Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Thank you for Reading. Come to the Bristol Landscape Day in November


That's it for me for the blogging year. Thank you for reading.

I'll be back in September or October sometime. If you're in Sicily in September come to Gazebook Sicily. There's a beach and everything!

And if you're in the UK in November, don't forget to get your tickets for:

Beyond the Visual Landscape at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 tbc

Buy Tickets here

It's a  day of talks and screenings looking at how landscape, words, music and sound connect us to ourselves and the places we photograph. The rough outlines below give an idea of what people will talk about and speakers include Beth and Thom Atkinson, Angus Carlyle, Susan Derges, Paul Gaffney, Max Houghton, Jem Southam, and Ester Vonplon.

Beth and Thom Atkinson will be talking about the secret history of London as made apparent in their Missing Buildings project, an enigma where the visible is made Visible and layers of the past are suddenly revealed.



Angus Carlyle will talk about sound and landscape, and how the one affects our experience of the other, how sound cuts through time, how sound creates pressure, how sound ties to emotion, memory and landscape. The screenshot below is from a project on a wartime hiding place/cave in Okinawa.


From The Cave Mouth and The Giant Voice by Rupert Cox and Angus Carlyle

Susan Derges has a practice that has evolved with herself. She makes amazing photograms that connect water, personal history and landscape, but for this weekend she will talk about her newest work - all will be revealed on the day.


Shoreline by Susan Derges


Paul Gaffney will look at the evolution of his psycho-geographical, intuition based landscapes. He will also be showing new work from his latest book which continues the intuition-based tradition of We Make the Path by Walking but is also very different..



Max Houghton will talk about language, literature and landscape, and how our knowledge of language shapes our experience of the world around us.


Carpet-Mounds by Colin Pantall

Jem Southam's practice connects to the landscape through the very personal act of walking. He uses time to capture the shifts of nature at the most basic level. He will talk about his latest work and returning to a photographic practice based firmly around the fields, rivers, ponds and coastlines of the Southwest of England.


The Exe River by Jem southam

Ester Vonplon photographs a Switzerland denuded of its familiar lyricism. She will talk about her Gletscherfahrt project and the commissioned sound/music blend that makes it such a emotionally powerful piece.


From Gletscherfahrt by Ester Vonplon


Save the place (Bristol), the date (November 7th) and

Buy your tickets here.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Ester Vonplon:Ice Will Tear Us Apart


One of the most exciting things about photography is the different ways of telling stories that are emerging, the way that different ideas, emotions and senses are overlapping. And it's this overlap of images, ideas and senses that form the heart of a series of talks and screenings taking place in Bristol on November 7th (organised by Max Houghton of London College of Communication and myself).

Ester Vonplon will be there presenting and talking about her Glacier work. Susan Derges will talk about her water-based photograms, Jem Southam and Paul Gaffney will be looking at mind, landscape and walking, Angus Carlyle will talk about sound and landscape and how the one changes the other, and Max Houghton will talk about language and landscape, and how that affects our vision, experience and senses. There may be an addition here or there as well.

It's in Bristol, Saturday November 7th

Tickets are available here.

One of the people on the list who, in the UK at least, is less well-known, is Ester Vonplon. She's a Swiss photographer who made a book about the melting glaciers of Switzerland.

One of the interesting things about photobooks is when you get books that are great, but also go beyond the book form. Olivia Arthur's Stranger does that in a cinematic way, Ivars Gravlejs' Early Works does it by tying in to universal ideas of school and education, and Hidden Islam does it because it has such massive  political relevance.

With all these books, you get the feeling that there is more to the work than just the book. The book is not an end in itself, but is a key to something else that is bigger than the book.



That's also the feeling I get with Ester Vonplon's Gletscherfahrt. Ester Vonplon is a photographer who shows a deromanticised vision of Switzerland and Gletscherfahrt is a project where romance is tossed out of the window. It's an elegy of a book where the textures and touch of the landscape comes across in pictures that have a gut-churning poignancy.

The book shows Vonplon's pictures of glaciers in Switzerland. These are retreating glaciers, melting glaciers. To protect them from further shrinkage, they have been wrapped in giant white reflective sheets. That's what Vonplon photographs. But she photographs them dirty. This is snow that is filled with sediment, grit, particulates and ash. Everything is a bit smoke-stained and grubby. There is no purely driven snow here. And it's all shrouded in these godforsaken bits of cloth that start of pristine but gradually rip and decay grey into the melting ice of the glacier. It's disease and decay and mortality. The ice has torn them apart.

