Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sanatorium by Rob Hornstra & Arnold van Bruggen

Due to my general laziness after the holidays I see that Andrew Phelps, the fine photographer and blogger of the booksite Buffet, has beaten me to the punch by mentioning Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen's newest publication Sanatorium.

Hornstra's book 101 Billionaires was one of my favorites of the year from 2008 so I was excited to see his endeavors with the Sochi Project were paying off and he had published this new title with help from donors.

is offered only to people who donate to help fund his version of slow journalism documenting the changes taking place to Sochi, a town in Russia, which is preparing for the arrival of the 2014 Olympics. Working alongside the writer Arnold van Bruggen, Hornstra plans to photograph in the area over the next five years, and along the way, publish magazine articles and books to get the multitude of stories out. Sanatorium is the first.

In 1919, Lenin decreed that localities with curative properties should be property of the people and used for curative purposes. Accordingly, many sanatoriums sprung up along Sochi's 90 miles of coastline.

Hornstra's description is clean, large format portraits and interiors lit with flash. The environment seems filled with out dated machinery that looks as if it would do more harm than good. In one, a boy sits in a bathtub which is lined with tubes and spouts that look more for torture than healing. In others, the curative machinery Hornstra photographs look like left over props from science fiction films with their arm-like protrusions and incomprehensible purpose.

The metaphor of wish fulfillment is in the air. Wish fulfillment not just for the healing powers of the machinery, mud baths or mineral waters in the sanatorium pictured but also in the face lift that Sochi is getting for the 2014 Olympics. What will be the outcome of the world's eyes falling on Sochi and the years after it is all over.

Book-wise, Sanatorium is short (21 photos over 42 pages) but its sexy design and production values deserve attention. Designed by Kummer & Herman out of Utrecht, they employed an interesting double stitch binding that achieves a squared off spine and a division of text from the photographs which were printed on different paper stocks from one another. Sanatorium was printed in 350 copies.

To donate to Hornstra and van Bruggen's check their website here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Four

The last of this set of Books on Books to be printed is Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e. Takanashi was one of the founders of the avant-garde magazine Provoke and of all of the Provoke era publications, Toshi-e is most impressive not only due to the photography but also because of its elegant presentation. Takanashi worked with the designer Kohei Sugiura. In fact, Takanashi entrusted Sugiura with the design, edit and decision to include the second "notebook" booklet of Takanashi's Tokyo-jin series. Most people know Toshi-e as "that large Japanese book with the shiny metal disk on the cover," well now you'll see that it's a bit more complicated than that.

The first order of business after learning Mr. Takanashi was open to the idea of featuring Toshi-e was to put together a rough layout for him to see how the book would work in our format. This meant I needed to quickly find a copy to photograph since this isn't a book that many people would comfortably lend out - it usually goes for anywhere from 4000-7000 dollars in the used book world. I knew John Gossage in DC had a one since that is where I first saw it last year. Thankfully he agreed that I could come photograph the book. It was a make-shift set up but with his help I got the results needed for a layout to send to Mr. Takanashi. I sent it off to Yoko Sawada (who was acting on my behalf since Mr. Takanashi doesn't speak English and my Japanese is a little rusty) and I held my breath for about five days. Finally I received an email saying Yoko had printed out the entire PDF document and shown it to Mr. Takanashi in person. Turned out, he was extremely pleased with how it all looked and gave his final approval.

With every book we do, Robert Hennessey figures out how best to approach the scanning or photographing of each book. As I have mentioned before, each book presents its own possible problems due to the type of printing the original book employed. Books printed in gravure pose fewer possible problems due to that process not having a set, linear dot pattern. If you look at gravure under a loupe you'll see it is much more like film grain than straight lines of dots. This means that when you rephotograph a gravure book and create a line screen over that image to print offset, there is no chance of a moiré pattern appearing.

The two books in Toshi-e were printed in gravure but on different paper stocks. For Toshi-e, Sugiura used a beautiful thick stock while for the Notes: Tokyo-jin booklet, he used a cheap newsprint paper. Robert and I spoke at length about how to reproduce the Notes: Tokyo-jin booklet since the images lacked the tonal range that the larger Toshi-e book achieved, plus, the newsprint paper had a yellowish tone. I thought we'd have to print the booklet in four color as opposed to duotone to match the paper tone but Robert suggested we print in duotone but add a second varnish layer. That second varnish would create the paper tone while we'd be able to control the exact print quality without the chance of color shifts etc.

In order to closely match the newsprint paper tone with the second varnish layer I went to a paint store and picked up dozens of paint chip sample cards within the range of tan to yellow. Finding a close match, I then sent the chip off to C+C Offset along with a few of the files and a test forme and told them to match the sample as closely as possible. A couple weeks later the sample arrived and all looked great.

The first sheets off the press looked good. Since we had done machine proofs a few months ago, C+C was able to quickly get to good starting points with all of the books this time. Although things are going smoothly, this book is 176 pages long (11 signatures of 16 pages) which means I'm in for 22 press checks. We'll be printing into tomorrow morning and then the new dustjackets for my fifth and final day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946 by Robert Frank

Before arriving to New York, Robert Frank prepared a portfolio of 40 photographs in order to introduce his work to magazine editors. Upon close inspection, Frank's work from the time treads a fine line between the older school pictorialists with Aldolf Herz at its center and the New Vision advocates which included Frank's teacher Gotthard Schuh. The New Vision shows through with his experimenting with angles and pairing images sans text or caption while the pictorialist in him finds an attraction to beautiful vistas and architecture as well as the rural farm life outside of Zurich.

Opening to the first page of Frank's Portfolio just published by Steidl, we are faced with an open phone book, brightly lit and lying on a field of black. I can't help but to think this is Frank's sly nod to the difficulty he may face upon breaking into the field of commercial photography. An open phone book, full of names, it is as if Frank is saying 'find me, pick me' among thousands of competitors.

It is also an image of weight as the book seems to be surrendering under its own heaviness. This is followed by two images which are weightless - the first of a snow scene and the facing page, a ray of sunlight described from a vantage point where we feel as if we are hovering over a small mountain village.

