Sunday, March 8, 2015

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)

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"Germaine, you and I are the greatest photographers of our time, I in the old sense you in the modern one" -- Man Ray

"[Germaine Krull] was one of the first, for example, to photograph industrial images - factories, bridges, machinery, sometimes viewed from vertiginous angles, finding the essence of the muscular patterns inherent in this subject matter. Her portfolio, Metal(1928), was a high point in her career, a time when she was ranked with Man Ray as a leading photographer of her time." --Arthur Lazere

Described by Naomi Rosenblum (A History of Women Photographers) as "an especially outspoken example" of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who "could lead lives free from convention", Germaine Krull is best known for photographically-illustrated books. Her 1928 portfolio Métal depicted "the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape. Parr and Badger consider it "the finest example of a modernist photobook in the dynamic, cinematographic mode."
The book is technically an album, with sixty-four numbered but unbound collotype reproductions that can ostensibly be rearranged at will. There are no captions and no identifying markers, and the images include both vertical and horizontal compositions. In a brief note beneath an introduc¬tory text by Florent Fels, Krull tells us that these photographs include a lifting bridge over the Meuse River in Rotterdam ...; the cranes in the Amsterdam port; the Eiffel Tower; Marseille’s transporter bridge; and other industrial forms she found. But it would be difficult to decipher these subjects from the photographs themselves. Although there are eleven Eiffel Tower images in the book, for example, they are often so abstracted that the subject is unidentifiable, and none are on contiguous pages.

For Krull, metal was the most powerful metaphor for the modern world, and her book Métal includes many of the industrial forms she saw in Europe. It features both multiple exposures and straight images, and the entire volume is structured according to the principles of film montage.

Sergei Eisenstein’s theories of montage were particularly important ... and Krull’s Métal serves to demonstrate them. She actively adopted the Soviet filmmaker’s ideas of rupture and “visual counterpoint,” involving graphic, planar, volumetric, and spatial conflicts. Scholars have often read Métal as a purely formal experiment, but Krull used it as a commentary on contemporary life, producing the kind of montage that her friend Walter Benjamin championed, in which “the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. . . . The discovery is accomplished by means of the interruption of sequences. Only interruption here has not the character of a stimulant but an energizing function.” The quality of interruption, according to Benjamin, differentiates truly revolutionary work from the mere aping of the modern world, an approach that he scornfully attributes to the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch. For Krull, interruption could occur in a multiple exposure, as in the ... Métal image depicting overlapping views of bicycle parts. Or interruption can be found while turning a book’s pages, moving from a drive-belt detail to ominously large-scale cargo cranes, or from the Rotterdam Bridge over the Meuse to a detail of a centrifugal speed governor. Whether portraying a roller coaster, documenting the Eiffel Tower, or creating her book of industrial fragments, Krull engaged the decade’s cacophony and used provocative experimental techniques to capture its allure. 

Quoted material from Kim Sichel, "Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography"

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Frees, Harry Whittier (1879–1953)

According to Wikipedia
Harry Whittier Frees (1879–1953) was an American photographer who created novelty postcards and children's books based on his photographs of live, posed animals. He dressed the animals and posed them in human situations with props, often with captions; these can be seen as progenitors of modern lolcats.
There's no doubt Frees went to a lot of trouble to convince people that the pets were live. See, for example, the ad for "Photographing Animal Pets" on the first page of Kitty's First Day at Catnip School. But I don't buy it. Have a look for yourself, particularly at the paws and the awkward way they are frequently bent. He was working with stuffed animals.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five inexpensive and overlooked books that made me laugh or smile

Thomas Van Den Driessche. How to be a .... photographer in four lessons.

Price: 19.50 Euros
An absolute masterpiece. Biting satire at its best.

Gustavo Aleman. (No) Soy de Aqui.

Price: 20 euros.
A book of slightly incongruous photographs that perfectly captures the love/hate sense of attraction and rejection so many of us feel about the places we live. 

Sergey Novikov. Belgian Beer. 

Price: 30 dollars.
Documenting Vasya Bykov's trip through the Belgian beer circuit and his reaction, in words and images, to each beer he tried. Cheers!

Belgian beer from Sergey Novikov on Vimeo.


Koji Kitagawa. Kyoiku.

Price: 1000 yen
Cute cartoon characters, bright colors and bold graphic design. What's not to like?

Marco van Duyvendijk and Xiaxiao Xu. Love Doll Factory. 

