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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

London, a City Paved in Grey

There is a lot of photography of London but somehow it doesn't quite seem to be as photographic a city as Paris or New York for example. Maybe that's because nowhere has been so consistently photographed as Paris or New York. Even in projects that are very different the visual symptoms of stress, romance, aggression or cuisine are still there to link in to an overriding visual idea of what a city is.

You have to go out of your way to make Paris not look like Paris and New York not look like New York. It's difficult to do. That's why books like Paul Graham's The Present is such an interesting idea of a book. It's pictures of a New York that doesn't look like New York. Except that maybe it does; a New York that is a bit unglamorous really, and more like the rest of America than some would like to imagine.

So what about London. That's still kind of stuck in some 1960s Austin Powers/Blow Up image. It's a city of villages, of cliches, class gets in the way. Maybe there is a lot of London photography, it just doesn't seem that way given the size and self-importance of the place.

Lots of foreign photographers have photographed the city. Recently, Lorenzo Vitturi captured a small slice of the city and the changes it is going through in Dalston Anatomy. A lot of people, including myself, really love that book for its colour, energy and sense of place. Some people have a real antipathy to it, because of its colour, energy and sense of place seen through non-purist, Dalston eyes. Which is interesting in itself.

Then there is Anthony Cairn's LDN2,  published by the Archive of Modern Conflict. Here process is everything. The pictures were made on 35mm transparencies which were developed, solarised, developed some more and then printed onto aluminium sheets before heading for the printed page. So what comes out is a bunch of messed up metallic prints with flaws, fingerprints and scratches.

The book is an oversized loose leaf affair ( and it looks and feels great - here's the original small edition that is long sold out). The budget isn't in question here. We're not talking about a publisher struggling to make ends meet by the look of LDN2. You slip it out of it's wrapping and grab the black cover with your grubby hands and hey presto, the processing and printing flaws are suddenly mirrored by the touch of your greasy palms on the near-black cover. And then the dust settles. And then you notice a little nick and then suddenly you mint edition isn't so mint anymore, an effect that seems to be somehow built into all of their books, by psychological accident if not design.

The London of the book also match the processing. This is a London of neutralised and defensive space; it's grey tarmac with bollards, post and lights. There's a dull sheen to this London, its walls, alleys, office blocks and car parks. No people, just anonymous places where bureaucracy and business happens. And even when a place is recognisable, it's still anonymous; this is a London that has been stripped of life, that has fallen victim to a corporate social cleansing.

It's a post-apocalyptic London, but you with an apocalypse that has crept up on the city, that has been constructed around London  by stealth. One minute this was a city with a soul and a heart and a life, the next it is a globalized city state in which all signs of non-corporate, non-consuming life are swept away at night by some kind of urban social cleansing.

The pictures look like they are part of that cleansing. The processing flaws give them a forensic feel. They look like surveillance pictures on which disallowed ways of being, of moving, of thinking register. @And once they register they need to be removed. But they never can because that is not the nature of either people or places, even the non-places that feature in LDN2.

Thepictures are depressing and that's where their heritage kicks in. They have a Japanese feel to them, reminding the viewer of Nakahira's For a Language to Come; pictures where the city almost collapses in on its high contrast self. In that sense they connect to other photographers working with extreme processing - Daisuke Yokota for example - and so bring the psychological language of 1970s Japan back to London.

So LDN2 is a globalised photography working in a globalised city with traditional techniques. It's contradictory and it's not pretty. But it does make sense, and for work that is operating in such marginal places it has a remarkable sense of place. More importantly, it gives us a feeling of the ideology that has made that place.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Don't Believe the Hype. It's not really Hype

picture by Eamonn Doyle

The Amazon Turns Everything to Shit post got a lot of attention and a few misunderstandings. Some people thought I meant that photobook-making should be some hairshirt cut-and-paste budget operation. And it can be. Café Royal Books make really cheap saddle-stitched (stapled) photobooks on a budget. And they look great. Head over here and buy some.

