Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ceskoslovenská Fotografie (1931-1949)

About the Series

Ceskoslovenská Fotografie was a photographic annual published by the Czech Amateur Photography Club. While professional Czech photographers between the wars made their livings from portraits and souvenir books, the amateurs pushed the limits of photography as an art. The greatest of these, Sudek, Krupka, Drtikol, Styrsky, and Ruzicka, exhibited with the "Amateur Photography Club," and published their work in the amateur photography club's monthly, Fotograficky Obzor. The club's annual book collected the best work of the year in each volume.

Bibliographic Details

Prague, Skarda, 1931-1941, 1946 and 1949. First editions of the complete set in 13 volumes. 10.75 x 8.5 inches. Over 800 full-page black and white photographs reproduced in photogravure plus introductory text pages and ads (in the first nine volumes). Bound in original cloth and paper-covered boards. All volumes in Czech, some with English, German and French. The first six volumes feature covers with avant-garde designs by Karel Teige. Vols. IX and X, published under occupation, bear the alternative title "Ceska fotografie."

About the Photographers

Among the photographers in these volumes are Josef Sudek, Jaroslav Krupka, Jindrich Styrsky, Frantisek Drtikol, Alois Zych, Karel Plicka, Jaroslav Seifert, R. Sima, K. Muller, J. Tutsch, and many others. The images in these books document the transition within Czech photography from the earlier Pictorialist period to the emergence of Czech modernism. The most notable of the Pictorialists were Frantisek Drtikol; who used Art Deco models, dramatic lighting and props adopted from the theatre, as well as heavy symbolism in his photographs of nudes; D.J. Ruzicka, who worked in Czechoslovakia and the United States; and Josef Sudek, known as the "Poet of Prague." The new Czech photography, heavily influenced by Russian and German constructivism, first emerged in the early 1920s. The emphasis on graphic design and typography characteristic of this period is readily evident in the advertisements at the end of the early volumes. Everything considered, Czech publications are among the most interesting and creative of the inter-war years.

The Books









1941 Ceska Fotografie Pamatky Cech a Moravy (Monuments of Bohemia and Moravia)

Published while under occupation, this volume displays a number of significant differences from others in the series: a more focused subject matter (buildings --both urban and in bucolic rural settings, architectural details, statues, monuments, etc.); the inclusion of multiple images by the same photographer; a lack of images by the best known Czech amateurs; and relatively few modernist images resulting in a substantially more pictorialist tone.  Notably lacking is any sense of the war or occupation. A very subtle piece of propaganda.



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.