Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Goodbye, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu!



That's it. The blog's closing up for the year. I'll be back at the end of september I guess, otherwise I will see some of you at the fabulous Gazebook in Sicily



It's a photobook festival by the sea, in Sicily, near a beach, with ice cream and Sicilian food, and a lighthouse. It's also home to Italy's most famous TV detective and has the third most famous balcony in Italy.



It runs from 9th - 11th September and the line up is:

Martin Parr

Olivia Arthur & Philipp Ebeling (Fishbar)

Chiara Capodici & Fiorenza Pinna (3/3)

Michela Palermo, Francesca Seravalle



Giulia Zorzi (MiCamera Bookshop)

Andrea Copetti (Tipi Bookshop)

Federica Chiocchetti (Photocaptionist)

Niccolò Degiorgis (Rorhof)

Klaus Pichler

Laura El-Tantaawy

Maria Teresa Salvati, Founder and Editor-in-chief at Slideluck Editorial.




Workshop: Michela Palermo (Make a collective funzine), 
Fiorenza Pinna and Chiara Capodici - 3/3 (Structure of photobook), 
Olivia Arthur and Philip Ebeling - FIshbar (From Image to Page).


Gazebook are also promoting a Slideluck call for multimedia, named "When Photobooks make love with Multimedia" 
The 20 finalist screened during Gazebook will be selected by jury composed by: Valentina Abenavoli (Akina Books), Andy Adams (Flak Photo), Daria Birang (Curator, Art Director), Yumi Goto (Curator, Reminders Project).. 



Photobook Packaging and The Rivers of Power




I just wrote a piece for Photo Eye on Eamonn Doyle's mad new book End.. That's double full stops because the title End. has a full stop in it which I really don't like the look of and is kind of annoying.

But the wrapping is not annoying. In the review, which I really enjoyed writing, I rather obsess on it and talk about humming and hawing over opening it because it looks so lovely wrapped up in its yellow cellophane.

But at least I did open it which is more than some people. I met somebody who, for two long weeks, couldn't bring themself to tear into the gorgeous wrapping, who still laboured under the illusion that the book was yellow and not white. Tear the wrapping off and you get a white leatherette slipcase.

Then there's packaging. It used to be that if you sent a book in the post, it was a relatively straightforward affair of wrapping the book up with some kind of protection and sending it off. Not anymore.

If you are at all acquainted with European photobook booksellers, you'll know Tipi Bookstore. This is run by Andrea Copetti who has taken book packaging to an art form. He sends books in packages that are covered in vernacular photography and are works in themself. It looks phenomenal. I'm going to have to order something from him just in the hope that I'll hit the packaging jackpot.



But even for photographers, the packaging is becoming increasingly intricate. Take Alejandro Cartagena and his new book, Rivers of Power. This was sent in a regular Jiffy envelope but with custom made green stickers on, including one with an image from the book printed on it. There was a message on the back too,

'Hope you enjoy it! Ale'

The book itself was wrapped in paper that had the same image printed on it as the sticker.. This image showed a line of men in an office standing next to what looks like a politician. And the line of men look like gangsters. Or police? Whatever, it sets the scene for the book. And if you don't know the title of the book, this wrapping paper was sealed with another sticker, this one in grey with the title of the book printed over it.



So there you go. It's the old idea of Saul Bass that the film starts with the titles. The book starts before the title or the cover page. It starts with the wrapping. It gives you a reason to open the book. It makes you want to look.

Then you open the wrapping and you have a slipcase holding a book in place. There's a lot of text on the slipcase but, because you are curious about the men you saw on the wrapping paper, and because you think you have an idea what it will be about, you read the text. In its entirety.

It's all about the Santa Catarina River in Monterey, a river that man has tried to tame through hydraulic engineering, through underground diversions, through successive civil engineering projects that have attempted to hide the river and tame its feral rivine nature. Unsuccessfully of course, because a river is a river and over the years hurricanes and floods have let the good folk of Monterrey know in in no uncertain terms that it is alive and kicking and its flow will not be stemmed.