And that's just the pictures. The book comes with a record and the record plays a score that was specially composed for the work. You can play the record and look at the pictures and you instantly get the idea of what has been made and why it has been made.

But there is also a slideshow (and if there isn't yet. I'm guessing be some kind of installation). And that's where the music-picture overlap really strikes you in the belly. It's a composition filled with ripping, dripping, flowing sounds of mortality, a composition that combines the music of Stephan Eicher with the location recordings of Vonplon. She records the sound of melting glacier water (Gletschermilch or 'glacier milk' is the touching German word for it).

It is something so beautiful and yet so sad. It's chilling. But Vonplon has captured that in pictures and sound in a way that really needs no explanation. It's there in the pictures and the music and it's heartbreaking.




That combination of pictures and sound is just one way of extending the photograph beyond the purely visual. It works beautifully. But with landscape there are people working with landscape, with psychology, with meditation, with film and sound in ways that go beyond the visual to provide insights into what it really feels like to be in a place and of a place.


And that's what the November event will look at, how we can beneath the surface of the landscape, how sound and words and music and self connect into the places where we walk, where we live, where we breathe... and last, and most definitely least, where we photograph.


If you're lucky enough to be in Arles, See the slideshow at the Night of the Year.

See more of Ester Vonplon's work here. 

Buy the book here.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Dark, Claustrophobic and Grey!






Gerry Badger is the man who writes the words for the Photobook Histories. But he's also a photographer and It was a Grey Day (Photographs of Berlin) is his first photobook. And it's a really good one, a depiction of unpeopled greyness that captures a city on the brink of a change. It's the kind of change that will transform Badger's studies in grey into pictures of nostalgia that people will look back on with affection and wonder. It was a Grey Day is a study in the marginalia of a city, and it does a fantastic job.

Badger's a writer and a photographer. But he's also an architect and in the book he brings his architect's eye to a city where he is drawn to the spaces between buildings, to the gaps and the temporary structures that inhabit the city, that in Badger's eye almost define the city. Because of this, there's a formality to the pictures but at the same time they are not cold. They speak of spaces that are deserted but have life all around them.




This is Berlin's Terrain Vague, although it's not always of a large enough scale to be called that. It's more of an opportunistic seizing of space and repurposing of it through graffiti, sculpture, and a placing of rubbish and junk that is almost installation-like in its purposefulness. Are these spaces beautiful or ugly, Badger asks? And why is he so drawn to them? Badger concludes that it's not ruin or splendour he's photographing, but change, layer upon layer of change.

The book starts with a picture of a small supermarket. Above the window a line of graffiti reads, 'This is not America (Here is not Everywhere).' Just in case you didn't know, there's a manifesto for you.




The book continues into a grey claustrophobia. It's more than overcast (there's a corner of sky in almost every picture) and the concrete of the city is complete leaden. There are fences, there are trees and there is a sense of history that adds a certain gravity to the book.

There are repeated references to Atget's Terrain Vague pictures and there are nods to John Gossage's Berlin In the Time of the Wall, there are pictures of the Wall, but ultimately this is Badger's book and it settles into a pattern of images of different forms of dereliction and untidiness mixed with urban escapism; impromptu corners where Berliners escape the concrete and sit outside in these little pockets of human comfort. There's a checked sofa with a barbecue in front, benches of varying degrees of decrepitude and a courtyard with a sign saying 'Refugees Welcome, Tourists Piss Off!'




So it's not that comfortable, but it's not uncomfortable either. It's just messy and weighty, with link chains and fences creating a hierarchy of marginal landscapes. And that's what the book is, a kind of hierarchy of non-empty empty spaces; a book where you can unpick the subtle differences between Third Landscapes, Edgelands and Terrain Vague with concrete parking places, pathways, steel doors, stairways to nowhere and communal courtyards thrown into the mix. There's destruction mixed with collapse and decay and a sense that construction (and another kind of destruction) are not too far away. These are urban spaces that are up-for-grabs but aren't being grabbed because that is not the nature of the place. 'Smash Capitalism!' proclaims one sign, and in a sense that is what is being shown here because there's nothing here to be smashed.

