodak/Ansco flip-books). There is even a seemingly unintentional double exposure. Since they are bound with a prong that can be removed from the folder, the images can be rearranged and spread out on the table as might have once been the case if they were to be evaluated or placed in an album. Thus we can experience parts of a family history and relate what we see to our own history and our shared cultural past as well. A most enjoyable photographic puzzle of memories and times gone by.

This site has also featured Douglas Stockdale’s hardbound volume, Ciociaria.

Gerhard Clausing

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April 21, 2017

Christian Nilson – The Swiss

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

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

Essay:  Jon Bollmann

Text:  English and German

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

Photobook Designer:  Greger Ulf Nilson

 

Notes:

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

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

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

A thoroughly enjoyable volume!

Gerhard Clausing

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