Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sanatorium by Rob Hornstra & Arnold van Bruggen



Due to my general laziness after the holidays I see that Andrew Phelps, the fine photographer and blogger of the booksite Buffet, has beaten me to the punch by mentioning Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen's newest publication Sanatorium.

Hornstra's book 101 Billionaires was one of my favorites of the year from 2008 so I was excited to see his endeavors with the Sochi Project were paying off and he had published this new title with help from donors.

Sanatorium
is offered only to people who donate to help fund his version of slow journalism documenting the changes taking place to Sochi, a town in Russia, which is preparing for the arrival of the 2014 Olympics. Working alongside the writer Arnold van Bruggen, Hornstra plans to photograph in the area over the next five years, and along the way, publish magazine articles and books to get the multitude of stories out. Sanatorium is the first.

In 1919, Lenin decreed that localities with curative properties should be property of the people and used for curative purposes. Accordingly, many sanatoriums sprung up along Sochi's 90 miles of coastline.

Hornstra's description is clean, large format portraits and interiors lit with flash. The environment seems filled with out dated machinery that looks as if it would do more harm than good. In one, a boy sits in a bathtub which is lined with tubes and spouts that look more for torture than healing. In others, the curative machinery Hornstra photographs look like left over props from science fiction films with their arm-like protrusions and incomprehensible purpose.

The metaphor of wish fulfillment is in the air. Wish fulfillment not just for the healing powers of the machinery, mud baths or mineral waters in the sanatorium pictured but also in the face lift that Sochi is getting for the 2014 Olympics. What will be the outcome of the world's eyes falling on Sochi and the years after it is all over.

Book-wise, Sanatorium is short (21 photos over 42 pages) but its sexy design and production values deserve attention. Designed by Kummer & Herman out of Utrecht, they employed an interesting double stitch binding that achieves a squared off spine and a division of text from the photographs which were printed on different paper stocks from one another. Sanatorium was printed in 350 copies.

To donate to Hornstra and van Bruggen's check their website here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Four



The last of this set of Books on Books to be printed is Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e. Takanashi was one of the founders of the avant-garde magazine Provoke and of all of the Provoke era publications, Toshi-e is most impressive not only due to the photography but also because of its elegant presentation. Takanashi worked with the designer Kohei Sugiura. In fact, Takanashi entrusted Sugiura with the design, edit and decision to include the second "notebook" booklet of Takanashi's Tokyo-jin series. Most people know Toshi-e as "that large Japanese book with the shiny metal disk on the cover," well now you'll see that it's a bit more complicated than that.

The first order of business after learning Mr. Takanashi was open to the idea of featuring Toshi-e was to put together a rough layout for him to see how the book would work in our format. This meant I needed to quickly find a copy to photograph since this isn't a book that many people would comfortably lend out - it usually goes for anywhere from 4000-7000 dollars in the used book world. I knew John Gossage in DC had a one since that is where I first saw it last year. Thankfully he agreed that I could come photograph the book. It was a make-shift set up but with his help I got the results needed for a layout to send to Mr. Takanashi. I sent it off to Yoko Sawada (who was acting on my behalf since Mr. Takanashi doesn't speak English and my Japanese is a little rusty) and I held my breath for about five days. Finally I received an email saying Yoko had printed out the entire PDF document and shown it to Mr. Takanashi in person. Turned out, he was extremely pleased with how it all looked and gave his final approval.

With every book we do, Robert Hennessey figures out how best to approach the scanning or photographing of each book. As I have mentioned before, each book presents its own possible problems due to the type of printing the original book employed. Books printed in gravure pose fewer possible problems due to that process not having a set, linear dot pattern. If you look at gravure under a loupe you'll see it is much more like film grain than straight lines of dots. This means that when you rephotograph a gravure book and create a line screen over that image to print offset, there is no chance of a moiré pattern appearing.

