Sunday, September 30, 2007

Anthony Hernandez: L.A. Photographs of Waiting, Sitting...

“Street photographer” has been a term that gets tossed about in regard to any number of photographers. Garry Winogrand was regarded as the epitome of the “street photographer” but he actually thought the term didn’t mean anything, that it was dumb…not dumb like stupid, dumb like it doesn’t say anything. And in reality, it doesn’t mean anything but an assumption. Was Ansel Adams a “forest photographer”? Brassai a “hooker and thug photographer”? Lately Robert Adams has been a damn good “leaf photographer.”

Well…I have finally discovered someone who I am fairly comfortable in calling a “street photographer.” His name is Anthony Hernandez and his new book from Loosestrife Editions is called Los Angeles Photographs of: Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and Some Automobiles.

Why am I willing to call Anthony Hernandez a “street photographer” and not the other usual suspects commonly associated with that term? Simply because while looking at his photographs of Los Angeles pedestrians waiting at various bus stops, it is the street that takes center stage and carries most of the weight. With folks like Mr. Winogrand, it was mostly the human element and the seven deadly sins that make his photographs carry so much meaning and substance. With Mr. Hernandez, it is the street and its horrific endless hardness and uncomforting layers that cause us to be unsettled about the human condition. So finally…a “street photographer.” Maybe it’s just LA. The photographer Lewis Baltz said of the place, “I always believed that God would destroy L.A. for its sins. Finally, I realized that He had already destroyed it, and then left it around as a warning.”

Working with a 5 by 7 view camera, Hernandez spent his days making his way around L.A. and his choice of time of day seems to be high noon. Perhaps that is his homage to the great westerns spawned from Studio CityL.A. because escape from the sun may be a futile exercise. The city was created in the one of the more hostile areas for humans to set up shop. or perhaps that time of day is a fitting description of

Hernandez is a "street photographer" also because the people who appear in his photographs know the streets intimately. These are pictures that describe a working class who use public transportation as a car might be convenient but is ultimately unaffordable. In the book‘s third act, these same people take small pleasure in recreating in spots that are little more than areas where man’s desire for more asphalt constructions has waned partly due to the impediment of a small body of water. Here they fish…for what? Food? Pleasure? In these photos it seems as though the idea of fishing may be more pleasurable than the act.

His book is divided into four parts and the last is dedicated to that myth of status, the car. L.A. is constantly being described as a city where the car is a necessity. In Hernandez’s L.A. the car is present but it is of a make and model that is thoroughly weather beaten and just on the verge of an expensive repair. In fact, if we were to believe Hernandez’s vision of car culture, we would declare it a pointless endeavor and just take the bus. The last image in the book is of an empty car dealership lot on Glendale Avenue; another wasteland with remnants of car parts and litter left for the sun to beat up on.

The book is a wonderful piece of creative design by the photographer John Gossage. He handles the cover typography so well that Neville Brody would nod with approval (who else would give a bold “Printed in China” credit a prominent spot right on the cover?). The interior of the book is a series of gatefolds with the photographs hidden beneath pages of city street maps that identify the locations. And although this aspect makes it a book that takes some extra handling and effort to see the images, the quality and feel of the materials makes it a pleasure and not a burden. The paper choice and printing style lends a chalky bright high key quality to the images that has you searching for a bit of shadow to seek refuge under.

The pleasure of Loosestrife books is that every aspect of the book has been taken into consideration and although they may cost a bit more than other books, after you bite the bullet, you realize that there is a reason for the higher price. This book had to have cost a small fortune to produce with its design quirks. Thank you John and Michael for not sparing the expense.

Book Available Here (LA: Waiting, Sitting, Fishing, and Some Automobiles)

Important Photographs Christie's Auction Catalog

OK…enough fairs and exhibition distractions, this posting is for all of you Robert Frankophiles. You will want to check out the new auction catalog from Christie's entitled Important Photographs (from a private American collection).

Although this is a small auction by usual standards with only 37 items being offered, almost half are works by Robert Frank. And since he is the dominant artist featured, the entire catalog is dedicated to showcasing his works and comparing them to the other important artists whose works are also being offered.

The catalog was overseen by Stuart Alexander who was responsible for the Robert Frank Bibliography published by the Center for Creative Photography in 1986 and he was given carte blanche by Christie's to make the catalog according to his wishes. The result is a fantastic production that pulls out design features including gatefolds and reproductions of book jackets and other publications where the photographs have appeared in print. As Alexander states in his brief introduction to the catalog: The importance of context for the interpretation of photographs inspired the design of this catalog to include relevant quotes, facsimiles of book covers and page spreads of early presentations of these images.

The descriptions of the different lots include many details on the material’s provenance and in turn, their historical relevance in either exhibitions or in the creation of Frank’s landmark book Les Americains. The entry on Trolley-New Orleans offers interesting details about how Frank used his prints while planning for Les Americains. One part reads: The pinholes in the corners, numerical markings, size and apparent age of this print suggests that it was used in the final stages of preparation for the first edition of Les Americains published in Paris in May of 1958. Frank made 8 x 10 inch prints from the negatives he exposed on his Guggenheim Fellowship. He edited them and made decisions about sequencing by pinning, tacking and even stapling prints on the wall of his studio.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has dozens of prints- some even still have the staples in them. Many of the work prints used in early stages have the negative numbers written on them in grease pencil.