And some people thought I meant that you should only make really expensive books, bound in  unicorn hide and presented in a box carved out of a single piece of the inner-most rings of the tree of life. And  that’s fine (except for the tree of life and unicorn parts - find something less destructive for your books please. Don't be destructive and vulgar) if you have the cash. Amc have the cash and they make beautiful books.

But that’s projection I think, and most of the piece was on the business of photobooks and the hype of it all and the central idea that the hype is really hyped. The photobook world  is not that big, most of the numbers and prices and deal-making that you see does not really exist – it’s all smoke and mirrors.

So with that in mind, I thought it would be good to present a couple of hyped books (that will probably sell out in the next couple of months and be listed for a few hundred pounds on ebay).

The first is Eamonn Doyle’s i. I heard about this book from a student (thank you Paul Fox) who saw it on the Hardcore Street Photography flickr page where Martin Parr, in a post titled, 'The best new street photo book I have seen in a decade', said: 

Hello hard core street people!
Take a look at this book, very small edition ( 750) self published by an
Irish photographer, beautiful printing, and great images.
I am sure it will sell out pretty quickly.
On top of this the simplicity and directness of the images is brilliant.
You heard about it here first.
Martin Parr

I don't know if  it is the the best new street photo book, but it is a lovely book with a very simple design that highlights Doyle's main subjects; old people on the streets of Dublin. There's a focus on backs, on coats, on the weight of the world on their shoulders, and he hits the street photo sweet spot of getting both a sense of the democratic into the book and doing something that is really simple; because most of the time, Doyle photographs pictures of backs. 

Maybe that's one of the reasons it's such a powerful book. We have all photographed pictures of backs, we've all thought about them, but Doyle is the person who has got in there first-ish and invested the time and the money in making it something that looks fantastic. 

And he spent money on it; on the design, the paper, the binding, the whole process. He's gone down the route of putting in £20,000 give or take five grand into publishing his own book. And he's sent them out to people like Parr and got a big bite. He's lucky in that respect but a lot of background hard work has also gone into the book. 

Parr's comment instantly rippled the book out to other people (and he recommended it as a book of the week for Photo Eye, and I have reviewed it for them) and that is helping very much in selling the book. So it's a hyped book and it will almost sell itself. That, very simply, is how hype, in photobook terms, works. I don't really see it as hype though, or as a bad thing. If that's what hype amounts to, it's pretty lame. Get over being affected by it. And if you can't get over it, tThe only way to prevent it is to stop people giving opinions about books. But opinions about books and the expression of those opinions are what makes it all so interesting.

Eamonn Doyle's i is a book where the photographer had money to spend. Another book that is getting a lot of attention (and I saw it on Josef Chladek's excellent photobook showcase) is Euromaidan by Vladislav Krasnoshek and Sergiy Lebedynskyy.

This is a book that memorialises the protests in Kiev. But it's a book that is made on a limited budget - it's handmade with a sewing-machine binding on 21cm x 15cm paper - which I'm guessing was printed off digitally somehow. 

It's a protest book then, which brings Japanese aesthetics to a 21st century conflict - which is also kind of obvious but Krasnoshek and Lebedynskyy got in there and made it happen. I guess their book will sell out too and, like Eammon Doyle's book, be listed for outlandish prices on ebay. 

But that's not happening yet. They're worth the £30 that you pay for them now. They're worth that now and even in the future, in monetary terms that's still what they're worth as far as I'm concerned. Because when you buy a photobook, the value is in the feel, in the touch, in the feel of the paper upon your naked flesh.... no that's nonsense! I'm going to get 10 of each. 2 x 10 x £200 = £4,000. Whoo - I'm in the money! Over £3,000 profit, etcetera, etcetera... continued in Delusional Hut, Daydream Beach, Fantasy Island, Parallel Universe in a galaxy far, far, four hundred volts please-------------------------------------------------------

Friday, 25 April 2014

Amazon Turns Everything to Shit

Max Pinckers new book. If you like the look of it, buy it when it comes out, before it sells out. And if you don't, don't buy it. And if you don't have the money, don't buy it either. 

