Meetup in Madrid on Tuesday, Meetup in NY last night!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who is in Madrid on Tuesday night and loves photobooks, get yourself to the inaugural Photo Book Club Madrid event. All the details can be found at the bottom of this post in Spanish and a perhaps poor English translation, or by clicking here and heading to the Facebook page!

In other meetup related news – Last night Helka Aleksdóttir organized and hosted a meetup in New York which seems to have been a great success, head over to the photobook facebook group that Helka runs for more information, but for now a picture of the event.

IMAGE Helka Aleksdóttir

Mathieu Asselin:
Oli’s Meetup in NY was great!, lots of beautiful books, people and a nice screening of the documentary “How to make Books with  Steidl… More meetups coming soon. keep posted on Photobook Group on FB.

If and when more meetups take place in NY, I shall post details here and send out to all on the newsletter list.

– Matt

Details on Madrid meetup:

PhotoBook Club Madrid sesión 01
martes, 28 de febrero de 2012
a las 19:00 h.
en la Real Sociedad Fotográfica
c/ Tres Peces, 2
metro: L1 Antón Martín, L3 Lavapiés
t. +34 915397579

Como es la primera reunión todo el que quiera asistir trae un fotolibro que le apasione para compartirlo con los demás. Entre todos hablaremos de ellos compartiendo una tarde alrededor de una mesa y unos cafés.

La entrada es libre, no cuesta nada, no hace falta avisar y no es necesario ser socio de la RSF. Por favor, sed puntuales. Os esperamos con café calentito.

PhotoBook Club Madrid meeting 01 Tuesday, February 28, 2012 19: 00 h. in the Royal Society photo as the first meeting is anyone who wants to attend brings a photobook that you passion to share with others. Together we will talk about them sharing an evening around a table and a few cafes.

Admission is free, costs nothing, there is no need to notify and don’t need to be a member of the RSF. Please be punctual. I hope with warm coffee.

Royal Photographic Society
three fish, 2 c /
metro: L1 Anton Martin, L3 Lavapies
t. + 34 915397579


Who’s in Barcelona for a Photo Book Club meet-up?!

Chuffed to hear that Jon Uriarte has set up the ‘Photo Book Club, Barcelona‘ who aim to meet once a month and ‘which seeks to unite lovers of photography books to look at, analyze, critique, share and enjoy together’.

The first meeting takes place at No. 29 Mozart Street in the neighborhood of Gracia, and they will be looking at Lee Friedlander’s ‘Self Portrait’. There will also be a discussion posed by the chair of the session on narrative within photobooks.

Those who are interested in attending should visit the Photo Book Club, Barcelona Facebook page for more information.

– Matt


Niall McDiarmid on ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, a personal reflection

Thanks to Niall McDiarmid for this personal reflection, for those that do not know Niall, you can check out his fantastic ‘Crossing Paths’ project here. And follow on twitter here – @niallmcdiarmid

In the late 90s I picked up a first edition of Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency in a well-known secondhand shop on London’s King Road. Surprisingly it was only £6, a bargain as it transpired, piled among other reduced to clear gardening titles.

I had read of it but in those pre-internet days, not seen the work.  It seems odd to think that book dealers would overlook such a collectable title now but on a quick glance, it’s easy to understand why. The book has the feeling of a self-published, 5 year long personal photo-diary of a group of 20 somethings having a hedonistic lifestyle that started as fun but ended a little dark and dangerous. Snapshots, direct flash, sex, drugs, drag queens, domestic violence, good times, bad times are all there.

Although most of the pictures are captioned, I found myself flicking through trying to work out who was who, what the relationships between the characters were, how they happened to end up in New York, London, Brighton, Berlin etc. I have the feeling that over the 5 years there were many shots taken but the editing is really well done and it sits together like it all took place over a couple of weeks

There are echoes of predecessors like William Eggleston and Gary Winogrand in the work but to me really it seems like a new direction in photography that led to many others well-known names such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Terry Richardson, Corinne Day and Ryan McGinley.

Anyway, it’s a great book and worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

– Niall McDiarmid





Other Books by Ken Schles

While we have only been looking at ‘Invisible City’, Ken Schles’ other books are just as highly regarded, helping make Ken one of the most important photobook authors around.

Ken’s latest book ‘Oculus’ is listed below alongside an in-depth video from Ken, looking through the images and text contained within.

Oculus by Ken Schles



Jeff Brouws on ‘Invisible City’, a personal reflection

Our sincere thanks to Jeff Brouws, photographer and author of ‘Approaching Nowhere’ and ‘Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations’ amongst others, for offering this personal reflection on Ken Schles’ ‘Invisible City’.

