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.
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.
Transparency – I was sent a review copy by Kehrer Verlag
KayLynn Deveney’s ‘All You Can Lose is Your Heart’ looks at ranch-style dream homes in the American Southwest, built in the 50’s and 60’s. It is intended that the images inside, presented as a close-to-typological study is able to act as a metaphorical portrait for ‘those living inside’ that tells us about ‘a fading vision of the American Dream’. For some reason the press release seems keen to stress that this is the ‘first time these houses are the subject of a published photographic work’ – something that on its own should be nearly inconsequential.
What is a well trodden path though is the visual and verbal discourse of the American Dream and its health – it’s dead, it’s alive, it’s dead, it’s alive. It’s dead. So, important then that Deveney brings something of value to the discussion. This is certainly the case for the images presented in the book, which, despite learning more about their production in the accompanying interview with architect (and marketeer) Jean Valjean Vandruff, are still charmingly sweet. The mix of straight-cut timber with ornate, curved detailing on acutely angled roofs is only made more compelling for the pick up trucks and light-up reindeer that now block the view. Here is the strength of the work (not the book) – in plainly evidencing the augmentation or destruction of an historical ‘ideal’.
As I tend to find with almost all photobooks from more established houses, there are too many images here, and some focus is lost in the edit – it is a struggle to really feel as though we are seeing much of the occupant’s lives in these photographs. We should also ask whether we gain any insight into the wellbeing of that elusive American Dream – to an extent perhaps but greatly aided by the interview and essay at the rear of the book.
The sequence and edit of content (not only images) is my main issue with the reading – which feels somewhat cumbersome and in need of some rearranging. Using the essay and interviews as well as original marketing material and blueprint to break up sections of the photographs might simultaneously create a more sure delivery.
Disclosure note: I requested and received a review copy of Lago from the publishers, MACK
Ron Jude’s ‘Lago’ is a bit of a mystery to me, but one in which intrigue manages to outweigh frustration. Putting aside the typical blurb/statement that either whets your whistle or grinds your gears for its high score on the bullshit meter…
If one considers these traces to be a coded language of some sort, Jude’s act of photographing and piecing them together becomes a form of cryptography – like a poetic archeology that, rather than attempting to arrive at something conclusive, looks for patterns and rhythms that create congruity out of the stuttering utterances of the visible world.
… the work itself is really worth a look. There are few similarities with Lick Creek Line, at least in relation to sequence and rhythm of the book, instead it might bring to mind Gregory Halpern’s ‘A’ – seemingly disjointed, somewhat claustrophobic and reading a little like the stream-of-consciousness-style books we have seen becoming popular of late. What interests me most in the photobook are the separations of images, structure of the book and the repetitions of subjects and image styles – as I spent time with the work I felt more and more that the order dictated by Western reading (left to right) was a convenience as apposed to necessity.
This book read like the internet – loosely structured and waiting for connections to be imposed. Saying this, it is certainly not as try-hard in its random nature as the likes of Roe Ethridge – Jude has, through recognisable American photographic tropes and attention to shape, texture and colour, given small links and suggestions throughout. It is though, the sound recordings that accompany the book made by Joshua Bonnetta that really bring it to life…
Accessed via a download from the MACK site, these two soundscapes (a side A and B) offer an immersive experience, giving voice to characters suggested in images and overlaying what I can only describe as a more ‘homely’ and relatable narrative onto the rather desolate images. The recordings pose so many questions about ‘reading’ that it is hard to know where to start or whether I should even be attempting to answer them – for starters, each recording is just over 20 minutes – am I taking shortcuts by spending less time with the book? The two sides – should I read the book one time with each? Sides A and B – reminding me perhaps to flip the book – start one at one end and one at another? Should headphones be used? How important are these recordings? The must be downloaded from a link so they automatically remove us from an isolating experience with the book.
I appreciate some of these questions are stupid, the use of the audio is of course open to interpretation, but some discussion surely must be present. Not least for me because my burning question from the Lago experience is – what is it? The experience I had in reading and listening was greater than the parts – but it was also disruptive as I navigated the book and sometimes skipped sections of audio on the computer. I wonder why this isn’t a photofilm, and then I wonder whether a photofilm would have held attention for the time the book does.
I found this a really exciting project and one which I really hope will generate some lively discussion both from readers and from those involved in the publication itself.
Two things to think about here – firstly the images and book content but also the new ‘Grey Matters’ series from Schilt Publishing. It is clear that Tocci has a wonderful eye and a great understanding/application of palette but it requires a look beyond this to start piecing together ideas with images. In the forward we read that… “This story comes to you after long walks on mountainous footpaths, shared bus rides over steep ravines and sailing adventures across magical lakes in high Albania…” and this loose wandering feel is hard to put aside (partly due to aesthetic rather than conceptual sequencing choices), but on doing so and revisiting the less poetic introductory text there is much here to learn from.
