Category Archives: Book Review

New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography by Grant Scott

© Grant Scott. From New Ways of Seeing

The strength of New Ways of Seeing is in the discussion of where we are today. The discourse and investigation of photography and learning the craft of fluently speaking a visual language is at the forefront. The book feels perfectly positioned to appeal to both students and educators of visual arts, or anyone wanting to better understand the importance of applying practiced skills and knowledge to the visual language of photography.

The ‘democratic language of photography’ couldn’t be more appropriate as a guide or theme throughout Grant Scott’s new book New Ways of Seeing. In a very agreeable tone set in the text, Scott presents his opinion about how we got to the current position of the billions of people worldwide who carry a camera each day. However, he makes the point that this fact does not necessarily make us all well versed in a photographic, or visual language.

I’d like to make a short comment at the start of this review. Aside from the single image chosen from the book and the cover image, this review largely focuses on subject matter and not images. It’s a significant departure from my normal reviews, but one that I’ve tried to make in an effort to highlight the significance of how we all can write and talk about photography without the narrative crutch of photos to illustrate the ideas.

In the book, Scott easily recognizes the importance of pre-smartphone photography and visual storytelling, while also giving credit to the importance of the ease and ability of photographers to create without the burden of expense, or perhaps ironically, without the burden of a traditional photography education. Thus giving rise to photographers being able to proliferate personal projects and elevate the democratization of photography.

The book is laid out in chapters, but as Scott mentions in his introduction, it is not necessary to read them in order. His chapters cover a broad spectrum of topics and they are presented with the sentiment of embracing change. Scott liberally references photographers of prominence and notes the significance of their work – historically and contextually. He gives them ample credit for the influence they have made for contemporary photographers, even if it is without their awareness. The importance of internet sites like Instagram are given credit, due to the role they have played in the process of forming and informing the lives of people studying photography. Scott says in the chapter Speaking in a Digital Environment:

“For a photographer to ignore the impact of Instagram on lens-based image creation could be an act of informed decision making. For a teacher involved in photographic education to ignore Instagram’s impact on the next generation of photographers would be an act of denial and negligence”.

I enjoyed reading through the range of topics, and embraced Scott’s attitude toward a general inclusion of all the advances in smartphone, digital, and computational photography, rather than adopting a stance of being firmly grounded in traditional analog photography and scoffing the present state. The role of narrative and telling a meaningful story through the visual language of images is a primary theme throughout. Scott mentions that many people currently studying photography more readily identify themselves as visual storytellers, rather than as photographers. Very little attention is paid to gear or kit as it applies to how to make meaningful work, but the technological advances of photographic equipment are chronicled for the purpose of better understanding how we’ve gotten this point. This is one of the most meaningful books about photography that I’ve read. It is highly informed, but not over my head, and ultimately invites the reader to thoughtfully inspect and challenge their own practices of being an image creator.


New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography by Grant Scott
240 pages, 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches, 60 color photos
Published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019
ISBN-10: 135004931X
ISBN-13: 978-1350049314


Grant Scott is the founder of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Photography at Oxford Brookes University, UK, a working photographer, and the author of several previously published books.

His documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay has been screened across the UK, Canada, and the United States, and was ultimately posted for free via YouTube in the spirit of sharing knowledge.

Grant Scott is the founder of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Photography at Oxford Brookes University, UK, a working photographer, and the author of several previously published books. He can be found on Twitter at @UNofPhoto

His documentary film, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay has been screened across the UK, Canada, and the United States, and was ultimately posted for free via YouTube in the spirit of sharing knowledge.

To buy a copy of New Ways of Seeing, it can be found on Amazon here, or at the publisher site here. Check out the website for  United Nations of Photography and to find out more about Grant Scott or see his work, please see his website: https://www.grantscott.com/

We Shared this Time by Jeffery C. Johnson

Artist’s Snack Shop – Chicago, 2008. © Jeffery C. Johnson

Chicago-based photographer Jeffery C. Johnson’s photography has been prominently featured on the WGN-TV News, ABC-TV’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, BBC Travel.com, CNN Travel.com, Chicago Reader, Chicagoist, Gapers Block, and at ChicagoPublicRadio.com.

Johnson has worked as a dedicated photographer for the Scottish pop band Aberfeldy, captured the scene at the capitol building in Springfield, Illinois in 2007 when then Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States. He also exclusively followed the Four Star Anarchist Organization during the Anti-NATO protests in Chicago in 2012. 

