Paul Graham’s British Road Trip

The A1 road for those who know it, or know the book, doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of a road trip or road trip aesthetic. There are no dessert vista’s here, no vast stretches of road ahead and behind. This is most certainly not the orange-tinted views of Wim Wenders or Stephen Shore as they pass through El Passo and Nevada, neither does it evoke thoughts of Kerouac or Pirsig’s prose.

©PAUL GRAHAM

This isn’t to say we do not recognize some of the conventions of the genre in the images, particularly in the diners, cafes and petrol stations, but Graham has also weaved a decidedly British streak into the book. Bright blue skies give way to overcast days and wet roads, neon is only seen once, and all in all, this is a much more subdued photographic approach. No fanfare will be found here, just a well paced, expertly edited series of images, and in this I find myself looking harder, and for longer.

©PAUL GRAHAM

What lies at the heart of this book (to myself at least) and does conform to the road genre is the human encounters Graham has documented along the A1. These are all characters we recognise, they are the hundred of people we see in the car alongside, or in the adjacent cubicle at a restaurant and if you are anything like me, you wonder about why they are here, now, or what it is they do and why they do it. Almost all of the subjects in ‘A1’ hold the camera’s gaze back, I like to think they are looking at Graham, or at me, wondering exactly the same things.

©PAUL GRAHAM

Interestingly, while we see life from the road, cafe’s and fields going by, even pulling up to a petrol station, we are never inside the car. It is at first an odd omission, especially compared to the more well known photography from the US dealing with the road, it’s landscape and it’s stories. But in doing so Graham remains very much a traditional documentarian, slightly removed from each situation he encounters unlike his Stateside contemporaries. The result is another reason this is such an important and unique piece in the ever expanding road photography genre.

– Matt

And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Phil Coomes on ‘A1: The Great North Road’, a personal reflection

Really pleased to be sharing this reflection on the Photobook Club! Just the other day we looked at a road trip taken by the BBC’s Phil Coomes and Paula Dear which referenced Paul Graham’s book, now a big thanks to Phil for contributing this reflection;

“Great to see you are looking at Paul Graham’s Great North Road book, I think it’s one of the most important series to have been shot in the UK. Every frame tells a story and yet is also a visual delight, and of course the work as a whole provides a strong social comment on the time. Now of course it comes with a dollop of nostalgia as well.

As you mentioned we used it as a jumping off point for our recession road project in 2009, though in reality we were on a very different mission, with tight deadlines and a financial story to wrap around it –where the story led, as opposed to the pictures. But it would be fair to say my colleague Paula and I carried these frames in our head as we headed north. What did we find? Well, another country from the one in Paul’s book, that’s for sure, though there were some similarities and given time they could be teased out, but sadly we had just five days on the road.”

– Phil Coomes

©PAUL GRAHAM

 

26 Years Later: The Great North Road Trip

In 2009, ‘traff’ of the Culture Republic blog said that:

It would be an interesting exercise to make the journey in current times and see what changes have been wrought.  One would imagine there would be new freeways, big box retail and neon-lit ‘service centres’, yet still the same air of suburban angst and hopelessness faintly lingering.

Luckily Phil Coomes of the BBC’s ‘Viewfinder’ blog seemed to have the same interest and in September of 2009 embarked upon ‘The Great North Road Trip’.

©PHIL COOMES

The idea was to travel the road in search of stories on the recession, just like Graham, Coomes’ choice to follow the A1(M) meant a swift dissection of England from the wealthy city of London, through industrial and post-industrial towns of the midlands and on towards Scotland.

While Coomes’ refers to Graham’s work on a couple of occasions, it is not a complete retracing of locations or ‘After A1: The Great North Road’ style project. It is however a well thought out project in it’s own right and as an archive of a time period is very interesting. I have archived all the posts in the lists below.

©PHIL COOMES

There is an audio slideshow created by Phil Coomes and Paula Dear that sums up the weeks travel, hearing direct from the public who have spoken to Coomes adds some weight to the piece and makes me wonder what Graham’s subjects would have spoken about, given the opportunity.

©PAUL GRAHAM

– Matt
And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Crowdfunding Books: Let’s Sniff the Glue

Crowdfunding is a fantastic opportunity for photographers and other creatives to sidestep traditional barriers of entry to the production and publication of work. It also offers the chance to target and reward niche groups and communities for work that would otherwise not be supported by the ‘mainstream’.

