Saturday, December 8, 2012

Best Photobooks of 2012: Niche Awards

Award for the Best PhotoBook Overlooked by the Photo-Eye Lists

Photoeye has 29 lists, listing 160+ photobooks and nobody noticed this stunning book! Paula McCartney, As If Everything You Imagined Were True. Arguably the best book I saw all year. Full review here.  I only came across it because I visited Paula's website for another reason. A true testament to both the depth of the 2012 photobooks and how easy it is for works of the highest quality to get overlook in the flood of quality product.

Biggest Buzz Award

The conventional selection would be Cristina De Middel. The Afronauts topped more year end lists than any other photobook and it was already out of print by the time most people discovered it.  Praise + scarcity are the requisite nutrients for growing buzz.

However, it is hard to ignore Rafal Milach and the sheer volume of high quality work he has produced in little more than a year: 7 Rooms, In the Car with R, and the forthcoming Black Sea of Concrete.

Favorite Emerging Publishers

As the photobook ecosystem proliferates, we need to recognize publishers that put out innovative, high quality products at a reasonable price. Cudos to two publishers who have found my sweet spot -- high production values, innovative design, and fascinating content published at a price that doesn't break the bank.
  • Burn Magazine / Books
  • Editions Bessard -- ok, I admit the 3000 Euro version of History of Monuments with its bronze cover doesn't really meet my affordability criteria, but the regular edition is reasonably priced and still stunning  :+)

 Best Special Edition Award

Will Steacy,  Down these Mean Streets: The Election Edition (Special edition photos and information here, edition itself no longer available)

Most limited edition / special edition photobooks consist of some mix of the following: a) the book (sometimes in a different cover), b) the photographer's signature, c) an edition number, d) a slipcover, box or other container and/or e) an original photograph. All these extras come at a substantially higher price.

My problem isn't with the higher price itself, but with the formulaic application of a marketing orientation designed to turn the book into a sacred, status object that makes it's owner feel special. Why not do something unique and distinctive that builds on the project itself and provides the consumer with a more fulsome experience of the work?

That's what Will Steacy did. Down These Mean Streets, for those unfamiliar with the book, is a series of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings and notes that combine to represent a collage-like journal depicting the current political state in America. Approaching themes of a changing political landscape, Steacy questions the current political system and idea of the American Dream. Down These Mean Streets presents a stark reality of a country deeply divided in cultural ideologies.

The Election Financing Edition was available for the symbolic price of $99.01 up until the 270th electoral vote was counted. So, the structure of the edition itself had an aspect of performance art about it. Content-wise, the edition put the book inside a Vintage Bank Deposit Bag tied shut with a Noose (how symbolic is that!). Inside the bag were a variety of objects symbolically tied to the current US economy: an antique Wrench, an Application For Unemployment Benefits, a Scratch-Off Lotto Ticket, an Original Buffalo Nickel & an American Flag. Moreover, each version was unique— the size of wrench, date of Buffalo nickel, winning or loosing lotto ticket, size and name of bank printed on deposit bag varied. The bag I got -- from the US Mint and designed to hold a $1000 worth of quarters -- also included a quarter (sadly only one, and not $1000 worth!). That little fact gives a sense of the individualized and personal attention that went into each one. Cudos to Will!

Best Reprint

A strong category with lots of worthy contenders. I'm flipping the coin, but no matter what happens the winner is Steidl.  Heads is their facsimile reprint of Jakob Tuggener's Fabrik, A Photo Epos of Technology, tails is their facsimile of Keizo Kitajima's Photo Express: Tokyo.

In the category of reprints that aren't really reprints, the Books on Books series just keeps getting better. The selected books are more adventurous, the supplementary material is getting better, and the books are more closely approximating the number of pages in the original, meaning there are fewer pages with multiple page spreads reproduced on a single page.

Best Edit / Sequencing

Melissa Catanese, Dive Dark, Dream Slow

Sequenced in a manner reminiscent of Robert Frank's seminal The Americans -- with a recurring, non-linear set of themes and counter-themes embedded in an overarching linear progression -- Dive Dark, Dream Slow brings the narrative techniques of modern photobook design to vernacular photography.

Best Cover Photograph

Marc Asnin, Uncle Charlie

As the lawyers say, "res ipsa loquitur" -- the thing speaks for itself. Nuf said.

The Considerate Publisher Award for Book Design that accomodates photobook collectors and their peculiar needs and desires

Sebastian Girard

Beginning with 2009's Nothing but Home and every year since, Sebastian Girard has produced a self-published book. The thing I like about these books? 1) They are all the same size. 2) The 'trilogy' have similar but different covers. 3) This year's book, Strip-o-Gram, which goes off in an entirely different direction, has a cover that distinguishes the project from the earlier trilogy of books, but still looks integrated when placed next to them on the shelf.

Yes, I appreciate the artistic desire to treat each project as unique and select the size, cover and design appropriate to the particular work. I also realize the ironic inconsistency between my praise for the unique in the Special Edition award and the embrace of standardization I'm recognizing here. But, as someone with lots of books and limited shelf space, I organize them by size rather than by photographer. So, it's nice when they naturally all end up together. One thing you'll never hear me say: "Where the fuck is that book by Sebastian Girard!?" because they are all together in one nice little unit.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Show of Hands

A Show of Hands: Photographs from the Collection of Henry Buhl

Rarely does an auction catalog have anything near the thematic coherence of photobook. This one, based on Buhl's legendary collection of images of the human hand, does. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Best Photobooks of 2012: Value Edition

As a kid, the end of the year meant my attention turned to Santa. As a photobook nerd, I now wait for another annual ritual, the appearance of the year's 'Best of' lists and an associated event, the emptying of my wallet.

Well, in the spirit of getting two kicks at the can, here is an early 'value edition' list. All books on the list sell for 25 $/Euros or less. Get one or two as stocking stuffers and you'll still have something left over for the end of year splurge. But, as photobook prices skyrocket, don't confuse price with quality. Many of these would fit comfortably on any year's best list.