Johnson has primarily photographed across the United States, but says his favorite subject has always been Chicago. Johnson grew up there and both his grandfather & father were photojournalists in Chicago. “And, of course”, he says on his website, “because the city is amazingly energetic, beautiful and bewitching, rough and raw, full of history, mystery, and punch. While I would have loved to photograph Churchill, I was given Blagojevich; but a photographer can only capture those within their time. I enjoy taking pieces and putting them together to represent a whole – whether it’s a city, a specific place, an event, or a person. I feel I am making portraits of whatever I photograph”.

We Shared this Time is a self-published collection of photos from Johnson’s work that spans different themes across his broader collection of reportage style photography. Whether it is a street image of a particular location, specific event being covered, or lucky happenstance – the direct style of Johnson’s work makes you feel like you were there. The unpretentious nature of some of his portraits transcend straight reportage, and speak to larger issues like gun violence, celebrity, and poverty. We see a teenager standing up in a crowd of people, pantomiming holding a rifle and taking aim. We see street musicians playing for tips in downtown Chicago, contrasted against professional actor and musician Steve Martin candidly playing his banjo in front of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Naperville, IL. Johnson’s image of a Cubs fan hoping to catch a stray home-run ball, dressed in full catcher’s gear behind Wrigley Field, is in stark contrast to his candid portrait of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich – sporting a Cubs baseball cap while dressed in a business suit and tie.

Much like fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel, Jeffery Johnson shared a moment or two with folks from all walks of life, and shared them with us. Rather, Johnson’s subjects are all of us. We Shared this Time shows different aspects of the larger picture and reveals that these disparate actors in the play of life are not so different in the end. We are all part of the play.


“The Odditorium”, Carnival, Berwyn, IL., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Couple, Brookfield Zoo – Brookfield, IL., 2010 © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Nik Wallenda, Skyscraper Highwire Walk, Chicago, 2014. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Homecoming Queen, Franklin County High School – Brookville, IN., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Fan, High School Football Game – Brookville, IN., 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Waiting for a Home Run Ball, Waveland Ave., Wrigley Field – Chicago, 2007. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Street Musician – Chicago, 2011. © Jeffery C. Johnson

 

Woman on Street Corner – Chicago. © Jeffery C. Johnson


To learn more about Jeffery C. Johnson, please visit his website at https://jefferycjohnson.smugmug.com/. Links to purchase a copy of We Shared this Time can also be found there, or at Blub: https://www.blurb.com/b/9414851-we-shared-this-time

Havana Youth by Greg Kahn

Greg Kahn says he wants Havana Youth to break the stereotype of what it means to be Cuban. The country’s current identity by and large was formed on a sense of collectivism: the idea of the benefit of a large group of people versus the individual. The youth of Cuba today are striving to break that stereotype and form new ideas based on how their counterculture reflects their own identity. This is somewhat challenging due to the lack of pop culture influences they allowed in Cuba for most of their lives. They’ve not been inundated with tons of commercials, tons of magazine advertisements, etc. due to the lack of these sources in Cuba. Their fashion sense and the zeitgeist of the youth Kahn photographed in Cuba are born from their own unbound expression of how they wish to be seen as a generation, and a culture.

An interesting cultural evolution is taking place in Cuba, especially with the millennial generation. Technologically they skipped straight past pagers and cell phones and went from landlines to iPhones. They are now soaking up popular culture via the internet, mimicking what they see, and re-inventing themselves – and Cuban culture – in the process. Kahn says he fell into the trap of photographing stereotypical architecture and old Cuba versus new Cuba images at first. After two initial trips to Cuba, he realized he was making the wrong type of work for what he wanted to capture. A lucky encounter with discovering an outdoor rave concert thriving with thousands of young Cubans, helped him realize that this is the driving force behind the change in Cuba’s economy and its future. Their energy, their drive and their sense of music and fashion were a key part of their identity.

Young Cubans’ sense of fashion is a conscious decision be a counterculture – their clothing is a middle finger to authority. This attitude is similar to one in another photo book I’ve seen about gang youth in 1980s New York City who were wearing designer clothing as an expression of the ultimate luxury living experience. Their desire to achieve their own version of the American Dream was presented to the world through apparel designed to declare: I have made it. For Cuban youth, their newly acquired iPhones, international magazines, smuggled underground movies and internet hotspots have become a way to raise their status. It is also the way for them to resist the government. A fashion blogger Kahn met in Cuban said clothes are communication. Every day there is a really conscious choice about what he is going to wear. Clothes have a strong connotation; they can be like a journalist writing against the government. It’s what it means to be free.

