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All Quiet on the Home Front is almost sold out. You can buy the last copies from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderfu...

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Enlarge Magazine, the perfect Christmas gift

Ok, so this is one of those photobooks that everyone looked at in the house. It doesn't happen often (Showdogs, Early Works, No More No Less.... it's not a long list),

It's a magazine about penis enlargement. It's tongue in cheek, except it's not, except it is, except it's not.

It's a serious issue though, and it's dealt with in strange and interesting ways - and graphically it fits with it's full gloss everything and alternative uses for penis enlargers and cock rings.

The perfect Christmas gift in other words.

Buy the Magazine here. It's 10 euros.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Migrant.: The story of a bird, the story of Singapore

The difficulty with the photobook is how good so many of them are in the sense that they fit into design and narrative forms that look like photobooks, that read like photobooks, with statements and essays that support them and look like the kind of statement or essay that you should get in a photobook.

They interrogate, they question, they fit images into sequences and grids that have been pored over on floors, tables and magnetic boards. Images have been flipped around, they have been shrunk, enlarged, put to one side and then chosen again. People have stood round tables and pursed their lips while ruminating on the precise edit which will make all the difference, while in nearly all cases it won't make any difference whatsoever. Photographers have been consulted, contradictory views have been sought, acknowledged, followed and ignored. Multiple dummies have been made, designers consulted, ephemeral materials added, confusions overcome and added to, till by the end of it you have a real life proper photobook.

And sometimes that's all you have. The life has been sucked out of it and you're left with a voice that is denuded of its more human qualities as people have struggled to do the thing they think they're supposed to do.

That's not a problem with Anaïs López's book, The Migrant. It's a book about a Lopez's obsession with the Javan myna. Here's the blurb:

The Migrant tells the turbulent life story of the Javan Mynah. A member of the starling family, the bird is originally from Java (Indonesia) and was introduced to Singapore in the early 20th century through the songbird trade. Today, he is reviled, persecuted and even killed. It is a story about one bird, but at the same time it addresses broader themes such as the complex relationship between humans and animals, the consequences of rapid urbanization and the position of the unwanted outsider.

The story is told from multiple perspectives with multiple points of views. There's a multimedia, a film, a book, a graphic strip, there are screen prints and a booklet. There's even a pop-up wayang myna at the end of the book. There's a lot going on.

We'll focus on the book.  The photographic part details Lopez's encounter with the bird across the island. She sees how it is poisoned, she finds myna bodies on the streets, she encounters a man who hates mynas, who shoots mynas and dreams of setting up Mediterranean style shooting points to exterminate the bird on its migratory routes between Malaysia and Singapore.

The cartoon in contrast  tells Lopez's story of her encounter with one particular bird who has grounding a real myna whichwas a pet in London (the owner got fined £44 for the noise from its singing) then moves to Singapore. It's engaging and rather like a children's story. I remembered it after the fact which is not always the way it happens with photobooks. It tells the story of how the bird came to Singapore from Java, of its persecution, its unhappiness and its eventual escape to Burma, a country where it is revered.

There is a booklet (in the third person rather than the first) which explains the images in the book. These are engaging too, a metaphor both for the narrative of the myna and for the strangely artificial nation-state that is Singapore.

As mentioned, there's a lot going on in the book which is sumptuously produced. Maybe there's a bit too much, but it's good to see different voices, different ways of telling a story coming through. If you want to get away from the figures with hands on hips standing knowingly round an editing table flippling an image one way and then another, and it not making a blind bit of difference, The Migrant is a refreshing change.

The book is designed by Teun van der Heijden. It contains handmade silk screen prints, illustrations by renowned Singaporean cartoonist Sonny Liew and a handmade pop-up by artist Moon Brouwer. The book is a work of art in itself that can be used to share the story of the Javan Mynah with others. Specifications: 240 mm x 318 mm / 120 pages + booklet of 16 pages / full colour / English. 450 copies.

See more (Singaporean) Javan mynas in Robert Zhao's Mynas

See the book on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/291125680
and the documentary about Mynah: www.migrant.nu

Buy the book here

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Lu Guang: No right to ask questions

Image by Lu Guang - Fake sheep grazing on the polluted ground that poisoned the live sheep that are now dead sheep

It was good to see Magnum China reviewed in New York Times and then see this review of the book by Melanie Chapman on Photobook Journal and to see it on the Photobook Journal's Interesting Books for 2018 list.

