Category Archives: Book Review

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.
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 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.
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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Top Photo Books of 2017

I had the good fortune to review a number of great photo books this past year for Wobneb Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, and Vantage… and what would the end of the year be without a ‘Best Of 2017’ list? The past year has been eventful and insightful on many fronts – so my list of top books from my reviews covers a range of projects from the intimately personal to broad society.

My top choices are:

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Cig Harvey – You an Orchestra You a Bomb

Cig Harvey’s third monograph is a vibrant and bold book, capturing moments of awe, icons of the everyday, and life on the threshold between magic and disaster. The breathless moments of beauty in her images propel us to fathom the sacred in the split-seconds of everyday. A raw awareness of fragility permeates this work. Harvey’s moments captured in her camera speak to the temporal nature of life, and her intimate poetry weaves them together in this memoir of symbolism.

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Giles Duley – One Second of Light

Conflicts come and go, but their legacies remain. It takes courage to be an advocate for something greater than ourselves. It requires something more than just the absence of fear. Any fool can be fearless. The essence of courage comes from the best version of ourselves, and the strength to do the right thing, to do hard things for the lasting benefit of others. It takes this type of courage to photograph people caught in the effects of war, in hopes that the quiet pairing of empathetic images and words speaks louder than the bloody spectacle of war. Duley’s personal story is secondary to this subject, and yet it is also intimately intertwined.

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Kathy Shorr – SHOT: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence

Many of the gun-violence survivors in Shorr’s new book SHOT have recovered against odds, put their lives back together and now taking an active role in inviting a public back into the tough dialogue about American gun violence. Kathy Shorr depicts the determination of the human spirit. The survivors are together in themselves and more importantly they are together collectively. Their lives from this point forward are made of a new set of challenges but they know they are not taking on these challenges in isolation. Shorr’s SHOT gives us a chance to listen.

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Al Brydon – Based on a False Story

This psychological evaluation of one’s current self against one’s past self reveals what we know to be true — we are not who we once were. By examining our past self, we change not only who we were, but who we are now. Through the process of creating ‘False Story’, Brydon’s conversation with his past self and destruction of his original images has actually revealed glimpses of his present self. This gem from Another Place Press is one of several I reviewed this past year – keep your eye out for more great books from them in 2018.

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Lauren Greenfield – Generation Wealth

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield is both a retrospective and an investigation into the subject of wealth over the last twenty-five years. Greenfield has traveled the world — from Los Angeles to Moscow, Dubai to China — bearing witness to the global boom-and-bust economy and documenting its complicated consequences. Provoking serious reflection, this book is not about the rich, but about the desire to be wealthy, at any cost.

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Mark Speltz – North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South

My review for this book gets special consideration for 2017. The review published at the end of December 2016, and set the tone for the coming year. A black man has served as a two-term president. People of color have held some of the highest offices in the government — yet the nation has not seen many issues of race and inequality disappear in the everyday lives of many Americans. But the overall feeling I got from North of Dixie is a combination of hope mixed with disappointment. It is my personal hope that people of different races, color or creed will see there is far more to be gained in life by working together and accepting each other for who we are. North of Dixie brings to light numerous lesser-known historic photographic images and illuminates the story of the civil rights movement in the American North and West. The book reveals the power of photography to preserve historical memory, impact social consciousness, and stimulate critical dialogue among everyone interested in social justice, human rights, American history, the African American civil rights movement, Black studies, and photojournalism. And hopefully, by better understanding the failures of our past we can avoid the pitfalls of repeating it. North of Dixie certainly goes a long way to guide the path.

Cig Harvey – You An Orchestra You A Bomb

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Cig Harvey’s third monograph is a vibrant and bold book, capturing moments of awe, icons of the everyday, and life on the threshold between magic and disaster. The breathless moments of beauty in her images propel us to fathom the sacred in the split-seconds of everyday. A raw awareness of fragility permeates this work.

I cannot fully understand the life events that take a woman through her youth and into middle age. However, I am a parent, a husband, and am squarely in middle age. My wife is a writer, and has introduced me to a number of poets. This expansion of my previously limited knowledge of great writers has made an immense difference – and thus, Harvey’s book spoke to me. The rawness of Harvey’s written passages and relevance to where she finds herself in life struck home. But you don’t need to be a peer of Harvey to get the drift. She photographs and writes with the passion of a Beat poet. To quote, and slightly edit, the poet Neal Cassady, “One should write, as nearly as possible, as if she were the first person on earth and was humbly and sincerely putting on paper that which she saw and experienced and loved and lost; what her passing thoughts were and her sorrows and desires.” Harvey does not hold back – with understated power, she records her broad experiences with the world. Harvey’s moments captured in her camera speak to the temporal nature of life, and her intimate poetry weaves them together in this memoir of symbolism.

