The PhotoBook

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

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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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April 20, 2017

Ellen Korth – CHARKOW

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Photographer: Ellen Korth, (b. The Hague, Netherlands – resides Deventer (Netherlands) & Nordhorn (Germany)

Publisher: Self-published, Deventer (Netherlands), copyright 2016

Interviews by: Ellen Korth, Sybren Kuiper

Text: Netherlands, English & German

Seven (7) Stiff-cover books in slip-case, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by Fine Books Weesp (Jos Morree) in Netherlands

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Photobook designer: Sybren Kuiper ( -SYB- )

Lithographer: Colour & Books (Sebastiaan Hanekroot)

Notes: Ellen Korth’s CHARKOW photobook is a very layered and complex set of photobooks, both physically and in her narrative, in part similar to and driven by her mysterious and complex past. Essentially this is an investigation of the question of what constitutes “home”?

It is a collection of short visual stories that delves into the subject for each person or couple as to what is “home” (where their heart is) for them? Perhaps for Korth in attempting to understand how others sense “home”, it might be a therapeutic process for her to deal her own feelings of belonging. It appears to me that this photobook also investigate a related and equally beguiling question; how deep must one’s roots be to feel “grounded”?

Each of the thin books create a fascinating visual metaphor; as each successive full-bleed photograph becomes smaller, the outer framing of the previous photographs can be read as a background border to create a complex, layered environmental context for the developing narrative. The unbalanced trim of each page spread adds to the visual layering effect. Once at the center of each book, it is difficult to read the photographic spread, the only image with a small white margin, without noticing the Kaleidoscopic background framing that reminds the reader about how complex a person’s story might be. A wonderful analogy to the layering of skins surrounding an onion and the effort to peel each layer to get closer to the central heart. The reader imagines that that they are slowly delving deeper into the layers of her subject’s life to get at the core of who they might be as it relates to being “home”. Both visual tantalizing and emotionally elusive.

For Korth, her personal story is cloaked in dark secrets and a sense of loss as to her family history. This may be in part as a result of her mother’s need for secrecy since fleeing from Charkow (Kharkov) during the absolute terror and chaos of the German invasion during WWII. Korth is dealing with the issues of an incomplete and hidden past and perhaps the unanswerable questions of how to resolve those feelings.

Highly Recommended! (my basis: I was one of the jurist for the International Photo Book Competition sponsored by Photo Independent and I was absolutely blown away by this brilliant photobook and immediately knew that I had to provide this to the readers of The PhotoBook. Oh, it also won the photobook competition as well)

Cheers!

Douglas Stockdale

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April 17, 2017

Shane Lavalette – One Sun, One Shadow

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Photographer: Shane Lavalette (b. Burlington, VT – resides Syracuse, NY)

Publisher: Lavalette, Syracuse (NY), copyright 2016

Essay: Tim Davis

Text: English

Clothbound hardcover book, embossed with tipped in image, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed in Lithuania

Photobook designer: Lavalette

Notes: Shane Lavalette’s photobook is resulting from an earlier commission by the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA) for a exhibition series that they were working on in 2012 “Picturing the South”. Probably similar to Lavalette, I have visited the “South” on only a few occasions and realize that I have mind images of what constitutes this region of America. Perhaps other than one image of an alligator lurking in a pool of green mossy waters and another of fireflies, Lavalette avoided what I had imagined as topological stereotypes and created instead a poetic interpretation of what he experienced.

Lavalette states that he went looking for the music of the South, perhaps for some that might be a connotation for the Delta Blues, Smokey Mountain bluegrass or perhaps some kick-ass Georgia County Line country-rock. Regretfully for me I did not find this musical element in his photographs, but there are quiet, pensive moments that could lend to being lyrical, just not for in a musical sense.

