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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Best Books 2018

It's best books time. My selections range from the brilliant bijou small edition of Emilie Lauwers to the brilliant collaboration of Thomas Sauvin and Kensuke Koike. Click on the links to read more  and see more.

And for the meta-list, go here for Viory Schellekens meta-list.

Emilie Lauwers: Er is Geen Boek (There is no book)

It's both a classic collaborative project, as well as a form of mapping. It maps out the town of Zeldate in a literal sense, put also provides a place and a geography in which the people Emilie worked with are placed centre stage.

Most interestingly, it's a project that is in part about creating a sense of culture in a town that apparently has none, but is even more about bringing out the culture that is already there. It's a psychogeographic project that rethinks a place on the terms of the people who are living there, in terms of cultures that are suppressed within the institutions, expectations and organisations that are seen to dominate the physical and psychogical landscape. It's multi-layered and it's quite fantastic. It's collaborative but it also has a sense of direction and purpose. It's something to be proud of.

Sohrab Hura: Look it's getting sunny outside

‘Look it’s getting sunny outside’ is a love story, between Ma, Elsa and Hura himself. It’s an extension of his photographic struggle to come to grips with his mother’s mental illness, an illness detailed in his earlier book, ‘Life is Elsewhere’. In ‘Life is Elsewhere’, the story was a fragmented, psychotic rendition of Hura seeking external refuge from his home, his family, his mother, and the father that had left them. In ‘Look, it’s getting sunny outside’, as Ma’s condition improves, Hura photographs more in the home, capturing his mother’s relationship with her beloved dog, Elsa. 

On Abortion: Laia Abril

A History of Misogyny: Chapter One. That’s the title of Laia Abril’s latest book and it’s an important one. On the cover of the book On Abortion is erased with a black pen. Scrawled below in pencil is the subheading, ‘And the Repercussions of Lack of Access’.

Flick to the back pages and the very direct and transparent description of the book begins: ‘Every year 47,000 women around the world die due to botched illegal abortions.’

And that’s what the book’s about; the control of fertility, the control of women’s bodies, and the death, suffering and misery that results because of it. It’s a book that’s about something, a book that advocates and is part of a wider body of work on misogyny that Abril is making over a longer period of time.

It’s a book of substance then, and the substance starts with the cover and the endpapers. These feature old newspaper advertisements that feature pills, medicines, and treatments that promise to deal with “the cure of all cases where nature has been stopped in its effects.” It’s a double page spread of synonyms for pregnancy and abortion; “Irregularity, diseases peculiar to females, the most obstinate cases, diseases lurking in the system, cases where nature has stopped,” is some of the language used.

Sergiy and Victor Kochetov: Kochetov

This is pure visual pleasure, the hand-coloured luricki of Sergiy and Victor Kochetov, an example of serious don't-give-a-fuck photography when not giving a fuck was a political statement (of sorts).

Raymond Meeks: Halfstory Halflife

It’s Edenic, it’s ritualistic, and it’s threatening all at the same time. These young men (there are a handful of women in the book) walk along paths and throw themselves into the darkness of a nature that is far from benign. If it is Eden, it’s Eden after the Fall, which makes it a land where misogyny is written into the very soil. This is an American wilderness, half-Promised Land and Manifest Destiny, half Heart of Darkness. Fragments of grass stand in focus against blurred bodies, tightly wound torsos launching themselves into a dark unseen water.

Kensuke Koike and Thomas Sauvin: Three different editions of No More No Less, all wonderful (published by Skinnerboox, Jiazazhi, and TheM éditions)

“People think I make these on one attempt but it’s not true. I always apply the final decision on the original, but even though I try to make it as simple as possible, it takes 20 times to get it right.”

“We made an exhibition in Guangzhou, China. We showed this and at that moment we received many offers from publishers,” says Koike. Instead of going for a straightforward single edition however, Koike’s collaborator and manager of the project, Thomas Sauvin, decided to choose a more complex option; to have three different editions of the same book, to be launched at Paris Photo on the same day.