Among the reproductions of the images, there are a few detail photographs of the stamps and stickers that had been affixed to the prints. When Frank applied for an extension on his fellowship, he submitted several prints as supporting material onto which he affixed adhesive labels with penned captions. One image that was in this group is of three (theater?)usherettes from 1956 which is an image that did not appear in Les Americains and is one that I believe has never been published before.

One interesting fact of the book’s title comes under discussion as Alexander recounts that Frank’s original title for the maquette was Americans but since the book was first published in French, the language required the article Les to be added, thus Les Americains. When this was translated to English, the article tagged along and thus sparked some negative reaction to the assumption that the book was meant to be a description of all Americans.

The prices of these items are very high due to their exhibition history of their being used to create the book. For instance, the Trolley-New Orleans photograph that graced the cover of several editions of the book is estimated to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000. Hmmm…let’s decide, $250,000 for an apartment or a piece of paper? (In New York City, the apartment you’d get for $250,000 would be too small to even hang this 8x10 print so you should probably just go ahead and buy the photo.) The rest of the prints stay within the $30,000 to $60,000 range.

Walker Evans appropriately is the other artist in the catalog with the most images for sale from this collection. All of his images are from his classic subway images that eventually made up the book Many Are Called.

The other artists whose works are being offered for sale are: Helen Levitt, Arthur Leipzig, Dorothea Lange, Brassai, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Morris Engel, Ben Shahn, Weegee and Margaret Bourke-White.

The auction date is scheduled for Wednesday October 17, 2007.

Buy catalog at Christie's

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Four books on Avant Garde Design

I wanted to mention a few design related titles that I have found recently that are very worthy of note. The one thing besides photography that has really been an obsession for me lately has been Avant Garde and Russian design. The following books delve into graphic design that was challenging the norm from the 1920's until today.

The first is a small book called, Letters from the Avant Garde: Modern Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and Elaine Lustig Cohen. Published in 1996 by the Princeton Architectural Press, this book was created parallel to an exhibition called The Avant Grade Letterhead that was organized by Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, and Smithsonian Institution and appeared at the American Institute of Graphic Arts in March of 1996.

The works under discussion in this book are the different letterheads that were created by the likes of El Lissitzky, Theo Van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, Le Corbusier and many others. The book is broken into chapters which concentrate on the different avant garde movements. Dada, futurism, Dutch Modernism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Constructivism are all discussed and each chapter features many reproductions of original letters as illustrations.

I like this book a lot but it perhaps suffers from being too much of a specific subject for most audiences. The paper letters are reproduced as objects so this book serves as the next best thing to starting your own collection. Most of the examples given derive from the collection of one of the authors, Elaine Lustig Cohen.

The next book is also very specific, Stenberg Brothers: Constructing a Revolution in Soviet Design published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, this was the catalog from an exhibition of the same name.

The Stenberg Brothers, Vladimir and Georgii, were responsible for an amazing but short career as designers of mass produced posters used to advertise films in Russia. While they achieved great design for theatrical sets and costuming, books and even architecture, it is their film posters that are under examination in this book.

One of their talents as designers was their ability to create the sense of motion and of the passage of time in their pieces as they juxtaposed or “collide” disparate images. Their most well known pieces were for Dziga Vertiov’s The Man with the Movie Camera made in 1929 reflects the relationship of Bolshevism to “the machine” as a way to achieve utopian societies through technology. In the poster, a camera tripod and camera meld with a woman’s high-stepping torso. Half of her face becomes the camera and lens, though the center of which is a wide and staring eye.

The career as I mentioned was rather short lived as, like many artists working in the Soviet Union at the time, they fell out of favor with Stalin’s decree of social realism being the only mode for representation. Georgii was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1933 when he was struck head on by a truck. His wife, who was also on the motorcycle survived. Vladimir, Georgii’s brother and design partner, insisted that his brother’s death was a murder committed by the KGB and the Soviet secret police. Vladimir later died in 1982.

Unfortunately out of print, this is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in Russian design from that period. Its design was created by Michael Bierut and Sara Frisk of the prestigious design firm Pentagram (see Pentagram Papers posting here at 5B4). Copies can be found through ABE or Bookfinder.

Next is a German book from the Museum Folkwang and published by Plitt Verlag in called Glaube, Hoffnung - Anpassung. This title’s subject is what was happening in Soviet imagery from 1928 to 1945.

From the 1920’s onward, photography was playing an even more important part in the poster design and montage that was appearing in the work of artists like Gustav Klutsis, Rodchenko, Valentina Kulagina and Vavara Stepanova. Photography was deemed to be the medium best suited to describe the vital economic and sociopolitical developments within this new socialist country.

Margarita Tupitsyn who is the author of this book, has done several other titles relating to Russian design with titles on El Lissitzky, Kazamir Malevich and one on soviet photography published in 1996. 1996 and 1997 were apparently great years to publish books on this subject as three of my four titles here appeared at that time.

