I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
The Hot Book!
I quite like the idea of the 'hot' book, I like the idea of limited editions and books selling out and oh, look, I've got one and it's worth lots of money.
It's all a load of nonsense of course, but it adds a certain energy and gives us all something to talk about.
The 'hot' book at Photobook Bristol was Hidden Islam by Nicolo Degiorgis. Well, that was one of the hot books. There were a few others but I'm not going to mention them, they're sleeper hot books.
One of the reasons it was a 'hot' book because Martin Parr said, "This is the hot book". I think he might like the buzz and the nonsense of it all.
The other reason it is a 'hot' book is because it's a really good book ( as is Oasis, the other book by Degiorgis) that I'll be reviewing elsewhere I hope. It invites you in and the quality jumps out at you. It's a book of black and white pictures of all these anonymous places that fold out to reveal colour pictures of people at prayer. So there's the outside, open it up and there's the inside. Most of these places of prayer have no signs attached. That's why it's Hidden Islam. Because it's in Italy and Islam is hidden. You could give it another reading as well.
It's a really good book that took a long time to make, has great design, something to say and multiple layers in other words. And it will sell out and will be a bit more expensive by the end of the year.
I had a chat with Degiorgis before the festival began and pretty much the first thing he came out with was that not all the interiors matched the exteriors, that sometimes the people shown at prayer were not praying in the sites shown on the outside.
And that kind of niggled. Because if has some typological elements then part of that typological language is a certain rigour and consistency. That's the way it works, isn't it.
I've been writing about Spanish photography this last week. I interviewed Ricardo Cases and Joan Fontcuberta for the July edition of the BJP, the one focussing on Spanish photography. Fontcuberta talked about the language of typology and the way that it is used to convey truth.
He said that particular language, and the assumptions that go with it, are all conventions that convey a certain authority on images, an authority that is authoritarian in nature. It's all a load of stuff and nonsense in other words. It's a way of framing our images with authority and connecting them to a broader tradition and ideas of clinical truth, objectivity and reason.
It happens all the time. On the radio this morning I heard a story about a panel of art experts who had been pontificating for 8 months about whether a painting was by Rembrandt or someone else. They proclaimed that it was indeed a Rembrandt and was worth 30 MILLION POUNDS. Which made me think both of Doctor Evil and the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch of the East is certified as absolutely, undeniably dead.
So I thought about that and I thought about Hidden Islam and I wondered what Nicolos should have done. Should he have just trimmed the book a bit, or not said anything. Or should he have lied, told a little fib in the interests of consistency. I wondered about that and then I wondered at every other super consistent typology or series where consistency is the word. I'm sure most of them are as truthful as can be with nary a deception to be found, but then I wondered how many people had fibbed maybe just a little, how many little problems have been ironed out, how many happy compositional synchronisities have been discovered through a little forking of the tongue.
And I realised that would be a little dishonest and that the truth is better and more refreshing. But that at the same time, that openess and honesty is somehow at odds with the visual style. It's like there is a certain convention of talking that goes with the photography and Degiorgis doesn't do that. He's using the authority of the style and then ripping it out from under his feet by being up front and open.
So there is a mode of discourse that goes with this apparently objective style, and the assumptions of the typology stick with us even though we know they are nonsense. It's like squaring the circle. I guess it's the same with Fontcuberta's work. He has fun with the presentation of science and makes merry with vitrines and the archive. But the vitrine of the art world is where his reputation is made. It's like he rips the ground from under his feet, but still he floats. And that's a miracle!