Do I think that I know what it means to live in the South from this body of work? Perhaps not, as there are ambiguous landscapes and portraits that appear that these could have been found anywhere in the United States. Does it bust my stereotype image bank that I have about what is the South?  Most certainly and to further understand that the “South” is really not much different than many parts elsewhere in America. Perhaps this could be the source of the book’s title; One Sun, One Shadow; we are really the same regardless of where we are as we share this underlying sameness.

Cheers,

Douglas Stockdale

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March 3, 2017

Carol Golemboski – Psychometry

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Copyright 2016 Carol Golemboski

Photographer: Carol Golemboski (b. Shreveport, Louisiana – resides outside Denver, CO)

Publisher: Flash Powder Projects

Essay: Shirley Jackson

Text: English

Hardcover book, embossed cover, duo-tone printing, Smyth sewn binding, captions, printed by EBS, Verona, Italy

Photobook designer: Jordan Swartz

Notes: Golemboski’s monograph of intricate manipulated photographs investigate nostalgia, loss and impermanence. The manipulated prints use an old school Black & White wet-print technique; a mask that is hand-scribe by the photographer to modify her photographic “reality” during the print making process. Her marks are a mash-up of careful delineated lines, scratches, letters, and drawings, which are similar to a digital layer mask in Photoshop. Frequently these masks are pin-registered to the printing paper to ensure precise line-up of the mask with the projected negative. A few of her intricate velum masks are included within the book in perfect alignment with the corresponding print. The effect is to lift the vale on the process that results in the final print. I find the velum’s layers as intriguing as the final print object.

Regarding the book’s title, Golemboski states “In Psychometry, arrangements of old objects in dilapidated spaces serve as metaphors for human emotions and psychological states. The term “psychometry” refers to the pseudo-science of “object reading,” a purported psychic ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact. The objects in these pictures seem haunted. They are designed to transcend their material nature and evoke the mysterious presence of past.”

Personally I have found myself  attempting “object reading” of artifacts of the past; a found photograph, family hand-me-down, or perhaps an old structure that I feel inclined to touch, as though my touch will reveal something of the object’s past. Subliminally I think Golemboski’s photographs connect with me in a similar fashion; that when gazing at her visual poems that I might actually connect with some essence just beyond my comprehension.

In turn, the viewers reading of these hand-altered photographs is as layered as the resulting images, some initially appear to be an easy read, such as Safe house, below, while others are a more complex and ambiguous. In some images the marks attempt to obscure the identity of the object or its external context while in others the marks appear to clarify, instill or attempt to add a layer of meaning. The juxtaposition of found objects with her subsequent inscribed marks creates very magical and beguiling works of photographic art.

Cheers

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January 29, 2017

Left coast photobook news: Ruscha at OCMA

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Every Building on the Sunset Strip copyright 1966 Ed Ruscha

Currently OCMA (Orange County Museum of Art) is exhibiting Pop Art Design and included are a few works by Ed Ruscha, but probably the most interesting to those who enjoy photobooks is a very long display of Ed Ruscha’s 1966 Every Building on the Sunset Strip.

This is a deadpan photographic project in which a 35mm motor-drive camera with a bulk feed was used to photograph all the adjacent buildings while driving up and then back again on Sunset Blvd. This street was commonly called the Sunset Strip, thus Ruscha’s resulting photobook plays a visual  pun of the street nickname by creating a long continuous strip of images. On the top of the pages is one side of the street and positioned below this in reverse is the other side of this street.

This photobook design was very innovative for its time with stiff covers and the interior was bound to display as an accordion (also known as Leporello or Concertinas) layout, which is to say each page was connected and continuous. A very long strip of photographic images. As a part of the Pop moment, his book was also meant to be a very inexpensive, which is apparent in the rough and uneven gluing of the accordion page binding.

My photographs of this exhibit were a grab shot and dose not do the Ruchas’s photobook enough justice, thus I recommend for you to go check it out and see the real thing!

The OCMA exhibition runs thru April 2nd, 2017.