Magnum China is a photographic overview of the 20th century in particular. As is noted in the Photobook Journal review, images of the more traumatic events of China's history are absent. There are stories on the human costs of migration, of the destruction of communities during the building of the Three Gorges Dam, of the nerve-racking journey North Koreans make across the country and to freedom. Tiananmen ends with Magnum photographers under lockdown in their hotel. And there are no images in the book of the violent convulsions of the Cultural Revolution (but you can look at Li Zhensheng's brilliant Red Color News Soldier for that). There are no pictures of the suffering enduring during the Great Leap Forward, when a combination of incompetence, brutality and callousness resulted in the deaths of 40 million people people.

But then there are no pictures of the famine  anywhere (yet), there is a visual absence in history. You get many visual absences in history and they're never an accident. Between 2004 and 2005, The New York Times, The Washington Times, Time and Newsweek did not publish a single image of a dead American soldier. The pictures existed, they just didn't get published. There was a rationale for why they didn't get published. But that's a rationale first and foremost and there's also a political reason for why they didn't get published.

That's on one level, on another level entirely is the absence of pictures during what Frank Dikotter calls Mao's Great Famine. Censorship on this level is not just a matter of not publishing pictures, it's not even a matter of not allowing people to take picture, it's a matter of making sure people don't take pictures because they are so scared of the repercussions. It's about getting into their minds and forming false memories from the absence of images.

Taking a picture of a dead body that has been beaten, starved or frozen to death in 1959 is the act of a counter-revolutionary and subject to all the punishments that might entail. If you're a photographer, you don't want that image on your roll.

If you do have it on your roll, then you are making a statement and you might get killed for your troubles. We decry the idea of the heroic photographer, the photographer as witness because so often it's empty rhetoric filled with empty posturing, dumb machismo with a big lens.

But when real danger ensues from making pictures and those pictures tell a story that would otherwise remain untold, or unseen, then perhaps the witness idea is appropriate. So just as photographing a body in 1959 might render you to arrest, so a picture of pollution, or of detainment camps, or tortured bodies might do the same in 2018.

That certainly seems to be the case  Lu Guang, the Chinese photographer who disappeared in Xinjiang Province almost a month ago. It's not a good place to disappear in as Steven Butler states here.

"Chinese authorities must immediately account for Lu Guang's whereabouts, allow him to travel freely, and halt the harsh measures taken against journalists throughout the country," said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Lu's detention is a high-profile illustration of the cruel and arbitrary way that China detains journalists and other civilians in Xinjiang."

Lu's  work is sensitive and it's political in a way that benefits everyone, except the wilfully negligent, guilty and corrupt. It looks at  environmental degradation in China, at pollution, at AIDS Villages. It unravels the deeply cynical failures of factory owners, of businesses, the party, the state to deal with issues fundamental to human welfare. The picture above is one from Inner Mongolia, showing model sheep set out to pasture to replace those that had died from contaminated grassland.

Photography does matter here. In an Interview in the Financial Times, he highlighted how photography could change laws especially on the environment, but also the dangers of  photographing.

“The reality in China is you never know if you’re going to get into trouble because there are no written rules,” Lu says. “The only way to find out if something is permissible is by doing it.”

Anyway it was my birthday yesterday. One of my presents was Ma Jian's new book China Dream.

This is from the introduction.

'China's tyrants have never limited themselves to controlling people's live: they have always sought to enter people's brains and remould them from inside. In fact, it was the Chinese Communist Party who coined the term 'brainwashing' ('xinao'). The China Dream is another beautiful lie concocted  by the state to remove dark memories from Chinese brains and replace them wth happy thoughts. Decades of indoctrination, propaganda, violence and untruths have left the Chinese people so numb and confused, they have lost the ability to tell fact from fiction. They have swallowed the lie that the Party leaders are responsible for the country's economic miracle, rather than the vast army of low-paid workers. The rabid consumerism encouraged in the last thirty year and which, along with inflated nationalism, lies at the heart of the China Dream is turning the Chinese into overgrown children who are fed, clothed and entertained, but have no right to remember the past or ask questions. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Utopia/Dystopia by the Sea

Fifty High Seasons by Shane Lynam is a rather beautiful book filled with beautiful images of French Mediterranean resort architecture of Languedoc. 

 This is what the introductory text to the book reads.

In 1963 President de Gaulle initiated a regional development plan know as ‘Mission Racine', to develop a wild and windy stretch of French coastline between Montpellier and Perpignan into a series of resorts.

