Photobook Reader Reviews: Spirit is a Bone and Shelter Island (but not really)

I have only ever written a handful of ‘reviews’ on this site – it has never been the purpose of the platform in any way – and still is not, but for a few reasons I like to engage with the process. Primarily the review allows a new connection to the work and a deeper engagement with it – positive or negative – it demands a concretisation of loose and often fleeting thoughts. Secondly, the review, from a readers perspective should be invaluable to the author of the work – I am consistently surprised by the emphasis placed on a few ‘elite’ and selected reviewers over a true readership, especially with works that seek ‘to do’. Thirdly, any books I receive end up at Photobook Club events or, if light enough (and this is a very serious limitation) touring round different locations, getting posted to other parts of the world and being enjoyed by tens and hundreds of people.

With this in mind I thought a reader’s perspective on a recent publication* from MACK and a brief comment on another would be a good start. These books were received amongst others and were unsolicited. I had originally planned to write about Ivars Gravlejs’ Early Works – a book that I took to a Winter book club in Coventry and was extremely popular, but Colin Pantall had already written a thorough piece on the book which resembled a lot of my own thoughts**.

*New issues are interesting for sure but how about more reviews on older works/books that didn’t sell well/second editions etc?

** Colin’s review was posted in July – giving some cause to think that I may never be someone to write about a book when it first launches.

Oliver Chanarin & Adam Broomberg
Spirit is a Bone

It is inevitable that with a medium like the photobook, in which we, the reader, are given so much room to bring our own thoughts to the experience of reading, that we will find books articulating what we are thinking about at the time. I spent time with Spirit of the Bone at the same time as I was getting my head around the underlying state of the ‘visual’ that led to James Bridle’s proposal of a ‘New Aesthetic‘. The New Aesthetic – which represents a new way of looking and making, influenced by an undercurrent of computational seeing manifests itself in the everyday screenshot, glitch, timecode, manipulation or satellite image. Broomberg and Chanarin’s work immediately connects with these notions of computation seeing – images in a hybrid form – recognisable not as photographs but as photographic elements.

Spirit is a bone_ 7

The series of portraits in this book, which include Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevic and many other Moscow citizens, were created by a machine: a facial recognition system recently developed in Moscow for public security and border control surveillance. The result is more akin to a digital life mask than a photograph; a three-dimensional facsimile of the face that can be easily rotated and closely scrutinised. (MACK)

Spirit is a bone_ 9Together, the series as a taxonomy of portraits of resistance and futility is powerful. The breadth of subjects and the sense of ‘collection’ together with their lifeless representation through the cameras and software creates a highly voyeuristic reading. To compare a reading of this book with a visit to a taxidermy museum would not seem too far fetched.  Physically the book is commanding and exquisitely printed – the separation of image from page via tip-in(?) highlighting the alienation of subject from surrounding, reduced to algorithmic visual interpretation.

An interview follows the photographic section of the book – suggesting augmentation and addition as apposed to essential reading. The interview (between B+C and Eyal Weizman) is a little meandering. Physiognomy and phrenology give way to forensics and taxonomies, colonialism and retrospective anthropology before arriving at surveillance and facial recognition in relation to terror and modern conflict. A little more focus and some discussion on the process (including subject selection) would have improved my own reading and understanding of the work.

Spirit is a bone_ 16

A note on reading: Despite spending considerable time with the book, and having explored each page, I have never done so in a sitting and have not felt much has been missed in not reading the book in a single, linear fashion. I would be really keen to hear how others have navigated through books like this, and whether you feel it has had an impact on what you have taken away from the experience.

Roe Ethridge
Shelter Island

Shelter Island_ 8

Erm…. how to comment on a Roe Ethridge book? I don’t really want to comment on the work actually, as a reader I found it rather thin and was given no help in the work (Shelter Island is the only piece of tex aside from acknowledgements). For what it’s worth I figured that Ehridge was interested in speaking about the changing relationship to place (in current and past forms) that digital technology has brought about. What is really exciting about this work though is that it is a wonderfully made book, with high quality prints, of a decent size…. and for £10! Of course Ethridge’s name likely helps keep the edition size up and cost down but to know that works of this quality can be sold for £10 is so encouraging – perhaps MACK might consider a progression of Schilt’s excellent ‘Grey Matters’ series?