It's a book about Monterrey then, and in that respect it connects to all of Cartagena's other books, in particular his fantastic Carpoolers, a book which looks at the social divisions of the city and its attempts to hide away the less wealthy elements of the town.

The river's not for hiding though. Cartagena shows archive pictures of the city both in flood and not. One picture of the ranging currents is juxtaposed with what looks like the flooded city in drier times, a reminder that the potential for flooding is always there. You see the works, the politicians, the grafters, and then we're into the colour, contemporary city.

It's a city shown in the rain. Ordinary rain in an urban setting but interspersed with graps from what might be reports of extreme weather. If you've ever lived in a place that has been flooded out, you'll know what that means. There's an anxiety to rainfall that you just don't get if you're living somewhere high and dry.



Next comes pictures of the floods, then we're into the attempts to tame it and the swamps and grasslands that line the river's edge. There's the river's bed, the spaces that line the river, all liminal and Edgelandy with their coach parks and market spaces, Finally we get damage done by the river, the broken roads and the cracked tarmac, before a final dose of the river tamed is given.

It's a great book in which you're imersed in a full range of different images from different sources. There's also the sense that the books Cartagena makes, as well as being works in themselves, are also punctuation marks in a larger body of work that he's already semi-visualising in his photobooks, that the books, though great, are just a stepping stone to some huge installation that will one day take up a couple of floors of one of the world's major museums. There's a feeling that the book isn't everything, that the book is just the beginning.

Buy Rivers of Power here.


Monday, 20 June 2016

Is it Peak Blurry and Grainy Yet




Just when you found about something about Japanese photography and thought that was all you needed to know, along comes something  the Brazilian photographic world view and you realise you haven't got a clue what's going on in the photography world beyond your narrow little corner..

I've reviewed a few books from Brazil including Guilherme Gerais' Galactico and Hart by Laura del Rey, but you get the feeling that there is another huge photographic world beyond this (and that's without even mentioning Salgado, who it's easy to forget is Brazilian).

An example of this is Marcelo Greco and his Sombras Secas. It's a book of black and white images that show the 'second skin' of Sao Paolo, the unconscious block of urban existence that lies a fraction beneath the surface.



It comes in full blurry, grainy black and white and it's very good; a representation that is paranoid, lucid and ever-so opaque. It's Sao Paolo in the picture and by bringing forward different elements Greco creates a city that looms over you with a kind of dull, brutalist concrete menace.



Sometimes there's too much menace and you wonder if it couldn't be reduced even more; 'A Photobook is like a jenga tower' is one of my favourite lines from the lines few weeks. It's something you can always reduce. But take care not to reduce it too much. But that excess is part of the blurred and grainy appeal, the are-bure-bokeh stream of consciousness that so deliciously takes you into the subterranean world that is both grim and somehow glamorous at the same time. They'll be sex and drugs involved in this film noir world but it won't necessarily be good sex and the drugs will be cheap and of dubious parentage; they'll make you see blurry, in black and white too and everything will look kind of worntorn and downtrodden for a while. And can't they tidy those wires up!



There is a whole bunch of blurry, black and white work around and it's getting blacker. I wonder if we aren't reaching peak blackness, or peak blurriness, or peak graininess but I must say I always enjoy it when I see it, despite thinking perhaps I shouldn't. And there are people who are taking it into all sorts of different corners; Paul Gaffney, Awoiska van der Molen, Katrin Koening, Sarker Protick and so on. And that makes things interesting.

Buy Sombras Secas here. 

Saint Sebastian was Beaten to Death You Know!



Earlier this month, I finished writing a piece for the BJP on workshops and alternatives in photographic education; from the intense 3-day kind to the longer one year school.

It was a most enjoyable experience that ended up being almost like a workshop in itself for my own work; when you are talking with JH Engstrom, Margot Wallard, Michael Grieve, Yumi Goto, Kazuma Obara, Rafal Milach, Lua Ribeira and Juliya Berkovica, there is a lot of energy, intelligence and inspiration in the air. And I think some of it rubbed off.

