Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Editorial Lumen Palabra e Imagen series

For the first post of the year I’ve decided to dig into the vaults for books that are a bit more obscure than the last few postings have held.

In the early sixties the publisher Editorial Lumen in Barcelona started a series of books that matched writers with photographers called the ‘Palabra e Imagen’ (Words and Images) collection. This is an interesting series because the mix of words and images does not coalesce into one uniform story. Each medium relates to one another but held to its own track thus not serving as direct illustrations of each other.

Each of the books follows a uniform size of 8.5 by 9 inches and approximate length of 100 pages with 30-35 images. One curious design note is that the pages of text are printed on thick gray colored paper creating an unmistakable separation between text and image. All of the texts are in Spanish.

The first of the series published in 1962 seems to have been a book called Neutral Corner with photographs by Ramon Masats and texts by Ignacio Alcoa. This is a collection of short stories about boxing mixed with Masats’ photographs of pugilists. I have not ever seen this edition but from the few images that I have seen (and the high praise that Alcoa’s writing receives) I am going to track down a copy. (Hopefully before the rest of you do.)

The second in the series is Toreo de Salon which was published in 1963. This combines text by one of Spain’s more controversial writers, Camilo Jose Cela with the photography of Oriol Maspons and Julio Ubina. It is a book about young men training to be toreadors or bullfighters. Using a pair of bull’s horns mounted to a bicycle wheel, they practice or play at bullfighting while taking turns as to who is the toreador and who is the bull. One thing that is interesting is even though the boys are not in any real danger in their play-making, the photographers caught them with expressions that give the impression that all parties involved are deadly serious and fully invested in their imaginations. (This series of photographs is reminiscent of the short essay by Robert Frank that appears in the Sobre Valencia 1950 catalog I had written about a while ago on June 11th).

Toreo de Salon plays with the page design in a way that the other releases do not as it has three pages that are foldouts. Interestingly, it is a foldout that extends the page only about ½ again as much to accommodate the 35mm frame proportions. Due to the format of the books which is almost square, many of the photographs wind up either cropped or bled to the top and bottom edge accompanied by white page filling edges. This book appeared in subsequent editions in 1972 and 1984.

In 1964, three books in the Palabras E Imagen collection appeared; Izas, Rabizas y Colipoterras, Una Casa en La Arena and Viejas Historias de Castilla La Vieja.

The most well-known of the three is Juan Colom and Camilo Jose Cela’s Izas, Rabizas y Colipoterras (I cannot find an adequate translation of the title). Juan Colom I have written about before as Steidl published Les Gens du Raval (French Edition) which is a larger collection of the photographs that appear in this book. Juan or Joan Colom, photographed the prostitutes of El Ravel in Barcelona.

Colom’s camera weaves through the crowd grabbing at gesture, expression and body language and often narrowing down the information with a sketch-like directness. Whether he is photographing negotiations for sex or picking out faces in the street life, he does so without judgment. He achieves in his description, a tone of the barrio that gives a sense of comradeship among its patrons. 5B4 May 7, 2007

The designers, Cristian Cirici and Oscar Tusquets pull some interesting design tricks. In a couple cases, they run a photograph of one of the prostitutes on one page, and then on the verso, they place a version of the same photograph that is heavily cropped down to only the face of the prostitute. On the last page, the designers created a wheel of images and chapter headings in one of the more interesting indexes I have seen.

The other title from 1964 that I have seen is La Casa en La Arena (The House in the Sand) by the Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain and the writer Pablo Neruda. This a book of photographs taken inside and around Neruda’s home on Isla Negra off the coast of Chile accompanied by Pablo’s short texts.

Larrain is one of my favorite photographers but here he seems to be restrained compared to his other work done in the port city of Valparaiso or his great work from London a few years prior. Although he comes away with some wonderful images, they seem to lack the energy of his extremely low vantage points and edge testing frames that were so ground breaking for their time.

That being said, Larrain himself had written of the collaboration, “When I started taking photos, he asked me to take some pictures of his house on Isla Negra, because they had asked him for a text with photographs on a subject of his choice. I wanted to photograph the beach, the waves, the sand and the rocks, which were marvelous; he wanted his house which I found boring as a visual subject. The final result was La Casa en La Arena, which combined the two things - we both compromised.” Contrary to Larrain, I find the photos of the interior of the house more engaging than his fascination for the rocks and waves along the beach.

This was published in subsequent editions in 1969 and 1984. Many of the later editions of this come with a rather fugly dust jacket that markets on Neruda’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1971.

1964 also saw the publication of Viejas Historias de Castilla La Vieja (Old Histories of Castilla, the Old One) with photography by Ramon Masats and text by Miguel Delibes. I have never seen a copy of this title so I do not have much to add other than it exists, it contains 28 photographs, and it is the second in the series using the photographer Ramon Masats. (Sorry.)

In 1967, Lumen published Los Cachorros with photographs by Xavier Miserachs and text by Mario Vargas Llosa. The title translates as The Puppies or The Cubs and Llosa’s text is a short story about group of boys and the psychological change brought upon one of them after being accidentally castrated by a dog. I haven’t seen a copy of this book and I really hope that the photos don’t follow the storyline. From the few images that I have seen, Miserachs style looks close to that of William Klein with his use of wide angle lenses and blur.

The last of the series that I am familiar with is La Ciudad de Las Columnas (The City of Columns) published in 1970. This is a book about the architecture in Cuba with the photographer Paolo Gasparini and text by Alejo Carpentier. Gasparini has been the subject of interest due to his spiral bound book Megalopolis: Los Angeles, Mexico, San Paolo which was published in 2000 by the Centro di Ricerca e Archiviazione Della Fotografia. Here, the photography is more reserved as it concentrates on the portals and details of the doorways found in the architecture typical of Havana. Unlike much of the other photography used in the Palabra e Imagen series, the work here does seem like straight forward illustrations of the text from what I can make out with my limited Spanish.

Overall, this series is somewhat hit or miss. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger picked out two of the best titles to feature in their Photobook history with Toreo de Salon and Izas, Rabizas y Colipoterras but others are worthwhile if they can be found. Many of these are now commanding high prices (my friend just returned from a trip to Lima Peru where in a bookstore he found copies of Izas and Ciudad de Las Columnas and they were 100 US dollars each). If anyone owns a copy of Los Cachorros, Viejas Historias de Castilla La Vieja or Neutral Corner, please let us know in the comments section of 5B4. I’d be interested to hear if they are worthwhile as all of the photographers look very promising.