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“In my 20s I wear vintage dresses every day. / 1940s ball gowns to get coffee. Fringed flappers to the post office.  / They are itchy and smell of someone else’s transgressions. But I am fearless and my life is a photograph. / When I turn forty, I retire them all in favor of tight jeans and high boots. / I put one thousand dresses in a room upstairs. / A room now a galaxy of velvet, taffeta, crinoline, lavender, silk, fur, cashmere, magenta, chartreuse, and moths like stars in the night sky. / I like the idea of the moths taking back the clothes of these women, slowly making dust of our stories.”

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Cig Harvey’s hugely successful books You Look At Me Like An Emergency (2012) and Gardening At Night (2015) both sold out rapidly. Her photographs have been exhibited widely and are in the permanent collections of major museums, including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. She has been a nominee for John Gutmann fellowship and the Santa Fe Prize, and a finalist for the BMW Prize at Paris Photo and for the Prix Virginia, an international photography prize for women. You Look At Me Like An Emergency was first exhibited at The Stenersen Museum, Oslo, Norway. Cig’s devotion to visual storytelling has lead to innovative international campaigns and features with New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Japan, Kate Spade, and Bloomingdales.

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Design: Deb Wood
ISBN 978 90 5330 893 6
Format: 22.5 x 22.5 cm
Hardbound with cloth cover
144 pages with 72 photos in full colour
Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam

To order a copy of the book from the publisher, please visit their website here

In the Country of Stones by Nicolas Blandin

Poetic visual narrative of Armenia

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

Busy lives being what they are — I did not have the opportunity to sit down with In the Country of Stones when it published in June of 2017. My copy arrived, and time slipped by. Shame on me. Nicolas Blandin’s book is a wonderful collection of images made when he travelled to Armenia in 2013–2014 after being captivated by the land and its people on a previous visit.

The landscapes Blandin captured are beautiful in their stillness. The layers of history, memories and culture appear in icons made visible. Telephone poles, highway ruins, and ancient carvings all evoke an ancient Christian past, and the Soviet government that ruled there for over 70 years is recognized as well. Both exist, at least visually, in a harmony knit together by the people of Armenia. Blandin comments on this aspect of the people in the book: “We had heard about the legendary Armenian hospitality, but we were still humbled by the level of openness and generosity we encountered. During those three weeks on the road we had the strange feeling that we had reunited with distant relatives…”

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

The mix of images in the book include almost as many portraits as images of the land itself. Yet I undoubtedly consider the book to be about Blandin’s journey to this raw, poetically beautiful place. The placement of the images within the book are such that one image leads the viewer into the next with a feeling of wonder, and time seems to fold back and forth on itself. A portrait of teenage boys wearing contemporary clothes is juxtaposed with an image of a house interior with a metal stove that could easily be from the early 20th century. Massive Soviet brutalist architecture follows an interior photo of a monastery from the 9th century complete with early Christian iconography. And each person shown in the book gazes directly at the camera, and thus right at the viewer — hinting at the openness and familiarity Blandin felt.

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

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© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

The book sold out its first edition 150 copy print run, not surprisingly. Much like many of the other editions published by Another Place Press, the book’s size is very personal in nature; lending to a meaningful interaction between the images and the viewer. The photos are printed beautifully on uncoated paper, which gives them a warmth and softness without sacrificing clarity.

© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

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© Nicolas Blandin
www.nicolasblandin.com

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Blandin speaks to the backstory of the project, as well as the historic narrative of Armenia and how it frames his work in those contexts. He closes his statement in the book by saying, “The images in this book are the result of a personal journey. They are partial, subjective, selective, even oblique. They do not amount to a definitive vision of the country. How could they even presume to record a nation in such a state of flux? In my photographs, I am seeking to tell my own story, as well as the stories of others, as honestly as I can. Rather than documenting the history and the landscape, my approach to both is rather more poetic and lyrical. And yet, to borrow Jocelyn Lee’s words, photographs, unlike paintings or drawings, remain “mysterious but irrefutable anchors to a real event in space and time.”

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In the County of Stones — Nicolas Blandin

76 pp / 150 x 190mm
Perfect Bound
Fedrigoni & GF Smith papers:
350gsm Colorplan cover
170gsm Uncoated text
Edition of 150
APP011
ISBN 978–1–9997424–0–9

 


Nicolas Blandin is a self-taught French photographer based in Annecy, France. Winner of the 2017 Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards, his work has been featured in various publications both printed and online. Besides freelancing for editorial and commercial clients, Nicolas is working on several long-term personal projects. His first book entitled “In the Country of Stones” was published by Another Place Press in June 2017.

Feel free to get in touch for commissions, collaborations, print inquiries or just to say hi.

Another Place Press is a small independent publisher interested in contemporary photography that explores landscape in the widest sense, covering themes which include land, place, journey, city and environment — from the remotest corners of the globe to the centre of the largest cities. Iain Sarjeant is the founder and editor of Another Place, and Another Place Press.