Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Message from Our Sponsors: Come to Gazebook Sicily

Ricardo Martinez Paz

Carolyn Drake

Mark Power


Erik Kessels

Emma Uwejoma

Tifi and Tofu (picture by Giosi Centore)

Barack Obama (picture by Lewis Bush)

Jane Austen

Olivia Arthur

  Alex Bocchetto

William Henry Fox Talbot

The triptych of European photobook festivals (Kassel, Bristol and Vienna) is over. The photography circus moves on to Arles, then there's Unseen in Amsterdam, Paris Photo and so on.

There's the idea ( expressed here by the excellent Joerg Colberg. Give him some money for his fundraiser here) that there are too many photobook festivals, or too many photography festivals, and the same people go to them. That is probably true. But above and beyond the same old photographers, publishers and booksellers, the festivals do get different audiences, most of whom are local and only go to the one festival event that is local to them. And there's only one Paris, Amsterdam, Arles....

Just like there's only one Sicily.

Because tucked in behind Unseen, Amsterdam, on September 11th/12th/13th there's a festival called Gazebook Sicily. It's taking place in the small seaside town of Punta Secca (best known as the setting for Montalbano - an Italian TV show; it's Midsummer Murders but with sex, and in Italy). There's a beach and the brief includes beaches, gazebos and panama hats. There's room for that!

The festival has been in the planning for, ooh, months now, ever since Melissa Carnemolla, Bellina Teresa and Simone Sapienza managed to talk Cora Banche into contributing some Euros to fund the festival.

Simone Sapienza is a second year student on the Documentary Photography course at Newport where I teach. Last year the BJP asked me to get a picture of Martin Parr holding a copy of the magazine. Simone saw that. He asked me to get a picture of Parr holding a sign promoting Gazebook Sicily. I did that, but I got a bit carried away and asked a few other people. So here are just some of my favourites. But thank you so much to everyone who helped out (even if, especially if, you had no idea what you were promoting).

 Gazebook are on Facebook and here is the website which will be updated in the coming weeks with food, travel and accomodation details (including cheap accomodation and camping).

And here is a provisional line up - with more to follow in the coming weeks.

'We are open air. In the morning there will be activities such as portfolio reviews, bookshop, speakers' corner, open labs, workshops for kids, games on the beach, pre-drinks or bbq in the night.'

 Sunset at 7.45pm. 


6pm Opening by Gazebook Founders
9pm Colin Pantall: TBC
10pm Mark Power: A History of Mark Power's Photobooks


6pm Editing for magazines (Manila Camarini, photo editor of "D La Repubblica" magazine;
7pm Bunga Bunga and The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Lorenzo Tricoli
9pm Guy Martin and Max Pinckers
10pm Akina, Discipula and guests


7pm Boy Old Boy, by Roberto Boccaccino. Link between the project and its dissemination
9pm "La guerra, una storia siciliana" by Tony Gentile - book about mafia in Sicily in 90s'
10pm Italia o Italia, by Clavarino

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Hold the Line: A Book About Obedienc

Hold the Line by Siegfried Hansen is an eye-catcher of a book. The eye-catching starts with the cover. It's a book of street photography and the front cover shows a man standing on a yellow line painted on what looks like airport tarmac. Whatever it is, it's tarmac that is battleship grey, and as well as yellow, there are black, white and red lines running parallel and in diagonals.

It's a graphic book then, but it's also one that with strict compositional rules. Hansen is an engineer and you get the feeling that he likes things just so. That comes across in pictures that have a lot of New Topographics in them. There are nods to Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams as crossed perpendiculars surfaces mix with profiles in windows.

But it's all in colour, with the bluest of skies and the goldest of yellows. And it's a populated book. There are people in it but not your usual street photography people. They are cut-off and foreshortened, they appear in diagonal views in which foreground structures create little frames for the people of the book to inhabit. It starts with the front edge of a car moving down a highway boxed in green, and continues with a women cut at the waist by an olive fascia. A foot in running shoes is seen in the top of a frame filled with brutalist playground equipment, there's a view of a man walking down an underpass and several pictures of people half blurred behind sheets of perspex and glass.

