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:

Stan,
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’?

M

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:

Photo Book Club meet-up with guest Ricardo Cases




The Photo Book Club Barcelona meets once again tomorrow night. Unfortunately (but in a great way) all the places have already been taken, and there is currently a waiting list for these meetings!

Ricardo Cases, whose ‘Paloma al Aire‘ was featured on many ‘Best of’ lists, including coming 3rd on Marc Feustel’s king of lists, will be the guest at the event, introducing Richard Billingham’s ‘Ray’s a Laugh’.

Ricardo Cases 'Paloma al Aire'

Those who are lucky enough to go to the event: I would love to hear a review of the evening, from a participants point of view ( matt@photobookclub.org )

– Matt

Photobook Club Barcelona meets again! 19th Dec

Seems like yesterday that Jon Uriarte emailed to say he had set up the ‘Photo Book Club, Barcelona‘ and his aim to meet once a month to unite photobook lovers.

True to form the second ‘PhotoBook Club Barcelona’ will be taking place Monday, December 19th. Carlos Albalá, co-editor of the spanish independent publishing house BSide Books will introduce Daniel Blaufuks’ Terezin photobook and attendants will be discussing the design aspects of their favorite books.

For more information, location and timings, head over to the ‘Photobook Club Barcelona’ on Facebook right here.

– Matt

Ken Schles appearing in:

Ken Schles is a busy man! As well as contributing a great amount of his time to this special Photo Book Club month, Ken will be appearing and exhibiting at a number of great events over the next few months. Hopefully our discussions have inspired you to hear more of Ken’s thoughts on photobooks or to see ‘Invisible City’ and Ken’s new book ‘Oculus

A list of upcoming events is shown below:

30/09/2011 – 02/10/2011
NY Art Book Fair PS1 (advance copy of Oculus will be there, and so will I)
Preview of the limited edition at the Charles Lane Press booth Sat Oct.1 at 2pm. A very LIMITED number of copies of the trade edition will be at Dashwood books at the NY Art Book Fair —get there early for the trade edition.

01/10/2011 – 03/10/2011
Platform LA (advance copy of Oculus will be there, but not me)
A limited edition of Oculus can be seen at the Lapis Press booth #121 (I will not be in attendance due to the NYABF, see above)

15/10/2011 – 19/10/2011 (opening 14th)
Bursa Photo Festival: at least two talks –one on my work and one more about the process of making photo books. There will be an exhibition of Invisible City. Probably the largest installation of the work to date.
This is the first showing of Invisible City in 7 years and only the third time it’s had an exhibition print showing (the Museum of Modern Art showed the book as an object in its More Than One Photography exhibit in 1992). I will be giving a talk on my work and a separate hands on talk specifically about making my photo books.

22/10/2011 – 11/12/2011 (opening 21st)
Noorderlicht Exhibition of Oculus and release – The Netherlands

3/11/2011 – 05/11/2011
Society for Photographic Education North East and Mid-Atlantic Conference
Keynote: Alec Soth, Honored Educator: Doug DuBois, Featured Speakers: John Gossage, Mary Virginia Swanson, and Andy Adams, General Speakers Include: Colette Copeland, W.M. Hunt, Paula McCartney, Ken Schles, Tate Shaw, Anne Whiston Spirn, and more…

3/11/2011 – 06/11/2011
The Edition Art Book Fair: (Lapis press will have the limited edition of Oculus –but I will be up at the SPE Conference)

10/11/2011 – 13/11/2011
Paris Photo
3 very definite events in the main pavilion:
1. Harper Books will have the newly created, commissioned for the fair Invisible City inspired project: Invisible City: Nightwalk, Fragments and Alternates (book dummy);
2. there will be a book signing with Schaden.com on Saturday November 12 for Oculus (with the limited edition also available and on view)
3. Markus Schaden is doing this very interesting  project, (for which I contributed a piece).

This year Paris Photo will have a new space dedicated to publishers and specialist booksellers with the presentation of this year’s novelties, but also old books, rare books or limited editions. Book signing sessions on the stands will provide the public with an opportunity to meet the photographers.

The full programme of signing sessions will be posted on-line at the end of September.There is a strong possibility that Noorderlicht will be at the Paris Photo off-print (to be confirmed), in which case, I will do a book signing there as well.

 

 

Welcome to The Photo Book Club

Announcing the launch of the Photo Book Club

The idea for the Photo Book Club which will launch on 28 February 2011, grew out of conversations between designer Wayne Ford and photographer Matt Johnston, with the encouragement of photographer and educator Jonathan Worth.

The premise for the Photo Book Club is a simple one, each month we will discuss one book that we consider to have made a significant contribution to the world of photography, this may be a well known volume, such as Robert Frank’s Les Américains/The Americans, (1958/1959), which will signal the launch of the Photo Book Club, or a lesser known, but no less important work.

At the beginning of each month we will post a brief introduction of our chosen book on the Photo Book Club website, followed by a more in-depth comment on the work, and through the comment section of the website we aim to create a platform through which we can discuss the impact of each body of work through, over the coming weeks.

Whilst Wayne and Matt, both have ideas for the books that we would like to feature, we want the Photo Book Club to be an open platform, for a community to evolve, so we actively encourage suggestions for books, and in other ways in which we can develop the conversation, we want to create a community where the photobook in its widest context can be discussed and appreciated.

Whilst we are initially launching the Photo Book Club as a blog, and as a Twitter feed, we are hoping that in the near future we can arrange the occasional physical meeting, and even some print content too.

The Photo Book Club