In the afterword Badger writes 'In the normal course of events I spend my time writing about photographs - the photographs of others. Now, faced with a a group of my own photographs, I feel stuck for words.... I feel disembodied by them... they baffle me. I find them obtuse and quite mysterious.'

He writes about how he sees his pictures of Berlin and wonders at how downbeat they appear. On the surface this is a very dismal Berlin. But at the same time it's not. It's a Berlin that is of itself and by itself. For now. The dismal Berlin will come later, when the hand sculpture (which is already gone) and the gentrification of the city 'continues apace'.

Buy the book here.




Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Message from Our Sponsors: Come to Gazebook Sicily





Ricardo Martinez Paz


Carolyn Drake





Mark Power

Scarecrow


Erik Kessels


Emma Uwejoma


Tifi and Tofu (picture by Giosi Centore)



Barack Obama (picture by Lewis Bush)



Jane Austen


Olivia Arthur




  Alex Bocchetto


William Henry Fox Talbot


The triptych of European photobook festivals (Kassel, Bristol and Vienna) is over. The photography circus moves on to Arles, then there's Unseen in Amsterdam, Paris Photo and so on.

There's the idea ( expressed here by the excellent Joerg Colberg. Give him some money for his fundraiser here) that there are too many photobook festivals, or too many photography festivals, and the same people go to them. That is probably true. But above and beyond the same old photographers, publishers and booksellers, the festivals do get different audiences, most of whom are local and only go to the one festival event that is local to them. And there's only one Paris, Amsterdam, Arles....

Just like there's only one Sicily.

Because tucked in behind Unseen, Amsterdam, on September 11th/12th/13th there's a festival called Gazebook Sicily. It's taking place in the small seaside town of Punta Secca (best known as the setting for Montalbano - an Italian TV show; it's Midsummer Murders but with sex, and in Italy). There's a beach and the brief includes beaches, gazebos and panama hats. There's room for that!

The festival has been in the planning for, ooh, months now, ever since Melissa Carnemolla, Bellina Teresa and Simone Sapienza managed to talk Cora Banche into contributing some Euros to fund the festival.

Simone Sapienza is a second year student on the Documentary Photography course at Newport where I teach. Last year the BJP asked me to get a picture of Martin Parr holding a copy of the magazine. Simone saw that. He asked me to get a picture of Parr holding a sign promoting Gazebook Sicily. I did that, but I got a bit carried away and asked a few other people. So here are just some of my favourites. But thank you so much to everyone who helped out (even if, especially if, you had no idea what you were promoting).

 Gazebook are on Facebook and here is the website which will be updated in the coming weeks with food, travel and accomodation details (including cheap accomodation and camping).

And here is a provisional line up - with more to follow in the coming weeks.

'We are open air. In the morning there will be activities such as portfolio reviews, bookshop, speakers' corner, open labs, workshops for kids, games on the beach, pre-drinks or bbq in the night.'

 Sunset at 7.45pm. 

Friday

6pm Opening by Gazebook Founders
9pm Colin Pantall: TBC
10pm Mark Power: A History of Mark Power's Photobooks


Saturday

6pm Editing for magazines (Manila Camarini, photo editor of "D La Repubblica" magazine;
7pm Bunga Bunga and The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Lorenzo Tricoli
9pm Guy Martin and Max Pinckers
10pm Akina, Discipula and guests


Sunday

7pm Boy Old Boy, by Roberto Boccaccino. Link between the project and its dissemination
9pm "La guerra, una storia siciliana" by Tony Gentile - book about mafia in Sicily in 90s'
10pm Italia o Italia, by Clavarino

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Hold the Line: A Book About Obedienc



Hold the Line by Siegfried Hansen is an eye-catcher of a book. The eye-catching starts with the cover. It's a book of street photography and the front cover shows a man standing on a yellow line painted on what looks like airport tarmac. Whatever it is, it's tarmac that is battleship grey, and as well as yellow, there are black, white and red lines running parallel and in diagonals.

It's a graphic book then, but it's also one that with strict compositional rules. Hansen is an engineer and you get the feeling that he likes things just so. That comes across in pictures that have a lot of New Topographics in them. There are nods to Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams as crossed perpendiculars surfaces mix with profiles in windows.