There are more photographic nods, some of which might be intentional, some not. Traces of Saul Leiter, Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Vivianne Sassen, Eammon Doyle, and Isabelle Wenzel mix with a strong feeling of the early colour of Keld-Helmer Petersen. And those references, incidental or otherwise, are central to what makes Hold the Line such a great book. You're seeing something that you've seen before, but in a style that Hansen has made his own. He's doing the same thing others have done, but he's doing it differently. That's a really difficult thing to do, especially in an arena so laden with heavyweight genre as street photography.

Images are cut with colour pages that take the vibrancy down a notch and this adds to the early feel. Hold the Line is a clinical book (with sentiments that are similar in some ways to Martino Marangino's Alone Together), and in some ways I would like it to lose a couple of the more blurry shots and be even more clinical. But at the same time, it looks fantastic and it's strangely fun to look at; a puzzle book where lines join, lines cross and we all march along their unerring path. So it's a book about obedience?

Buy the Book here.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The People: A Day of Chaos, Bloodshed and Death

In the Shadow of the Pyramids by Laura El-Tantawy was a quick sell. The 500 copies went in about a month and if you missed it, well you missed it. It sold well because it was a superb combination of a personal story (El Tantawy's return to Egypt and discovery of herself and her country) mixed with the story of the protests of Tahrir Square. This is from the review I wrote for Photo Eye.

“There are 90 million people in this country. Ninety million stories to be told. This is the beginning of only one.”

The country is Egypt, the year is 2011 and the Arab Spring is in full flight. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is packed with protestors against the president’s rule and El-Tantawy is in their midst. “In the square of Liberation I found dreamers. Just like in the films. Thousands of them. In Tahrir Square I found myself again.”

It's a great book and there's the idea that she could have sold 2,000 copies so why didn't she print 2,000 copies. Why was she so selfish as to make such a small edition when she KNEW they would sell out.

Except she didn't know. The idea here is being wise after the event. I'm sure El Tantawy was confident in her heart that her book would do well, but I also know there was a lack of confidence there, an uncertainty that the book might not sell.

We know now that In the Shadow of the Pyramids sold well but how can we be wise before the event. There are many people who think their book will do brilliantly and sell in the thousands and they don't. What happens when you print too many books? You end up with a massive stock pile of books which you can't store. You've cut down half a rainforest for something that is ultimately going to be pulped. And you end up looking a bit of complacent for doing so. And there's nothing quite so annoying as complacency (either in myself or in others).

I don't mind small editions, big editions, cheap books, expensive books, books that sell out, stupid ebay prices, book-fetishisation, whatever. It's all good to me. There are lots of books out there, so if you can't buy one, then buy another. And if you really love something, get it whilst you can. Or pay a bit more for it if it's sold out and you want it so bad. Save up if you're skint.

And if you still can't afford it, look at it online somewhere, or  watch the movie. It's not ideal but so it goes. It's nice that people are doing this (and they're doing it for love not money) and hopefully one day soon, somebody will create a digital library of photobooks.

So perhaps that's why El Tantawy didn't print 2,000 copies. It's the sign of a smart photographer not being complacent. Because complacency really is the enemy of everything.

What El-Tantawy did print 1,500 copies of is a newspaper called The People. This was meant to be distributed free to the people of Cairo - but that proved difficult so it went on sale in a variety of currencies. £25, $25, Euros 25, 25 Egyptian pounds and so on. The more expensive versions subsidised the cheaper version.

The People is not the same as In the Shadow of the Pyramids. It doesn't have that sense of personal discovery, it is more focussed on the chaos of the events in Tahrir Square and beyond. Changing that story was a challenge for Sybren Kuiper the designer.

'It was really interesting to design that story in a totally different way. but when Laura asked me to do a newspaper edition it posed a few challenges.

 A real newspaper has more text to combine with the photos and it has bigger pages so you can't work with one image a spread if you want to use a significant amount of the pictures from the book. Still you want to get the growing chaos across to the readers. So you end up with a totally different graphic design. I applaud here for her courage to do so. Most people would have wanted an In the Shadow of the Pyramids 2.'

So the People is about the chaos of events. It's a newspaper where one picture folds into another. But it's not really a newspaper because there's a sense of the image breaking up into each other - the photographs are destroyed to form part of a greater whole.

The People shows the escalation of the demonstrations, the violence inflicted on the people, the bloodshed, the death and the aftermath of the clampdown. It's beautifully designed with  a bell-jar sequence (quiet-loud-quiet) that is laid out over a dawn-dusk-dawn framework and it works splendidly. There are colour inserts that focus on the grieving, the missing, the dead, and there is a text in Arabic that gives it a specific context (as does the Arabic reverse-flow of the pages).