Lessons from Morocco

I spent the first weekend of the month running a Photobook workshop in Casablanca, Morocco funded by Coventry University’s DMLL and with a great group of students. Some of these participants were photographers, some had studied at art schools, some were passionate amateurs but all were super engaged and I learned a lot…

Images by Daniel Donnelly


The desire to make is great
– while there is some critique of a maker culture which undervalues curation and debate in favour of production, it was clear that the transition from screen to paper and images into book brought about genuine excitement.


Sometimes sharing is separating
– Daniel Donnelly (with whom I ran the workshop) and I were keen to involve an online and social element to the project –  to tweet particular moments, Facebook particular questions etc – a way to engage with communities beyond the room. It was apparent though that this took away from the intense experience of the session, removed participants and their attention – it was instead used as refference and record for the ‘real life’ experience. We didn’t push it, and I now notice how these spaces have become a great repository – extending the project longitudinally.


Competition isn’t healthy
– competition pushes us, it is a useful element of the learning process – I call bullshit – it was so refreshing to see people truly pleased for one another and their works. I want to find out how to inject some of this into an education system that constantly seeks to place people in competition – either by age, institution, or through high fees and low employment options.

These were exciting books
– it is hard to say without appearing patronising, getting giddy over the exotic or promoting the location-based photobook mining we have seen over the last ten years BUT these were exciting books. Techniques and structures were used without knowledge of their reference to previous works – they were used as they were appropriate. Images were treated as possibilities in the book and the book was treated as a possibility for the images.

11952006_10206688515225138_2471930423207877283_nThese folks would love some books
– it isn’t easy to come by photobooks in Casablanca, in fact it is almost impossible, yet their is a community hungry to see new works and old. I have been sending books to Morocco for some time, and will continue to do so, but maybe think about the next time you send out X% of your edition to reviewers and collectors – send some to a library, community or school – it will likely be far more useful.



B*@t of 2013 and bad choices

As has been the case for the last few years I have produced this list, I am not really bothered if the books were made in 2013 or not – I just don’t spend a great deal of time with enough books each year.

This years list is made up of books that in one way or another have moved me; created or recalled an emotional reaction. For that reason, ‘The Pigs’, ‘Various Small Books’, ‘The Looking Game’ and ‘Control Order House’ are not included – although they are some of my favorite books of the year…

Paul Gaffney
We Make the Path by Walking

Rein Jelle Terpstra

Kadir van Lohuizen
Via PanAm

Joshua Lutz
Hesitating Beauty

Will Steacey
Down These Mean Streets

Vanessa Winship
She Dances on Jackson

There are a wee stack of books that I either regret not buying or simply can’t afford right now. I hope that in time I either realise I have little interest in these books, or that they are such a failure I can pick them up for peanuts in a few years*.

(These books have also been selected in relation to the reaction they have caused rather than their merit as an exemplary unit of the medium)

Bryan Schutmat
Grays the Mountain Sends

Verena Blok
I Smell Like Rain

/\ Damn this is great image making and emotionally engaged storytelling. Blok creates something here which taps into a popular aesthetic but brings genuine weight and the ability to move an audience. I wait on the sec on edition to get a hold of this.

Dagmar Keller and Martin Wittwer

In no way whatsoever related to my inability to afford the above, here are some books that are so awesome everyone should own them, and it just so happens I am looking to move them on. They are all my favourite books and I ail cry to see them go blah blah blah.

Truthfully – these books do not interest me anymore but by selling I might be able to get some that do.

Richard Billingham’s Landscapes – Gee whizz this book sucks

Magnum’s ‘Postcards From America‘ – I wrote a glowing review here, quite an advertisement I think

Taryn Simon’s ‘Kaleidoscope of Entropy‘ – Actually this is kinda interesting but hey, maybe selling this will buy me a copy of American Index and a few others

There are so many more books I want to move on to better homes but barely seems worth mentioning them here as most can still be bought new for £20 odd. I wonder whether I can tell more about myself and my book-love through these books than through those I think are worthy of elevation to a curated shelf.

Some of these books were bought in regards to some of their parts – I was interested solely in sequence or binding for example, and it turns out that this just doesn’t cut it for me – the book needs to work on a holistic level. Some books, I am ashamed to say were bought as I thought I might like them and was scared I wouldn’t be able to afford them several years down the line. Turns out these books have rarely become collectible and have continued to illicit in me a particularly neutral feeling – fail!