But it's all in colour, with the bluest of skies and the goldest of yellows. And it's a populated book. There are people in it but not your usual street photography people. They are cut-off and foreshortened, they appear in diagonal views in which foreground structures create little frames for the people of the book to inhabit. It starts with the front edge of a car moving down a highway boxed in green, and continues with a women cut at the waist by an olive fascia. A foot in running shoes is seen in the top of a frame filled with brutalist playground equipment, there's a view of a man walking down an underpass and several pictures of people half blurred behind sheets of perspex and glass.

There are more photographic nods, some of which might be intentional, some not. Traces of Saul Leiter, Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Vivianne Sassen, Eammon Doyle, and Isabelle Wenzel mix with a strong feeling of the early colour of Keld-Helmer Petersen. And those references, incidental or otherwise, are central to what makes Hold the Line such a great book. You're seeing something that you've seen before, but in a style that Hansen has made his own. He's doing the same thing others have done, but he's doing it differently. That's a really difficult thing to do, especially in an arena so laden with heavyweight genre as street photography.



Images are cut with colour pages that take the vibrancy down a notch and this adds to the early feel. Hold the Line is a clinical book (with sentiments that are similar in some ways to Martino Marangino's Alone Together), and in some ways I would like it to lose a couple of the more blurry shots and be even more clinical. But at the same time, it looks fantastic and it's strangely fun to look at; a puzzle book where lines join, lines cross and we all march along their unerring path. So it's a book about obedience?


Buy the Book here.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The People: A Day of Chaos, Bloodshed and Death











In the Shadow of the Pyramids by Laura El-Tantawy was a quick sell. The 500 copies went in about a month and if you missed it, well you missed it. It sold well because it was a superb combination of a personal story (El Tantawy's return to Egypt and discovery of herself and her country) mixed with the story of the protests of Tahrir Square. This is from the review I wrote for Photo Eye.

“There are 90 million people in this country. Ninety million stories to be told. This is the beginning of only one.”

The country is Egypt, the year is 2011 and the Arab Spring is in full flight. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is packed with protestors against the president’s rule and El-Tantawy is in their midst. “In the square of Liberation I found dreamers. Just like in the films. Thousands of them. In Tahrir Square I found myself again.”


It's a great book and there's the idea that she could have sold 2,000 copies so why didn't she print 2,000 copies. Why was she so selfish as to make such a small edition when she KNEW they would sell out.

Except she didn't know. The idea here is being wise after the event. I'm sure El Tantawy was confident in her heart that her book would do well, but I also know there was a lack of confidence there, an uncertainty that the book might not sell.

We know now that In the Shadow of the Pyramids sold well but how can we be wise before the event. There are many people who think their book will do brilliantly and sell in the thousands and they don't. What happens when you print too many books? You end up with a massive stock pile of books which you can't store. You've cut down half a rainforest for something that is ultimately going to be pulped. And you end up looking a bit of complacent for doing so. And there's nothing quite so annoying as complacency (either in myself or in others).

I don't mind small editions, big editions, cheap books, expensive books, books that sell out, stupid ebay prices, book-fetishisation, whatever. It's all good to me. There are lots of books out there, so if you can't buy one, then buy another. And if you really love something, get it whilst you can. Or pay a bit more for it if it's sold out and you want it so bad. Save up if you're skint.

And if you still can't afford it, look at it online somewhere, or  watch the movie. It's not ideal but so it goes. It's nice that people are doing this (and they're doing it for love not money) and hopefully one day soon, somebody will create a digital library of photobooks.

So perhaps that's why El Tantawy didn't print 2,000 copies. It's the sign of a smart photographer not being complacent. Because complacency really is the enemy of everything.

What El-Tantawy did print 1,500 copies of is a newspaper called The People. This was meant to be distributed free to the people of Cairo - but that proved difficult so it went on sale in a variety of currencies. £25, $25, Euros 25, 25 Egyptian pounds and so on. The more expensive versions subsidised the cheaper version.

The People is not the same as In the Shadow of the Pyramids. It doesn't have that sense of personal discovery, it is more focussed on the chaos of the events in Tahrir Square and beyond. Changing that story was a challenge for Sybren Kuiper the designer.

'It was really interesting to design that story in a totally different way. but when Laura asked me to do a newspaper edition it posed a few challenges.

