Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Second Kasseler Photobook-Festival

That was the longest stretch of silence yet from 5B4. For those unaware I was in Germany and Holland for about ten days. I had the honor of being invited to do a lecture at the second annual Kassler Fotofrühling (Photobook Festival) in Kassel, Germany. My initial intention was to do like I did at Paris Photo, occasionally taking a moment to post about the proceedings, but due to limited time, sketchy internet connections, beer, cigarettes and a general lethargy brought on by one too many döner kababs, it proved unlikely. So here is a recap of the last week and a half...

After catching a quick train to Köln to meet up with the Schaden crew a day before the festival, they quickly introduced me to the local beer, Kölsch which helped to put me on local time. I have felt a bit burned out on books lately and before I this trip I thought if I saw another photobook I would puke blood, yet one minute into Markus's new shop browsing all the titles that are slow to make it to the States, the disease showed full force. I'll tell you about things I found over the next few postings.

Friday morning I caught a train to the home of the "Becher School," the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, to meet up with Katja Stuke (Suits review here) and Oliver Seiber who generously offered to drive me to Kassel. Katja and Oliver where scheduled to be the very first lecture of the festival and I was a bit jealous of their calm and the fact that they had each other for support while lecturing. I haven't done much public speaking and those that know me know that I would rather hide behind my camera or computer so I was nervous and unsure of what to expect come my time at the podium. The festival took place in a school for photography and graphic design, the Kunsthochschule Kassel and it was almost completely empty but for a few workers preparing and setting up. Right when I thought the attendance would be minimal, the auditorium filled with over a hundred people for the first lecture. I suddenly became very nervous because from what I had been told, Friday is normally the slowest day of the festival and I was scheduled to speak on Sunday.

Between the lectures with Jessica Backhaus, Joakim Eskildsen, Andreas Magdanz, Dayanita Singh, WassinkLundgren, Gerry Badger, Krass Clement, Markus Schaden and myself, the festival offered portfolio reviews, a couple exhibitions - one of Stephen Gill's books, library tours, a show of book dummies, and a special exhibition from Nina Poppe and Verena Loewenhaupt's Marks of Honor project in which 13 co
ntemporary photographers pay homage to their artistic role models. They invited the artists to pick a book and create a new work of art in response to that work. Harvey Benge, Chris Coekin, Peter Granser, Pieter Hugo, Tiina Itkonen, Onaka Koji, Jens Liebchen, Michael Light, Mark Power, Matthew Sleeth, Alec Soth, Jules Spinatsch, and Raimond Wouda all took part and an exhibition of these books will be on display at FOAM in Amsterdam starting this week on the 28th.

The book dummy show had a few interesting books but the most impressive / obnoxious, completely impossible to operate and somehow incredibly compelling book Rumanien by Katharina Gaenssler was my favorite. The book was one foot thick, hundreds - if not over one thousand pages - and each double page spread had eighteen photos.

It appeared to be shot entirely from the car during a road trip through Romania and my immediate reaction was to recoil at the pretentiousness of someone making a book a foot thick that is nearly physically impossible to look through (one really has to pick up this 30 pound beast and operate it on your lap, moving your legs as if you were playing with a giant slinky). But after giving it a little time which no one else seemed willing to do (it doesn't offer much invitation), it really does pay off. I can't imagine it ever being published and certainly the scale alone doesn't merit its production but I do applaud the maker for her attempt and for many great page spreads. Benedict Taschen watch out, you've been out sized.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dayanita Singh who proved to be as mischievous as charming. She did a fine lecture on Saturday and also created a 'secret exhibition' of her photos by selecting a few people to slip a small print into the plastic holder of their name badges. Some attendees noticed and many didn't, but people who did came away with a smile.

A few antiquarian book de
alers showed on Saturday and Sunday and my big find of the day was a copy of the reprint of Moi Ver's Ci Contre done beautifully by Anne and Jurgen Wilde, the couple responsible for the great Germaine Krull Metal reprint from 2002. For those that do not know, the Wilde's were big collector's of Blossfelt, Krull and others and over the years have done exquisite but somewhat pricey reprints of a few books. The Moi Ver book they issued in 2005, is a facsimile of an unpblished book dummy which they own. For those that know the Steidl reprint of Moi Ver's Paris and like that work should look into this book. I'll be featuring it on 5B4 soon. The frustrating thing about their books is simply tracking down where to get them. They have no website, no email and not surprisingly, almost no distribution. The Germaine Krull reprint goes for around 300-400 dollars and I have seen the Moi Ver Ci Contre for around 175-300. My copy was gotten for 90 euros ($125.00).

Kassel is somewhat small and although be
autiful, let's just say it is a little quiet. So after each day's events at the festival, since all participants where housed in the same hotel, the hotel bar was the place for extended drinks and talk. It was there that I met many great people but I also realized how insane we must all be. After talking all day about photography and books you know you're among the infected when its 2:00 am, you're drunk in a hotel bar, lungs choked with smoke and you're still talking about fucking photobooks.