One thing that is notable is how the speakers differentiated between the shorter, more intense workshop where teachers  like the people mentioned above (or Anders Petersen, Michael Ackermann, and Antoine D'Agata - who is altogether a creature on another level) really challenge you to look deep into yourself and to challenge your complacency.

carl-fischer, Charlie-fish, cover, esquire, george-lois, iconic-image, Magazine, muhammed-ali, photo-history, photography, saint-sebastian, the-greatest

Carl Fischer for Esquire Magazine (George Lois art-directed|)

The other notable thing was how socially based the longer courses (such as Engstrom and Wallard's year long Paris school) and how much they are based on a less hierarchical form of teaching than might be expected.

And the final notable thing is the hostility many people have to the academic model and in particular to the theoretical side of the academic model. I can understand the misgivings people have about this side of teaching. I can more than understand it, I share it in some ways. It is common for people repeatedly attempt to bully and mystify their peers and their students into feelings of inferiority. It is common for personal differences to be displaced into academic arguments. It is common for people to resist operating outside their comfort zones. And so they belittle what lies outside their comfort zone to preserve their little universe.

People should be hostile to teaching that is formulaic, dry, not suited to student needs, being taught by people who might know alot about a particular subject, but who know nothing about teaching - especially to visually minded students who very often have had negative learning experiences in secondary school.



Yukio Mishima as Saint Sebastian - photographed by Kishin Shinoyama

Very often, the teaching of theory is hierarchical, with a top-down spoonfeeding of obligatory texts to students who don't have the background knowledge to understand what they are reading or studying - and why they are studying it. Foucault, for example, is great for some students and some work, but he's suited to everybody.

Names will be ticked off the theory list as some kind of imagined mapping of progress without consideration of prior knowledge. And very often the teaching does not take into account all those negative educational experiences, the reading and writing difficulties and the general aversion to written research that is typical of so many learners with high visual intelligence.



Saint Sebastian by Guido Reni

At its best, the teaching of photography theory goes way beyond the horrible Theory word. Sure you tick off the Sontag and Rosler and Ritchin because they are accessible and direct and entertaining, but at the same time they are by far the most humdrum element of a research-based module and deal more with the distribution of photography rather than its content.

At its best, research is being led by students and they are going into the arts, history, politics, economics, science, for their ideas. The Sontag, Rosler and Ritchin are just the starting points. Then the learning is not top-down, it is a two-way process and really the teacher is creating a learning community with independent thinking top of the list.



Saint Sebastian by Lucas Tytgadt

Todd Papageorge famously said "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not reading enough" which is pretty nice. I'd add a little caveat that if you're pictures aren't good enough, you're not reading the right books'.

The trouble is what are the right books? It depends on the person. But basically, I believe that the most important part of photographic education is the research element - not in the formal sense, but in the sense of what is the photographer's global knowledge, their world view. During the interviews, Yumi Goto said what's the point of teaching somebody to take a great picture when everybody can take a great picture. It's not about the great pictures anymore. It's about making the pictures tell a story.

And I'd also add something Michael Grieve, who both teaches on workshops and in an academic setting, said. He described the generosity you can experience when teaching, a generosity that is at odds with the often isolating nature of photography.

"Seeing people developing their work, embracing their failures and learning from their failures, and then see the results is an extraordinary thing. It’s a creative thing and for me, it has really saved me as a person. To give is a real strength I think.”

And when you teach research well, that is what you are doing.

You can read the full article in the July issue of the BJP.

All images come via one my favourite essays of the year -  on Saint Sebastian, Martyrdom, Yukio Mishima and Homo-eroticism. Thank you James!

Saint Sebastian was beaten to death you know!




Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why, Oh Why is Nothing Simple Anymore?


A short story by Thomas Boivin from Tipi Bookshop on Vimeo.


A Short Story by Thomas Boivin is a lovely book. It's a poetic affair, that tells the story of a relationship - from meeting across a table, to the beginning of passion, the apex, the highs and lows of a long distance relationship, final petering out into asymetrical falling out of love, separation, heartbreak and desolation.