Best Value Photobook of the Year

Thinspiration (Must not Eat) by Laia Abril
                                                                                    Put together by the same core group responsible for this year's cult photobook hit, Christina de Middel's The Afronauts, (albeit in different roles) I'm surprised this book hasn't gotten more press.  Fascinating topic, exquisite execution, and every bit as smart and evocative as The Afronauts. Where The Afronauts optimistically reaches for the moon, Thinspiration is a hard hitting punch to the gut.

Here is Laia's description of the project:
"The Pro-ana community has turned anorexia (Ana) into its dogma. They venerate the illness giving meaning to their totalitarian “lifestyle”. It’s a virtual reality where they state commandments, share motivating tricks and exchange hundreds of images of thin models via their blogs. They have created Thinspiration, a visual new language - obsessively consumed to keep on wrestling with the scales day after day. Now, they evolved interacting with their cameras portraying their bony clavicles or flat bellies; or consuming extreme anorexic images, the Pro-ana  have made Thinspiration evolve.

"I re-take their self-portraits, photographing and reinterpreting their images from the screen, resulting the visual response to the bond between obsession and self-destruction; the disappearance of one’s own identity. The project is a personal and introspective journey across the nature of obsessive desire and the limits of auto-destruction, denouncing disease’s new risk factors: social networks and photography."

To order.

Honourable Mention

A small run (80 numbered copies) Argentinian artist book virtually unknown outside that country. What it lacks in size (5.5 x 8 inches), the volume makes up for in emotional punch. Highly personal, this is a family photo album made by a brother documenting the memory of his sister, who was disappeared by the Argentinian government. The text is Spanish, but the emotional power of the story and images transcends language.

View the book here. Order here.

Before Tomorrow by Yannik Welling

Better known than the other two.

Winner of the Berlin Photobook Slam, this large, beautifully designed newspaper format book explores the rapid rise in Sri Lanka’s tourism over the past three years.

Self published, 300 copies, signed and numbered. 

Order here.

The Best of the Rest (alphabetically arranged)
  • Mathieu Asselin, The 99%, Newsprint Edition    A series of portraits of Occupy Wall Street protestors and supporters of the movement at Zuccotti Park, NYC. Self-published newsprint, limited edition of 100, numbered and signed by the photographer.
  • Alex Bocchetto & Valentina Abenavoli, You Win! Olympics reportage gone wild, an action-packed race of unscrupulous competitors and dirty tricks. And masked gunmen too. If you live with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek, this is the book for you. Comic humour at its worst. Biff! Pow!! All pictures taken during London 2012 summer Olympics. Numbered edition of 100.
  • Jason Eskenazi, The Americans List: By the Glow of the Juke Box.  Technically, not a photobook. But incredibly enlightening. While working as a guard at the MET museum in New York, Eskenazi asked  photographers he saw visiting the Looking In exhibition about Robert Frank's The Americans, their favorite image and why. The book summarizes the answers from 276 photographers, including many of the world's most famous.
  • Carl Gunhouse, American Desire. Carl Gunhouse traveled across the United States for the past five years creating a portrait of American desire and the dire consequences these yearnings have wrought: a struggling economy, half-finished commercial construction projects, abandoned suburban cineplexes, and foreclosed homes in never-completed subdivisions. Signed and numbered edition of 100.
  • Thaddius Holownia, Ova Aves. For the contemplative, 13 poems matched up with 13 color photos of specimen bird eggs.
  • Haruna Sato, Ichi No Hi (Volumes 1-3) The potentialities of the future unfold in small thematic books made from photos taken on the first day of the month. At about $6 each, get all three! Volume 1 here, 2 here, 3 here. Editions of 250 or 200.
  • Alec Soth and Brad Zellar, Ohio  Not a particularly obscure choice, but quality none the less. 15 x 17 inch heavy newsprint, 2000 copies.
  • Kim Thue, Dead Traffic Stunning (and frequently haunting) black and white images from the fringes of Freetown, Sierra Leone. To buy.
  • Patrick Tsai, Modern Times What happens when a Japanese photographer with the sensibility of Martin Parr goes to China in advance of the 2008 Olympics? Bold color photos, tightly edited with lots of humor. Signed.
  • Tobias Zielony, Manitoba   A smart edit, strong text and a powerful theme; aboriginal teens living on the fringe of society.  To buy.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Every Picture #7 by Eric Kessel

One of the most interesting projects around is Eric Kessel's books of found photographs. In Every Picture #7 tells the story of a Dutch woman whose life is seen from the perspective of a fairground shooting gallery. The series begins in 1936 when a 16 year old girl picks up a gun and shoots at the target in a shooting gallery. Every time she hits the target, it triggers the shutter of a camera and a portrait of the girl in shooting pose is taken and given to her as a prize. The series documents virtually every year in the girl's lifelong romance with the shooting gallery -- with a notable gap from 1939 to 1945.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Concresco by David Galjaard

A series of previous posts reviewed the books nominated for the Paris Photo / Aperture First Book Award. Well, Paris Photo is now in the past and David Galjaard's Concresco (available here for 45 euros plus shipping) was chosen as the best of the bunch. It's a decision I heartily endorse. The book is a fascinating portrait of post-Soviet Albania seen through the lens of a peculiar phenomena -- the 700,000 concrete bunkers built over 26 years following Albania's break with the Soviets and designed to provide shelter for every Albanian against whatever foreign invader may appear.
Self-published in an edition of 750, the book has exceptional production values and an exacting attention to detail. Take, for example, the cover. 
A simple, bold design in red and black pays obvious homage to both Albania (these are the colors of their flag) and the Soviet connection. A closer look displays a series of dots distributed across the cover in the shape of Albania. Holding the book, you realize these aren't dots, but rather bumps in the shape of the bunkers that protrude from the cover in the same way the bunkers protrude from the landscape. Thus, in tactile form, the cover embodies the book's central motif, the thousands of bunkers spread all across the country. 

Inside, the book consists of beautifully printed, full bleed, double page spreads. Though in a couple of cases it is a bit like Where's Waldo, virtually all the photos have one or more of the bunkers somewhere. The exceptions? A few images of worker's clothing and tools, several shots of items on the ground (including a turtle who's shell serves as a metaphor for the bunkers), and the last image in the book -- a photo of various souvenir items, among them ceramic models of the pillboxes. Sequentially, the early photos emphasize the worker's clothing and tools and shots of the ground. Then follow the bulk of the images, landscapes with bunkers and the concluding image of the souvenir bunkers. Thus, the sequencing creates a movement, from construction, to experience, to memory; a movement that is reinforced in the accompanying texts.

