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Monday, 29 February 2016

Tundra Kids



Tundra Kids by Ikuru Kuwajima is one of those examples of a book that matches the images to a form and then elevates it so the sum form more than the parts.

The basic title is to the point. It's a series of pictures of kids who live on the tundra of Russia's arctic fringes, kids who travel with their reindeer-herding families during the summer, but who go to boarding school during the long winter months, part of a very slow process of assimilation into mainstream society.


So Kuwajima shows images of the children at school. It looks quite charming, decorated with Nenet symbols, and mini-chums (chums are the mobile tents the Nenets traditionally sleep in on their herding travels).


This use of symbols is mirrored by the cover, which is very simply designed, with a square of symbols filling the middle of the page. It draws you in. The book is printed in accordion form, on a rough matt paper. It's a small book, greeting-card size, with pictures on both sides of the long page.

On one side, we see pictures of the children in their classroom. Sometimes they pose with objects that have meaning for the Nenet - reindeer antlers or fur jackets, sometimes they stand in the chum, or in front of the white backdrop that isolates them (rather awkwardly ) in their classroom. Other pictures show toys and artefacts from the classroom, so a bigger picture is drawn up.



Flip the leporello over (can you say that?) and here here you see pictures of the children's lives outside the school. There are a few photographs, of the children with their mothers, their families, with the reindeer, by the helicopter that will take them of to school and back again.



But most of the pictures are drawings by the children, again of the reindeer, of their families, of snowscapes and the chums. These drawings are beautiful, great panoramas of campsites spread under mountain tops, with rivers flowing and pine trees growing. There are sledges, snowmobiles, reindeer and the pyramid-like chums all gathered in a single image, creating a sense of openness to a larger world. It's all very romantic I'm sure, but at the same time it is rather lovely and it tells a definite story.




So in some ways Tundra Kids is a modest book, a real documentary project with quite modest documentary pictures. But it is elevated by the simplicity of its form and the engagement of the photographs with drawings that take us into a different realm where it all ends up being rather lovely.

Buy the book here.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Photography Cultures

'Authenticity is probably the most important value ascribed to photography'

Photography cultures are riddled with cultural hierarchies. There are three principal, overarching distinctions which can be briefly designated as:

the authentic versus the phoney

the 'hip' versus the 'mainstream' and

the underground versus the media


So wrote Sarah Thornton almost but very much not quite




(Sarah Thornton wrote about Club Cultures instead but change a few words around and it still applies)

Brighter Later? No, it's still kind of damp




If you've ever been to the British seaside you'll be familiar with the sentiments of Brighter Later by Brian David Stevens. It's a title that encapsulates the eternal hope that, well, it will be brighter later.

The problem with British seas is that they are almost always like British showers - too hot, too cold - except with the settings turned right down to cold and unbelievably freezing. So a day at the beach becomes a weird juggling act that involves air and sea temperatures, and looking up at the sky to see if the sun is going to peek out from behind the clouds so that if you do go into the utterly uninviting sea, there's the consolation that when you get out you will warm up... a little bit.



Brighter Later is  a series of seascapes taken from across the UK. In the  book they are printed in diptychs, making for a panoramic book format. And they are very nice.

The book starts with a quote by WG Sebald that sums the spirit of the British seaside: 'I do not believe that these men sit by the sea all day and all night so as not to miss out the flounder rise or the cod come in to the shallower waters, as they claim. They just want to be in a place where they have the world behind them, and before them nothing but emptiness.'

I'm not sure that's true, but it's a nice idea and the idea of emptiness appeals. Not that it is emptiness. Rather it is, as Stevens says, 'a space of optimism and possibilities', a place you 'look out' to rather than 'look in' to. So it's a book about what lies beyond the UK, it's about the barrier of the sea, and the effect that has on the way the British see the world and see ourselves - on this small, blighted island. That's why it's more Mark Power than Sugimoto  in its exploration of seascapes; it's very British.

The pictures themselves are quiet meditations on the grey of the sea and the brown of the sand, on the mists and clouds and tinges of blue that make up the sky. There are comings and goings; the book starts with images of ships arriving or leaving, seagulls flying in the foreground,


There are buoys, groynes, spits and boats in the distance. Shimmers of light bounce off the sea where the sun does shine, Steep Holm and Flat Holm rise in the Bristol Channel, as elsewhere storms, shoals and reefs threaten.