It's a universal story, and the words are universal in a way. They are not pinned down in some ways, and they are certainly not pinned to the pictures which have a floaty, nebulous feel to them. So it's dreamlike. Sadly it's one of those books that is printed in a tiny edition (100) when it could sell more. How many more is the question, but I hope he prints a second edition (of more than 100).

A Short Story is a really strong example of text and image working together and it's probably (along with Yolanda by Ignacio Navas, The Spook Light Chronicles by Antone Dolezal and Lara Shipley, Yu by Dragana Jurisic, Early Works by Ivars Gravlejs, Love on the Left Bank by Ed Van der Elsken, etc etc) one of my favourites.

But so many people are using supplementary elements to tell the story. At Photobook Bristol, Mark Power launched Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment ( a collaboration with poet Dan Cockrill and designer Dominic Brookman). This is an exploration of England which comes complete with poetry written by Cockrill, and delivered by Cockrill in Power's presentation, to accompany Mark's bang-on images of our soiled and faded nation.



More conventional forms of writing came courtesy of Murray Ballard's The Prospect of Immortality. This, together with Matthieu Asselin's Monsanto (winner of the Kassel Dummy Award), is one of the outstanding examples of a long-term documentary project finding its full expression in book form. In his book, Ballard looks at Cryonics and 'the quest to overcome the ‘problem of death’. Ballard is working with the text in a more considered and reduced form than is often the case in such a documentary subject, so making the story pack a punch and serves the images, rather than simply fills space.

On the Tipi table (which is a sight to behold), Andrea Copetti was showing Anne de Gelas' quite brilliant Mere et Fils and L'Amoureuse projects - both of which used extremely personal diaristic entries combined with sketches of heartbreak, loss and rediscovered passion. It really is quite beautiful.

Elite Controllers by Antonio Jimenez Saiz-1

Other books on the Tipi table showed the book form developing as object. Antonio Jiminez's Elite Controllers being one example of this.This is also an example of the merging of bookseller, publisher, gallerist and curator, a role that Martin Amis of Photobookstore has also taken on.



That is pretty much what Yumi Goto is as well. She talked about and then showed examples of work made through her Reminders Project Stronghold workshops. Again, text figured large in punching through extremely personal stories, but so did extremely intricate and beautiful design. Both Hajime Kimura (who brought his beautiful Snowflakes, Dog, Man book) and Hiroshi Okamoto (who brought his intricate and tragic Recruit book - runner up in the Kassel Dummy Awards) are examples of this.




The Reminders books are done brilliantly because ultimately there is Yumi Goto lurking in the background making sure that, design details notwithstanding, it's the story that matters. There's clarity there in other words,

But something can be good without that clarity. A case in point is the puzzle that is Eamonn Doyle's new book, End.. This comes with music, thirteen inserts, a glassine poster, a yellow cellophane wrapping that over-intrigued me (you can read all about it my review on Photo Eye next week)... Actually even reading the contents confuses me and gives me a headache. But I like it and it works and it's coming from a very different direction from just about everything.


End. is a set of 13 sections all brought together in a white leatherette slipcase, with black-embossed drawings and tip-in title sheet, wrapped in yellow cellophane.
Each section is folded to 200 x 280 mm, portrait.
Featuring 273 photographs, 20 ink drawings and a 7” vinyl sound work, these 13 Dublin “moments” comprise:
One yellow book, thread sewn, printed in black duotone with screen-printed drawings.
Two black books, thread sewn, printed with silver inks.
Three full-colour books, thread sewn, with screen-printed drawings.
Four concertina-folded double-sided diptychs in full-colour with screen-printed drawings.
One large full-colour double-sided folded map.
One 7” vinyl record tucked inside a printed and folded glassine poster.
At the centre of the work is a concertina-folded double-sided full-colour triptych.



So everything is getting more involved, personal and generally difficult. Which is a good thing. But you can have too much of a good thing because when it's done badly, the design becomes redundant and all you are left with is a mulch of inserts, pull-outs and shabby stitching that can't disguise the crapness of the content.