The most interesting of the textual material consists of a variety of small inserts that are spread throughout the book. These inserts document, in their own words, the experiences, memories and associations of individual Albanians with the bunkers. The spectrum of individuals ranges from workers who helped build the bunkers to journalists and academics reflecting on Albanian history and the the ongoing meaning of the bunkers. Take, for example, Ilir Mati: "Eventually we found out that these bunkers had nothing to do with war. They were related to something else: to power. People in power make those they rule do useless jobs so they can hold onto power. One of our famous writers Ismail Kadare has compared it to the construction of the pyramids. ... They had to work all their lives in order for the emperor to maintain his power. Similarly, over here, we were doing useless jobs to secure power for the regime, a power that seemed to be saying: 'I am useful to you. I saved you from war. I saved you from Nazis and Fascists.' This went on for a while, until one day the Berlin Wall fell -- and the bunkers fell too."

In short, a beautifully produced book that brings attention to a strange and perversely whimsical phenomena with deep and profound historical significance which continues to occupy the daily experience and the thoughts of Albania's citizens. As Galjaard puts it:
In this documentary, the bunkers are used as a visual metaphor in the telling of a larger social story. They help to paint a picture of developments in a country that was the last in Europe to renounce communism and has set out on a demanding quest to become part of the capitalist West.
In addition to the regular edition, there is a 150 euro Special Edition consisting of a signed book, wrapped in a handmade screen printed cover and a limited print (3x26 prints, size 24x30 cm) of one of three photographs from the series. Both the cover and the photo are numbered. Here are the three special edition prints (note: the center image has sold out and is no longer available).

Very highly recommended.
Video flip thru to be added shortly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Paul Kooiker's Sunday meets Bill Brandt's Perspective of Nudes

Joerg Coberg's review of Paul Kooiker's Sunday, which he accurately describes as "photographs of a nude woman, balancing precariously on a wooden table in a rather unattractive backyard of sorts," makes a number of interesting points:
  1.  "I’m not the biggest fan of dragging out obligatory and thus tiresome references, but there is a big echo of Hans Bellmer and his photographs of self-assembled and rather strange looking dolls. ... That’s the problem with references, they don’t necessarily always teach you quite as much as you think. Which is why I’m going to throw in yet another, very different one: Irving Penn’s Nudes."
  2. "The book of course needs to be seen against the background of photography over the past, let’s say 100 years, with elements of the photographic nude, images of the human body, imaging the human body (in photography almost inevitably men taking photographs of naked women), sexuality, voyeurism thrown into the mix. It’s not obvious where Sunday fits in there. If it was obvious, the book would merely be illustrating a concept (maybe it is, and I am now embellishing?). So I’m not entirely sure what to make of the book, which is good: I’ll have to come back to it."

(Snarky editorial comment: Don't leaf through my photobooks while holding a cigar, like the guy responsible for the video of Kooiker's book did for the first 30 seconds!)

On viewing Sunday, I reacted very much like Coberg. I had a strong and immediate sense of Kooiker's work as part of the ongoing and interconnected stream of photographers who have trained their cameras on nude females. Unlike Coberg, however, my association was neither with Bellmer nor Penn. Rather, Bill Brandt's classic Perspective of Nudes came to my mind. Like Brandt, the bodies in Kooiker's nudes are overexposed, whited out and typically distorted in form. Unlike Brandt's, however, they are in color. My point in raising yet another link is not to argue that one association is better than the other, but to reinforce Coberg's basic point: this is a work firmly embedded in the rich history of photography. There are lots 'echos' here and, as a result, as Coberg so elequently says ... "I’m not entirely sure what to make of the book, which is good: I’ll have to come back to it." As my shelves groan with the weight of more and more photobooks, that's precisely my criteria .... does the book literally demand that you return to it. In this case, the answer is a full throated yes.

Highly recommended.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Paula McCartney: As If Everything You Imagined Were True

Paula McCartney's most recent artist book, As If Everything You Imagined Were True (page spreads for the entire book here, order here), is a lush visual experience that blends high quality materials, exquisite printing, and a wonderfully sequenced set of images. Produced on a small scale (100 copies), the casebound book consists of 40 pages of inkjet printed images on heavy stock.

The images themselves fall into three sets, examples of each shown below: color prints of blue sky and clouds, highly detailed black and white prints that emphasize mid-grey tones of birds in lush tropical displays, and high contrast prints of birds flying shown in patterns against an all white sky. Particularly notable is the lyrical and poetic sequencing of the images which alternates groupings of the clouds and flying birds (which, when you rapidly flip the pages, give a sense of freedom and movement) with the visually dense images of roosting birds which call out for slow, intense observation. Thus, the natural movement through the book mirrors the movement of the birds themselves -- rapid bursts of activity broken up by periods of relatively motionless calm. Another conceptual layer, captured by the books title, comes into play when one looks closely at the photos from the bird aviaries at the Bronx Zoo. Combining living foliage and birds with painted backgrounds, it is often hard to distinguish what is real from what is constructed. Couple all this with unmatched print quality and you have one of the year's best books.

Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reviewing the Paris Photo / Aperture Best Book Nominees: Part II

5) Anders Petersen. City Diary

The first of multiple installments, this bookwork consists of three distinct books of 68 pages each depicting life in the shadows in cities including Stockholm, Tokyo and St Petersburg.

Anders Petersen - City Diary from on Vimeo.

6) Stephen Shore, Book of Books

To begin with, no matter how great the quality, it's hard to get past the $2500 price.  This just isn't value for money. Beginning in 2003, Shore produced a number of print on demand books that sold in editions of 20 at the galleries where his photos were on display. This two volume set brings together all 83 of these books in one place. So, conceptually, the 20 copies of the originals are the hardbound version of Graham's 12 volume 'Shimmer of Possibilites' and this is the democratic, mass market soft cover version. But the hard cover version of Shimmer sold for $250, where the 'accessible' version of Book of Books sells for 10 times that amount. This isn't a photobook, it's the transformation of a catalog into a status object.