Other books have occupied that desire to collect knowledge and to be interested by ideas and concepts, these books I think of as my ‘studium libre’. I appreciate their position on the shelf as I write lectures looking for strong examples of certain themes, but they rarely make it to the table – perhaps this is the life they are destined to live and maybe I should come to terms with that. I just wonder whether a printed version of a front cover would provide the same effect.

On read through, this is rather a sombre end to a post, and a great year of books so let’s finish with one more great book…

Jo Metson Scott
The Grey Line

– Matt

*This already seems laughable as many have made the ‘best of’ and I wish no ill fortune to any hard working photographer or publisher

B*@t of 2012

Those of you who remember (and those of you who do not), last year I mentioned I would not enter into the ‘best of’ bonanza before proceeding to do just that by selecting 5 photobooks that had stood out to me in the ‘B*@t of 2011’ post.

This year I shan’t try to hide the fact that I have made a list but it’s not the regular ‘Best of 2012’ style. I simply haven’t spent time with enough new books this year to be able to give any sort of top ten or top twenty. Instead I will list those that I have enjoyed/been entertained/confused and educated by over the course of 2012 in a few different categories.

NB: It seems a contractual obligation now to trash ones own list or at least belittle/justify it before proceeding with the ‘main event’. I would like to think I started this last year but know that is not true. What I do no to be true – people like to make lists, it is a nice way to step back and perhaps try to learn something from our viewing habits and the themes that are drawing us in. People also like to read lists, it is always interesting to see whose taste is similar or differs wildly and then try to catch some of those books we have missed.

It is also great to see this year that a lot of the books from last years ‘Best’ lists have had very good second editions, most are available again at reasonable prices which offers some hope for this years ‘top books’. I dont think there is anything in my list that is particularly hard to get hold of at the moment but if there is drop me an email and I will loan out the book for free.
– Matt

Back to back:

I started by looking back at the books I chose last year. It is always pleasing to find out that the book you were gushing about 12 months ago is one that has continued to entertain and educate/frustrate over this past year. In this category fall two books from last years list:

Ken Schles: Oculus (2011)


Watabe Yukichi: A Criminal Investigation (2011)

A Criminal Investigation

The Growers:

Redhead Peckerwood made a lot of lists last year and I am sure The Present will make many this year, they certainly both make mine, but it took some time.

Redhead Peckerwood took time only in as much as the curse of the photobook list made it almost impossible to get hold of for a good price until the second edition came out, and by this time I felt I could do without. Seeing it at Paris Photo made me change my mind and it was first in the suitcase. Following it was a book I never thought I would buy (especially after the ‘film‘ debacle) – Paul Graham’s ‘The Present‘ which really must be seen to be believed, the internet does not do justice to this book and this work; subtle and sweet but with a serious undercurrent. I would not be so bold as to say it is a must-own but a must-see for sure.

Christian Paterson: Redhead Peckerwood (2011)

Redhead Peckerwood

Paul Graham: The Present (2012)

The Present

Not a book, but also a book:

Two projects here that have had the guidance of Paradox in the Netherlands and are both much bigger than the books mentioned here. ‘Poppy‘ and ‘The Last Days of Shishmaref‘ are books, but they are also exhibitions, online galleries, blogs and educational resources; true transmedia projects that you can, and should get totally lost in. I expect ‘Poppy‘ will find it’s way onto many lists but ‘The Last Days of Shishmaref‘ (2008) has more heart and good intent than you can ignore.

Dana Lixenberg: The Last Days of Shishmaref (2008)

The Last Days of Shishmaref

Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong: Poppy (2012)


Small and humble:

These books don’t try to change the world, nor do they seek to challenge our interpretations of the fluidity and omnipresence of a 2D world (or other such nonsense), instead they tell a small story, one that is engaging from start to finish and one that for a moment at least makes us think a little differently.

Peter Dekens: Touch (2012)


Theo Simpson and Adam Murray: Road and Rail Links Between Sheffield and Manchester (2012)

Road and Rail Links Between Sheffield and Manchester

Bird Watching:

Used to be a bit of a bird nut as a kid so maybe that is where my interest comes from but it seems photographers have been turning their lenses on the winged of late too. Three books I have thoroughly enjoyed this year that focus on the bird; there are more, but I have not seen them. The three here are all a bit of fun, at least on one level, Paloma al Aire is just straight up fun from page to page – and it puts a smile on my face to see people take such enjoyment from this ‘hobby/lifestyle’. Bird Watching is a great book and depending on how much time you spend with the book it will give you different messages; personally I don’t like to think too much when I look through this one, I enjoy it as a bird watchers notebook, I just wish the description ‘tags’ were stuck in rather than printed on the page.