The 'weightless' and the 'grounded' are two opposing themes that Frank repeatedly uses to move us through this sequence. Three radio transistors in a product shot float into the sky while a music conductor, his band and a church steeple succumb to gravity on the facing page. Even in this image Frank shifts focus to the sky and beyond - the weightless. When he photographs rural life, the farmers heft whole pigs into the air and another carries a huge bale of freshly cut grain which seems featherlight but for the woman trailing behind with hands ready to assist.

Considering this work was made while fascism was on the move through Europe, external politics is felt through metaphor. A painted portrait of men in uniform among a display of pots and pans for sale faces a brightly polished cog from a machine - its teeth sharp and precise. In another pairing, demonstrators waving flags in the streets of Zurich face a street sign covered with snow and frost, a Swiss flag blows in the background. in yet another of a crowd of spectators face the illuminated march of a piece of machinery - its illusory shadow filling in the ranks. These pairings feel under the influence of Jakob Tuggener, whose work Frank certainly knew. Like Tuggener, Frank tackles the task of seemingly incongruous subject matter and finds a harmony through edit and assembly.

Again and again throughout this portfolio, Frank is not just trying to show his prowess in making images but in pairing them. They define conflicts in life. One boy struggles to climb a rope while a ski jumper is frozen in flight. Fisherman bask in sunlight while two pedestrians are caught in blinding snowfall.

Like the telephone book of self-reference at the beginning, Frank finishes his sequence with a climber reaching the summit of a mountain. He is connected by safety-line to the person making the photograph. The climber looks a little like a young Robert Frank, and if one suspends disbelief for a moment, the bright line of rope caught in the sunlight, leads straight down to a dangling camera lens - tying the young Robert to the medium for which he seemed chosen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Three

I got a record three hours rest while they clean the rollers of the Heidelberg before starting on the Koen Wessing book Chili September 1973. For those that do not know the original book, this is a small body of work that Wessing, a Dutch photojournalist, made over ten days just after Pinochet overthrew Allende by a military coup in Chile on September 11, 1973. It was published just a few months later in Amsterdam.

The book is short and was cheaply produced with rough printing on flimsy newsprint type paper. To reproduce the book in my study I had a hard time finding a copy to borrow and wound up using Koen's last personal copy which he generously loaned.

It is a book that gets easily damaged so I packed it carefully and protected it while matching the prints on press. Last year I had the experience of one of the pressmen grabbing my copy of Sophie Ristelhueber's Fait out of my hands and sweeping its pages like an issue of People magazine so I have been extra cautious on how the books are handled by the pressmen this time. It is embarrassing to freak out because most sane people don't regard books as delicate objects. They are things that are used, read and handled. So what if pages get torn or folded? How do you explain that what they have in their hands sometimes is as valuable as a used car? At one point one of the pressmen grabbed the copy of Chili and I found myself uncontrollably shouting the word 'careful' about 6 times within a half a second like I had Tourette's Syndrome. I sounded like a turkey getting a colonoscopy.

When I have seen spreads from this book reproduced before like in Martin and Gerry's Photobook: A History I noticed that the plates always look more rich than the original. As I mentioned before, this was done with a single pass of black ink on cheap quality paper so my concern was in keeping the tenor of the original and not shifting too much the quality in my book. It is a difficult balance between matching and what might, to those unfamiliar with the original, look to be poor printing. The strategy Robert Hennessey and I came up with after seeing our proofs was to not overdo the black densities - to let the sense of the paper surface show through as a texture. The results were a true representation of the object.

Since the book is short in length the pressmen fired up a different six color press to start printing the last signatures of each book which require color. For the black and white books we have done, we print them in duotone but the last signature or two are always in color so that the bibliography and 'making of' information can feature color book jackets or illustrations when necessary. With two presses now running, the checks are turning out to be staggered so that I am called to check more often. Now the time between is only 20-30 minutes which means I have been just hanging out in the press room which is pushing me to the limits.

In the area with the Heidelbergs, C+C has installed thin pipes in the ceiling which every 15 minutes or so shoot an extremely fine mist of water into the air to keep the dust levels down. I've taken to standing under them instead of showering.

The plates for the Takanashi book are stacked and waiting their turn for tomorrow...

If you'd like to get a real sense of what press checking my books was like this time, you can do the following:

1. Get into bed and set your alarm to
wake you in one hour and fifteen minutes from the time you laid down. Important! Don't get undressed or take off your shoes.

2. When alarm sounds, jump out of bed in a daze and stagger around for a few seconds until you recognize where you are.

3. Walk out of your house and head t
o the nearest deli. My trips to the press room from my guest house would take about 4 minutes of walking time.

4. Once you are in the deli, go to the refrigerator and pick up a carton of milk.

5. Scrutinize the milk carton for any flaws. No scratches, dents nor smudges. Check the print densities and don't forget - clean registration!!

6. When you can't find the perfect carton, ask to see more from the stockroom or just hang around the checkout counter f
or about 20 minutes looking for loose change that has fallen into the boxes of candy.

7. Pay for the milk. Leave the change you've found in the 'give a penny/take a penny' you cheap bastard.

8. Walk back home and get into bed.

9. Set your alarm for an hour la

Repeat steps 1-9 for 5 days straight and you'll get the idea.

Sleep deprivation is said to be the worst form of torture. I haven't ever been tortured in the physical sense - no lashings, no stress positions, No waterboarding, no more listening to 24 hour recordings of babies screaming like Springa of SS Decontrol. C+C is no
Guantanamo Bay but this can really suck once the fatigue sets in. You lie down for a cat nap - 45 minutes tops - before you're jolted awake mid-dream to the "deedle-leedle-leet" of the press check phone. I have started noticing some abnormal behavior.

* Running to a 4am press check, I got onto the elevator on the 5th floor of my guest house building, punched the 5th floor
button several times and stood wondering why the doors weren't closing. It took almost a full minute to figure that one out.

* I accidentally kicked my tea spoon under the bed. Instead of simply retrieving it I am now stirring my instant coffee and ginger tea with the end of my toothbrush.

* I take noticeable pleasure in looking in the tea pot, watching the water, and trying to guess how long it will take before it gets to a full boil. (About two minutes).