And that's about it. It's a small book filled with small pictures, short stories on place that map the memories of a million Britons; excitement, adventure, hope and disappointment all wrapped up in a series of meditations on the sea.

Buy Brighter Later here.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

A Picture of a Prawn Sandwich





I walked along to the station yesterday morning, and as sometimes happens, I decided to look at the photography along the way. There was a lot of it, serving a multiplicity of purposes. None of it stuck or really mattered. I imagine it didn't much matter to anyone. Not to the people who commissioned it, not to the people who see it, not to the photographers who made it.

It's possible some of the photographers involved got a bit of pride from the technical aspects of the work, in the same way you get a bit of satisfaction if you make a perfect club sandwich, or if you're tearing a bit of paper in half and you make a really nice straight rip that makes a good sound.

There is a pleasure in that. But it's not right up there in the upper echelons of the hierarchies of taste. We're talking about work that, like almost all work, is made at a basic level. It's eye candy decoration designed to suck you into some kind of consumerist clothes-buying, body-fretting, finger-licking, phone-humping mindset. I'd like to think I'm not affected by the multiple attacks of this broad branch of photography, I'd like to think that it doesn't affect me. Except for the times it does - which is most of the time.

Because of course these images do work on just about everyone, including the ones who deny it (that's why they're made), and different people have their different susceptibilities. I have my weak spots and that is where pictures attack. This kind of incidental advertising works in mysterious, but also very straightforward manners, manners that make me wonder at the power of photography and how, on an unconscious level, they undermine everything I consciously hold dear about art, photography, photobooks, documentary; the power to inspire, delight, surprise, explain and enlighten,.

That's what I like to think, but in reality (sometimes), the most crass, dumbest, paper-rip, finger-licking, phone-humping club-sandwich pictures have a power to influence and affect me more deeply at the most fundamental level.

That was certainly the case with my most influential picture of 2015, my most memorable picture of 2015, the one that struck me to the core, the one that got my punctum rising, my aura glowing, my noumena throbbing.

And sad to say it wasn't a picture from a book, a magazine or a newspaper, it wasn't a picture of a child lying on a beach, of a whale and its calf, it was nothing to do with war, refugees or protest. It was a simple picture of a prawn sandwich.

I saw it on the back of a Morrisons van while returning from the Bath University swimming pool. Our car was stuck behind it in a traffic jam on Bathwick Bridge as we were waiting to turn into the London Road. It was a big over-exposed picture of a prawn sandwich cut into diagonals, shot from a 45% angle from above. The prawns were your basic thawed-from-frozen variety, but came smothered in mayonnaise on white bread. It was a 1 minute product shot, one of a hundred shot that day, Fordist photography on the back of a van.

But I was hungry and so was my wife. I looked at the prawn sandwich and my wife looked at the prawn sandwich and then we both looked at each other and we both said "I could do with a prawn sandwich."

It was that simple. We were hungry so the picture got us on that level, but it also got us because of the summeriness of the sandwich. When we went into the pool it was raining (and had been raining for the previous two weeks. I live in England), when we came out it was sunny. So the prawn sandwich hit the spot perfectly.

I don't know why it resonated so well with us. Is there any theory that can tell us that? It seems fairly basic visual behaviourism, a picture which contains free radicals of unanchored symbolism that is ready to attach itself to anybody, like myself, who is susceptible to this kind of thing.

But it still doesn't explain why the prawn sandwich resonated so. I can see pictures of other foodstuffs that I like much, much better than a prawn sandwich - and they will do nothing for me. I spent three weeks walking past a bus stop with a picture of ribs stuck to it last year in all kinds of states of hunger - and I love ribs - and it did nothing for me. Chocolate, beers, chips, chicken, nope, nothing, but the prawn sandwich! That worked!

Joachim Schmid once said that he wasn't going to take any more pictures until he had used up all the ones that existed already. I think the same might go for photography theory. We keep on coming up with new(ish) ideas (actually, it's just the same old ideas rejargoned) to do with the technical, emotional, ethical and intellectual makings and readings of photography.