This post on photobooks got a bit of attention. In comments I have had in various places there seems to be an assumption that photobook publishers have the photobook market in their hands, that they are playing with the photobook buyer and raking in stacks of cash.

There is the idea that publishers should make open editions that just constantly sell - that never go out of print as long as there is a demand. Connections were made to Blurb and their deal with Amazon. If only all photographers/publishers did print-on-demand books in open editions then anyone who wanted to buy a book could buy a book was the general idea. Books would never sell out, they'd always be available.

While I have a little sympathy for that idea. No, actually, I have no sympathy for that idea. Blurb is generic publishing that is good when there is no other option - when you don't have enough time, or are completely lacking in cutting and pasting skills (analogue or digital) to make something that is going to be a million times better with every glue-stained page and creased cloth cover. Blurb is generic and it is good for generic uses. But if you want to make somethng interesting, forget it.

As for the Amazon hook-up being a good thing, please do me a favour. Amazon is a money-leaching virus that attacks us through our cheapskate hearts. I have a cheapskate heart and getting that big overpackaged Amazon box does leave me feeling cheaper by the minute. Cheaper and I get the odd inkling that I have played my part in destroying jobs, towns, cities and communities. Everything that Amazon touches turns to shit. Cheap shit for now, but the price is rising by the minute.

I am lucky enough to live in Bath. It's a precious place with precious book shops. Toppings is one, but my favourite is Mr B's  Emporium of Reading Delights. This is a bookshop run by people who love books. The whole bookshop is like an echo chamber of book love. It's a great place to visit, a great place to work in, and a great place to discover and buy new books. Go in to Mr B's and someone will ask if you need a bit of help and then you are off. Suggestions come in, recommendations of what people liked, what they didn't, what might hit the spot. Pretty soon, you have too many books to choose from, too many books that you can't wait to read.

A few months back, my wife went to Mr B's and  bought me We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. It's a Danish book in translation, the story of a Danish village of seafarers. It follows a number of families from the 19th century to the end of the Second World War.  My wife wouldn't have bought it off her own back. I wouldn't have. It was recommended to her by somebody who had read it and loved it and communicated that passion to my wife. And so I got it. And I loved it. And if you ever want photography to go with the book, think Jean Gaumy. Yes!

Mr B's has passion and a soul. It is about as far as you can get from an Amazon warehouse as you can imagine. Mr B's sells books that have been cared for by people who care, written by people who care and, most of the time, published by people who care.

Amazon don't care about books, any more than they care about hdmi cables or RCA sockets. All that matters is the bottom line.

The bottom line matters to photobook publishers as well (and this is excluding trade publishers who are a different breed entirely). For most of the small ones, the bottom line is the bottom of the publisher's pocket. They subsidise their artistic endeavours in other words. Most of the time this is because of a passion for a particular kind of photography, design, aesthetic or set of values. Sometimes there is a careerist element; do this and you'll get ahead in some way. Sometimes it's part of an entrepreneurial battle. Invest the energy and somewhere along the line, money will come out. But attached to that entrepreneurship there is also a love of books. If people really wanted to make money and nothing but money, they'd be selling something entirely different; hdmi cables for example.

Some of the time, publishers even make money of a sort out of their enterprise. Their books are subsidised; by benefactors with big wallets, or by a few select clients with a big wallet, or by academic institutions, or by governments or municipalities or arts councils.

But most of the time, photobooks are subsidised by the photographer. You pay your £7,000 or £10,000 or £20,000 and go to Italy or China or Sweden or Ireland or wherever and check the proofs, make a video then wait for your 1,000 photobooks to get printed in return. Publishing and printing aren't the same in other words.

And then you have to sell them. Some books sell themself. You can see them and know they will go in a flash. Mike Brodie's Period of Juvenile Prosperity was one, Lorenzo Vitturi's Dalston Anatomy was another, But most don't go that fast. Most don't sell out.

