Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter 2010 - Anselm Kiefer

The last (?) of Anselm Kiefer's four seasons from the New York Times:

Anselm Kiefer, "Gescheiterte Hoffnung (C.D. Friedrich)" 2010 (Text on the work is translated as follows: "Wreck of Hope."), Charcoal on photographic paper. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gerry Badger, John Gossage and The Pond (update)

A quick update to the recent post on the re-publication of "The Pond" by John Gossage.

The book now appears to have reached the bookstore shelves and be widely available.

The other thing is that I found that Aperture has a three-part podcast (Part1, Part 2, Part 3) of a discussion between John Gossage and Gerry Badger (he of The Photobook: A History among other things).

It's part interview with Gossage, part interview with Badger about his new book The Pleasures of Good Photographs, and part general shooting the breeze session about photography in general.

(I'm currently reading The Pleasures of Good Photographs and plan to post about it in a little while).

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Three Ghetto Photographers

An interesting post by Colin Pantall that references three different photographers in the Lodz Ghetto - Walter Genewein, Mendel Grossman and Henryk Ross.

(Walter Genewein)

Genewein was a German accountant working for the Nazis
and uniquely, in what remains, photographed in colour. Grossman and Ross were Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto

There is a Polish documentary about Genewein which is quite revealing and well worth watching (part1 below).

Ross's photography documented the life and reality of the ghetto and was part official in his work as a photographer for the Jewish department of statistics and part unofficial - he hid a whole day in a shed at the railway sidings to record Jews from the ghetto being loaded onto trains for deportation to the camps. Ross recovered his photographs after the war from where he had buried them in the Ghetto and later testified with his photographs at the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem.

(Henryk Ross)

Grossman secretly photographed in the Ghetto, continuing even when he was deported to the Konigs Wusterhausen camp but he did not survive the final forced death march as the Russians approached the camp.

(Mendel Grossman)

Photographs from all three men show life and death in the Lodz Ghetto from three different perspectives including that of the Nazis.
(Ross's book Lodz Ghetto Album is widely available in libraries is especially compelling along with My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto about Grossman)

(Henryk Ross)

I am particularly intrigued by what and how Genewein's photographs show and how we may or may not regard them because of who he was - an accountant and one of the bland but essential cogs in the successful running of the ghetto as a business or industry. The pictures, while informative about the inhabitants of the ghetto, speak much more to the nature of Genewien and the Germans running the whole "project" of the Volkish expansion eastwards:

"Genewein was a skilled amateur, and his Movex 12 was confiscated from its Jewish owner. The scarce colour stock came from Agfa. Thus equipped, the accountant went into factories where hats or Wehrmacht uniforms were being made, and he stood beside the lines of Jewish children as they waited to be fed.

In much the same way as August Sander, the accountant was fascinated by the principles of visual taxonomy and social hierarchy. His subjects stand awkwardly at their workbenches, in groups or singly, glaring out of hollow eye-sockets. These anonymous Jewish workers are exhausted and helpless, and it is intolerable even to think of them being made to pose for the camera.

Genewein's self-portraits, taken in an office beside an adding machine, have the same stilted, literal quality. He is playing the role to which he believed his own status as artist entitles him. Like Hitler - who displayed a consuming interest in the precise way in which he was depicted photographically, not just at every rally, but in private, too - Genewein thinks that he represents the forces of civilisation.

And like Leni Riefenstahl's work, with the same absence of hypocrisy or misgivings, these photographs express the true nature of power. The Germans are engaged in the grand project of reclaiming Jews from their criminal, dissolute ways. The photographs are testimony to the Nazi belief in the ennobling value of labour.

Where Germans are present, as the numerous trainloads of Jews arrive, they stand slightly apart. They are the masters now, and it isn't relevant that what lies in store for their charges is not benign.There are Jewish middlemen to make the contact with the inferior race less onerous. When Himmler visits the ghetto, Genewein is at hand to record the tribute paid to him by the collaborationist Chaim Rumkowski, who ran the ghetto on behalf of the Germans. No imperial photographer would more accurately have captured the complex of emotions implied by the arrival of a proconsul in a remote outpost of Empire."... from Cold Gaze of a Nazi Camera

(Henryk Ross)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Consumed by Fire

"The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed."

From The Fire Sermon - The Waste Land
by T.S. Eliot

(© 2006 timothy atherton)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anselm Kiefer's Opinions - The Seasons

Anselm Kiefer is one of my favourite contemporary artists. Jim Johnson (who runs one of my favourite blogs) posted these works by Kiefer that were published in the Opinion pages of the NY Times (what a great idea btw - kudos to the Times).

It's been a while since I felt the thrill of excitement upon seeing some pictures, but I did when I saw these.

Before Spring

"Snow melt in the Odenwald. Goodbye, winter, parting hurts but your departure makes my heart cheer. Gladly I forget thee, may you always be far away. Goodbye, winter, parting hurts."
(March 2010)


“Summer in Barjac — the renowned orders of the night.”

