Monday, December 29, 2008

A Few Books From 2008 (including Photographer of the Year...)

(Cara Phillips)

While I was away from the blog (and away from the computer most of the time), one thing I did keep an eye on was the irregular newsletter from Photoeye with their "New Arrivals" at the bookstore.

There were a good few books that looked quite intriguing, but it was also a little depressing to see the steady stream of derivatives - either ion style or content (or both), as well as the increase in the number of exotic documentary/documentary style books - that is, take a style - such as 1930's or 1970's documentary photography, or 1980's British Colour - and then photograph somewhere that the homebody photo-critics are unlikely to have been. So we get this sort of treatment of say South Africa, or Brazil or the far North. And everyone ooo's and ahhh's - basically a sort of suburban National Geographic in the mailbox response.

(from Fig.)

Mind you, the Photoeye intro on their website for the new Jeff Wall book almost made we want to go out and buy it for the description alone: Jeff Wall "Standing almost 14 inches wide by 20 inches tall...". All I could think was - heck - he must be a really funny looking little bugger - how does he reach the ground glass?

Anyway, onto a few book (and one DVD) from 2008 that are worth an extended view. In no particular order (okay, my favourite is first):
(from Fig.)

  • Putting Back the Wall by John Gossage. The completion (I think?) of his Berlin opus. One of the few photographers around really doing b&w photography (as well as incredible book producer? designer? maker?). I can spend ages looking through his books.

(John Gossage)
  • Silicon Valley by Gabrielle Basilico. I like Basilico's first real look at the USA - as well as an extended use of colour alongside his masterful b&w. (btw, his Cityscapes has just been republished - at least I think it's a retread. Either way, it's a great way to be overwhelmed by a large selection - 400pp - from his different projects)
(Gabrielle Basilico)
  • Strange and Singular by Michael Abrams. Another fascinating book from Loostrife Books (Gossage and friends). I'm even more fascinated by archival and vernacular photographs these days than ever. Abrams selection/juxtaposition of photographs and texts is spot on and something I keep going back to. This book actually lives at work along my other reference books on archives and archival theory. Oh - and the free photos that come loose with it are a nice touch. I'll write a bit more about Strange and SIngular in another post
  • Not an individual book but a whole series. And I haven't actually seen any yet but the Books on Books republishing by Errata Editions, brought to us by Jeffrey Ladd of 5b4. So far they have republished books by Atget, Walker Evans, Chris Killip and Sophie Ristelhueber. I'm lucky enough to own thee out of their first four books (only the Killip is a first edition though...) . Unfortunately they still temp me because the essays look good... And I haven't yet even got around to reading Jeff's blogging on 5b4 on the fun of being on-press in China for the printing.

  • Luigi Ghirri: It's Beautiful Here, Isn't It... For the longest time there was no good book avaialble on the work of Luigi Ghirri. Ghirri is recognised as one of the important originators and practitioners of the whole New Color thing that still holds sway in todays world of contemporary photogrpahy. This book reinforces that idea that there is nothing new under the sun. Take almost any of the hip, new, cutting edge and much lauded trends in colour photogrpahy over the last say eight to ten years and you'll realise Ghirri was doing most of it in thw 1978's and early 1980's.
(Luigi Ghirri)
  • Lastly, a DVD. While I was taking some time resting over the summer, I took a copy What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann . I've always been drawn to Mann's Work and despite being a "straightforward" sort of film documentary, it is full of strangeness. If the insight the film gives is corrext, Sally Mann is as strange and disquieting and peculiar as her work - thank goodness.

Okay, finally - tra la laaa... PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR - Cara Phillips. Whose work and presence continues to grow. She also writes an interesting - and at times passionate - blog. Catch up with her here and here and here. She deserves every success she's had this last year - and will hopefully have more to come.

(Cara Phillips)

(P.S. - oh - and negative kudos and curses on the book shops where I had an order in last year for Paul Graham's A Shimmer of Possibility. Even though I ordered well before publication I never got a copy. You know who you are... a pox on you all :-) )

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fallen Paradise - William Greiner

I mentioned William Greiner's current show at Klompching the other day. I also recently got a note from him that his new book Fallen Paradise is available in conjunction with the exhibit.

This is the underbelly of pre-Katrina New Orleans. Greiner presents an image of a city that was already devastated, by neglect and abandonment, long before natural disaster struck. His imaging of New Orleans' urban vernacular is perceptively pictured through a carefully constructed use of color, form and content.