And even if they do sell out, who's making money from it? Nobody? Once you've paid for the printing, the packaging, the posting, the sending out of free copies, the trudging to and from the post office, the talks, the fairs and everything else, there is not that much left. It's exhausting just talking to people who have had a 'successful' sold-out book. These are the lucky ones. Think of all the people who have not sold out their books, the pallets and boxes and stacks of unsold copies in warehouses, storage spaces, attics and cupboards and under beds! That's a burden to bear.

And what if you do sell 1,000 copies at £25 a copy. You'll make a bit of profit, but for the labour spent on all of the above things, you'd be better off getting a job at the Amazon Warehouse outside Swansea. But Swansea's too far away, and you have a soul after all and want to do something interesting if not lucrative, so you crack on. You move on to something new and leave the old behind.

And that, quite simply, is why people can't be bothered to put out another edition after the first one sells out. Because it's not about simply pressing a little button and watching the books selling out automatically. Because it isn't worth the effort and it won't make any money and it will take up far too much time, and the next one will be better anyways.

And you leave everybody who is worrying about the availability and the ebay cost to their own devices, while secretly hoping that the price goes really high because you have kept 50 copies to one side. And that's fine. If you've kept 250 out of 1,000 aside, well that's a different barrel of fish...

Speaking for myself, I kind of like the stupid "is it going to sell out? Ooh, look, it's £300 on ebay" speculation. It's dumbass but I'm there or thereabouts. I like the daft energy of it even though I know that I'm wrong and I'm awful at speculation. I like buying an extra copy of books that I think are going to do well, and then regret not looking after them better so I can never sell them. And if they do do well, I always regret not buying 10 copies or 20 copies or 100 copies even though that regret is based on a false model of getting free instant profit for my investment. As with book publishing, it doesn't work that way.

That's why I don't resent dealers who buy 20 or 30 copies of a book hoping the price will go up. Because even if it does go up to £300 on ebay it doesn't mean you're going to get £300 for it on ebay or anywhere else. Not for one copy and even less so for 20 copies. Book selling is a long game and well done for anyone who has the spirit and the patience to do it well.

I also think that a lot of the hostility to publicity about photobooks (and about Parr and Badger in particular) is because of knowledge that has been gained from Parr and Badger. We all know about the Solitude of Ravens and the like because of Parr and Badger or similar publications. And one of the jobs books about photobooks do is make them look great. And so they do. And then we covet them. The solution is either for books about photobooks not to exist - or for them to exist and then try and make the photobooks they feature look a bit crap; "the next book we'll feature is Barakei by Eikoh Hosoe. Here is the spine from the 1963 edition. Pretty dull isn't it. Just another book spine. Don't bother buying it. You'll only be disappointed."

One person complained to me that they couldn't buy William Klein's New York because it was too expensive because had been "hyped". "But Errata published a facsimile," I said. "Why don't you buy that?" But they couldn't buy that because it "wasn't the same." Wasn't the same as what? As the copy they'd seen "hyped" all over the place for the last 30 years. Do me a favour!

And no, the Errata Edition is not the same, but I'd still buy a copy. But my money is going elsewhere. And that's the problem. Most of us can't buy everything we want. I remember when Dewi Lewis republished New York and I craved a copy. But it cost £80. And I didn't have £80. What was the solution. I didn't buy it. Simple really.

So there you have it. I've sometimes had a problem with a book being sold out, I've more often had a problem with me wanting a book and not having the money for it, but I've never had a problem finding something really good to buy - be it old or be it new.

Here are some Photobook places that aren't Amazon where you will find some great books that aren't sold out and some that are sold-out, and some that used to be sold out...

RRB Books
Photobook Store
Claire de Rouen
Photo Eye
L'Ascenseur Vegetal
Le Bal

And many, many more. There's a map somewhere with all the independent photobook stores mentioned. Can somewhere send me a link so I can put it up?