(June 2010)


“Ygdrasil, Autumn in Auvergne.”
(September 2010)

(All works © Anselm Kiefer, courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

ELEPHANT - The Art and Visual Clutter Magazine

Or at least that's what I thought it said when my eyes scanned over it's cover in the magazines at Chapters.

But then again maybe we need a visual clutter magazine?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Panasonic Lumix GF1 - any good or a waste of money?

Is this camera any good? (I don't have the energy to keep up with which new digital camera is out this week)

Are there any better alternatives - of a similar size and flexibility?

Uses will be: aside from family snapshots, a certain amount of urban/suburban photography. It may replace - but not supplant - a certain amount of Rolleiflex photography. An available aperture of at least 2.0 would be helpful. Among other things...

All comments welcome.

UPDATE: Oh bugger. I hadn't seen the Sigma DP2/DP2s (I remember when the Foveon sensor was vaporware...). Anyone out there using this little beastie?

(jeesh - how many typos can I get in one short post)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

John Gossage - The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler / Map of Babylon

(reposted due to html getting corrupted)

John Gossage's new book(s) The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler / Map of Babylon is notable for at least a couple of firsts. It's his first book produced and published in cooperation with Gerhard Steidl and it's also his first full body of work in colour.

First things first - publishing with Steidl. Over the last few years John Gossage has published a number of books through his own imprint Loostrife Editions. John is a real believer in the importance of the photo book, as well as a first rate book designer and Loostrife has produced some fantastic books. But I would also imagine that it's a heck of a job (as well as a money black hole?) running a small press - even if it gives a certain level of freedom and control as far as your own books go. So I would imagine that if a good working, creative relationship can be developed with someone like Gerhard Steidl then that is probably a good place to be.

But on to the book(s).

I keep saying book(s) because The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler/Map of Babylon is actually two books in one. If you start with The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler it finishes two thirds of the way through the book. At that point the pictures are upside down. So just flip the book over and start at the back (now the front) and you are in Map of Babylon. A nice added touch being that you can reverse the dust-cover and you get the cover for Map of Babylon if you prefer to view the book that way round. It all runs together nicely and the whole book works beautifully. There is plenty of the feel of John's precise and careful design, along with (and I've always tended tp liked the the design of most Steidl books) a bit of the Steidl/Göttingen touch as well. Design-wise this is a very nice, beautifully printed, book.

Photography-wise this is a bit more enigmatic than many of Gossage's books, although not quite as enigmatic as a select few (e.g Dance Card or Hey Fuckface!). So it takes a bit of context and some careful, extended, reading of the pictures as a whole to get a real sense of it. It takes time for the pictures to sink in - while at the same time still being able to get lost in any particular single photograph.

The context the publisher provides us with is this:
"John Gossage, the renowned American photographer and photography book-maker, presents two companion volumes and his first ever books in color. Engaged in a dance, neither book comes first, there is no hierarchy or sequence to the pair of volumes.

Gossage is one of the most literary of photographic book authors and in The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler, the narrative, whilst not autobiographical, is about a neighborhood in which he lives; one that is singular in the United States. At the same time provincial and international, it is a neighborhood populated by ambassadorial residences, embassies, and the lavish private homes of those who are in positions of power and influence in Washington. A project he began with the arrival of a new neighbor, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and made over a full year’s cycle of seasons, these are images from the drift of privilege. The streets, cars, homes and yards of this neighborhood are photographed on perfect spring or autumn days, with sparklingly clear blue skies, and flowers or foliage accenting the order. These are photographs about how one might wish the world to be, how beauty might be seen as desire. In the same year Gossage made the Map of Babylon, photographing digitally from Washington, to Germany, to China and places in-between. This look away, to places beyond the immediate and local, is a classic exploration of particulars of the outside world.

I must say I found the accumulation of the pictures in Thirty-Two Inch Ruler conveyed a sense of dread, of oppression after looking through them two or three times, even without having dug any deeper into the context beyond the short publishers comment. Which surprised me for a couple of reasons.

First, the pictures being in colour. During the 1980's and 1990's Gossage didn't seem to get sidetracked by the whole New Colour thing or massive painting sized photographs or such, but continued with his black and white work which continued to be a valid, contemporary and creative way of seeing, of investigation.

The way he has seen and shown us the Berlin of the Wall, or Maghera or the streets and neighbourhoods of several American cities has always seemed absolutely contemporary - yet rarely threatening. They may be a bit grim; they may be beautiful in ways that surprise us, in ways we normally rarely notice; but even the view Gossage gave of the Berlin Wall, while often dark, was very rarely as ominous as these delicately lit suburban views. Yet that's the sense that developed as I looked through these pictures. And that John should chose this particular subject for his first full body of work in colour seemed almost perverse. Surely it's so much easier to convey 'dread', 'oppressive', 'ominous' in black and white? But then, on reflection, I realised what better way to convey such things. What better way to convey what appears at first glance to be an ordinary upper middle class, civil service sort of neighbourhood than in the ordinary, everyday colours of a suburban summer or fall. An ordinary place with ordinary (if rather well appointed) homes yet which contains within it - more than partially veiled or partly hidden - aspects of a global conflict which reach far beyond the suburb or city and with consequences and ramifications still as yet unknown.