Unfortunately for photobook enthusiasts and potential funders, the crowdfunding platforms are generally geared towards the project and content than the form of the artifact; that is that we cannot see the print or design quality, cannot feel the weight or sniff the pages (always surprised how many people do this, and if you don’t – try it!).
This isn’t so much of a problem when the funding goes towards both the production of content AND artifact as we are very much aware that funds make the project happen in the first place, they bring it to life.
However, when money is being raised after-the-fact and images exist elsewhere, in some form, it is a harder task to get funding for a physical object which is only described or shown as a preliminary sketch.

Peter Dench's succesfuly funded 'UK Uncensored'

This is why book dummies are so important, and ensuring these dummies can be seen and touched, I hope, will become more common. I only raise this post as today I was notified that Bruno Quinquet’s excellent ‘Salaryman’ series has just been launched as a crowdfunded book project here. As well as a snappy video and detailed guide to both editions, the dummy copy was available to see recently at the photobookshow in London. Seeing this has alleviated any potential worries over shoddy craftsmanship or print quality (which can vary wildly in self published titles).

Bruno Quinquet's 'Salaryman'

And so I wonder whether more can be done here. There is already Bonifacio Hijosa’s promising ‘Gloves for Dummies‘ and of course the Fotofestival’s ‘Dummy Awards’, but why not more? Perhaps photographers can team up with bookstores or galleries to hold a copy of their dummy in a small section of the store; the visitors likely appreciate the physical artifact and would enjoy casting an eye over the dummy before going online to conveniently fund it. On that note, dummy’s could be sent to various Photobook Club meetups and other live events, accompanied by the author for direct feedback or introduction?

However these books get seen, I believe it is vital that they are seen and held, not simply to avoid potential disappointment but to generate a community interested and excited about the book and it’s physical properties; after-all these people are parting with money for something they can likely see on screen, for free.

– Matt

If you would like to send a dummy to be shown at a Photobook Club meetup, send an email to me here or pop in the post:

Matt Johnston
Photobook Club
10 Granby Ave
Harpenden
Hertfordshire
AL5 5QR
UK

Elinor Carucci on ‘Immediate Family’, a Personal Reflection

My thanks to Elinor for offering these words on ‘Immediate Family’:

I saw ‘Immediate family’ when I was a student in Jerusalem and I was immediately drawn to this body of work. The images were so beautiful, magical, intense and complex…and even dark at times, as childhood can often be.
This landscape was like nothing I have seen before, being born and raised in Israel.

I love Sally Mann’s work, she is a brave and original artist.

– Elinor Carucci

Emmett’s Bloody Nose, 1985 ©SALLY MANN
Emmanuelle having her hair cut, 2007 ©ELINOR CARUCCI

Magnum’s ‘Postcards From America’

I should preface the below by saying that this is only my own view on Magnum’s ‘Postcards From America‘, as yet, I have only really heard positive things about the book.

I’m not interested in slating this publication, but, as there are more of these trips planned by Magnum and their all-star cast, I thought I would share my thoughts for anyone pondering a potential purchase, you can hear other points of view on this publication herehere and here.

If you do not know of the project, and product already, check out this video walkthrough from a true photo hero of mine, Mr Alec Soth:

Magnum’s ‘Postcards From America‘ is an interesting exploration into a section of the Southern States of America, the collaborations between photographers and with writer Ginger Strand lead to new and exciting perspectives. I particularly enjoyed Soth and Subotzky’s input. However, I am not producing a view of the content here, but of the product instead:

Instead of a traditional book, Magnum present us instead with a box, and within this box we find all manner of objects along with a sticker detailing our edition number and presenting the 5 signatures of contributing artists. The disparate elements of the box make sense in as much as they echo the fleeting and fluid idea of a roadtrip but fall short of contributing any sort of understanding about the project and it’s themes or ideas. Perhaps this is where the book comes in, as a sort of guide from which we can scoot of to explore the mini-stories contained within the zines?

Unfortunately this is not the case. I love to see progression in what the book can be, it’s exciting and is pushing forward a fantastic medium, but I have to question the ‘book’ included in the Magnum box. It is unbound for starters which I can accept were it not so big and unpractical to be so. And more annoyingly – the sheets are not printed as a book sequence, they are in fact a big stack of posters placed one on top of the other, and then folded in the middle. It requires space, and patience to attempt a ‘reading’ at all, and the (very) cheap-feeling paper combined with (very) average printing do not make this ‘reading’ a pleasant one. it could be my love for the physical object speaking but everything here seems to be very much a throw-away object, especially when you consider the asking price.