As for the new ‘Grey Matters’ series – a grand idea very well executed in my opinion. A way to bring new work to a new audience while still believing in the worth of the project enough to bring it to the physical world of photobooks. The grey cover and wrapper along with the series title remind us that these are not finished thoughts or concepts, these books do not pretend to have all the answers, nor do they pretend to be slick, shiny and engaging. Instead these are interesting, open and inviting, not to mention a great way to invite interest in the development of these artists and their works. I will be interested to see more in the series as they are released but would certainly consider a subscription option if one were available (£12.50 per book is cheaper than many photo magazines!).
Name the author – answers on the back of a postcard
I love this project and it is rather addictive. Anonymous Press allows you to perform an image search which is then arranged using a mysterious algorithm into a 12 page digital book and archived along with everyone else’s self-created zines. But where it gets a little more interesting still is that these can be bought for a very reasonable price – they are printed cheaply and bound by hand with staples before being sent out. It is a ton of fun to see what your searches will return, what images will be shown, where on the page and in what order.
I made a bunch of books and chose to purchase them, to bring them from the uber-digital image search to a tactile experience – it doesn’t work, it’s not the same, and that’s why I love it – these books ask so many more questions than you would expect for a free/$3 book. As further experiment into authorship/narrative and coherence I produced books based on the titles of books we have looked at on the Photobook Club – ‘Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’, ‘Immediate Family’, ‘Uncommon Places’ etc, it is fascinating to see how much these books or these images are related in a grander sense to their own ‘keywords’.
I shan’t say too much about this one as I imagine anyone with even a remote interest in Ruscha and the work he has inspired already has a copy on the shelf or on order. It should be pointed out however that this book is an absolute triumph – I doubt there will be any disappointed by this bible of biblio-homages to the bound work of Ruscha. Some you will know, some you will own but all come with concise and insightful texts with great insights into the links with Ruscha’s work.
A neat but beautifully designed book and case here and one that only enhances rather than detracts from the very still images inside. Hiroaki Yoshino comments that this book could have been called “The Sensation of Home” although while this is true it speaks more to me about the lives within than the structure itself.
There is certain inevitability about the house and these images – we walk through the house and through the book knowing we will soon reach the end, our demise and the books final image, the clock on the floor a reminder that while the images are still and quiet, outside these walls a world is moving on regardless of our willingness to take part.
There are times when I feel a fraud as a photobook enthusiast as I become frustrated that while many photobooks can challenge and can be enjoyable, it is rarely that they have a truly powerful affect on you like a live performance or novel may be able to do (perhaps this is just me). Joshua Lutz’ Hesitating Beauty however is a book, a narrative, many questions and a collection of images that will long stay with me and will be returned to again and again. The sequence offered for reading can be taken on face value or we can delve further into an appropriately clouded world that is hard to comprehend, I would strongly urge the latter. If you can see this book – do so!
Very proud to see the Photobook Club’s digital publication ‘Ken Schles, Invisible City; A Digital Resource’ make it onto Martin Brinks ‘Top Digital Photobooks‘ list last week and now very happy to read a great little review of the publication in Taco Hidde Bakker’s ‘Photobook Listmania‘.
Alongside comment on lists and photobook consumption which is worth a read in itself, Taco dubs our publication as ‘the most surprising 2012 photobook publication’. You can read the section below but please do head over to the post to hear Taco’s other thoughts.
The most surprising 2012 photobook publication to me has been The Photobook Club‘s free-of-charge e-book: Ken Schles – Invisible City: A Digital Resource. A page-by-page digital representation of the beautifully printed original 1988 book (which is rare and expensive nowadays) embedded within notes around the production of the book, and recent discussions. An excellent example of how valuable older, sometimes overlooked and understudied, photobooks can be lifted out of the shadows and be studied in a public realm beyond the traditional library.
I should preface this wee post by saying that my background is not in publishing or books in a wider sense, and have never been to the London Book Fair before. That being said, sometimes this is the best way to approach events like the LBF2012.
On the whole I found the fair to be a disappointment, I was hoping to be inspired by companies and individuals experimenting with the book, it’s form, and it’s potential. Unfortunately this was certainly not the case. The majority of the space (and there was a lot of it) was taken up by trade stands who met with clients/distributors/authors etc throughout the day and who were reluctant to talk to or entertain the thought of any changes to the publishing industry in which they may need to adapt.
The digital zone took up approximately 1/10th of the floor space and unless the concept of an e-book or App were unfamiliar beforehand, would offer nothing of interest. Perhaps those who are inviting, and pushing new digital ideas forward do not see the Book Fair as the place to showcase their tools and products, perhaps the idea of a 3 day event in which you pay for a pitch seems old fashioned. But if this is the case, it is a shame, as the visitors and exhibitors at the the fair need new concepts and thinkers quickly.
A notable exception to my disappointment was this year’s market focus on China which featured an array of books from thousand-year-old scrolls to the latest in digital publishing and hardware. It will be no secret to photobook fans that Chinese photobooks can be some of the most exquisitely produced in any collection, and it was apparent as I drooled over what turned out to be a science text book for high school students.