And as for John Gossage in colour - that's just what these pictures are - John Gossage in colour. It's as if he has just taken a step sideways and there he is in the dimension of colour. There are many of his usual touches - a way of seeing that is both unique and familiar - and yet he has also been able to use colour as colour - to let it break out of the dominance of line or form so that the colour itself is allowed to be. He seems very much at ease with being able to "colour outside the lines" as it were. In this way each individual picture can hold its own ground as well as being an integral part of the story being told.

But returning to the unease, after a few pages I also found that the pictures started to feel quite voyeuristic so intimate do they become. Then I read one reviewer who made perfect sense of it when he described Gossage as a spy, working undercover as it were, reporting back to us on this strange yet ordinary place. (Besides which, of course, almost all photography is voyeuristic to one degree or another - usually far more so than most photographers like to admit. Indeed one of the great attractions of photography is that it allows us to be voyeurs, peering over the photographer's shoulder, but from a nice safe distance - in time as well as space).

Rather more briefly on Map of Babylon. These seem a collection of related yet unrelated pictures - "Photographs with qualities, but no real explanation" - pictures taken as Gossage has travelled over the last while. They are fascinating in that they show his experimenting with colour as he goes and - I believe I'm correct - his first real experiments with a digital camera (did that old Texas Leica finally wear out and die I wonder??). It has the intriguing feel of a photographer's sketchbook or workbook.

Overall a very worthwhile book to get hold of (and I don't know large the print runs is in this case, but Gossage's books often go out of print pretty quickly).

There is also a good review and conversation here: The Devil in Kalorama: A Tour of John Gossage’s Neighborhood as Hell

(Oh - and as far as I can tell Babylon was photographed with print film not digital? But I may well be wrong on that.) Well, I was wrong. I just heard from John and all the photographs in the book were taken with a digital camera.

All Photographs - John Gossage

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer (Autumn...) Book Sale

Regarding my Summer Book Sale, it turned out to be bit time consuming/convoluted trying to sell the books through the blog so I've started loading them up on Ebay.

All have comparatively low starting bids - so you might get a bargain... Anyway you can find them by linking through here.

Up now:
Luigi Ghirri - Paesaggio italiano/Italian landscape

Lee Friedlander - Factory Valleys

Sally Eauclaire - The New Color Photography and New Color/New Work

Stephen Shore - Fotografien 1973 bis 1993

Andrea Modica - Treadwell

Josef Sudek - Smutná krajina/Sad Landscape

A few more to come over the next few days.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

I Like - Flash Camera

Flash Camera t-shirt. Unfortunately they only go on sale for 24 hours... damn

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"The Pond" by John Gossage

I'm pleased to see that Aperture is re-publishing John Gossage's seminal 1985 book The Pond. (I've written about John Gossage several times before: The Romance Industry; Putting Back The Wall; Snake Eyes).

"Considered a groundbreaking book when first published in 1985, John Gossage's The Pond remains one of the most important photobooks of the medium. As Gerry Badger, coauthor of
The Photobook: A History, Volumes I and II, asserts, "Adams, Shore, Baltz--all the New Topographics photographers made great books, but none are better than The Pond." Consisting of photographs taken around and away from a pond situated in an unkempt wooded area at the edge of a city, the volume presents a considered foil to Henry Thoreau's stay at Walden. The photographs in The Pond do not aspire to the "beauty" of classical landscapes in the tradition of Ansel Adams. Instead, they reveal a subtle vision of reality on the border between man and nature. Gossage depicts nature in full splendor, yet at odds with both itself and man, but his tone is ambiguous and evocative rather than didactic. Robert Adams described the work as "believable because it includes evidence of man's darkness of spirit, memorable because of the intense fondness [Gossage] shows for the remains of the natural world." Aperture now reissues this exquisitely produced and highly collectible classic monograph. With the addition of three images and two essays, this second edition offers new audiences the opportunity to celebrate this notable work by a master photographer and bookmaker."

To my mind The Pond is one of the more important photography books of the last fifty years and stands (preceded by Walker Evans' American Photographs) with William Eggleston's Guide, Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places and Paul Graham's A1: The Great North Road among a few others.

I have a rare copy of the original which is one of my more valued photography books, but I'll look forward to seeing the new edition.

Now all we need is for someone to republish Michael Schmidt's Waffenruhe... any takers?

More to come on John Gossage's new book(s) The Thirty-Two Inch Ruler / Map of Babylon soon.