But essentially the new ideas are just a means of not answering the old questions in a different way. Maybe we should stop coming up with new ideas and just try to use the old ones to answer old questions. Or try to make new versions that are  a bit more elegant and punchier (because let's face it, that's why ideas gain traction) than the old versions. Because sometimes there is much to be more elegant about. Photography theory can be an ugly business in so many ways.

But then there would be nothing new to write about. And that wouldn't do.

Mmm, feeling peckish now. Perhaps it's time for a prawn sandwich.


The Sandwich Guide to the prawn sandwich

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Excel Food, Focus Group Photography

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Skinnerboox is another new publisher making photobooks that lie at the boundaries of mainstream photography, books that are never going to be hitting the Amazon Top 1000 Photography and Video Titles.

In case you're wondering (and discounting the Ansel Adams and Sierra Club Calendars) the top sellers are The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Humans of New York, Humans of New York Stories and Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide, and The Dogist: Photographic Encounters with 1,000 Dogs.

Skinnerboox are well and truly in the Photobook Village, and you get the feeling that is where they choose to live, It's an ungentrified village, and they live in a run-down cottage with the roof falling in, right off the green, a short stroll up from the pub. It's a crowded, poor little place filled with publishers, photographers, students, busy-social-network bees and a rag-tag of wannabe this-and-thats as well as a whole bunch of creative or work-shy odds-and-sods.

They could get out their SUVs out and go and live in the Photobook Suburbs where people have better skin tones and speak a bit more professionally, but really why would they? Photobook Suburbia is a part of town you really don't want to live in. They have books like The Dogist in Photobook Suburbia. The Dogist got me excited for a minute but then I saw that it had a chapter on 'Dogs in Fancy Outfits' and my I realised it was neither a Showdogs nor a Park. The very words The Mask of Dita von Teese leaves me more than cold, and whileI know there are people who get excited by Star Wars (I have a nephew who thinks the original one is the greatest film ever made - which makes me smile, then weep, then cry, then bash the walls with my fists), I'm not one of them.

And Humans of New York? Oh, I tried to like it, but really it's much more fun (and very unfair fun I admit) to manufacture some outrage about its inherent mawkishness. There's a pub near where I live called the The George. It's in a beautiful location by the Avon and Kennet Canal, it has a captive market and it's pleasant enough for a quick pint if you're going somewhere else except that it's chronically understaffed so you always have to queue. The reason for that is it's built to maximise its income from food sales, but as a restaurant it is the most dispiriting place you can imagine; a place that serves food and drink that has been conjured up on a boardroom menu, that has had all the life and flavour cooked out of it by an attitude that has a spreadsheet as the main ingredient. It's food that comes on a plate with little signs that are supposed to stoke up the taste buds and satisfy the conceit that you've been out for a meal. But basically it's Food in a Suit, it's Excel Food. Humans of New York feels a bit like that too; Focus Group Photography, Photography in a suit!

But it sells a lot of copies, tells a simple story, and gets a massive audience. So maybe it's doing something right. It's always worth remembering that. While also remembering that there's a really good reason why I hate it.

Anyway, here are three books by Skinnerboox, all of which share certain similarities, none of which tell the story in the most simple or direct of manners.


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Aliqual by Massimo Mastrorillo styles itself as a 'modern version of Gulliver's Travels. The title comes from the game of repeating a word until it loses its meaning. Say photobook over and over and you get the idea. Aliqual is a new formalist junkyard of a book, its shiny pages replete with images of deserted interiors lit by hard flash and inhabited by the detritus of a dead civilisation? Our civilisation? So there's a dusty pile of shoe boxes with the shoes spilling out; some old, abandoned warehouse? There's the grime-splattered windscreen of an unused car, a window ledge covered in a mound of bird droppings, and a pile of chairs rusting and rotting in an inglorious heap. The final picture is of a half-completed jigsaw of an idyllic thatched cottage, a nod to what might-have-been, what-should-have-been, what never-will-be.

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Apparitions by Gustavo Sagorsky is a book that continues a metaphysical investigation into the fragments of existence. Skeletons, skulls, glimmering specks of a shattered windscreen, mutilated lizards and curious snails all present moments that have happened and then repackage them  into an opaque photobook enquiry into the nature of both existence and the image. Apparitions is about how we link images in our minds and how these images make themselves into a larger narrative. What that narrative is we never quite know. It's an open-ended question.