* Choosing when to wear one of my plain grey t-shirts and when to wear my plain black t-shirts (all from Uniqlo) has become a major thought expenditure.

* Trying to coordinate which "make ready sheets" I want the paper loading pressman to use in order to get cool double-printed sheets. Not really abnormal behavior for me but to the Chinese pressman this is the oddest request they have ever gotten.

* I haven't shaven with a razor in about three years but I get the idea to do so now with a shitty plastic disposable and no proper shaving cream. Now it feels like there is a swarm of fire ants having an orgy on my chin.

* After three days of press checks I'm starting to fuckin' hate books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Books of 2009

2009 is drawing to a close and it was a good year for photography and art books. I had a very hard time weeding books out for this list. I see now it is a really odd mix that reflects my ever-shifting tastes.

Best Books of 2009

1. Lisboa: cidade triste e alegre
by Victor Palla and Costa Martins. I applaud this incredible reprint of the classic Palla and Martins book as the production is as impressive as the photographs. An extremely complicated book to do a facsimile and they nailed it right down to the printing, paper and binding. Plus it is very affordable considering how expensive it was to produce each copy. Do not hesitate. These will not last long.

2. Robert Frank: Looking In. Priceless. 14 years in the making. And I thought I was tired of The Americans. Get the hardcover version with all the good additional material.

3. Protest Photographs by Chauncey Hare. Great photographs, fine Steidl printing.

4. John Baldessari: Pure Beauty. This catalog from LACMA has remained my bedside reading for the past two months. Great retrospective, great book.

5. Studien nach der Natur by Jurgen Bergbauer. The charm of this certainly should have worn off by now. It hasn't.

6. Bettie Kline by Richard Prince. Love Kline. Love Bettie Page. Love Prince for putting them together.

7. Greater Atlanta by Mark Steinmetz. The third in his Southern trilogy. I wish his photos would just keep coming.

8. Novemberrejse by Krass Clement. A quiet master of beautiful photographic sequences.

9. Wald by Gerhard Richter. The best of the twelve Richter books published this year.

10. In this Dark Wood by Elisabeth Tonnard. One of my favorite discoveries of the year. I need to get her other books now.

And since I had such a difficult time choosing, here are ten runners up that should be included above...

11. Landmasses and Railways by Bertrand Fleuret

12. Nothing But Home by Sebastien Girard.

13. Overpainted Photographs by Gerhard Richter

14. Not Niigata by Andrew Phelps

15. School by Raimond Wouda

16. Nationalgalerie by Thomas Demand

17. Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Brown

18. Gröna Lund by Anders Petersen

19. New Topographics by Britt Salvesen

20. Ruhrgebiet by Ulrich Mack

Monday, December 7, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Two

The second book to be printed during this trip was our study on David Goldblatt's In Boksburg. Almost a full year before we printed the first four titles in the Books on Books series, myself and Ed Grazda had the opportunity to meet David through a mutual friend and it was during this meeting that I told David our plans for the series and show him the two inkjet book maquettes I had made of Eugene Atget's Photographe de Paris and Chris Killip's In Flagrante. Almost immediately David responded positively to the idea and we spoke of featuring one of his books in the series. This for me was a huge boost of confidence and I was deeply appreciative that he would go so far as to agree without us even having printed a single title at that point.

We decided on In Boksburg for a few reasons. For me, the choice of which book to feature was between Some Afrikaners Photographed and In Boksburg. At that time, David had just completed production on his book Some Afrikaners Revisited so since much of that material was about to see a new incarnation and was newly accessible, it pushed In Boksburg to the head of my list.

What I find interesting about In Boksburg is that it is a project David embarked upon which examines a town very similar to one that he grew up within. I see much of his work as a mix of personal examination and a straight document of his country and the Boksburg project comes closest as a direct link to his own personal history.

Boksburg under apartheid denied Blacks any right to live there although as David has written, "They serve it, trade with it, receive charity from it and are ruled, rewarded and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, are its privileged guests. But all who go there, do so by permit or invitation, never by right." He was interested in the homogenization of townships. The stores, the homes, and in turn, the growing complacency of its citizens as they adopted the rule of apartheid law. It is an examination of the white societal values in one South African town which speaks of the larger state of country.

One consideration for featuring this book was that its square format posed a difficult sit within our size and format. Due to the ratio of the spreads of the open book and also the way that David had designed and handled the photographs in In Boksburg, in order to best see the photographs and not have them reproduce too small we decided to run all of the plates as large double page spreads.

One of the criticisms I faced with this series is that some of the images are small since many spreads in the first four books were run four plates on facing pages. The intention was that by seeing four page spreads at a time, the viewer would start to see how the artist or designer was making connections within the sequence between various images. The downside of such a strategy was that some of the photos get reproduced at a much smaller scale obviously. With Boksburg, if we applied that same strategy then most of the 35mm photographs that appear in the book would have been too small to read properly which naturally led to our decision to run them all large. That said, it is not our intention to just make a mini-version of these great books. We carefully planned the various layouts so that they might - hopefully - inspire a new vantage point when looking at a book. By showing the original and presenting not just the photographs but the layout and page design I hoped that this "taking one-step back" approach could facilitate further study and reflection.

The first sheets from In Boksburg I press checked looked good but for a slight increase in contrast. To correct this I had the press operator increase the second grey and when necessary pull back the black densities. Like shifting to a lower contrast filter in darkroom printing, this helped reduce the contrast and match the original book's tonal range and densities.

I should say that of the four books we
are doing in this set, In Boksburg follows the most traditional printing. As I mentioned, William Klein's Life is Good... had its extreme quirks to the original. It was very contrasty and obscured a lot of detail in both highlights and shadows. The Koen Wessing book Chili, September 1973 is another weirdly printed book. It was printed with a single pass of black ink on a cheap newsprint type paper. That, and the fact that Wessing's prints that were used to make the plates showed extreme burning and dodging techniques for which many of his images are known to show. He would dodge out a detail till it was over-dodged and represented as a weak grey and then in turn he would burn in the skies till they haloed the subjects. One of the Takanashi books from Toshi-e, Notes Tokyo-jin also employed a single pass of black ink on a newsprint which obscures a lot of shadow detail and poses complicated strategy for us to reproduce with satisfying results.