This culture is not only evolution, it is revolution. It is revolution without the need to fire single shot; it is revolution with a capital R, through the guise of fashion, communication, and expression via counterculture. The Cuban government will not allow for protests out in the public eye. The youth of Cuba are protesting through this subversive process of accessing the internet, and accessing a way to make money and gain upward mobility in an oppressive environment. Kahn’s images show us an avant-garde way of life within the world of youth and fashion in Cuba, and also how a new socio-political way of life is forming as well.


Havana Youth
Photographs by Greg Kahn
Introduction by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant
Hardcover, 11.25 x 8.5 inches
144 pages + additional softcover zine
Edition of 500
ISBN: 978-1-943948-12-3


To find out more about the work of Greg Kahn, and Havana Youth, please visit his website https://www.gregkahn.com/. To purchase the book, please visit Yoffy Press at http://www.yoffypress.com/havana-youth

All images shown are © Greg Kahn, used by permission of the publisher.

Seeing Deeply – A Retrospective by Dawoud Bey

The Woman in the Light, Harlem, New York City, 1980. © Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply offers a forty-year retrospective of the celebrated photographer’s work, from his early street photography in Harlem to his current images of Harlem gentrification. Photographs from all of Bey’s major projects are presented in chronological sequence, allowing viewers to see how the collective body of portraits and recent landscapes create an unparalleled historical representation of various communities in the United States. Prodigious is an apt descriptor for ‘Seeing Deeply’.

After taking in the span of images within the book, an analogy came to mind. You can draw a line from the beginning of his work and see it all the way through to his current projects. Like a carpenter lifting a board to look down the length of its edge, one can see straight from one end to the other and know that it is true. The sturdy grain of the wood may flow slightly from side to side, but  its core is unwavering and reliable.

Throughout his career, Bey made images in communities he felt had been under-represented by other photographers. He shot photos in Harlem, Birmingham, Syracuse, Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, and many other cities. Whether the work was made in small or medium format cameras, black & white or color, and even large format Polaroid portraits, the feel of Bey’s work gives a nod to some of his influencers; photographers such as as Roy DeCarava, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee.

Bey’s photo of a young woman waiting for a bus in Syracuse in 1985 could have easily been taken in 1965. The timeless quality of this portrait demonstrates sensitivity to the person, and showing them in a certain state of mind, rather than a time and place, and allows the viewer to make an intimate connection. The way she regards the camera/viewer, leaning against a counter in a bus terminal directly under a sign telling patrons to wait outside for busses, evokes a feeling of dignified protest, or respectful righteousness.

The list of Dawoud Bey’s accomplishments, awards, grants, and museums that collect his work is staggering. Bey was also a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”, yet when I viewed a TEDx talk he gave in 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I was struck by his humility and sense of inspiration and drive to explore ideas and themes through his genuine love for the medium of photography.

Bey was drawn to visit the Met in 1969 by news of demonstrations by people who were called to action by the idea of who was being allowed to author the experience of the African-American community. He viewed the exhibition on the day he went to the museum, and decided to start making photographs in his own community of Harlem. His photographs from Harlem over a five year span resulted in an exhibition in 1975. The project was an effort to convey the humanity of the men, women and children in that community. In Bey’s words, many African-American communities up until that time had been predominantly been shown through a lens of pathology. His sense of duty to depict African-Americans and their lives has been an underlying theme throughout his career. I was drawn to a certain quote by Hilton Als in Sarah Lewis’ introduction to ‘Seeing Deeply’. Als comments that Bey creates “works of art made out of real lives as opposed to real lives being used to reflect the artist’s idea of it.” Amen.

A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, 1985. © Dawoud Bey

Alva, New York, NY, 1992. © Dawoud Bey

Mark and Eric, Chicago, IL, 1994. © Dawoud Bey

Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, New York City, 1977. © Dawoud Bey

Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL, 2012. © Dawoud Bey

Men From the 369th Regiment Marching Band, Harlem, New York City, 1977. © Dawoud Bey

Three Men and the Lenox Lounge, Harlem, New York City, 2014. © Dawoud Bey

A Girl with a Knife Nosepin, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1990. © Dawoud Bey

A Boy in Front of Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976. © Dawoud Bey


Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply by Dawoud Bey
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: University of Texas Press; First Edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781477317198


Dawoud Bey’s work is held by major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition to the MacArthur fellowship, Bey’s honors include the United States Artists Guthman Fellowship, 2015; the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography, 2002; and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1991. He is Professor of Art and a former Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago.