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The First Day of Good Weather by Vittorio Mortarotti also uses textures and destruction in its visual narrative but it also has a personal take. The story is based in Japan and the images connect to the 2011 tsunami, the death of Mortarotti's father and brother in a car crash, a bunch of letters from the brother to his Japanese girlfriend, and the bombing of Hiroshima - that's where the title of the book, The First Day of Good Weather, comes from. Here the wrecked cars have an emotional charge, the darkened pictures are flicking into personal, geological and historical patterns of destruction and the layers of mortality float from the landscape to the portraits and back again - again, in a manner that is not always that easy to pin down. It's a book about grief, the past and the future, and how the one can never change and nor can the other. Everything is connected.

Read an interview with Mortarotti here. 

Buy the Skinnerboox books here.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Best Books of 2015: Why I don't like this book!




Alec Soth's Gathered Leaves

"I like the box. But I was expecting something better in it once I opened it."

"Like chocolates?"

"Chocolates would have been good."



Mariela Sancari's Moises 

"Have I got to do it this way. I don't like being told how to read a book."

"It's a bit foldy isn't it."

"It's like a menu, but it doesn't have any food in it."




Laura El Tantawy's In the Shadow of the Pyramids

"You say it's well-designed but look at these  crappy bindings. It's falling apart? How is it well-designed if it's falling apart?"

"We were always doing the Egyptians in school. Every year. I've never liked anything with pyramids in since."





Thomas Sauvin's Until Death Do Us Part

"Ha ha ha. That's great. How much is it?"

"£20."

"It's not very big for £20. I don't like it."





Daniel Mayrit's You Haven't Seen Their Faces

"Is that it?"

"How long did that take to make?"

The Floods Collectors Edition

Joseph Wright's The Floods (Special Edition)

"I hate the text. You don't need it."

"How do you open it?"


Click to Browse this Book!

Ivars Gravlejs' Early Works 

"It's stupid."

"If he wanted to make it really good, he wouldn't have had a picture of a sticker on the cover, he would have had a real sticker on the cover."



Vendula Knopova's Tutorial

"The font is horrible. I know it's supposed to be horrible, but it's TOO horrible."



Olivia Arthur's Stranger 

"There's too much of it. When does it end? Couldn't there be a break in it?"

"Let's admit it. See through pages is a bit primarty school."



Sohrab Hura's Life is Elsewhere

 "I just didn't like it."

"I couldn't be bothered with the text."

"I liked the text. She did a really good job with it. What, Sohrab's a he? I thought he was a she."

"I thought he was a she as well."

"Does it make a difference to how I see the book now I know Sohrab's a he. I'm not sure. I'll have to think about that."



Tony Gentile's the War: A Sicilian story 

"You have to read the story to understand what's happening. But I wasn't in the mood to read the story. I'd already read too many stories. I don't want to read another one."

"So go back to it when you are in the mood to read another story."

"No. I've had my fill of stories."



Siegfried Hansen's Hold the Line

"There's no text in it."

"It looks too nice."

"It's immaculate composition, but who cares?"



Ester Vonplon's Gletscherfahrt (comes with a record) 

"But I don't have a record player."

"So don't listen to it."

"But I want to listen to it"

"Then get a record player."

"But I don't want a record player."





All comments from showing the books to friends, students, acquaintances and family.








Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Seven Summers of Alevtina and Ludmila



The Seven Summers of Alevtina and Ludmila by Nadia Sablin is rather a lovely book, and one that comes with a backstory. I'll start with that.

The basic drift is that during the Second World War, Nadia Sablin's grandfather was half-blinded during fighting. Excused from his duties he decided to return to the place where he grew up so he could take care of his family better. He dismantled the family house log by log, sailed it upriver to the village of Alekhovshchina where it was put together again.

This became the family home. It's a home that Sablin played in as a child (before emigrating to the USA in 1992 when she was 12 years old) and one that she never thought she'd visit again.




Except she did; to visit her two aunts, Alevtina and Ludmila, who scratch a living from the soil, the woods and the skies of the land that surrounds them. For seven summers, Nablin visited her aunts, asking them to pose for images that capture both  the romantic side of their existence, but also the independence and tenacity needed to survive a life that is led off-the-grid both by necessity and by choice.