William Greiner's modus operandi is the American Color Tradition — the snapshot that isn't. Here, the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The seemingly objective actuality of the city, its banality, its ordinary everyday impression, is transformed into a vista of flush saturated palettes of color. Born, raised and (until Katrina) living and working in the city, New Orleans has always been an important source of inspiration for Greiner's work.

Here, a decade of looking and picturing his immediate environment, is brought together and displayed for the first time. Fallen Paradise is a celebration of apparent incidental imagery that is, of course, abound in formal devices — frame, vantage point, shape and line. Although there exists an autobiographical subtext, Greiner is most successful in compelling us to also look, not just at his city, but at the photograph itself. Whilst the importance of his subject does not disappear, these images function as photographic artifact — at once, they are observation and cultural object. (from Klompching)

(p.s. - I should mention I've just finished a fairly intensive course - about archives - that was rather time and energy consuming - hence the sparse posting lately)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Iconic Red Army Reichstag Photo Faked

I don't know if Der Spiegel was having a slow news day or they are merely employing bad headline writers (at least they didn't use a "!"), but their article about Red Army photogrpaher Yevgeny Khaldei makes it sound like the retouching of the famous Reichstag photo to remove looted watches as well as add smoke is fresh news.

Whereas the photograph in question is a standard illustration in works about war photogrpahy and propaganda or about the long practice of manipulating photographs - I remember reading about it in one of those old 1970's Time Life books that was either about photogrpahy or WWII (Khaldei also brought his own supersized Soviet flag with him - sewn together by his uncle... just in case). But then again, perhaps Spiegel only just figured it out.

In fact, what is at the root of the story is that there is a current exhibition about Khaldei at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin. Which in itself shouyld be worth a view if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

Interestingly, I recall reading somewhere that Khaldei said he had been inspired by Joe Rosenthal's famous Iwo Jima flag raising photograph - which is self has been embroiled in controversy (unfairly imo) almost from the moment it was made.

BTW, Khaldei was a former TASS press photographer who, despite photographing the Red Army after their grinding advance on Berlin, was actually a photographer/Lieutenant in the Soviet Navy. After the war, despite his 15 minutes of fame, he didn't fare too well as a Jew in Stalin's Soviet Union and he was never acknowledged as the photographer who took this picture until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"As the Soviet army marches through a devastated Budapest he sees a couple wandering about with yellow Jewish stars on their clothing. Approaching them he first snaps a photo; he is after all a photographer first. Then uttering a prayer in Hebrew he tears off their yellow stars and tells them that the fascists have been beaten. (Bram Goodwin)

His work is certainly well worth looking at.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Way too much good stuff...

(Sophie Calle)

I started off trying to synthesize all this into one post, but after a few minutes I realised there wasn't much point... so here's a list of several interesting posts I came across in the last few days:

A rare post from the always excellent A Space In Between -
A Practice Without Center: the Work of Sophie Calle

A little while back someone asked me what had happed to Charlotte Cotton's Tip Of The Tongue - well, she moved from New York to LACMA on the West Coast it it has been reborn as WORDS WITHOUT PICTURES. The current essay is an interesting one about photobooks by Darius Himes.

The - at times nicely acerbic blog - You Call This Photogrpahy has a very worthwhile interview with Liz Kuball

Then William Greiner has a show up in New York at the Klompching Gallery in New York

(William Greiner)

● Finally, Colin Pantall links to a fairly in-depth Q&A with Sally Mann and Stephen Cantor, director of the film What Remains - a film I would very much like to see.

(Sally Mann)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Susan Silas

Some interesting work by Susan Silas came my way recently.

I am particularly taken by Helmbrecht's Walk, 1998 - 2003:

Helmbrechts walk, is a visual representation of the act of walking through a landscape marked by the historical specificity of the forced march of 580 Jewish women prisoners at the end of the Second World War. This book is a document of that endeavor - walking for 22 days and 225 miles in Germany and the Czech Republic on the fifty third anniversary of those events. A historically accurate reconstruction of the march route was possible with the help of the German trial transcript of Alois Dörr and historical maps housed in the New York Public Library.

Her two bird projects are also somewhat intriguing - yard bird and bleeding bird. As well as Re-unifications 2001

Each print couples an image from the Olympic Stadium, in what was once West Berlin with an image from the Jewish Cemetery at Weißensee, once in East Berlin.

