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Photobook Reader Reviews: ZZYZX

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Disclaimer: book received without payment, requested from MACK.

ZZYZX_1a

XXYZX
Gregory Halpern

XXYZX is immediately recognisable as a Halpern book, and, for someone who is equally fond and curious of it, this is no bad thing. It is also quickly apparent that we are on the move with Halpern as structures of images and evidence of transport direct us to carry on our west-bound journey (at least according to the book layout, perhaps the reverse on maps). It is a sense of pilgrimage aided by the ‘characters’ of the location who appeared to me co-travelers, not passing interests. The quest to quench thirst is a clear motif or theme of the work but it’s willingness to show itself does not make it any less interesting as we unpick this thirst in multiple ways — work, water, money, mate. There is a similarly present strategy to abstract the subject of many photography, to photograph through a natural frame, border or even lens, whether this alludes to the varied histories and representations of LA/California I do not know.

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There is one image in this book that resonates beyond the narrative as a whole, an image that shows us a frame and explicitly references the film industry without romance. In fact the unromantic and only loosely aestheticised image is of interest for just those reasons. An iphone held in a hand, playing what we assume from the Warner Brother’s logo to be a film was a shock amidst a book which appeared to be somewhat timeless, eschewing the flat screen, the digital billboard, the neon light. It was most welcome and brought a potentially unwarranted but enjoyable belief in what Halpern was doing. One last note only to say that while this book was unmistakably Halpern’s, I found it extremely hard not to see images that were so closely related to the work of American contemporaries that it seemed a conscious choice. Alec Soth, Katy Grannan, Ron Jude, Joel Sternfeld and Todd Hido can, by my eyes, be seen quite in focus. This shouldn’t detract from the work by any means, particularly when it is the collection and rhythm of the work which is its primary appeal.

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2015; A Year in the Photobook’s Life

2015; A Year in the Photobook’s Life
A survey of photobook-specific happenings in the US and Europe.

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You can access a visualisation of the following research as a jpg here or as a PDF here

This survey intends to visualise and in a sense, flatten, the many events, competitions and workshops that are taking place around the photobook right now. In doing so, a lineage — or at least a chronology — can be established, demonstrating a growth of interest and increasing institutional support in the medium.

It has been put together with the view that it will act as a record not just of 2015 but the new age of the photobook (golden or otherwise). This research is concerned only with photobook specific events and only covers the US and Europe. This is not because these geographical areas can be seen as the home of the photobook – not by any means, but because this is both the focus of my broader research project, and provides an opportunity, through networks, to realistically claim confidence in correctly recording and listing the vast majority of appropriate events. The choice to begin with the year 2015 is similarly beneficial. While of course many events have run in earlier years, or are starting up in 2016, the single year provides a baseline from which to work back in establishing the aforementioned chronology and origin.

Only photobook-specific events have been recorded — a choice which, if aiming to build a picture of the variety of spaces in which the photobook is present, would be disastrous. Here, art book fairs and non-medium-specific zine workshops for example, have been excluded. In doing so it is hoped that clarity is improved and subjectivity removed.

Fairs and festivals are subject to a further limitation in that they must be multi-day events. Once again a choice of clarity and confidence and not a suggestion that single day events are not a part of the photobook world. Many single day events have been arrived at during this research, the transient and often independent nature of which have on many occasions presented quite different ideas on what the photobook, and what a photobook event should be.

A list of thanks can be found on the right hand side of this visualisation — these are people who have contributed to this survey and without whom many omissions would have been made. There are likely still some errors or misses so please do get in touch if you have any: matt@photobookclub.org. A scroll of this document will be produced in Autumn of 2016 on lightweight poster paper, if you are interested in having a copy, please email the above address.

Matt Johnston

A brief note on design: in case unclear, the black lines traveling up the page from events is an indication that the event will be repeated at some point in 2016.