It's a familiar story in some ways; there are many photobooks of people living off the land but they always have a distance that Sablin's work does not have, at least not in the same way. It's not that these are super-intimate or revelatory pictures, just that they have a touch of the everyday about them that is not quite there in other work.

A case in point is the picture of the sisters sawing wood. They stand across the frame, one in a headscarf, the other in some kind of patterned cap, and we can see their muscles working, both on their arms but also on the face of the aunt in the foreground, the one without glasses, who I think is Ludmila.




Her jaw is knitted tight and the feeling is that it's to do with Sablin's presence, which is suffered, and suffered without complete gladness. There's work to be got on with and it's not easy. So there's scavenging for wood, there's fruit picking (redcurrants, gooseberries, apples and blackberries all put in an appearance) and there are the semi-staged photographs where Ludmila wears a crown of dandelions or poses in front of the closed curtains, her grey hair falling down over her shoulders an chest.

It's quite a wild existence where the near-pastoral landholding elements like the gorgeous field of fennel or the welcoming kitchen table decorated with the purple shades of some borscht-type beetroot soup, are offset both by the sense of encroaching wildness and a winter so harsh it makes you shiver even to imagine it.

The book was published as a result of Sablin winning the Duke Centre for Documentary Photography  Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography and so is very down-the-line documentary in manner.

It's a lovely story though, told through slice-of-life images that open up little narratives, possibilities and questions but never get bogged down in them. The ambiguities and ambivalences of the lives of the two sisters are never overbalanced one way or another and that is important, and something that is surprisingly difficult to do.

Buy the Book Here.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Nothing Surprising: The death of Istanbul

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Nothing Surprising by Ali Taptik is a book about Istanbul, about what lies on the surface, what lies beneath the surface. It's a book showing disparate images of the city underscored with an edge of trauma and violence. The pictures appear on the outside of the French folds. On the inside are pictures of newspaper pages  from Taptik's childhood, a period that mirrors the current period for state violence.

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The context for the book comes from a small text enclosed within its pages. 'Some time around October 2008, when the financial Crisis exploded, all my friends who happened to have studied architecture like I did , lost their jobs. As the prime minister talked about how these economic events 'tangented' the country, we, young people who were growing up together, suddenly realized our precarity. There was a constant air of crisis in the air. My initial reacation to all this was to portray my friend's idle states in their apartments. Meanwhile demolitions started in certain parts of the city, which would soon take over the more central and visible neighborhoods. As I wriete these words, another coming age of the rebuilding of Istanbul has begun, for the n-th time.'

So that's what it's about; the death of one city (again), the rebirth of another in the midst of political violence, repression, protest and personal conflict.  At the same time freedom of expression is being strangled and those, like Taptik, who have a political conscience and a voice, are left strugglng to find a way to express protest that is being smothered by fear.

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It's nothing new of course and that's where the newspaper inserts (which you can't really see) come in. They show
the events of 1993 when a series of assassinations and deaths of  politicians, journalists, and generals transformed the ongoing negotiations between the government and the Kurds.

Taptik says his architectural study ties in to crisis and resistance in a local urban context and that this book and his previous volume "Kaza ve Kader"  , he wants to create a more subtle evocative narrative that is personal and political.  


So that's the grounding of the book and it's a strong grounding that tells you where the pictures come from and what they mean. In some ways the books need it because the pictures are not that specific. Instead they tell of a general malaise in Istanbul, a malaise that is rooted in the 2008 economic crisis that led to Taptik's friends in architecture (Taptik is doing a PHD in architecture) losing their jobs. But this malaise also connects to the events of 2013, the re-eruption of war in Turkey's Kurdish regions, and the general air of crisis in the air, crisis that has not just happened but has been made to happen.

The pictures start with a mass of people under a giant flag, a Turkish flag, the people beneath bathed in red. Soot-stained apartments, a hirsute and hefty middle-aged man in a string vest wired for medical monitoring, and a child running from a miniature bonfire establish key themes; construction, destruction, uprooting, unravelling, chaos emerging out of control, development creating protest and the tools of protest.

There are personal elements in there too, a woman taking her top off, another (or the same) lying naked on the floor, all part of the mix that makes up the changing Turkey. And more pointed political markers too; a wall with MLKP/GKO (the initiials of Turkey's Marxist-Leninist Communist Party) scrawled across it, a mosque, riot police adn children washing in a murky looking river. The book ends with a man unconscious on the ground followed by another image of red. The future is not bright in Turkey.

