Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bibliographic by Jason Godfrey

In the scholarly world of books about books, graphic designers and architects need love too. Just published by Laurence King, Jason Godfrey's Bibliographic is a must for the design conscious.

Bibliographic is not a comprehensive collection but a selection of 100 important books of fine graphic design. This cross-section includes many obviously influential works (Tschichold, Tolmer, Kepes, Moholy-Nagy) but also obscure titles such as two books from early type foundaries and Ben Shahn's Love and Joy about Letters. (The later I have owned for years and despite the title, I am embarrassed to have not spent more time to consider how great Shahn was as a designer and typographer.)

Bibliographic is organized into chapters of ; Typography, Sourcebooks, Instructional, Histories, Anthologies, and Monographs. Each double page spread is dedicated to the examination of one book at a time through short descriptions and many illustrations. Mouthwatering examples of typography in Manuale Typographicum (1954) from Hermann Zapf and Aaron Burns' Typography (1961) put their craft into practice with brilliance.

Like photobooks, several of these examples are so scarce that they are beyond the reach of most readers, Alfred Tolmer's Mise en Page from 1931 would be a welcome volume for a reprint with its impressive production techniques as would Gyorgy Kepes' influential Language of Vision from 1944. The designer's library, perhaps even more than a photographer's, is a working collection where education and influence should be importantly within arm's reach.

In his introduction, the most prolific of writers on design Steven Heller, makes mention of the now common feeling of "book envy" and the desire to own these books perhaps much like the Parr/ Badger series has done for hundreds of photobooks. Thankfully, Godfrey's gives us a guide through these examples along with an extensive bibliography supplied by today's leading designers. Bibliographic will certainly inspire many new book searches and additions to our already sagging bookshelves.

In Victor Hug's novel Notre Dame de Paris the archdeacon Claude Frollo warns of the danger that books could kill architecture. For hundreds of years repeated attempts to hammer out and interpret basic formal rules has inspired discussion and rebellion found in the most contemporary of design. The book Modern: Architecture Books from the Marzona Collection published in 2003 as a companion to a traveling exhibition (How to Build? The Modernist Book) features a couple hundred examples that have shaped this discussion.

Egidio Marzona is an art collector who's interest in Minimal Art, Atre Provera, Conceptual Art and Earthworks has amassed over 1000 works and thousands of books on various subjects. His interest in architecture and design led to this book and exhibition. This small format book is interesting for sure but its design and generally conservative use of illus
trations (only two - three per book) will make readers wish for a deeper look into these amazing titles. The exhibition included several hundred examples where this catalog only includes a fraction.

Dan Graham's For Publication fits well within the Marzona collection's normal association with Concept or Minimal Art as will Gordon Matta-Clark's Wallspaper. Paola Navone and Bruno Orlandoni's Architettura "Radicale" (1974) looks to be a fascinating but difficult to find item which I wish was illustrated by more than one internal spread.

Three essays, one a discussion between Marzona and Elizabetta Bresciani (the show's curator), provide a good tour through the history of these books and the shifts in architectural approach and attitude. For me these essays were indispensable as there are no individual descriptions of each book. This void makes Modern mostly a volume of visual candy that will fascinate and frustrate fans of design, architecture and bookcraft. Perhaps a gifted author like a Jason Godfrey from the architecture world could be capable of compiling a great book on this worthy subject.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

5B4 Fund Raiser and Print Offer

Since my main part time employer from the past eleven years has decided that I can survive yet another month of having absolutely no work, I am forced to hang out my tin cup and ask for help.

As I tend to do, I am offering a nice incentive for donations on my Print Offer page by way of one set of large 24 X 36 inch prints of my photographs from the former Yugoslavia. These are final prints, signed and numbered in an edition of only 2.

They were printed by Darin Mickey in 2003 and retouched by the late Tracy Baron (1975-2008). These prints were created for a traveling exhibition of mine at the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute in New York in 2003 and Washington DC in 2004.

As I mentioned these are 24 X 36 inch color coupler prints, signed and numbered on the back. These are not flawed and have no surface problems. These are perfect gallery prints in an edition of only two. The second print in the edition was framed and hung in the show. Those are not currently for sale.

So...I have one print each of these images in this size and I would ask donations of a $1000.00 for a print. They would be mailed loosely rolled and carefully protected. Postage is included for shipping worldwide. Please email me to assure availability. jeffladd99(at)hotmail(dot)com

Also over the next few days I will be listing more books and other items including very rare posters and unique ephemera on the Photobook Exchange.

I sincerely thank you for any help. If you like what I do with 5B4 and can afford an item or two from any of my offers on the Print Offer page or 5B4 Photobook Exchange it would help a great deal in keeping my head above water.
Thank you.

The 3rd Person Archive by John Stezaker

"He walked down Broadway to 72nd street, turned east to Central Park West, and followed it to 59th street and the statue of Columbus. There he turned east once again, moving along Central Park South until Madison Avenue, and then cut right, walking a few blocks, he continued south for a mile, came to the juncture of Broadway and Fifth Avenue at 23rd street, paused to look at the Flatiron Building, and then shifted course, taking a westward turn until he reached Seventh Avenue, at which point he veered left and progressed further downtown. At Sheridan Square he turned east again, ambling down Waverly Place, crossing Sixth Avenue, and continuing on to Washington Square. He walked through the arch and made his way among the crowds..." -Paul Auster City of Glass

Looking through John Stezaker's latest book The 3rd Person Archive just published by Walther Konig, one is faced with postage stamp sized images of walking human figures cut from a copy of John Hammerton's 1920 encyclopedia Countries of the World. These tiny figures, like the ever-present flaneurs who occupy the backgrounds of paintings and photographs, are clipped from their role as extras and thrust into the position of main character.

I was reminded of Auster's protagonist Daniel Quinn from City of Glass as he surveils a man over several days and records his seemingly aimless wanderings through Manhattan. Here, Stezaker uses images that are in actuality many different people (all men) but in the way he has sequenced his "archive" one gets the feeling that perhaps we are also surreptitiously trailing these figures, but because of the severe croppings, our sightline is limited and similar to looking through a long lens or telescope.

The structure of The 3rd Person Archive is broken into three parts. The first limits the clippings to include a single figure within various urban spaces on sidewalks, street corners and in city parks. The second section includes two figures within each frame, and in the third section - three figures or more.

For those heady enough to tackle Michel de Certeau's theorization of the walker in the city (The Practice of Everyday Life), you may find relevance in Stezaker's archive. His subjects compose a story out of fragments and alterations of spaces, preventing the ability to see the whole much like an aimless walker puts up resistance to a mapped and ordered space by utilizing shortcuts and momentary diversions. If one agrees with de Certeau that "to walk is to lack a place" then Stezaker's flanuers, like Auster's protagonist, may represent the "indefinite process of being absent."

Stezaker plays with scale on the printed page by reproducing the clippings at their largest a couple inches square, to tiny pictures where the reader strains to make sense of the image. The effect is zooming in and out on our subjects emphasizing the thought of surveillance where "he" cannot escape our panoptic eye.

The 3rd Person Archive is the size of a hardcover novel with a rounded spine and elegant presentation. Though it might look printed in a straight forward process common to books of text, this book utilizes a six color stochastic printing with beautiful results. No texts accompany the images which are only divided into their sections by the change in the numbering system that appears at the bottom of the facing page.

Stezaker is a brilliant artist who through appropriation and little alteration continues to shift our perceptions. This archive, which was started in 1976, looks much different from his collage work with film stills or postcards, but within its seeming simplicity he has created a small book of wanderers which is anything but pedestrian.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Japanese Photobooks of the 60s and 70s

I have had the pleasure of standing in front of a friend's bookcase of some 600+ photobooks - all from Japan - and not knowing where to start. It was a great experience but one in which I was in frustrating need of a guide. Finally, the long awaited survey of the most experimental period of photobooks from Japan is out - Ivan Vartanian and Ryuichi Kaneko's Japanese Photobooks of the 60s and 70s, just released by Aperture.