To view more images or purchase ‘Seeing Deeply’ by Dawoud Bey, please visit the University of Texas Press website. All images represented are included with recognition to Dawoud Bey/University of Texas Press.

{First published in F-Stop Magazine in January 2019}

Solargraphs by Al Brydon – A conversation with the Sun

Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions

A new book, Solargraphs by Al Brydon is available from JW Editions. Brydon’s understated approach to making engaging images is disarming. There is a beautiful serendipity that comes out of his seemingly casual method for making work. He makes it look easy, but make no mistake Brydon has been steadfast for decades in making photographic work of and about his surroundings. He is continually trying techniques old and new to strive for a meaningful conversation with the land. Solargraphs is definitely one of those engaging conversations.

“Solargraphs are pinhole cameras with exposure times measured in months rather than fractions of a second. This slowing down of time produces the arcs of the sun as it traces its way across the sky. The ‘how’ isn’t anywhere near as important as the ‘why’, but it gives you an idea of what’s involved in making the work.

The length of time involved raises certain questions. Is it a different me collecting the solargraph than the person who left it? Maybe a window into what the landscape looks like when I’m not there to experience it?

What’s implied in the image is as important as what you can see. Anything moving quickly isn’t pictured but is in there. Solargraphs see everything (metaphorically) like photographic black holes. Every moment of joy and sadness you have experienced while each exposure was made is in there somewhere. A newborns first breath and another person’s last. The chaos of the universe condensed into photographic form. More than a moment. A tumbling cascade of moments set within the confines of a 5×7 piece of darkroom paper. With Solargraphs we are able to experience time almost in a geological sense and gain a glimpse into a differing reality than our own. A looped reminder how wonderfully fleeting our lives are.”

– Al Brydon

 

Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions

Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions


Solargraphs by Al Brydon

210 mm x 295 mm, hardback
96 pages, thread sewn
Introduction by contemporary photographer Rob Hudson

A Limited Edition is also available:
Signed copy of the book
Signed and numbered print – ‘Death of a Wood’
Print is exclusive to this book edition (Digital print on fine art photo paper)
Limited to 50 copies only

Published by JW Editions – an independent publisher of photobooks, producing affordable fine quality short run commercially produced edition-based releases, and handmade artist limited editions.

To order a copy of Solargraphs, visit their website: www.jweditions.co.uk


Al Brydon is a photographer based in the North of the UK. He has been exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally, and has just completed his five-year series ‘Solargraphs’ which have just been exhibited at the ‘Inside the Outside’ collective group show ‘Out of the woods of thought’. He is prone to working on various long-term bodies of work. See more of his work at his website: www.al-brydon.com


All images used with permission. Photographs © Al Brydon, and the printed book © JW Editions.

Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 – by Sven Martson

Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 contains many serendipitous images and glimpses of what life was like in Berlin in 1974. Martson’s black and white photographs of Berlin and its residents are an artful and skillful documentation of people living their lives on both sides of the Berlin Wall. He also presents an important historic document and intimate view of people living in a politically, and physically, segregated city. We see images of everyday life; children playing, street scenes in a large modern city, people shopping, work, play, boredom, and glimpses of the political elephant in the room – the Wall.

Martson’s images are even more poignant when viewed in the context of how a political viewpoint can divide rather than unify. A collective population of people who are more alike than different can become two polarized populations cast in opposition to the other; groups of people who are separated by imaginary lines drawn with a socio-political pen. In the author’s notes, Martson comments that the wall gave a particularly ugly form to the binary oppositions in human experience. Abstract economic and political ideologies were made real in the form of armed guard towers, land mines, razor-wire fences and an impregnable concrete barrier which divided a city, a country, and perhaps the perceptions of the world.

Martson’s parents were directly impacted by the Soviet occupied Estonia and Germany. “The radically redrawn borders of Germany and much of Europe after World War II forced my parents to flee their Soviet occupied homelands to seek freedom and opportunity in West Germany, and later in the United States,” Martson says. “Although my family has no direct connection to Berlin, I saw its stark division as a reminder and a concentrated symbol of the forces that drove my parents west to become American citizens.”

“In September of 1974, I traveled to West Berlin. It was a bright island of liberty surrounded by a dull gray wall, built not for its protection but to ensure its isolation. Fascinated by such an untenable design, I sought to record in photographs what I might find on either side of that historic divide. I spent a month walking the streets of Berlin taking pictures on either side of the Wall. I was not unbiased in my feelings toward Communist East Germany, yet I tried to avoid making political statements in favor of maintaining a documentary style.”