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Nothing Surprising is an ambitious book that is more direct than most in its use of images to paint a picture of a particular mood. The ideas are quite direct and the sense of construction and destruction through development, the use of concrete and steel as underpinners of political violence come through in pictures that are stark and uncompromising.

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The newspaper French folds don't work as well as intended - maybe because I can't read Turkish, or maybe because the design doesn't suit the content - but the short text that accompanies the book helps pin the book down and stop it being vague. So instead of being a book that is about nothing in particular, a book that could be about any city, Nothing Surprising becomes something much more powerful, a book about a great city going through what might well be cataclysmic change. There's a directness in there in other words, and it's very powerful, a directness I hope Taptik continues to develop with his continuiing work.

Buy the book here.

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Monday, 8 February 2016

Kolkata 2224: Photographing the Surface to get beneath the Surface

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At the beginning of December, on the Sunday, I finished rewatching the Apu Trilogy again. The last film was Aparajito, the one set in Calcutta (as it was then), the heartbreaking one where Apu finds a love that is traced through a series of glimpses and gestures that, despite their simplicity and their limited, are unsurpassed in movie history. And then he loses love, and the simplicity and violence of that loss is equally moving.

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The same week, on the Wednesday, I finished reading a Sea of Poppies, the first in Amitav Ghosh's powerful and driving series on the opium trade. It traces the colonial history of India and the opium trade through the developing characters of the novel; their struggles, their hearts, their minds and their loves. And it's set in the Calcutta of the early 19th century, a company city where the East India Company rules.

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The next day Kolkata 2224 by Pierre Defaix arrived in the post. It was interesting to see how a photobook by an outsider made in a relatively short time compared to the film and the novel.

Well, truth be told it doesn't compare. How can one expect it to? It's a book by an outsider that presents a surface view of the city. But it's a very good book for all that and the surface it presents is surface pure and simple. It's a book about the surface, but also the depths that the surface can reveal.

It comes with no text (I don't even know what the 2224 refers to) - is it something rhythmic, something musical because that might be a pattern the pictures are trying to create.

The book has a nice blue cover with 2224 written across it in gold (is the number something to do with gold. Or is it part of the Indian Criminal Code like Shri 420 ) and then you're into the book. It's all full-bleed dyptichs with the occasional landscape image processed to 50% opaqueness strung across two pages. These images are wider images of street life; the traffic, a petrol station, a pavement outside a mosque.

So there's the broader context.

The single images focus on the surfaces of the city. There are painted nails and painted walls, there's smoke and laundry strung on a wire. It's all very sensory. The roots of an urban banyan tree reach into the concrete ground, garbage is strewn across temple floors and flood-riddled gutters; flower petals merge with plasticbags, clay shards with broken twigs and rotting leaves.

It's a city that has lived a life then, and the life is visible on the skin of its streets. Wet hair, wet backs, wet hands. Water, oil, blood and slime. Defaix is trying to take us into the sensory overload of Kolkata and he succeeds. We see chickens and goats and fish, all dead, all dripping their life fluids away.

The elements are there; earth, air, water and fire, with wisps of smoke creating a pattern throughout the book. Hands are another trope and so is the rubbish of the city, the waste on which it is built, on which it was founded, on which it lives and dies. And that's how the book ends. With a picture of a licked hand paired with a gutter full of trash. Kolkata 2224.

Buy the Book Here

Friday, 5 February 2016

Photography, Dance and an Expression of Space



Concrete #5


If you're looking for photobooks on dance, you start with Ballet by Alexey Brodovitch, and then you're onto Irving Penn or Richard Avedon and ABECDA by Vitezslav Nezval, and there are many others, but you begin moving into the realm of coffee table books with a different aesthetic, 

There are performance based narratives like Kamitichi by Eikoh Hosoe. I think Zona by Nuno Moreira falls into this category too. Or body-based work that combine dance with contortion - Isabelle Wenzelle springs to mind - or there are works that fall outside the photobook category into art, and the book is not really the expression; instead you go into the wonderful worlds of action and performance based works where photography was just the medium of record.. 

So there aren't as many photobooks on dance as you might think (though I'm sure there are far more than I mention here). This is quite surprising in some ways; modern dance in particular goes out of its way to engage with diverse means of artistic expression. Last year I saw Rambert Dance Company perform their Three Dancers and Frames pieces. 

The Three Dancers translates Picasso's painting into a dance piece, interweaving themes of desire and desperation with sharp angles and cubist imagery (it's not a cubist painting but so it goes).

Frames went even further and recreated a Fordist production line on stage, in a dance mix that was powered by staging and lighting that was expressionist-constructivist in tone. It was fabulous. 

With that in mind, it was good to see Zoë Croggon's Arc in print. ( Arc was the winning project in the first Asia-Pacific Photobook Prize). In Arc, Croggon takes tight crops of dance performances and then collages them with images of architectural spaces as well as pictures from newspapers and the everyday. 

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It's a choreographed book of how we merge with our surroundings and it is really quite fascinating. Perhaps not all the images work as well as others; there's a variety of resolutions with the crops sometimes interfering or not quite matching as consistently as others - and a flatter paper might have helped add a consistency to a book where a a range of projects have been put into the one book.

Swan

There is dance mixed with abstract spaces, so we  see a leg extended into a blue space, a hand into a pink space, and hands and feet mix with an art-centre stairwell. It's all very de Chirico and this is where the collages work best. Other work including close crops of sporting movement; a pixelated hand with a diagonal line, a diver, a basketball player, a runner mixed with a variety of shapes and forms. In places, the book is very geometrical (it reminds me in places of Siegfried Hansen's Hold the Line), in places it turns more towards the body. It's an meditation on the merging of body, space and architecture.  

Both Flesh and Not #2


It is an ambitious book, with work that goes beyond the photographic and work that makes you think and link between different areas. Croggon is not content just to make pretty dance pictures (as so many people do, hence the snotty comments about coffee table books!) but looks to extend our understanding of how we move and how that can fit into the world around us.

 Zoë  Croggon's Arc will be launched in the UK at the Photographers' Gallery, London tomorrow, 6th February at 2pm




Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Zona: You have to make the effort!



Nuno Moreira is a Portuguese photographer and Zona is his book of meditations on 'the realms of the psyche.'

In the blur, we see that the narrative of the book 'follows a live performance and is somewhat similar to a dream experience,' an experience that comes complete with 'mystery and ambiguity.'

The book comes with words by José Luís Peixoto that help us navigate through the story Moreira tells through his pictues. It's very much a joint effort.

It's a gentle story, but not the most transparent of stories, it's not a come-and-sit-by-the-fire-and-I'll-tell-you-a-story story, or a bedtime story, or a page turner, spine-tingler or tear-jerker of a story. Instead it's a story that you take on the photographer's terms. You have to adjust to his way of seeing, their way of thinking to understand what is happening, and this takes time and effort.

If you make the effort, the book is well worthwhile. It is a lovely paperback size with a hardback charcoal cover, and papers that make an Everton-Mint pattern.



The first picture is of a pair of hands rather awkwardly holding a key. Open the door, and we're in!



Toes are followed by feet are followed by a hand over a shoulder, then two hands of a woman on her own back, then fists steeped in a pan of milk.

It's all quite esoteric, but then the first text comes; a meditation on the need for a secret place, a place free of words, a place of silence because 'If you knew my eyes, you would know that everything I could not silence hurt me time and again.'

But this silence is not enough, life consists of more than just silence. Soon there is a clamour for somebody else, hands reaching against a wall, panics when the narration momentarily thinks they are alone, that the spirit and texture of whoever it is they love has left them. And they have left too, seeking solace in that silence.

And that is the final part, dead flowers on the table, the acceptance that one doesn't own life, or the spaces we inhabit, and nor are those spaces personal and owned individually. Rather they are communal spaces that we all inhabit, that we must co-exist in, and we must reach out of our individual silences to flourish.

So it's a lovely book if you make the effort. The pictures are black and white, high contrast images of what looks like modern dance. They are fine and but it's the words that give these pictures structure and meaning. And though it's a lovely meaning, I do wish it actually attached to some real love, that the metaphysical somehow became concrete and there was a tearjerker that I could emote to. But that's just me being simple and not making an effort. You do have to make an effort!


Buy the Book here


Read Christer Ek's review.