While the individual books look interesting, the experience of wading through such a bulky book is antithetical to the intimate quality of many of the series. 

Here's a video of Shore talking about the project, followed by a video showing the books themselves.

7) Pietro Mattioli, Two Thousand Light Years From Home

No video available, but images of the book, along with a French review, are here. Mattioli, tethered to his home by the signal from his baby monitor, used his flash to transform the nocturnal surroundings of his neighborhood into curious and frequently disturbing images.

8) Jacqueline Hassink, Table of Power 2

From the publisher:

The financial crisis of 2009 shook the global economy to its very foundations. Yet has anything changed at the centers of power since? Do executive suites look different than they used to? And what do they actually look like?

A decade ago, Jacqueline Hassink (*1966 in Enschede, the Netherlands) captured images of desks and conference room tables at what were at the time the largest multinational corporations in the world. Magnum photographer Martin Parr included her project in his catalogue of the most important photo books of the twentieth century. Today, the artist is taking another look at the headquarters of the approximately fifty companies that the American business magazine Fortune lists as the most powerful actors on the market: banks, insurance companies, and corporations such as Shell, BP, Volkswagen, and ING. With scientific precision, Hassink focuses on the desks and tables in deserted, soulless rooms—as if emptiness was one of the inherent features of power.
Interesting question? Do executive suites look different in the era of the 1%? Unfortunately, without the original book for comparison, you'll never know. Yes, it's a great concept. But does anyone seriously believe that a sequel is the best book of the year?

9) Lise Sarfati, She (signed copy)

A riff on relationships based on images of four American women -- two sisters approximately 40 years old and the two daughters of one of them.
A family album preserves only carefully selected photographs. Out of an entire life, it stores only handpicked moments, privileging special occasions, happy ones usually, and consigning the rest to oblivion: happy faces, relaxed moments, places of leisure rather than work. .... None of this figures in She: instead of a chronology, time is stopped, it appears to stammer and bite its own tail. There is no group photo or desire to stage a collective destiny, but only isolated models and individuals who do not seem to communicate amongst themselves, or only barely; no happy moments or picturesque places, only indifferent moments in ordinary places; no strong gesture, none of the conventional poses, and no complicity with the photographer. ... When we close the book and think a bit about it, we cannot but see She as the anti-family album par excellence. -Quentin Bajac

10) Anouk Kruithof, A Head with Wings

 At $24, serious value for money. Kruithof has a history of making photobooks that engage the viewer on a number of levels. The tactile dimension of this book, as illustrated in the video, is a big part of the experience. Not to be missed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reviewing the Paris Photo / Aperture Best Book Nominees: Part I

In a series of earlier posts, we reviewed the Aperture First Book Award nominees.  This post, the first part of a two part series, reviews the books nominated for their other prize, PhotoBook of the Year. 

1) Ori Gersht, History Repeating

More a book of photographs than a photobook in the narrow sense, the book is an exhaustive review of Gersht's carreer to date and a catalog for the current mid-career museum retrospective currently on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As the publisher notes:

History Repeating is the first comprehensive survey of the Israeli-born photographer and video artist Ori Gersht (born 1967). This richly illustrated book presents the best of Gersht's achingly beautiful images, and explores how he intertwines spectacles of painterly and narrative imagery with personal and collective memory, metaphysical journeys, contextualized spaces and the history of art and photography. Be it in the scars left on the sunlit yet war-torn buildings in Sarajevo, the white noise of his train journey to Auschwitz, or the clearing of trees in a forest that once stood witness to mass murder in Ukraine, Gersht's vision bridges a history that is full of violent horror and a world of emergent, transcendent beauty. From the radiant optical glow of pollution in the atmosphere to his freeze-frame shots of shattering floral arrangements frozen by liquid nitrogen, Gersht's calm is one that comes after the storm. In his 2010 series of Japanese landscapes, the ghostly visual static of cherry-blossom petals echo the militarism and sacrificed youth of World War II and the more recent nuclear fallout of Fukushima, but in their own extreme transience, they also manage to embody the possibility of spiritual renewal. History Repeating demonstrates the thin line between beauty and brutality and the sublime draftsmanship behind history's various traumatic scars. History repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as unexpected beauty.
 See Gersht discuss his work with the museum curator in the video below (long, but interesting):

For a quicker take on the videos, which I find more interesting than the still photos, here's "Falling Bird" (spoiler -- the pay off is in the second half of the video).

2) Mikhael Subotzky, Retinal Shift

Retinal Shift is a first retrospective of Subotzky’s work. According to the publisher: "He investigates the practice and mechanics of looking – in relation to the history of Grahamstown, the history of photographic devices, and Subotzky’s own history as an artist. The book fuses his compelling and sometimes brutal photography with essays and archived portraits from the last century to create an intricate and esoteric collection."

While I haven't seen a copy, it is another book based on an exhibition consisting of a mix of stills and videos.

3) Sophie Calle, Rachael, Monique

Another exhibition based book I haven't seen. Released in France, but hasn't yet made it into mass distribution in North America. Here's the description from Digital Daze:
Ex-lovers, family members, strangers on the street: those around Sophie Calle often become involved, sometimes without their knowledge, in her multi-media pieces that debate the nature and boundaries of intimacy. Her current show, ‘Rachel, Monique’, held at the Palais de Tokyo’s new space, a 9,000 square meter basement still in a state of construction, follows her mother’s recent death in a reportage-style, and simultaneously celebrates her life and personality. “She was a woman who loved attention, and would have loved the show” said the artist.
And a video of the exhibition ...

4) David Alan Harvey. (based on a true story)

The quintessential post-modern photobook. Colorful, sexy, nominally true ... but infinitely revisable. From the publisher:

(based on a true story) takes you deep into David Alan Harvey’s fictional night in Rio, it is myth and truth together, a visual novella of the mood and feel of the people surrounding him and the journey into his inner self.