It seems as though, here at least in the ‘China spotlight’, there is a harmony between the analogue and digital. The analogue books are covered for their design and beauty, they are not throwaway artefacts simply printed on the page for old-times-sake. The digital books here are accessible, cheaper and are more than a digital version of their printed cousin; they allow sharing, note taking, and more.
What with his being a photobook blog I should probably highlight a few books I came across today that I had not seen before, so here they are:
‘May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake’ Various Sichuan People’s Publishing Co, Ltd
May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake
“This picture album selects over 200 pictures taken by professional photographers and reporters. Consisting of three parts, namely, “Catastrophe,” “Rescue,” and “Reconstruction,” the album represents the enormous disaster caused by May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake, displays the hardships Chinese army and people suffered in the struggle against the earthquake, and demonstrates the efforts Sichuan people made to reconstruct their home under the leadership of CPC and Chinese government and with the support of other Chinese people, overseas Chinese, and foreign friends.” (More here)
Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing Jason Griffiths Architectural Association Publications
For anyone interested in the likes of Jeff Brouws, Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore (among many others), this could be an interesting read for you.
“In Manifest Destiny, Griffiths reveals the results of this exploration. Structured through 58 short chapters, the anthology offers an architectural pattern book of suburban conditions all focused not on the unique or specific but the placeless. These chapters are complemented by an introduction by Griffiths and an afterword by Swiss architectural historian Martino Stierli.” (More form the AA here)
‘The Table of Power 2’ (Special Edition) Jacqueline Hassink Hatje Cantz
Table of Power 2
50 tables from the headquarters of businesses ranked by Fortune as America’s most influential. With the special edition you can chose your own wood cover in Walnut, Cherry or Red Gum! (Hear more from Hatje Cantz)
‘Nomad’ Jeroen Toirkens Lannoo
Nomad by Jeroen Toirkens
Not quite sure how I completely missed seeing or hearing about this last year but wow! What a book, the special edition is stunning but not cheap and the ‘regular version’ is still a fantastic success in design, content and context. (See much, much more, here)
Here is a book that completely cheered me up after the disappointment of Magnum’s ‘Postcards from America’.
From the moment you open up the book’s containing box there is a sense of occasion, the book can be teased out of it’s perfectly formed home by the matching green thread and we are presented with a beautifully crafted hardback book. The book, and box are both of exquisite design but where this sometimes overshadows content, in ‘The Green Factory’ it does not.
Inside we meet with a variety of families who are associated with the Alstom power plant in Chatanooga, TN. Their own piece and interpretation of the American Dream set out alongside an unconventionally formal and distant family portrait. This book will keep me coming back for more, not only is there a large amount of content here, but it certainly invites second, third and fourth visits. Bessard points us to key phrases but there is also enough here from the mouths of the subjects that we can infer our own readings and interpretations and create a more personal experience. If I had seen this book last year, it certainly would have made the ‘B#@t of 2011’ list.
It seems that just about everyone was queuing up to get this one, and rightly so. This is a fantastic collection of short essays collected and curated by Will Steacy. Each essay from a smorgasbord of photographers describes a picture not taken, a picture missed perhaps, or a moment unable to be rendered in the confines of photography. The paperback form here really suits the material and can be read as a collection of fascinating short stories, or dipped in and out of at will.
I have no idea how I came across this book, or why, i’m also not sure exactly how I feel about it but it’s a touching and intriguing book for sure. Léonie has documented her Mother’s struggle with OCD and how it has affected her personality, environment and relationships. The images present single moments, snapshots of feelings and events presented together with occasional montages of family photos and collages.
My criticism of this book is simply that I found there was too much here to take in. So many moments that carry significance to the narrative that I felt somewhat lost within it: perhaps this was Léonie’s intention. The accompanying recorded conversations at the back of the book provide interesting points to dive back into the images, I would have loved to hear these discussions as I navigated the book.
Darius Himes states that this book “is purely delightful; it teases and engages the intellect as well as soothes the spirit with it’s crafty and crafted, playfulness”, and I agree wholeheartedly with him, it’s just a shame that with such thorough crafting of the images, the book itself, while well designed, could have gone further to emulate the twitchers journal it mimics. The notes that accompany each image are especially fun once the book’s secret is revealed, but seeing it artificially produced to live flat on a page removes some of the book’s appeal as an object.
(see a more in depth and articulate review and comment of this book over here by Douglas Stockdale)
‘My home is where you are’ is clearly made with love and affection by Filipe Casaca, the small images proudly displayed high on the large page resemble sculptures more than images, still lives of his partner over a period of years. The scale causes you to intrude onto the book and into their lives which, over 15 images is presented to us not as blissful fairytale but as a relationship with moments both tender and tense.
The book alone provides an aesthetically interesting read but when time is spent with the accompanying text and interview, the reading of this book becomes a more complete experience.
(I have just seen this post by Wayne Ford on this wee book which, just like Douglas’s review, is more in-depth and eloquent!)