(Update) P.S. The first exhibition of the photographs from The Pond has just opened at the Smithsonion American Art Museum and is on until January. Interesting little comment here:

"EXPRESS: What does the pond represent?
GOSSAGE:The pond is a literary monologue, a narrative landscape book, character development — all of it. ... It's set in Queenstown, but a few of the shots were actually taken in Berlin. I won't tell which ones. I wanted to speak metaphorically about nature and civilization, which I realized halfway through my project. It's a work of documentary fiction. The sites are universally trivial. There are many ponds, and that one may not even be there anymore."
(my emphasis)

(All photographs: John Gossage - The Pond)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Marshall Mcluhan by Douglas Coupland - two thumbs down

Marshall Mcluhan from the Penguin "Extraordinary Canadians" series, by Douglas Coupland

What a perfectly annoying, horrible little book.

It reeks of middle-aged hipsterism like a failed, corduroy clad, English Professor reeks of Old Spice.

Among other things the 'internet tricks' scattered throughout the book already look as dated as one of Mcluhan's glen plaid jackets.

Two thumbs down for this one.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Another Summer" by Terri Weifenbach

I got this small book by Terri Weifenbach a while ago and although I had looked through it a couple of times I hadn't given myself the time until recently to sit down with it and get to know it properly.

Published by The Thunderstorm Press (based in Japan) Another Summer is a small book (and a small run of only 500 numbered, signed copies) - in a simple grey cloth-covered binding with just the title embossed on the the front in sky blue. It resembles a small volume of poetry rather than a book of photographs and in many ways that's what it is: poetry.

There is no introductory text or essay inside, just the title and forty or so photographs. All of which seem to tell the story of the title - of another summer: a lake, a cottage, children and grandparents, picnics and canoes and back-yards.

In short the summer break of american myth and - sometimes still - of reality. It may be at the cottage or the cabin, or camping or the RV. There is something of the sense that the American Dream still includes Life, Liberty and a relaxing getaway to somewhere "other" in the summer. The idea of escaping (for escape it is) somewhere a little remote, a little wild, a little Walden-ish is still there, albeit it threatened by obsessive workloads, the Protestant Work Ethic, Blackberry addiction, a struggling economy and the threat of the disappearance of the American middle class. Despite which the desire to let children or grandchildren run free by a lake, swim off a dock, hunt for frogs or picnic in a clearing in the woods still survives.

Despite Terri's use of a fairly bright - if not quite saturated - colour palette, her work is a long way from a picture postcard or colour snapshot aesthetic. Or a digital pocket camera print for that matter. All of which would be an easy card for a lesser photographer to play in depicting the 'american summer'.

For one thing Weifenbach continues to use focus as a way of drawing attention away from or towards part of the picture and, to my mind, rendering the picture beautifully photographic in nature - it becomes a photographic picture. In a way these are the anti-HDR photograph, which is the photograph become something else - kitsch among other things.

But more than anything I don't think that this is a book about one summer, or one family or just another summer. Where it could easily tend towards nostalgia and it's associated sentimentality Weifenbach moves much more towards elegy.

And despite the beauty found within the pictures there is also melancholy mingled in with the happiness. Weifenbach doesn't tell us the why or the what of its source. That is up to the viewer, the reader of this book - to make our own meaning as we read it, to make the story our own. Growing up, growing old, loss of parents, loss of the summer idyll itself? It could be all of these and more - or none.

Which is the wonderful thing about photographs - and something so many photographers appear to forget. Photographs have no one meaning. We bring our own meaning(s) to them each time we view them. The inherent ambiguity of the photograph always leaves space for us to imagine and experience in ways which can rarely be foreseen or predicted.

As Edward Hopper said; "I hope it does not tell an obvious anecdote for none is intended", which could equally be said of Another Summer.

(All photographs: Terri Weifenbach - Another Summer)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Book Sale Part I.

Here are the first three books going up for sale:

Walker Evans - Polaroids.

Published by Scalo in 2001
First Edition
Near Fine (slight scuffing on cover)
$100.00 + shipping

Stephen Shore: Fotografien 1973 bis 1993

Published by Schirmer/Mosel, 1995
First Edition

If you've never seen Stephen Shore's photographs of Montana, Texas, the Yucatan and Scotland (along with some of his more well known images) then this is the book for you

$200.00 + shipping

Andrea Modica - Treadwell

Published by Chronicle Books
First Edition edition 1996


$95.00 + shipping

The fine print:

Books will be sold on a first come first served basis - first person to
email me and pay the price + shipping via Paypal get the book. If
someone emails to buy a book me but doesn't make payment within 48 hours
then it will go to the next person in line.

Shipping costs will be based on shipping via Canada Post - Standard Parcel for Canada and USA, Air Mail (which seems to get more expensive by the minute these days...) to anywhere else in the world.

All the books are used - sales are as is and final. So if you have questions about the book make sure to ask them.

I'll strike off the books if and when they are sold

Email Contact for books: Contact

Monday, August 16, 2010

America in Colour in the 1930's & 1940's - LoC

(A cross roads store, bar, "juke joint," and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La. 1940 Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910-, photographer)

Going by the number of posts that have crossed my Reader in the last couple of weeks it would seem that the rest of the photo-blogosphere has discovered that there are some fascinating colour photographs of the US in the 1930's and 1940's which are held by the Library of Congress. Many of which were taken were by some of the well FSA/OSW photographers such as Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano and Russell Lee.