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January 8, 2017

Barbara Kyne – By Fire

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Ph­otographer:   Barbara Kyne (born Hoboken, NJ; resides Oakland, CA)

Publisher:  Self-published, © 2015

Essay:  “On Contemplation and Perception” by Barbara Kyne

Text:  English

Stiff cover book with 32 pages, not numbered; 10 duotone photographs; 8.75 x 7.25″. Marketed by Norfolk Press  and by the photographer.

Photobook Designer:  Yon Sim

 

Notes:  

By Fire is a fascinating seminal volume that has as its goal creating a connection between severe personal tragedy and the universe of nature as a sphere of continuity and as a context permitting some healing. In ten well-chosen images that have also been given intriguing titles, Barbara Kyne allows the viewer to enter a foreboding yet promising atmosphere: we can project events that have fundamentally affected our lives into a series of fiery depictions of nature. These often include a shadowy figure – a stand-in and ethereal spirit, hinting at a gutsy universality beyond the comprehension of any one individual being, as well as pointing toward some solace and an understanding that we are not alone.

Barbara Kyne has a keen interest in pursuing the deeper meaning of reality and discovering clues to the great existential questions, using her photography to serve as a conduit to understanding “the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, often and surprisingly connecting pathos and joy.” Regarding this volume, she states, “If we move through the metaphorical fire with awareness, we may find that facing mortality creates expansion and renewed life.” Indeed, there is a mysterious and mythical quality to her photography that envelops and fascinates the viewer, inviting several types of discovery.

Barbara Kyne is continuing her important photography in further volumes. We admire her work and are looking forward to further illuminations.

Gerhard Clausing

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January 6, 2017

Young-hwan Choi – BABEL

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Copyright 2014 Young-hwan Choi

Photographer: Young-hwan Choi (born & resides in Seoul, South Korea)

Self-Published (South Korea)

Essays: Young-hwan Choi, Dong-sun Jin, Sang-yong Shim

Text: Korean & English

Stiffcover book with tipped in image, perfect binding, four-color lithography, printed by Photonet in South Korea

Photobook designer: Photonet, South Korea

Notes: Choi’s self-published photobook BABEL is a tall, thin collection of black and white photographs that investigate a towering urban landscape in which the vegetation is either attacking a structure or attempting to conceal it, as though a futile potential reclamation is in process.

This is a dark poetic and surreal allegory about the pursuit of happiness by means of accumulating power and wealth through the construction of tall looming structures, similar to the vain construction of the towers of Babel, is but a hollow chase. None of these structures has been able to truly reach heaven.

In writing about Choi’s photograph, Sang-young Shim states “the excessive deficiency of light, which often comes close to absence. Sometimes all light is extinguished except for the minimum required for perception. Even that is reflected light, with the light source nowhere to be seen. The main tones range between grey and black, but as the darkness advances to the extreme level, it often threaten the middle tones as well…the plant is a place that should be brighter, for sure. One should poke a hole through the sky cover in ash-colored clouds. The ominous grey that pressed down should be covered with brilliant colors. But the signs of dawn are too faint.”

I met Choi at Photo Independent last spring in Los Angeles and I was impressed with his photographic exhibit and his two self-published photobooks, this and his earlier REQUIEM (published in 2011).

I find BABAL’s visual narrative to be extremely relevant to the current global events, especially those occurring in the United States. Anyone who builds large and tall structures with their name bronzed in large letters across the front for all to see (hoping for admiration) is indeed pursuing a dark folly that was characteristic of Babel.

Best regards

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December 16, 2016

Early bird discount for photobook workshop ends this Saturday

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LACP Introduction to Photo Book Design, photo Douglas Stockdale

The early-bird registration discount of 20% for my Introduction to Photo Book Design workshop that I will be leading next April over two weekends will be ending midnight this Saturday, December 17th. This creative workshop is sponsored by Los Angeles Center of Photography (LACP).  So if you plan to be in the Southern California area (aka best-coast), time to check this workshop out and take advantage of this discount.

Could also be a wonderful Christmas present for someone special ;- )

Just saying…

your wonderful Editor.

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