While I was only four years old in 1974, I can remember with clarity when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I watched live news coverage of joyous East and West Berlin citizens mingling atop the Wall, or taking turns smashing holes in the wall with sledgehammers. And later, heavy construction equipment pulled sections of the wall apart amidst a barrage of blinding light from thousands of cameras documenting the event. I knew I was watching one of the pivotal points in 20th century history.

We find ourselves at a point in history where leaders are again speaking of walls, which makes Martson’s book even more important. Now photographers have the opportunity to record, document and comment on history potentially repeating itself, in some sense, along the border of Mexico and the United States. Martson comments about current Berlin on his website, and this prompted questions in my mind of how we will look back at the result of a proposed U.S-Mexico border wall. On his site, Martson says, “After more than two decades of German reunification, the almost complete disappearance of the Wall has produced an entirely different Berlin. These photographs are now a historical record: a visual account of opposing ideologies in precarious accommodation.”

Precarious indeed.


Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974 by Sven Martson
Hardcover
Published by Lecturis
Language: English/German
ISBN-10: 9462262616


Sven Martson was born in Germany and raised in the United States. He received his BA from Syracuse University in 1970, and subsequent studies led to an interest in documentary style photography. In 1972 he met Walker Evans and worked under his direction, making prints from Evans’ negatives. After Evans’ death, Martson continued to print for the Evans estate.

Martson is an established editorial photographer, and he serves a wide range of independent educational institutions throughout the United States. Over the past thirty years he has traveled extensively, and exhibited in the United States and Europe. He is currently represented by the Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven, CT.

To view more work by Sven Martson, please visit his website at http://svenmartson.com/. To purchase a copy of Taking Sides: Berlin and the Wall, 1974, see the book listing here.

This review was originally published in F-Stop Magazine, January 2019.

Taradiddle by Charles H. Traub

A taradiddle by definition is a petty lie, a little falsehood or trifling told often to amuse or embellish a story. But the Oxford English Dictionary also offers a second meaning: Pretentious or empty talk; senseless, unproductive activity; nonsense. Ironically, it’s a self deprecating term for such meaningful work. But then, that’s part of the fun.

So many of the images created by Traub involve witty visual interplay, tongue-in-cheek sight gags that beg the viewer to look again. But that summary sells them short. There’s much more going on here, there is wit and a sophisticated way of seeing what is in front of the camera. Traub’s work in Taradiddle is a collection of discoveries built around the idea of seeing — not just looking. He is a photographer’s photographer; demonstrating mastery of the medium without hubris or egotism. There is keen observation without embellishment in Taub’s oeuvre. As David Campany writes in this introduction to the book, the unifying element to Traub’s work is that “they are all in one way or another about photography. They may even amount to a commentary upon photography as a phenomenon of daily life. Photography as something we do daily, and photographs as things we encounter daily, often by chance. To this extent at least, these are meta-photographs.” Photos about photography.

An assistant to Traub suggested the term ‘taradiddle’ during the process of curating the images that would ultimately comprise the book. It stuck. An influence and friend early in Traub’s photo career was fellow Kentuckian Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Meatyard kept a collection of names he found funny and/or interesting. One could easily imagine the list might include a Miss Tara Diddle, of Lexington. In that spirit, Traub’s images ask the viewer to see and absorb an inside joke: the landscape painting of Death Valley on the side of a building located in front of the actual mountain range of Death Valley. A large red rock with hand-painted white letters in Monte Vista, Colorado prompting the visitor to bring the camera. He did. Ironic tongue-in-cheek humor with signage and whimsy like the Estate of Confusion building in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Or the compositional use of a natural frame-within-a-frame in a street scene in New Orleans to highlight we are viewing a selective representation of the three-dimensional world — an image akin to the work of Luigi Ghirri, one of the most influential conceptual photographers of the 20th century.

Over the span of the book we see the Michelangelo fresco painting of the Creation of Adam in several iterations. We see it in a hardware store, a poster reproduction poorly framed within a larger gold frame mounted to a wall, or in a faded wallpaper pattern behind a framed photo of a wedding portrait with bride and groom in a similar pose, touching hands, creating a future together. Traub captures an image of faux wooden boards with painted shadows on a flat metal door, mimicry of floral patterns on upholstery and carpet placed in front of a nature scene right outside the window. These witty visual interplays beg the viewer to think about visual reproduction, visual representation, and realistically… it can be humorous how people often choose to replicate a natural environment in such unnatural ways.