These four books were chosen beca
use they represent a photographer working a city during a particular time period. Two are overtly political while the others are more metaphoric. They also represent different ways of photographic printing. It is this latter quality that will challenge me in the days ahead during these press checks. More to come...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bettie Kline by Richard Prince

In the past twenty-five years I have never looked at one of Franz Kline's paintings and thought, "That might be Bettie Page's vagina." Never happened. Robert Motherwell maybe, but Kline? Richard Prince has a new artist book called Bettie Kline and the content may shift the way you look at Kline's works forevermore.

In the 1950s Irving Klaw had his infamous studio at 212 East 14th street which churned out pin-up photos and stag films featuring his most popular model Bettie Page. I lived for a time on the second floor of 212 in the loft which many of those films and photos were taken and the door of the then uninhabited first floor still had a large decal announcing Klaw's "storefront." I knew of the history but I didn't know that Franz Kline had lived for half a decade in the loft above the one I shared. According to this book, Kline would use many of Klaw's models as figure studies and Page would become Kline's favorite muse - apparently he was head over spiked heels for her.

This book brings together a few dozen of the hundreds of pen and ink sketches Kline produced set aside photographs of Page that were popular wares from Klaw. In retrospect it all makes complete sense. Page's bangs, black garters and bondage gear contrasting with her flash burnt white skin become obvious mash-ups of light and dark that Kline responded to with further abstraction.

Seemingly less a sensual response to body, it is the taught contraptions and ropes which bound Page into contorted poses - the "push and pull" of tension-filled line - that Kline put to paper. In a few, his sketches take on her curvy body with less abstract approach but these are less interesting visually. His strength is when the artist/inspiration relationship is kept secret - a subliminal nod to the calendar girl in large swaths of roughly applied black and grey.

Published by the Gagosian gallery, Bettie Kline is a beautiful book. Exquisitely produced, it is printed as a series of images stuck to the page with cellophane tape. The text, in the form of a typed letter that came out of a letter dropping Olivetti, gives us the history which reads as fact, but the book retains the feeling of a constructed reality where fiction is still a lingering possibility.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day One

I'm now back in New York after a particularly tiring week printing books at the C+C Joint in Shenzhen, China. I arrived after a week in Paris with a slight cold so I was a little worried about being able to stand the five 24 hour days of straight printing. Unfortunately as you may have read, China now completely blocks blogging so I had to wait till I got home to post. Over the next week I'll be giving a recap on the week's events.

We started printing with our study of William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York and I approved the first sheet within a half hour of arriving on site. last year there were a few issues to be hashed out before they could start putting things to press but this year we solved most all mysteries weeks ago.

For those of you who know the original Klein New York book from 1958, it is great but it has an odd flavor of printing. It was rotogravure and according to William Klein the printer in Switzerland gave him the limited choice of either "black or grey." Klein's choice of wanting rich blacks resulted in very a contrasty printing where often there is little or no detail in the deep shadows. For me this adds to the flavor and aggressive nature of the book but to some it could look primitive and crude.

Matching to my personal copy of the original which I had on hand, it was just a slight increase in the black levels of ink which made the first sheets look better. One of the things I have learned about offset since printing the first four of the Books on Books series is "wet versus dry" tonalities. As a traditional darkroom printer I expect my darkroom prints to "dry down" a little - that is, get a little darker. What I discovered with offset is that the dry sheets can wind up less rich and the blacks looking surprisingly lighter depending on the varnish. We use a slightly matte varnish over each duotone plate and when dry, it can reduce the richness of the black tonalities.

While I was on-press for the first books I kept sensing a need to reduce the amount of black ink on the pages because it looked too heavy when wet compared to the original book plates. In retrospect seeing how these dried, I had pulled back too far in some cases. So for this first Klein sheet I used my machine proofs made two months ago as a starting point since they are definitely dry and I wound up increasing the colorimeter black points to between 1.9 and
2. The result matched the original book accurately.

One thing for aspiring book makers is to consider spending the extra money to get an actual machine proof rather than one coming from a "proofing press." The machine proof is one that comes off the same kind of, if not the actual printing press that will eventually print your book. They are often in better register which was the problem with the first proofs I made for the first Errata books. this time I saw exactly what I could expect and plan for slight tonal changes etc.

People have asked repeatedly how I get the artists or estates to agree to let a work be a part of this series and the simple answer is - I just ask. For Mr. Klein I wrote a simple email to him. He responded that the project sounded interesting and after a few follow up phone calls we worked out the terms of how to proceed. Within our many conversations both on the phone and in person I discovered that Life is Good & Good for You in New York is a book which he would never reprint in its original form which is one of the deciding criteria for inclusion in my series. He told me that when he revisited the work for the New York 1955-56 book in the mid-1990s he felt that new book was going to be about the photography where the original, in his words, "was about graphic design."

Everything about the original book, the photos, the graphic design and even the printing which is far from perfect, add to the uniqueness of that book and make it the masterpiece that should be seen again. As a "street photographer" for me, it is a great honor that he would entrust me with this study of his groundbreaking work. It was even more exciting for me to have William send a couple scans of the original maquette and original contact sheets which I was able to use to illustrate the "making of" pages of my book.

This edition also includes the often missing caption pamphlet which was attached to the book via a string and metal t-bar clasp. The pamphlet contains many great graphic elements and Klein's wonderfully humorous captions. For the essay, William referred us to an existing but obscure piece written by Max Kozloff which he felt was the best thing written on him and this book, that has ever been done. Although we usually commission a new essay for each book, his insistence for this particular piece and its fullness in addressing all of the book aspects which we look for, made it a fine choice.