Sunday arrived and my lecture was looming close. I felt extra nervous for a while after seeing how anxious Markus was about his own talk. I figured if everyone knows Markus and he's done these things many times before then I was in for a real nerve wracking experience. Oddly, after Krass Clement and Gery Badger, I felt calm once it was time for me to start. I had everything written out in case I lost my train of thought which happens under normal circumstances for me just in my day to day, but my thoughts seemed to flow better than expected and I was able to just do the talk without much reading at all. I shuffled my notes and got lost a couple times and forgot whole parts which I had intended to say but everyone said I seemed natural. Huge relief I didn't self-destruct as I had imagined doing many times in preparation.

The day ended up in the library where Thomas We
igand had put together a small exhibition of books. Since Krass Clement was there and has published 18 books besides Drum - his best known of all - Thomas had him sign a few from his own collection. It was in one of his small exhibitions that I had a chance to look through a few of Hans-Peter Feldmann's small artist books from the Bilder series.

Afterwards I drove back to Köln with the Sc
hadens, stopping along autobahn 44 at a rest area for some Frikadelle (meatloaf burgers), potatoes, beer and chocolate covered ice cream cubes. isn't the daily menu that you want to know but what books I found?? Wait damn you...


Jen Bekman said...

If talking about photography and books till 2AM means you're infected, then hell... I want to be quarantined!

Sounds like an amazing trip, thanks for the very entertaining recap.

a mind with no ceiling said...

Great to see you back, sounds like a worthwhile trip! Ci-contre is indeed a beauty, I saw a copy in... Germany, not long ago. Although I have a preference for Paris (the book), it's amazing to see that the Wilde are passionate enough to share this long-lost project. Moi Ver was undoubtedly ahead of his time.

sean said...

Rumanien sounds excellent. Due to the number of images and the time-gap between the taking of each (I wonder what this was), the work seems more akin to a series of stills from a film rather than individual photographs. It blurs the line between the two!

df323photo said...

Hi Jeff. Welcome back!!!

FYI. The ICP bookstore carried Ci-Contre for a long time at $125 but it is now listed as out-of-print.

Doktor said...

Well the Katharina Gaenssler book really IS an object. Does the content matter?

Kassel!? Quiet?! Are you saying you didn't check out the local gothic and death metal scene? Man...

Stuart Alexander said...

Sounds like a whole lot of bratwurst to me. Hell in a foreskin? Must be good to be home!

Anonymous said...

What is the book in the second row of photographs, third image from the left, brown spine with girl holding her arms above her head?

Unknown said...

The Marks of Honor project sounds very interesting. Are there any plans to publish those books?

Chuck Shacochis said...

The Rumanien book actually looks pretty interesting. I know it was a dummy but it looks like it was put together well. Did you notice how it was bound?

Stuart Alexander, le vrai said...

The Anonymous clown is at it again, using my name again and probably Chuck's and who knows what else. Lame!

Sebastian said...

@Gregory: They are now working on a smaller publication of Marks of Honor, > their website! The actual objects are too eccentric to be published in large quantities, see Pieter Hugos or Michael Lights work!

Jeff Ladd said...


You should read further about the Marks of Honor project and if possible, see the exhibition if it gets anywhere near you.

The books the artists made are only in two or three copies, each unique, handmade objects.

Pieter Hugo's "book" came in a full wooden child's coffin about a foot and a half long.

The Michael Light work is altered copies of an Ansel Adams book in which he has made cut outs through the entire page and mounted in his own photographs. It is a beauty!

As I mentioned the exhibition opens at FOAM in Amsterdam in a couple days.

If someone was smart they'd make a nice book/catalog about this featuring each book. It really is an exhibition which captures why libraries are so important.

Jeff Ladd said...


No I escaped the Death-metal scene. I wasn't in Kassel Norway.

I do think the content matters in the Roumania book of course. Why wouldn't it? If the book was meant to be opened that wasn't like Broodthaers encasing books of poetry in plaster.

Mr Whiskets said...

Jen B,

There is a group therapy meeting at 1:30am June 1st, Kassel hotel bar.

mmdesign said...

I suppose I am the "anonymous clown" that Mr. Alexander is referring to. I quit blogging quite a while back and couldn't remember my password.

I can't imagine though why one would have to be a "clown" to ask what the title of a pictured book is. This blog is about books no?

So forgive my indiscretion and I'll look for the title elsewhere.

Jeff Ladd said...


No...Stuart is referring to someone who posts comment USING his name.

Anyway, i don't know what the book is. I am in the process of trying to find out through Schaden. I'll let you know as soon as they write back to me.

Jeff Ladd said...


the binding on the book seemed to be just perfect bound (glued not sewn) and it was really solid considering the weight demands once you get a few hundred pages into it. Maybe it was still intact because most people gave up after ten or twenty pages.

Jeff Ladd said...


the book is: Jörg Steinmetz : People

...and Sebastian says the woman on the front is Juliette Lewis.

mmdesign said...

My mistake. Sorry.

Thank you for making the effort to find the out the title. It is much appreciated.

mmdesign said...

I'll now go brush up on my english.

JS said...

Now where exactly did you learn that Kassel is "beautiful". I must have missed something on my few stays there. To me it seems to be a perfect place to shoot a bullet into your head.

Mr Whiskets said...

Spoken like a true Berliner JS.

I though Kassel looked nice. Nice trams, clean streets..of course I was drunk half the time.

Anonymous said...

3. Fotobookfestival
3. International Photobook Festival
13.-16. May 2010
documenta-Halle Kassel, Germany