Thanks Lewis at Disphotic for

The London Bookshop Map

Thanks to Matt Johnston for The Photobook Club World Map of Photobook Stores

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Reconciled through Photography: A Happy Ending from India, Sort Of

pictures by Arko Datta and Sebastian D'Souza

Here is an uplifting story of redemption, salvation and photography, this time from India and focussing on what many believe to be the provincial state-sanctioned killings of Muslims in Gujarat 2002. The man who allegedly sanctioned the killings is set to be become India's prime-minister, though money and political power may tone down his nationalist edge. 

The story focussed on two men, one Hindu, one Muslim, '...whose images came to define some of India’s deadliest communal violence.'

'One of the photographs - which capture different incidents during more than a week of violence - is of Qutubuddin Ansari, a Muslim man whose home had been torched by a Hindu mob and who was pleading with the police to save him. His face is filled with terror.

The other is of Ashok Parmar, a Hindu, whose head was wrapped in a saffron scarf and who wielded an iron bar against a backdrop of flames and mayhem. His face was twisted with anger.'

12 years later and '...the two men in the photographs have been reaching out to each other in a way that is little short of staggering. Last month, Mr Ansari, 40, and Mr Parmar, 39, shared a platform at an event in Kerala where the latter apologised for the horrors inflicted on the Muslim community.

"I shook his hand and said 'I am happy to meet you'," Mr Parmar recalled this week, sitting at his roadside cobbler's stand. "I said I regretted what happened in 2002. I am very sorry." Mr Ansari, a father-of-three who works as a garment stitcher, said of the meeting: "He said he had seen my photograph in the paper and that it should not have happened. It was a public apology. I think my photograph was instrumental in changing the attitude of Ashok."'

Ansari was photographed as a mob gathered to burn down his house and it is probably the photographer Arko Datta and other photographers who saved his life. '"I thought we would be dead in ten minutes," said Mr Ansari, wiping his eyes as he flicked through a photo album of his blackened, destroyed neighbourhood and remembered friends who were killed..."Arko Datta was like a gift from God."'

It's a great story and one with many undercurrents that connect to contemporary politics, memory and the 'trauma created by the photograph.' I get the feeling there's a whole bunch of stories but let's stick with the happy one today.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Daily Mirror: Manipulation always Matters

This picture appeared in the Daily Mirror last week. It's a picture illustrating a campaign on food banks and the rising tide of food poverty in the UK. Food poverty is when people go hungry. It's a step above malnutrition. It affects how people live and work, it affects their relationships, their education and prevents them from moving out of whatever hole they find themself in for whatever reason. It's real, it's tragic and it's relevant. And it brings a level of hopelessness and despair that goes beyond a transitory hunger that is imagined in wealthy reactionary circles.

It's a serious issue in other words.

The problem is the Mirror (which I have a little nostalgia for) used a picture of a crying American girl for the story.

You can see the original picture and a few out takes and read the story of why the girl is crying here at  Lauren's Flickr page.

we went to the park and anne found an earthworm.

she promptly named it "flower", the most beautiful name in the world (da most bootifull name in da wold).

i convinced her to let me babysit flower, while she played. we then decided to put flower in the grass, so she could have a nap, and then when it was time to go we would find flower and bring her home, to live in our garden.

only flower didn't nap, she scootched away, and anne cried for the next 25 minutes.

Does it matter? I think so. It trivialises the issue and fails those it is supposed to serve. Surprisingly I've read various excuses for the picture; it'spropaganda, it's a campaign picture, the source of the picture doesn't have an impact on Christian values extolled in the piece, the Mirror has poor journalism so we shouldn't complain about it, it's snobby to criciticise the redtops, all kids crying look the same so what does it matter where the child is from and, English kids are not emotional enough with their tears so of course you go with the American!

So maybe I'm mistaken. But still, I do think that the sourcing of the picture affects the credibility of the campaign/story, the Mirror's dubious track record on front covers notwithstanding. And it's an important story and one over which the British press if fighting a little propaganda war on behalf of their ideological paymasters. This story from the Daily Mail is only one example of this. Of course, you'd expect nothing less from the Mail, but still, I despise them for their campaign of misinformation. But if the Mirror are leading from the other side with a picture that stinks of misinformation, how much better are they? This picture gives people a stick to beat them with, and as you beat the Mirror so you beat down the very idea that there is such a thing as food poverty in this country. Sniff around the internet and you'll hit the comments contrasting the food poor all have tummy tucks, Sky subscriptions and 60 inch TVs. They're poor because they're fat, stupid, lazy and dishonest because actually they're not poor at all - part of the classic Deserving/Undeserving poor division.