The book features many illustrations of photography and graphic design in black and white and color and although rather conservatively designed it has good reproductions and there is a nice feel to the whole production. The essay is translated into English which appears in the back of the book, so English speakers will not be deprived of Tupitsyn’s fine essay which brings into context the works in relation to the events particularly as they related to Stalin’s implementation of the “five year plans.” A side note in relation to 5B4, the poster design and title that I used to use as the logo for 5B4 before I switched to the graphic of the book spines came from a poster which was advocating the completion of one of the “five year plans” in “four years.” Hence, "5 - B - 4." I am not an advocate of Stalin’s practices, I just thought it was a fantastic design and appropriated it for my own nefarious use. That being said, Mr. Whiskets on the other hand, is an advocate of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. I will have to watch my step as he is very capable of having me purged and subsequently retouched out of all of the archive photos of 5B4.

The last book for this posting is by the prolific author of over 80 design related titles, Steven Heller. Merz to Émigré and Beyond: Avant Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century published by Phaidon in 2003 is a very substantial 240 page book that surveys “the paper stage” of avant garde periodical publishing from the 1920’s to the 1990’s.

What is great about this book is that it reproduces the magazine covers and content as the full objects complete with drop shadows. I made the mistake of leafing through this on the F train while on my way home (from the Strand bookstore of course) and I had a fit of involuntary barking from excitement when I came across a two page spread that reproduces almost an entire issue of USSR in Construction that Rodchenko designed in celebration of the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. This 38 page magazine spread is a fascinating and dynamic use of montage and collage from 1940 which uses slipsheets and gatefolds integrated into the design.

Also stressing typography, this book follows the development of the use of type up through recent magazines such as Émigré, Raw and even handmade “fanzines” that were popular in underground music movements. This book weaves the hundreds of illustrations around an extensive essay by Heller and as with most of his books, his extensive knowledge, even in obscure territory, is the draw. The dedication to this book is to Elaine Lustig Cohen who was the author of the letterhead book which was the first title featured in this posting.

I will be doing more postings soon about work and books created in this same time period. My recent obsession has led me to a number of great discoveries worth writing about. Stay tuned.

Book Available Here (Letters from the Avant Garde)

Book Available Here (Stenberg Brothers MoMA)

Book Available Here (Glaube Hoffnung - Anpassung)

Book Available Here (Merz to Emigre and Beyond)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tim Davis: My Life in Politics

I just discovered something that I think is tantamount to a crime. I was reading over the Photo Eye bookstore newsletter and I see that within a few weeks they are going to be receiving a whole slew of Aperture titles that will be subjected to the Deep Discount bin. Now regularly I get excited as I think, whoopee I can get a couple books for cheap, but then I saw that Tim Davis’s book My Life In Politics is going to be a measly $12.98 a copy.

Has the world gone insane? Is this a Bush administration ploy? Where are all of the people writing their congressmen and women? This was the best book published in 2006 and it costs less than Mary Ellen Mark’s Twins book? (Mark Twain is somewhere nodding and laughing) That, ladies and gentlemen, is the crime at hand.

As we gear up for another round of political horse racing (like Christmas decorations, it shows up earlier and earlier) it would be helpful to take a look at Tim’s book. Davis dwells on the outskirts of obvious political imagery and finds meanings in many facets of the political landscape partially hidden from view. It is a contemporary view of how we, as a nation, have painted ourselves into a corner due to our politics being ruled by “urgent emotions” that forego discourse. Ours has become a process does not celebrate great communicators, just great image makers, posing as substance.

It is about appearances and surface and signage. It is about the importance governing has over our lives and yet how embarrassingly powerless we seem after being confounded by its wind and unrelenting distraction. As Jack Hitt writes in his essay “Our empty public square is a marble echo chamber, reverberating with the distant sound of the banishment of deliberation and meaning from our politics.”

Davis finds the appropriate situations in which to relay his message. A roadside political placard shows up staked on a grave in the middle of a cemetery. We then see through the names on both headstone and poster that the son is the politician and the father is, well, dead but championing his son’s cause from the grave and possibly casting a vote as well.

For each photograph, the caption which appears in the back of the book is a poem by Davis who has a couple books of poetry published as well.

For a close up on the crotch of a statue of George Washington, the corresponding poem reads:

Founding Father’s Crotches

How the Beaux Arts said to manufacture manhood. Unintimidatingly flaccid and unembarrassingly fulgent. The Great Compromise as opening theme and fertile crescendo. DNA standing for Do Nothing Attributable. Democracy, No one Argues, is as sexy as stenography. Hear ye, Hear ye, Being everything to everyone means getting no one’s knickers in a twist.

Two lobbyists, both on cell phones sitting in a room awash with empty chairs; one drinks a Diet Pepsi, the other a regular Coke.

Daves do what Daves will do. Pacing the cell placing the call. Targeting. Listing. Crossing off. Red in the elbows. Daves hold the hand of the handholder’s handler, praising emoried nails and dangling with taint prose. Is there a special circle in Dante for middlemen? I’d call it power.

Davis, as a photographer, is extremely sophisticated in how he creates his frames. Seemingly simple at first, they keep revealing and compounding meaning and interpretations yet they are never too clever for their own good. Davis is a refreshing voice for those of us who love complex photography that is well crafted yet not weighed down by its own devices. He is essentially a classic photographer in the vein of Walker Evans who has learned the lessons of those before him so well that they are new and refreshed under his application. These are photographs that can stand up to repeated visits. Even after owning this book for a year now, I still think it is a great book. Yes…I did say great.

