Tag Archives: storytelling

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.

 

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.

After the Firebird by Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Magical images from the hidden world

The photo book After the Firebird is now available. The photo project by the same name is the result of a 7-year project in Pskov region (Russia) by award winning photographer Ekaterina Vasilyeva.

After the Firebird talks about the mystery and magic of the hidden world and the amazing discoveries that can occur in front of everybody. You need only to look around carefully.
To view samples and purchase the book, please visit : http://www.ekaterinavasilyeva.ru/books/after_the_firebird/

Interviews and/or coverage of the project has been published at: Critical Mass, Wobneb Magazine, Art Narratives, Dodho Magazine, C41 Magazine, PDN Magazine, Edge of Humanity Magazine, F-STOP Magazine, WorkshopX, Fotografia Magazine, Private, Saint Lucy, Phosmag Magazine, Tonelit and LensCulture.

To see more images from After the Firebird and read the interview in Wobneb Magazine: click here or to read the interview as it appeared in Art Narratives on Medium, click here

After the Firebird by Ekaterina Vasilyeva
Designer: Ekaterina Vasilyeva
Limited edition of 85 copies (numbered and signed)
Handmade binding

Sise: 24 cm x 32 cm
48 pages + 1
37 color illustrations
1 Firebird for the Incantation
Inside paper: Materica Gesso 120 gr
Cover paper: Materica Gesso 250 gr
Languages: English, Russian
Self published and printed in St. Petersburg (Print Gallery) in 2017


Ekaterina Vasilyeva is an independent photographer from St. Petersburg, Russia, working at the intersection of the genre, documentary and art photography.

In most of her projects, she explores the theme of a particular place (space, territory, it changes in the context of time and historical landmarks, environment problems, interaction with human activity, personal relationship and the myths of the place. To see more of her work, please visit her website: http://www.ekaterinavasilyeva.ru/

After the Firebird – Magical images by Ekaterina Vasilyeva

Storytelling is something we humans have always been doing, to some degree. Telling all sorts of tales has been an important part of our lives for millennia. Themes that all great storytellers use; birth, growth, destruction, death, and rebirth are important aspects of what it is like to be human, and what its like to experience life. There are a number of Russian folktales that speak of a mythical firebird whose feathers glow and can even protect the person who possesses it, but the firebird can be both a blessing and a curse. Variations of this story include princes and princesses, magical creatures, omens of the future, immortality, and lessons that test the virtue of the people who encounter the firebird.   

Ekaterina Vasilyeva’s project, After the Firebird, uses these themes as a springboard to show us what life is like in the village where her family has lived for generations, and where she has been photographing for the past few years. Her selective use of color, light and environment set the stage for these scenes. The people she photographs include her own family members. Without romanticizing the lives they live, we can view their homes, their activities, and their village through the transformative lens of myth. Vasilyeva captures magical scenes of life – those little parts of common everyday occurrences that suddenly transcend into something more. Her scenes allow us to see a common object as a talisman suddenly made visible, or the relationship between two specific individuals as something that crosses over into a universal relationship for all of mankind… but only if we are watchful.


After the Firebird – project statement

The Russian village is rapidly sinking into oblivion. The sad statistics show that in Russia over the last two decades almost 25 thousand rural settlements disappeared within the map of Russia. Moreover, according to the sociologists, about the same number of them is on the verge of extinction.

My story begins long time ago when my grandmother and grandfather, both from the Pskov region (Russia), met in Leningrad (St. Petersburg now), got married and stayed there for the rest of their life.

But it could have turned out very different. I, now a modern city dweller, could have been born among those flowering fields and hard-working people.

In his village, my grandfather used to be called a gypsy because he could predict the approaching of someone’s death. As for himself, he always knew that he would survive two wars and wouldn’t be injured. And so it happened. With regard to my grandmother, he said that she would outlive him by exactly ten years. This prediction also came true.

Over the last five years that I have been documenting people from the small village Andrushino in Pskov region, I have been subconsciously looking for overt or covert manifestations of people’s magic.

