12 February 2015

Warm-up laps completed on Fotoblog

It’s taken me longer than expected to get into the swing of things over there on the Hatje Cantz blog, but I feel like I’m finding my stride.

Remember, this is a thought in process; I hope to finish the race by month’s end.

Link to entry number 3. Feel free to track backwards from there if so inclined. Let me know what you think.

31 January 2015

Revving up for a few laps on another track.


I was pleased and honored to receive an invitation from the German publisher Hatje Cantz to guest-host their “fotoblog” in February.

Here’s the list of others who have had this gig. Some pretty tough acts to follow:




Although they didn’t insist that I do this, I wanted to find a topic I could chew on for a month, with lots of examples to toss around and muse upon. I’ll be looking at some of their new books and backlist, and am free to include whatever references I’d like to cite during the month.

Looking quickly at their list of forthcoming titles and seeing a new monograph on Cindy Sherman, I stumbled on a topic. Sometimes, you think you know and understand a concept fully, only to realize that once you pause and unpack it, questions develop around what you thought you knew. I am curious about identity. What is identity, and how does it relate to photography?


A quick Google of “photography and identity” plopped me down in fertile ground. A 2011 group exhibition catalogue from the Haggerty Museum at Marquette University - The Truth is Not in the Mirror: Photography and a Constructed Identity - should be a good jumping-off point. Here’s a link to the PDF. I’ll be continuing my explorations in the next day or two, once my German colleagues give me the keys to the car; I hope you will follow my ramblings there.


02 January 2015

Good Reads - 2014

Tah Dah! A bunch of books.

I believe a year has to be fully over before any summary statements can be made about it. Look at what happened to Alec Soth; he had a set aside a favorite in fall, then got one last book that blew it away.

So that’s my justification today, in the waxing minutes of the third (used to be the waning minutes of the second) day of 2015, after having done approximately nothing on the blog of either a summary, summery, vernal, autumnal, or hibernal nature after Valentine's Day. Some writer I am.

I did receive a number of interesting books last year. And I had a lot of thoughts about several of them, but due to other obligations most of those thoughts will remain latent, tucked away in deep crevasses of my brain.

With all the usual caveats and disclaimers, I present...Tah Dah! A list of books. Most from last year, some older. The common factor in this list is that, regardless of publication date, the book came into my possession in 2014. And stood out, for various reasons, as a good read among others that arrived between January 1 and December 31.

Small Books with Big Ambitions

  • War Porn, Christoph Bangert (Kehrer, 2nd edition, 2014)
  • Pipeline: Human Trafficking in Italy, Elena Perlino (Schilt, 2014)
  • Memory of Trees, Kathryn Cook (Kehrer, 2013)
  • Bloody but Unbowed: Pictures of Britain Under Fire (Scribner’s, 1941), Ernestine Carter, ed., photographs by Lee Miller et al.

All four of these books could fit into the cubic space of any single title in the next section. But I found each to be a surprisingly broad, eye-opening journey into the insidious nature of conflict.

The smallest, Bangert's unprepossessing collection of what Ziya and I, working on adjacent light tables in the Magnum Photos picture library, used to call “gnarly” photographs--photographs, that is, that were so horrifyingly graphic we knew we had very limited opportunity to circulate them. These photographs should be fictional, but are not. They illustrate that old shibboleth, “man's inhumanity to man,” as so often found in the context of war.

Perlino’s expose tracks the Nigerian trade in humans, mostly for prostitution, that occurs across Europe but in this case outside Italian cities. For eight years Perlino immersed herself in the work, and the resulting images come fearfully close to dumping us into the maw of the machine.

Cook addresses a large scale atrocity that took place over a century ago. The inhumanity of the Armenian genocide can only be inferred from her images, which capture a dis-ease in the natural and built landscape that echoes the unconscionable wave of xenophobia that forced the displacement of nearly 1.5 million people.

Lee Miller, “Revenge on Culture” from Bloody but Unbowed

Finally, Bloody but Unbowed is a book I've been after since the 1980s, when I first discovered Lee Miller's amazing photographs made during the weeks of London’s fierce WWII bombing. Thanks to Christian Peterson I now own it, a slim book, about the dimensions of an iPad, but it contains some gems. “Revenge on Culture” is in my pantheon of all-time great photographs.