Anyway, based on some of those arguments, questions on the authenticity of pictures such as the strangely organised Syrian bomb factory don't matter; it's Syria after all and what do you expect but misinformation.

Or how about this illustration of Osama Bin Laden's hideout in the Tora Bora Mountains; a version was shown by Colin Powell at the UN and I remember choking on my cornflakes when I saw it in the Sunday Times way back when  But the Sunday Times! Come on, we all know about the Sunday Times.

And so you could go on and on and on. In fact just about every falsification or manipulation of images could be excused for one reason or another. Just as every questionable act could be excused. What do you expect? It's Terry.  But it doesn't mean we should excuse them or we should stop questioning. What's the purpose of that? We should always question images and lay bare their lies, falsehoods and manipulations - in news, in advertising, in fashion, in politics, in business. Because that's all part of the fun of photography and that way we learn how visual language develops and operates in world around us, even when it's a picture that lies.

I wondered about where manipulation doesn't matter and because David Moyes, manager of Manchester United, was sacked yesterday, I thought of the weird manipulated card of a younger Moyes that ran around social media a few years back.

Does it matter or is it just a bit of mean fun? I'll say it does matter even if it is a bit of mean-spirited fun that is entirely believable to gullible people like myself. It chips away at the idea that you can trust what you see (and we do, on the whole trust what we see - even people who say they don't).

The picture is also part of our obsession with appearance, something which we are bombarded with on a daily, hourly or minute-by-minute basis.

How about this before and after retouching of Madonna from 5 years ago? This one has been retouched and serves its particular purpose. Does it matter? I'll say yes even though we all know it happens and why it happens and maybe some of us do it, but yes of course it matters. The above images are part of a vast reservoir of before and after pictures (here are a few Madonna ones) where what exactly is happening is not as clear cut as might be imagined.

These kinds of pictures, and our bombardment are all to do with conformity to expectations, to aging, to body shape, to skin form. And the showing of the unretouched one matters because once you get the retouched version, the untouched version becomes part of the oppressive ideology (and it is an ideology) that led to the retouched representation in the first place. The ways in which pictures are made, edited and shown are not neutral, they are laden with value.

And here's one that definitely matters. It all matters!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Stop Coveting the Old and Unaffordable.

I re-entered the digital world today after a short break and posted this Parr and Badger Q and A from Phaidon. My favourite bit was this story from Gerry Badger. It exemplifies the smoke and mirrors nature of market forces, both for prints.

Harry Lunn, the US dealer who created the photographic market, once addressed a symposium back in the seventies. He had two photographs. He said, ‘Here I have a print by Robert Frank from the Americans which I retail for $10,000. Here I have another print by Robert Frank from the Americans, the same picture, which I also retail for $10,000.’ Then he tore one in half and said, ‘Now I have this print by Robert Frank from the Americans which I retail for $30,000.’ As Harry always used to say ‘We’re in the business of creating rarity value.’ That’s the art market.

Of course the same kind of smoke and mirrors exists for photobooks. The photobook world is very small and is hugely influenced by hype, market-cornering and absurd valuation claims and counter claims.

I interviewed Martin Parr for the BJP a few months back and he raised the issue of increased prices in the photobook markets in out talk and how he has been accused of cranking up prices. Of course, he says this is not his fault but he would say that, wouldn't he.

But I do think he is fair in rebutting these accusations. I think the one thing that Volume 3 of the Photobook Histories does show is how vibrant the photobook market is, how the history is no longer about the past, but is developing as we speak. I wrote about this a few years back in Doing it by the Book, another article for the BJP, but if anything, the photobook world is even more interesting and exciting now; there is better design, more invention and a wider range of voices (though the ones that are most worth listening to are not always the loudest).