I think that it is as much a part of our being, as history and geography. Faced with a fabulous world of folklore you soon realize that it is rooted in a totally real ground and that all the beliefs and superstitions, charms and rituals, tales and fables are not just a warehouse of archetypes of the collective unconscious, but an immediate response of the collective soul to the mysterious currents of the natural elements. 


Q&A

Cary Benbow: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?

Ekaterina Vasilyeva: One can ask yourself this each year – and respond it every time in different ways. At the moment, I would say I do not take pictures in a normal, casual way, as much as I do it to visually study or research something. I consider photographing only in conjunction with the history, geography, mythology and literature on the theme of project. So, the photography becomes a reflection of the knowledge I’ve gained or its interpretation.

CB: Why did you become a photographer? What was your start into photography?

EV: My serious interest in photography arose in 2009 during my two years of residence in the United States, in Alabama. Simple, amateur pictures of nature became unsatisfying to me. I often remember one random picture I made at the beach of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. A couple was walking along the beach among a lot of birds, and the man suddenly raised his hands up and waved them like wings. At that time, I also realized that I wanted to change something in my life. Maybe even my profession. This time also changed my way of life essentially; I had more time to be alone with myself. Living in a foreign country, being quite closed off, helped me to find, I can confidently say now, my matter of life. I decided that after returning to St. Petersburg, I was going to study photography.

CB: How does ‘After the Firebird’ relate to your other projects?

EV: This project is the only one which is connected, though not directly, with my family and my ”roots”. I am dedicating the book I’m preparing, After the Firebird, to the memory of my grandparents who were born in the Pskov region. And, of course, it is the most mystical among my projects.

The connection of After the Firebird with other projects is the important subject of the relationship between people and nature. For creating my story I was inspired by Russian fairy tales and folklore, literature on Slavs mythology, paintings by famous Russian artists such as Viktor Vasnetsov and Ivan Bilibin, Palekh miniature (Russian folk handicraft of a miniature painting), and movies based on the books of Russian writer Valentin Ivanov (”Russ at First” and ”Russ Great”)

CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?

EV: I think that first of all, in view of your one’s personal experience, it is an opportunity to surprise yourself. Second, the photograph should resonate with a viewer, regardless if he/she is the editor of a photo magazine or an ordinary visitor of an exhibition.

CB: Where do you get the ideas for your personal photography?

EV: Everything somehow connected with me and the place (territory) where I live, which I love to visit or that I want to explore.

CB: Is it relatively easy, or do you find it a struggle to be an artist where you live? Do you feel isolated in the larger artistic community?

EV: I do not think there is a lot of ”rivalry” among photographers in Russia who are engaged in contemporary photography (the example of contemporary photography for me is the ”Institute” Agency). And almost no magazines, galleries (except Moscow), or good photo competitions, or people who are interested in purchasing photos.

This market is very poorly developed in Russia so far. Therefore, I concentrate on foreign audiences and opportunities offered by the foreign photographic industry. Due to the Internet, and the fact that I occasionally live in Europe (thanks to my husband’s work), I can visit photo and art exhibitions, search and buy books on photography and art.

So there is a minus, but there is also a plus. You need to work harder to delve into all of this, and so you probably only get stronger. By nature I think I am an optimist.

CB: Do you keep a journal or do you keep notes or write about the places and people you see?

EV: Unfortunately, I do not keep a personal diary. For each project I just collect useful information from different sources: quotes, images for inspiration, excerpts from articles, books, etc. I write a plan and some words for the better understanding of what I do want to find for my project. All this is mostly working materials.

CB: Who are your personal photography inspirations?

EV: I am inspired by so many things. For example the movies of such film directors as David Lynch, Wim Wenders and Ingmar Bergman. So I love weird movies. As for photographers – I’m currently attracted to the energy and temperament of Cristina de Middel. And because of calm judgment and a nearly perfect photography narrative, I’m a big fan of Alec Soth.