Big Books with Small Ambitions

  • Antibodies, Antoine D’Agata (Prestel, 2014; first published in 2013 by Editions Xavier Barral as Anticorps)
  • Eyemazing: The New Collectible Art Photography, Eyemazing Susan aka Susan Zadeh (Thames & Hudson, 2013)
  • Photography Today, Mark Durden (Phaidon, 2014)
  • Eden and After, Nan Goldin (Phaidon, 2014)

Small ambitions? Well, that may be hard to defend as a category. And I don't mean it in a pejorative sense. But these are inward-looking, self- and medium-reflexive topics given maximal published treatment (pages/pounds: D’Agata 559/4.9, Zadeh 544/8.8, Durden 463/7.0, Goldin 381/6.2). The results are successful for varying reasons; bigger isn’t always better, but these four are all really good.

I mentioned before that Elena Perlino had brought us to the brink of disappearance in the slave trade. D’Agata is already there, waiting for us in the shadows of deeply deviant exchanges. The journey we take with him is at turns deadpan blasĂ© and excoriatingly detailed, and the result is a brutal book of unimaginable depth and inconceivable depravity.

For those of you who don't know Eyemazing, it is a Dutch photo magazine that has been published since 2003. I have never understood its guiding esthetic, but as this tome makes clear, the images it champions never fail to amaze. The range of artists published in the magazine is unparalleled in contemporary collections. Scanning the list of artists in the book, you may recognize some of the names, but I bet many, even half, will be unknown to you. And that is a good thing. To my way of thinking, a browse through these pages is armchair traveling at its best.

As an historian, I find contemporary photography to be so rife with publications and emerging visions that creating new histories of photography is at best a speculative venture. But someone has to stake those flags as time marches on. We are approaching the medium’s 175th anniversary, besides. Mark Durden has done his bit. This professor of photography at the University of South Wales has created a new history built on both old familiars (Arbus, Eggleston, Frank, Mann, Winogrand, etc. etc.) and new standard-bearers (Dijkstra, Graham, Neshat, Wolf, Woodman, and many others). Worth examining, debating, absorbing, and admiring.
Nan Goldin, Eden and After, cover
Three living photographers who released big retrospective volumes this year—Nan Goldin, Danny Lyon, and Stephen Shore—appear in Durden's history. My favorite of this trio was Goldin's essay about children and the paradise they briefly inhabit before they leave the garden. Some familiar images here, but mostly new work that parallels and underscores her lifelong engagement with la vie boheme, that life that has inevitably generated new life. I like that Goldin continues to examine the facets of her world, which she has charted with such acuity for so many decades.

Surprises and Delights

  • Dolce Via: Italy in the 1980s, Charles H. Traub (Damiani, 2013)
  • Peach, Susanne Hefti (Kehrer, 2014)
  • Pikin Slee, Viviane Sassen (Prestel, 2014)
  • Zusammenleben, Ute Mahler (Hatje Cantz, 2014)
  • Touching Strangers, Richard Renaldi (Aperture, 2014)
  • Taxonomy of a Landscape, Victoria Sambunaris (Radius, 2013)
  • The Time of Dreaming the World Awake, Yvette Monahan (Self-published, 2014)
  • Wild Pigeon, Carolyn Drake (Self-published, 2014)
  • Primer, Karolina Karlic (Self-published, 2014)

There isn’t much I can do to tie these together, other than to say that each, in its way, engaged or touched me and reminded me that the book form is surprisingly limber and adaptable in diverse situations. Just a few words about each. (Please note, too, that the last three are indies, and were sent to me by the artists/publishers. This trio stood out among the crowd for both bibliographic excellence and as expressions of their makers’ generosity. Yvette, Carolyn, Karolina, and everyone else who sent me books in 2014, thank you so much. Note to all indie publishers: If you haven’t sent your work to Larissa Leclair’s Indie Photobook Library, please consider doing so.)

Charles H. Traub, “Rome, 1981” from Dolce Via
Traub’s Italy is a place I remember from my twenties, from some individual images I’d seen here and there. Aperture, I know, ran a couple in the magazine. Having never seen a fuller collection, I was happily reacquainted with the familiar images in the context of a book that is fun, sexy, curious like the best street photography, and not terribly self-absorbed.

Peach is one of two books on my list with accompanying foldouts featuring cars. Go figure. Hefti’s work is a garden of visual delights, using natural and man-made motifs that loop and weave in and around themselves. Working with designers so+ba, Hefti has constructed what might best be described as an artists book qua Moebius strip.