Paula McCartney: Bird Watching (2010)

Bird Watching

Luka Felzmann: Swarm (2011)


Ricardo Cases: Paloma al Aire (2011)

Paloma al Aire

The Great Outdoors:

A craving for a less concrete life has continued to manifest itself in the books I have been drawn to this past year. You could consider the above category linked in here but the following sum it up a little neater I suppose. I was also drawn to the array of ‘hessian-like’ covers this year on books like Erik van der Weidje’s ‘Superquadra‘ and ‘Reading Ed Ruscha‘.

Joel Meyerowitz: Legacy (2009)


Paul Strand: The Garden at Orgeval (2012)

The Garden at Orgeval

Oscar Tuazon: Leave me be (2012)

Leave me be

Discussion at meetups:

The book that garnered the most discussion at meetup that I ran this year was, without doubt John Gossage’s ‘The Pond‘. For those that had not seen the work before it tended to be a love or hate kinda relationship (with more siding for love) and produced much conversation on sequencing and pace of photobooks.

John Gossage: The Pond (2012 orig. 1985)

The Pond


Perhaps with the popularity of the New Topographics and in particular Baltz’s work, this will not be considered such a niche book, but it’s title sure sounds it. Also a possible contender for this category was the above mentioned ‘Road and Rail Links Between Sheffield and Manchester (2012)’

Jason Griffiths: Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing (2011)

Manifest Destiny

Notable Mention:

As I mentioned up top, this list doesn’t really constitute a best of, more a collection of books I found interesting for different reasons. The books below are on my desk and may have had a brief viewing but no more than that, they are included for the fact that they currently all excite me and i’m looking forward to exploring them more…

Geoff Winningham: Rites of Fall, High School Football in Texas (1979)
Lena Effendi:
Liquid Land (2012)
Filipe Casaca: Blue Mud Swamp (2012)
Peter Grasner: Was einem Heimat War (2012)
Hans Van Der Meer: The Netherlands off the shelf (2012)
Ben Roberts: Occupied Spaces (2012)

Shelley Jacobson on ‘26 Different Endings’, a personal reflection

My thanks to New Zealand based photographer Shelley Jacobson for sharing this reflection on Power’s ’26 Different Endings’. If you enjoy this text, please check out Shelley’s thesis on temporal landscapes which can be read online here.

26 Different Endings – or, A System of Edges, if one were to use the exhibition name – offers quiet vernacular views of London’s city limits, as defined by the London A-Z Street Atlas. The viewer is able to discern a system inherent in Power’s practice; made evident through the titling of his work, for example G 57 East, and through the inclusion of a site map. Notable in this work is the intent to depict ‘outside’ views; achieved by pointing the camera away from the map, beyond a known territory. One could argue that as a practice, topographic photography is intrinsically linked to cartography and that both are manifestations of cultural geography. Power’s photographic approach brings cartography to the fore, drawing out the social implications of mapping.


I first happened upon Mark Power’s work in a 2006 paper by Liz Wells entitled Landscape, Geography and Topographic Photography*. Wells argued that the authority of contemporary topographic photography relies on the methodology of the photographer, offering the concept of the ‘photographer as researcher’. At the time of reading, in 2008, I was working on my MFA thesis Temporal Landscapes**. I had been fixated upon concerns of research parameters and approach, and Wells’ concept is one that not only informed me then, but has stayed with me since.


Over the past several years in my own photographic work I have become increasingly intent on devising project-specific systems by which to produce work. Between my work and that of others favoring this approach, I dare say that Wells was on the mark, in her belief that systems offer rigor. In this regard, I would certainly cite Power as a pioneer of this trend. A recent example of a project that follows this trend is a book released here in New Zealand in 2011 by photographer David Cook, entitled River Road: Journeys through Ecology***. It would seem that for a number of contemporary topographic photographers, systematic methodology can offer an anchor point for their practice, informing both concept and content. Importantly, this can offer the viewer a key to the work in question.

– Shelley Jacobson

*Liz Wells, “Landscape, Geography and Topographic Photography.” Paper presented at the Rural Futures Conference, University of Plymouth, United Kingdom, 2006.
***See and


Haven’t seen the book yet?