Not just a book, it is a puzzle, a game, a story to be read many different times, in many different ways. It is his story, but it can become yours. Not only virtually, but for real. (based on a true story) is meant to be taken apart, to be deconstructed and reconstructed the way YOU see and feel it. You become part of it, along with the characters of this play.

To be spread out on the floor, to be pinned to the wall, framed, with (based on a true story) you can do it. It is an analogue interactive 3D experience made real.

(based on a true story) is solid photography. Each frame tells you what Rio feels like, roaming from the people in the favelas to those of the upper class, with respect for everyone. From the beaches up to the Corcovado, the duality of Rio is made tangible in the way the book is constructed, pictures not only standing on their own, but completing each other. Interwoven, the feelings, the story, the mood, the dream..
(based on a true story) is raw, sensual, sexy, bold, tender, simple and intriguing, passionate, soft, fun, subtle, hot, quiet, crazy.. it is “feel it, live it”… based on a true story..

Friday, October 19, 2012

Break out your wallets (or, perhaps, get a loan!)

With price estimates running from one hundred to several thousand euros, the books and special editions being auctioned by Bernaerts on October 25th, 2012 fall outside the spending zones of all but the most serious collector. (List view of the items, here.)

But,even if you don't intend to spend, there are several reasons to check out the offerings.The web site is informative and, more importantly, presents an interesting set of offerings. Typically, the photobooks sold at auction houses tend toward classic, long out of print, and hard to find works: the original French edition of Robert Frank's Americans, Soviet propaganda books, etc. In other words, the high profile, big name, big bucks offerings of the photobook world.

In contrast, this auction offers contemporary small run books, recent special editions and the occasional recent reprint of a classic work. Or, stated another way, small edition books with relatively high price points that have only recently sold out. Thus, the auction provides an interesting opportunity, for those drawn to photobooks as an investment, to gauge the strength of the market. Will theses books sell at approximately their original price, or at a significant premium? Only time will tell. And, in this case, you don't have long to wait to find out! 

Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson

One of the most notable photobooks of 2011, currently available in the second edition, Redheaded Peckerwood was nominated for a variety of prizes and was awarded the prestigious Recontres d'Arles Author Book Award.

The publisher's blurb nicely describes the project and the way it integrated diverse elements into an integrated whole.
Redheaded Peckerwood is a work with a tragic underlying narrative – the story of 19 year old Charles Starkweather and 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate who murdered ten people, including Fugate’s family, during a three day killing spree across Nebraska to the point of their capture in Douglas, Wyoming. The images record places and things central to the story, depict ideas inspired by it, and capture other moments and discoveries along the way.

From a technical perspective, the photographs incorporate and reference the techniques of photojournalism, forensic photography, image appropriation, reenactment and documentary landscape photography. On a conceptual level, they deal with a charged landscape and play with a photographic representation and truth as the work deconstructs a pre-existing narrative.

Redheaded Peckerwood also utilizes and plays with a pre-existing archive of material, deliberately mixing fact and fiction, past and present, myth and reality as it presents, expands and re-presents the various facts and theories surrounding this story.

While photographs are the heart of this work, they are the complemented and informed by documents and objects that belonged to the killers and their victims – including a map, poem, confession letter, stuffed animal, hood ornament and various other items, in several cases, these materials are discoveries first made by the artists and presented here for the first time.

In book form, the work is presented as a sort of visual crime dossier, including pieces of paper which are inserted into the book. The many individual pieces included serve as cues and clues within the visual puzzle. In this way, there are connections that are left to the viewer to be made and mysteries that are left to be solved.
 Joel Colberg's video review of Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson (available here):

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sebastien Girard's Trilogy

French photographer Sebastien Girard has produced a trilogy of attractive self-published works. They are unified not only by a distinct photographic style, but also by the similarity of the size and bindings. The first, Nothing But Home, involves photos from around Girard's house and was published in 2009.

The second, Desperate Cars, followed in 2010.

Sébastien Girard // Desperate Cars from haveanicebook on Vimeo.

Finally, in 2011, he released his take on the plant kingdom, Under House Arrest. A video of the book is available here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bernard Plossu's Europa

Plossu's Europa was picked by PhotoEspana as the best Spanish photobook of 2011.

French photographer Bernard Plossu (born 1945) has described photography as "the meeting place between delirium and absolute peace." Europa demonstrates his viewpoint, showing urban Europe in all its speedy, glittering intensity, as well as its serener counterpoint--the gorgeous countrysides. Culled from hundreds of photographs, Europa brings together the most memorable and spontaneous of Plossu's European shots from the 1970s to the present.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Aperture First Book Award Nominees, Part III

The final installment in our three part look at the 20 books nominated for the Aperture / Paris Photo First Book Prize. Part II, and a link to Part I, are here.

15) Singular Beauty by Cara Phillips

Not yet released. Preorder here. (UPDATE: Now available for order here). For a closer sense of the book, see the video from her successful Kickstarter campaign.

16) Dive Dark, Dream Slow by Melissa Catanese

Just released at the beginning of October. The publisher describes the book as follows:
Photographer and bookseller Melissa Catanese has recently been editing the vernacular photography collection of Peter J. Cohen, helping to organize this massive curated archive (a trove of 20,000+ prints) into a series of single-theme catalogues. Along the way, she has pursued an alternate reading of the collection, drifting away from simple typology into something more personal, intuitive, and openly poetic. Her magical new artist book, Dive Dark Dream Slow, is rooted in the mystery and delight of the 'found' image and the 'snapshot' aesthetic, but pushes beneath the nostalgic surface of these pictures, re-reading them as luminous transmissions of anticipation, fear, and desire. Like an album of pop songs about a girl (or a civilization) hovering on the verge of transformation, the book cycles through overlapping themes and counter-themes—moon/ocean; violence/tenderness; innocence/experience; masks/nakedness—that sparkle with psychic longing and apocalyptic comedy.
A few of the images along with a 30 minute interview between Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar is here. More about Peter Cohen's collection of vernacular images.

17) A Natural Order by Lucas Foglia

Lucas Foglia's depiction of life off the grid in the southeastern US.

Lucas Foglia - A Natural Order from on Vimeo.

And a poetic interpretation of the images which make up the book.