However, just remember, you actually heard it here first - January 24th, 2008 to be precise...

(The "original" Rosie the Riveter - Riveter at work on Consolidated bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas 1942 Oct. Howard R. Hollem, photographer (LoC))

Many of these photographs are indeed very fascinating although it the colour ones in particular which seem to have caught peoples imagination.

While these have been up on the LoC website for a number of years, they have become much more widely known since the LoC put a large selection up on Flickr. In fact there are quite a range of institutions and collections which have joined in adding a fascinating array of work to the Flickr Commons from the Getty to the Imperial War Museum to The National Archives UK to the State Library of New South Wales and more.

One result of this is that many institutions are finding they have been able to glean a large amount of extra information about the images through the crowd-sourcing of descriptions on Flicker.

Mind you, although they re easier to view on Flickr, one of the nice thing abut going back to the Library of Congress site for them is you can frequently download very large versions of the files - 50mb to 100mb or so - if you fancy printing off a few for your wall.

All in all worth a look (or another look)

P.S. - The Library of Congress recently updated the front end of it's normal image catalogue database system which improved its user friendliness quite significantly

(Louise Rosskam, 1910-, photographer. Shulman's market, at the southeast corner of N Street and Union Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 1941/42 (LoC))

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - a good read

A good read - so far anyway. I've been reading this on and off over the last few weeks and I'm about halfway through.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is an enjoyable, well written, dense (but not impenetrable) novel set in Eighteenth Century Japan on the tiny western foothold of the guarded island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbour. Home of the traders of the Dutch East India Company.

I had previously read only one of David Mitchell's novels Black Swan Green, which like this is fairly straightforward in terms of it's narrative. Whereas he is generally known for his more narrative bending efforts in his previous novels Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten.

I guess this novel has also just made it to the Booker Prize long list and so will undoubtedly become more popular.

"The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the “high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island” that is the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland.

But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city’s powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t a gambler in the glorious Orient,with his very life?”" (Official book blurb)

Mitchell is quite a wordsmith. I enjoy the way he plays with word and language and does so in a way that appears effortless. I read one comment on this book where a reader/reviewer complained about the anachronisms in it - with made me laugh out loud. A "historical novel" is basically just one big anachronism so it seems a bit of a waste of time to actually note them as you go along and then complain about them. In fact one thing I enjoy about The Thousand Autumns is the role of interpreters in it. They are fairly central to the story as they were central to the lives of both the Dutch Traders, Japanese Merchants and Japanese authorities involved with the combination of commerce and protecting Japan from the threat of Western influence. But if course everyone in the book "speaks" English. So there will be a Dutchman helping a Japanese translator find the right words to translate a phrase correctly from Dutch to Japanese - but all done in English. As are also mistakes in translation caused by different but similar sounding words or words with two different meanings - all of which are again in English. Yet you come away from reading such a passage convinced you read/heard it in Dutch and Japanese!

I listened to a radio interview with Mitchell, who lived in Japan for a number of years, and when announced to his Japanese wife (they now live in Ireland) that he was going to write his "Japanese novel" she said that if he wrote another noble Geisha potboiler type novel she would stab him with a very large knife! Luckily she must have considered that The Thousand Autumns passed muster.

Anyway here's some clips from a review. And as I said it is an interesting, enjoyable and intelligent read with enough of a challenge to it that you probably wouldn't want to take it to the beach.

From Charles Foran's review in the Globe and Mail:

"...Jacob de Zoet lies in between the sprawling, mind-altering Cloud Atlas and the controlled, sensitive Black Swan Green. It is a straightforward historical novel, told chronologically and in vivid present tense. Mitchell, who recreates entire worlds with such ease one could be forgiven for assuming that he time-travels to them, and then returns to report on what he has observed and heard (in multiple tongues), moves with no less apparent effortlessness from perspective to perspective.

Jacob’s point of view dominates early on, but there are scenes set among the Japanese themselves, including sequences in a remote mountain nunnery where women are imprisoned as sex slaves. A thrilling narrative shift in Jacob de Zoet centres around that nunnery, and the novel moves away from its should-be lovers, widening out to address the emerging global politics of 19th-century imperialism. How it reconciles them in the elegiac final pages is beautiful and despairing, a quiet, perfect note on which to end.

That ending, a string of failures of “contact,” with the disappearance from history of the story’s protagonists as certain as the vanishing of Dejima itself, is deeply felt. Often overlooked by admirers of Mitchell’s daunting formal skill is the humanism, empathetic and moral, that informs his fiction. An English naval captain endures an outbreak of gout while he attempts to do his empire’s bidding in Nagasaki Bay, affecting his decisions; a Japanese magistrate, learning of an unspeakable cruelty going unchecked, ends it in the only way possible – by sacrificing his own life.