She also has an extract from the Meditations accompanying Helmbrecht's Walk:

In a meeting with the scholar Dora Apel who was working on a book about artists born after the conclusion of the war who have made work about the Holocaust, these excursions into Manhattan from suburbia with various Hungarian immigrants - some of whom could barely speak English -came up. She too had seen Dr. Zhivago in her teens. Given the number of times I had seen the film back then it came as a surprise to me to discover that I could only remember one scene in the film with any clarity. It is the scene in which the young girl, played by Rita Tushingham, is asked by her father’s half -brother , played by Alec Guiness, “How did you come to be lost?” It is the scene that opens and closes the film.. And she replies “I was walking with my father (.....) and he let go of my hand. He let go of my hand! And I was lost.” This scene was also the only scene that my scholar friend Dora remembered...

... In 1945, Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and later his Minister of Armaments, was tried by the war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg, along with numerous high-ranking Nazi officials. Unlike most of the others, who were found guilty and sentenced to death, the urbane, handsome, charming and self-serving Speer was sentenced to only twenty years in prison.

Spandau prison was located in Berlin and was administered by the four occupying powers: the British, the French, the Soviets and the Americans. In the summer of 1947 the Americans gave the prisoners (all German war criminals) permission to garden the exterior space at Spandau - then described as “a 6000 square meter wilderness”. This wilderness was later described by one American colonel as “Speer’s Garden of Eden”.

Speer had laid out a path in the garden he created. It began as an exercise path but in September of 1954 he decided to think of his exercise rounds as a walk from Berlin to his home in Heidelberg. “I had worked it out - if I did thirty circuits of the path I had laid out in the garden, that would be seven kilometers a day. I asked Hess, who sat and watched me, if he would mark down each time that I passed him, so that I wouldn’t lose count. He had a marvelous idea. He gave me thirty peas and said, ‘Put these in one pocket and move one to the other pocket each round. That will do it’. It was a more imaginative goal than just completing the circuit thirty times as I had been doing. That was successful, so I kept on going across the mountains to Italy, and finally decided to see how far I could get. After preparing for the walks by studying maps, travelogues, and art history books, I focused imaginatively on the differences in the landscapes, the rivers, the flowers, plants, trees and rocks. In the cities I came through, I thought of churches, museums, great buildings and works of art.” He determined what he thought to be the shortest route around the world at 40,000 kilometers and so the goal became a “Walk Around the World”.

September 29, 1966 was the last day Speer spent walking in the garden. He was released from Spandau the next day - having served 19 years in prison. In the twelve years since he had begun he had walked a distance of 31,936 kilometers. At midnight on his last night at Spandau he had sent a close friend the following message: “Please pick me up thirty-five kilometers south of Guadalajara, Mexico.”

The next day I saw him on television. I was thirteen years old.

Friday, May 02, 2008

No Middle Distance

Interestingly, I got a number of comments on one phrase in Tony Ray Jones' notes to himself from the last post and what did he mean by that?:


Well, among other things, I don't actually know what he meant, but for me it says a couple of things (mainly fairly obvious...).

I often write these kinds of lists to myself when I'm working on a project to remind myself to cover certain areas, to make sure I don't forget the "brilliant" ideas about the work that come to me while I'm doing something else. But more than anything, they are often about things I know I'm not doing. You get in a sort of groove, find something that seems to be working - a subject, a way of seeing, a way of working - but then you start to get a sort of tunnel vision about it. And you realise you are missing other, not seeing them things, not catching opportunities. And so the list is a little stone in your shoe reminding you that while the groove you are in might be good, you need to keep paying attention to other things as well, and be open to what else may be there.

It seems to me there is some of this in Ray Jone's list. And on the point of NO MIDDLE DISTANCE, most of the comments seemed to take it as an injunction to get closer. But to me, it works both ways - move further back as well. Cartier Bresson was the master of the middle distance in many ways. In Tony Ray Jones work I can see him embracing that, but probably wanting to move himself away from it, in part because the middle distance is what he most easily falls into (and is very good at) when he puts the camera to his eye.

Move in closer... or step back further away - that's what I think he's reminding himself to do. As I said, fairly obvious.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We English

I came across Simon Robert's new project We English a little while back and was reminded about it in Colin Pantall's Blog the other day. After producing a book about contemporary Russia called Motherland a couple of years ago, Robert's has decided to turn his view inwards and to look at his own people and place:

"We English is a photographic journal of life in England in 2008, specifically documenting landscapes where groups of people congregate for a common purpose and shared experience. It’s about what people do in their spare time, their leisure pursuits and pastimes and how people derive meaning and identity from these activities. It’s also about people’s relationship with their environment, whether their immediate surroundings are urban, rural or anything in between. There is no such thing as a definitive set of images that encapsulate Englishness. We English is about social landscapes but it is not about social or political analysis. It does not seek to define but simply to represent.


