Excuse my lifting text directly from the event itself but it perfectly sums up what this event, and Mahesh and Vidya’s open house project in it’s wider context, seeks to do.
For about a year now, photographer Mahesh Shantaram and book designer Vidya Rao have promoted appreciation for photobooks through their Open House library sessions.
On one or two Sundays a month, members are invited spend a few relaxed hours in the residential library.
The Bangalore Weekend of Photobooks will open that collection to a larger audience of photography and book lovers in the city. Come and get immersed in a weekend full of activities centered around the magnificent world of photobooks.
The event will also include the unboxing of the Photobook Club’s ‘Box of Books’ which will be heading next for Kuala Lumpur! You can find out more about the event by clicking the banner above.
Great news for those of you in Bristol, UK as there will be a new set of meetups and workshops built around the photobook starting shortly. Building on the idea of the Photobook Club this new venture called ‘PBLabs’ not only looks to promote discussion of the physical book but also to support it’s community on the production of their own books.
Chuffed to see the idea expand and hope to get down to Bristol as soon as I can to see the event in person. If you are interested in attending the events you should head here for more information or to a Facebook event page for their inaugural meetup on the 22nd November.
We would love to continue the idea of the Photobook Club Meetups as a space to share and discuss Photobooks but also as a space to develop photobooks through open editing sessions and workshops…that’s why we have created ‘PBLabs’.
I had a great chat with Susana Paiva of the ‘Portfolio Project‘ recently and am happy to announce that, along with photographers Mário Pires and Magda Fernandes she has set up the ‘Photo Book Club Lisbon‘ which will have it’s innaugral meeting on the 4th May. For more information see the note from Susana below:
“We are very happy to start a Photo Book Club branch here in Lisbon. It will be a co-production of the Portofilio Project and Imagerie and it will be coordinated by photographers Mário Pires, Magda Fernandes and myself, Susana Paiva.
We’ll be having our first meeting next 4th May and are looking forward to start talking about Photography books around here!
I was interviewed recently by Sara Potter of ‘The Art Book Group‘ who have published a book on art books. It will be available shortly and I shall post a link to it, but in the meantime here is my conversation with Sara on the future of photobooks for anyone interested.
SP: Where did the idea for The Photo Book Club come from? MJ: Essentially, the club came out of my own desire to learn more about photobooks, I was discovering old books all the time with the help of bibliophile Wayne Ford and was enthralled by them. I was also surprised that there were very few places to discuss these books, there were a number of great websites discussing the new, indie, or self-published books, but nobody was inviting discourse on the classics. I wanted to spread the availability and discussion of old and rare photo books, to discuss the authority of the photobook in our world, and to share ideas with others. I was also keen that this would not be one person’s voice but a community project.
Recently I have also been hosting Book Club meetups and encouraging others to do so, the idea here is to get a lot of the discussion that currently happens online, to happen in person around a table. Fortunately, it seems that this idea has really resonated with the community and thanks to a group of enthusiastic organizers, there are now a whole host of monthly meetups.
SP: How influential are photo books for promoting an artist’s work and is social media taking over the book’s function? MJ: I wouldn’t say the two are competing as books and social media have very different purposes and outcomes. There is no dismissing social media as a powerful tool of promotion (and more importantly for me – discussion and collaboration) but in a very different way to producing a photobook.
One of the things I love about the photobook that we don’t replicate digitaly is that you have a story from start to end, all the narrative is consolidated into one physical object and you need no instructions or playback devices to enjoy it. To produce a good photobook involves a completely different set of tools and skills compared to social media and web galleries. This self contained narrative can be fantastic promotion for a photographer when done well, it can demonstrate the ability to tell stories within the confines of the printed page, and it has a physical quality that someone can treasure (which again digital media currently cannot attain).
SP: Are they an artwork in themselves? MJ: In short, yes. Viewing a book is sometimes compared to visiting a gallery, as you turn the page (or a corner of a gallery), the impact of the previous image gives you a different context for the next image, you can use space to give a breath to the reader, or to surprise them, and images can be paired in harmony or stark contrast. When careful sequencing, appropriate printing, layout, typography, paper stock, size and design are combined to enhance the content the book holds, then yes, it can absolutely become artwork in itself. But not all photobooks are, Alex Sweetman sums this up when referring to Cartier Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ and ‘The Europeans’;
“…these elegant presentations of photographs fall short of being bookworks. The art here is the single image, not the expressive action of the whole. And this is true of the bulk of photography books, monographs, and exhibition catalogues which remain merely collections – portfolios between covers.”
SP: Can you see ‘e-photo books’ being popular in the age of iPads and Kindles? MJ: Yes, but not in the current format they resemble. As with all new technology, the e-book has been shaped by what has proceeded it (the book), and to me, this seems a wasted opportunity. The constraints of the physical book do not apply in the digital world, so why allow ourselves to be limited by them? I see the future of the digital photobook looking more like an App than a book, and it must be immersive and engaging. It is all to easy to click ‘next’ through a web gallery, the majority of which will offer little context, no option to share and discuss, and will be displayed in a manner dictated by the website, not catered for the project itself. There are several promising projects starting to emerge though.