In Cloud Atlas, the theme of predation, the tendency of organisms to prey upon each other to mutual ruination, unified the six separate narratives. In Jacob de Zoet, this preoccupation is evidenced in the careful construction of the various small, overcrowded prisons – islands, nunneries, ships, homes – inside of which the characters must operate. “Why must all things,” the same gout-ridden captain laments, “go around in stupid circles?”

A writer as naturally curious, generous and able to translate an acute perceptivity to, and wonder at, the natural world as David Mitchell isn’t likely to produce a hushed, low-key novel. For some, Black Swan Green was even a little muted: Mitchell with the volume kept too low on his singular voice – or, rather, his glorious voices. Though direct in its storytelling, Jacob de Zoet marks a return to full amplitude. That means occasionally over-long scenes and one or two rambling monologues. But it also guarantees fiction of exceptional intelligence, richness and vitality"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Coming Soon - Summer Book Sale... Gill, Evans, Ghirri and more

Over the next little while I'm going to be offering a few photobooks for sale (for some much needed fund-raising...).

Most will be of the slightly harder to find variety but at a something of a discount from the prices found on the likes of Advanced Book Exchange, Amazon used books, Photoeye etc.

Here's a taster of a few of the titles but please DON'T email me yet about them (I'll just ignore any such emails unless you are offering way over the odds). Please wait until I actually post them. Then it will be on a first come, first paid, first served basis.

Here are a few of the titles that will be on offer:

Joel Sternfeld - American Prospects (First paperback edition 1994)

Sally Eauclair - New Color

Walker Evans - Polaroids

Andrea Modica - Treadwell

Stephen Gill - Archeology in Reverse

Lee Friedlander - Factory Valleys (ex-library)

Luigi Ghirri - Paesaggio Italiano/Italian Landscape (1989)


Monday, August 09, 2010

Photojournalism 1855-2010 R.I.P.

(Roger Fenton's assistant Marcus Sparling in the Crimea 1855)

Photojournalism was finally taken off life-support and pronounced dead on 1st August 2010.

At least, that is, according to Neill Burgess. Burgess - who runs his own picture agency, NB Pictures, represents 10 photographers, including Simon Norfolk, Dayanita Singh and Sebastião Salgado, and was also head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos in New York, and Magnum London, which he helped set up in 1986. He is twice a former Chairman of World Press Photo - writes for Editorial Photographers UK:

"“For God’s sake, somebody call it!”

Has the time come to take photojournalism off life-support? After nearly 25 years in the business, agency director Neil Burgess steps forward to make the call.

...Today I look at the world of magazine and newspaper publishing and I see no photojournalism being produced. There are some things which look very like photojournalism, but scratch the surface and you’ll find they were produced with the aid of a grant, were commissioned by an NGO, or that they were a self-financed project, a book extract, or a preview of an exhibition.

Magazines and newspapers are no longer putting any money into photojournalism. They will commission a portrait or two. They might send a photographer off with a writer to illustrate the writer’s story, but they no longer fund photojournalism. They no longer fund photo-reportage. They only fund photo illustration.

We should stop talking about photojournalists altogether. Apart from a few old dinosaurs whose contracts are so long and retirement so close that it’s cheaper to keep them on, there is no journalism organisation funding photographers to act as reporters. A few are kept on to help provide ‘illustration’ and decorative visual work, but there is simply no visual journalism or reportage being supported by so called news organisations.

Seven British-based photographers won prizes at the ‘World Press Photo’ competition this year and not one of them was financed by a British news organisation. But this is not just a UK problem. Look at TIME and Newsweek, they are a joke. I cannot imagine anyone buys them on the news-stand anymore. I suspect they only still exist because thousands of schools, and libraries and colleges around the world have forgotten to cancel their subscriptions. Even though they have some great names in photojournalism on their mastheads, when did you last see a photo-essay of any significance in these news magazines?

The wire services have concentrated on development of TV and internet services and focused on financial intelligence to pay the bills, rather than news as it happens. They rely on stringers and on ‘citizen journalists’ when there’s a breaking story, not professional photojournalists...

...I woke up this morning with a dream going around in my head. It was as if I’d been watching a medical drama, ER or something, where they’d spent half the programme trying to revive a favourite character: mouth to mouth, blood transfusions, pumping the chest up and down, that electrical thing where they shout “Clear!” before zapping them with 50,000 volts to get the heart going again, emergency transplants and injections of adrenalin …, but nothing works. And someone sobs, “We’ve got to save him we cannot let him die.” And his best friend steps forward, grim and stressed and says, “It’s no good. For God’s sake, somebody call it!”

Okay, I’m that friend and I’m stepping forward and calling it. “Photojournalism: time of death 11.12. GMT 1st August 2010.” Amen.

(full article here).

(Making the call: Neil Burgess is at his photo-bookstall in London’s Broadway Market most Saturdays. Photo © David Hoffman.)

