Sunday, February 14, 2010

Three books from Willem Van Zoetendaal

Willem Van Zoetendaal is a publisher, gallerist and designer from Amsterdam who is responsible for releasing an interesting roster of books of contemporary Dutch photography. He came to my attention because of his elegant design skills and book production. Some of you may already have some of his book titles in your collections as he has published a couple of Paul Kooiker and Arno Nolan's artist books.

My favorite of Paul Kooiker's to date is Room Service released in 2008. Kooiker has published a few books in a series which take on full bodied nudes as a subject and Room Service does so with them posing in front of what I gather is his personal book collection. His approach is tight framings of torsos, legs and breasts that are at times reminiscent of Brandt - that is, if Brandt had just completed a workshop with Elmer Batters or G.P. Fieret.

Their charm is locked in the technically rough descriptions which allow flare, unnatural color fading, and ultra roughly screened print reproductions. For book lovers, there is a tension between which gains the most attention, the nudes, or our inherent interest in scanning bookcases for recognizable titles.

The third aspect of the work is the printing. Many of these seem to be rescanned images from offset prints as the dot patterns are huge, often reveling their four color matrix. For those who enjoy the quirks and superficial qualities of ink laying on paper, this one is a must see.

Another interesting title although entirely in Dutch with no English translations is Salto Mortale. Salto Mortale means a "dangerous undertaking" and charts the life of the Dutch owned airline company Fokker which dominated civil aviation from 1912 to 1996, the year they went bankrupt.

Using around 150 archive photos mostly from the 20s and 30s (and a lot of text), Salto Mortale explores the earliest plane designs and adaptations which led the company into producing many military aircraft used in World War 1 including the Fokker Dr.1 which was made famous by the German pilot Manfred von Richthofen, commonly known as the Red Baron.

Again, the lack of my ability to read the text is the downside of this book as it is very text heavy, but the beautiful archive photos make it an interesting find.

One last title to mention, Das Prinzip by Johannes Schwartz has me at a slight loss for explanation. The first publication from Schwartz, it presents one image each from several of his series. As a selection, I am drawn to his individual photographs but the larger relationship implied by the title is purposely confusing. The curator Moritz Kung mentions in his essay that accompanies the book, "Das Prinzip (The Principle) suggests a truth or a dogma, which is however not present in the various works... Unless of course one were to define 'deceptiveness' as a principle."

Schwartz turns his lens to still lifes which may be constructions in some cases, and others 'found' encounters with objects in others. I am reminded of some of Jeff Wall's non-personed compositions but Schwartz draws out their narrative and potential complexity through the titles of each work. Overgrown weeds and dirt might be alluding to floral patterns found in carpets in his work Scattered Rug (2005). His photos of children's playhouses lose their innocent qualities and take on a darker edge from their rough and makeshift appearances. In Das Meer (The Lake, 2004) pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are scattered on an aqua surface, within the chaos several rectangles of completed sections sit turned upside down.

What each adds up to or connects them is ambiguous and that is obviously Schwartz's strategy. On the surface this might appear to be a simple exhibition catalog with its cool and somewhat detached presentation but turning from page to page, we strive to search out those connections. What we are left with are a series of detached realities which accomplish what many books don't - Das Prinzip compels me to think.