It is always a joy to pour over artwork in a book where the next image can’t come quickly enough, or there can’t be too many of; like a child who eagerly begs their parent to repeat a joke or trick they adore — again…do it again. Taradiddle is one of those books where I found myself soaking in the images, laughing to myself or making a interjection of appreciation, then quickly turning the page to see the next one, and the next, then the final one, only to work my way back toward the front of the book again. I have seen Traub’s work before the opportunity came to review this project, but critically thinking about it prompted the realization that I hadn’t fully recognized how much his photography was interconnected to other masters of photography who inform my comprehensive view of photography.

Taradiddle brings out the simplistic joy of creating images; photographing without pretense or strict conceptual confinement. “For me, serendipity, coincidence and chance are more interesting than any preconceived construct of our human encounters”, Traub says. Make no mistake, creating images and understanding the concepts and implied meanings and interpretations is required in endeavors such as this. Traub believes one should not front-load the creative process for fear of restriction, “All image making is basically conceptual and needs introspection. However, a self-conscious praxis often constipates it.“

Whether the final image is simple to describe, or built upon a complex relationship of elements within the frame, Traub’s work transcends subject matter and speaks most importantly to what we are seeing. It’s more than documenting a place, it’s more than a portrait of a person, it’s more than capturing the essence of a place. His work connects conceptual ideas with a visual interpretation of the world we live in, and also experience through photography. His images strive to lay bare the profound commonality of our lives; serendipity and humor included.

Taradiddle by Charles H. Traub

Essay by David Campany

Published by Damiani

Hardcover, 11.75 x 9.5 in / 116 pgs / 100 color

ISBN 9788862086219


Charles Traub was born in Louisville, KY and has been photographing for 50 years. He has eleven books to his credit and sixty major exhibitions including one person shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hudson River Museum, the Historic New Orleans collection, and is in the collections of more than two dozen international museums. For the past 30 years, he has been the Chairperson of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media program at the School of Visual Arts and presently is the Co-Director of the Aaron Siskind Foundation.

David Campany is a writer, curator, and artist who is widely recognized for his award-winning essays and books regarding the lens and screen arts. He teaches at the University of Westminister in London and is the recipient of the ICP Infinity award and the Royal Photographic Society’s award for writing.


To purchase a copy of Taradiddle please visit www.artbook.comTo find out more information about Charles H. Traub and view his work, please visit his website at www.charlestraub.com/


This review was first published in F-Stop Magazine in December 2018.

Julio’s House by Orestes Gonzalez

A Home Becomes a Touchstone

Julios House Living Room

The colorful photographs in Julio’s House show us extravagant, Liberace-inspired interior living spaces within a modest Miami house. We see scenes of a very personal setting, but devoid of people. The only people shown in the book are in vintage photographs taken of Orestes Gonzalez’s uncle Julio, his uncle’s friends and lovers, and his life as a cruise ship entertainer. Julio worked as a magician, tour guide and entertainer aboard a ship that took tourists between Miami and Cuba before Castro took power in 1958.

Current images of Julio‘s house are juxtaposed with vintage photographs of the same rooms and largely unchanged decor from over 30–40 years ago. The bitter-sweetness is palpable. How does Gonzalez come to terms with the loss of a family member who was somewhat estranged by his family, and put it all into context while sorting through his belongings and walking through Julio’s personal spaces?

Julios House aboard the SS Florida with Tourists 1958
Julio Santana aboard the SS Florida with tourists, 1958

Julios House Credenza

Julios House Bedroom

Julios House Wall portrait

When I first saw photographs of this project almost a year ago, I recognized the importance and the weight of responsibility for photographing spaces that belonged to a significant person in one’s life. Gonzalez’s photos include rooms that feature knickknacks, reading material on a side table, and all the ephemera that were in place while his uncle was living in his home. So the photographs are part document, part remembrance. It is a potentially revealing and rewarding endeavor to explore the themes that come from this process, decipher meaning from all of it, and try to understand it.

I had the opportunity to photograph my grandparents house while they were both living. I went through their house with a large format camera and took careful photographs of each room. The images were originally taken as a documentary study of where they lived. Looking at those photographs over twenty years later, they have transformed into vignettes of spending time in the house as a child. When I asked Gonzalez about the images in his own project, which was developed into this wonderful book, he said, “They lasso you in to a reality, away from incorrectly fantasizing over a period of time or a place. My intent with the story was to shatter the stereotype of the gay man (that my generation grew up with) as just an effete, and not family orientated individual.”