And perhaps this is where my relationship with this project and publication came unstuck  – ‘Postcards From America’ was $250 and it was the first time I have ever spent more than $100 on a photobook, so from the beginning I was going to scrutinize what I got for my money. As you can see Soth demonstrate in the video above, you get a lot for your money, at least it seems as though you do.

Actually, there is little substance here in terms of material objects. A smattering of zines, the above mentioned ‘book’, some stickers and a poster which makes up most of the box weight but which I imagine only a handful of people will have the room or interest in assembling. Let’s not forget the postcards received during the trip of course, although to my disappointment, even though I had ordered well before the start, all were sent at the conclusion of the trip (those who payed the $125 for the postcards alone must surely be even more frustrated?).

I understand that I cannot boil this argument down to material costs but there is such a mismatch between cost and price here it is hard to understand what I paid $250 for. I can only assume then, that a portion of my money is helping fund this trip, to make it possible. Great! Except that where many projects are open with those that fund them, Magnum’s seems to take all the credit. I would have been far happier had this been a kickstarter-style ‘reward’; knowing that while the material costs do not add up, the extra money had made it possible in the first place, maybe even a contributors/funders thanks in the book or online.

‘Postcards From America’ is a really interesting project, there is lots to explore here, but I think Magnum has completely missed the mark in relation to the product. If I were to be so bold as to offer pointers for next time, either:

  • Tell people where their money is going, credit those who fund the project, or
  • Make the product beautiful, something worthy of the pricetag, or
  • Make a non-limited, no-signature version available for the $60 it cost

I would love to hear from others who have this publication, unfortunately there are less than 500 and I fear many have bought it to put in a cool, dry place, unopened, waiting for the dust and price to rise. But, if you have opened it, and feel like sharing, do so in the comments section below.

– Matt

 

 

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, A Conclusion

Here is the fourth and final extraction from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt produced a fantasticaly rich deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

A Conclusion

At most, Shore probably spent about 30 minutes standing at the corner of Fifteenth and Vine, framing the scene, adjusting the focus, measuring the light, preparing the film holder, and tripping the shutter. We can be fairly certain he did all these things blissfully unaware of Over-the-Rhine’s German immigrant antecedents, trends in outdoor advertising, or pawn shops as economic indicators. Nor is it likely that Shore took the inverted image he found on his camera’s ground glass and flipped it over in his mind, ruminating on what sociological discourse the graphical elements contained within his frame’s borders might conspire to conjure up for future travelers on his tour of uncommon places.

Thus there is a very real possibility that readers will bristle at my deconstruction of this photo, and the introduction of what may seem like incidental history and tangential politics in an attempt to locate the photo within a much broader context than Shore ever intended. Seeing as I’m likely guilty as charged on that count, in my defense let me stipulate that I see the tour I took of “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974” less as a deconstruction of an image and more a construction of a separate image, akin say to Mark Klett’s rephotography projects.  Like the spirit in which those are undertaken, the aim has not been to bring Shore’s original photo kicking and screaming into a context imposed from outside, or to re-align it to fight some rhetorical battle, but to merely have it in hand like a trusty map as I negotiate its spaces nearly 40 years later. It’s my hope that the new topography I have constructed as a result informs the old, much as Shore’s two-dimensional photographs in Uncommon Places built upon and informed their physical counterparts. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The Photographers Presence

Here is the third teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

In this installation Kurt looks at Shore’s presence in the scene itself….

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

As our last stop on this exploratory journey, a final sightseeing viewpoint as it were, let’s ponder for a moment one more spot at the corner of Vine and Fifteenth, the spot Shore placed his tripod and set up his view camera to capture this scene. Shore’s presence, and the position of his tripod and camera, is referred to, if not exactly reflected in Lee Friedlander-like fashion, by the out of focus “Bus Stop: No Standing” sign that could be nowhere else but directly in front of where Shore was standing. We smile at the sign like we do at other occasional ironical signage in Uncommon Places — e.g. “MECCA” (p. 129) or “John F. Kennedy said: “ART IS TRUTH”” (P. 133) — as if Shore were thumbing his nose at the municipal establishment that would deign to tell him where he could or could not stand his tripod.