Avant-garde architects were hired to construct unique and unusual spaces which would be responsive to the local environment and focused on the individual. Although the project provided a new source of income locally, Mission Racine was not only about enriching the region. It included an 18% quota of social housing to allow more French citizens to take advantage of their time off work.

It would become an alternative to the expensive Cote d’Azur without the high rise excesses of similar developments further south in Spain. Fifty High Seasons reflects on the cumulative effect of half a century of tourism on the innovative built environment established by Mission Racine, while showing why I fell for its unique charm.

I'm not sure I fall entirely for its charm. My favourite place in the UK is the Gower Peninsula a) because it's really beautiful and wild looking b) it's two hours from our house c) it's really beautiful and wild looking.

You can go to Rhossili Bay on the hottest bank holiday and you will always be able to find an empty stretch of sand. The southern hordes go to Cornwall because they don't like Wales (it's a foreign country that doesn't respect their snobberies) and so you end up with a place that is relatively empty.

It's also relatively under-developed. There are no high rise resort hotels, no waterparks or theme parks. It's empty and I like it that way.

So when I look at the Mission Racine constructions, I stare with a mix of horror and awe. The buildings are futuristic in the way only 1960s buildings can be, space age in a time when powdered orange juice and dehydrated mashed potato were the future - in Britain at least.

It's a nightmare world of beached liners, lifeguard stations transposed from Miami Beach, Father Ted caravan holiday dystopias, and pampas grass key parties.

It's the future, and it's the past. It's De Gaulle's seaside sublime, organised, seaside statist fun for all the French family. It looks terrible and it looks great, an addition to the catalogue of  recent books on European architectural coastal misadventure by the likes of Txema Salvans, and  Ricardo Cases.

It's the future, and it's the past. It's De Gaulle's seaside sublime, organised, seaside statist fun for all the French family. It looks terrible and it looks great, an addition to the catalogue of  recent books on European architectural coastal misadventure by the likes of Txema Salvans, and  Ricardo Cases.

Buy the book Here 

Friday, 23 November 2018

In Belief is Power

In Belief is Power by Hristina Tasheva is an intelligent and self-aware book that links the history of Bulgaria with the mystery of Bulgarian identity and contemporary and historical responses to migration and invasion respectively.

The idea for the book came about from Tasheva's shame at Bulgarian responses to the migration crisis of 2015.

This is what Tasheva says in her introduction to the book.

what provokes one’s fear of foreigners; what is the life and history of the local population who live near the border, where different political interests intersect; what is the “Bulgarian” identity exactly made up of; how does the border region reflect what is happening across Europe; is there a "beautiful" nationalism that would help a vanishing nation preserve itself (Bulgaria is said to be the fastest disappearing nation in the world); and, finally, what connects us as people?

So nothing's simple there. The very question of what the Bulgarian people are and where they come from is contested (because it's not a simple answer ).

And that comes out in the book in archival images, contemporary images, handwritten text (in Bulgarian with an English translation at the back), and in sketches.

Bulgaria is shown to be a contested country, a border country where identity comes from resistance to outside forces, in particular resistance against invasion by the Ottoman Empire, the subjugation of christianity and churches (which is very visible in Bulgarian chapels), the defeat of the Turks, the Bulgarian revival, Bulgaria's Communist period, all the way through to the present day where you still have a border country that doesn't quite know who it is or what it is or where it's going. Same as everybody really but with a history that is genuinely on the edge of everything.

The book is about all that. It comes from an autobiographical moment, the dilemma of a country where economically survival means migration - so going abroad as Tasheva has done. And survival means sending money home and supporting the domestic economy. What happens to your identity then, what happens to your community. Money cannot replace the human loss of empty villages and empty cities.

So you manufacture your identity, as something emerging from ancient peoples like the Bulgars and the Thracians. It's all a bit vague, but then nationalist agendas are vague. And that vagueness is complicated by its conflation with religious, political and regional loyalities, all of which create a maelstrom of conflicting perspectives that enable nationalism to flourish, in the place that's best for it,  in the arena of aggressively stated vagueness.

And those agendas come with expectations against emigrants, that you 'don't criticise, you build a house,'

Tasheva intersperses her images - a mix of her own and archive images - with snippets of conversation that overlap with and amplify the text, that confirm and contradict expectation, that create patterns of interference that add to the general air of vagueness and uncertainty.