 A real newspaper has more text to combine with the photos and it has bigger pages so you can't work with one image a spread if you want to use a significant amount of the pictures from the book. Still you want to get the growing chaos across to the readers. So you end up with a totally different graphic design. I applaud here for her courage to do so. Most people would have wanted an In the Shadow of the Pyramids 2.'

So the People is about the chaos of events. It's a newspaper where one picture folds into another. But it's not really a newspaper because there's a sense of the image breaking up into each other - the photographs are destroyed to form part of a greater whole.

The People shows the escalation of the demonstrations, the violence inflicted on the people, the bloodshed, the death and the aftermath of the clampdown. It's beautifully designed with  a bell-jar sequence (quiet-loud-quiet) that is laid out over a dawn-dusk-dawn framework and it works splendidly. There are colour inserts that focus on the grieving, the missing, the dead, and there is a text in Arabic that gives it a specific context (as does the Arabic reverse-flow of the pages).

And even though it's not an In the Shadow of the Pyramids 2, at the same time it is. It's the same but different, and if you missed out on the out-of-print book edition, the newspaper version is not a disappointment. And if you have the book, the newspaper creates a different perspective on how both the book and the events of Tahrir Square unfolded.


See more spreads on Josef Chladek's Virtual Bookshelf.

Buy the People here.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Moisés: A book where you feel the pain.




Moisés by Mariela Sancari seems to be a modest affair. It's not too big, there are not so many pictures and the pictures that are included have an unspectacular quality to them.

At the same time, it's not at all modest. It's a project book, an installation book, that is both a visual portrayal of the grief Sancari felt for her dead father (he's the Moisés of the title), and an attempt by Sancari to come to terms with that grief, a grief complicated by the way in which Moises died.

When Moises killed himself, the family was not allowed to see the body. Was it the doctors that didn't allow them or the police. We don't know. And was it because of the 'sin' of suicide or because Moisés was Jewish. Again we can't be sure.

But already there is a huge amount of emotional energy invested in the story and it is this energy that Sancari brings out in her pictures. Because after he died, the family never talked how Moisés died, about the non-seeing of the body, about that layer of a grief that was laden with both anger and guilt.

Sancari set out to confront this silence through her art. She put an advertisement in the newspaper asking for paid volunteers answering to the age (he would be if he were still alive) and appearance of her father to model for her. Several people answered the ad and she photographed.

Moisés the book is one end result of this process. It has a triptych cover with double spines, so the pages fold out left-right, left-right, left-right rhythm. The first pictures are fragmented images of her father. You see him in bits; a jaw, a hairline, an ear, fragments that mirror Sancari's half-buried memories.

Then you open up the pages and you see the first volunteer in three frames; a quarter back profile, a full profile and a two thirds profile. The model stands there with his stern mouth and his swept back hair and he probably looks nothing like the real Moises, but he's wearing his old cardigan. There's a touching point, a hook.



The next model is bald, has a moustache and collapsed cheeks where his teeth used to be. He looks nothing like the first one. Fold the pages out and the third is a wide-mouthed man with a thatch of grey hair. We get four pictures of him and he's wearing the same cardigan as the first man. The models change, the clothes repeat, each could be Sancari's father, each most definitely isn't. There's a mix of social types, of projected futures, of degrees of aging. And then we get to the end and a man is combing Sancari's hair, the memory of the past brought into a counter-intuitive present.



The final page shows the ad that Sancari put in the paper. And finally we see what Moisés 'really' looked like in a photograph.  A caption reads, To go back, begin from the right. So we go back and we see it differently; a neck, and another neck, and the neck again, red-raw, with abrasions. So that tells us something. And the men come back, but it's all a different view and the sad eyes, the brittle hair and the aging skin become something else again.

It's a slow and touching book. If it were a film, it would be Amour. The design fits the purpose but you need to know the story before you start which might be a barrier. Maybe that's why there's a slipped-in brochure with a text by Erik Kessels highlighting those projects that get to the emotional core of the big themes of life; Araki's Sentimental Journey, the work of Seichi Furuya or Fusco's Funeral Train.

Sancari's book gets to that emotional core. It's love, guilt and grief wrapped up in a quiet and apparently simple book. Sometimes you get the feeling that for photography to be good it has to be difficult in some way. You need to go through a pain barrier. You can feel that Moisés was difficult to make and is far more complex and multi-layered than it first appears. It's a book where you can feel the pain.

 Read more about the project here

Buy the book here