It is 6:00 am and I just finished approving the last of the duotone sheets from the Klein book. An exhausting day but a great start. 16 press checks and 16 cups of raw ginger tea. Now I am waiting for the phone ring to approve the first of the David Goldblatt In Boksburg book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Goodness Gracious Great Firewalls of China

大家好。 我当前是在检查下本印刷错误编辑书的中国新闻中。 象去年我打算张贴关于制造的每日报告每本书,但是它在我的游行今年看起来象中国的伟大的防火墙下着雨。 Blogger被阻拦了。 因此我将保存所有我的报告并且张贴他们星期我的回归。 我的道歉… Whiskets

Hello all. I am currently in China press checking the next Errata Editions books. Like last year I intended to post a daily report about the making of each book but this year it looks like the Great Firewall of China is raining on my parade. Blogger has been blocked. So I will save all my reports and post them the week of my return. My apologies...


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Paris to China

Just a quick note to say that I am on my way to China to go through the grueling press checks on the next Errata Editions books. I have spent a few days at Paris Photo and will give a recap of events when I have a moment to relax. In the meanwhile, here is an interesting Ilya Kabakov book you should search out. Cheers...

My Mother's Album by Ilya Kabakov

Ilya Kabakov's book My Mother's Album opens to a page upon which is typed in cyrillic lettering, Life as an Insult. What follows is a letter, a plea from an 79 year old woman to the central government in Russia to authorize a change of apartments because she cannot physically manage to bring wood and water into her living quarters any longer. She begs for a switch to a state run apartment where utilities are provided. The woman we are informed, is Kabakov's mother Bailey Solodukhina.

Posing as an autobiography put together by his mother by his request, My Mother's Album wants to be a historical document which by all appearances is real. It has the patina of age and seems assembled by an un-artistic hand. The pages are facsimiles of bluish album paper upon which short passages of her story are glued, accompanied by postcard style photographs (made by the Kabokov's uncle who was a professional photographer) presenting the state's image of the village of Berdiansk with prosperity and flourishing socialism. The texts however, describes a very different reality.

Her life described in short fragments is one filled with hopes dashed by hardship and abandonment. This clear-cut and perhaps expected disconnect is the starting point for the work, as one reads on and views the images we search for some shards of truth as both represent differing perceptions. Since memory is a full of reconstructions and the processing of information in personal ways, neither can be fully trusted. The curiosity is that the photography is whole heartedly dismissed as propaganda while the texts seem to represent the only true "reality."

This becomes all the more complicated when we look to Kabakov's past work which has entirely fabricated history and persona for its own use. My Mother's Album keeps unfolding and presenting its reality through to the last pages which shows a timeline of photographs of his mother and his family but again, one reads the photographs as either to confirm or belie the previous story. Both succeed in trapping time and hold us to waiting for something to come which in Kabakov's words represents how he felt as a child - "the torture of endless anticipation."

My Mother's Album was published in 1995 by Flies France.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In This Dark Wood by Elisabeth Tonnard

Last weekend was another small artbook fair in New York at which I made an exciting discovery in the work of a young Dutch poet and visual artist named Elisabeth Tonnard. Tonnard has been in residence at Rochester's Visual Studies Workshop and has created several artist books over the past several years. One title that was a must own for me was her book In This Dark Wood published in 2008. I am one year late to add this to my Best of 2009 list but since I make the rules here, I will happily add it anyway.

In This Dark Wood presents a selection of photographs from an archive that is currently housed at the Visual Studies Workshop. The pictures are from a commercial photo firm called "Fox Movie Flash" which was owned by a man named Joseph Selle. Working in the San Francisco area, Selle and a team of street photographers made casually framed fleeting portraits of pedestrians intended to be sold to the passers-by after development.

Shot with half frame cameras that would hold a 100 foot roll of 35mm film, each roll captured more than 1500 photographs. The archive consists of over a million images made from the 1930s to the 70s.

Tonnard constructed her book using 90 of the photographs paired with 90 different English translations of the first line of Dante's Inferno:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la via diritta era smarrita.

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

Selle's unsuspecting subjects walking alone and caught in the light of the flash, become the multitude of alienated souls wandering "the dark woods" of the city. What is amazing about this work is how, accompanied by the suggestion of the text, the environs surrounding each subject heighten the metaphor. Movie marquees caught in the upper corners of the frames read movie titles of violence and doom; "Ring of Fire," "Hell is a City," "...from Hell," "Petrified World, "Nightfall," "Corridors of Blood."

Tonnard sequenced the photographs to emphasize repetition and further sense of - in Tonnard's words - moving "incessantly to and fro" without seemingly making any progress much like Dante's lost souls. By stressing the difference in translations, Tonnard is also emphasizing the fluidity of language and thus a path that may appear straight but is in constant flux.

In This Dark Wood is a print on demand book in an open edition. The size of a trade paperback it is simple in its design and construction which can make the price tag on first glance seem high. It isn't an elegant presentation (her creation is certainly deserving of better treatment) but the photographs are wonderfully striking and not without their individual surprise.

Highly recommended.

Check Elisabeth Tonnard's website for other books and ordering information.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fun and Games by Lisa Kereszi

Our desire to give into fantasy and escape everyday life has led to the creation of outlets so seemingly absurd I wonder how we'll be perceived as a species in the far future. We love sitting on the edge of fear, we love movies that are like roller coaster rides, we love to feel out of control, if just for a moment. We don't really concentrate on the finer details. We are seduced into the experience by colorful lights and surreal imagery that in the bright light of day often appears sad and frayed but we suspend disbelief for the sake of fun. Lisa Kereszi is fascinated with such places whether found inside a strip club, on a beachside boardwalk attraction, or in a disco. Her new book from Nazraeli Press, Fun and Games, presents 49 photographs made in such places.

Fun and Games opens as many great books have, with an open doorway. It is almost an obvious joke as Kereszi's doorway was found at the entrance to the Spook-A-Rama on Coney Island. A single wide eye stares back at us before we enter, reminding us that it is all fun and games until someone loses - Ok you get it.

Kereszi's deadpan gaze focuses on the kitsch and the tattered. She emphasizes the poor constructions and wear from use evident on the walls and carpets. In one, the remnants of spilt popcorn litter the ornate carpet pattern of a movie theater. A laughable cliche of a phantom is airbrushed on a disco wall. In another she describes the thin strands of cord hanging from the ceiling which have startled many in the pitch dark of Deno's Spook-A-Rama.