There's racism, against muslims because they're not christian, against roma because they're the wrong type of  christian. They're evangelical, they're  too pagan.

But then rites with a pagan flavour are shown as a central element of Bulgarian identity. As is religion and its trappings, and those trappings include head coverings (but not that kind of head covering is the anticipated response). There are images of churches and  chapels, the accompanying text showing these places of worship are sites for Bulgarians to be granted access to - or not depending on their intentions. Tasheva's intentions, we learn, are not always seen to be good.

The images show fences, newly built to defend against the latest invaders, then there are swords, Nazi salutes, frescoes showing christians being massacred by muslims, artisans, priests and livestock.

Ther'e's an awareness of history, of foreign policy, of political and economic imperatives in the snippets of conversation (much of it hostile to Tasheva's project) captured.

First you go one way, and then you go another until you get the feeling that history is repeating itself, that there is no identity, that (as one comment in the book has it) we are all refugees and that the home that we manufacture for ourself is ultimately arbitrary. Necessary but arbitrary and as such perhaps we should manufacture our home with a little bit of kindness to those who are living there or those who are passing through. Is that too much to ask.

Buy the book here. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

From Beyond the Grave: Sarah Van Marcke's Errors and Residues

‘Errors and Residuals by Sarah van Marcke is a series of small carboard-bound artist's books which explore the archive of a deceased priest,  Ignace D.K. 

The story is that Ignace D.K. died in 2013 in the house that Van Marcke's parents subsequently moved into. His legacy was some kind of strange archive in which the dead Ignace D.K. attempted to assert control from beyond the grave on the preservation of his house, his gardens, his eccentricties. 

He left behind photos, documents, lists, and notes detailing how the house was to be preserved  after his death. He left behind pictures of his living room, all taken from the same view, with increasing and decreasing amounts of furniture. 

He made a nature research at the end of his back garden and maintained a natural pergola to guide the visitor to their horticultural destination. This was to be preserved by the incoming occupant for the next 10 years. 

This is the material Van Marcke works with in this series of artist's books. The book titled 'a view' contains Ignace's images of his forest pathway with a hole punched through them - Van Marcke's creation of a pathway to replicate the one that has been overgrown by nature. Even in death, Ignace's will lives on, as Van Marcke puts the latent powers of his archive into action. 

'A visit' (see above) details the time his house was photographed by a Google Street View van, an event Van Marcke writes about in a letter addressed to Ignace. She imagines his discomfort at an event taking place beyond his control, but also considers the way this temporarily preserves the memory he wants preserved - until the street view is updated and Ignace fades into the background. Archives can be accidental then. 

'A ritual' contains the repetitive pictures Ignace made of his living room and is accompanied by a short story, a rather wonderful short story about a grandmother who needs to look after her grandchild, about the rituals of habit and repetition we use to stay in our comfort zone - that's what Ignace did wiith his pictures, that's what the grandmother does when unexpectedly required to look after her grandchild. 

It's a conceptual affair where the imagined powers of Ignace's archive, or albums, or shoebox, are given life through Van Marcke's three very different interventions. Those interventions have a roughness about them; they're not perfectly formed, they're in line with the eccentricity of the original notes it feels. In that sense, it seems like there is an honesty to them. I'm not sure, but I think that matters. 

This is about an archive of sorts, but it leads with a voice that seeks to fulfil Ignace's wishes. I might be completely wrong in that, but that's the feeling I get. And I think it's what makes the series really thoughtful and considerate in the most human sense of the words. You get the feeling that if Ignace were some weird priest at some afterlife party, Van Marcke would seek him out and let him know that all was well, the tunnel was still there, the room still ordered and the lawn, though not quite as perfect as it could be, still in some kind of order. It's a book to reassure the dead, not the living, and that's quite sweet really. But as I said, I could be completely wrong in that.

Individual copies are available for 9 euros, or it's 22 euros for all three (with two more to be published in February).

Friday, 9 November 2018

Black Art, Black Hollywood, Bristol University and Doing the Right Thing

Whoever Heard of a Black Artist, Britain's Hidden History was a wonderful BBC documentary that looked at the artists, themes and ideas that emerged from the 1960s on about what it meant to be a black artist in Britain.

It looked in particular the Black British Arts Movement, a group that started up to counteract the marginalisation of black artists and to present new ideas on what art was in 1980s Britain (and here's an interesting read on why that time really mattered). Black Art was about marginalisation and the patronising tone of the establishment but it was primarily about great art and the energy and ingenuity that went into making it.