The project will extend, and reflect upon, a history of documentary photographic projects and the variety of approaches that British photographers have utilised to capture the lives of diverse communities across the country and explore issues surrounding national identity and the constantly shifting notion of Englishness.

The long and rich tradition of British photographers documenting their homeland, some of which could be seen in the recent exhibition at Tate Britain ‘How We Are - Photographing Britain,’ has seen work produced by the likes of Humphrey Spender, Bill Brandt, Tony Ray Jones, Ingrid Pollard, Martin Parr, John Davies and Jem Southam to name a few. However, the past decade has seen relatively little work produced by British photographers.

Engaging with literal, physical landscapes is a way of engaging with social and cultural landscapes. Since landscape has long been used as a commodity, an aesthetic amenity that is there to be consumed, it makes sense to use leisure activities, no matter how banal they might appear, as a way into an exploration of England’s shifting cultural and aesthetic identity...

We English will yield contemporary visions of my country that recognise the narrowness of long-held mental images of England and explore the ambiguities and complexities of our place within the world around us in a manner that amplifies and extends meaning."

He also has a blog which I think will be noting his progress, as well as a section on his site where people can make suggestions for the project.

Motherland is an interesting collection of work and well worth looking at.

Finally, the post in We English that I was reminded of this week was one where Roberts talks about Tony Ray Jones, a photographer whose career was cut far too short. Among other things, he posted some images of Ray Jones' notebooks when he was working on his own project on the English. A few useful reminders from a page titled APPROACH:










· WATCH CAMERA SHAKE (shoot 250sec or above)




Sunday, April 27, 2008

good ku Pictures attempt flow

Occasionally those odd gobbledygook spam emails you get with a string of apparently random (and frequently bizarre) words actually come close to making a bit of sense.

I received this one yesterday and it came out like a sort of spam haiku, or one of the lost teachings of Lao Tzu (or at least Caine)

"good ku Pictures attempt flow

feel grasshopper certain become lock radio impossibility trouble seven cause board crowd hill"

Coincidentally, just after receiving that, I came across the website A Spam A Day which takes these spam emails and has fun illustrating them with a cartoon...

(© 2008 özi)

And in the meantime here's some more stuff from Yamamoto Masao whose good ku pictures do indeed attempt flow...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Matthieu Gafsou

I recently came across Matthieu Gafsou website and there is a lot there that I like.

Unfortunately my French is so bad that I can't comment more about what he says about his projects, but I'm drawn to the clean spareness of how he sees, as well as his subject.

I love the little series of beach shelters - on the one hand, the Mediterranean seems terribly like the English Chanel, with the Brits on the beach with little windbreaks whatever the weather. On the other hand it reminds me of the beach passages in Alexandria from one of my favourite series of books Birds of Passage and The Alexandria Semaphore by Robert Sole.

Monday, April 21, 2008

on site magazine

on site is a great magazine - published in Canada and having culture · urbanism · art · architecture as it's subtitle.

I believe I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have an article in the current issue, but that's not what this post is about.

The magazine is pretty much a labour of love, and out of that comes a very good magazine. Although it's published in Canada, it is very international in flavour and as well as having some good articles, it is also packed with interesting photography.

The last couple of issues, for example, have had articles on the erasure of Erich Honechker's Palast der Republik in what was East Germany; surprisingly cool architectural posters; contemporary Chinese architectural culture (which, from my browsing the web is subject of much current photography); a private house which also doubles as a private photography gallery; Roman Fountains; urban gardens and landscapes; a funky new foot-bridge (named for Simone de Beavoir) across the Seine in Paris; a strange but intriguing conceptual book/artwork and plenty more.

(Stephanie White)

Now, the reason I bring all this up is that the magazine can do with all the subscribers it can get... I say this, not because I have an article in it (I don't get a penny for it); but because they produce an excellent magazine on a shoestring (it is basically ad free as well, which is refreshing) and if - as happened recently - they lose an important chunk of funding, a regular subscriber base makes a lot of difference.

So, just a small prod - if it sounds like a magazine you might enjoy maybe take out a subscription. You can sign up on the website (which I'll admit, is a bit basic) - you could even order the current issue if you really want to read my few pages (email them if you have any trouble navigating)... although you have probably seen most of it here if you are a regular visitor :-).

--- end of public service announcement ---

(Markku Rainer Peltonen)