In the light, these small details are center stage and their artifice obvious. Pointing out kitsch for simple laughs is easy to do and many young photographers have been ensnared by such tactics but Kereszi seems to be doing her best to seduce and allow us to be taken in and amused. These are not automatic yucks but resonant images full of hope found in a disappearing landscape that is rarer to experience in our search for high tech entertainment.

As a book Fun and Games sticks to Nazraeli's design and construction. Glossy laminate boards cover the usual large plates and typography. I tend to like the work Nazraeli publishes in their books but I do wish they'd mix up the design and feel of their titles. After so many similar books they seem very formulaic in their book-craft.

Kereszi's first monograph, Fantasies was interesting but the images I responded to the most in that title where the still-lifes and incidental scenes similar to the ones featured here in Fun and Games. This is a tighter edit and altogether better book. She seems more in control, while we, through her photos, may entertain the many ways we wish to lose ourselves in fantasy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nationalgalerie by Thomas Demand

The second of my installments of best books of 2009 also comes from Steidl, Thomas Demand Nationalgalerie.

This is a catalog was published in conjunction with Demand's exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and it was timed to mark two points in German history - the 60 year anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since Demand's work always concerns itself with pivotal moments in history and reconstructing an artificial representation to be re-imagined and "remembered", this timing could not be more perfect.

As with many of Demand's books/catalogs there is a strong attempt to make an elegant object. Nationalgalerie has stark, egg-shell colored buckram covers much like any common library book - simple typography announces the title. Opening to beautiful wall-paper style endpapers, each of the 38 plates is printed on two-page foldouts which require care and patience to view. On the cover of each foldout short text passages by the German playwright Botho Strauß are printed. The passages less explain the images directly but philosophically question what we are seeing and re-experiencing.

For this exhibition, Demand chose exclusively 'German' works inspired by German history. Looking through the sequence, Demand jumbles that history into a distorted timeline that questions the relationship of one moment to the next, much in the same way that Richter's Atlas or Schmidt's Un-i-ty does through their own free association of images.

The plates in Thomas Demand Nationalgalerie are beautifully printed on fine paper stock and the size allows each image to be reproduced at a large scale. This scale is important yet not for the usual reasons. Demand's paper constructions lack the pollution of exacting details which photography usually obsesses over. His is a less cluttered representation where the viewer might be side-stepped by the small imperfections in his constructions momentarily but the overall cleanliness invites us to inhabit each in ways we wouldn't if it were a historical image. As Strauß writes of Demand, "Art alone has the power to exchange much for little. Consider Demand's models of sublimated space. The magical emptiness clears our world of a great deal of superfluity."

The one draw back to Demand's work in book form is that the same images are present in several volumes often making ownership of more than one unnecessary. I have acquired several over the years but the ones I have kept are few. The 2006 Serpentine Gallery catalog I wrote about last year is a must, the 2007 Processo Grottesco is a must have for the wealth of source material and wonderful design, and now this new Nationalgalerie volume has bumped a couple of the earlier retrospective books like the 2005 MoMA catalog and the 2000 Cartier catalog off my shelves. If you are looking for your first book from one of Germany's most important artists, look no further.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Protest Photographs by Chauncey Hare

Over the next month, time willing, I will be featuring several books which are my picks for best books of the year. The first is the new Steidl and Steven Kasher publication of Chauncey Hare's Protest Photographs.

Chauncey Hare is known primarily for his 1978 book Interior America from Aperture. Attuned to his own estrangement in the corporate world being a research engineer for Standard Oil, he began photographing as an escape from his everyday routine. In his written introductory essay he describes the physical and psychological toll that such an environment had on his health including daily nausea and extreme panic disorders from which he suffered. These unpleasant attacks would let up as the week ended and Hare could look forward to photographing during the weekends.

Starting with 35mm and graduating to a Burke and James 5x7 camera, Hare was initially too shy to approach people directly so he described the landscape around the homes of Richmond, California where he lived. On one occasion in 1968 Hare was approached by a man who offered to sell him a camera. This invitation into the man's home led Hare to start to explore the interiors lives of the workers in the area. Citing the resonance of photographers like Evans and Russell Lee, Hare methodically worked to gain access into people's living rooms and three Guggenheim fellowship facilitated a large body of work that has incredibly remained under the radar of many younger photographers.

When I was in art school, Hare's Interior America was a book that often came up in conversation with my teachers. What struck me was his indelicate use of artificial lighting. His strobes aren't softened to reduce strong shadows and often the blanket of light is harsh. It is if he wished for every hard edge to be revealed in crisp uncompromising detail.

The original edition of Interior America followed a straight forward design from Marvin Israel keeping to one picture on the right and a short caption specifying place on the left page. It suffered from a weak printing which made Hare's pictures on first glance seem unimpressive. One had to fight to fully sense the power of those 77 images. The whole endeavor feels cheap and so typical of books from the late 70s.

Protest Photographs is a more direct title for the work. Hare's response to the claustrophobic atmosphere and spiritual desolation in the workers lives (and his own) is its driving force and his main concern. It is his vision of what could be extraordinary lives dulled by joyless routine and loss of personal meaning - anesthetized cogs in a machine.

Protest Photographs expands the edit of Interior America to include many more images as well as photographs Hare made within the offices of corporate world he was rallying against (Hare once handed out protest leaflets at a lecture at MoMA protesting the Mirrors and Windows exhibition that included one of his images as he didn't approve of the museum's corporate sponsor). The printing is light-years better than the original, restoring Hare's extended tonal range and giving it its full due.

Hare was considering destroying all of the existing prints and negatives of his work unless the Bancroft Library at the University of California would accept it as a donation. The wealth of material which includes taped interviews he conducted with workers and corporate managers, slide shows, 50,000 negatives, 3500 prints and 30,000 35mm slides.