And even though it's not an In the Shadow of the Pyramids 2, at the same time it is. It's the same but different, and if you missed out on the out-of-print book edition, the newspaper version is not a disappointment. And if you have the book, the newspaper creates a different perspective on how both the book and the events of Tahrir Square unfolded.

See more spreads on Josef Chladek's Virtual Bookshelf.

Buy the People here.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Moisés: A book where you feel the pain.

Moisés by Mariela Sancari seems to be a modest affair. It's not too big, there are not so many pictures and the pictures that are included have an unspectacular quality to them.

At the same time, it's not at all modest. It's a project book, an installation book, that is both a visual portrayal of the grief Sancari felt for her dead father (he's the Moisés of the title), and an attempt by Sancari to come to terms with that grief, a grief complicated by the way in which Moises died.

When Moises killed himself, the family was not allowed to see the body. Was it the doctors that didn't allow them or the police. We don't know. And was it because of the 'sin' of suicide or because Moisés was Jewish. Again we can't be sure.

But already there is a huge amount of emotional energy invested in the story and it is this energy that Sancari brings out in her pictures. Because after he died, the family never talked how Moisés died, about the non-seeing of the body, about that layer of a grief that was laden with both anger and guilt.

Sancari set out to confront this silence through her art. She put an advertisement in the newspaper asking for paid volunteers answering to the age (he would be if he were still alive) and appearance of her father to model for her. Several people answered the ad and she photographed.

Moisés the book is one end result of this process. It has a triptych cover with double spines, so the pages fold out left-right, left-right, left-right rhythm. The first pictures are fragmented images of her father. You see him in bits; a jaw, a hairline, an ear, fragments that mirror Sancari's half-buried memories.

Then you open up the pages and you see the first volunteer in three frames; a quarter back profile, a full profile and a two thirds profile. The model stands there with his stern mouth and his swept back hair and he probably looks nothing like the real Moises, but he's wearing his old cardigan. There's a touching point, a hook.

The next model is bald, has a moustache and collapsed cheeks where his teeth used to be. He looks nothing like the first one. Fold the pages out and the third is a wide-mouthed man with a thatch of grey hair. We get four pictures of him and he's wearing the same cardigan as the first man. The models change, the clothes repeat, each could be Sancari's father, each most definitely isn't. There's a mix of social types, of projected futures, of degrees of aging. And then we get to the end and a man is combing Sancari's hair, the memory of the past brought into a counter-intuitive present.

The final page shows the ad that Sancari put in the paper. And finally we see what Moisés 'really' looked like in a photograph.  A caption reads, To go back, begin from the right. So we go back and we see it differently; a neck, and another neck, and the neck again, red-raw, with abrasions. So that tells us something. And the men come back, but it's all a different view and the sad eyes, the brittle hair and the aging skin become something else again.

It's a slow and touching book. If it were a film, it would be Amour. The design fits the purpose but you need to know the story before you start which might be a barrier. Maybe that's why there's a slipped-in brochure with a text by Erik Kessels highlighting those projects that get to the emotional core of the big themes of life; Araki's Sentimental Journey, the work of Seichi Furuya or Fusco's Funeral Train.

Sancari's book gets to that emotional core. It's love, guilt and grief wrapped up in a quiet and apparently simple book. Sometimes you get the feeling that for photography to be good it has to be difficult in some way. You need to go through a pain barrier. You can feel that Moisés was difficult to make and is far more complex and multi-layered than it first appears. It's a book where you can feel the pain.

 Read more about the project here

Buy the book here

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Curation of Ivars Gravlejs: Curation, Installation, Performance and Resurrection

"I'm from Latvia. It is normal there when you are in a strange place to ask if you can stay the night. So I am in Vienna. It's a strange place, yes, and I asked this Lithuanian guy if I can stay the night. And he says yes. So I get to his place and then he picks up my tablet. It's an Asus, just a cheap one. And he throws it against the wall. Look, it's smashed. And then he gets me by the neck and he's killing me. But I am lucky and I can get out. So I get out and go somewhere else. Then I see him today and he remembers nothing. I hope he will pay for a new tablet."

That's what Ivars Gravlejs said when I met him in Vienna. I was at a table with Michael Mack who called him over to show his new book, Early Works. It's being launched at the Claire de Rouen Bookshop in London on Wednesday 1st July from 6 - 8:30 pm.