SP: Do you think the value placed on quality design and production is increasing within the book market? MJ: It absolutely is, and it needs to. While there will be some people who will buy a photobook in physical form because they have the money, and that is what they enjoy or are accustomed to, this group of people will get smaller and smaller, and it certainly doesn’t include me. I wouldn’t rush to spend £30-£50 on a photobook if it was available online, or in App form unless it was beautifully produced and offered an experience that it’s digital counterpart could not match.
The same goes for the young generation of consumers (often dismissed as wanting everything online, for free). Many of my students treasure the photobooks they have, they treasure the physical qualities of it, they treasure all that the digital cannot replicate, like the smell of the glue, feel of the paper, or the fact that the photobook demands you sit down with it and carefully turn the pages rather than consuming images quickly, and on the move.
As for how the physical object affects the narrative/content; I don’t believe it should affect it as such, but should enhance and support it. Every choice in production should support the message it holds rather than dictate the content.
SP: Where do you like to buy your photo books? Are there any particular shops that add to the whole experience of buying a book? MJ: As much as possible, I try to buy from bricks-and-mortar stores like Claire de Rouen and Koenig books in London , but it would be unfair to say this is the only place I buy books, I also shop online and sometimes venture to the dark side of Amazon. We should support our book shops as much as possible but this cannot be based on sentimentalism alone. Book shops should be doing more for the customer paying an extra 10-25% on their purchase. They cannot compete with price or selection of the online giants such as Amazon, but Amazon cannot hold intimate photobook meetings, or invite publishers or photographers to introduce and sign books (Dashwood books in NY is great for these events).
In the early days of the Photo Book Club we started a map of great bookshops around the world where you could get your photobook fix. I started by adding those that I knew of and as people added more recommendations it grew as a community sourced map and now boasts over 160 stores worldwide. I love that the map has personal comments about helpful staff and favourite purchases, and that it can be added to by anyone, it’s a collaboration of great bookshops around the world.
SP: How do you like to ‘read’ a photo book? MJ: It depends on how I already know the work. I usually begin by quickly flicking through the book (usually as I walk out the store, or on the train home), getting a feel for it. Then, I’ll make the time to sit down with it. A closed book is a fresh and self-contained object so I don’t believe I should need to research or look at other photobooks prior to my first reading. I will read all text presented before the images, followed by the images (if presented in this manner) and consider any text that follows the images to be the bonus material or extra context if needed.
SP: What is your favourite photo/art book and why? MJ: If I had to pick a photobook based predominantly on content then I suppose Alec Soth’s Niagara is my favourite project that lives within a book.
If I were to choose a favourite photobook based on its physical qualities then it would be hard to beat Watabe Yukichi’s ‘A Criminal Investigation’. It’s the perfect marriage of subject and object. It’s set out like a documented police file of a 1958 Tokyo murder investigation and the book has beautiful Japanese folding with incredibly rich, matte black tones. It’s been featured on a few ‘best of’ lists recently and because of this it’s now hard to get hold of. It’s a shame that there is a great number of people who don’t get to see and feel the physical book once it becomes popular or collectible (in many cases, me included).
For me, the best photobooks are the ones that I can’t get out of my head, the ones that I just have to pick up again and look at. I didn’t getKen Schles’ ‘Oculus’ on the first reading – part photography, part philosophy, but it just called me back to revisit again and again, each time taking something new from my ‘read’. And I always pick up something new in John Gossage’s The Pond. I’ve probably read it over 50 times and I’m sure there is more.
Perhaps this is a little geeky, but I hear that geek is the new black so I shall proceed…
I was keen to look at the locations of the original images in the 1982 publication as I had been noticing so many Texas, Florida and California locations that I wondered how the spread of images fell across a map. I plotted all locations from the original map into a google map which is placed below.
You can see from the spread just how many States are left unrepresented by Shore’s democratic camera. And while I am not suggesting each State and town should be represented equally, I find it interesting that so much of middle America was ignored in the original.
For those counting, the States with the most images are: Texas…7 Florida…6 California…4
Thanks to Makus Furgber for writing this piece on last weekends meet-up in Spain, looks like it was a fantastic event.
The third Photobookclub meeting in Barcelona was a huge success! The introduction on Richard Billingham’s “Ray’s a Laugh” made by made Ricardo Cases was very interesting and spiced with his personal humor. He also raised more than a laugh! We discussed the possibility of intimacy and its limits in such extremely “intimate” photos and the floating frontier between intimacy and exhibitionism. His photos were related to his historical context by Photobookclub members, who had lived in Great Britain and confirmed a depressing social situation, which Richard Billingham reflected in his family pictures.
The second part of the meeting was devoted to introducing several books brought by the participants. The books covered a wide range of authors, topics and formats. There were also some self-edited books. I can only remember Jon Uriarte’s self-edited book dedicated to foreign graveyards.
