Thursday, April 30, 2009

Photography and Cinema by David Campany



It is no secret that David Campany is a friend to Errata Editions since he contributed the essay to our study of Eugene Atget's Photographe de Paris so risking cries of cronyism I highly recommend his book by Reaktion called Photography and Cinema. This yet another title in the interesting Exposures series which is being edited by Mark Hayworth-Booth and Peter Hamilton.

Photography had been in existence for about sixty years when the Lumiere brothers were granted a patent on their movie camera and projection system. One of their early films from 1895, a static shot of the arrival of The Photographic Congress to Nueville-sur-Saone, records men walking down a gangplank and passing through the frame. One man pauses with a large plate camera, snaps a photograph and moves back into the flow. This act caught on film, whether a real image was made by the photographer or not, marks an interesting start for Campany's exploration of the multitude of points where these two mediums have cross paths.

For someone new to those crossroads to those familiar, this expanded dialogue covers the spectrum with an ease and intelligence that avoids being pedantic or dry. With photographers fascinated with film (Crewdson, Sherman, Klein) to film-makers fascinated with still images (Varda, Marker, Antonioni) Campany considers the various approaches and explores the nature of those relationships. In well over one hundred illustrations that provide complex examples which extend far beyond the expected, Campany assembles "the missing history in which photography and cinema have been each other's muse and inspiration for over a century."

By the way, if you don't trust my objectivity, Photography and Cinema just won the And/Or Moving Image Book Award (Kraszna-Krausz Award) which was just announced this past week. Congrats David!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Studien nach der Natur by Jurgen Bergbauer



The expression of space by any means whatsoever, sharpness of edge, vividness of colour, etc. assisted by greater pitch of shadow, and requires only that objects should be detached from each other by degrees of intensity in proportion to their distance, without requiring that the difference between the farthest and nearest should be in positive quantity the same that nature has put.
- John Ruskin

Many of you know that I am always on the lookout for books that stray from the usual and a new book from Fotohof by Jurgen Bergbauer called Studien nach der Natur does just that.

Studien nach der Natur (Studies after Nature) certainly isn't going to everyone's cup of tea but my tastes run wide and this is now one of my favorites of the year. This is an archive of 665 photographs of 152 different rock forms that were found at roadside. Bergbauer photographed them from various perspectives and arranged them, in his words, by "form and applicability."

The 42 plates in this book (plus 6 fold-outs and an extensive archive of all of the objects) show compositions of the rock formations silhouetted against plain Becher-esque off-white backgrounds. These "studies" were based on the compositional criteria of: form of the object and positioning of the objects within Bergbauer's defined space. Studien nach der Natur is rigid formalism with a methodical, almost scientific approach. Bergbauer's camera shoots them from various angles that would have made Brook Taylor take note.

Bergbauer in the past has photographed various architectural forms and removed them from the context of their surroundings - sitting them exposed for their own consideration against his standard off-white background. In the case of these "nature" studies he is creating these compositions from the individual elements as opposed to just finding them arranged in situ. In fact, Bergbauer's method behind them is complex and part of this book begs for that to be decifered.

His book's title seems also to be a slight play on words as most of the objects are far from naturally occurring - they have been altered by the hand of man in a few ways. Like stone cut blocks one might find near a quarry, each seems to have been shaped with a purpose in mind. They have been removed from nature, cut and shaped then replaced into nature, "removed" a second time (metaphorically speaking) by the photographer and placed into these compositions. Stone cutting and theories of perspective have had an important relationship throughout history so does that have something to do with Bergbauer's choice of subject? I wouldn't doubt it.



Interspersed every few plates is a foldout which reveals additional complex compositions of hundreds of the rocks stacked together as if they were a restraining wall found along a highway. These six plates are titled Nature I - VI. In addition, the last few pages includes the entire archive as thumbnail images with corresponding identification numbers. Bergbauer also classifies each type of object variation and provides a key to unlock the logic behind each composition. With all of the numbering and method it is hard to not think the design is due to specific theories of perspective at work.