Ken Schles Invisible City was a lonely, cold toned poem to the urban night, capturing equally the alienation of those unsanctified city spaces while simultaneously calling forth the glee of anonymity and free flight found only on the street. The size of the book was perfect, the design perfect, and its printing perfect: matt, coal-black, sheet-fed gravure. Bleed upon bleed: images interrupting and overflowing onto, and into, one another.


This was a fragmented, elliptical narrative. With tenderness sprouting on one double spread, and bouts of cold-hard fucking amongst the decay on another. Blighted beauty. Naked nightscapes. Unkempt, dimly lit details of fast and forlorn self-pleasure make themselves known. Revelations pour down from our daily stage production, the audience a lone camera. Metonyms and metaphors for all that ail humanity.

This was a grainy, lens wide-open, manly photography: when a fellow had to know how to push film. Had to know the proper darkroom alchemy in which to conjure and coax delicate, thinly sliced images from cooked celluloid.


A bit of William Klein, Meatyard and Brassai. R. Frank roaming internal America instead of its hinterlands. A Tom Waits tune or Bukowskian turn-of-phrase made visual; the threat of the acrid, hot city beckoning, or blowing itself up, or perhaps imploding. Who knows in all that darkness?

Schles’ Invisible City photos hold all tension and dance with it. We catch our breath for the briefest of moments and then seek solace in movement again.


Jeff Brouws




Aggie Morganti on Cafe Lehmitz

Our thanks to Aggie Morganti for getting in touch to share a love of Anders Petersen’s ‘Cafe Lehmitz’.

If anyone wants to continue the conversation with Aggie, you can do so on Twitter, here.

I’ve often wondered what makes Cafe Lehmitz so special to me. It’s not only about its exquisite photography, its visual intensity, its emotive tension running through the edit. That special something is, somehow, a step backwards, hiding in the making itself rather than in the final object.

Anders Petersen - Cafe Lehmitz

I am amazed every time I flip through it by its unique way of being so rich and so poor at the same time. It is rich in all the above mentioned, and poor in pretentiousness. Straightforward, down to earth, honest-to-God report of what had to be reported – and nothing else. The book itself is stripped down to the bare essentials and it only makes me love the fancy title lettering even more, so much that I almost see it blinking on and off as a neon light from a bar would do in the dark of night.


It’s so transparent you can see through it – or feel you’re there. And the reason why I love it so much is that I have a very personal photographic memory related to Cafe Lehmitz (I’ll be brief – promise).

So, I was around 20 and I had just started to discovery what you could do with documentary photography in terms of storytelling and powerful narratives. It was a gloomy afternoon in December, in Lucca, and I was attending photojournalist Massimo Mastrorillo’s workshop on such matters.


To provide us with guidance and advice, he had brought some of his favourite photobooks with him (and many of them would also become a pick of my favourites later on, such as Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh or Telex Iran by Gilles Peress). The table was literally flooded with wonderful things, and I remember this little, black and white white compact book striking me straight on. Cafe Lehmitz was special to him as well, for Massimo’s main advice to us was to follow what really means to us in our photography. To follow what literally grabs your heart and your stomach and does not let you go, to photograph what you love, in any possible way.

So, as I have tweeted before – this is what I’ve always found in Cafe Lehmitz from that moment on. Love, warmth of heart, being human, humble and true. That’s what I like about it and what I think of every time I start doing something photographic.

– Aggie Morganti


Chris Timothy on ‘The Valley’

Chris Timothy is a photographer and teacher from England, he runs the 21 Rue De La Hachette blog which is well worth a follow. He got in touch to add thoughts on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’ with reference to key images. If you do not have access to the book make sure you check out our video from cover to cover.

Chris Timothy on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’

Larry Sultans work entitled “The Valley” documents the filming of pornographic movies in his hometown of San Fernando Valley in Southern California. The Valley is an average middle class area, where homes cater for the needs of dentists, lawyers and strangely enough porn stars. These wonderful homes are rented out to the porn industry for live scenes to be captured in an aspirational setting. The strategy that ensures the body of works identity is different to that in which it is documenting is its main angle of concentration on location rather than the actors or actresses being sexualised or objectified. Sultan’s images explore the issues surrounding the questions; why would the owners of these middle class homes rent them to the industry, why does the industry want them? And maybe most importantly what are the consequences?

