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, 21 June 2016
Photobook Packaging and The Rivers of Power
I just wrote a piece for Photo Eye on Eamonn Doyle's mad new book End.. That's double full stops because the title End. has a full stop in it which I really don't like the look of and is kind of annoying.
But the wrapping is not annoying. In the review, which I really enjoyed writing, I rather obsess on it and talk about humming and hawing over opening it because it looks so lovely wrapped up in its yellow cellophane.
But at least I did open it which is more than some people. I met somebody who, for two long weeks, couldn't bring themself to tear into the gorgeous wrapping, who still laboured under the illusion that the book was yellow and not white. Tear the wrapping off and you get a white leatherette slipcase.
Then there's packaging. It used to be that if you sent a book in the post, it was a relatively straightforward affair of wrapping the book up with some kind of protection and sending it off. Not anymore.
If you are at all acquainted with European photobook booksellers, you'll know Tipi Bookstore. This is run by Andrea Copetti who has taken book packaging to an art form. He sends books in packages that are covered in vernacular photography and are works in themself. It looks phenomenal. I'm going to have to order something from him just in the hope that I'll hit the packaging jackpot.
But even for photographers, the packaging is becoming increasingly intricate. Take Alejandro Cartagena and his new book, Rivers of Power. This was sent in a regular Jiffy envelope but with custom made green stickers on, including one with an image from the book printed on it. There was a message on the back too,
'Hope you enjoy it! Ale'
The book itself was wrapped in paper that had the same image printed on it as the sticker.. This image showed a line of men in an office standing next to what looks like a politician. And the line of men look like gangsters. Or police? Whatever, it sets the scene for the book. And if you don't know the title of the book, this wrapping paper was sealed with another sticker, this one in grey with the title of the book printed over it.
So there you go. It's the old idea of Saul Bass that the film starts with the titles. The book starts before the title or the cover page. It starts with the wrapping. It gives you a reason to open the book. It makes you want to look.
Then you open the wrapping and you have a slipcase holding a book in place. There's a lot of text on the slipcase but, because you are curious about the men you saw on the wrapping paper, and because you think you have an idea what it will be about, you read the text. In its entirety.
It's all about the Santa Catarina River in Monterey, a river that man has tried to tame through hydraulic engineering, through underground diversions, through successive civil engineering projects that have attempted to hide the river and tame its feral rivine nature. Unsuccessfully of course, because a river is a river and over the years hurricanes and floods have let the good folk of Monterrey know in in no uncertain terms that it is alive and kicking and its flow will not be stemmed.
It's a book about Monterrey then, and in that respect it connects to all of Cartagena's other books, in particular his fantastic Carpoolers, a book which looks at the social divisions of the city and its attempts to hide away the less wealthy elements of the town.
The river's not for hiding though. Cartagena shows archive pictures of the city both in flood and not. One picture of the ranging currents is juxtaposed with what looks like the flooded city in drier times, a reminder that the potential for flooding is always there. You see the works, the politicians, the grafters, and then we're into the colour, contemporary city.
It's a city shown in the rain. Ordinary rain in an urban setting but interspersed with graps from what might be reports of extreme weather. If you've ever lived in a place that has been flooded out, you'll know what that means. There's an anxiety to rainfall that you just don't get if you're living somewhere high and dry.
Next comes pictures of the floods, then we're into the attempts to tame it and the swamps and grasslands that line the river's edge. There's the river's bed, the spaces that line the river, all liminal and Edgelandy with their coach parks and market spaces, Finally we get damage done by the river, the broken roads and the cracked tarmac, before a final dose of the river tamed is given.
It's a great book in which you're imersed in a full range of different images from different sources. There's also the sense that the books Cartagena makes, as well as being works in themselves, are also punctuation marks in a larger body of work that he's already semi-visualising in his photobooks, that the books, though great, are just a stepping stone to some huge installation that will one day take up a couple of floors of one of the world's major museums. There's a feeling that the book isn't everything, that the book is just the beginning.
Buy Rivers of Power here.