As a book Studien nach der Natur is perfect in my opinion. The design by Till Gathmann is tight and clean with a fine flair for blue accents on the jacket (think Tschichold). The choice of materials couldn't be better. I did say this is perfect so do I need to mention the wonderful printing?

Studien nach der Natur was published by Fotohof Edition Salzburg in 2008. The edition is only 450 copies unfortunately.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waters in Between by Lukas Felzmann



In the center of the Sacramento Valley two rivers, the Feather and Sacramento, flank several wetlands and marshes called the Sutter and Colusa Sinks. Much of this land has been drained and become some of the richest agricultural land for fruit orchards and various grains and rice. The photographer Lukas Felzmann has been drawn to these marshlands and especially the role water has taken to shape and transform the landscape. His new book from Lars Muller, Waters In Between is an empirical archive or as he describes the collection, "a sort of poetry of ruins."

Constructed as part methodic examination and part meditation, Felzmann and his 5x7 camera describe a landscape both naturally formed and manipulated by man. It is a transitional space upon which people have built homes and their presence has turned naturally occurring floods historically common to the area into "disasters." The attempt to control water through canals and underground systems speak of a cultural change and the power of economy on the area. There is a similar feeling behind this work to the moment when you find out Polanski's Chinatown is really about corruption controlling water.

Felzmann's camera is stylistically varied in ways that are refreshing. This book is not just a collection of the formally rigorous but playful with occasional panoramics and exchange between black and white and color. Individually the photographs are well made but it is his sequencing that make this project as interesting as any dealing with place that I have seen in a long while. Short poetic text pieces by John Berger and Angelus Silesius compliment Felzmann's work are interspersed throughout.



Waters In Between is an image of prosperity of natural growth mixed with images of the failure of man to sustain. The ruin left in his wake are ugly blights on the horizon line that one might wish could be wiped clean from stronger waters. Repetitive images that open the book of a whirlpool sucking into a black abyss starts the journey that ends with another set of photographs of an area under a cement overpass as it goes through various states of growth. Feldmann's accomplishment is an expanded dialogue which extends far outside its territory in thought provoking ways. At once we are aware of fragility of lives, the impact on the environment, life in transition, the natural and cultural systems and their effects, while at the same moment realize the irony in that this landscape is traversed by travelers speeding through what may be perceive to be a flat and boring stretch of highway.

Waters In Between is a long book at 320 pages but interest is sustained throughout. It is beautifully printed and designed and the materials used were nicely chosen. Should I venture to guess this may be on my list of "Best books of 2009."


Note: It is really hard to give a good sense of this book through the comps above. My suggestion is to take a look at a local bookseller.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Here Comes Everybody by Chris Killip



Chris Killip is not an easy man to predict. His follow up to his first book, Isle of Man - a lyrical portrait of his homeland - was an unexpected molotov cocktail thrown in the face of the political establishment, In Flagrante. Almost twenty years later arrived Pirelli Work which some saw as an extension of the same Northern English community now engaged in the long desired employment after a decade of humiliation. His newest book, Here Comes Everybody, departs to attend the annual pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick and Mamean in the west of Ireland.

For many, the modern enactments of ancient religious rites such as pilgrimages can often seem more observant of the familial tradition to participate than the goal of observance or serving penance. Where as Saint Patrick's ascent on Cruach Phádraig was followed by his reputed forty day fast, the discomfort today is offset by snack food and mylar blankets - small comforts should the journey become taxing. It can be a festive outing cloaked in seriousness. The usual penance - a scuff on the ankle after a slip on the shale.

Through Killip's images, both can be found. The hardcore penitent that walks barefoot up the steep slopes covered in loose rock to the family struggling with grouchy children in tow. The contradictions of past and present abound with many pilgrims carrying wooden staffs to assist in their journey like Saint Patrick while the modern accoutrements of Addidas trainers are more assuring of steady footfalls.

Killip has been photographing these Catholic pilgrimages in color and black and white for a dozen years starting in 1993 and initially thought it 'not his territory' until a visit with his mother in the Isle of Man revealed that he was one quarter Irish. The bigotry against Catholicism his mother had endured had stifled all discussion of her childhood or origins until then. By familial ties, these pilgrimages and community would become his 'territory;' a call to explore these rites from which he had always been distant.