In the late 1980s Hare gave up photography to become a therapist who concentrated on work related abuse. Perhaps he saw how it is difficult for photography to truly make a change, or, was photography just a step in many outlets to spread the message of shifting priorities to one's own happiness and fulfillment. Hare lived in both those worlds. His view was saved and is now available in this book - kept out of a bonfire that couldn't possibly have consumed his anger.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

I was teaching a class in contemporary art for UC Extension, and John was teaching a drawing class down the hall. In those days the classes were held in the La Jolla Museum and the students were a mix of high school teachers and servicemen working for credentials and returning housewives and retired professionals just interested in art. The classes were a couple hours long with a short break in the middle, when John and I would meet in the hall. One day I broke early and walked over to his room to get him. John was sitting in the front, looking out the window, while the students were copying a piece of plumbing sitting on the desk.
"John," I said, "they're cross-hatching the shadows!"
"Yeah'" he said, "they like to cross-hatch. It feels professional." - David Antin from Eight Stories for John Baldessari

A new book on the hugely influential artist John Baldessari published for his retrospective at LACMA, Pure Beauty is one of my favorites of the year. Baldessari, an artist who has used a wealth of mediums including photography, is a prolific source, challenging our perceptions of painting, photography, video and text. Playful and slyly profound, his works address mass culture and how we digest the images that surround us and what they convey.

In some ways his art is one that wants to appeal to everyone but its deadpan straight-forwardness often confounds the viewer and we stumble over his creations, questioning their intent. He is one that challenges us to really look and perceive, accepting what might be considered humor, yet not being stunted by its presence.

It was his disregard of traditional representation, attempting to talk to the audience literally in a language they could relate to, that led Baldessari to create many of his well known text paintings. One called Subject Matter (again painted by the local sign painter) is lettering on a light green background, "Subject Matter Look at the subject as if you have never seen it before. Examine it from every side. Draw its outline with your eyes or in the air with your hands. And saturate yourself with it." This very painting with its sobering text might be hanging on a wall next to different artist's painting and yet another a few feet away. What are the parameters for examination? Within the single canvas? Or taking in, almost cinematically, all of the works, including: the wall, the moulding, the doorway, the window and what is seen outside. This extension of perception led to many of his later works which combined multiple images, often in separate frames and taking up large on gallery and museum walls.

As Lawrence Weiner once wrote of Baldessari, "John...understands that art is based on the relationships between human beings and that we, as Americans, understand our relationship to the world through various media. We think of any unknown situation in terms of something we've seen at the movies...John is dealing with the archetypal consciousness of what media represent, using the material that affects daily life."

Pure Beauty covers Baldessari's entire career and includes nine substantial essays from various writers. Illustrated by hundreds of plates and handsomely designed using different paper stock for text and image, Pure Beauty has quickly become one of my picks for Books of the Year for 2009. It was co-published by LACMA, Delmonico and Prestel.

On the way back from an opening in Los Angeles, Elly and I were sleepy and stopped for gas in San Juan Capistrano. It was late, the road was empty, and I was doing 65 or 70 in my two-hundred dollar, 1950 Chrysler Imperial with the wire wheels and electric powered windows. It was a gusty night and we could feel the mountain winds buffeting the car, and as we drove, the black hood rose slowly, floated up and over the windshield and disappeared behind us before I could stop the car or turn around. We went back to look for it the next day somewhere south of San Clemente. But it was gone. The only thing to do was find another one in a junkyard in Chula Vista. That's when I found out there was a place called National City. - David Antin from Eight Stories for John Baldessari

Trapped in the proverbial vacuum of Southern California's National City, John Baldessari discovered a way to accept the void, the cultural isolation, the boredom and estrangement. He made a series of snapshots, sometimes from a moving car, sometimes from the hip, of life in National City - pictures of street corners, various storefronts, suburban homes, car dealerships - everything he saw as "the real situation." These he would use photo emulsion to apply them to canvas and as a finishing touch, hired a sign painter to paint a caption, usually the location, in a straight-forward and matter of fact style. These photo-texts pieces he created starting in 1966 would lead him to ceremoniously cremate all of his previous works in his possession on July 24, 1970.

A book I picked up at Artbook Cologne earlier this year from the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego called John Baldessari: National City (1996) features most of this work plus newly realized pieces created when Baldessari revisited sites in his former hometown.

These works raise questions about image and text in similar ways to Ed Ruscha's self-published artist books of the time. One reads Twenty-six Gasoline Stations and then peruses photos of gasoline stations but all the while we are looking for more, questioning the simplicity. When Baldessari has his picture taken standing in front of a palm tree in a suburban neighborhood, then has his sign painter caption the photo "Wrong," we stumble for a moment. Is he questioning rules of photography? The palm tree sprouts from the head of the figure, breaking a conventional rule - do not photograph people so things appear to be growing out of the subject's head. When he directs us to look at an "Econ-O-Wash" at 14th and Highland do we accept the image or are we distrustful of the artist. Is this conceptual art? On first viewing, the images seem funny and according to Joseph Kosuth, the use of comic irony fell into pop art, and he once implied, "conceptual art could not be funny." So in essence, Baldessari (according to Kosuth) was doing everything "wrong." Why are these canvases sized 59 x 45? So they could fit inside the artist's van.

As a book, John Baldessari: National City, is not a great object but to have these works in a single volume at an affordable price is the draw. Along with eight essays by various authors, the plates are reproduced in color and works from the series not included in the exhibition are shown in duotone as well.
Look for this one before it gets too pricey.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rome + Klein by William Klein

"I compare Rome, once again, to an artist's studio, not that of the elegant artist, who, like ours, dreams of success and plays a role, but that of an old artist with messy hair who in his time had a streak of genius and who now squabbles with shopkeepers." -Hippolyte Taine

In 1956 while Federico Fellini was in Paris for the premier of I Vitelloni, he received a phone call from a young William Klein who asked to meet and show him his recently published book Life is Good & Good for You in New York. Upon meeting the following day, Fellini mentioned already owning the Italian edition which he said he liked and kept by his bed. According to Klein, within minutes he was invited to become an assistant to Fellini on his latest project, The Nights of Cabiria. His job was to photograph during the casting and document the prospective whores and pimps, black marketeers, hoods, and other "scroungy characters" needed for the film. Finances were delayed and Klein was free for eight weeks to roam the streets looking for his own take on the city, sometimes accompanied by Fellini, Alberto Morovia and other avant-garde writers and artists. Klein's Rome: The City and Its People was published in 1959 and Aperture has just released a new 50th anniversary edition as two books housed in a special PVC slipcase.