Cafe Lehmitz, a beer joint at the Reeperbahn, was a meeting point for many who worked in Hamburg’s red-light district: prostitutes, pimps, transvestites, workers, and petty criminals.
Anders Petersen was 18 years old when he first visited Hamburg in 1962, chanced upon Cafe Lehmitz, and established friends that made an impact on his life.In 1968 he returned to Lehmitz, found new regulars , renewed contact and began to take pictures. His photographs, which we first published in book form in 1978, have become classics of their genre.
Tom Waits used the cover picture for his album Rain dogs. Their candidness and authenticity continue to move the viewer. The solidarity evident in them
prevents voyeurism or false pity arising vis-Ã -vis a milieu generally referred to as asocial. The other world of Cafe Lehmitz, which no longer exists in this form, becomes visible as a lively community with its own self-image and dignity.
Anders Petersen has been working in London’s Soho for several weeks, as part of his Soho Projects residency commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery. Immersing himself in its bars, cafes, homes and hotels – creating a very personal portrait of one of city’s most vibrant areas.
In this video Petersen talks about his time in London, his working processes, and previous projects including the seminal Cafe Lehmitz.
Anders Petersen (b.1944), one of Sweden’s most noted photographers, is known for his influential, intimate and personal documentary-style black-and-white photography.
This post, looking at ‘The Americans in Context’ has been written by John Edwin Mason is a writer and photographer who teaches African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia. You can read his fantastic blog here and follow John on twitter here. A big thank you to John for this contribution, if anyone else would like to write on the Photo Book Club, pop us an email.
Wayne Ford’s perceptive comments about the ways in which The Americans was received, when it appeared in the United States, have got me thinking about the historical context within which Frank made and published his photographs. That context — riddled as it is with complexities and contradictions — can itself suggest a series of commentaries about both the photographs and the ways in which people responded to them.
Wayne is quite right when he says that, on the whole, that American reactions to the book were initially hostile. While the New York Times was ambivalent (conceding that Frank had talent), most reviews were unambiguously negative. J. Hoberman has summed it up nicely: “…[most] Americans took The Americans personally. The book was characterized as ‘sick,’ ‘warped,’ ‘joyless,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘sad,’ ‘neurotic,’ ‘marred by spite, bitterness, and narrow prejudice.’ Coming from a foreigner, the title was an insult. Why not ‘Some Americans?’”
It’s not hard to understand where this hostility was coming from. The nation that confronted people, when they opened the pages of The Americans, was anything but the “Shining City on the Hill” that so many have so often imagined it to be. Instead, the country was a dystopia, its citizens alternately menacing, menaced, or estranged. The photos often reveal racial hierarchies and class stratification. In many of them, fear, anger, and suppressed rage — sometimes masked by a boisterous bravado — seem to linger just below the surface. Frank wasn’t making any of this up, and people knew it. They hated him for showing it to them.
If Frank’s Americans seemed to be beset with both tangible and existential anxieties, we can understand why. Early victories in the African-American civil rights movement destabilized the old certainties of white supremacy. Suburbanization disrupted established communities and broke families apart. Cars choked the highways. Post-war prosperity failed to eliminate poverty. Always present, but largely unseen were the Cold War and its threat of nuclear annihilation.
No one who had read The Americans would have been surprised by what was to come a few short years later — the assassinations (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X), the urban rebellions of African-American youth, and the disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War.
Then as now, however, there were many Americas and many sorts of Americans. Frank didn’t capture them all and couldn’t have, even if he had tried. As a result, people had a point when they said that the book was actually about “some Americans.”
Frank saw the darkness in the American soul, but he rarely captured the light. The years during which he shot, edited, and published The Americans — 1955 to 1959 — belonged as much to Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry as to anyone else. They were the commercial avatars of a cultural revolution that was leaving few aspects of American life untouched. This was the decade of rock ‘n’ roll, civil rights, abstract expressionism, and the Beats. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Allen Ginsberg and James Baldwin, Jackson Pollack and Jasper Johns, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe could all lay a claim to it. Coincidentally, if not ironically, Disneyland opened in a Los Angeles suburb just a few months before Frank passed through town.
The ’50s were as exuberant as they were bleak, but we rarely see this in Frank’s photos. (Interestingly, Jack Kerouac, who wrote an introduction for the US edition of The Americans, managed to capture some of both qualities in his early novels.) Nobody relying on The Americans for their knowledge of the US would have anticipated much of what was to come next — the successes of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, the emergence of women’s and environmental (Green) movements, not to mention hippies, Woodstock, and bell bottom jeans. Frank’s America hadn’t disappeared, as Richard Nixon’s victory in the 1972 presidential election made perfectly clear. It was, however, one America among many.
It does nothing to diminish Frank’s achievement to say that the truths he captured in The Americans are partial and contingent, rather than comprehensive and absolute. The insights are powerful, the photographs are beautiful, and we cannot plausibly ask for anything more. The book remains essential reading and viewing for anyone who wants to understand the history of photography or the nature of American society in the 1950s.