Stylistically there will no doubt be naysayers who see Killip's turn to this calmer subject and his addition of color as problematic when compared to his past work. This is not In Flagrante with its exploration into tension and frustration, nor should comparison be made. Here Comes Everybody is a turn from the outward gaze inward. As Isle of Man was a loving portrait of homeland, Everybody is an exploration back into family but a family he never knew he was linked. Photographers have flocked to these pilgrimages for "good" pictures and at times almost outnumbered the participants but this album seems to have been conceived to make these rituals a part of his own life. This book is a facsimile of a photo album he made and dedicated to his mother who died at 86 years of age in 2008.



Killip's discovery of landscape and tradition is felt throughout. Fences of loose rock piled to delineate property or path are described with the same eye towards beauty as the pastoral views and fog shrouded mountain tops. His pilgrims ascend in small groups and pause in a landscape so idyllic that they teeter on the purely romantic. This is where his construction and sequencing become the most important element holding this book together. His juxtaposition of black and white and color slyly keep us jumping back and forth from past to present, from old tradition to new, preconception and reality. His penitents in their misty struggle upwards are faced on opposite pages with clarity and heavenly crisp light. 'A fiction about metaphor' as he has said of past projects is at work here too.

My full engagement with his journey is unfortunately slightly belied by the quality of the production - the publisher Thames and Hudson hasn't shown full effort with this book. Chris's other volumes have been exquisitely produced where the richness and quality strike the viewer immediately but here printing and poor choice of line screening tarnish his efforts. Like some of the pilgrims, Killip's long awaited achievement has come down from its journey needing a band-aid. Perhaps the very affordable limited edition in which every photo is tipped onto the page in true photo album fashion will allow a fuller realization of this project.

At the end of Here Comes Everybody, Killip relates a story from childhood of returning home early one day from school and discovering his mother playing a piano and smoking. Surprised, he said, 'I didn't know that you smoked or that you played the piano.' Her response was, 'There are a lot of things in this world that you don't know. Now, why are you home?'

There were indeed many things he didn't know which may have been why he turned to photography. This exploration may also be another question that he is asking of himself upon his discovery of Irish roots - Now Mr. Killip, why are you home?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lost Review by David Maljkovic



With the economic world in turmoil, David Maljkovic's slim volume Lost Review couldn't be more timely as it takes Croatia's Zagreb Fair as its subject. The fair in its heyday of the 1950s and 60s was the major economic link between East and West and the only trade related fair where the US, the USSR and other countries exhibited through the Cold War. Its many pavilions made up a small-scale world of cooperation and optimism during a time of major division.

For this project, which is part of a larger series on the Zagreb Fair, Maljkovic makes collage of old images from the yearly fair reviews and brochures published to present the fair's success juxtaposed with photos of the current state of the fair grounds in decay and neglect. By splicing the past against the current he describes states of flux, loss of optimism and failure.



Black and white photos of the empty ruins of once grand architectural achievements are overlaid with 'windows' of the past that compress history and idealism. Interspersed are beautiful color photos of weathered signs displaying film products and other business ventures that could have been found at the fair.

Lost Review is a fine graphic object wh
ich, although a bit eclectic in subject, is smartly assembled. Rough combinations with the artist constantly showing his hand in the creation keeps the rift between the two economic states apparent. Printed on slightly thin paper probably similar to the original source material, it places Maljkovic's new art within the context of being an extension of the yearly reviews - a report, stuck somewhere between two ages - both an homage and a call for reclamation.

Lost Review was published by Koenig Books in 2008.

Friday, April 17, 2009

...all the days and nights by Doug DuBois



It is hard enough to photograph your family let alone to be honest about it. At worst, the images are pure falsity on the part of the photographer that rely on visual descriptions of natural beauty or grace - usually the most tiring of domestic cliches. The best unlock that which is powerful enough to make you wish you could curl back up into fetal position hoping for some comfort. Doug DuBois' new book from Aperture ...all the days and nights is the latter.