The book's called Early Works. It's a good title.

Early Works features Gravlejs experiments in art and photography when he was a young boy. They took place in school. They were acts of rebellion against the tedium of the place. The experiments are artistic. There are performances, actions, pop art and montage. There are pictures of teachers. There are films. But the book is also about being a boy, being in school, about growing up. There are captions and they are funny.

Early Works is a film in book form. It's If mixed with Kes mixed with To Sir With Love mixed with Lord of the Flies.

Gravlejs had some prints from his Early Works in Vienna. They were vintage prints. He passed them over to me and I curated them. There were some things on the table so we rearranged them. That was the Installation. Then he played dead as though the Lithuanian had killed him. That was the Performance. And then he got up and that was the Resurrection.

I'm going to put that on my CV. In future years when he's showing at MOMA, I can say I exhibited him in Vienna.

Ivars Gravlejs works in a call centre.

Maybe the book will help him find a new job.

These are Gravlejs' early works.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Stranger: A Dreamboat of a Book

If you're wondering how to make your pictures come alive, then look to Olivia Arthur and her new book Stranger.

It looks like a normal book with a normal cover. It's a what-if story - what if a man had survived a shipwreck off the coast of Dubai that happened 50 years ago and returned to the place 50 years later. How would they feel, how would they see, what would they do? Especially if they were a poor man, an Indian man, a man without status.

You open up Stranger and everything goes a little bit dreamy. It's hard to show on a screen because it is such a tactile book, a book printed on tracing paper in which one image melts into the one below till you become immersed in something that isn't so much a book as a kind of tracing paper shadow-play or lantern show. It's a dreamboat of a book, something that gets a life beyond the page. And if you're the kind of person who goes 'fiddlesticks to that, it's the pictures that matters, you just take a piece of white card (it even comes with the book. I didn't know what to do with it until I was told) and then you see the picture in its full glory.

You can't see the effect on the screen and you don't see it in the opened object. But once you get a short flow going it is like a film as you uncover one page after another and look for the story, and you feel the place flood into you.

The text is simple and direct. It builds the sense of Dubai as a city of the imagination. So there is a huge sense of place in there; to the extent that there is a large landscape element to it. There is also that combination of documentary and fiction (and a nod to Cristina de Middel at the start of the book) that is taking photography into new and exciting places. The tracing people lift and reveal has been used before, but I don't know if anybody has done it so beautifully. It extends the story-telling form and is something that feels lovely to the touch and the emotion created by the paper completely fits the circular narrative of the book. It's fantastic.

Buy the book here. 

The Vienna Photobook Festival: Why Make a Photobook?

Mark Duffy by Borut Peterlin

I really enjoyed Vienna Photobook Festival and the books I saw, talks I heard and people I met. The festival is big and more focussed on the booksellers than the talks (with the exception of the William Klein one), but I really enjoyed all the talks I saw which gave a great overview of the creative process; Olivia Arthur, Ania Nałęcka​, Nicolo Degiorgis, Michael Mack, Andreas Bitesnich, the panel discussion on photobook collecting which gave another perspective on photobooks - as did the talk on book arts and unique book objects (editions of 1) by Walter Bergmoser and Peter Sramek. 

And that is what made it so interesting for me; that march up the photographic food chain, with bookselling rooms that went from unique books to artist's books, from small presses to independent publishers, trade, before finally ending up at the top rare book dealer end of the market.

I felt like Candide in there, all wide-eyed and unknowing. Because when there is such a range of books and places, you are unknowing. Going through the rooms, you got the feeling of the shifts between editions, pricing, market, perspective and audience but with a passion for books that was evident at all ends of the spectrum and from all regions. There was a big eastern European presence there, which gave you the feeling that the UK is not very visually sophisticated. Though that feeling was redressed by the fact that my two favourite books there were/will be published in the UK.

It does feel a bit odd at times and, as you went through you felt the weight of capital sliding up the scale. I'm a bit neurotic about money, mainly because I don't have any, so by the time I got to the dealer rooms, I started feeling a bit like Nemo when he's hanging with the sharks who have better skin and better suits; it was a mixture of envy and wondering if there were any bags of £50 notes (or even better 500 euro notes) that I could avail myself of. 