This one is still available at a reasonable price and so this video is in no way a replacement for seeing the real thing, instead it is shown here to give a feel for the layout, design and sequencing of the book, for a selection of high quality images from this book, head over here.

Tom Morris on ’26 Different Endings’, a Personal Reflection

Thanks to Tom Morris for not only writing this personal reflection but also for nominating this book for s to look at over the course of October. If you want to suggest a book for us to look at, get in touch.

I was introduced to Mark Power’s 26 Different Endings during my first year studying photography at Leeds College of Art. We were visiting Martin Parr’s exhibition Parrworld at the Baltic gallery, Newcastle. Within Parr’s impressive collection of photographic works and other items was a print by Power, taken from this project. I was immediately drawn to the photograph, and was attracted to the almost bleak imagery of the British landscape.

Whilst at college my tutor had started a special photographic book collection in the library. The collection had a range of fascinating books from both British and international photographers. The books were kept in there own cabinet, and when viewing white gloves had to be worn. It really did feel as though the collection was important and I think this was when I first fell in love with the photographic book. I wanted to start my own collection and 26 Different Endings was one of the first books that I bought.


26 Different Endings is a really great book for anyone interested in this type of photography. The photographs are beautiful and reminiscent of many places within the British landscape. I find the sense of familiarity within these almost gloomy scenes quite warming. The book includes an excellent essay by David Chandler, and also if you buy it directly from Mark Power’s website you will get a signed copy – which is a great bonus.

– Tom Morris

Haven’t seen the book yet?

This one is still available at a reasonable price and so this video is in no way a replacement for seeing the real thing, instead it is shown here to give a feel for the layout, design and sequencing of the book, for a selection of high quality images from this book, head over here.

Adele Reed on ‘A1: The Great North Road’, a personal reflection

Thanks go to photographer Adele Reed for sharing her thoughts on Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’. If you would like to share your own thoughts on this book, do so in the comments section below or to me via email.

Graham’s portrait of this historically endearing straight-forward British system is poignant in many ways. The moments he captured and brought away from the culture along the road are portrayed in a candid, sympathetic and honest manner, serving tribute to working class Britain, their collective apathy of the eighties, and the despondent neglect the road suffered during these times. Rupert Martin wrote in an essay published as an introduction to the series that Graham illustrated the ‘kind of self-sufficient melancholy’ of the people – who somehow seem downtrodden but proud of their society.


For me it’s a heartfelt and warm testament to the salt of the Earth, the genuine, honest members of our nation who keep the cogs turning, who support the road, and who the road supports back. Cafe interiors crumble into decay but a charm withstands: vibrantly painted walls and garish patterned curtains reflect fashions and a flamboyancy our country should be proud of. I feel a deep affection for our provincial towns whilst viewing the images.

Adele Reed



And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Benoit Grimbert’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’

After looking at Phil Coomes’ ‘Recession Road’, I would like to share another project which retraces (to an extent) the footsteps of Paul Graham.
My thanks to Sebastian Arthur Hau for pointing me in the direction of this project by Benoit Grimbert and my thanks also Benoit who has contributed some text on the project and of Graham’s influence.

To see the complete series by Grimbert, head over here. And if you would like to compare the two, I have included the video showing Graham’s work below.


Benoit Grimbert - North London, Apex Corner

The first Paul Graham photographs I saw were images taken from his ‘Troubled Land‘ series. I was about twenty, and I remember the impression of contemporaneity and novelty (in comparison with other photographers working at that time in the field of landscape photography) that these subtle colored images produced on me. I also remember that they vaguely seem to me as specifically European, even if they may also be considered as a kind of response to the most recent American landscape photography (I think in particular of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston). This fact never stopped his images stimulating me, and I still look at his series (‘A Shimmer of Possibility‘ included) as works which synthesized both the american and european
photographic approaches.

Benoit Grimbert - Wyboston, I

Much later, I was deeply impressed by another work, as a book : ‘A1, The Great North Road‘. Having the book in my hands, the entire series – the photograph on the cover in particular – operated as a sort of appeal. Appeal of an unpredictable road trip to the North, which was absolutely not defined, and then the appeal of taking photographs – the strength of the images and of the imagination. The fact that I did not really know the road contributed to make it worthy of interest. If Paul Graham photographed this road partly on the basis of his childhood memories, I will do it under the impression of a pure representation, it would be a photographic one. Therefore, the point was not for me to follow in his footsteps, in the search of the possible traces of what was depicted in the book. This series just worked as the driving force behind me, and the framework became quite conceptual – from a material point of view : a road, The Great North Road, with a beginning and an end, clearly identifiable ; from a representative point of view : a series of 40 photographs, placed according to the geographical order of the road – the content and the form of the photographs following my own photographic approach.