DuBois has been photographing his family since 1984. A few of the photographs have trickled out over the past two decades, some in MoMA's The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort show and in Doubletake magazine, but mostly they have remained unseen but by the lucky. Lucky because this memoir, for lack of a better term, is weighted with an unflinching gaze that risks acquiring too much knowledge both on the part of the photographer and the viewer.

The narrator of memoir projects onto its subjects, and photography is good at amplifying and projecting. DuBois' story is cast with two main characters, his parents. Although many images show his siblings, the central spotlight is on mother and father. The book opens with quiet, everyday domestic tranquility; the father fiddles with a suitcase illuminated with a play of light; a daughter worries over her groomed appearance while the reality of her room is complete chaos; the parents are happy together having drinks - the mother reacting to the flirtations of the father. They are minor events of small gesture which, to a lesser attentive narrator, would certainly not have triggered the same instincts to record.

Eight photographs in and the tranquility is disrupted by event - the father is hospitalized with major injuries that we learn were sustained from a near-fatal fall from a commuter train. It is here that the book takes a momentary dangerous turn towards a literal narrative and purpose. Lucky again that DuBois knows to quickly steer back to the quieter, less obvious moments that are leaden with the unspoken.

During the father's convalescence, it is impossible not to notice the constant state of inner reflection on the mother's face. Her intense and sullen expressions transcend concern for the father's condition pointing rather to a deeper psychological wound that has opened. Never again do we witness a smile or lightness of being in her. Every photo there after is an individual portrait. The few times when the parents are in the same frame the estrangement resonates clearly. By book's end, the split is clear.



...all the days and nights is broken into two parts. DuBois made these images during two working periods, the first from 1984-1990, the second from 1999-2008. The sequencing and edit are well handled as is the printing and layout. The introduction by Donald Antrim, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, is with full understanding of DuBois accomplishment and beautifully realized.

DuBois' own brief pitch-perfect afterword describes battles with depression and attempts at suicide on the part of his mother. It also describes his role as memoirist for his family and the truths the photos reveal. His father asks, "Was it really that bad?" when he first sees a mock up of this book. All along one senses that where ever the underlying tension in DuBois' photos was coming from, reality was probably far worse for each of the players. Photography can act as a mask just like a person's countenance yet what DuBois is willing to lay bare in this book is painfully clear.

"Was it really that bad?" The strength of this work is, with all we have been privy to -- all of the intrusion and embarrassment that comes with Dubois inviting us into the household -- we might presume to answer for one of the characters.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

5B4 Photography and Books Year II



I hope you've all paid your taxes because 5B4 just got slated to receive a huge bailout as a second anniversary gift. Today marks two years of 5B4 and the very first post on April 15, 2007 was a short editorial on the Parr/Badger effect on photobook pricing. Since I recently let loose a few shots across the bow of book dealers I thought it would be interesting to open a discussion and let you know my thoughts about the photobook scene, good and bad. Please contribute your own thoughts in the comments section.

I have nothing against people making a living selling books. Someone has to do it and I have many friends who are sellers or dealers in one capacity or another. Some are high-end dealers and others penny-ante sellers supplementing their incomes. The problem I have is that commerce has become so wrapped up with photography books that it has clouded people's own opinions and aesthetic judgments about what they like about the books themselves. Some don't buy books because they want them for the content but for the book value alone. In some extreme cases, the content isn't even considered, it is just pure greed as the motivator.

The way many photobooks are being marketed is the perfect capitalist wet dream. Small quantities mixed with the hype that if you miss out in the very beginning, that same book will be very expensive in just a matter of months. This increases pressure to act quickly with clouded judgment and the wrong reasoning.

I had a funny moment with a friend who approached me in a store carrying a book that I would never have thought he'd be interested in. I skeptically asked him if he liked the work and he replied, "I feel like if I don't get it now then I'll never have the chance to really know whether I like it or not." That pretty much sums it up right there.

The other concern is inflated pricing of older books. For years photobooks were pretty cheap - even the rare ones. When I moved to NYC in 1987 I remember seeing a shoebox full of multiple copies of Ed Ruscha's books in the Strand bookstore's rare bookroom and they were around 50-60 dollars each - a price I considered absurd then. William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York was commonly seen for 200 dollars. Prices held with only modest increase until the Roth 101 and Parr/Badger books smashed the ceiling ten fold. There is a cause and effect that has had considerable consequences.