Why would the owners of these middle class homes rent them to the industry? Is it a sense of self-indulgence on the owner’s part or is it simply a method of further financial gain, which helps with the continuity of the middle class lifestyle? I believe it is the later. To rent out your home to the porn industry is a big moral decision and to do so is a clear indication of where you stand on the issue. However Sultan’s work discretely highlights maybe this moral decision is simply ignored and the homes are being rented out without too much thought to what the consequences may actually be. Sultan’s images show family portraits and personal photographs of the homeowners, their friends and their families, left on shelves and cabinet tops. These photographs are being captured in the background of sexual scenes and taken into the industry. While the viewers are consuming sexual media texts the home owners family and friends are on full view. Is this conscious choice of Sultan to show this demonstrating the loss of morality and care for others when a high amount of money is involved.

Child's Bedroom, Calabassas, 2001 ©LARRY SULTAN

So why does the industry want these homes? The choice of location has been made by the production companies to satisfy the needs of the consumers of the films. Remember, the sole aim of these films are to excite the viewer, so the combination of sexual gratification and aspirational images and locations will help the audiences purpose of consumption be met. To set scenes in houses, which most are not able to afford adds to the fantasy aspect for consumers and maybe most importantly adds to the escapism. Sultan’s choice of mis en scene within some of his images demonstrates this.

west valley studio #13, 2003 ©LARRY SULTAN

There is a definite juxtaposition between the property owners and the porn stars. One of Sultan’s images will focus on the pleasure and excitement of being a porn star and the next, the banality of sitting, sleeping and generally waiting around on set. This drastic change of emotion could be compared to that stereotypical view of a superficial consumer lifestyle held by the middle class. One minute you are filled with excited with a purchase that most would not be able to afford, the next this excitement has worn off.  You find yourself sitting in your museum of expensive purchases with the realisation that boredom has set in due to a lack of motivation and purpose of a lifestyle where there is no need to work towards anything, success has already been achieved.

Tasha's Third Film, 1998

Although Sultan states this work is not focused on the stars of the porn industry, after the audience views the images, most cant help but question why the actors and actresses take part in the industry. Do they perform due to a sense of aspiration and a desire to gain financial clout from a profession that is relatively high paid? Are the actors motivated by and aspire to be the very people who are renting their homes to the industry in which they work? So what are the consequences of the middle class renting out their home to the porn industry? Well, that is a matter of opinion dictated to you by your own moral standing. But what “The Valley” does clearly demonstrate is the porn industry and the films it creates are becoming more and more integrated in every day life and society in the western world.

– Chris Timothy


John Edwin Mason on ‘Coke and Controversy’

The following is John Edwin Mason’s response to the post ‘Controversy: Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue’

I’m generally sympathetic to Brent Staple’s critique of “Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue” (now, as I was in 1994). He’s right to insist that the book can’t be properly evaluated without situating it within a society and culture that has been shaped, consciously and unconsciously, by racist ideologies and practices. It does seem to me, however, that the general thrust of his argument misses the most essential point.

Yes, it’s a problem that the faces in the book are overwhelmingly black and brown, although the cocaine problem — contra Richard’s self-defense — wasn’t confined to African-American and Latino communities. Drug use by whites may have been hidden — harder to see and to photograph because of the defenses that social class and racial privilege can erect — but it was a major element in the crisis of the mid-90s. Richards (and the writer Edward Barnes, with whom he worked) certainly should have foregrounded this fact. Not to do so was to reinforce ever-prevalent racist stereotypes about who uses illegal drugs and who doesn’t.


Staples alludes to, but does not develop, a much more important critique when he says that “Photographs can shock and dismay, but are useless to explain such complicated matters as economic decline [which underpinned the demand for drugs].” This is the heart of the matter.

Photographs, as every theorist and most photographers will tell you, are very good at showing us how things look, but very bad at explaining why they look that way. Documentary work, however, must be as much about the “why” as the “how.” Pretty pictures, scorching pictures, gut-wrenching pictures aren’t enough. Context and analysis are just as important. And this is where Richards fails utterly. Or, perhaps, “fails” is the wrong word. He doesn’t even try.

I’m tempted to say that it was rashly irresponsible for Richards to have published the book without attempting to explain the crisis he captured in his images. This was not, after all, an exercise in fine art photography. It’s documentary, and its purpose is to help us to understand the world in which we live.


Instead, I fear, many readers came (and come) away knowing less about the drug crisis, rather than more. In the absence of analysis and explanation from Richards, many people would have fallen back on ideas already circulating in the culture. A great many — not all — of those notions would have been deeply racist.

It’s not so much that Richards’ images are decontextualized, it’s that their context would too often have been America’s reflexively racist culture, rather than its history and political-economy. As a result, the photos reinforce, rather than undermine, stereotypes of black and Latino depravity and criminality.

– John Edwin Mason