Photobook Club Aarhus, Books and the City

Great to hear from Moritz Neumüller about the possibility of setting up a Photobook Club Aarhus — something which would extend the great conversations that happen around Aarhus Photobook Week throughout the year. If anyone is interested in attending, or has any ideas/locations etc. to share, please get in touch with Moritz.

Elsewhere, on Wednesday 22nd I will be presenting the Photobook Club’s Box of Books at an exciting conference called ‘Books and the City‘ in Maastricht. Along with a discussion of the box and intent, I will highlight the fantastic variety of events and outcomes of Photobook Club communities all over the world. It is only a brief paper but will be a good way to begin a more thorough survey of the Photobook Club, its organisers, attendees, conversations and locations.

All for now but if you have not already, get your hand on max Pinker’s PDFs here and if you have other examples of free PDFs, please let me know! (matt@photobookclub.org)

Arts Libris, ELISAVA and PBC Barcelona!

Really looking forward to some time in Barcelona next week. I will be heading over to launch Code-X; Paper, Pixel, Screen and Ink with the bookRoom (UCA Farnham) at Arts Libris. The book brings together some great voices who are playing with, responding to, and generally trying to make sense of the sometimes chaotic changes the codex is going through. The chapter I contributed is titled ‘The Photobook Club; a pragmatic response to hierarchical conversations and the photobook as capital‘ and is available in the book (of course) and soon online.

While in Barcelona I will also be giving a lecture and workshop at ELISAVA, the school of Art and Design and will be meeting with the Photobook Club Barcelona which is super exciting. If anyone is in Barcelona and wants to meet up then drop me an email.

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.

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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.

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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

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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?

 

Natural Collection Updates

The Photobook Club’s Natural Collection (found online here) returned from a stay in Australia recently where it was exhibited at the Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne. The collection is now back in Coventry where it awaits an exhibition at the Lanchester Library and a number of social engagements with schools in the area.

A number of the books have already been requested and sent to Casablanca – if you would like any packages of books sent on then just get in touch.

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the Natural Collection arrives back

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books on their way to Morocco

 

The Photobook Ghetto – Surely an Ironic Post?

Yesterday Colin Pantall, on the Photobook Bristol blog, posted a sort of response to criticism that the photobook world is a ghetto, that it is a closed world, one which is hard to break into. It is an interesting position certainly and one which many may feel was a) not taken seriously (‘Next in the Photobook Repeated Circular Arguments’ followed this post) and b) only confirmed and solidified in Pantall’s response.

There is little need to deconstruct the argument, and a few commenters have already pointed out the flaws, but here is the gist of the piece which fails to consider that perhaps inclusion is not only about the (tiny percentage of) books making these lists. Fails to consider the irony in declaring openness prior to listing self-made criteria for ‘entry’. Fails to think even about the selection of practitioners to speak at the event this year – which is mostly made up of book list ‘success’ stories and established voices in the ghetto or village or whatever the self elected guardians of the photobook world are calling it.

Full post here

But the Photobook World is nether closed nor difficult to get out of. Look at the list of Best Books for 2015 and while there are old-er-hands in there like Alec Soth, or Boris Mikhailov, the top places are taken by photographers like Mariela Sancari, Dragana Jurisic, Daniel Mayrit, Laura El-Tantawy, Thomas Sauvin and Ivars Gravlejs…

So it’s not a closed world. If you want to be part of it, make a nice photobook that says something different. If it looks the same as every other photobook, if it doesn’t have an opinion or attitude, if it’s bland and tasteless, it won’t cut the mixed-metaphor mustard. It really is that simple – if you ignore all the other complicated things that we won’t talk about here.

So the photobook world is not closed to anybody. And if you don’t want to be part of it, then you can just walk away and not come in. Or if you’re a little bit interested or curious you can just drop in and stay for a little visit. You can leave any time. It’s really quite open,

Of course a lot of people wouldn’t want to be a part of this world anyway – maybe the fourth failure is in not recognizing that we can walk away and still be a part of the photobook and its significance.

Update: some additional and insightful comments on Colin’s post found here by Lewis Bush