Absurdly inflated pricing removes many copies completely out of circulation so that no one sees them. Books are made by artists with the intention of them being seen by somebody. I don't think talent springs up out of nowhere. It comes with the accumulation of knowledge and most great artists have learned from example somewhere along the line. Just like how new writers learn from older writers, artists look at other artists for the same reasons.

The funny thing is that there seem to be only about 200 people world-wide that are buying books at those absurd prices. The rest are dealers who keep circulating the same titles amongst themselves through trades and consignments until they find the right book for the right client within that 200 world-wide pool. Almost like a Ponzi scheme of over-priced goods, if the circulation amongst the dealers were to stop, the bottom would drop out because at some point all would realize that the prices have been artificially inflated for those couple clients for whom money is no object.

The claim that there is large demand for these books and that is what justifies these prices I think is false. I think much of the "value" is based upon the fact that these books are being noticed and acknowledged AFTER it had become almost impossible to see them. If you can't see something and are told how great it is constantly, then you're going to believe it is worth whatever price someone dictates.

Surely some books deserve the large price tags because of extreme rarity but it is across the board now and this is something I feel is detrimental to the printed history of the medium. One person puts a listing on Ebay or on ABE at a high price and every other internet dealer uses that as a guide. My friend recently saw something to this effect in reverse over a book was listed many times at $500 (all of which sat unsold for years) and someone recently listed a copy at $200 in the same condition. Within a matter of a few weeks many of the other sellers dropped their price to $180.00 or lower. There is no authority with the internet. The same as "no one knows you're not a dog" on the internet, they also don't know that you are just greedy.

Speaking of the greedy and opportunistic, I was at a recent booksigning with William Klein at the Howard Greenberg Gallery and in front of me were three known NY book sellers and they were discussing recent finds and "flipping" values about signatures etc. They were discussing this while standing five feet from the artist. Their obvious concern was value and that is entirely disrespectful and disingenuous for them to approach that artist to sign books. They couldn't have cared who was in the seat signing, just about flipping values. They want something for free from the artist that they will turn around and charge a premium for. Well I think if that is your only reason to be there then drop a twenty dollar bill on the table you greedy scumbag. It's like that New Yorker cartoon that had a man approaching a writer at a booksigning and asking him "Could you inscribe this one to Highest Bidder." Of course, those sellers were insisting that Klein just sign the books without inscription at all.



I go to booksignings and have my books inscribed to me. That is the tradition of booksignings - personalization of the book to the owner. Booksignings used to be a chance to meet an artist or writer, chat for a second or two, get a book signed because you appreciate the work. Artists should start charging money for their signatures like baseball players sometimes do at trade shows. New title $5, older rare title $50 per book. Plunk down some cash and share in your profit.

Two of the most embarrassing displays of booksigning insanity have happened at Robert Frank event
s. At the public library a couple years ago, physical altercations broke out. At a recent Steidl event at Walter Reade theater Robert was visibly uncomfortable when a crowd descended upon him with open books. One dealer who had lent his book as an example during the actual discussion opportunistically approached Robert to sign his book while on stage. That copy appeared for sale online within a couple days along with "ephemera" from the event. Had the guy had identified himself as a bookseller and asked Robert if he'd sign the book so the he could make an extra 500 dollars do you think Robert would have signed the book? Josef Koudelka had an event at Aperture last year and expressed his disappointment afterwards in finding many copies posted the next day on Ebay. He told me he'd never do that again.

If you look at the consequences
you may realize that over 90% of the recognized landmark photobooks are now out of the hands of people who may be interested in exploring the content. These books, which are visual artistic statements, in most cases have been turned into words. Now in order to learn about an older book of photographs, you read about it in short 500 word essays without seeing any of the content. What is detrimental is that each of these objects will have a multitude of reactions from different sets of eyes. The sad fact is that we no longer have the ability to see for ourselves what these works mean to each individually. There are now a couple of voices that "explain" the work to you as if we all saw through the same collective peephole.