The two books in Toshi-e were printed in gravure but on different paper stocks. For Toshi-e, Sugiura used a beautiful thick stock while for the Notes: Tokyo-jin booklet, he used a cheap newsprint paper. Robert and I spoke at length about how to reproduce the Notes: Tokyo-jin booklet since the images lacked the tonal range that the larger Toshi-e book achieved, plus, the newsprint paper had a yellowish tone. I thought we'd have to print the booklet in four color as opposed to duotone to match the paper tone but Robert suggested we print in duotone but add a second varnish layer. That second varnish would create the paper tone while we'd be able to control the exact print quality without the chance of color shifts etc.



In order to closely match the newsprint paper tone with the second varnish layer I went to a paint store and picked up dozens of paint chip sample cards within the range of tan to yellow. Finding a close match, I then sent the chip off to C+C Offset along with a few of the files and a test forme and told them to match the sample as closely as possible. A couple weeks later the sample arrived and all looked great.

The first sheets off the press looked good. Since we had done machine proofs a few months ago, C+C was able to quickly get to good starting points with all of the books this time. Although things are going smoothly, this book is 176 pages long (11 signatures of 16 pages) which means I'm in for 22 press checks. We'll be printing into tomorrow morning and then the new dustjackets for my fifth and final day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946 by Robert Frank



Before arriving to New York, Robert Frank prepared a portfolio of 40 photographs in order to introduce his work to magazine editors. Upon close inspection, Frank's work from the time treads a fine line between the older school pictorialists with Aldolf Herz at its center and the New Vision advocates which included Frank's teacher Gotthard Schuh. The New Vision shows through with his experimenting with angles and pairing images sans text or caption while the pictorialist in him finds an attraction to beautiful vistas and architecture as well as the rural farm life outside of Zurich.

Opening to the first page of Frank's Portfolio just published by Steidl, we are faced with an open phone book, brightly lit and lying on a field of black. I can't help but to think this is Frank's sly nod to the difficulty he may face upon breaking into the field of commercial photography. An open phone book, full of names, it is as if Frank is saying 'find me, pick me' among thousands of competitors.

It is also an image of weight as the book seems to be surrendering under its own heaviness. This is followed by two images which are weightless - the first of a snow scene and the facing page, a ray of sunlight described from a vantage point where we feel as if we are hovering over a small mountain village.

The 'weightless' and the 'grounded' are two opposing themes that Frank repeatedly uses to move us through this sequence. Three radio transistors in a product shot float into the sky while a music conductor, his band and a church steeple succumb to gravity on the facing page. Even in this image Frank shifts focus to the sky and beyond - the weightless. When he photographs rural life, the farmers heft whole pigs into the air and another carries a huge bale of freshly cut grain which seems featherlight but for the woman trailing behind with hands ready to assist.

Considering this work was made while fascism was on the move through Europe, external politics is felt through metaphor. A painted portrait of men in uniform among a display of pots and pans for sale faces a brightly polished cog from a machine - its teeth sharp and precise. In another pairing, demonstrators waving flags in the streets of Zurich face a street sign covered with snow and frost, a Swiss flag blows in the background. in yet another of a crowd of spectators face the illuminated march of a piece of machinery - its illusory shadow filling in the ranks. These pairings feel under the influence of Jakob Tuggener, whose work Frank certainly knew. Like Tuggener, Frank tackles the task of seemingly incongruous subject matter and finds a harmony through edit and assembly.

Again and again throughout this portfolio, Frank is not just trying to show his prowess in making images but in pairing them. They define conflicts in life. One boy struggles to climb a rope while a ski jumper is frozen in flight. Fisherman bask in sunlight while two pedestrians are caught in blinding snowfall.

Like the telephone book of self-reference at the beginning, Frank finishes his sequence with a climber reaching the summit of a mountain. He is connected by safety-line to the person making the photograph. The climber looks a little like a young Robert Frank, and if one suspends disbelief for a moment, the bright line of rope caught in the sunlight, leads straight down to a dangling camera lens - tying the young Robert to the medium for which he seemed chosen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Three



I got a record three hours rest while they clean the rollers of the Heidelberg before starting on the Koen Wessing book Chili September 1973. For those that do not know the original book, this is a small body of work that Wessing, a Dutch photojournalist, made over ten days just after Pinochet overthrew Allende by a military coup in Chile on September 11, 1973. It was published just a few months later in Amsterdam.