On the Facebook page, I got a complaint about Parr and Badger and the idea that they have put photobooks out of reach of the ordinary buyer. Fukase's Ravens was mentioned as a case in point. You want a copy of Ravens and it will cost you £1,000 give or take.

I have sympathy with this sentiment, but at the same time, where did people hear about Ravens from. From the Photobook History Volume 1 perhaps. And a reprint of the book was made shortly after the first Photobook Histories were made - which was available for around £40 I think - as were reprints of numerous other books. And then you get  Errata Editions reprinting books left right and centre. Look there's Drum, there's Ballet, there's The Stage. Fabulous! Shame I don't have any money because that's a few hundred quid gone straight away.

But at the same time, what Volume 3 demonstrates is how many great new books are around. I'm looking at the mess of my desk and I've got Eamonn Doyle, Quan Shen, Ken Grant, Anthony Cairns, Christopher Anderson and Christina Riley sitting on my desk all waiting to be looked at (again) and written about.

So why buy something old and beyond your budget when you can get something new. Especially when it's by Christina Riley and it's called Back to Me. And it's a book about mental illness and depression, which is pretty much what Ravens was about in its roundabout kind of way. Back to Me is more direct. That's why it's published by Straylight, a publisher which makes direct books with direct themes. Straylight is kind of rough and ready but it hits the spot and is much more than a decorative publisher. It makes books about things that matter. And it publishes people who don't get published elsewhere. And Christina Riley is one of those people.

Her book, Back to Me, is about depression, about suicide, insomnia, loneliness, and love. There's a text at the back. This is how it starts;

I rememember driving down hwy 1 south feeling almost certain I wouldn't return. The bottle of wine I planned to drink before jumping was sitting in the cupholder alongside a bottle of ativan and my camera. I cried the whole way to the bridge feeling guilt already for what I hadn't yet done. I stepped out of my car to a cold, foggy blowing skyd. But through all that, stars. I stood there in the darkness and they spoke to me. They were just for me and their message was clear. 

It would kill him. 

The pictures mirror the text. They are proper rough, old digital rough, filled with grain and noise and printed insignificantly on the page. The book starts with a doorway; we are entering the interior of Riley's mind, and then we are on to a double page spread of her partner and a picture of Riley (I think) holding her wrist up.

We go outside to smudgy winter dawns and pictures in which time stretches out into the preceding hours of a sleep that never came. This a book about dead time, about doing nothing and the slow, dripping torture of doing it. Riley stands in her knickers in a doorway, she looks out from a balcony at the lights of a city and she lies back on her sofa; lying and waiting, the thoughts rolling round in her head in an unending, inescapable cycle.

There's the bridge mentioned above, there's the balcony and there's the wrist. Delusion, death and the otherworld of street lights and noisy interiors mix with tears, sadness and a loss of self.

Thematically Back to Me overlaps with Ravens. They overlap with A Black Dog Came Calling by John Darwell, the work of Lauren Simonutti (who sadly killed herself two years ago) and numerous others.

So if you're looking at books from the past that are overpriced and unavailable, and you covet them, the solution is simple. Stop coveting, stop wanting. Buy something affordable instead. Buy something new. Buy Back to Me.

Omey Island "Last Man Standing"

Here is a review of Kevin Griffin's rather lovely Omey Island "Last Man Standing". You can also see this on Emaho Magazine's site. 

And you can buy the book here.

Isolated islands off the Irish coast? There are a few that come to mind. Craggy Island is one of them, Rugged Island another. Then there's the Aran Islands...

And that's about it. And then I saw Kevin Griffith's book, Last Man standing and I put another island into my mental world map; Omey Island.

Omey Island is a 1 mile square piece of land off the West Coast of Ireland. It's a tidal island. You can reach it when the tide is low. It has a couple of small lakes on it and people have lived there for over 6,000 years.

In the past, the population could be measure in the hundreds but today the population is one. His name is Pascal Whelan, a former stunt actor who moved back to Omey when it was a relatively settled place. Last Man Standing is the story of Whelan and his life on the island of Omey.