The history of photography has always been written by a few, but what I ask is, how is it possible to open the dialogue further and make this a much richer discussion. A discussion which includes a multitude of voices and opinions that ebb and flow and lead to a deeper understanding of these objects and ultimately their intended purpose - a better understanding of the world we live in.

Your thoughts...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

God Spoiled A Perfect Asshole When He Put Teeth In Yer Mouth by Dash Snow



The layman's standard critique of modern art for many years was to simply state that their 'five year old could make that.' Early into Dash Snow's new book God Spoiled A Perfect Asshole When He Put Teeth In Yer Mouth we are faced with a similar notion when the work Penis Envy asks 'How much talent does it really take to come on the New York Post anyway?' This is written in bold type on a 40 x 73 inch inkjet print that is set in a lightbox and, of course, is covered in semen.

Snow has put lots of his spunk to work in collage, much of which winds up doused in glitter. Newspaper front pages and cut photos get his fluid treatments with an attitude which seems to be demanding his own control over current events. A cut out of Saddam Hussein gets royal treatment placed near someone's cock. This IS partly why I like some of what he does. I see the work as being about the uncaring, indulgent, immature and contemptible nature in Dash Snow towards the world outside of his drug-induced arty hamster nest. He is after all the runaway that turned his back on the Menil family money and can clearly see how his work is being speculated upon by art dealers - perhaps because they think the chances are good that, unless he cleans up, he'll OD on heroin and they'll make a killing. He's their ace in the hole. Their Basquiat of jizz and glitter.

So meanwhile he will turn the pope's face into a twat. He'll present a triptych of photos: cooking a shot of heroin, a toilet full of unflushed drug packets, and a bookshelf with a human skull, a gun and stacks of cash. He'll appropriate a porn photo of a man coming onto a woman's face and reproduce it in monochromatic magenta at 50 x 71 inches (Edition of 3 + 2 APs). He'll make a series of collage sporting crudely applied strips of reflective rainbow tape over the genitals of bound nude women from 1960s bondage mags. He'll take a polaroid of his friend's asshole. And alongside that he will make some great collage that will cause envy - penis or otherwise.

Clever word play through cut and paste newspaper clippings are one tactic and surrealist imagery another. A woman's face turns into a brooch while the whole ensemble, one step removed, signals a fuck you. The contempt towards the viewer is hardly veiled like the book's title screams. Another forms human torsos into an exclamation point topped off with the back of a man's bullet riddled head. The title: Eat your money and die!

One piece called Kennedy Assassinated is a collage that features a Los Angeles Times newspaper from November 23rd that features a photo of Kennedy taken about one minute before the infamous shooting. Snow has added colorful loops and curves of color blossoming out of the back of Kennedy's head that bring to mind the cheerful graphics of a Milton Glaser. This is what is a bit intriguing about Snow, he jumps to use obviously provocative material (cultural icons, religion, porn) and then cleverly seduces with a mixture of expectation and surprise.



Unfortunately his messages, although clever on the surface, seem almost cliche with adolescent angst lashing out at the world. The piece that I find most embarrassingly illustrative of this is Bird's Nest which features a nest of twigs within the center of which sits a few blue pills. The best of Snow's collage feel impulsive and open-ended but as soon as he tries to make things precious, like putting his his large photos in frames or the bell jar that houses this nest piece, it all starts to feel forced. The amateur proudness that keeps it all together (with sperm) fades.

Art can often seem masturbatory and after sitting with this for a few weeks it has become mostly tedious. I return to the same few brilliant collage pieces that resonate but as handsome as this book can seem, at $140 dollars I think most people will feel like they've just been fucked. And what is worse, they weren't even given a courtesy reach around. Leave that to the book dealers who'll be constant fluffers at the ready with this book in hand and dollar signs in their eyes.

