Monday, July 19, 2010

Quatorze Juillet by Johan van der Keuken

My best find while in Europe during the Kassel festival was a new book from Willem van Zoetendaal on Johan van der Keuken called Quatorze Juillet.

In July of 1958, Van der Keuken was wandering through Paris and happened upon a street celebration. A stage had been set up, music was playing, people were dancing and Van der Keuken - like most photographers might - took the opportunity to shoot a few rolls of film. The day resulted in one of his more well-known images of a couple dancing which has made it into several of his books - 6 to be exact including Paris Mortel. Most all of the other negatives were never published.

Quatorze Juillet is a book of the other images he made that day presented in a cinematic sequence which gives a look into a much larger, and delightful, afternoon along the Seine. Edited by Noshka van der Lely and Willem van Zoetendaal this construction of a larger narrative suggests Van der Keuken's interest in "stills that move", a curiosity that would later lead him into film-making.

On page one we encounter a couple, they dance, closely embraced, in a vertical image which isolates them from other dancers and celebrants. As Van der Keuken twirls around them photographing, the larger celebration is revealed. People on the periphery become the new leading players and smaller narratives develop - a man approaches a group of young women, another walks through the frames carrying a long ladder, a car speeds around the corner whooshing through the crowd. Small flirtations take place and the photographer works works like a fly on the wall - testing each frame and trying variations which, in my mind, are as wonderful as the image he finally chose as "his best" from the day. This is not a re-edit of mediocre pictures made better by the inclusion of others.

As with most of Van Zoetendaal's books, the care in making Quatorze Juillet is excellent. The choice of paper stock - an uncoated matte stock - is bound sempuyo-style producing a double thickness of each page.

The printing was done by Calff & Meischke in Amsterdam and while I was visiting Holland I stopped by the printing facilities to visit Freek Kuin who had just finished printing the book after testing out several paper and ink variations. Stacks of proofs laying on the floor revealed slightly different interpretations of tone and contrast. Each looked good on their own but when directly compared, slight shifts of color emerged, the contrasts popped or the ink suppressed details. The final result made apparent the vast choices to be made in book reproduction and Freek is an extremely passionate craftsman in putting ink to paper.

The design is also superb. Van Zoetendaal designs most of his books and the placement of the images on the page in Quatoze Juillet is a fascinating study of design. The images are oriented towards the bottom of the page, not extreme enough to be readily noticeable at first, but it pushes the sequence along, connecting the images and grounding them - amplifying Van der Keuken's vantage point since a few of the pictures were shot from the elevated musician's stage.

I received one of only a handful of advanced bound copies of this book that were made to show in Kassel so I am not sure if the book is officially out yet, but this was made to accompany an exhibition of the work at FOAM in Amsterdam this year. I don't know how many they made but if you can get your hands on one, I doubt it will disappoint.