Julios House Studio portrait 1971

Gonzalez’s text throughout the book is well paced with the images chosen. The interior scenes of the house are counterbalanced with personal photographs or close-ups of a setting that give us a real feel for what it was like to be in the home. We see the rooms, how they are decorated, personal effects on shelves and side tables, stuffed birds attached to black velvet in picture frames, striped foil wallpaper in the dining room and green shag carpet in the front room. Bright daylight floods the rooms in his images — a stark contrast to the nightlife chronicled in some of the text describing evening parties with energetic music, dancing, and Cuban food that went straight to the gut and soul of the merry-makers in Julio’s house.

Julios House Night stand
Julios House Closet
Julios House Pajaritos (Birds)
One can sense Gonzalez’s conflict, from the way Julio was marginalized by his close family long ago. But while going through Julio’s belongings and paperwork, Gonzalez discovered that his uncle had scrimped and saved and lived modestly in order to eventually bring 12 members of his immediate family to the United States from Cuba. Gonzalez discovered his uncle was a caring, family-centric man who lived a life that was at odds with the stereotypes that gay men (Cuban-American men especially, according to Gonzalez) faced in the 1970s and beyond. His previously held opinion about Julio as a flamboyant, superficial man quickly transformed into pride for his uncle.
Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.56.48 AM
Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.57.21 AM
Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.56.19 AM
 The book feels like a hand-written letter one would write and send it to someone who has been a significant influence in their life. A letter to convey the complex emotion: ‘I understand now better what you mean to me, what you meant to me, and why our relationship is important.’ So many things are seen clearer if given enough time and distance, whether it’s physical or emotional.
Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.57.53 AM
It would be easy to view this collection of photographs and written memories as primarily being a remembrance. But, I feel one should look at the project as a sense of discovery. Gonzalez is presenting a visual and written exploration of the over-arching question: what would his life possibly be like if he had experienced his family in a different way, and how would that difference impact his own life as an openly gay man? Does the myth of one’s past hold up to the scrutiny of the present? Gonzalez’s photographs are taken from the angle and perspective of an adult, and they were not naively taken nor considered. The narrative text is written by a man who is recalling the past, and providing context for the life and times of his uncle. This process of self discovery, as well as trying to understand the people who influence and mold your life, is potentially one of the most important things a person can undertake. And the act of treasuring or honoring the lives of those we love reminds us of our own mortality. With consideration to Julio’s House, one could say our own possessions might mean nothing to one person, but to another it may be the key to unlocking memories and understanding.

orestes_cover

Julio’s House by Orestes Gonzalez
Essay by Roula Seikaly
10 x 8.5″ perfect-bound, hardcover
60 pages
Limited edition of 400

Julio’s House is published by Kris Graves Projects, and can be purchased online at http://www.krisgravesprojects.com/store/julioshouse. For people who want to buy a copy at the only bookstore in New York that carries it, get info at the website for Printed Matter, Inc.

Julio’s House received much deserved attention and accolades in 2017. Notably, the book was bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) as part of their book collection in the Thomas J. Watson Library, and the images have been picked up by The Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami. The opening date for the show “Julios House”, at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery is Friday April 6th, 2018.

To see more work by Orestes Gonzalez, please visit his website at http://orestesgonzalez.com or read our interview in F-Stop Magazine here or on Medium here.

 

Out of the Ordinary, Vol. 2: A Journey Through Everyday Scotland

A Personal Portrait of Everyday Scotland

The second volume of Out of the Ordinary by Iain Sarjeant is a continuation of the project he has been working on for a number of years. The project, and two books thus far, has developed from the approach of Sarjeant’s spontaneous wandering, exploring, discovering, and observing. “The series explores the kind of places that most of us walk or drive past every day,” says Sarjeant, “without really noticing – places where the infrastructure of human habitation interacts with the natural environment. These are dynamic landscapes, constantly being altered, and part of the fascination for me is the element of chance involved in the photographs – coming across scenes that may look very different the following week or month.”