Both essayists, Tim Davis and Jack Hitt are fantastic writers. Enlightening and poetic, their word play is limited to a 1500 word essay by Davis called “1500 Word Essay” and Hitt’s 3,000 word dissection of American political speech and image called “The Vacant Public Square.”

The book is playful with its design which was done by Andrew Sloat who also contributed drawings that reference the words in the photographs. The printing is well done

So…this book joins the ranks of other great books that, at the time of their release, were thrown to the remainder piles. I may piss off a few people but I do not feel at all odd adding Davis’s name to the same remainder pile list that has included books by Winogrand, Eggleston and Frank.

If at this bargain basement price of $12.98 you still do not find the incentive to own this book, then my friend I am sad to say that the terrorists have won.

Buy online at Aperture

Book Available Here (My Life In Politics)

Buy online at Photo Eye

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On The Beach by Richard Misrach

In 2005 when the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco published Richard Misrach’s book Chronologies I thought to myself, retrospective books do not get much better than this.

The printing was beautifully done by Trifolio in Verona. The design is great; contemporary and clean. Fabio Cutro and Dana Faconti of Blind Spot Inc were the two designers on this project and big thank you is necessary. With its clear plastic dust jacket and choice of the full bled ‘beach sand’ image that wraps around from the front to the back cover (and into the inside endpapers…damn sand gets everywhere), it does not announce itself initially as a “photobook.” But once you get inside, there are no texts, just photographs ordered chronologically and spanning Misrach's long career.

It is a challenging design in that it requires the book to be oriented in your hands differently (or on your lap…it’s a heavy one) with the spine appearing at the top of the book. And then towards the end of the book, the last 11 images are turned on the page to take advantage of the full width of the double spread. I like the fact that it forces you to shift the book in your hands when you get to those pictures.

The trim size is large so most images are at least 11 by 14 inches on the page. The choice of paper etc., everything was taken into consideration and done correctly. It probably was a very expensive book to produce but worth every additional cost. If you missed out on this one and you are interested in Misrach then do yourself a favor and avoid looking at a friend’s copy…it’ll just torture you.

So…when Aperture announced that they were publishing a book of Richard Misrach’s beach photographs, I thought that there was no way that they could match the wonderful job done on Chronologies. I was wrong.

On The Beach is as much a work of art as the photographs are themselves. The book brings together 38 images in a super large format book that will not fit on any bookshelf. With a trim size of 16 by 20 inches, the images are huge and necessarily so.

These are images that are about the scale and relationship of man to nature. Misrach amplifies nature’s vastness in his frames so when the tiny human figures seem enveloped by the water and sand, their vulnerability is felt. Seemingly unconcerned or unaware, the figures continue to relax or frolic within a landscape that appears tranquil but for an underlying sense of danger. Our own individual attitudes and relationships with the ocean will determine how much danger one feels but when Misrach turns the water dark, the shoreline is nowhere to be seen and a lone figure is spotted barely noticeable in the waves, the tone is of a threat to life. Nature is in control (and uncontrollable) and to put up a fight would be pointless.

All of the images achieve a vantage point that is high above our subjects but remarkably the photographs are not vertiginous; even when Misrach’s lens is pointed directly downward on the subjects. For me, they achieve a sensation that we are not looking at these views through the eyes of another human being but through the eyes of a higher power. The camera often seems impossibly high and yet does not give away any tell tale sign of how the camera achieves this height. This gives us the impression of floating and observing but being very separate from those on the ground.

The images that include swimmers that have ventured far from shore (Misrach often disturbingly avoids reference to the shoreline) the bathers seem to be venturing out into deep water to either understand something more about the forces of nature or perhaps to learn something more about themselves. One image of five figures wading to shore look as if they have given up the search for knowledge that may be implied by the vast expanse of sea in the opposite side of the frame from where they are heading. They aren’t quite being banished from the sea; they just look a bit defeated by their attempt to cope with it on human terms.

Many of the other images revel in the forms and shapes of the figures on the shoreline or floating in the water. A couple embraces in deep water, a young man floats right in the breakers along the shoreline. In those images, the water is clear and seductive blue; warm and comforting, and people give themselves willingly to the water.

In a brief afterward Richard Misrach writes:

The photographs that appear in On the Beach were made between January 2002 and November 2005. I was drawn to the frailty and grace of the human figure in the landscape. My thinking about this work was influenced by the events of 9/11, particularly by the images of individuals and couples falling from the World Trade Towers, as well as by the 1950’s Cold War novel and film, On The Beach. Paradise has become an uneasy dwelling place; the sublime sea frames our vulnerability, the precarious nature of life itself.

As I mentioned before, the size of this book is impressive and that aspect can be overwhelming. Some of the photographs reach almost three feet long. Admittedly, when I first opened the protective box that the book comes housed in and saw what was in store just from the cover image, I felt like I was going to have to take a few moments and try to breathe calmly into a paper bag.

Aperture and Misrach brought together all of the production players from the Chronologies book for this project. Sue Mendicott oversaw the book’s production and Fabio Cutro and Dana Faconti contributed their vast talents to the book’s design. Leslie A. Martin served as the book’s editor. It is published in an edition of 5,000 copies.