A Natural Order from Forrest Gander on Vimeo.

18) Interrogations by Donald Weber

The Canadian entry (yeah!) on the list. Special collector's edition, with sliding price scale related to size of the original print that is included, available direct from Weber. Interestingly, the prints are images not in the book, but from earlier, related projects. A meditation on state power.

Interrogations from Donald Weber on Vimeo.

19) 7 Rooms by Rafal Milach has already been reviewed on this blog.

20) Ama by Nina Poppe

The book centres on a particular community of women abalone divers on the island of Ise-shima in Japan. Ama takes its title from the Japanese word given to these female divers.

"If I had to choose a single word to describe Nina Poppe’s book Ama it would be ‘modest.’ It is not a ‘clever’ book, nor a powerful one. It is quiet and does little to promote itself (the book’s open spine design which does not allow for text guarantees that it will be all but forgotten on a bookshelf). This modesty runs throughout every aspect of the book, from the subject matter to Poppe’s photographic approach to her subject, and even to the book’s size and design. In many ways it is a very ordinary photobook: a simple, straightforward documentation of the life of a small community. These unassuming, unfussy qualities could make it easy to overlook, and yet I think they are what make Ama one of the better recent photobooks of its kind."
Mrs. Deane provides a nice description of the book's production values. Photos of the book are here, the remainder of the EyeCurious review quoted above is here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Conditions by Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann

My vote for the most interesting, but largely overlooked, photobook of the past few years is Conditions by Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann. It uses an innovative structure to physically capture a key aspect of the book's meaning. According to the publisher
The book examines what it means to choose one’s own way of life. It portrays people who lead a free and independent life, and who have to learn how to cope with freedom, to find their own unique way. "Conditions" shows pictures of people who long to be socially accepted without having to conform, people who are “on the road”, searching, hoping and doubting.
"Conditions" does not guide the viewer. It does not tell the viewer how it should be read, looked through or perceived. There is no clear starting point, there is no definite order. The viewer is asked to find her own order, to find her own path through "Conditions", resulting in a personal journey... The reader is looking at the reality of Marroquín Winkelmann´s life, she sees places and faces, and she is asked to develop her own attitude towards them.

"Conditions", Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann from Meier und Müller on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Aperture First Book nominees, Part II

Part I, reviewing the first 8 of the 20 nominated books, is here.

9) Cette Montagne, C’est Moi by Witho Worms
In January 2006 Witho Worms started to photograph terrils or slagheaps in Belgium and France. These mountains are the visual remnants of the coal mining industry. In Europe these black pyramids are the symbols of a vanishing era that began with the industrial revolution and has now evolved into an age dominated by binary code.

There is a sense of ambiguity about these heaps. The steep slopes and dark tones give them a unnatural appearance. In his photographs of the terrils, one can imagine the harsh living conditions of the workers, who once constructed the mountains, as well from the pioneering plants and trees who are now conquering a new territory. He shows a fascinating play of the changing relationship between man and his environment. What once was perceived as wasteland have become centres for leisure and natural parks.

In 2007 he expanded his work to Germany and Wales and in 2008 to Poland.                                   -- Withro Worms

The book provides an interesting conceptual take on the relation between image and reproduction, Cette Montagne, C'est Moi consists of photographs of slag heaps of coal reproduced as carbon prints using coal from the various heaps as a component of the process. As such, the images literally contain materials taken from the objects they represent. Here is Joel Coberg's video review. As he notes, the book looks considerably better in person than it does in the video. For a better sense of the images themselves, look here.

10) The Wrong Side: Living on the Mexican Border by Jérôme Sessini

One of the most traditional looking of the photobooks on the list. What it lacks in conceptual novelty, the book makes up for with beautiful, often haunting images. In 2006, the Mexican government declared war on its country's drug gangs. The result? Mexico has become a battleground, with 60,000 civilians, police and drug lords already dead. Magnum photographer Jerome Sessini recalls the two years he spent on the narcotics frontline in this article.

A small, but representative, sample of the page spreads from the book is available here.

 11) Hired Hand by Stuart Bailes, Bea Fremderman, Ingo Mittelstaedt, Athena Torri

Who, precisely, authored this book? Typically, a photobook is the product of the photographer. In this case, Flemming Ove Bech and Johan Rosenmunthe (designers / editors / publishers) took the elegant landscapes and still lifes of the listed photographs and re-appropreated them – collaging, juxtaposing and presenting them alongside internet stock photographs to make up a softspoken picture poem in which brute force and a slight caress suggest an undefined plot.

Hired Hand by Vandret Publications from Johan Rosenmunthe on Vimeo.

12) Celebrity by  Kenji Hirasawa

Released in September of 2011, this book made several best of the year lists last year. Here is the publisher's description which explains the origins of these unique and visually arresting images.
Both a documentary analysis and a conceptual deliberation, Celebrity is a visually exciting criticism on the social impact of idolisation and capricious desires. Who are these people we admire so much, what role do they play in our lives, and what absurdities do they evoke from us?

Photographing wax work models at Madame Tussauds of supposedly aspirational figures, Hirasawa presents us with social relationships both separated and intensified by these lifeless figures we call celebrities, ingeniously creating metaphors of themselves, as existential intimations which we can never actually be close to.

The images themselves are taken with a thermographic camera, recording heat emitted from visitors’ bodies, where the lifeless wax work models are barely seen... each pixel records specific temperature information. As one moves through the book, various emotions and interactions take place; humour, aggression, playfulness, regret and reverie...

13) Cruising by Chad States

The comparisons with Kohei Yoshiyuki’s The Park (video flipthrough here) are both inevitable and apt. However, the images in Cruising are typically less explicit, taken at a greater distance, and in color rather than with infrared film. This results in a 'you are there' sensibility that rarely descends into the overt voyerism of The Park.

From the publisher:
“Cruising” has always been a part of gay culture; the word itself is a code, innocuous to outsiders, but representing an incognito hunt for sexual partners to those in the know. Over the years, men with particular desires found spaces—certain parks, public restrooms, and roadside wooded groves—out of sight and yet in plain view, where they could meet, and with the use of silent signals and cues, pair off for intimate encounters. It is these spots, nationwide, and the men making use of them, that Chad States photographs in Cruising.