tumblr_nz1cisaS4b1rdmgllo1_1280

As with Volume 1, this new book captures scenes of the land Sarjeant encounters across Scotland. The witty interplay between geometric shapes, colors or textures is a strong part of his work. His body of work includes images that feature vehicles in all manner of use and function (or disfunction), buildings both commercial and residential, markings on pavement, graffiti, shadows and shipping containers. From a visual standpoint, Sarjeant takes advantage of Scottish overcast skies to give extra punch to the color that is either featured or included in the scenes. He compresses the space to heighten the sense of rhythm or repetition of shapes, or knows when to pull back to include more of the scene to set the stage. He has valuable use of line and it draws the viewer through the images, and the layout of the overall book as well. Artful placement of the images in sequencing this book make smart visual connections. Power lines and playground structures are connected visually, as are fence rows and street markings, or old growth hedges and growing saplings. Sarjeant’s use of visual association and interplay are used to their best again in this book. Out of the Ordinary, Vol. 2 is a joy to view and admire the craft of creating a multi-volume series of photography books.

tumblr_mlpcqtkHC31rdmgllo1_1280

tumblr_msyw53Em0D1rdmgllo1_1280

tumblr_mih11lMMbB1rdmgllo1_1280

Over several years, Another Place Press has been quietly building a cache of wonderful photo books dealing with the subject of the land, and peoples’ relationship and interaction with it.  Out of the Ordinary is one of the books that anchors this theme. The third and final volume of Out of the Ordinary will tentatively publish at some time in 2018. 


Iain Sarjeant is the founder and editor of Another Place, and Another Place Press which showcases contemporary landscape photography. He has worked with the photo collective, Documenting Britain, and works as a stock photographer.
To purchase a copy of Out of the Ordinary, Vol. 2 – please visit Another Place Press.

For more information, or to view Sarjeant’s personal work; please visit these sites:

http://iainsarjeant.tumblr.com/
http://www.iainsarjeant.co.uk/
http://www.iainsarjeant.com/


This is an edited version of the piece originally published in F-Stop Magazine in January, 2018.

The Kingdom by Stéphane Levoué

Surreal and mysterious portraits and places in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom

In 2010, French photographer Stéphane Lavoué discovered a special landscape in the United States, called Northeast Kingdom. It is located along the border to Canada in the northeast corner of Vermont, comprising Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties. This beautiful, rugged, remote area has a population of roughly 65,000 people. Lavoué’s series and book, The Kingdom is a personal tribute.

When Stéphane Lavoué and his family first came to the Northeast Kingdom, he immediately felt he found a very special place. In the beginning, he wanted to make a body of work like a journalistic investigation. Levoué started his series with this idea in mind, but the project and the resulting book are far more than photo reportage. His images transcend into narrative fiction, even if all the people and places are based on a real place.

I have the habit of browsing through a book from front to back, then working my way back toward the front again. As a result, I came across the accompanying text at the back of the book and read the account right after my first pass through the book. The story is about a woman traveling to the Kingdom. She is searching for her brother who has been absent for many years. Could all the people and places Levoué captured be evidence of this story?

The-kingdom-by-Stephane-Lavoue-Tipibookshop-4

The-kingdom-by-Stephane-Lavoue-Tipibookshop-3

The French writer and journalist, Judith Perrignon, was asked to write her short piece to accompany the images. Her text was written after the photo series was completed, so her story is a mix of invented memories and fictional events.  With or without knowing this, an entirely new layer of meaning is applied when viewing the book with her text in mind. Before I knew the text was fictional, the portraits and scenes I had first encountered had me retracing my steps; wondering who and where Levoué had chosen to photograph because of their importance in the story. Levoué’s images have a timeless and surreal quality – natural lighting makes a man waring a hairnet and an Army graphic t-shirt look like a renaissance painting, and scenes of The Museum of Everyday Life could easily be mistaken for a setting from Twin Peaks, or a Wes Anderson film.

sl-NEK-1908

In addition to the striking images and text, the book itself feels great to hold. The embossed cover feels like leather, the printed end sheets of the book feature a map of the Northeast Kingdom; which invokes the idea that one is holding a personal journal, or an artifact that is a part of the mystery and the story within. The mystery deepened each time I went back to the images and re-read the text. Levoué’s world in The Kingdom had me revisit the work multiple times; and left me with more wonderful questions than answers.

 

Photos by Stéphane Lavoué, with text by Judith Perrignon
Graphic design by l’atelier 25
French & English
96 pages
40 pictures
170×240 mm
Munken lynx 170 gr & woodstock grigio 110 gr embossed hard cover
ISBN 978-2-9552412-4-0
2017 first edition

The Kingdom is published by éditions 77 – please visit their website to order a copy here. To see more work by Stéphane Levoué, please visit his website.


This is an edited version of the review first published in F-Stop Magazine in January, 2018.