“I asked the three publishers if they would be willing to be part of this adventure on the same day. I received three positive answers without negotiations on that same day! Three felt like the right number. Two would have been a bold competition. Four would have been redundant. Three felt right. Plus I wanted one in Italy, where Koike lives, one in France, where I live, one in China, where the original album comes from.”

“There were three rules; 1. Make a publication in an edition of four hundred, 2. Have it ready for Nov 1st 3. Don't exchange with us in any way.”

Carmen Winant: My Birth

"Very few people asked me about my birth… Most people… are uneasy at the topic. Voices lower, bodies lean out. It is difficult to address suffering, and for the most part I understand their silence as graciousness. Still, I want to say: anguish is only one in a range of dramatic physical sensations that occur; it was more than the pain endured. I want to reassure: my body split open and poured out in front of strangers. I shed any nervousness on this topic along with the solids and fluids. I want to beg: just ask me."

That’s the introduction to Carmen Winant’s My Birth, a book that provides a visual and written response to that "just ask me" plea, a response that came out of the birth of her first child. The book comprises images of birth; found photographs, anonymous photographs and images of "the artist’s mother in the process of giving birth to her own children."

In Belief is Power: Hristina Tasheva

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.

 Chris Killip: Set of 4 Newsprint Publications

A brilliant set of 4 newspapers that puts old classics and unseen images into a new, affordable context. There are so many things that are admirable about this series - I'll be writing more on this in the New Year.

Read more in an upcoming issue of Photomonitor.

Andrés Orjuela: Archivo Muerto

In Archivo Muerto, Andrés Orjuela has worked  on original press prints (which were saved by collectors from recycling for paper) from what was the archive of Colombia's El Espacio, a newspaper that for five decades published bloodstained gore from the 'prehistory' of the drug trafficking that has been immortalised, celebrated and glamourised in the Netflix series Pablo Escobar (which I haven't seen).

The glamourisation of Escobar's a sore point with Orjuela. He believes it whitewashes the drug lord  (even phrase like drug lord, or drug baron confer a nobility that shields the reality of Escobar's crimes) and conceals the political and economic realities of the cocaine trade; Netflix, says Orjuela, and all the broadcasters and publishers who are involved in the glorification of Escobar '..maliciously conceal the relations among the CIA, the mafia and the dark regimes from Central and South America.'

Txema Salvans: My Kingdom (Special Edition)

That seems to be the case with Txema Salvans' My Kingdom, a book for which he made phenomenal pictures. It’s a pleasure to look at, but that for Salvans is not enough. My Kingdom is a book of images of Spanish holidaymakers enjoying a day at the beach. When Martin Parr made The Last Resort, he first and foremost made a book of great pictures. There’s a bit of The Last Resort, Spanish style, about My Kingdom.

But there’s a different edge to them as well, a political edge, a bit of Chris Killip if you like, mixed with Ricardo Cases and his Spanish perspective. My Kingdom shows Spanish holidaymakers enjoying their days off against these specifically measured examples of Mediterranean brutalism; flyovers, bypasses, power plants, cement works, pipelines, balconies, apartment blocks, rubbish bins, discarded mattresses, all the detritus of a despoiled, constructed landscape.

(This review is especially for the special edition - you buy this set of stamps and place them in the book at specific points - the stamps fit, the idea fits, it's a great idea. I bought the stamps and everything but then I lost them. They'll turn up)

Matthew Genitempo: Jasper

There is minimal text in Jasper. You read the landscapes, the interiors of the lean-tos and shacks, and they feed into the images of the people portrayed in the book. It’s a lyrical back and forth between imagined psyches, imagined histories, and imagined landscapes. There are no captions to pin things down, to render impotent the ambiguity of the images, the viewer is instead drawn into the resonances between one image and the next.

The theme of escape, and the partner idea of the woods as a place of refuge, a place to escape to, is apparent throughout the book, but the danger here is of romanticising the landscape and the people living within it. “That’s the thing I have to come to terms with,” says Genitempo. “The earlier photographs I took are a lot more romantic, a lot more idealistic, and the later photographs are more the reality of what living in the forest entails.

Read more in the January 2019 issue of the BJP

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