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.
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: email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Together, 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.
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.
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?
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.
To celebrate World Photobook Day in Coventry we will be hosting a book club meeting at the University on 14th Oct with photobook dummies and photobook favourites. The latest ‘box of dummies’ will be in attendance and I am asking folks to bring along their favourite photobook.
The event is open to all but there will be a limit on numbers so please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Terry Building Coventry University 6pm – 8pm then pub
Rikard Osterlund and Tracey Affleck have just launched the Photobook Club Rocherster with an opening night on October 15th at INTRA. The event is free but sign up required here. More information from Rikard below…
Come along to an informal evening all about photo books. This is the first of what we are hoping will become a monthly get-together where you might be inspired by something you haven’t seen before.
To kick things off we will talk about ‘The Americans’, Robert Frank’s groundbreaking book from 1958. You are welcome to BYOP (Bring Your Own Photobook – bought or made) for everyone to look at and chat about. Anyone with an interest in the photobook format is welcome.
Date: Thursday 15th October
Time: 20.00-22.00 (turn up a bit earlier)
Location: INTRA, 337 – 341 High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1DA
Hashtag away on social media #PhotoBC #RochesterPBC
We have been wanting to do this for a long time and can’t wait to get a group of likeminded people together.
Rikard Österlund is a freelance photographer with an irrational love for photobooks, with many years experience as a photography lecturer at UCA and London College of Fashion.
Tracy Affleck is a photographer/artist and educational facilitator who works primarily with found photographs.
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.