The book is short and was cheaply produced with rough printing on flimsy newsprint type paper. To reproduce the book in my study I had a hard time finding a copy to borrow and wound up using Koen's last personal copy which he generously loaned.

It is a book that gets easily damaged so I packed it carefully and protected it while matching the prints on press. Last year I had the experience of one of the pressmen grabbing my copy of Sophie Ristelhueber's Fait out of my hands and sweeping its pages like an issue of People magazine so I have been extra cautious on how the books are handled by the pressmen this time. It is embarrassing to freak out because most sane people don't regard books as delicate objects. They are things that are used, read and handled. So what if pages get torn or folded? How do you explain that what they have in their hands sometimes is as valuable as a used car? At one point one of the pressmen grabbed the copy of Chili and I found myself uncontrollably shouting the word 'careful' about 6 times within a half a second like I had Tourette's Syndrome. I sounded like a turkey getting a colonoscopy.

When I have seen spreads from this book reproduced before like in Martin and Gerry's Photobook: A History I noticed that the plates always look more rich than the original. As I mentioned before, this was done with a single pass of black ink on cheap quality paper so my concern was in keeping the tenor of the original and not shifting too much the quality in my book. It is a difficult balance between matching and what might, to those unfamiliar with the original, look to be poor printing. The strategy Robert Hennessey and I came up with after seeing our proofs was to not overdo the black densities - to let the sense of the paper surface show through as a texture. The results were a true representation of the object.


Since the book is short in length the pressmen fired up a different six color press to start printing the last signatures of each book which require color. For the black and white books we have done, we print them in duotone but the last signature or two are always in color so that the bibliography and 'making of' information can feature color book jackets or illustrations when necessary. With two presses now running, the checks are turning out to be staggered so that I am called to check more often. Now the time between is only 20-30 minutes which means I have been just hanging out in the press room which is pushing me to the limits.

In the area with the Heidelbergs, C+C has installed thin pipes in the ceiling which every 15 minutes or so shoot an extremely fine mist of water into the air to keep the dust levels down. I've taken to standing under them instead of showering.


The plates for the Takanashi book are stacked and waiting their turn for tomorrow...



If you'd like to get a real sense of what press checking my books was like this time, you can do the following:

1. Get into bed and set your alarm to
wake you in one hour and fifteen minutes from the time you laid down. Important! Don't get undressed or take off your shoes.

2. When alarm sounds, jump out of bed in a daze and stagger around for a few seconds until you recognize where you are.

3. Walk out of your house and head t
o the nearest deli. My trips to the press room from my guest house would take about 4 minutes of walking time.

4. Once you are in the deli, go to the refrigerator and pick up a carton of milk.

5. Scrutinize the milk carton for any flaws. No scratches, dents nor smudges. Check the print densities and don't forget - clean registration!!

6. When you can't find the perfect carton, ask to see more from the stockroom or just hang around the checkout counter f
or about 20 minutes looking for loose change that has fallen into the boxes of candy.

7. Pay for the milk. Leave the change you've found in the 'give a penny/take a penny' you cheap bastard.

8. Walk back home and get into bed.

9. Set your alarm for an hour la
ter.

Repeat steps 1-9 for 5 days straight and you'll get the idea.

Sleep deprivation is said to be the worst form of torture. I haven't ever been tortured in the physical sense - no lashings, no stress positions, No waterboarding, no more listening to 24 hour recordings of babies screaming like Springa of SS Decontrol. C+C is no
Guantanamo Bay but this can really suck once the fatigue sets in. You lie down for a cat nap - 45 minutes tops - before you're jolted awake mid-dream to the "deedle-leedle-leet" of the press check phone. I have started noticing some abnormal behavior.

* Running to a 4am press check, I got onto the elevator on the 5th floor of my guest house building, punched the 5th floor
button several times and stood wondering why the doors weren't closing. It took almost a full minute to figure that one out.

* I accidentally kicked my tea spoon under the bed. Instead of simply retrieving it I am now stirring my instant coffee and ginger tea with the end of my toothbrush.