I'd have to say that, within the confines of Burgesses definition of photojournalism, I'd pretty much have to agree. I don't see the day coming in there near future when a major "publication" - paper or digital - sends off the likes of a McCullin or a Nachtwey or a Peress to cover important stories in depth. Most Photojournalists today - be it for local or regional papers, the national press or the likes of Newsweek or Time or the Sunday Times (or their digital versions and/or equivalents) - really aren't even news photographers anymore - just photo-illustrators.

(Thanks to Dave Burnett for the link)

And on an almost lighter note I'll repost this:

Working in the Print Media today

A short film about how to conduct yourself when offered a photo assignment.

And I can assure those of you who have never worked for newspapers or magazines that every situation in this has happened - and worse... (after I posted this the first time an old friend emailed me and pointed out he'd once been "offered" the half-day rate to travel from Kabul to Uruzgan via Kandahar - check the map - because he would only be photographing for a couple of hours...)

NOTE: Language NSFW...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Raymond Meeks - amwell | continuum

(© Raymond Meeks amwell | continuum)

For a long time, as I kept coming across Raymond Meeks’ work, I could never quite make up my mind about it. I was drawn to the land(scape) aspects of what he does but I wasn’t so sure about some other parts of it and how it all fit together.

One thing I wasn’t so sure about was the mixture of the portraits/people in along with the land in most of his projects. But this was quite hard to tell because although Meeks and his work seemed to turn up quite regularly it was usually only as a brief passing mention somewhere or two or three images from one of his books. And while his books seem to be the main way of presenting his work but they are quite hard to find.

(© Raymond Meeks - topsoil)

With the exception of two or three books, such as A Clearing and Sound of Summer Running published by Nazraeli Press, most of his books are hand-made and/or small print runs produced very much as an artist's book (although Meeks has indicated that he experimented with deconstructing the “artists book“ I see it more as expanding the boundaries of the artist's/photographer's book). As a result these books tend to a). sell out very quickly, b). increase in value rather quickly once they are sold out and c). some of the artist's books are quite expensive (and rightly so) in the first place. In fact a. and b. also seems to apply to his books published through Nazraeli as well.

(© Raymond Meeks from amwell | continuum)

So until recently I had to rely on the overview of his work found at places like Photoeye or on viewing his website. And as the internet is basically crap for viewing this kind of work and getting anything more than the roughest, blurriest, myopic sense of what the work is about I really had to wait until I actually got some of his work in my hands.

Then a couple of months ago a friend sent me a link to Meeks’ website where I could buy a copy of his latest hand-made book project amwell | continuum. So I fired up Paypal and got in on the ground floor with this one.

(© Raymond Meeks from a gathering/topsoil)

Two or three weeks later the package arrived and I must say I was impressed. The size is about 12”x9“ and it is a hand-sewn soft covered collection with 18 pages by my count. It was printed on what Meeks describes as a ”broad format laser printer (weighing-in at a hulking 150 lbs.) I suspect the machine lacks an “energy-star rating” and have found that by shutting down the lights and music and turning down the heat, I can successfully print books without short circuiting the power“, which I think speaks to his continued exploration of the hand-made artists book. My copy also came with two signed prints - one black and white and one colour - along with a delightful little hand written card from Raymond which also has another picture on it.

So as a physical work it is very nice to handle. This particular laser-printing process (I’m thinking at least decade old technology - but maybe two??) also gives a nice and somewhat unique feel which reproduces the images well.

But what of the content? Well, I was pleased to find that my initial sense of being drawn to Meeks’ work was confirmed. The work has a very low key and gentle feel to it. It is very much about a place but it is not sentimental or nostalgic - but rather is straight forward yet maintaining something of the magic or the mystery of the everyday - that is there around us when or if we allow ourselves to notice it. There is a sense of beauty but also more than a little of the sublime

(© Raymond Meeks from amwell | continuum)

For myself I found quiet echoes of other photographer’s work. Sally Mann - but without so much of Freud’s death-drive. John Gossage - but not quite as cool-eyed. The tiniest chord of Roger Ballen - but without the associated psychotic nightmares. As well as some resonances with Stephen Gill and Masao Yamamoto.

Overall though Meeks’ vision is very much his own. This short book moves beautifully from place to people to interiors to place and from colour to black and white and back to colour smoothly with a sense of ease and in a way which is almost unnoticed as you spend time with the pictures (one thing I have long thought is that the mixing of colour and black & white is an almost impossible thing to pull off). This is all very much in the realm of poetry.

And amwell | continuum is indeed a continuum, a continuation of Meeks’ own coming to terms with moving from Montana to Portland, Oregon - from deeply rural to urban (indeed suburban) and in good part seems to be about letting go of the former while trying to work out how to see and make sense of the latter, a process started in his earlier book Carousel.

