The PhotoBook Journal

January 15, 2018

Roger Ballen – Ballenesque: a retrospective

Ballenesque Cover

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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January 5, 2018

Nancy Rexroth – IOWA

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Photographer: Nancy Rexroth (born Arlington, VA & resides Cincinnati, OH, USA)

University of Texas Press, Austin

First University of Texas Press Edition: copyright 2017

Text: English

Essays: Nancy Rexroth (1977, 2016), Mark L. Power (1977, 2016), Anne Wilkes Tucker, Alec Soth

Hard cover with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in China

Photobook designer: Derek George

Notes:  I was delighted to hear about a second edition of Nancy Rexroth’s IOWA, a photobook that although I had not actually seen, was a photobook that keep coming up during various photobook discussions. The backstory is the first edition was self-published by Rexroth in 1977, which in of itself is remarkable forty years ago by today’s self-publishing standards.

While this photobook might be considered the Second edition of IOWA, it has been re-imagined and perhaps slightly resembles its original name-sake. I have been informed that 20 images removed and 22 new ones added, a stronger emphasis placed on the children and Emmet Blackburn, in conjunction with a new edit and additional essays. So with all of the changes to this photobook and in line with other publisher’s practices it is appropriate that this is a First edition of University of Texas Press, Austin. Likewise, with this much time to reflect, it makes perfect sense that a work of art might undergo some visual synthesis.

Her journey stated with the acquisition of a “toy” camera, the Diana, with its single element plastic lens and square images captured on 120mm film. She has stated that although the plastic lens did soften the quality of the image, the results was still too well defined for her purposes. Thus her need to slightly move (jiggle) the camera during exposure to create a little extra blur that further degrades the sharpness of the image and obtain an visual artifact that is more poetic, less exact and only hinted at what the subject might actually be. Her story telling approach was very different from her early 1970 contemporaries, such as Sally Mann, Arthur Tress, Clarence John Laughlin, Minor White, Duane Michals or Ralph Gibson and more in alignment with the narrative photographs of Linda Connor.

Her mysterious photographs that comprise IOWA still appear as fresh today as they were when the first edition of this book was published in 1977. The images are ambiguous as to location, which hint of the Midwest, the actual subject and have a timelessness quality. By now it is no secret that although the book is titled IOWA, there are only four photographs made in this state and the remainder predominantly created in Ohio. This is an investigation of faint and distant memories of a child, experiences and transcendent feelings, with photographs that are not to be taken literally. An artist book that needs to be read by the heart.

IOWA was selected as one of the Interesting Photobooks of 2017 by the editors.

Cheers!

Douglas Stockdale

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December 4, 2017

Lea Habourdin – Survivalists

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Artist: Lea Habourdin (born Lille & resides Paris, FR)

Published by Fuego Books, Murcia (ES) copyright 2017

Text: English, French, Spanish

Stiff cover with French-fold over-covers, sewn & glued binding, four-color lithography, Edition size: 500, printed by Artes Graficas Palermo (ES)

Photobook designer: Jorge Fernandez Puebla

Notes: Regretfully in today’s political climate with two mentally unstable leaders of nuclear-armed military armies who are playing a stupid game of chicken (you are bigly fat…No, you are fat, really old with fake yellow hair), the potential need to know how to survive after a nuclear war is now actually plausible. Lea Habourdin’s photobook Survivalist really resonates; it taps into some of my dark feelings that I have with today’s current events. For me, her photobook hearkens back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960’s and the proliferation of personal fall-out shelters.

Survivalist has the essential elements of what someone might need to survive on their own. As others might point out, the very basics of a manual. Habourdin’s narrative has three chapters; the first (untitled) is the prologue, is there any imminent danger; Chapter 2 – Objects you will need to survive for three days, emergency evacuation maps, plots of land; Chapter 3 – Re-frame from melancholy.  The three groups of photographs include a series of black & white for the prologue, then in conjunction with Chapter 2 are color natural landscapes with some hand-written text and drawings (flipped on the vertical axis, thus a need for the reader to change the book’s position), and then in the Chapter 3 a mix of black & white with color while the layout orientation changes back to the original.

One small gripe about this small book’s design is the sewn pages are subsequently glued at the spine which really tightens up the binding, as observed in my interior photographs below. In addition to making the book harder to photograph (okay, my issue), there are some photographs which are two-page span with some critical content lost in the gutter due to this book binding design. I am not sure if this was planned, but one outcome of this lost content is to increase the ambiguity and mystery of these two-page spreads.

This is a dark (both in concept as well as many of the photographs) photobook in conjunction with an occasional photographs that has a bit of black humor that overall does not seem to sway my many fears.

Best regards,

Douglas

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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

Andrej_Lamut_Nokturno_cover

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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