* I take noticeable pleasure in looking in the tea pot, watching the water, and trying to guess how long it will take before it gets to a full boil. (About two minutes).


* Choosing when to wear one of my plain grey t-shirts and when to wear my plain black t-shirts (all from Uniqlo) has become a major thought expenditure.

* Trying to coordinate which "make ready sheets" I want the paper loading pressman to use in order to get cool double-printed sheets. Not really abnormal behavior for me but to the Chinese pressman this is the oddest request they have ever gotten.

* I haven't shaven with a razor in about three years but I get the idea to do so now with a shitty plastic disposable and no proper shaving cream. Now it feels like there is a swarm of fire ants having an orgy on my chin.

* After three days of press checks I'm starting to fuckin' hate books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Books of 2009



2009 is drawing to a close and it was a good year for photography and art books. I had a very hard time weeding books out for this list. I see now it is a really odd mix that reflects my ever-shifting tastes.

Best Books of 2009

1. Lisboa: cidade triste e alegre
by Victor Palla and Costa Martins. I applaud this incredible reprint of the classic Palla and Martins book as the production is as impressive as the photographs. An extremely complicated book to do a facsimile and they nailed it right down to the printing, paper and binding. Plus it is very affordable considering how expensive it was to produce each copy. Do not hesitate. These will not last long.

2. Robert Frank: Looking In. Priceless. 14 years in the making. And I thought I was tired of The Americans. Get the hardcover version with all the good additional material.

3. Protest Photographs by Chauncey Hare. Great photographs, fine Steidl printing.

4. John Baldessari: Pure Beauty. This catalog from LACMA has remained my bedside reading for the past two months. Great retrospective, great book.

5. Studien nach der Natur by Jurgen Bergbauer. The charm of this certainly should have worn off by now. It hasn't.

6. Bettie Kline by Richard Prince. Love Kline. Love Bettie Page. Love Prince for putting them together.

7. Greater Atlanta by Mark Steinmetz. The third in his Southern trilogy. I wish his photos would just keep coming.

8. Novemberrejse by Krass Clement. A quiet master of beautiful photographic sequences.

9. Wald by Gerhard Richter. The best of the twelve Richter books published this year.

10. In this Dark Wood by Elisabeth Tonnard. One of my favorite discoveries of the year. I need to get her other books now.



And since I had such a difficult time choosing, here are ten runners up that should be included above...

11. Landmasses and Railways by Bertrand Fleuret

12. Nothing But Home by Sebastien Girard.

13. Overpainted Photographs by Gerhard Richter

14. Not Niigata by Andrew Phelps

15. School by Raimond Wouda

16. Nationalgalerie by Thomas Demand

17. Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Brown

18. Gröna Lund by Anders Petersen

19. New Topographics by Britt Salvesen

20. Ruhrgebiet by Ulrich Mack

Monday, December 7, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Two



The second book to be printed during this trip was our study on David Goldblatt's In Boksburg. Almost a full year before we printed the first four titles in the Books on Books series, myself and Ed Grazda had the opportunity to meet David through a mutual friend and it was during this meeting that I told David our plans for the series and show him the two inkjet book maquettes I had made of Eugene Atget's Photographe de Paris and Chris Killip's In Flagrante. Almost immediately David responded positively to the idea and we spoke of featuring one of his books in the series. This for me was a huge boost of confidence and I was deeply appreciative that he would go so far as to agree without us even having printed a single title at that point.

We decided on In Boksburg for a few reasons. For me, the choice of which book to feature was between Some Afrikaners Photographed and In Boksburg. At that time, David had just completed production on his book Some Afrikaners Revisited so since much of that material was about to see a new incarnation and was newly accessible, it pushed In Boksburg to the head of my list.

What I find interesting about In Boksburg is that it is a project David embarked upon which examines a town very similar to one that he grew up within. I see much of his work as a mix of personal examination and a straight document of his country and the Boksburg project comes closest as a direct link to his own personal history.

Boksburg under apartheid denied Blacks any right to live there although as David has written, "They serve it, trade with it, receive charity from it and are ruled, rewarded and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, are its privileged guests. But all who go there, do so by permit or invitation, never by right." He was interested in the homogenization of townships. The stores, the homes, and in turn, the growing complacency of its citizens as they adopted the rule of apartheid law. It is an examination of the white societal values in one South African town which speaks of the larger state of country.