With an oblique focus on hidden clearings, forest-lined parking lots, and the well-trodden paths where these encounters occur, States gradually began to include the men far off in the distance within his lush, dense landscapes. These are the beautiful and surreal spaces where forbidden fantasies come to life. From the Pacific Northwest back east to Pennsylvania and New York, States obscures his subjects in the foliage of the woods and blends the various locations into one sensuous visual representation of this necessary, yet transgressive act. Cruising exposes this time-honored, gay tradition, dragging it out of the woods and into the light of the public eye.

Cruising Flipthrough from powerHouse Books on Vimeo.

14) C.E.N.S.U.R.A. by Julián Barón

Another interesting conceptual project. Photographs are made with light. In Censura, however, an abundance of light is used to wash out and obliterate (or censor) the object from view. Couple this process with the subject matter (Spanish politics) and one discovers yet another layer to the work -- as a commentary on the way that politicians manipulate images / reality for their own ends.Extremely affordable, self-published, and picked by Martin Parr as one of the best books of last year. What's not to like?

Julián Barón - CENSURA from librosfotografia on Vimeo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How Terry Likes His Coffee by Florian van Roekel

How Terry Likes His Coffee is back in print! The first edition, published in 2010, was selected by Martin Parr as one of the best books of the decade. The second edition, limited to 1000 copies, is available here.

Van Roekel describes the book this way:
"My work evolves about the way we experience everyday life and how that affects the way we deal with each other. My images are documents, taken from a candid reality. But what they really seem to document is the way our perception of the world around has been colored by years of media input.

For fifteen months I explored five different offices throughout the Netherlands. The book narrates on feeling disconnected from your daily surroundings but at the same time longing for a real personal connection with another human being. I suggest office culture and our society as a whole is pre-occupied with a rational way of interpreting. I’ve searched for the invisible barriers and the will to break them."

A video of the book is available here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reviewing the Aperture First Book Award Nominees, Part I

Aperture / Paris Photo recently announced a short list of twenty books currently under consideration for the First Book prize to be announced at Paris Photo in November. Here is an alphabetically ordered run down of the first third of those books with comments and videos where available.We'll cover the remainder in future posts.

1) Marc Asnin's Uncle Charlie has not been released. It can be preordered here. Images from the series are here.

2) We already previewed Cristina De Middel's Afronauts in an earlier post on the blog

3) David Galjaard's Concresco is a strong self-published work which uses the fascinating visual of Albanian concrete bunkers as a metaphor for the country's condition. Here is Galjaard's description of the project:
Concresco is more than a visual witness to the ravages of communism; it’s almost a wistful ode to the 750,000 bunkers marring the Albanian landscape, anchored deeper in the history and collective unconscious of the country than in its land itself. Unadorned and probably unretouched, taken from the distance of an outside observer, David Galjaard’s photos perspire the bleakness of the fall out of a 50 year long dictatorship.
Instead of self-pitying portraits, Galjaard turned his lens towards passing scenes of daily life – almost as if taken from a car window, on his way to a better place. Close-ups on dirt, trash and plastic somehow say more than disillusioned faces and cliches on poverty. A suffering land is just as expressive as a suffering people – Galjaard may not have purposefully chosen the allegory, but it definitely works.

You guess at the beauty of certain landscapes, pockmarked by the concrete protuberances like a skin scarred by a bad acne; fields and shores and mountains, wishing they were naked. Every shot exudes the dreariness of a past that has leaked into and tarnished hopes for the future. Concresco in latin means “stuck, congealed, coagulated”: the apt description of a people desperately trying to recover from decades of propaganda-fed ostracisation and socio-economical destruction.

The text inserts with testimonials from local journalists, professors and construction workers give a voice to that history and those dashed hopes in a very compelling, lively, non-textbook way; throats close and chests hurt, reading about the regrets of some, the pride of others, and the fear of all.
4) Michael Jang describes his book, Summer Weather, as follows: “In 1983, a local TV station held a contest for anyone who wanted a chance at reporting the weather. My role was to take head shots of contestants after each screen test. Five winners were chosen out of nearly one hundred applicants. The pictures were never used, but I developed the negatives anyway (without proofing them). These images had been lost until recently and I am seeing them for the very first time.” Each image, shot against a blank backdrop, appears full on the page. The individual images are quite arresting, in part because the 80's was such a weird time for fashion and hair. Moreover, they are nicely paired. The image on the left often shares a common visual element -- the shape of the mouth, the flow of hair over the head, the way the contestant looks at the camera -- which ties the two images together in a manner that also draws attention to the differences between the two images / individuals. Viewed as a whole, the images also capture the range of professionalism among the contestants. Where some of the images look like publicity stills that the individual would happily use, others capture the contestants in unflattering, near Arbus-like, poses.

5) Fifteen pages of Watching by N&D can be previewed on the Blurb website.Without access to the whole book it is hard to review. However, the images of sleeping subway passengers, from what we can see, aren't nearly as strong as, for example, Michael Wolf's examination of subway passengers in Tokyo Compression.

6) Jeddah Diary by Olivia Arthur is a fascinating attempt to photograph things that can't be shown. Specifically, Magnum photographer went to Saudi Arabia to teach photography and the book documents the lives of the young women that she met as a result. Arthur uses a variety of techniques to conceal the faces of the women in order to follow local cultural conventions and minimize any negative impact on the women from their participation in the project. In addition to the obvious strategies (shooting the women in traditional clothing, from the rear, or with an object covering their face) Arthur also employs a number of innovative techniques (such as the flash reflection used in the photo to the right) to accomplish this aim.  The Telegraph has published a number of the images here.