The festival is free so you got a few thousand people walking through. Non-photobook people attend talks and buy books, and if you're skint and like photography, price is not a barrier -  you can attend and look at books. Photobook Vienna has healthy sponsorship by various people, including the collector, Peter Coeln. There's a generosity there and a sharing of work and ideas and art that is very simple and direct. I find the whole historical/collecting obsession rather spectral (as in being on the spectrum), but when it feeds into creating a wider audience, it is a great thing. It gives something back and it broadens interest and that is something generous. It's a massive undertaking to organise and run a festival and even though there is always a commercial interest at some stage, it's done through a passion for art and the medium. I talked to some Viennese photographers about the festival and they mentioned how this was the one time in the calendar when they felt part of a bigger whole, that the world opened up to them and they opened up to the world. And that is something rather wonderful.

Why Make a Photobook by Ania Nelecka Presentation

There was also a book dummy review at the festival. The first prize went to Mark Duffy (pictured above in a wet plate by Borut Peterlin), with his fantastic dummy that was based around pictures of damaged posters of Irish politicians. It fits into the corrupted image idea, but was made out of a corrugated plastic tied together with heavy plastic tags. It's a book you could take into the bath. 

I was reviewing books there and came complete with an overcooked tagline. It's difficult because you see 12 people in a day all of whom are coming from completely different places, so you have to shift your brain constantly. 

Then there is the variety of dummies you are looking at; on the one hand you are looking at books that start at the rough hewn, proper pictures-glued on paper dummy. Then there are the professionally bound, beautifully made ones. And finally there are the artist's books which are works in themself. What do you judge on

The other thing is to make a book takes ideas, energy and dedication. Kazuma Obara went through 15 dummies before he got to his final Silent Histories draft, Nicolo Degiorgis scrapped the whole dummy process and did a major reshoot before he got to his final Hidden Islam book. 

Making a book is a long, painful and expensive process comparable to simultaneous ripping up £50 notes into confetti and flogging yourself over the back with vinegar-tipped brambles. You have to know (or get to someone who knows) photography, design, paper, printing, construction, binding, writing and so on. And you have to have a bag of £50 notes. Why anyone would do it is beyond me. 

So as a reviewer, what are you reviewing for? Is it for the finished book, the possible book, the ideas, the design, the energy, the openness, the story or a bit of all of those things. Or what if you see a dummy that is rough in every way, but there is some brilliance in there? And what if the pictures are great but they're not best-suited to a book? What do you do then?

Stories, originality and energy are the thing and there were some great stories among the reviewees. They weren't always fully realised but that's part of the process.

Mika Sperling came in with a beautiful series of pictures looking at a German-speaking Mennonite community that lived in the Ukraine, was exiled into Siberia by Stalin in the 1930s, moved to Germany in the 1990s and has now divided with the conservative elements moving to Manitoba, Canada. 

Most interestingly, Sperling is a (lapsed) part of that community. She was born into a Mennonite community in Siberia and as she photographed in Siberia, Germany and Canada, she found her own values come under scrutiny from the communities she was both part of (she had family in them) and was photographing. So there's the missed perspective of a woman in there. There's been lots of photography of Mennonites, but has there been any from within the community -  that combined that dual insider/outsider view? Though Ian Willms comes close with his beautiful project Why we Walk (thanks Lucy!).

Simon Brugner did a project on the Arsenic Eaters of Austria; it's a simple story with a brilliant hook; the old custom of eating arsenic to ward off disease and stay young. 

And last but definitely not least is Libuše Jarcovjáková.She was born in Czechoslovakia but got out to Berlin in 1985. Her dummy was an autobiography, of the boyfriends, bad jobs, rough flats and hardships of being a woman in the new west. There were lots of pictures and a text that had a sensitivity and a vulnerability that you hardly ever see. And somewhere in there is a really great book. But it wasn't anywhere near finishing. But one day it might be. I hope so.  
So thanks to all the reviewees for showing their books and their ideas. Their pictures are shown below.

That's it for photobook festivals for a while. Not sure when the next one is. It would be nice if there was a small, underfunded one somewhere, perhaps near a beach, where chaos and goodwill reign. No. Oh well.

Catherine Rocke

Mika Sperling

Ursula Rock

Sasha Kurmaz

Christian Nowak

Simon Brugner

Jacqueline Godany

Karl Ketamo

Thomas Bundschuh

Marco Frauchiger

Tamsin Green

George E.Holroyd III