The book has four main elements. There are the clippings of Whelan from his stunt days; kicking another stunt man (called Bruce Lee - but not that one) in the jaw, fleeing an explosion or jumping off a cliff. Then there are the interiors and his domestic arrangements. We see Whelan's worn-out deck of cards, a rusty screw sticking through his caravan wall and the kitchen where Whelan makes his tea.

The landscapes set the book apart. Omey is small, flat and empty. It's also extremely old, with human settlement dating back 6,000 years. That age registers in the pictures of the island and Whelan's life there. From a short interview with Whelan and a history of the island, we find that Whelan grew up on the island. He was there in the 1940s. He saw his first plane there and ran home terrified because he'd heard about the bombings raids over in Britain and Europe. There was no gas, electricity or running water at that time. People lived off the land and ate fish, rabbits, geese and starlings. Every now and then they'd kill a pig, cook it and hang it in the chimney to be smoked by the turf fire.

The island looks old. We see the last grass on the island being lashed by the wind, we see Whelan 'eel watching' and we some strange circular markings on a daisy strewn lawn. There are many markings and traces on Omey and they add to the feeling of the isolated existence that Whelan leads. But it's an existence in which Whelan never feels alone. "There's a big difference between feeling lonely and being alone. I have been in large citieis where I am not alone but have felt very lonely, it is the opposite on Omey."

So it's a quiet book filled with quiet moments, but then suddenly the landscape explodes into some rare burst of activity; day trippers taking pictures of a beached whale, mainlanders lined up along the beach for the Omey races. And then we see Whelan in his everyday life; driving, sleeping and sitting.

I'm not sure what Last Man Standing is? Is it a book of landscapes, a travelogue or a diary of a man's life (in the mould of The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings). I don't think it's any of them or if it is, it's all three. And maybe that's why it's so good. It's a book where the man, the island and the life all merge together.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Hippety Hop Hop

Hippety Hop Hop, Hippety Hop Hop, this blog is going away for a while. 

Hippety Hop Hop, Hippety Hop Hop, Jesus is Dead, Jesus is Dead, an Easter Egg, An Easter Egg, Jesus is Dead, Jesus is Dead, I love Easter, I love Easter, Jesus is alive, Jesus is alive!

Fantastic - kind of sums it all up really.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

We Make the Dog by Walking

I've never had a dog. I've  never wanted one. But my daughter's first words were 'doggy' and we had a lovely neighbour called Wendy who had a lovely dog called Bailey.

About five years ago we started walking Bailey. Once or twice a week, we ended up taking Bailey on walks around our house in Bath. We walked to the park, to Brown's Folly, up Solsbury Hill but most of all down Charlecombe Valley. We entered a doggy world where people talk about their dogs and are so dog-like that they are one step away from sniffing each other's arses. I especially liked the slightly anxious owners who had rescue dogs. I always asked them the story of their dog and they always loved telling it - it was like a free trip to the dog analyst's with a Dickensian venality added to tie things down. And just as you had anxious owners, you had anxious dogs. You could see the worry lines on their doggy brows.

Isabel and I walked Bailey after school when she was younger. In summer we'd eat ice cream and in winter we'd sit at the top of the valley, have cake and hot chocolate and throw a ball for Bailey to fetch. It was a lovely memory of a lovely place but time moves on.

But then Isabel changed schools and we stopped doing those walks quite so ofter. The geography of where we live changed when that happened. My wife started walking him more and sometimes we'd go together during lunch breaks if I was at home. Then, a couple of weeks ago Wendy moved and took Bailey with her. So we don't walk him anymore. We don't go down Charlcombe Valley quite so often. We don't take the dog around the allotments or up Solsbury Hill or up to the park. Suddenly a great chunk of the world we used to inhabit has shifted. Sad but life goes on. It's funny how that happens.

The pictures above are from the last walk with Bailey. We make the path by walking the dog and all that. Oh well. Not flatlining yet, but I'm getting there....