Like his reworking of his classic book on New York from 1995 (Marval), Rome + Klein is not a direct facsimile reprint of the original. He has left much of the graphic design by the wayside in favor of full bleed images and inclusion of additional photos that did not appear in the original. As Klein has said of his revisitation of the New York work, "The first book was about graphic design, the second is about photography" - the same approach holds true here.

Klein's Rome, the original, is the only of his "city" books which I do not own so direct comparison is not possible but what I gather is that most of the additional material included in this new edition is from his various fashion assignments shot in the streets with his usual flare for mixing the staged with the unpredictable. Klein has written of the fashion pictures, "I found it hard to take seriously, and the photos were mostly private jokes." What is not a joke is that within eight weeks Klein literally blitzed the city and produced one of his better books in such a short time.

Appropriately not as vertiginous as the New York work, Klein keeps a quick visual pace even among Rome's seemingly sluggish citizens. Rome + Klein opens with a photo of the guard to the famous Cinecitta film studios relaxed next to sculpture of Greco-Roman wrestlers, his rounded stomach more akin to the bulbous fenders of the nearby Vespa scooter than the marbled muscles of his arm-locked ancestors. Klein shoves his Leica and trademark wide lens into the crowds while they walk, eat and play while also making more static (albeit visually loud) portraits of his artist friends that acted sometimes as his guides.

In one, on invitation from Fellini to meet up with Vittorio De Sica, Klein gets a bonus appearance by Roberto Rossellini and a crowded portrait of three of the greatest film-makers is made, but Klein's image is not one of star struck glamour, he photographs them as if they were anonymous figures found on any street corner.

After a brief introduction about the "why and how" the work came into being, the first book is all photographs whose flow is only interrupted by the chapter divisions which make up the six parts. The second book is a thinner volume of Klein's captions and extended texts from a variety of authors along with design elements that playfully litter the margins. It is within these writings that one discovers Klein's own texts are as entertaining and smart as his photographs. For anyo
ne who has read the Manhadoes essay or captions from the booklet attached to Life is Good... will know, Klein is extremely funny and writes in a style that puts the free verse of some of the Beats to shame. I find it curious that his texts are never mentioned at all in regard to his books since their strength is so apparent.

As books, Rome + Klein are well conceived and beautifully produced. I like the split of the two books into photographs and captions, certainly the sma
ller caption book may invite people to actually read his texts which in a combined volume would have been a task due to the larger size and weight. The PVC slipcase is printed with the same colorful jacket image that graced the original. My only critique is that Klein has been employing the same typography and layout for several titles now and the graphic elements lack the former surprise and playful irreverence.

Klein has been recognized as one of the major talents of the twentieth century, not only as a photographer but as a film
-maker as well. He challenged each medium he tackled from painting to photography to graphic design and I would add, even writing. This work, unlike his work from his hometown of New York, was unplanned and the fruit of a chance meeting. In the words of praise from Fellini, "Rome is a movie, and Klein did it."

Note: Aperture is having a Benefit and Auction on November 2nd. Click here for more information.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making the Photographic Book Workshop

A quick reminder that the weekend after next is another great opportunity to dust off those workprints and start shaping a book with Ken Schles and Jeffrey Ladd:

Making the Photographic Book: A Weekend Workshop.

With instant publishing and printing on demand, limited edition monographs and coffee table tomes, the era of the photographic book has arrived. Do you have the makings of a great book? Where does one start? During this intensive two-day workshop we will work with you to mold your book idea into a credible shape as you give it form. We will view and discuss classic photographic book concepts and guide you through critiques on editing and sequencing while exploring the practicalities of putting a book dummy together.

October 24 - 25 (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 am - 5 pm.

This workshop will be held in Manhattan:
526 West 26th Street, Suite 507, NY, NY 10001 (btwn 10th and 11th Avenues; see map).

This class will be taught jointly by Ken Schles and Jeffrey Ladd.

Prerequisite: This workshop is for someone who already has a series of images (20-30) no larger than 8x10 (preferably smaller) that they want to work with. These images will form the basis of your “book.” This "hands on" class does not require computers or knowledge of page layout programs.

Cost: $425.00.

To reserve a spot for this class, please email us at: psworkshops[at]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jet Master by Idan Hayosh, Corina Künzli and Salome Schmuki

About twelve years ago I found two, one foot by three foot "circuit camera" panoramic photographs in the basement of my grandparent's home. They were made by E.O. Goldbeck and my grandfather appears left of center in full military dress. One of the prints shows the soldiers with hats on, the second, hats off. Goldbeck, besides being one of the best known of all users of circuit cameras, had a service which photographed military regiments for over thirty years. Some of his photos ordered thousands of people into one image.

The book from Kodoji press Jet Master by Idan Hayosh, Corina Künzli and Salome Schmuki explores the overt order and hidden orders of group portraits and military weaponry.

Jet Master is an artist collaboration which started with Idan Hayosh's fascination with images which were made to sell military hardware. Fighter planes sit on tarmac surrounded by the various bombs, missiles, and payloads they can carry. The order of the weaponry is frighteningly similar to any formal group portrait wether from high school, sports team or commercial business.

The construction of the book is a collaboration between Hayosh and two graphic designers Corina Kü
nzli and Salome Schmuki. They classified and arranged the images with a strategy in mind that both emphasizes their similarity but also hidden patterns.

The way the weaponry is represented shows a strategic effort to seduce. The symmetry of line and scale is easy for the viewer to accept - it appeals with child-like fascination. They present incredible force but with little thought to the actual destruction that could be unleashed. Just like sex can sell anything, the same psychological manipulation is in effect. With the inclusion of historical photos covering many decades, one realizes that this type of manipulation has been thought about (and apparently successful) for a long time.

Kodoji Press, headed by Winfried Heininger, publish well thought out and attractive books and Jet Master is no exception. It comes in two editions, one in 900 English copies and 200 in Hebrew.