So it was refreshing to see Hoxton Mini Press's books. These are beautifully made and presented books that are a kind of an upscale variation on the Cafe Royal Model with a nod towards the Useful Photography brand of content. The books cost £12 and the special editions (which look fantastic) cost £40. So there's accessibility in pricing. And the content is great. My favourite was Ronni Campana's Badly Repaired Cars.

It's simple but it's pushing the book form in a different way. Photographers, designers, publishers, booksellers, everybody's pushing the book form in a different way, and those ways are not always in the same direction. There's a lot going on. What it all means is, as always, another question that neither I nor anybody else seems to have an answer to.


Friday, 17 June 2016

A Non-Critical Review of Lookbook!



Lookbook by Anastasia Bogomolova is a fun publication! It's a book of fashion pictures. It shows Bogomolova wearing the clothes her mother and sister used to wear in the 1980s and 1990s, in the days when shopping was done at Soviet department stores or through patterns found in fashion magazines, in the days before the world was taken over by the high-end/low-end shopping polarities of Armani and H&M.

When she was a child, Bogmolova used to dress up in these clothes, and now she does so again for the purpose of the book. For each outfit she poses against a florally papered wall and goes through the gamut of the catalogue emotions. There are slightly opened lips to go with the 'tender green silk' holiday dress, hands on hips for the 'youth dress from silk with a black and white print', and the badass eyes over shoulder for the 'jacket from synthetic knitted cloth made in Japan,'




There are inserts (the book is designed by Julia Borissova) from old fashion catalogues, and they are the inspiration for the  glorious cheesiness that combines with a certain nostalgia for the childhood of which these clothes form a part.

It's a fun book then, with biography mixing with some social and fashion history. It's softcover, bound with staples, and the inside cover is a replica from an old pattern book, and you get a free poster that you can stick on the wall. I like posters.  The pictures themselves are as artlessly shot as they are posed, but I guess that's part of the fun of the experiment. It's not entirely consistent in some ways, the wallpaper works but is a slightly overdone motif, and the message and the chronology are elements that you could pick at. But that's not the point of the book, or this blog. It's not operating in that critical world. Not much photography does.

Lookbook is operating in a world where dry humour is the modus operandi. And that's a good thing. There's seriousness in her intent, and the tactile qualities of the book take us onto a sensory plane. All the time there is a little glint in Bogomolova's eye, part of the return to her childhood that this book has taken her to, and also perhaps part of her understanding of what it was like for her mother and her sister to be women back in the day. The nostalgia is personal rather than political and is linked to her experience of being a woman in contemporary Russia. What remains the same and what has changed? Not much perhaps.

So all in all, it's a lovely book.

Buy Lookbook here.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

An Interview with Amak Mahmoodian



I've just finished posting on the Photobook Bristol Blog. Here here are some of the best posts from the blog.

The first is an interview with Amak Mahmoodian who talked at the festival and launched her beautiful, beautiful book Shenasnameh there over the weekend (and it's the first publication of Alejandro Acin and his IC Visual Labs).

I'm biased because I was involved in its making, but when Yumi Goto, Susan Meiselas and Andrea Copetti are buying your book, you know you're making something special, something that is personal, political and ultimately loving. And it works perfectly as a book.

An Interview with Amak Mahmoodian

I didn’t know it could be a book at first. I believe all good books start with some personal stories. It doesn’t matter if they are going to be successful or not, but each person must have a personal reason to create a book.
I started to collect the pictures with my friends and family and then friends of friends, in Tehran and then in other cities. At first I didn’t ask other women because I didn’t know if I had the right to ask other women.
As I collected them, I started to notice how different they were, especially in their look. It was really emotional for me, because in many cases I had their photograph but I had never met the woman. I would imagine her voice and her smile, her eyes, her life.  And then I would go and meet the woman and when I knocked at the door, it was like I was going to meet a photograph.

Sometimes I was really shocked because the woman was so different from the portrait I had imagined from the photograph. So each woman was different from another and then each woman was different from her photograph.

Read  the whole interview with Amak Mahmoodian here.

Buy Shenasnameh here.