Friday, May 29, 2009

Three books of found photographs...

Michael Abrams' book from Loosestrife a couple years ago, Strange & Singular, raised the bar on collections of found photographs and just when I thought there was no need for another book of them, no less than three have crossed my doorstep in the past few weeks that have been refreshing in approach and presentation.

The first two books Lesen and #01-105: Anonyme Fotografien aus Deutschland come from the same author, Gunther Karl Bose and the Institut fur Buchkunst in Leipzig.

Lesen, which means "read" in German is my favorite. Credited with Bose and Julia Blume as the authors, the book opens with several pages of spotty xerox black which seem more appropriate to open a Dirk Braeckman book than one of found photographs. The concept seems to become clear as we come upon the first plates which are family snapshot-type photos of people reading while on the opposite facing page is a xerox image of a page from an open book. Is it supposed to be the page the person is reading at the moment the photo was snapped? This conceptual implication is belied by close examination which reveals inconsistencies but still, the presence of the pages greatly expands our own imaginative fancy.

Lesen has a great design and that in itself makes this book one step above the norm. The contrast of the well-printed photographs to the xerox images is visually dynamic as is the gap of time between images clearly made in the distant past sitting opposite modern reproduction.

Published in 2005 by the Institut, Lesen is only 300 copies. ISBN: 3-932865-40-5. According to the Institute's PDF catalog this book is only 13 euros which makes it certainly the cheapest and most enjoyable books I have had the pleasure of viewing so far this year.

#01-105: Anonyme Fotografien aus Deutschland is an earlier book from Bose published in 2003. Also very inexpensive (13 euros) it has the production values that most 40 euro books do not. This a collection of 105 anonymous photographs from Germany run in a linear fashion across the bottom of the book pages. The design, like in Lesen, makes itself felt early on and encourages reading the links between each photograph.

Most of the photographs do not have dates but those that do seem to have been made between the early 1900s and the late 50s. One interesting design characteristic is the sporadic inclusion of any numeral or identifying marks that appeared on the original print. For instance one reads: Stealit - Magnesia - AG Bln. - Pankow Florastr. 8 Weihnachten 1933, which seems to indicate the type of photo process, the company address and the photo's caption which for this was Christmas Day 1933. Many of these markings are cryptic and nonsensical while others indicate dates or location. They float in the large white space on the page due to the bottom alignment of the images.

If you get a copy, be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an interesting design of debossing into the cover board. There must be something in the water at the Institut fur Buchkunst in Leipzig because I have now acquired several books from their catalog which I will be mentioning in the future. Great stuff and wonderfully inexpensive!!

The last I will mention is another offering from Paul Shiek's publishing company These Birds Walk. Away by Abner Nolan starts on the road with a couple speeding down the highway with the top down, the tones of the print fading almost to oblivion. The following images take us on a short tour of family and place, intimacy and detachment.

His choice of images reflect a fascination with deterioration and technical flaw which interrupt much like the hazy veil of memory. These become open ended fragments which when pleasantly paired can achieve interesting dynamics but I feel the book is either too short or too sporadic for it to lead up to a larger understanding of why these images, in this order, etc. Fragmentation can be interesting as memory itself is not a continuum but bits and pieces often shuffled and fleeting much like the opening and closing images.

Away follows the format of the TWS Subscription Series #2 that are a bit larger in size and have the fun repetition of the author's name and red title stamping on the cover.