7) Swiss photographer Anne Golaz describes Metsästä (From the Woods) as follows:
Metsästä invites the viewer to meet with a suggested world vacillating between a common and extraordinary context related to finish culture and its connection to forest and nature. It is a work partly autobiographic, fictional and documentary, a story both chilling and amazing, where men are hunting missing preys, devoting themselves to magic and decadent rituals, while female carachters become fascinating and timeless icons.
Without any conclusive intention the photographs serve an emotional expression rather than a documentary process. They question the photographic genres with a central interest in the use of light as a powerful tool for dramatization and fictionalization.
Realized mainly in Finland this work became little by little the personnal exploration of my new territory. An initiation. While the context of the woods lost all rationalism with images that seem to have been dreamed rather than found. Eventually, this series is aimed at reconsidering fundamental and essential notions, such as the desire for authenticity towards an idealized and admire Nature - consumed, abused and dreamed of.
Golaz posted the following promotional video. It doesn't do much to show off the book itself, but it does nicely capture the book's spirit.

Metsästä / Book project From The Woods from anne golaz on Vimeo.

8) If you're interested in works that stretch the boundaries of the traditional photobook, then Sans titre, M. Bertillon by Stéphanie Solinas should be high on your list. For those who don't know, Alfonse Bertillon (the M Bertillion of the title) was a 19th century French police officer who invented the mug shot and used photography as a mechanism to identify criminals. The video below shows why the work is so interesting.

"Sans Titre, M. Bertillon" by Stéphanie Solinas from RVB BOOKS on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Photographs by Fred Herzog

Fred Herzog: Photographs  is the definitive book about the stunning oeuvre of a pioneer of colour photography—Vancouver's Fred Herzog. While the title is neither innovative nor unique (another book with the same title was published a few months earlier), the images display the same innovative approach to color photography typically associated with William Eggleston (though the content is strikingly different -- often looking like classic Walker Evans in color).

For more than five decades, Fred Herzog has focused his lens on street life, and his striking colour photographs—of vacant lots, second-hand shops, neon signs and working-class people—evoke nostalgia in an older generation and inspire wide-eyed revelation in a younger one.

The images that we now consider iconic once relegated Herzog to the margins: his bold use of colour was unusual in the 1950s and ’60s, a time when art photography was almost exclusively associated with black-and-white imagery. Fred Herzog has worked with Kodachrome slide film for over 50 years, but only in the past few years has technology allowed him to make archival pigment photographic prints of exceptional colour and intensity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"7 Rooms" and "In the Car with R" by Rafal Milach

Rafal Milach has been a busy guy this year, bursting on to the photobook scene with two stellar offerings. His book 7 Rooms was shortlisted for the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First Book Award. Here is Joel Coberg's video presentation of the book.

However, it may not even be his best book of this year. His other brilliant book, In the Car with R, documents Rafal Milach and Huldar Breidfjord's trip around Iceland. Breidfjord's writing provides an interesting and amusing counterpoint to Milach's photos. See the video below for a sense of the experience!

IN THE CAR WITH R from x on Vimeo.

Here is Joel Coberg's video review of the book:

Given that the regular editions of both books have already sold out, it is worth noting the production value differences between the two special editions. 7 Rooms is a hardback book from an established publisher. The quality of the printing in notably better than found In the Car with R. The special edition comes in a nice presentation box and includes one, small, signed original print.While the production values are high, there is a odd disconnect between the overall effect and the book's subject matter. There is something unsettling about turning a reflection on recent Russian history -- with all its attendant ups and downs -- into a precious and

The special edition of In the Car with R was self-published and lacks some of high end production details of 7 Rooms. The book itself is soft bound with the binding displayed and a red fabric strip along the edge that identifies the author and title. In place of the presentation box, the book is enclosed in two 1/8 inch mat covers held on with red rubber bands. The back cover has labels with hand written text while the front cover has a photo mounted on it. Despite the poorer (albeit still relatively high) quality of the reproductions, In the Car with R has arguably stronger content and comes with more goodies -- two, small, signed original prints and a fold out poster.More importantly, the handcrafted feel of the book perfectly matches the road-trip diary concept.

Monday, October 1, 2012

101 Billionaires by Rob Hornesta

At the beginning of 2008, the list of richest Russians contained 101 billionaires; a magical number that for the time being will not be matched. The global crisis hit hard in Russia. Exactly a year later, there are only 49 Russians with fortunes of ten figures or more. This drop was behind the decision to publish a second, revised edition of 101 Billionaires, the Crisis Edition.

101 Billionaires shows the other side of modern Russia, the raw reality that lurks behind the façade of the power elite. Rob Hornstra visited the regions to which Moscow has its exorbitant wealth to thank. Here he used his camera to record the fact that the Russian hinterland itself sees little of this prosperity.

The video below is of the original edition. The Crisis Edition has a hard cover and smaller format, but no fold-out pages and is therefore cheaper. The text has been adapted here and there to reflect current events.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Flamboya by Viviane Sassen

In the previous post, I compared the visual flair of the images in the Afronauts to the work of Viviane Sassen. Here's an example of what I  meant.

Viviane Sassen's 2008 book ‘Flamboya’ brings together photographs made in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Ghana. Sassen herself, Dutch and white, lived in Kenya as a little girl. Since 2001 she returns to different parts of the African continent and takes photographs featuring black people and studies of foliage and landscape. This makes some critics anxious. Arguments about colonial legacies and inherent power imbalance raise their heads but, frankly, could be dispelled simply by looking at the pictures. There is too much collaboration here and it just doesn’t feel coercive. One suggestion is that pictures ‘of’ people are not only ‘about’ them. It could also be said that pictures can be ‘with’ someone, when photography is used as a verb. Furthermore, these super-nuanced images do little to reinforce stereotypes as has been argued. I don’t remember seeing anything like this. Eye-popping patterns and dappled shadows merge to conceal and reveal. Bodies engage with one another in unexpected configurations or simply end where ambiguous sinewy lines begin. Real flowers collude with printed ones to trick the viewer. Human forms gesture and articulate a particular, rather than general, presence in the vertical depths of equatorial shadow.

The format of the book is unusual. Between a short story and an essay there are 49 photographs over 40 illustrated pages, 17 of which are narrower, a little over a half of the width of the others. These create new potentials: concealing, revealing and demanding interaction. Tiny formal rhythms are implied. Their scale occasionally seems to be defined by the extent of the 6x7 format which was used in making these pictures. It’s another of Sassen’s playful propositions but in physical format.  -- Jason Evans

Viviane Sassen // Flamboya from haveanicebook on Vimeo.