One consideration for featuring this book was that its square format posed a difficult sit within our size and format. Due to the ratio of the spreads of the open book and also the way that David had designed and handled the photographs in In Boksburg, in order to best see the photographs and not have them reproduce too small we decided to run all of the plates as large double page spreads.

One of the criticisms I faced with this series is that some of the images are small since many spreads in the first four books were run four plates on facing pages. The intention was that by seeing four page spreads at a time, the viewer would start to see how the artist or designer was making connections within the sequence between various images. The downside of such a strategy was that some of the photos get reproduced at a much smaller scale obviously. With Boksburg, if we applied that same strategy then most of the 35mm photographs that appear in the book would have been too small to read properly which naturally led to our decision to run them all large. That said, it is not our intention to just make a mini-version of these great books. We carefully planned the various layouts so that they might - hopefully - inspire a new vantage point when looking at a book. By showing the original and presenting not just the photographs but the layout and page design I hoped that this "taking one-step back" approach could facilitate further study and reflection.



The first sheets from In Boksburg I press checked looked good but for a slight increase in contrast. To correct this I had the press operator increase the second grey and when necessary pull back the black densities. Like shifting to a lower contrast filter in darkroom printing, this helped reduce the contrast and match the original book's tonal range and densities.

I should say that of the four books we
are doing in this set, In Boksburg follows the most traditional printing. As I mentioned, William Klein's Life is Good... had its extreme quirks to the original. It was very contrasty and obscured a lot of detail in both highlights and shadows. The Koen Wessing book Chili, September 1973 is another weirdly printed book. It was printed with a single pass of black ink on a cheap newsprint type paper. That, and the fact that Wessing's prints that were used to make the plates showed extreme burning and dodging techniques for which many of his images are known to show. He would dodge out a detail till it was over-dodged and represented as a weak grey and then in turn he would burn in the skies till they haloed the subjects. One of the Takanashi books from Toshi-e, Notes Tokyo-jin also employed a single pass of black ink on a newsprint which obscures a lot of shadow detail and poses complicated strategy for us to reproduce with satisfying results.

These four books were chosen beca
use they represent a photographer working a city during a particular time period. Two are overtly political while the others are more metaphoric. They also represent different ways of photographic printing. It is this latter quality that will challenge me in the days ahead during these press checks. More to come...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bettie Kline by Richard Prince



In the past twenty-five years I have never looked at one of Franz Kline's paintings and thought, "That might be Bettie Page's vagina." Never happened. Robert Motherwell maybe, but Kline? Richard Prince has a new artist book called Bettie Kline and the content may shift the way you look at Kline's works forevermore.

In the 1950s Irving Klaw had his infamous studio at 212 East 14th street which churned out pin-up photos and stag films featuring his most popular model Bettie Page. I lived for a time on the second floor of 212 in the loft which many of those films and photos were taken and the door of the then uninhabited first floor still had a large decal announcing Klaw's "storefront." I knew of the history but I didn't know that Franz Kline had lived for half a decade in the loft above the one I shared. According to this book, Kline would use many of Klaw's models as figure studies and Page would become Kline's favorite muse - apparently he was head over spiked heels for her.

This book brings together a few dozen of the hundreds of pen and ink sketches Kline produced set aside photographs of Page that were popular wares from Klaw. In retrospect it all makes complete sense. Page's bangs, black garters and bondage gear contrasting with her flash burnt white skin become obvious mash-ups of light and dark that Kline responded to with further abstraction.



Seemingly less a sensual response to body, it is the taught contraptions and ropes which bound Page into contorted poses - the "push and pull" of tension-filled line - that Kline put to paper. In a few, his sketches take on her curvy body with less abstract approach but these are less interesting visually. His strength is when the artist/inspiration relationship is kept secret - a subliminal nod to the calendar girl in large swaths of roughly applied black and grey.