Benoit Grimbert - South Witham

I had my first trip by car along the A1 in October 2008. There was a second trip in
December 2008, and a third in March 2009. Without any particular intention, I drove this road, leaving it each time I was attracted by something I had saw on its sides. Sometimes, the photograph was made quite quickly, but most of the time, it took me several hours to find the appropriate place to make it. At any time, the photograph, although very composed, was literally “unexpected”.

– Benoît Grimbert

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’s ‘Free Pass’?

Shortly after I posted the first ‘Food for thought’ which gave an introduction to Paul Graham’s work, Stan Banos of Reciprocity Failure commented on the amount (or rather lack of) criticism his more recent projects have been subjected to. This doesn’t just apply to Paul Graham by any means and I think important points are raised here by Stan so have included his comments below: (Thanks Stan!)

– Matt

From the series 'Troubled Land' ©PAUL GRAHAM

Stan Banos:

FWIW, I think Troubled Land one of the greatest, most innovative documentary essays ever, and full well realize that Mr. Graham is close to a photographic demigod in many an art and documentary photo circle- and yes, who am I to say otherwise. Master photographer, innovator, educator- all well earned accolades. Nevertheless, all the above should not place anyone above criticism.

I’m not the greatest fan of his latter work, most of it searching for a new voice, a new vision he never quite achieves, but continues to deconstruct on his journey- and it most certainly is his prerogative not to repeat himself. But I continue to ask- who without his pedigree, without his name appeal would have been able to secure a publisher (other than Blurb) to publish a book of… grain? All without question or critique- no artist, politician, or god that should be given that much of a free pass.

From the series 'Films' ©PAUL GRAHAM

Matt Johnston:

I would tend to agree with you here. Troubled Land is the rare photobook that really can keep you coming back and finding new layers and new questions each and every time, for me the same is true of ‘A1′ and in a very different way ‘Beyond Caring’. His latter, more conceptual work certainly doesn’t have the same gravity as these early projects but in ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’ I still find something special (can’t really out my finger on what that is though).

The free pass is a very good question, and I think it can apply to a few photographers lately; I know it is photo-suicide to say anything against Mr R Frank but I was immensely disappointed with ‘Pangnirtung’ and suspect this 5-day documentation would not have been published by Steidl had Frank been a young and unknown author.

I think in these cases the discussion and critique or review of the projects/books should be more transparent, otherwise these authors continue to have an aura of invisibility around them; everyone says they are fantastic but no one want to say why! On top of this, so many reviews now simply take the letter of the publisher as law, and in turn the publisher points people to this ‘great new review’ and the circle of photobook love-in continues. (There are of course some fantastic reviewers and photobook commentators who do not fall into the category above – Stockdale, Colberg, Claxton etc)

Do you think Graham’s standing as an ‘Art’ photographer helps with this ‘free pass’?


From the series 'American Night' ©PAUL GRAHAM

Stan Banos:

I can only speculate, Matt. Some artists build up toward greatness in slow and steady increments then maintain a persistent level of quality throughout, others have a rather meteoric rise, and then milk it- others still, try as they might, just can’t grab the golden ring again. I don’t believe Mr. Graham a slacker by any means, he has continued to create in earnest- I just don’t think anything he’s done since his initial three books has come anywhere near that level of artistic quality, confidence and authenticity. His latter work is characterized mostly by a series of hits and misses, perusing perpetually changing waters- not unsimilar to most student work. In this respect, he very much follows the Stephen Shore mode- an initial brush with photographic immortality, followed by more “personal” explorations.

Again, as to why the dearth of criticism (constructive or otherwise)- it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why certain artists and personalities become irreproachable darlings of the art world. Maybe, just maybe, because he was once called on how not to do documentary (B&W only, please) and having proved them wrong (big time) critics are now somewhat reticent to step up- particularly since he’s quite articulate and can sling the vernacular as good as any other art shark, and beyond. I still remember hearing him wax prolific on the benefits of “meditation pages” between images.

Hell if I know- what I do find curious though is that even the immortals of cinema get called out whenever they lay a turkey- and it’s usually fast and furious….

See the comments for more discussion: