Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 Photobooks pt. II

(Photo: Karin Apollonia Müller)

Here are another couple of photobooks from last year that I think are worth a look at.

The first one is On Edge by Karin Apollonia Müller. I wrote quite a bit about it earlier this year. Needless to say it is still at the top of my list of photobooks from 2009. If Müller's first book is anything to go by, it may also be hard to get hold of (and rather expensive) when the first edition goes out of print (thankfully now reprinted), so if it appeals to you, you might want to grab a copy while you can...


The other book is Cover by Canadian photographer Lynne Cohen. I've talked about Cohen before a few times and she is still a photographer whose work I look to for nurturing my own thoughts and ideas.

Cover is a very good overview of much of her work and definitely worth trying to get hold of. There is also a very good online interview Cohen by George Slade:

"I have to admit I've never been much taken by technology. While it is true that many of my pictures touch on the technological world — military installations and scientific laboratories for example—I'm more interested in how aspects of this world look more like a children's toys or old fashioned game boards. For some people this might be comforting, for others the camouflage might make it seem still more disturbing. But there is another way of interpreting your question. In the late 1980's in a short review of a show I did in NYC, a critic seemed to think I had constructed the interiors that I photograph in my studio, at least introduced objects I brought with me into them. Admittedly, this was a post-modern moment when artists were constructing models in their studios to photograph. But what I photograph is a chunk of the world as I find it (with a few assists). It strikes me that if what I photograph were not more or less true, it would lose an important edge. I am not the first to find reality stranger than fiction. But I have to say that I quite like the idea that there is a question about the truth of what I photograph, that there is the sense that what I am photographing could not be true, that it must be constructed. An interesting example is a picture of an acoustic laboratory that I made the same year as Thomas Demand constructed one. If you look at our pictures next to each other, I am pretty sure you'll think the laboratory in Demand's picture looks more real than the laboratory in mine even though his is entirely hand-made in his studio and mine a photograph of a real acoustic laboratory that I came upon in England. Trying to figure out why his photograph looks more real than mine, it struck me that he makes all sorts of small corrections when building his models. He must step back to look at them, make changes, have another look, make more changes and so on, before taking a picture. In my case I set up a view camera in front of the actual site and make a photograph because I am intrigued by the many ways things in the world look off. In the case of the laboratory, I remember thinking that everything is the wrong size, the light is strange—hot and cold—that the androgynous dummy looks larger than life and has a bizarre red stopper stuck in its mouth and that the acoustic panels look hairy. Demand seems interested in getting everything to look right and making it believable while I'm interested in the many ways the world looks so wrong and unbelievable..." More here

(Photo: Lynne Cohen)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Print Exchange - heads up

Just a quick note to keep your eyes open early next week for information about a print exchange I will be launching.

I've been thinking about a print exchange for a while, and while I'm still not completely convinced it's a good idea - my two biggest worries being a. pessimistic: nobody will be bothered; or b. optimistic: I will get so many responses I'll be printing for months - I've decided to go ahead with it...

Anyway, it will most likely run for the month of February and full details and information should be posted early next week.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Darling Days - iO Tillet Wright

I like this girl. One of the main things I use Facebook for is networking with photographers and artists of all types - from the high and mighty to the just out of school and wet behind the ears to the on the ground and running in Haiti/Afghanistan/Gaza.

Anyway, I think iO Tillet Wright was a friend of a friend (or possibly a friend of a friend of a friend...). Either way I think she is someone to keep an eye on.

For starters, I wish more photographers could be as down to earth in their "ABOUT ME" descriptions:
I have been taking pictures, making films, mugging it for cameras, and writing about it since I can remember. Whatever inspired me, I felt compelled to document and disseminate.

There have been some wildly inspirational characters and places in and out of my world in the last few years, since I discovered film photography and dove deeper into writing, so I humbly hope that, herewith, I can bring you a taste of what I see and feel when I'm with them.
But most of all of course it's her work that grabs me. iO seems the antithesis of the young woman straight out of Bard or Yale or Sarah Lawrence with her fresh MFA, full of enthusiasm and newly inspired by her well known New Topographics, New Colour, old friend of Walker Evans/Lee Friedlander/William Eggleston, Professor while also trying to photograph a concept with her digicam (I know - someone is going to point out she actually went to Yale or wherever; which, of course, doesn't change my point at all)

From the work I've seen, she seems able to take today's (and yesterday's) flavour of the month cliché art photographs and make them her own (or avoid them altogether). That is, the sort of photographs I've grown tired of (and to tell the truth, never liked that much) - the un-ironic ironic girl and/or boy portraits of the unshaven scrawny young guy asleep on a rumpled bed/smoking in a grimy apartment. Or a young McGinleyesque nymph naked or in her cute knickers cycling in soft hazy sunlight or hanging out in the back of a truck. Or the deadpan unreal realist "I'm too hip/mentally challenged/poor to smile" portraits etc. (okay rant over...).

She's obviously at ease in a world which isn't mine (I'm more of a Berlin when it still had an East or the grey North of England in it's doomed resistance to Margaret Thatcher kind of guy, not NYC/Jersey/Brooklyn etc.). And thankfully she hasn't fallen into a Nan Goldin style grim self-absorption.

iO seems to draw elements from all of these approaches and places and then transform them into something else (for one thing, she doesn't seem afraid of feelings and humour). Her black and white work has great style and skill as does her colour work. Among other things, she has mastered the classic tri-x and harsh flash NYC look and she also seems to be able to out-Parr Parr, but she isn't stuck in trying to be the next Parr or Eggleston, Winogrand or Klein.

Best of all is that she seems able combine both black & white and colour almost seamlessly and without jarring contradiction. Something few photographers have been or are able to do. The pairing of work in either different styles (harsh/gritty + soft/"human") or in b&w/colour are some of her best work that I've seen. I think that despite the obvious surface differences in the type of media or style there is something deeper and more personal that runs through all her work and makes connections.

In her about me above she writes that she "discovered film", which I must say is both slightly depressing and a little scary... film really is a historic process now - she could just as well have said she discovered tintypes. What's great is what she seems to be learning and discovering in the process (mind you, I'm not sure if the dust spots on some of her pictures are an homage to and signifier of this old medium or simply that she hasn't managed to find a musty old book in secondhand bookstore on "The Art of Print Spotting" [found alongside "Coat Your Own Albumen Paper"]) :-)

Tillet Wright mentions that she spent some time last summer travelling Europe and took 46 rolls of film with her - what wonderful optimism. Going on travels in the days of film I would easily pack 100 or 150 or so rolls. But her attitude rather contradicts the old grumps sat around in the pub dripping beer on their Leicas and complaining how these folks with digital cameras just take thousands of shots until they get it right - "it's just luck" - not like the old days... bah, humbug.

I think (and hope) iO Tillet Wright will be someone to watch, so I hope she finds ways to continue making her work and staying excited about it (btw, she also has a blog). Oh, and did I mention she can write too. So someone out there give her a grant or a residency or some assignments or a fellowship to help her broaden her range and experience - you might be happily surprised by what come out of it...

(All photographs by and © iO Tillet Wright)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

David Burdeny

Macon, Loire Valley, France
(All photographs by and © David Burdeny)

I'd be interested to see what people feel about the photography of David Burdeny. I've been getting updates about his work off Facebook and have gradually found myself getting more and more interested in it.

Some of his subjects don't really draw me in. Icebergs for instance. I know they are very popular and his photographs are quite stunning - but icebergs just don't do it for me - it's a personal things. And some of them, especially some of the black and white work, comes a touch to close to Michael Kenna territory. Technically and compositionally perfect, eye catching at first glance, but all beauty and no truth. In a way I find them too perfect. In such pictures I find I need some imperfections, some imbalance, more of the sublime - the sublime of the Romantics - awe, a touch of fear, the possibly being overwhelmed - tremendum et fascinans.

Uummannaq, Greenland

But it's the pictures on the front page of his website that are getting me (I believe the project is Sacred & Secular?), especially the series of horizontal sea and riverscapes. I certainly find them beautiful, but there's also a lack of absolute perfection in them. You can't control the skyline of a city so easily and in this form, even Venice doesn't quite look like "Venice". And there is a strange but, in a way, quite obvious linkage between Uummannaq and Venice and Dubai.

Dubai I, Persian Gulf, UAE

This aspect of Burdeny's work reminds me a bit of Elger Esser's work, although Burdeny stays within the accepted limits of the photographic process, not experimenting with colour in the way Esser often does for example.

Oh and if you are in British Columbia he has work up at the Jennifer Kostiuk Gallery in Vancouver at the end of February I believe (So I guess if you are going to the Winter Olympics, you should be able to catch the show around the time of the Olympics Closing Ceremony...)

But over to you - any thoughts?

Grand Canal II, Venezia, Italy

(All photographs by and © David Burdeny)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Werner Herzog Reads Curious George

I just had to share this. Werner Herzog Reads Curious George (or possibly someone doing a pretty good impersonation - though personally I hope it really is Herzog).

I now keep having flashbacks where I seem to realise Curious George played a part in Fitzcarraldo...

Werner Herzog Reads Curious George

Photo Books 2009

(Photo:Bertrand Fleuret)

I just noticed that Photoeye has their list of the best photo books of 2009 up. Seeing as they do such a comprehensive job with a large list of "photo luminaries" choosing them, I'm just going to pick and chose a few from the list over the next few days and possibly add in any I think they have missed (one thing about their list is that I enjoy seeing who picked which books).

Before I pick books for today, just a couple of thought. First, it seemed very noticeable how many of the books are from small presses. In many cases they are either done through some form of self-publication by the photographer - though often the photographer has already made a practice of doing this and they are on book number three or four. Or there is a sort of small collective attelier where four or five photographers seem to be "self"-publishing their work together (presumably this helps with leveling out the costs among other things?) through their own small scale imprint. And then there are a few smallish publishers who seem to have grown from a sort of self-publishing project to now being a photographer who (I'm guessing?) has more fun being a publisher. Whichever way, there seemed to be many more of these books around over 2009, and many of them seem to have made their way to the "best of" lists for the year, simply because many of them are just so damned good.

The other thing I noticed has been discussions about the future of the photobook and/or the publishing of photography books in general. This has often mirrored similar discussions in the broader publishing industry (though usually with nowhere near as much paranoia and angst - in fact such discussions are much more likely to be positive). A couple of examples, out of many, can be found here and here.

So on to books. The first pick is Landmasses and Railways by Bertrand Fleuret. This is a great book. I hadn't encountered Fleuret before, but this book which has the size and heft and feel of a good 200 page novel, is one of my real favourites from the last year. And it isn't just that the physical book itself resembles a novel, but that is also the sense I get from the contents as well - albeit a surrealist or magical realist novel. It's also the nearest I've seen to date of a completely visual, photographic version of one of W.G. Sebald's novels or books:

"Bertrand Fleuret’s Landmasses and Railways is a photographic travelogue to our interior, or perhaps an exploration outwards, to the encircling spheres above. Divided into five sections – I. The Melancholy of Departure, II. Approaching the City, III. Inside The Walls, IV. An Empty Building, and V. The Garden – the book takes us on a winding journey through a strange but familiar world. It seems appropriate that Fleuret begins our trip with a cryptic photograph of an antique booth . . . or is it some ancient space-pod? No time for questions. We quickly crash down into the ocean. Past the swarming jellyfish, we scramble for land, gasping for breath before safely making it ashore..."

(Photos:Bertrand Fleuret)

The quote is from Adam Bell's review of Landmasses and Railways at Ahorn Magazine. The book is published by J&L books where Jason Fulford is, to my mind, one of the most imaginative photo book publishers out there.

Another book from a fairly new publisher (but by a well known photographer) is New Mexico by Lee Friedlander. In many ways this is classic Friedlander - which is just fine by me. So many of his great earlier books are out of print and now virtually impossible to afford, so as far as I'm concerned I try and grab any new publications by him as they come out... and while I can still afford them. The book was also the catalogue for an exhibition of the same title at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe.

(Photo: Lee Friedlander)
"Friedlander has been visiting Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and northern New Mexico since the late60s. This new volume of work presents a sequence of images made during his travels in these regions between 1995 and the present. Armed with his signature Hasselblad camera and wandering the back roads in an assortment of rental cars, Friedlander has journeyed from the Plaza of Santa Fe to adobe strewn neighborhood barrios and into the gorgeous, high-altitude desert. In Lee Friedlander: New Mexico, we see the same attentive curiosity that we’ve come to expect. He is a master of creating unity out of diverse shapes and complex tones in the two dimensional picture plan"

(Photo: Lee Friedlander)

This book was published with Darius Himes and others at Radius Books in Santa Fe (ha - I just realised Radius is an anagram of Darius!) and it's beautifully put together. Considering they are a pretty new publisher they already have a fine catalogue.

That's it for today. I hope to get another post or two up soon with some of the other books.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Two thousand and ten - or is it twenty ten? - anyway, I was "chatting" (via Facebook) last night with an old photographer friend who lives in the beautiful city of Barcelona and I realised that not only had I been neglecting this blog, but that I also hadn't done much photography of my own for some time.

So as much as I hate resolutions, it's definitely time to catch up with some photography (as well as finish scanning the pile of 6x6 negs I have) and add some new posts to the blog.

Mind you, it's also time to find a real day job for a while and keeping Churchill's black dog at bay has taken some effort recently.

Oh, and I also figured it's time to try writing a novel... (and which isn't the "highbrow" detective novel I'd always imagined it would be if I ever got around to writing one). Goodness knows where that will end up, but nothing like being at least a bit ambitious. So we'll have to see how it all goes.

Other than that, a good 2010 to one and all.

(All images ©2009 Timothy Atherton)