The only problem with the book that I can foresee is simply that it may not physically “age” well due to its extreme size. Readers will have to take extra care in turning the pages as their size increases the occurrence of dimples and creases even with careful handling.

So be very careful (or buy a second copy for the future), this is a book that you will want to last as long as possible.

Book Available Here (On The Beach)

Book Available Here (Chronologies)

Book Available at Aperture

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lisette Model Aperture Monograph Reissue

There have been many books over the years that I thought I would never own. Some I did not buy because, at the time, the work did not appeal to me then as it does now and others I thought were just too expensive. Of those later variety, I could kick myself for as the prices in today’s market are exorbitant and unconscionable; comparatively those old prices were down right cheap. The Strand Rare Book Room was (and still is) a great resource for those titles at reasonable prices. I remember seeing a copy of Friedlander and Dine’s Work From the Same House there in the pre-internet days for around $65.00 but my first thought was…there are only 16 photos and 16 pages of etchings in the book so it isn't worth it.

The Aperture Lisette Model monograph was one of those lost treasures that I did not take advantage of and it haunts me to this day. Aperture, in the late eighties, was still offering copies of the limited edition of that book with a 16 by 20 print of the sailor and woman (see my composite above) for around $300.00. I didn’t buy one. A friend of mine did and now every time I see the print framed on his wall I feel an internal punch to my stomach.

I have come across the regular edition of that book many times in many places at good market prices but I could never bring myself to buy one because if I had been in the right frame of mind long ago…I’D HAVE THE ONE WITH THE PRINT AND THE SLIPCASE AND HER SIGNATURE!

Well, there is no need to beat myself up about this matter any longer as Aperture has reissued Lisette Model as a facsimile of the original 1979 edition. There are slight changes but they are all for the better.

First, the printing is better. The paper and ink combination of the original left the reproductions often looking a bit thin and anemic. In this new edition, the black tones are richer so the photos have a healthier presence. I am not sure how what I am about to mention was achieved as technology has changed drastically since this book was first printed, but the prints, plates or separations (or something) is the same as used for the original because where there is a slight halo from dodging in the original edition, it shows up in this one too. Where there is a slight white dust line that shows up in an image in the original, it is also present in this edition. The original layout and design by Marvin Israel is the left untouched.

The other changes were necessary additions to the chronology and bibliography included at the end of the book. One very curious change is to the date of her birth. In the original edition (and everywhere on the web) it is recorded as being November 10, 1906. In this new edition, it is recorded as November 10, 1901. Lisette died in 1983 at the age of eighty-two.

This is an important book from a very influential photographer who has been treated to only a small handful of published books. All of which are out of print and difficult or expensive to find. So when a publisher decides to bring a book back to life with another printing I think it is an important act that benefits everyone. Reissues don’t hurt the market for the originals as collectors will always want to seek out first editions in preference over later editions. Libraries and institutions can once again have copies of the books available for study. And, people like me who aren’t as hung up on owning the first edition (as long as the content is the same) can get a copy without breaking the bank.

I wish more publishers would release facsimile editions of older out-of-print titles. I like that approach to reissuing more than the reworking a title like what William Klein did with his edition of New York 1954-55. Even if the book is flawed, to reissue it as the artist intended back when it was originally conceived offers something to learn for the reader. There have been a number of great books that have been reissued in beautiful editions; Gilles Peress’s Telex Iran (SCALO), Susan Meiselas’s Carnival Strippers(Steidl), Walker Evans Many Are Called (Yale). A few years back MoMA published Garry Winogrand’s The Animals and Public Relations. There is an edition of Christer Stromholm’s book Poste Restante on the way from Steidl. Bill Burke’s travel diary I Want To Take Picture is being reissued by Twin Palms. Publishers please, keep them coming.

Here are just 10 suggestions from my wish list that would no doubt be wildly successful.

Atget: Photographe de Paris

Bill Brandt: A Night in London

Alexey Brodovitch: Ballet

Alexander Rodchenko/ Vladamir Mayakovsky: About This: To Her and Me

Joan Van Der Keuken: Paris Mortel

Shomei Tomatsu: 11.02. Nagasaki (a facsimile of the original)

Michael Schmidt: Waffenruhe

Sergio Larrain: Valpariso (this is too good a book to keep a secret)

Hans Peter Feldmann: Bilder (the entire set of the small booklets)

And lastly, I would love to see all of those great Russian propaganda books that were designed by Lissitsky, Rodchenko and Stepanova. (It is my wish list after all).

Are there any publishers out there listening? Please, start doing the battle for the rights to reproduce this stuff. It is needed. We are hungry.

Special thanks to Matt Bialer for permanently loaning me his limited edition of the Lisette Model monograph. I will be over to pick up the print soon so if you’d be so kind to take it off the wall and dust it off for me I’d appreciate it.

Book Available Here (Lisette Model)

Book Available at Aperture

Friday, September 14, 2007

Edward Burtynsky: Quarries and Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky is part artist photographer and part environmental activist a’ la Al Gore. Fascinated with the industrial landscape since the mid 1980’s, he makes medium and large format photographs of the ironic beauty that is often the after effect of environmental pollution. His first book was entitled Manufactured Landscapes published in 2003 by The National Gallery of Canada in association with Yale University Press. It is a stunning mini-retrospective of the photographer’s work from the early 1980’s until 2002. Beautiful, if not rather conservative in approach to design, the book is a fine introduction of this increasingly popular artist’s work.