Price: 17 euros.
Parts of this come across as a plastic version of Bellmer's surrealist classic Die Puppe. In early 2012 photographers Marco van Duyvendijk and Xiaoxiao Xu visited the Ya Mei Plastic Factory; a small factory in Zhejiang province China that produces love dolls. Meant as a tribute to the factory and its workers, Love Doll Factory is a delightful little book, made in loveable pink colours and with a highly enjoyable soft touch cover. 

And for those of you who think The Pigs should be on the list, a book with that much press coverage is not "overlooked."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best Overlooked Photobooks of 2013

It's the end the year and the best of / favorite photobook lists have started to proliferate. This year's offerings are particularly strong with lots of books that, I think, will stand the test of time. There also seems to be a lot of interesting end-of-year publications, perhaps in an attempt to take advantage of the seasonal buzz. The result? A number of books which deserve more attention than they have gotten. So, in no particular order, here are ten books that I think deserve best of year consideration but have not shown up on any of the lists that I've seen to this point.

Two European Seas, Two stunning Photobooks

Produced in a small run of 350, Sarello's look at the Baltic Sea is arguably the best book of the year. An exceptional combination of strong individual images which are substantially enhanced by the way they are sequenced. Add to this the clever structure of the book, literally broken into two parts, which isn't a gimmick but, literally, embodies the break in Sarello's work that accompanied the loss of his girlfriend. A truly poetic book which transcends John Szarkowski's famous characterization of photography as mirrors (inward looking) or windows (outward looking). Sarello is constantly looking outward at the Baltic, but what he finds are images that mirror his soul.

Mateusz Sarello - Swell from Matej Sitar on Vimeo.

Given the amount of attention Milach received for his earlier works (7 Rooms and In the Car with R), it's surprising that the book hasn't made any 'best-of' lists. Yes, it is only available in a limited edition with print and at 190 euros (shipping to North America included) it's pricey. But the edit is strong and the individual images are stunning.

Black Sea of concrete from x on Vimeo.

Two Fascinating Remixes

Broomberg and Chanarin's Holy Bible has received lots of attention and is, in my opinion, overrated. The concept is clever and some of the archival images are interesting, but I found the link between the highlighted text and the images largely uninspired.  By contrast, Scarti, is visually stunning. The title comes from Scarti di avviamento, the technical term for the paper that is fed through the printing press to clean the drums of ink between print runs. The book is, in reality, a collection of accidental mash-ups of overlapping images that first appeared 10 years ago (as single images) in the brilliant, anarchic photobook, Ghetto. Video link here.
Charlie Engman's remix of Self Publish, Be Happy's COMPILATION TOKYO is both more affordable and more cohesive than the original.

Compilation Toyko: Remix from Aperture Foundation on Vimeo.

Two Well Established Photographers Explore Two Social Institutions

Church interiors are both beautiful and fascinating.  Clever design both in concept and execution, linking the offering box with the interior, turns this work into social commentary.
MASS from Mark Power on Vimeo.

Images taken immediately after the completion of surgery and the removal of the patient from the operating theatre, but before the room was cleaned up. The juxtaposition of the images with short bits of text selected from an interesting mix of sources is designed to turn the book into a "room of thought."

So, your operation didn't turn out as you hoped and you find yourself in the cemetery?

Pictures of the porcelain portraits found on tombstones in Hong Kong. Over time the portraits are exposed to rain, sun, extreme temperatures and humidity. The portraits become abstracts. Stunning visuals that comment on the process of death and decay.

Wow. Haunting images of ancient pagan rituals captured with a Holga camera. Never has lo-fi looked so good.

Video here.

Another pricey but gorgeous offering, entirely handmade in an edition of 100. Fascinating pairings of images culled from an archive spanning several decades.


And, to conclude, this year's Canadian Content Award goes to .....

Jonah Samson, Another Happy Day: Found Photographs from the Collection of Jonah Samson

A must for anyone who loves vernacular photography.  While the sequencing isn't as strong as last years vernacular favorite, Dive Dark Dream Slow, the individual images are a true joy to behold.

And, bringing up the rear, two others that I initially forgot, but felt needed to be included:

Fascinating design and choice of materials.


Think Stephen Gill's Coexistence on acid in leporello form. See the video here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Best Photobooks of 2012: Niche Awards

Award for the Best PhotoBook Overlooked by the Photo-Eye Lists

Photoeye has 29 lists, listing 160+ photobooks and nobody noticed this stunning book! Paula McCartney, As If Everything You Imagined Were True. Arguably the best book I saw all year. Full review here.  I only came across it because I visited Paula's website for another reason. A true testament to both the depth of the 2012 photobooks and how easy it is for works of the highest quality to get overlook in the flood of quality product.

Biggest Buzz Award

The conventional selection would be Cristina De Middel. The Afronauts topped more year end lists than any other photobook and it was already out of print by the time most people discovered it.  Praise + scarcity are the requisite nutrients for growing buzz.