“amwell | continuum” is an artist book/journal which advances the narrative of my most recent artist broadside, “carousel”, while continuing to explore the construct of memory and resolve loss. it’s only now in the completion of this book, that I recognize a sustained and underlying thread of melancholy, similar to a passing glance in the mirror on your way out the door that reflects the unseemly or the shock of hearing your voice in a recording. for me, there are delicate moments of joy represented throughout this book, as well as a kind measure of hope. there are multiple pairings observed in the layout, perhaps to suggest a lingering in the landscape and to parallel my personal impulse to do so. in addition, I’ve been compelled to experience and express time beyond chronological sequencing, the absence of time in the horizontal dimension of past and future.
in the making of books, I’m drawn to the merging of contemporary materials and media with less common and impermanent results. Nazraeli publisher and friend Chris Pichler has generously offered a broad format laser printer (weighing-in at a hulking 150 lbs.) I suspect the machine lacks an “energy-star rating” and have found that by shutting down the lights and music and turning down the heat, I can successfully print books without short circuiting the power. obviously, this limits my printing operation to daylight hours. however, the printer allows for fine reproductions where toner sits on top of cotton fiber paper and is “fused” creating a wonderful merging of mediums. While my recent publishing efforts may have something to do with deconstructing the “art book” and shifting focus from the beautiful object to honoring content and subject, I am, as many, drawn to tactile experience and a clear expression of the work in book form; using inexpensive materials and common tools while subtracting nothing of quality or value from the piece.

(© Raymond Meeks from Carousel)

Something I’ve also long held is that the book is very much the natural home for photographs and that photographs on the gallery or museum wall are really more of a secondary way of presenting or seeing photographs (My prediction is that in a few years time we’ll look back at the ever larger Stately Home/Palais sized photographs currently in vogue as something of an interesting blip in the photographic continuum. And a few years more and we may even look back at them as something a little bit quaint in the same way we look back at the Kodak Coloramas). Today, with the ever increasing options for photographers to produce their own books - from gluing and hand stitching, to varied forms of print on demand to print it yourself and more, we are already seeing an exciting growth in the photography book in all sorts of different forms. Books limited only by imagination rather than by cost and technology.

(© Raymond Meeks from watching waiting where,?)

There is an interesting interview with Meeks by Darius Himes (worth reading in full) which picks up on the artist’s/photographer’s book aspect:

”Darius Himes: Your artist books are made from appropriated books that I assume you've picked up here and there at various bookstores. When did you first start using old books as a space to work on your photographs, and what motivated you to do so.

Raymond Meeks: It’s just been within the last year that I’ve been thinking about the use of older, existing books. I’d been mounting prints to folded pages for a few years, creating small books with limited, homespun bookbinding skill. I have a sorry stack of tattered books with crusted glue, ruined in the final attempt to bind covers with pages. The use of secondhand books also seemed a decent effort towards recycling, considering the vast heap of books that rest idle on bookshelves and especially
since what I’m doing is exploratory. So little of what I do with photography and books is deliberate or intentional. Certainly, what resonates with others seems to be born out of good luck and grace.

Creatively, I thrive when I’m put in a corner and given limited resources and few options. The books I find provide portals and clues, which allow me to work with the existing title or narrative. Sometimes the dimensions are just right, or the number of pages. But I rely heavily on the inherent voice of the book and enjoy the collaboration between what the book was in its previous life and what it might become...

...DH: Could you describe for us the process of finding a book and then how you transform it? Are there clear steps along the way and does that take months? Or do you find yourself completing these objects in a weekend?

RM: Frequenting secondhand bookstores is not an obsession, but I leave myself open to discovery. I recently came across the title Minna and Myself, containing the poetry of Maxwell Bodenheim. I immediately placed my daughter in the role of Minna, and I imagined my wife using the first person voice. The book was originally published in 1918, and Bodenheim’s verse drips from the page like sap. Here are some of the lines: “Twilight pushes down your eyes, with shimmering, pregnant fingers, that leave you covered with still-born touch. With little whips of dead words”. And, “your cheeks are spent diminuendos, sheering into the rose-veiled silence of your lips”.

Needless to say, I had to use the verse sparingly, which left space for my own interpretation in pictures. This became my collaboration with Maxwell Bodenheim, who died in Manhattan in 1954. I hadn’t known of Bodenheim previous to the discovery of Minna and Myself and I imagined, in a narcissistic way perhaps, that I might renew his words. I trust that he might approve of our posthumous collaboration. I genuinely took his words to heart and spent a number of days with prints and negatives, trying to work with his pace and rhythm. In the end though, it’s just a book that’s already had a life and it’s indulgent to think about the book now in a new way. At times I feel it doesn’t exist for anyone else, really, apart from myself."

Raymond Meeks’ work has a looseness in style that I envy combined with an intriguing way of seeing. If you can't find any of his books to look at first hand at least go and hunt around his website where you can find his different books and projects (as well as the photoeye galleries)

Now I just need to find a reasonably priced copy of Carousel or Orchard or at least A Clearing somewhere...

(© Raymond Meeks from amwell | continuum)

(note: please excuse any typos or strange forms of sentence construction. My brain still isn't currently quite working as it should do and I don't always catch them...)