I'm going to attempt something that will probably seem unethical to some -- that is, review a book that I do not own (or as I see it, review a book that I wasn't suckered into buying). This is a book however that I've spent some time looking through and admittedly have been tempted to buy (mostly due to the hype surrounding it) but every time I move the pages from cover to cover I have the realization that I'm looking at crap and therefore -- when my brain starts working again -- I put it back on the shelf and step away. This has happened a few times and each time I feel the pull of hype and I am able to repel it thankfully even with the sticker on the new edition touting its greatness.
The book I'm speaking of is called Empty Bottles by Wassink Lundgren and it won the Contemporary Book Award for 2007 at the Rencontres d'Arles photo festival in France.
Let me proceed by asking a question. How many photographers does it take to make mediocre photographs of Chinese people picking up empty plastic bottles? In this case it would be two. The photographic duo of Wassink and Lundgren have worked on many books together and Empty Bottles is the latest. Yes, that is right, this is a collaborative effort between two people. Stunning collaboration gentlemen. My question is are there two brains at work here?
The first printing of 750 copies sold out quickly after the hype at Arles with a copy now fetching over $400 on the Photoeye auction website. Hundreds of copies were available at the first annual New York photo festival which featured an exhibition of his work curated by none other than Martin Parr.
Now if you've noticed in the past here at 5B4 Photography and Books I do not particularly enjoy negatively reviewing books. Who would? I don't have axes to grind and I want to share work that excites me in a finely crafted book. In this case, what kept me picking up the book was the design and presentation and had absolutely nothing to do with what I realized was incredibly boring photography. Has photography turned down such a blind alley to where this is an example of something that we are holding up for higher consideration?
Arles or no Arles...don't believe the hype. I hope there is a day when we come to our senses and realize that there is much more to be offered and much more to get excited about. I can only hope that that day arrives soon as I do not think I can stomach picking up more of these empty vessels.