God Spoiled A Perfect Asshole was published on the occasion of his show at Peres Projects in Los Angeles and the show itself, by way of installation photos, is also the center of attention. Production stills from his film Penis Envy, a super 8 film of men tossing seed onto the New York Post, open and close the book.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Broken Glass by Ray Mortenson



Up at the Museum of the City of New York there is an exhibition by the photographer Ray Mortenson called Broken Glass and the small catalog accompanying the show is well worth your attention. Between 1982 and 1984 Mortenson photographed in New York's South Bronx neighborhoods describing the burned out and abandoned buildings that had become symbolic of the nation's urban economic collapse.

Mortenson, who has made beautiful images of natural forms in rocks, weeds, and trees that made bring to mind a sensibility akin to Paul Caponigro, has produced many softcover, staple-bound catalogs of his work over the past twenty years. Short and to the point, each represents a different body of work in an elegant and spare form.

In this latest, Broken Glass, Mortenson explores the desolate streets of the South Bronx, venturing into many of the buildings to record their current state of decay and often evidence of better times. Flower wallpaper still clings in defiance in a stairwell that has fallen to rubble. A stray dog searches for food on a street that could just as well be from London after the blitz let alone America 40 years later. In my favorite image, a flower backed chair has made its way outside to furnish an alleyway along with two over-turned pails. Courtyards are filled with garbage once thrown from windows and the occasional fire, started perhaps for an insurance claim, smolders turning the scene into the war zone that is all too easy to imagine.

This catalog is short at only 32 pages and 13 photographs but the quality of the printing (which is amazing) and cover materials are well worth the cost. A short essay by the Museum's Curator of Prints and Photographs, Sean Corcoran, introduces the work in a smart and thoughtful manner.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Korean Business Directory 1975-76 by Christoph Buchel



I want to follow up on the Bacon Inacabula posting with another collection of paper ephemera, this one by the Swiss artist Christoph Buchel and the book Korean Business Directory 1975-76 published by Snoeck.

Buchel creates realistic and richly detailed installations of interior spaces. His extreme installation Simply Botiful took up several floors of a warehouse sized gallery and included rooms that appeared to represent an import/export business, a used refrigerator storeroom, a hotel of sorts whose room decor implied sex-trade was the norm, kitchens, offices, and for the persistent, discoveries of sinister looking secret passageways leading into underground rooms that most viewers would miss. They are spaces that seem preoccupied with the mindset of those that created them. Within these interiors, many of which seem familiar already, we wonder of the occupants and the real order of the lives in such spaces. The same unlocking of a flood of questions goes for this small artist book in Korean Business Directory 1975-76.

First and foremost, why a Korean business directory? The interior scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings are mostly from German sources. Was this just a useful book of pages to be glued over with mementos? Why from 1975-76? Certainly a significant time period for Korea but is that significant here? Animals, news events and human interest stories, pin-up type photos of women, postcards, b-list celebrities, vacation brochures - none are dated from what I can see and many are from well after 1975-76.

We assume it is one person's collection (Buchel's?) we don't even know who. The book is credited as Concept: Christoph Buchel but the design is credited to Anonymous. Is this a "found" object, or like Buchel's installations just made to look "found." The scrapbook usage ends after about a third of the way into the book, giving over the last pages to the regular directory listings. This begs the question, did the "person" who assembled this just lose interest? Did they die? How much was at stake in assembling this collection for them? Did this represent their sense of humor? We might assume it was a man with the inclusion of so many images of scantily clad women - was this their idea of sexy? Are the foreign lands shown an acknowledgment of a desire for travel? Leisure? Escape? Was this collection an escape from the monotony for a bored soul?

The entire book has the sense of hidden messages which perhaps could be deciphered if one spoke its language but I doubt anything that literal is going on here. Are there more hidden messages to be discovered within the directory where, like in his Simply Botiful installation, the persistent are rewarded? Are we being prompted to look for more where there is only what you see on the surface? Does this work extend into the mindsets of the viewer parsing those of us who are willing engage and not engage?

So many questions from some clippings glued into a Korean business directory...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Landscape by Christopher Russell



While out in LA several months back I discovered a small slipcased book by an artist named Christopher Russell called Landscape.

Landscape explores the public and private spaces where gay men meet for what appear to be random sexual trysts. Russell surreptitiously (by his own account) photographed those environments and meetings taking place under the semi-private cover of trees and brush in a park in San Francisco.