STEPHEN SHORE

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

The Photographer’s Presence

But telling people where they can or cannot stand in the form of municipal anti-loitering ordinances has long been a tactic used by city governments and police forces to exert undue control over citizens in lower-income areas. Three years before Shore took his photo, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down Cincinnati’s own anti-loitering ordinance as unconstitutional. The ordinance had held that “It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings.” In a footnote to his opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that, “The alleged discriminatory enforcement of this ordinance figured prominently in the background of the serious civil disturbances that took place in Cincinnati in June 1967,” by which he was referring to race riots in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale that spread over into Over-the-Rhine.

The sign can then be read not just as a joke of Shore’s own making, but as an ironic and not necessarily unintentional questioning of Shore’s right to be there, assembling these elements in a manner annoying to persons passing by, “an alien element impeding the activity on the street.”  READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The History

The second teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’sWest Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974′ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

History

Fifteenth and Vine is in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) neighborhood, one of the oldest parts of the city. It came to prominence — and indeed acquired its name — from the many German immigrants who worked there in the 1800s and later settled in the area and built many of the homes and buildings that stand to this day. By the turn of the century, Cincinnati, along with cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, was home to one of the largest Germany immigrant communities in the United States. However, while already in a long, slow decline in the first half of the 20th century — in particular, its many breweries were hit hard by Prohibition — OTR’s fortunes declined rapidly after World War II as so-called “white flight” began to take hold, with residents moving to outlying suburbs and retail businesses following them shortly thereafter. The deteriorating structures became a source of cheap housing for a successive wave of first poor whites from Appalachia and then African Americans displaced from the historically black neighborhood of West End that had been demolished in part by the construction of an expressway — an expressway that if not a literal escape route was at least a figurative thoroughfare that helped pave the way for whites’ exodus to suburbia.

At the time when Shore took his photograph, the population of OTR was only around 15,000, a significant drop from a population of 45,000 in 1900. One-third of these remaining residents were African American. By 1990, less than 10,000 people lived in the area, 71% of them African American. 5 In 2001, Vine Street and the surrounding areas were the scenes of a race riot when an African American teenager was shot and killed by a member of the overwhelmingly white Cincinnati police force. As of this writing, Vine Street and various other places in OTR are part of a massive urban renewal project, and indeed most of the land and buildings in the 1400 block of Vine Street, which comprises much of Shore’s photo, are now owned by a tax-exempt, private, non-profit corporation called The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, which has renovated or is in the process of renovating the structures for loft apartments or retail spaces. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, An Extended Introduction

Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF underneath the image or right here, this is the first post also featuring an extraction from the full article, this time an extended introduction to the full article.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

An Extended Introduction

I would like to explore Uncommon Places: The Complete Works by looking at a single photo, a photo that like all the photos of Uncommon Places can only be referred to by its caption, “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974”, which appears on page 43. This photo was not included in the original publication, and while it would certainly be a useful exercise to discuss why not, I would rather take Shore’s inclusion of the photo in the revised edition to mean that for him the photograph is an important part of the complete work.

It is tempting to be self-deprecating on the photograph’s behalf and acknowledge that it’s true there is nothing particularly compelling about this photo that would cause it to stand out in relation to the other photographs in the book, but saying that would imply that Uncommon Places: The Complete Works contains stand-out photographs. It does not, which is precisely why it is such a wonderful book to look at. The power of Uncommon Places is not the sort where each turn of the page knocks us back into a sublime revelry. Its power rather results from an accumulation of what Gerry Badger has called “quiet” photographs 3, and it is this quiet tone that allows us, if we are so willing, to journey along with Shore, and occasionally to step off and linger a bit at stops along the way, to explore further.

Several years ago when I got my copy of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works, this ordinary, dare I say nondescript, photograph taken in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 caused me to dwell and ponder a bit longer than the others. For personal reasons (I had a suspicion I had once been on this section of Vine street during a visit to Cincinnati in 1987), and for graphic, visual reasons (there was something in the denseness of the signage on the left side of the photo, and a single, dominant sign on the right side that visually appealed to me), I felt compelled to explore the photo further. What follows is an account of this one stop on Shore’s larger journey — my journey within a journey, we could say — and what I found at West Fifteenth and Vine in Cincinnati. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood