Sunday, March 29, 2009

Westward the Course of Empire by Mark Ruwedel



Mark Ruwedel's survey of defunct railways that enabled expansion into the American west acts like a walking tour of the past idea of manifest destiny. Each as formally similar to the next, they plod along with an endless horizon drawing us to a destination of promise. Desert turns to prairie back to desert to forest. The stillness of the photos are always like starting points whose long expanses beg to be walked.

Ruwedel photographed these decayed rail beds, tressel bridges, rail tunnels and track cuts through mountain passes over twenty years in the America and Canada with a large format camera. A new book Westward the Course of Empire has just been published by Yale University Art Gallery.

Ruwedel's approach is one of repetition that instantly draws to mind the Becher's systematic documentation. Formally they draw your attention to the remnants of track paths that scar the landscape and finally force acknowledgment of the horizon. Each path holds the promise of progress yet the neglect has allowed the earth to reclaim and impede. One starts to reflect on the single-minded might necessary to cut such swaths through mountain passes in order to continue westward.

The mountain cuts where solid rock was blasted out of the way evoke Timothy O'Sulivan's work in Canyon de Chelly and Black Canyon with their solid white skies that become an additional puzzle pieces that complete shapes of light and dark. Not quite as rigid as the Becher's, Ruwedel allows clouds to appear within the fields of solid, light grey sky.

Westward the Course of Empire is divided into three sections according to type of rail cut or structure. On the facing pages is a handwritten caption which records the name of the original railway. Nevada Short Line, Comox Logging and Railway Company, Denver and Rio Grande Western, Columbia and Western, Spokane Portland and Seattle and the famed Northern Pacific - all names that seem to lay claim to not just the railway but all of the surrounding territory.



The third section which features exquisitely engineered tressels and bridges whose purpose was to provide the shortest possible line from point a to b. They fill in valley drops with a wall of criss-cross patterns as tall or taller than the tree growth that originally provided the material for them. It is within this section that Ruwedel sometimes breaks his formalist method with different picture constructions. Seeing these makes me wish he varied his perspectives all along. As beautiful as the photos are in the first two sections with their lush tonalities, the formal constraints begin to wear thin for me. Perhaps I am missing a deeper metaphor implied as the railways are constrained forms themselves but still, the descriptive freedom allowed to Ruwedel makes me wonder what more could have been done.

As a book Westward the Course of Empire couldn't be better produced. Perfect tritone plates with separations by Thomas Palmer and printing by Meridian in Rhode Island. The cloth and material are not only elegant but preserve the tone of the subject from the tipped-in plate on the front to the decision to place the book's title on the rear cover. 3000 copies were made with 60 copies which come signed and with a print.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Francis Bacon: Incunabula



"You can see an advertisement, you can see something lying in the street. Anything can stimulate and excite you into wanting to do something. It doesn't have to be a great or remarkable thing; it could be just lying on the floor." - Francis Bacon

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a neat freak. I can only function 100% when everything is in its place and the sense of order reigns. I am a minimalist. I have books, my photo archive, and little else - books on neatly ordered shelves and the archive tucked perfectly into uniform black archival boxes. When I dream of the perfect living environment it is much like a monk's quarters but selfishly huge and with tons of light. I have many friends who are the complete opposite. For them it isn't even worth a moments thought if old utility bills pile up on the desk or unruly stacks of yellowing newspapers form on any level surface. The clutter of an unorganized bookshelf has been known to induce a trickle of bile to creep up my throat. I take pleasure in visualizing the process of righting the sense of order. Remember my first sentence, I admitted I am a freak.

So if I classify myself as a neat freak, then the English painter Francis Bacon was a total slob. A fantastic new book by Thames and Hudson Francis Bacon: Incunabula proves my point.

Bacon's studio in Reece Mews, South Kensington, London was a private space where few were allowed to visit. Only the closest of friends entered to witness the accumulation of heaps of detritus that literally covered the floors and all flat surfaces. Bacon surrounded himself with pages and pages of source material from magazines, photographs, books which formed layers on the floor, so much so that when the studio was donated to Dublin after his death, the archivists treated it as an archeological dig taking survey and elevation drawings before removing the material piece by piece.

Incunabula, which is a printer's term meaning something printed mechanically, not copied by hand, before 1501 also refers to the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything. No doubt, the additional aging and destruction of this material while "stored" in such a way was integral to influencing Bacon's final images. This book presents almost 200 pieces of ephemera found in the studio which clearly demonstrate their influence as source material. A page torn from Terence and Caroline Conran's The Cook Book from 1980 that shows hanging poultry can be found to have informed a panel in Bacon's famous triptych from 1981-82. A golfing instruction manual was said to have inspired many of the "directional arrows" prevalent in his paintings from 1971 onwards.

Of course, photographs figure prominently in Bacon's constantly shifting flow of disparate images. Berenice Abbott's profile portrait of Eugene Atget is found on the detached cover of an issue of Album, the short lived photo magazine, while pages torn from Crapouillot (the French magazine which had also published a portfolio of Atget's in 1929) are saved for its gruesome photograph of dismembered female body. Eadweard Muybridge's figure motion studies are more obviously useful where as the front cover of the 1985 book Off-Highway Trucks of the World might have been kept either because of the subject or that, disliking traditional artist's palettes, he used this instead.



Incunabula is a must for anyone who loves paper ephemera as this book presents the material as objects. Seeming three-dimentional, ragged-edged, weathered and paint splattered, as one looks page by page, connections are made linking this selection from the larger archive into a 200 page 'exquisite corpse.' Beautifully printed by Steidl, the design orders the chaos of Bacon's working reality into a form even an obsessive compulsive like myself can enjoy. Just think of the possibilities, the entire archive of this material, tens of thousands of pieces of paper neatly presented in row upon row or perfectly aligned books exactly like this one. Now that is a pleasing thought.

With essays by Martin Harrison and Rebecca Daniels and a foreword by Barbara Dawson, the Director of the Dublin City Gallery.

Dedicated to Andy French...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Errata Editions Book Signing and other News

The Howard Greenberg Gallery will be hosting a booksigning extravaganza for Errata Editions and gallery artists this Saturday, March 28th from 4-6pm. Taking place the same weekend as the annual AIPAD (The Association of International Photography Art Dealers) show, this Saturday afternoon event will not be one to miss. Errata artists Chris Killip (Books on Books #4 In Flagrante) and John T. Hill (Books on Books #2 Walker Evans American Photographs) will be on-hand to sign copies of their books. For those of you who have already purchased Errata Editions books, either the trade or the limited edition, you are welcome to bring them in to be signed. Books will be available for purchase through the gallery.

Howard Greenberg Gallery artists scheduled for attendance will be: Saul Leiter, Bruce Davidson, Jessica Lange, Vince Aletti, and Eric Lindbloom. Please join us for what will be a wonderful afternoon in the celebration of books. The Howard Greenberg Gallery is located in the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street (at Madison Avenue) on the 14th floor in Suite 1406.



Books on Books Limited Edition Sets. We now have about 25 sets of the Books on Books #1-4 Limited Editions signed by Chris Killip and John T. Hill so if you are on the fence about purchasing a set, this is the moment. We are down to the last of the limited editions, so do not delay. Order here for immediate delivery.

There is a good article about the Books on Books series in The Guardian by Liz Jobey. Read it here

Errata Editions author David Campany a
nd others are celebrating the photobook with a conference organized by the School of History of Art, Film and Visual Media at Birkbeck, King’s College American Studies, and the University of Kent French Studies. Events take place Friday April 3 and Saturday April 4 2009 (9:30am to 6pm & 10am to 1:30pm) at Birkbeck Cinema, 46 Gordon Sq London WC1. More information here

We also congratulate David Campany for being shortlisted for the 2009 And/or Moving Image Book Award for his new book Photography and Cinema (Reaktion Books 2008). Winners will be announced during an awards ceremony at the BFI Southbank, London, on Thursday 23 April. Our fingers are cro
ssed David!

Errata Editions artist Sophie Ristelhueber's retrospective show at the Jeu de Paume in Paris just closed a few days ago but look for the accompanying catalog Operations published by Thames & Hudson, London.

Jeffrey Ladd and Ken Schles have teamed up with the Pacific Street Studios Photographic Workshops to offer a weekend workshop called Making the Photographic Book. This two-day intensive course will assist a small group of aspiring bookmakers to shape an existing photographic project into book 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. April 18 - 19 (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 am - 6 pm. Pacific Street Studios, 874 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, NY 11238. To reserve a spot for this class, please email us at: psworkshops[at]me.com or call 1(718) 636-6030.

Jeffrey Ladd has been invited to giv
e a lecture at the second annual Fotobook Festival in Kassel, Germany. The festival runs from May 15 - 17. More information here

If you like what we are doing please spread the word. The continuation of the series depends on you. Your support in these trying times is truly appreciated.

Errata Editions are available through your local independent bookstore:

Museum of Modern Art, NY
Dashwood Books, NY
Strand Bookstore, NY

International Center of Photography, NY
Photo-Eye, Santa Fe
Schaden, Cologne
Ampersand Vintage, Portland
The Photographer's Gallery, UK
Jeu de Paume, Paris



Lastly, I am throwing a kind-of "rent-party" this month except instead of you coming to my apartment to contribute, you can remain in yours and party with one of my 16x20 prints year round. If you were wanting one of the photographs on the print donation page, this would be the time to grab it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fall River Boys by Richard Renaldi



If it is true that familiarity breeds contempt then the town of one's beginnings can be the most contemptible of places. When we meet someone who has claimed to have lived somewhere 'all their life,' is there not a moment of pity towards that person that is closely followed by awe. How could they stand it all this time? How has that person stifled their curiosity of the larger world? Was it out of fear or simple paths of circumstance that added up to a lifetime in one place? Perhaps the awe also comes from knowing that those people who stayed allowed themselves to be 'known' by others so well that strong opinions could be formed.

The photographer Richard Renaldi in his new book Fall River Boys explores through portraiture and landscape the young men in a small Massachusetts town who are on the cusp of either cutting or reinforcing those ties to place and family.

When I think of the path my own life has taken to bring me out of similar circumstance into where and who I am now, it frightens me. I almost didn't graduate high school and had no direction nor desire for college. My decision to enroll in art school was almost entirely due to my girlfriend's encouragement. I could have, either out of fear or laziness, become a 'lifer' working jobs that would have provided me a decent but passionless life. At least that is what I imagine, and for me this is what makes looking at Richard's book all the more meaningful.

Of course these are my projections, but when I see the young man Erik in plate 32 with his straightforward glare with one hand on a baby stroller you know that that new responsibility will have a profound effect on what risks, and ultimately what decisions, he makes. Each person may start with the potential to do anything as we are told, but the possibilities narrow greatly with even the slightest of choices.

Portrait after portrait, we look upon the faces and clothing and momentarily ask about their futures; which of them will leave the street corner, which will become artists, which will work passionless jobs and which will find their calling, which will learn to love life and which will learn to hate it.

The landscapes in Fall River Boys describe not a town of horrible circumstance but simply of the ordinary. It is not affluent but middle working class and perhaps mind-numbing. As Michael Cunningham who penned the absolutely wonderful introduction tells us, Fall River's motto is 'We Try' - a motto which seems to be apologizing for itself and preparing for disappointment. Renaldi gives just enough of the surroundings for us to get a sense of the industry and perhaps the limiting opportunity for those who remain. Limiting as it may appear, Renaldi's view camera also ups the ante with its lush descriptions that render even the most dreary of industrial site in its moment of beauty.



If I had one criticism for Renaldi's work all along including his first book , Figures and Ground (Aperture 2006) it would be that his portraits are often center weighted to a fault. Especially with horizontal images where nothing else of seeming significance occupies the edges. In repetition, this strategy wears thin for me. I don't sense the surrounding space as a metaphor but as superfluous information that I wish was used better.

As a book Fall River Boys is beautiful. Top notch materials and production values. Rich tritone plates (with separations by the masterful Robert Hennessey) and a fine sense of design and especially trim size - it is a larger book and necessarily so. It is also the first offering from Richard Renaldi and Seth Boyd's new publishing venture Charles Lane Press. I have been told there are other books in the works by authors and if Fall River Boys is any indication, I will certainly be looking forward to the next releases.

Note: There is a booksigning with Richard at Dashwood Books on Wednesday March 25th from 6-8pm. Dashwood Books is located at 33 Bond Street in Manhattan between Lafayette and Bowery.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gabriel Figueroa



For images in Mexican art that defined that country's artistic heritage, the names of Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Jose Guadalupe Posada, might spring to mind before the name of Gabriel Figueroa. I couldn't recall hearing Figueroa's name before but turns out he was responsible for the amazing cinematography one of my favorite films, Los Olvidados by Luis Buñuel as well as some of the greatest images to appear in popular culture. A new book from Editorial RM and Luna Cornea puts the life's work of one of Mexico's most accomplished artists in perspective.

Figueroa, born in 1907 studied photography and worked as a portrait photographer from 1927-1932. It was in a studio named Brooklyn that he worked under Jose Guadalupe Velasco, an early pioneer in artificial lighting and retouching negatives. Figueroa would put what he learned to good use when he opened his own studio that would gain fast recognition as the place for actresses and actors to have their portraits done. While fine-tuning his craft, he was introduced to many of the principle cinematographers in the nascent Mexican film industry.

By August of 1936 he had worked on several films as a key grip, still photographer, camera operator and assistant cameraman and finally had been given the chance as a director of photography on the film Allá en el Rancho Grande. His new found role as director of photography would become his main career for the next 50+ years and make him one of the most recognized artists working behind a camera.

At over 600 pages, Gabriel Figueroa is a complete trip through the history of Mexican film and photography. Beyond, the films he worked on, the most well known Mexican photographers; Nacho Lopez, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Hector Garcia, Augustin Jimenez, Antonio Reynoso were all associates of Figueroa. In the case of Bravo, they worked together while Bravo was employed as a still photographer on several of the films. Bravo, as is known, was initially fascinated with filmmaking and explored making films himself but only completed one. His film on the day-today life on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Diasparos en el Istmo was shown at the Mexican Film Club in 1935.

Besides the classic Mexican cinema that Figueroa was responsible - Cantinflas films, many of Luis Buñuel's films shot in Mexico - he also worked with the directors John Huston (Under the Volcano), Don Seigel and the famous Sergei Eisenstein on the unfinished masterpiece ¡Que Viva Mexico! where Figueroa is credited with the cinematography alongside that of the legendary Eduard Tisse.



For those of you who do not know the photography quarterly Luna Cornea out of Mexico City, these are dense books that usually either feature several different works brought together under a theme or dedicated to the examination of one artist's life's work. They have produced individual volumes on Hector Garcia, last year saw one on Nacho Lopez, and this year, Gabriel Figueroa. All follow the same format although these more recent books have been cased in hardcover boards. Past issues of Luna Cornea were only released in softcover. Nicely printed, these are important contributions to the study of many artists whose work should be more well known outside of Mexico.

Each book is Spanish language with English translations appearing in the back. Unfortunately not all of the texts are always completely translated so brush up on your Spanish for the full experience. Highly recommended. If anyone happens to be visiting Mexico City, the Centro de Imagen has a bookshop where back issues of Luna Cornea can be found for around 5-8 dollars depending on the issue. Also, the street directly in front of the Center is lined with dozens of outdoor booksellers. I've never found anything overwhelming there but it is always worth a look.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kamerad Im Westen: 221 Bilder



I am always on the lookout for good books on World War I and a friend recently told me about one that he discovered called Kamerad Im Westen: 221 Bilder (Camrade in the West: 221 Pictures). This was published in 1930 by Societats-Verlag in Frankfurt.

A couple things make this interesting. First, it is from the German perspective and second, it follows the war on the western front in chronological order from the first declarations to the final 'hundred days offensive' which brought an end to the war.

The photography is from several documentarians and the quality of imagery is impressive. Several included will be well known to readers but much of this content I haven't seen before. All aspects of war are covered here from the dead (some rather graphic), to the life in trenches, to the destruction of the landscape, technology, and finally images that look to speak of the psychological toll on the soldiers. Each plate is captioned with place and month.



The book reproduces 221 plates in what looks to be gravure on thin paper stock. The graphic design is basic with pages of horizontal images laid vertically and some spreads that contain up to four photos. Even though the orientation of the horizontals as verticals was surely just a practical choice to allow for a bigger plate reproduction, I like that you operate the book by turning it in your hand.

Due to large bulky numbers that count off the sequence, it comes across as a random catalog. Many photos from this period are often subjected to heavy retouching and there is a bit of that going on here too. Much however is presented without such manipulation to plate.

This can still be found on various listings. Note that the cover boards generally get rather beat up and rubbed which is a shame because the cover design is pretty interesting. The binding seems well done on the copies I have seen as it remains strong yet allows the book to lay flat. Worth a look if this is your cup of tea.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Emmet Gowin Photographs reprint



While I was attending The School of Visual Arts in the late 80s, one book that I spent quite a bit of time with was the Alfred A. Knopf release Emmet Gowin Photographs published in 1976. The pictures of his family from the mid to late 1960s like Barry, Dwayne, and the turkeys, are still among those that have had a lasting impact for me some twenty years later. A new edition of Emmet Gowin Photographs has just been jointly published by Pace MacGill Gallery and Steidl.

Presenting a little over a decade's worth of images, it includes; the early family photographs, the extremely wide angle full circle images, still lifes and portraits of his wife Edith from the mid-70's.

Pulling my well-read copy of the original from the shelf the first difference is with the cover image and design. The "ice fish" image has been replaced for the image of Edith standing among the debris from Christmas morning in 1971. The title font is also cleaner, changed from the older, clunky handling of type seen on the cover of the original. The trim size has been enlarged a quarter inch on all sides. It is the same format and ratio, it has just grown slightly (or maybe my old copy shrunk). Internally, the book is the same although the images have grown that quarter inch too. Same images, sequence, essay and typography.

An interesting comparison is in the printing. The original was done by Sid Rapoport whose plant in Lower Manhattan in the 60s and 70s was famous for a process known as "Stonetone printing" which this book was created with. The new edition is, as I mentioned, by Steidl with separations made by Robert J. Hennessey.

Now one would imagine that printing technologies have improved much in the last 32 years but I have to say that the books look close to identical in print quality. Rapoport's old Stonetone process, which I have seen some very bad results from, in this case, holds its own beautifully. Rapoport produced a lot of photobooks in those years including ones by Avedon, Frank, Lyon, JM Cameron, Fox Talbot, Ed Muybridge, as well as Aperture magazine. The first photobook he printed in Stonetone was the 1969 version of Frank's The Americans which turned out rather horribly. As he explains to Tom Dugan in Photography Between Covers (Light Impressions 1979), "Unfortunately, they wanted a copy of an existing book that was printed in the gravure process, using the dull matt inks and coming off with a very formidable book. Since then we've found that the results are much better if we don't try to imitate gravure..." Comparing these two versions of Emmet Gowin Photographs, the Rapoport version has slightly more contrast in some of the plates but does seem to have slightly more noise to the prints. The Steidl version is much smoother and with a more subtle tonal range.

All in all this is a beautiful reprint which accompanies an exhibition at Pace MacGill Gallery in New York through the 21st of March.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

These Birds Walk Books



Paul Schiek is a photographer and a publisher w
ho is doing things right and for the right reasons. The founder of These Birds Walk, he publishes small, extremely affordable yet elegantly produced books by leading artists working today. By giving each full artistic control, the results are often deeply personal and uncompromised works of art. Hand numbered and in editions that are sold through subscription, they are wonderful objects worth your attention.

Here are the details from their websi
te:

The Subscription Series is a limited edition, hand numbered book series that will not be available in stores. Subscribers will
receive one book every three months beginning December 1st. Book quantities are limited to 650 unsigned subscriptions and 50 signed subscriptions.

This year's series will come wrapped in a slipcover and will also feature a size increase, with new dimensions of 6x8 inches. Each component of every book will be printed and assembled proudly in Oakland, CA. We recognize the val
ue of keeping resources within the community, and are committed to doing business with like-minded, independent printing professionals.

Our subscription book series and format is a novel idea to the photo world. By offering these books only as a set, we seek to preserve the relationships and dialogues that take place between them. Viewed as a collection, these intimate artifacts we
ave a wide, complex portrait of our world. We choose to offer this series only through mail delivery because we feel the work deserves a careful first viewing away from the retail environment.

Paul is publishing four at a time and here are a few I have seen to date.

Jim Goldberg It ended sad but I love where it began published in 2007. This is a collaboration of sorts between Jim and his subjects which seems to be about displaced people living away from their homeland - some of them trafficked into the sex trade or abused in other unspecified ways. Using polaroid photographs, he has his subjects write in the margins or on the verso - sometimes in English, sometimes not, the subject's details are left in an ambiguous state. Not heavy handed and solely miserable, there is an underlying sense that although life is often hard these subjects can experience proud moments. Part of set #1.



Ari Marcopoulos Living in the new Rome published in 2006. In his stream of consciousness style, Ari assembles pictures of vulnerability, strength, inner family and the outer world weaving them to describe a kind of tribe - those banded together by blood or circumstance. Part of set #1



Todd Hido Ohio published in 2008. In what seems to be made up partly of older childhood photos, Hido, who was born in Ohio, returns us into a world of 1970s decor and family. Beginning with domestic interiors and a couple images of father and son, the book progresses into a full blown sexual state by ending with several nude images that could have been discovered in someone's sock drawer. Direct and uninhibited like the images that proceed them, they blend fact and fiction wonderfully. Part of set #2.



Paul Shiek The thing about you is you will end up like me published in 2008. This is most enigmatic of the four books I have. A mix of images from nature and of people there is a sense of violence mixed with tranquility. Metaphors for various states of being perhaps - the title implies a destined order which reaches into the metaphysical. Part of set #2.

Other titles include books by Alec Soth, Marianne Muller, Mike Brodie and Abner Nolan. Here is how to order, TBW Books.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Navel by Yukikazu Ito



I recently did a book swap with Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures, a website dedicated to Japanese photography and books, and received the Yukikazu Ito book Tetsou which I reviewed last month and generously he threw in a copy of Ito's book called Navel.

As Ito relates in his brief afterword about the work that his interest in photographing the sky over Japan drifted into his interest in the ceilings of buildings that resembled the colors found in his sky pictures. Quickly he noticed the various fire sprinkler heads which peek out in any modern building and began obsessively photographing them much in the same way that the electric towers found in Tetsou were. This in itself is not deeply interesting to me but, like Tetsou, the book has a presence that is hard to ignore.

First off, the title Navel, which is your bellybutton of course, continues this almost childlike tone that can be felt in Tetsou. It also is the gaze of the photographer at work so does that lead one towards navel gazing? Introspection? Except it is the photographer gazing up and outward instead of down and inward. (Stop me please if I am over-thinking this and should pop my meds).

The small round "heads" appear in exactly the same place on the page in every photograph which, if you treat this like a flipbook you'll find them anchoring all of the industrial configuration surrounding them. Photographically these, for me, are not so interesting as individual pictures but taken into consideration with the rest of book's form it's hard to resist. Even the placement of the title on the titlepage prompts notice of the book's "navel" positioning throughout the book.

Small and with glossy pages to match the sleek, modern environments of the ceilings, Navel has a compact conceptual design much like Tetsou. Being that this is a vertical format book of square photographs, the designer has run about a quarter of each photo across the gutter which greatly disrupts the frame. Thus each picture has not just a navel but a huge appendix scar. (The meds haven't taken effect yet).

Published by WALL in 2005.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Inside In by Vera Lutter



Today when Basra is brought up in conversation it is usually centered around Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army and not that it was the birthplace of the first camera obscura. Even though Chinese philosopher Mozi makes mention of the optical principles of the camera obscura 1500 years earlier, it was Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham from Iraq who was responsible for building the first one and studying the behavior of light as it passed through its aperture. Now, ironically, the only thing that could still function in Iraq would be a camera obscura.

I am reminded of this ancestor to the modern camera because I discovered a catalog on the work of the German artist Vera Lutter called Inside In. Lutter constructs large scale camera obscuras in order to create images of modern landscapes and industrial spaces.

Her reasoning for using such an antiquated device is partly due to its simplicity. The camera obscura represents photographic mechanics at their most irreducible state. There is no lens, simply a small hole that allows light to create an image on the wall opposite the opening. Lutter tacks large photo sensitive paper to that wall and records the image, often over a long period of time. Due to the construction of these human-sized camera obscuras and the process required, Lutter herself must occupy the space within the camera during those long exposures - in a way, integrating herself into a process where the common perception is the operator is seen as separate from the machine.

Lutter is also interested in the first record of an image and not its belated positive successor. The projected image records as a negative when the paper is developed and it is this inverse that Lutter presents to us. These are worlds where shadow gives way to light and skies are rendered as black seas of tone - unsettling, dark and ominous yet beautiful.

The work in Inside In represents a decade of Lutter's images and covers themes of urban architecture and transportation. By working in the Frankfurt airport and around the shipyards of Rostock, her images take on added elements representing time as planes, zeppelins and industrial cranes used for unloading ships create multiple impressions on the paper.

Parallels to the work of Abelardo Morell who has created camera obscuras in rooms and then recorded the images with his view camera, are obvious but the relationship deepens as each artist is essentially creating images within images. For Lutter, she experimented with using mirrors to break the straight forward viewpoint of the industrial spaces her camera occupied. These 'windows' or 'gates' within the image redirecting our gaze towards a more complex spacial arrangements. This method of spacial interruption (which actually is more of an expansion) was explored further when some of Lutter's large prints introduced into the plane of view. These prints, originally seen in negative, are rendered positive in the new image due to the inverse qualities of the camera obscura - further complicating our sense of space, time and our understanding of representation.

In essence, both Lutter and Morell explore the hybridization of images mediated through basic optical physics but with much different outcome. Both hold the optical process of representation in the forefront of the viewer's mind but where Morell comes closer to clarifying the relationships of the images within the images, Lutter destabilizes the viewer through her negative/positive spaces. Morell's images (the final print) represent spaces that can actually be occupied where Lutter's are alien and removed from direct experience.

Now consistent readers to 5B4 will notice my preoccupation with process relating to this work without my usual attention to the actual images. Frankly speaking this is one body of work where I find the process more enlightening and thought-provoking than most of the images alone. With Lutter I often feel short changed and find the images themselves dull and too reliant on their conceptual framework. I know many would disagree but for me concept goes as far as being an equal partner in a work, and when one creates a hierarchy to the other, it removes me one important step from the work as a whole.

What was so seductive to my wanting to explore this work further was the look and feel of this catalog. Inside In is housed in a plastic cover and divided into two distinct books it was published by the Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria and Walther Konig in 2004 on the occasion of her exhibition. It is a fine example of design that cleanly divides the three texts (two essays and one transcribed interview) from the photographs. It is nicely printed and the materials used were well chosen. The plastic cover features type screened in white that brilliantly mimics the negative quality of Lutter's photographs.

The Kunsthaus Graz has published several catalogs. There is at least one other designed with the interesting plastic covering (for Sol Lewitt called Wall) possibly more. They are worth a closer look.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard by Jeff L. Rosenheim



In 1903, the year Walker Evans was born, the US Postal service handled 700 million picture postcards. Evans would later recall his fondness for those "honest, direct, little pictures that once flooded the mail." By the age of twelve he was a collector and through his lifetime, an obsessive. "Yes, I was a postcard collector at an early age. Every time my family would take me around for what they thought was my education, to show me the country in a touring car, to go to Illinois, to Massachusetts, I would rush into Woolworth's and buy all the postcards." For Evans, the addition of hand-coloring added a great deal of aesthetic value.

The new book from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Steidl explores his personal collection in Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard.

Evans's tendency towards the "artless" quality of his own work is directly present in the generic and mostly frontal style found in picture postcards. Simple (deceptively so in the case of Evans), detached and recorded with economy, the authors of both are virtually anonymous.

A couple years before his landmark show at MoMA, Evans and Tom Mabry proceeded to work on a postcard project where Evans would chose 25 of his images to be printed by photomechanical means and 50,000 cards would be made available for sale at 5 cents each. If all sold, Evans would generate a royalty of $500.00. The project would eventually be shelved by the Spring on 1938. By that fall, Evans's American Photographs show and book were released.

During his years at Fortune magazine, Evans was eventually rewarded the autonomy necessary to basically do as he pleased. He pitched stories on picture postcards and two were featured in the magazine in May 1948 and January 1962. Architectural Forum ran a separate story of his on cards in July of 1962.

Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard
reproduces hundreds of cards from his collection including the three magazine features mentioned above. Also the fine addition of an "illustrated transcript" of his now famous Lyric Documentary lecture at Yale in 1964 makes this a bit more interesting than the title may suggest.

The book is well printed, the design plain stated like the postcards themselves, but my criticism is with the typography. I am no typographer by any stretch but I find the handling here clunky and uninspired. The texts by Jeff L. Rosenheim are well worth reading, I just wish they were more attractive to make you want to do so.

Later in life Evans had friends around the country while on photo trips keeping an eye for postcards that might interest. He had a particular love for ones produced by the Detroit Publishing Company which were considered "Cadillac" of postcards. Lee Friedlander related the following from a recent interview: The Detroit Publishing Comapny had a formula. If a town had 2,000 people or so, it got a main street postcard; if it had 3,500, it got the main street and also a courthouse square. Walker liked the formula. He had everyone looking for this or that. He told me once in Old Lyme, "If you run across and 'Detroits,' get them for me." I found sixty or seventy cards for him. He loved them.