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.

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