Published by the Gagosian gallery, Bettie Kline is a beautiful book. Exquisitely produced, it is printed as a series of images stuck to the page with cellophane tape. The text, in the form of a typed letter that came out of a letter dropping Olivetti, gives us the history which reads as fact, but the book retains the feeling of a constructed reality where fiction is still a lingering possibility.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Errata Editions On-Press: Day One



I'm now back in New York after a particularly tiring week printing books at the C+C Joint in Shenzhen, China. I arrived after a week in Paris with a slight cold so I was a little worried about being able to stand the five 24 hour days of straight printing. Unfortunately as you may have read, China now completely blocks blogging so I had to wait till I got home to post. Over the next week I'll be giving a recap on the week's events.

We started printing with our study of William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York and I approved the first sheet within a half hour of arriving on site. last year there were a few issues to be hashed out before they could start putting things to press but this year we solved most all mysteries weeks ago.

For those of you who know the original Klein New York book from 1958, it is great but it has an odd flavor of printing. It was rotogravure and according to William Klein the printer in Switzerland gave him the limited choice of either "black or grey." Klein's choice of wanting rich blacks resulted in very a contrasty printing where often there is little or no detail in the deep shadows. For me this adds to the flavor and aggressive nature of the book but to some it could look primitive and crude.



Matching to my personal copy of the original which I had on hand, it was just a slight increase in the black levels of ink which made the first sheets look better. One of the things I have learned about offset since printing the first four of the Books on Books series is "wet versus dry" tonalities. As a traditional darkroom printer I expect my darkroom prints to "dry down" a little - that is, get a little darker. What I discovered with offset is that the dry sheets can wind up less rich and the blacks looking surprisingly lighter depending on the varnish. We use a slightly matte varnish over each duotone plate and when dry, it can reduce the richness of the black tonalities.

While I was on-press for the first books I kept sensing a need to reduce the amount of black ink on the pages because it looked too heavy when wet compared to the original book plates. In retrospect seeing how these dried, I had pulled back too far in some cases. So for this first Klein sheet I used my machine proofs made two months ago as a starting point since they are definitely dry and I wound up increasing the colorimeter black points to between 1.9 and
2. The result matched the original book accurately.

One thing for aspiring book makers is to consider spending the extra money to get an actual machine proof rather than one coming from a "proofing press." The machine proof is one that comes off the same kind of, if not the actual printing press that will eventually print your book. They are often in better register which was the problem with the first proofs I made for the first Errata books. this time I saw exactly what I could expect and plan for slight tonal changes etc.


People have asked repeatedly how I get the artists or estates to agree to let a work be a part of this series and the simple answer is - I just ask. For Mr. Klein I wrote a simple email to him. He responded that the project sounded interesting and after a few follow up phone calls we worked out the terms of how to proceed. Within our many conversations both on the phone and in person I discovered that Life is Good & Good for You in New York is a book which he would never reprint in its original form which is one of the deciding criteria for inclusion in my series. He told me that when he revisited the work for the New York 1955-56 book in the mid-1990s he felt that new book was going to be about the photography where the original, in his words, "was about graphic design."



Everything about the original book, the photos, the graphic design and even the printing which is far from perfect, add to the uniqueness of that book and make it the masterpiece that should be seen again. As a "street photographer" for me, it is a great honor that he would entrust me with this study of his groundbreaking work. It was even more exciting for me to have William send a couple scans of the original maquette and original contact sheets which I was able to use to illustrate the "making of" pages of my book.

This edition also includes the often missing caption pamphlet which was attached to the book via a string and metal t-bar clasp. The pamphlet contains many great graphic elements and Klein's wonderfully humorous captions. For the essay, William referred us to an existing but obscure piece written by Max Kozloff which he felt was the best thing written on him and this book, that has ever been done. Although we usually commission a new essay for each book, his insistence for this particular piece and its fullness in addressing all of the book aspects which we look for, made it a fine choice.

It is 6:00 am and I just finished approving the last of the duotone sheets from the Klein book. An exhausting day but a great start. 16 press checks and 16 cups of raw ginger tea. Now I am waiting for the phone ring to approve the first of the David Goldblatt In Boksburg book.