Up through the mid-50s Japanese photography seems to have followed aspects of the traditional picture arts with subject matter that was describing the lyricism of urban and pastoral life. The book which starts off this volume is Hiroshi Hamaya's Snow Land from 1956 which contains photographs made in small villages in Japan's Niigata Prefecture. This extended essay concerns itself with a New Year festival during which the villagers pray for a bountiful crops. The approach can reflect influence of straight documentary photographers world-wide and the sense of war and the rapid change Japan was experiencing is kept at a distance. Oddly, it has the feel at times of being an essay made through Western eyes with its philosophically acceptable and psychologically safe stance. Its purity at odds with reality.

The explosion of radical description, perhaps fueled by William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York - a book most often cited as an influence to many photographers everywhere - brought younger generations of photographers willing to tackle the harsher realities of country, describing them with immediate, instinctive flair which embraced flaw in process as a new metaphor. Following Ken Domon's series of Hiroshima survivors in 1958, Shomei Tomatsu's Nagasaki 11.02 drew from traditional documentary traditions and pushed the descriptive values to abstraction and an uncomfortable psychological environ. Neither of these books are featured here but have been cited at length elsewhere - an omission which I will address later.

Current fanatics of Japanese books will cite the Provoke collective of Yutaka Takanashi, Daido Moriyama, Koji Taki, and Takuma Nakahira as the high point of driving photographic descriptions to the limits - its name was Provoke after all. These stream of consciousness and ambiguous statements of emotion and reaction were an attempt at "grasping with our own eyes those fragments of reality that cannot possibly be captured with existing language, actively putting forth materials against language and against thought." During this period the now most famous (or at the time infamous) books appeared with Bye Bye Photography, For a language to Come and Takanashi's Towards the City.

It would be a mistake and inaccurate to homogenize all of the provocative Japanese works into one mold of blur, contrast and grain and this volume does its best to present a wider understanding of period and attitudes relating to approach and that is its strength. This is not a comprehensive cataloging of every book from this period or even the most important - like I mentioned, Tomatsu and Domon's masterworks are not represented here (perhaps for the sake of escaping redundancies since they have been covered elsewhere). It does however limit its scope to only 41 books and I do wish, even at the risk of being redundant, that the authors extended their survey to either a larger choice or along a more extended timeline. It does after all actually include a couple books from the mid-50s and a couple from the 1980s.

One difficulty of assembling such a survey is the inclusion of women artists. Perhaps not the fault of the authors but of the period of productivity, there is only one book by a woman represented - Miyako Ishiuchio's Apartment from 1978. Granted I do not have a deep enough knowledge of books made from women at the time and books worthy of note to cite specific examples but my desire for a study of books along a wider timeline would have seen the inclusion of female voices. This is one aspect of male to female ratio that has plagued photography in general but here I feel a gap which would be interesting to explore.

Ivan Vartanian, who has immersed himself physically and as a scholar into Japanese culture, proves to be a fine guide for us less informed as he provides a lengthy introduction covering the period and individual essays for each book. This collection comes from the library of Ryuchi Kaneko and the extensive illustrations and attention to longer examination of individual books (each is given 4-6 pages) is an important contribution into books which most of us will never experience first-hand. Japanese Photobooks of the 60s and 70s is nicely printed with a design sensitive to its function.

In an interview which is included in this vol
ume, Daido Moriyama - perhaps the most prolific of book-makers aside from Nobuyoshi Araki - mentions his desire to create objects which preserve a feeling or impulse. This volume displays some of the best (yet still unfamiliar), playful and imaginative books which have driven photography outside the literal boundaries of country and stale traditions and into new and uncharted territory that still, forty years later, has the ability to shock and surprise even the initiated.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Voyeur by Hans-Peter Feldmann

In response to the recent dust-up over Joachim Schmid's book When Boredom Strikes I thought I'd mention Hans-Peter Feldmann's book Voyeur which has been released in a fourth edition by Walther Konig in Cologne.

Voyeur is approximately 250 pages of appropriated photos, some famous and some unknown, presented as a mass of images - a chaotic view of history and human existence. Each page, which may be illustrated with half a dozen images or more is a tangle of context. The blurring of history creates a surreal vision of society and the world that is both familiar and strange.

Movie stills, porn mags, photojournalism, advertising, amateur photos, art, and scientific images are recontextualized apart from their authors (no individual credit is given) and organized onto the page where hierarchy is left only to their sizing.

I have seen a third edition of this same book but the double page spreads are in a different order. The same photographs are presented but the sequence is different leading me to conclude that the content is dealt with by the author as a never-ending stream that can shift and change without altering the overall effect.

I find this book interesting for another reason - information overload. Partly due to its intentional small size and with the reproductions in all black and white the individual power of each image gives way to a general tenor of complacency. Photos of vast suffering sitting next to bright smiles somehow find a common denominator in this "world of paper."

In relation to Schmid, this work is a conceptual reordering of representation and authorship. Those whose knees were jerking to hang Schmid from his thumbs over copyright might find another artist to tar and feather here. Or maybe they would be satisfied by the fact that on the colophon page, Feldmann thanks "all the photographers whose pictures have been used for this work."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Clinic by Remy Faucheux (ed.)

Last year when I had knee surgery for a torn ACL I had the odd experience of walking into the operating room and being instructed to jump up onto the table myself. In TV shows and movies, the patient is always wheeled in on a gurney and lifted onto the table so I had never imagined having to go in on my own two feet - maybe ligament surgery is not dramatic enough for television. I also hadn't imagined the table to be the same as they use to administer a lethal injection, with its thin arm extensions angled off to the sides. As they velcro-ed my arms and spiked my IV I asked the doctor what his favorite color was - I fell off the planet before I heard his answer.

The book Clinic organized by Remy Faucheux steps into the sanitized world of hospitals and medical care with the work of 11 photographers (Olivier Amsellem, Constant Anee, Eric Baudelaire, Geoffroy de Boismenu, Christophe Bourguedieu, Jacqueline Hassink, Albrecht Kunkel, Ville Lenkkeri, Matthew Monteith, Mario Palmieri, and Stephan Ruiz) and a supplement by the Useful Photography group (Kessels, van der Meer, Germain, Cleen and Aarsman).

Most of us imagine what our hospital experience will be, like I mention above, we enter with anxiety, hope, and fear and the cold mix of science and technology accentuating these emotions. We would prefer to be elsewhere than among the ergonomically designed machines that peek into our bodies seeking flaw and disease. Like the old Woody Allen joke, "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens," being inside a hospital makes it hard to put your head in the sand, everything around you reminds you of your physical body and its vulnerability.

Clinic presents each photographer with their own section of 10 to 15 images along with a short statement. Albrecht Kunkel starts the book appropriately with portraits of women during their first pregnancies. Less fear inducing than many of the other projects, Kunkels straight forward portraits exude a calm and grace from the subjects which sit staring back at us with a mix of knowledge and anticipation.

Matthew Monteith's contribution follows comprising a group of portraits and still-lifes of machines and hospital staff. His large format camera orders the twists of tubes and cables with a concentration on colors that stand apart from the rest of the scene. A bright red Mickey Mouse tapestry hangs behind the arm of an x-ray machine and red electrical sockets betray the calculated whiteness of a room. The best image is of a baby in an incubator bathed in a blue ultra-violet light, its tiny form encased like a lab specimen.

My favorite two projects are from Geoffroy de Boismenu and Christophe Bourguedieu. De Boismenu photographs within the operating room and choses to describe his subjects just before or just after the procedure. In preperation, the patient is draped in blue-green cloth and only the abstract form of flesh shows through. Beautifully lit, the hues of the dark palette conceal more than they reveal. The subject, which seems life-less most of the time, is surrounded by large expanses of darkness. This are the most disconcerting of all of the projects for me as it is even more fear-inducing than another artist's included in this book, Mario Palmieri's which concerns itself with a hospital morgue. These invasive surgeries with flesh which resembles wax and roughly sewn suchers grotesquely holding the body together are not for the faint of heart.

The other favorite is Christophe Bourguedieu who followed emergency crews as they make home visits to people in distress. I like this work for its escape from the extremely rigid formalism which most of the artists use as a descriptive device. Perhaps medium format or even 35mm digital, the human element of health care is more evident in these photos. These crews are the link between the outside world and the internal hospital world where moments of professionalism and genuine signs of emotion can be sensed. A group of men stand over a sheet-covered body in a park, their body language conveying defeat. In another, a man casually stands watching a colleague administer an injection into the blueish form of a man - his look a mix of ambiguity and interest.

The last section on a different Matte paper is a supplement by the Useful Photography group. Its concern is not with common ideas of beauty but with how an image over time may shift from pure disgust to something of fascination. The choice of vintage images shows antiquated machines with hard edges and threatening appearances along with tumors, and organs plainly presented for investigation. The oddness of the medical world is apparent as patients seem to be swallowed up by the machines they are hooked to with comic effect. That is until one gets to the last page which is a grid of tongue cancers. Where as the other projects find a comfort level with their subjects, this set will surely unnerve the viewer into aligning with their real or imagined fears.

The approach of the other photographers, although the images are well made, are formally alike which is my only criticism of the selection. Like the environs they describe, Clinic is clean and sterile in its design from its sans-serif fonts to the openness of the page layouts. Essays by Michal Poivert and Stephane Velut open the book. Clinic was published in 2008 by Images En Manoeuvres Editions.

Monday, September 7, 2009

New York City: Museum of Complaint

How major cities exist at all seems nearly miraculous. Millions of people living in close quarters, all of free will and with separate interests makes for a potentially unharmonious place. The logistics of infrastructure alone are overwhelming - providing water, ridding the place of waste, keeping people from constant murder and mayhem, transportation, health concerns. A new book from Steidl, New York City: Museum of Complaint gives insight into many of the individual concerns of the citizens of one such metropolis, Manhattan.

Culled by Matthew Bakkom from the municipal archives, the Museum of Complaint is a collection of 122 letters to the various mayors of New York from Edward Holland in the 1750s to John Lindsay in the late 60s. The nature of our governance is to at least let someone be heard and this collection covers the bases from the humorous to the heartbreaking. One is a woman's desperate plea to Mayor Laguardia to help her find a husband. Another is from a young man who's baseball was stolen by a policeman (who plays baseball on his off hours) and the boy demands his $1.25 to buy a new one. One woman can't stand seeing the newest bathing suits made of mesh material. Others complain of communists, swarms of children, pawnshops, spitters, dogs, organ grinders, prostitutes - their creativity and insight into what disturbs the everyday citizen is fascinating. We all have pet peeves and small disturbances which we can't shake, conflating them into a larger part of our lives, more than rationality can suppress.

The first letters in this volume are noteworthy for the flowing script and idiom of the day - several of the writers end with "and your petitioners shall ever pray." The language is beautiful and parsing these letters for their meaning is a joy. One wants to pave over a street leading to houses and an inaccessible boat slip which has become ruddy. "Humbly showeth that the said street / or the greater part thereof, is not without great difficulty passable for carts or other carriages by reason of its declivity and the pavements thereof being very much broken and out of repair... and your petitioners shall ever pray" (signed) John Thurman and David Abeely.

The respect shown towards officials varies as society progresses. Some letters during the Second World War have illustrative sketches comparing the Mayor to Hitler. Other writers reprimand Fiorello Laguardia for denouncing The Feuhrer. "Sir, I am sorry I voted for you. Your deliberate insult of Feuhrer Hitler was planned Jewish propaganda and you were its mouthpiece. You are unfit for office and a disgrace to New York. You are a consummate American politician - the curse of our country. I am sorry I voted for you." (signed) I Siegel.

New York City: Museum of Complaint is a large format book which reproduces the original letters and they are beautiful objects on their own. Of the fine production values, I have no complaints, only a compulsion to write to Matthew Bakkom, to thank him for this wonderful project.