In his photographs, he often chooses a vantage point that amplifies the “bigger picture” and often the results seem monumental and epic in proportion. He steps back so his frames often take in large vistas of land that have very obvious scars due to industry. One of his motivating factors for producing work within these landscapes is to bring awareness not only of the use of the land but to relate the consequences of our consumer habits to how it affects that landscape.

The computer on which you are reading these words was created by an industry that, when traced back to its beginnings, often relates to a polluting factor somewhere in the world. Then in the discarding of these products when they are obsolete, the polluting factor can be obvious in the way of large trash deposits, or less so, with lead and other contaminates from discarded computer boards leeching into the soil and polluting the groundwater of communities where they are discarded.

In Burtynsky’s last book, China (Steidl 2005), he examined the landscape of that global giant of manufacturing. While he was working on that project the documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal tagged along with Burtynsky and produced the fantastic documentary Manufactured Landscapes (Zeitgeist Films 2006). The documentary achieves a level of not only being entertaining but enlightening on a subject that could possibly be a sleep aid to insomniacs. Through the 87 minutes, Baichwal alternates between footage of Burtynsky working in various landscapes and still images that show his final images. The mix is both informative to the artistic process and the environmental message of the film. The first tracking shot, which must be seen by anyone wanting to put manufacturing of products into perspective, is both fascinating and appropriate punctuation for the film’s message.

In this film, one segment shows Burtynsky photographing in small rural communities in China that are the recipients of the world’s “e-waste.” E-waste is made up of computer and cell phone components that are discarded and shipped to China for recycling. These largely poor communities disassemble and salvage every bit of recyclable material possible from computer boards and monitors but the effect of such work has a devastating polluting effect on those communities.

The wonder of Edward Burtynsky for me is that these are photos exist at all. In the 1980’s, Burtynsky started a photo lab in Toronto Canada and his photographic talents were put aside while he was establishing his business. It was later, when a patron of Burtynsky’s agreed to partially fund one of his projects through print sales that he returned to concentrate on his personal work. The resulting photographs were of rock quarries.

Steidl has just published Edward Burtynsky: Quarries. This large format book features 80 plates from Burtynsky’s work in the quarries of Canada, the United States, Italy, India, Spain, Portugal and China.

Within the introductory essay, Michael Mitchell describes the extraction of the quarry material as being a form of “inverted architecture.” In the photos though, the beauty of these landscapes might make them comparable to the unearthing of ancient temples. The scale and beauty of these man-created fissures makes them seem to spring less from industry but instead out of a religious observance. They resemble an artistry in their creation/destruction a form that could be of the same order reserved for the appreciation of gods.

If there was one aspect of his work that I could be critical of it would be that I wish he would vary his relation to the landscape and give us images that are not always the master-shot. He is seldom less than epic in his descriptions; he seems to be in perpetual wide mode. And although every image is lush and seductive at every turn, the repetition of such vantage points makes the book’s ability to hold the readers attention with full concentration a bit strained. This is a book that rewards the return visit with a refreshed head.

Burtynsky is capable of handling complicated frames that are peopled with workers but only a couple examples appear within the illustrations for the introductory essay. One panoramic image of workers extracting stone from a quarry in India is a fine example of a different type of image that could be added to the sequence for variation. Complicated in its framing, it isn’t a panoramic image (6 by 12 medium format I guess) that is simply a “long picture.” This example makes me wish he included more in the edit.

The book’s production is top notch. From the opening image, the quality of craftsmanship and printing is a gift. The layout and design is clean and lets the images retain their individual power without distraction. The large trim size is perfect for the subject. One draw back of his first book Manufactured Landscapes, was that the design did not fully suit the scale of the images. Here in this volume, we are treated to a format where the grandeur of the images is taken into consideration with the design. Two panoramic style triptychs are treated to gatefolds towards the end of the book.

One aspect of this book’s production that is admirable is that, with all the talk of environmentalism and its application to our lives, this book was produced with a “zero footprint” carbon neutral status. Meaning that the carbon emissions associated with the production of the book were offset with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certified projects and the paper used in production was certified by the Forest Steward Council (FSC).

I want to also mention another much smaller book of Burtynsky’s called Residual Landscapes published by the Lumiere Press in 2001. Lumiere Press, run by Michael Torosian, publishes small format handcrafted books where beyond the content, the care and craftsmanship is the draw. Michael Torosian is credited for doing all of the work as designer, typesetter, pressman and binder. Torosian and Lumiere Press have published 18 books between 1986 and 2004. Some of the artists featured in individual books are Dave Heath, Aaron Siskind, Lewis Hine, Paul Strand, Fredrick Sommer, Edward Weston and Michael Torosian among others.

The book has image plates and text pages of different paper stock. The text pages are on Hahnemule Biblio paper with printed type in Linotype Optima and Palatino fonts. The images are offset printing on a coated stock and the printing is very good. There are tonal differences in the printing when directly compared to the new Steidl book but all in all it has a very nice presence.

This book has 24 photographs which, similar to the Manufactured Landscapes book, span his career from the early 1980’s until 1999. Also included is an interview between Michael Torosian and Burtynsky.