Art plays an important role for me. Some of my favorites are Americans artists: Edward Hopper for his brevity, realism and melancholy; and Andrew Wyeth for his ”wind” in pictures, a singular style and fantastic sense of place and home.

CB: I would love to learn more about the “mysticism” in your work. What parts of your work are mystic, and how you wish the viewer to “see” the photographs?

EV: I like the idea of combining documentary photography and a certain mystique conditionally. Each viewer has to decide for himself where is the truth and where is fiction for him. Given the fact that I do not make the staged photos and everything happens as in reality, it becomes itself a strange and mysterious. If we want to see something unusual,  we will see it. I am convinced of that each time I work on a project.

After the Firebird talks about the mystery and magic of the hidden world and the amazing discoveries that can occur in front of everybody. You need only to look around carefully. With the documentary style of my work, I strive to endow each photograph with a sufficient degree of strangeness and mystery. I think this is the most truthful reflection of my inner world and attitude towards the life. Despite the quite rational mind, the analysis of things and actions, in my soul I also feel the presence of a child whose mother often told and read her tales.

I want to see something beyond everyday life, filled with encrypted symbols. Or maybe just something that brings back memories and the atmosphere of a unique place. More generally, I’m always looking around for magic.

CB: Also, I would like to understand how the relationship between man and nature is important to you? Many people do not live close to “nature” settings, and some people are very connected to the natural world… how does nature influence the way you create?

EV: For me the relationships between nature and people play a very important role . I think that without a clear understanding of its important role in our life, a person to some extent deprives itself of its support, and even health. All my projects are in some way connected with nature, with long hiking (10, 15, 20,… km) combined with deep attention to the environment around me.

I would like to believe that my projects could assist a new understanding and interest in the nature around us and respect for it.


Ekaterina Vasilyeva is an independent photographer from St. Petersburg, Russia, working at the intersection of the genre, documentary and art photography.

In most of her projects, she explores the theme of a particular place (space, territory, it changes in the context of time and historical landmarks, environment problems, interaction with human activity, personal relationship and the myths of the place. To see more of her work, please visit her website: http://www.ekaterinavasilyeva.ru/ 


This is an edited version of the interview published in Art Narratives in March 2017.

Small Town Inertia photo book project – J A Mortram

Surviving life and austerity on the margins

416d4c7a467bb808c27585fda580742d_originalJim Mortram is a photographer from Dereham, Norfolk, UK. He has been photographing members of his community who are on the fringes of society.  For the last seven years, Jim has been photographing the lives of people in his community who, through physical and mental problems and a failing social security system, face isolation and loneliness in their daily lives. His work covers difficult subjects such as disability, addiction and self-harm, but is always with hope and dignity, focusing upon the strength and resilience of the people he photographs. His long-form documentary photography and accompanying texts journal the lives of “people without a voice”.

Mortram’s work and projects have been featured by many, including the British Journal of Photography, as part of its “ones to watch” lists. And now, Mortram’s project ‘Small Town Inertia’ is being produced as a book via Kickstarter.

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The photographs also depict the scale of welfare cuts … of housing benefit cuts …health service cuts … and the constant failure of systems that should care for the vulnerable in the UK.

These people have a right to dignity, a right to be heard and not ignored. Jim is now publishing his photographs in a limited edition hardback book with highly regarded publisher Bluecoat Press.

Jim Mortram is one of Britain’s brightest talents. His long-term project about those on the margins of society has resulted in many accolades. The Guardian newspaper describes his work as having ‘a timeless character that invites easy comparison with the classic documentary work of such British photographers as Chris Steel-Perkins, Paul Trevor and Chris Killip.’  He was awarded in the Digital Camera : Photographer of the Year competition 2009 and 2010. He has exhibited internationally including Camden Image Gallery 2014 and Photoville New York 2013. His published work has appeared in The Guardian, British Journal of Photography (Ones to Watch 2013), Black and White Photography, Cafe Royal Books, BBC, Professional Photography, Flakphoto and aCurator.

The Kickstarter project has many levels of support available with various rewards for your kind support. Please consider supporting this project today.