The 1980s was a time which had a huge before and after in photography, a time where the subcultural influences of the 1960s and 1970s were exploding into political and artistic directions with photographers like Vanley Burke, Ingrid Pollard, Clem Cooper, Pogus Caesar, Colin Jones, Dennis Morris, Neil Kenlock and many more creating a politically charged record of the time that extends into landscape, art and fashion. But the programme didn't really touch on that, it was far more conceptual than that. But as some of this work is possibly the most politically relevant and interesting of all the 1970s/1980s documentary work (which currently has such high profile here in the UK) to be made, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of it soon, but then again, I'm not holding my breath.

That's art then. Then there was film. It was really enlightening and entertaining to watch Simon Frederick's Black Hollywood: "You've gotta have us" on TV. It's a series in which Frederick (who also has Black is the New Black, photographs of successful Black Britons on show at the NPG) interviews a whole slew of successful actors, directors, writers and producers from Harry Belafonte to Boots Riley on the barriers, borders, excuses and lies put up to prevent black people making or appearing in films. It's about racism in the film industry then, but actually first and foremost it's about all these amazing films that have been made and the brilliant ways that people talk about them - and the ways that people tried to stop those films being made - the excuses ranged from "People aren't interested in that sort of thing" to responses like "A Black Henry V, whoever heard of such a thing!" which would be fine if movies were about any kind of accuracy, historical or otherwise. "A rabbit that talks, whoever heard of such a thing, A car that goes back in time, whoever heard of such a thing. " You could go on and on.

It gave me the excuse to watch some movies for the first time - films like Carmen Jones. a movie with an all African-American cast filmed in 12 days by producer/director Otto Preminger, and then watch  films again like Do the Right Thing.

One thing I'd forgotten about Spike Lee's film is how considered it is, how thoughtful and considered it is. Also notable is the use of a still photograph in the film. Running like a thread through Do the Right Thing is  the symbolic power of the photograph as the character Smiley tries to sell to whoever will buy them his hand-coloured pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

One person who will not buy them is Sal, owner of the local pizza parlour, a restaurant which has a wall decorated with stars of Italian background; Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Robert de Niro etc etc, they're all there.

And so the film goes on, with every character flawed, imperfect but thoroughly human in some way, every character filled with a spike of life that rubs up against other spikes, until Radio Raheem (another flawed character who plays Fight the Power and nothing else at full volume on his boombox) gets killed by the police. That was then, it could be now.

And then all hell breaks loose, and violence against the person is responded to by violence against property and the demons of the past are let loose on Sal's pizzeria. History isn't static in Do the Right Thing. It's embedded in the present, its traces live on, its traumas evident as the older you get the more injustice you have witnessed, the more it needs catharsis, the more time folds in on itself as repressed anger explodes into the destruction of Sal's pizzeria. It's not a like for like response, it's not an eye-for-an-eye, it's impotent at heart, another expression of rage, but if that's what you've got, that's what you've got.

But then there's Smiley's picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and ultimately that picture does get shown, it does get put up on the wall. Because pictures matter, they contain within them repressed histories, memories, injustices. They can have beauty, they can have violence, they can have depth. They can be like the character Mother-Sister who is all dignity and grace, until Raheem is killed and the depths of pain, memory and unexpressed anger explode into agonised screams of "Burn it Down, Burn it Down".

Pictures are like that. What you show, what you see, what you acknowledge is what matters. It mattered then and it matters now. And acknowledgement isn't much to ask.

I watched Do the Right Thing one day, the next day I saw this tweet on the new staff lounge at the Royal Fort Gardens at the University of Bristol. It features a painting of the Tyndalls Family, a family which had major slave-trading connections, and the Royal Fort was built with profits from the slave and allied trades. In other words they are a family who made their money and built their reputation on the back of kidnapping, imprisonment, rape, torture, and general brutality, all of which somehow evaporated over the distance of the Atlantic Ocean - and time.

It's part of Britain's amnesia and  the historical gaps that you find all the time when you wander around places like Bristol and Bath in particular, where the classical architecture is a constructed facade behind which all kinds of horrors lie. Again, they're a bit like Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing. There is the beauty, but behind it there are beatings, rapes, whipping and lynching. The difference is Mother Sister is on one side of that, the Royal Fort and the Tyndalls Family on the other.

And again, what you show and how you show it matters especially in a city like Bristol. And what you don't show and what you don't say. Sometimes that matters even more.