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Monday, 19 March 2018

What is it that is so attractive about San Sebastian

For many reasons, as I look out of my window at the melting snow, I am beyond excited to be talking at the San Telmo Fotolibros Fenomenon festival in San Sebastian (top left, by the park in the screengrab) on May 12th with Julian Baron, Jon Uriarte and Laia Abril.

Julian Baron will be also be running a workshop (the images below are from the last workshop he ran in Bristol!) and showing us all how to book-jockey.

I'll be talking about All Quiet on the Home Front, domesticity and historical interference in the family album amongst other things, Laia Abril will talk about her work (including On Abortion which is a phenomenal book!) and Jon Uriarte will moderate a discussion on the intersection between image, education, entertainment and the limitations of generic confinement in the photobook world. Or something along those lines...

The event will take place at the Museo San Telmo on Saturday May 12th as part of a programme of events organised in conjunction with Gabriela Cendoya-Bergareche. The wonderful Gabriela donated her collection of photobooks to form a permanent resource accessible both physically and digitally. Her blog is also a brilliant resource of in-depth book reviews.

Other activities at the museum include a discussion by Martin Parr, Horacio Fernandez (writer of Fotografia Publica - the original Pre-Parr Photobook History), and Gabriela Cendoya (moderated by Moritz Neumuller).

What also catches the eye is the conference and workshop (workshops) by Awoiska van der Molen, Federico Clavarino and Jon Casanave, a workshop which, if my eyes don't deceive me, is 80 euros for 3 days. In San Sebastian!

This is part of the increasing sophistication of landscape and the way in which it is incorporating (in simplified terms)  approaches to landscape and space that include spiritual (van der Molen - her image above), political (Clavarino) and territorial (Casanave) power.

For more information on the workshop and conference, look here

I think sometimes in photography we look at new things and then leave them be rather than revisiting them, or we get rather parochial and what happens in one part of the world passes us by. This is certainly the case with Jon Casanave in particular (that's his image above). His Ama Lur is one of the great landscape books that is less well-known in the UK ( at least). It's part of the metaphysical approach to landscape that is also exemplified by the brilliant work of van der Molen, Katrin Koening and Sarker Protick as well as many others.

Anyhow, this is from a review of Ama Lur I did for Photo-Eye a few years back. Unfortunately I couldn't find the book. I lent it a student who didn't give it back. Please give it back if you have it. It's a wonderful book.

The title of Jon Cazenave’s first book is Ama Lur. That’s Basque for Native Land, and that is exactly what his book is about, the land of the Basque Country, and how it is lived, experienced and seen. 

Cazenave’s landscape narrative is pinned down by a series of images of cave paintings. These paintings might not be far from the surface, but Cazenave takes us deep into the earth, a fact emphasised by the deep black vignetting found at the edges of the images. The lines, the dots and the primitive designs look as though they have been illuminated by flashlight, adding to the exploratory nature of the images; the idea is that Cazenave is getting on his hands and knees and trawling into a kind of Basque subconscious.

A picture of a handprint emphasises both the tactile element apparent in the making of the pictures and the way in which identity and landscape are so strongly connected. So we see a series of cave interiors, a painting leads to stalactites and then a shot of an opening to the world above. But with the light streaming in from outside, everything becomes upside down and it looks like glowing magma; we’re in the bowels of the earth, and the primal rules. Flick the page and we see the palms of two hands, all prints and lines and texture. It’s a mirror of the rock we see in the next image, its surface scratched by lines that might have been left 20,000 years ago, but were probably made by Cazenave himself. Kinship with the past is claimed. 

There are more matchings. A picture of wet horse hair, all matted and spiked and swirled like an over-gelled adolescent is matched with the texture of a stippled rock. Only this time the rock looks like the belly of a turtle. Maybe it is the belly of a turtle, because the sea gets a look in, in both close up and medium shot, its waves all fluffy and blurred as they merge into the rocks of the shore. 

The elements get mixed up as the sea turns to cloud, and a picture of the moon (or is it the sun – they look so similar in dark photographs) shows it cutting through a black skyscape. The capillaries of tree branches are echoed in pictures of what might be cave paintings or might be rocks veined with minerals.

We can’t tell and as the book goes on the human and the geological come together. The elements become inseparable till we don’t know what is water, rock, cloud, or fire. 

We can see the snow covered slopes of a mountain, but which way round does it go? And what is that in the picture that precedes it? Is it a flooded underwater cavern or a flipped picture of the seabed? And is that rock at the top or seaweed?

The world is merging together. A glitter of dust (maybe) mirrors the night sky, the flesh of a woman’s buttocks and thighs mirrors that of cave rock, and the cave rock in turn is lit to look like the upturned neck of a human. Ama Lur is the latest in a line of photobooks where landscapes, histories and identity are merged in deep blacks and speckled greys. And that is the idea behind Ama Lur, that we are born of the land and though the land may not care for us, if you rip us from the land then you rip our historical hearts out.


Unknown said...

Seems like a great opportunity... but I think the workshops are held in Spanish, which narrows down the target group quite a bit. Great article though...

colin pantall said...

Jon Casanave's is in Spanish, Awoiska and Federico's in English with translation to Spanish... the afternoon sessions where they all join up are in English I think.