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 email@example.com
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.
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.
These 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.
To celebrate Photobook Day here in Coventry we will be hosted by the newly opened ‘Big Comfy Bookshop‘ at Fargo Village which ticks all sorts of boxes for a great meeting place – beer, coffee, cakes, books and sofas!
A suggestion from Lucy Bartlett will see members bringing books from as many different countries as possible and at the same time we will be having the homecoming of the ‘Box of Books’ which has just returned from it’s around-the-world journey.