Russell's photographs, shot with a camera hidden in his jacket pocket are rough descriptions - sketches really. The plastic lens camera and black and white film describe less fine detail than grand gesture. Most of the natural surroundings are reduced to silhouette and the figures, often mere shapes that link up into pairings, suggest more than show. All seems to be happening through a veil of haze that also seems to be describing the passage of time.

An interesting comparison could be made to Kohei Yoshiyuki’s Document Kouen (Document Park). Both photographers are making images of public sex surreptitiously but where as Yoshiyuki's deal in specifics, Russell's are impressions. Where Yoshiyuki is an observer, Russell places the viewer into the role of both observer and participant.

Landscape is a small artist book that is cover to cover with photographs bled to the page edges. The paper is matte finish and leaves the tonalities swamped in muted grays. This murky tonal effect is a good companion for the images with their reduced range and emotional intensity. A small letterpress made folio with the book's title, acknowledgments, and colophon page is laid in - its elegance sits in funny contrast to the almost animalistic urgency of the images.

Landscape was published by Kolapsomal Press in 2007.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yard Sale Photographs by Adam Bartos



Once in 1979 my parents dragged me to a huge outdoor flea market in downtown Phoenix called Park and Swap. Bored and probably slightly disgusted I didn't see the point of why they would be interested in looking through other people's junk. I do remember being amused momentarily with an offering by some enterprising soul who had printed the Ayatollah Khomeini's face on rolls of toilet paper. His sign read 'Buy-a-rolla Ayatollah.'

My boredom that day vanished when I discovered a man selling dozens of issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine off the back of a pickup truck. I cherished those magazines so greatly that the second issue I owned was gotten by way of a lapse in ethics when I stole it literally out of the hands of a mildly retarded kid at my school named David. I was practically hyperventilating when I discovered those boxes of issues that day sitting in bright early morning light. I wanted all of them but showing restraint my parents bought me around ten issues. I would beg them to go back each weekend for more - panicked that they would be gone.

Looking through the recent book by Adam Bartos brought those memories flooding back, Yard Sale Photographs is published by Damaini.

During the summers from 2004 until 2008, Bartos sought out yard sales in New Mexico and on Long Island, New York and made still-lifes of the offerings. Color and 35mm, his photos describe the odd connections and juxtapositions created when disparate objects are laid out for sale. Tennis rackets and handbags intertwine into looping patterns while a flower wall decoration made of metal and a chrome sink stopper seem like distant cousins.

Bartos gets close and singles out objects, exposing their 'photographic' selling points. Where as we may not be sold on the objects themselves, the photographs are a different matter. Much like how Keld Helmer-Petersen back in the 1940s found interesting ways to explore shape and color, Bartos finds his perspectives and fills the frame with complexity.

Yard Sale Photographs
could have been ruined by filling it with the usual kitsch that photographers seem so drawn to include in such still-lifes. Bad paintings or decor from the 70s would be too easy, the strength here is the common-ness of the sale objects and the certain sadness that permeates the offerings that have little chance of a new home. The yellow teddy bear with its open arms is just a bit too old and ratty as are the unmarked cassette and video tapes on page 91. It is always a bit odd to see items like these spread out on driveways or lawns, exposed to the outside world.

Larger in format than his other books, Yard Sale Photographs is cleverly designed to resemble a well read and worn book complete with a blue $1.00 sale sticker. Damaini isn't always a publisher where the choice of materials seems of quality, but Yard Sale Photographs, I am sure by Bartos's doing, is made up of better choices with very nice interior paper which has a matte finish appropriate for the photographs. The printing is very well done as is the design which allows for large plates. There are three fold-outs that expose trios of images and I wish this happened more. The introduction is by way of a Raymond Carver story which will change how you look at yard sales forever.

Bartos's other books Kosmos and International Territory explored the Russian Space programs and the United Nations respectively through interior still-lifes that informed us about unfamiliar worlds. Yard Sale Photographs is an extension of that previous work but he is now turning his lens towards a more familiar interior with these 'portraits' - one of taste and utility, the desired and the discarded.