This edition is limited to only 200 numbered copies, 19 of which are slipcased, signed and numbered and are accompanied by a giclee print. They are expensive when found ($300-500 for the edition without the print) but they are fine examples of classic bookmaking.

Buy Quarries online at Steidlville

Buy China online at Steidlville

Book Available Here (Manufactured Landscapes)

DVD Available Here (Manufactured Landscapes)

Zeitgeist Films Manufactured Landscapes

Lumiere Press

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sergio Larrain: A Book Exhibition at the Eye Studio Gallery

5B4 Photography and Books and the newly founded Eye Studio Gallery presents an exhibition of the books of the Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain. This is the first in a series of exhibitions that will celebrate artists whose works have produced great photographic books but due to the rarity of most of the publications, they do not often get seen in person.

On view from Thursday September 27 until November 22, this exhibition brings together Larrain’s classic photographic essays that have been the subject of his books in extremely rare titles such as El Rectangulo En La Mano, Valpariso and Una Casa En La Arena. An opening reception will be held on Saturday 29th from 6 to 8pm.

Born is Santiago de Chile in 1931, Sergio Larrain photographed from the late 1950’s through to the late 1960’s until giving up photography for the pursuit of higher knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. Larrain became a member of Magnum photo agency in 1960 and his work has been the subject of six major books and several magazine essays, most of which will be on display in this exhibition.

The Eye Studio Gallery is an exhibition and work space for the photographers Ed Grazda, Jason Eskenazi, Jimmy Katz, Doug Sandhage and Jeffrey Ladd. The exhibition schedule will alternate between presenting original works of these photographers and other exhibitions dedicated to the widening awareness of the photobook as a work of art.

The Eye Studio Gallery is located in Manhattan’s Chelsea gallery district at 526 West 26th Street in suite #507 on the fifth floor. Besides specific event dates or opening reception times, the gallery will be open by appointment only. Appointments can be arranged by calling (212) 242-1593.

So save the date of Saturday September 29th and stop by during the opening reception and say hello. This is a book related event that should not be missed by anyone wanting to see the work of this remarkable but relatively obscure artist.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Larry Clark: Los Angeles 2003 - 2006 Volume 1

I thought I was through with one night stands. “Thought” being the operative word to that sentence. No…I am apparently I am still very capable of waking the morning after with that sinking feeling that “you’ve done it again.” Why? Is it to fill some internal unrest that can only be sated by some regretful act?

Anyway…I woke this morning slightly hung-over and there it was. Instantly I had that slightly embarrassed feeling of not being able to look it straight in the eye, but undoubtedly, I had to deal with it at some point, it is in my house.

I recall clearly what had taken place the day prior. I was walking in the heat…that oppressive heat that has taken New York (now that summer is over) for the past two days. I was walking to the Luhring Augustine Gallery for a Larry Clark book signing. I was carrying my book bag with a few older titles (Mr. Whiskets asked me to get them signed for him) and just as I was about to pass out from the heat…I was seeing those tell-tale white spots...I was saved by the gust of air conditioning from the open gallery door.

Blinking rapidly I recovered my eyesight and found a small line of people waiting, some book dealers, asking Larry if he’d sign their twentieth copy of the Kids screenplay. The line was moving very slow but I saw that copies of a new book were being relieved of their cellophane shrink-wrapping. Credit cards and cash were flowing. Plastic bags were rustling their song of commerce. A whisper of “only 1000 copies” echoed through the vacuous space along with talk that Larry is making a new movie. “Almost have the green light,” it's going to star Val Kilmer and somebody and somebody else and all I could think of is “Please don't say that Paul Giamatti is going to show up in your movie!”

Sigh of defeat and eighty dollars lighter I left.

So here I sit, this morning, trying to make small talk with this new unexpected housemate over a cup of coffee.

He’s not much of a talker. When he does open up it is mumbled ramblings of his skate tricks (nollie heelflip frontside tailslides down 12 stair handrailings) or his hardcore band (Moral Decay) or that his girl is only 15 but looks 25. Or was it that she is 25 and looks 15? I don’t know…all I know is that he mumbles. Did I mention that?

Based on appearances, he isn’t that bad. Beautiful actually. A stunner. A big surprise for a one nighter. Great design and production values. Splendid color printing by Quensen, Hildesheim / Lamspringe. It’s just, he is a bit vapid. I think I would have been just as satisfied had I bought the Vice Magazine Fashion Issue for $5.95. Or even just checked out a bunch of those American Apparel ads. They do as much fetishizing of adolescents as does my eighty dollar friend. But no…I spent eighty bucks on him. I own him now. He takes up space…probably forever. Because you know that part of the disease is the inability to let go. Maybe that accounts for the headache. (God…if you are up there…please make the rumor of only 1,000 copies be true) (Satan…if this print run turns out to be 6,500 copies, you truly are an evil, evil man).

So what can I do? Therapy? Group rehab? Is there a Friday night meeting in Martin Parr’s basement for this sort of thing? I know I am not the only one. I did resist buying that damn skateboard deck Larry did for Supreme (I did get the calendar though. Hi…My name is Jeff...I have a problem. A book one night stand problem).

This one night stand is entitled Larry Clark: Los Angeles 2003 – 2006 Volume 1. It is published by Luhring Augustine Gallery and the Simon Lee Gallery.