However, it is hard to ignore Rafal Milach and the sheer volume of high quality work he has produced in little more than a year: 7 Rooms, In the Car with R, and the forthcoming Black Sea of Concrete.

Favorite Emerging Publishers

As the photobook ecosystem proliferates, we need to recognize publishers that put out innovative, high quality products at a reasonable price. Cudos to two publishers who have found my sweet spot -- high production values, innovative design, and fascinating content published at a price that doesn't break the bank.
  • Burn Magazine / Books
  • Editions Bessard -- ok, I admit the 3000 Euro version of History of Monuments with its bronze cover doesn't really meet my affordability criteria, but the regular edition is reasonably priced and still stunning  :+)

 Best Special Edition Award

Will Steacy,  Down these Mean Streets: The Election Edition (Special edition photos and information here, edition itself no longer available)

Most limited edition / special edition photobooks consist of some mix of the following: a) the book (sometimes in a different cover), b) the photographer's signature, c) an edition number, d) a slipcover, box or other container and/or e) an original photograph. All these extras come at a substantially higher price.

My problem isn't with the higher price itself, but with the formulaic application of a marketing orientation designed to turn the book into a sacred, status object that makes it's owner feel special. Why not do something unique and distinctive that builds on the project itself and provides the consumer with a more fulsome experience of the work?

That's what Will Steacy did. Down These Mean Streets, for those unfamiliar with the book, is a series of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings and notes that combine to represent a collage-like journal depicting the current political state in America. Approaching themes of a changing political landscape, Steacy questions the current political system and idea of the American Dream. Down These Mean Streets presents a stark reality of a country deeply divided in cultural ideologies.

The Election Financing Edition was available for the symbolic price of $99.01 up until the 270th electoral vote was counted. So, the structure of the edition itself had an aspect of performance art about it. Content-wise, the edition put the book inside a Vintage Bank Deposit Bag tied shut with a Noose (how symbolic is that!). Inside the bag were a variety of objects symbolically tied to the current US economy: an antique Wrench, an Application For Unemployment Benefits, a Scratch-Off Lotto Ticket, an Original Buffalo Nickel & an American Flag. Moreover, each version was unique— the size of wrench, date of Buffalo nickel, winning or loosing lotto ticket, size and name of bank printed on deposit bag varied. The bag I got -- from the US Mint and designed to hold a $1000 worth of quarters -- also included a quarter (sadly only one, and not $1000 worth!). That little fact gives a sense of the individualized and personal attention that went into each one. Cudos to Will!

Best Reprint

A strong category with lots of worthy contenders. I'm flipping the coin, but no matter what happens the winner is Steidl.  Heads is their facsimile reprint of Jakob Tuggener's Fabrik, A Photo Epos of Technology, tails is their facsimile of Keizo Kitajima's Photo Express: Tokyo.

In the category of reprints that aren't really reprints, the Books on Books series just keeps getting better. The selected books are more adventurous, the supplementary material is getting better, and the books are more closely approximating the number of pages in the original, meaning there are fewer pages with multiple page spreads reproduced on a single page.

Best Edit / Sequencing

Melissa Catanese, Dive Dark, Dream Slow

Sequenced in a manner reminiscent of Robert Frank's seminal The Americans -- with a recurring, non-linear set of themes and counter-themes embedded in an overarching linear progression -- Dive Dark, Dream Slow brings the narrative techniques of modern photobook design to vernacular photography.

Best Cover Photograph

Marc Asnin, Uncle Charlie

As the lawyers say, "res ipsa loquitur" -- the thing speaks for itself. Nuf said.

The Considerate Publisher Award for Book Design that accomodates photobook collectors and their peculiar needs and desires

Sebastian Girard

Beginning with 2009's Nothing but Home and every year since, Sebastian Girard has produced a self-published book. The thing I like about these books? 1) They are all the same size. 2) The 'trilogy' have similar but different covers. 3) This year's book, Strip-o-Gram, which goes off in an entirely different direction, has a cover that distinguishes the project from the earlier trilogy of books, but still looks integrated when placed next to them on the shelf.

Yes, I appreciate the artistic desire to treat each project as unique and select the size, cover and design appropriate to the particular work. I also realize the ironic inconsistency between my praise for the unique in the Special Edition award and the embrace of standardization I'm recognizing here. But, as someone with lots of books and limited shelf space, I organize them by size rather than by photographer. So, it's nice when they naturally all end up together. One thing you'll never hear me say: "Where the fuck is that book by Sebastian Girard!?" because they are all together in one nice little unit.