Thursday, January 10, 2008

Four from Farewell Books

When most young artists dream of publishing a photography book they may desire for it to be accepted into the hands of a Hatje Cantz, Aperture or Steidl. Often the dream entails lush production values and a care given that is tantamount to the respect one tends to place upon their own work.

On the other side of the coin, there are artists that have a DIY approach similar to the vast amounts of fanzines (’zines) that appeared throughout the heyday of the punk and hardcore music movements in the early 1980’s. ‘Zines are rather cheaply produced magazines of varying length, often Xeroxed and staple bound and distributed through various independent channels.

Many of these could be thought of as small rafts sent out into the world; many reached audiences, many sunk. Of the hundreds of thousands if not millions, few were saved for their seeming disposable nature and most were doomed to be recycled into toilet paper, but longevity was not the intended purpose, it was the immediacy of the message or voice.

Few ‘zines were professionally printed but with the recent advances in technology one can prepare their own booklets right from the home using a basic home computer and send the files off to a commercial printer that can print and bind a small run of somewhat professional looking books.

One such small publisher who is taking advantage of this type of low-fi production is called Farewell Books which is run by a photographer named Marten Lange in Sweden. Originally started to publish his own photography, he has branched out to publish others including the prominent photographer and conceptual artist John Divola. All of the books are various sizes; laser printed and perfect bound in soft cover.

Woodland is the first of the two titles of Marten’s work from Farewell. Published in 2007, Woodland is 40 square photographs of chaotic landscapes made within the brush and thickets of forests. The photography, if printed in duotone instead of laser print, might be in harmony with some of Lee Friedlander’s attempts at slashing through that same landscape but here the production adds its own interesting dose of spatial confusion.

This book seems to teeter between something that aims at being conceptual and something that wants to fall entirely into the long tradition of landscape photography. Unlike Ed Ruscha’s gas stations, this dense woodland seems to be too confined within familiar photographic traditions.

Marten’s second book however could be perceived as sitting further into conceptual territory than its predecessor. Machina, also published in 2007, is 34 square photographs of various machines from nanoscience and microtechnology labs in Sweden. Taken from a close distance, they are a tangle of wire and tube making up unfathomable devices that seem both friendly and threatening.

This book seems to have slightly better resolve in the printing than the Woodland book, which may be an illusion due to the clean and smooth line of each component that is illuminated by Lange’s even flash.

Although I think conceived as individual books meant to stand apart from one another, as a set, they create an interesting dichotomy. One body of work is made in an environment where everything visible is of the natural world and the other is made within a world where everything is synthetic.

The third book from Farewell is called Late Winter Early Spring by Magnus Gyllensten. This the largest in trim size of the four books at 8 by 10.5 (Woodland and Machina are both 6 by 8 inches) and it is a 19 photograph bit of stream of consciousness on winter that leaves little in way of a comfort zone. High contrast in tonality and casual in construction, these few photographs leave one with the sense of things in transition perhaps as the title implies.

Personally this one isn't my cup of tea but then again, according to the Farewell website, this is the only one of the four books that is marked SOLD OUT.

The last book is the smallest at a trim size of 3.5 by 5.5 inches. John Divola’s As Far As I Could Get is a baker’s dozen of photographs that have the air of a game. In each photo a man is seen running away from the camera within various suburban and rural landscapes. The man in the photos happens to be Divola himself and As Far As I Could Get refers to the sprinted distance between the photographer and the camera during the few seconds allowed by the camera’s self timer.

Divola has often invested his practice within a conceptual framework. Whether it was his Vandalism series where he broke into abandoned houses and spray painted interior walls (and then photographed the result) or his Zuma series that employed similar means towards an abandoned beachfront property, he seems to be as interested in momentarily stepping away from photography as embracing it.

In this series, I perceive him as literally trying to run away from the medium but like a yoyo on a string, he, or at least his image, is ultimately unable to escape.

Interestingly, none of the books contain any text or explanation so the interpretations are left completely up to the viewer. My favorites of these four are Machina by Marten Lange and As Far As I Could Get by John Divola. Both bring interesting bodies of work that wed nicely with the lower production values.

Farewell Books are available through their website or through Dashwood Books in NYC. The books range between 8 to 10 US dollars from the Farewell Books website.