I hope that I am well into my 12 step program before Larry Clark: Los Angeles Volume 2 shows up. I’ve admitted that I have a problem…it's a good start, but I'm far from the finish line.

Buy online at Luhring Augustine Gallery

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki

The new exhibition season has opened and one show that I highly recommend is Kohei Yoshiyuki’s exhibition The Park at Yossi Milo which is on view until October 20. This work was the subject of Kohei’s book Document Kouen (Document Park) published by Seven Sha, Tokyo in 1980. Lucky for us, there is a new book of this work just published by Hatje Cantz called The Park.

In the early seventies, Kohei prowled around parks in Tokyo looking for lovers groping in the bushes. The Shinjuku, Yoyogi and Aoyama parks were notorious meeting grounds for nightly public rendezvous and disturbingly, they were also very popular with “peepers;” men who go specifically to watch the action.

By using an infrared film and an infrared filter over his flashgun, Kohei was able to somewhat freely photograph without anyone knowing what he was doing. His descriptions have the effect of exposing whole tableaus of figures and detail that could only have been sensed in the darkness of the unlit park.

His book is divided into three sections. The first dwells on heterosexual encounters, the second on homosexual trolling and hook ups and the last section is comprised of abstract images shot from video monitors in “love hotels.”

The first section on men and women is the least explicit in that it seems most encounters (at least in the photos) is limited to kissing and heavy petting. The disturbing and somewhat sad aspect comes from the “peepers.” Many of Kohei’s photos show a couple going about their business while a crowd of six or seven men hang about, half hiding behind the trees and bushes; some caught fumbling with their pants zippers. “Observing” might be considered bothersome enough but at times, the “peepers” move in to take advantage of a grope amongst the tangled legs and arms of the couple. In his introduction, Vince Aletti humorously finds them comparable at times to wrestling referees. A perfect comparison as they are often weirdly down on all fours, head cocked like they are looking for an illegal hold.

The second section that describes men on men is mostly pairings of men engaged in what seems to be a less foliated part of the park. The trysts are more out in the open and explicit. One of the best images describes a perfect choreography of men waiting by trees while passersby look for partners. The body language of most of the men seems so matter of fact that they wind up looking like they are waiting for a bus rather than seeking out sexual release.

The last section of grainy video stills from love hotels is oddly the most explicit but most unrevealing. The extreme grain, or more specifically, the graininess of the TV pattern, obscures to the point of only basic legibility. With the history of social taboos towards sex, these seem to comment on the nature of censorship in Japan. In fact, actual nudity even in any of these images is almost never seen if only in fleeting glimpses of thigh.

Yoshiyuki, with all of the limitations of working with the tools he used and in the environment he photographed, made a great set of images that do not just ring the same note repeatedly. His ability to see and compose before to flash was tripped seems miraculous enough. The frames are well constructed and vary throughout the book so that our interest, beyond the subject matter, is held from cover to cover.

The book follows the format ratio of the 35mm frame and the printing looks great. The design by Stapelberg & Fritz in Stuttgart is compelling, clean and respects the work. Many of the non-photo pages are printed black so be careful as the natural oils from you hands leave marks. The photos are reproduced either bleed or surrounded with white borders. The edition is approximately 4500 copies.

There are many differences between the original edition and this one and they have a completely different feel from one another. The original edition was a vertical format book and some of the images are reproduced (in nice gravure) as spreads across the gutter, which between the two pages, equals the 35mm frame ratio. The other images that are reproduced one to a page are printed cropped into a ratio closer to a 6 by 7 frame ratio, thus cropping off about one quarter of each image. The new edition reproduces the images full 35mm ratio. The original also has identity protecting black bars over the eyes of the people whose faces can be seen.

This presentation includes 69 photographs and the 1980 edition held 78 according to Volume II of the Parr and Badger history books. The reason for some of the images not appearing in the new edition is not due to editing but apparently due to several of the original negatives from the series have been lost which made their inclusion impossible. This is a real shame because upon seeing which images were lost there were at least two from the original edition that I think are really great. One that may be lost forever is of a man and woman necking while somehow, the man’s wallet appears, not in his pocket as would be expected, but lying balanced on his hip. The original edition also starts the third section with an image of a couple on the street entering one of the “love hotels.” That section of video stills is also ended with a final shot of a TV screen that is entirely blank with static TV “snow.”

Yossi Milo penned an introduction that tells of how he became aware of the work and Vince Aletti contributes a wonderful essay called Night Vision. Also included is an interview between Nobuyoshi Araki and Kohei Yoshiyuki called Tiptoeing into the Darkness…with Love from a 1979 issue of Weekend Super which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

For those interested in getting an advance copy of The Park, the Yossi Milo Gallery has a very limited amount of copies (about 60-70 left) that are signed by Kohei Yoshiyuki. The Park will not officially hit the stores until next month.

This book will surely be in my top five favorites for the year, so thank you to Yossi Milo for taking the reigns and getting this work republished. This allows a new generation of viewers (peepers?) to experience work from this photographer who seems as elusive as the subjects he once described.

An additional thank you to Yossi Milo for allowing me to view the original 1980 edition of Document Kouen for comparison.

Book Available Here (The Park)

Buy online at Hatje Cantz