Pikin Slee! Pikin Slee! Pikin Slee! I feel like Zippy the Pinhead, parroting an inexplicably catchy non sequitur. Fortunately, Pikin Slee is more than a clever title—it’s a real place in Suriname, you can map it (though not via Wikipedia), and if the place has anything like the character Sassen captures in what is one of the most elegant, seamless meldings of duotone and color I’ve encountered, I want to go. Sassen lays the groundwork for a great tale of discovery. Perhaps we could call this lyrical anthropology.
Ute Mahler from Zusammenleben
Mahler’s visions of Germans living together—or simply coexisting in the frame, since many of the settings are hardly domestic—suggest the deceptive simplicity of Bill Owens’ Suburbia or Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor. And they cover a similar time period, 1972 to 1988, so there’s some apt correlation in subject, and entirely pre-cellular. Imagine that, and see it here. There’s so much material for speculation, and minimal guidance or editorial apparatus to intrude. Like casual ethnography, exquisitely non-specific and resistant to method and analysis.

I’d been eager to see Renaldi’s book since I first saw examples of this project, before a maquette existed. And the finished product, which I contributed to on Kickstarter, does not disappoint. This is a brilliant concept, executed with honesty and forthrightness. Renaldi captures the beautiful challenge of analog life in a digital era. A great, great book.

Taxonomy is one analytical mode in Sambunaris’ book. Typology is another, with its open-ended, expansive stance toward knowledge. I like this resistance to closure, as if the book—the portfolio, to be more accurate, designed with bound-in and loose pieces in a big pocket—is asserting itself as evidence of attempts to capture something about landscape, acknowledging that there are many ways to describe the elusive, subjective nature of any place.

Page spread from The time of dreaming the world awake by Yvette Monahan

Yvette Monahan was new to me. And the place she describes in her book seems like a landscape newly born into myth. Somehow, the sight of a man bearing water jugs and wearing a pair of horns seems entirely consistent with her evocation of a real place (42°51′49″N 02°22′45″E) that seems like a portal from the world we know into a world we can only imagine. Lovely, quixotic, intimate, and immense.

Carolyn Drake’s new volume expands on the promise of her first self-published book, Two Rivers. It accomplishes an effect diametrically opposed to Monahan’s; it takes a storied place, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in far western China, which most of us know only through news reports and rumor, and humanizes it with story, art, and image. Drake collaborates with residents in ways that seem like emotional or spiritual mergings. This is a volume full of surprising details and revelatory changes of perspective. Highly recommended.

Finally, the second iteration of a publication that is yet to be fully realized, and the harbinger of a singular vision of life in the post-industrial, pre-simultaneity age. Primer is the evolution of a book first Blurb-published as Elementarz, which remains the book’s subtitle. What have we learned? What do we know? What systems affect our lives? are among the questions Karolina Karlic asks in her evolving consideration of commerce, the auto industry, and American culture. (Yes, this is the second book on my list with a car poster.) Set against the counterpoint of her father’s terse letters to his daughter, Karlic opens up human lives in their errant progress from labor to management, from process to product, from grace to defilement.


Addenda

11 February 2014

Due diligence lacking: Clanet and Larsen on reindeer herders in Lappland

Don't you just hate it when you write something for publication, then just as the piece is hitting the stands you find something you wish you'd known about when you wrote the piece?

Dang. I do.

My short review of Erika Larsen's book on the Sami reindeer herders, published last year by emphas.is, is just coming out in Afterimage.

Yesterday, I was flipping through a magazine--the Winter 2013/2014 issue of Modern Farmer, of course--and discovered a portfolio titled "Reindeer Country." Covering five pages are very good photographs by Celine Clanet, with text by Andy Wright describing Clanet's experiences in Lappland, first as a tourist then as an "embedded" observer.

What my photo-bibliographic mind failed to recall while reviewing Larsen's intriguing book was that Photolucida published Maze, Clanet's collection of the Sami, three years earlier.


I would have mentioned this work, almost certainly, as prelude and complement to Larsen's efforts. Not in a competitive or preemptive way, just as a comparison worth considering. I could have used the excuse that Afterimage allotted me too few words to explore external connections. But my conscience would have troubled me, as it did today when I thought about what I'd seen, did a quick search on Clanet, and recalled one of the things I try to mention when I write about a set of photographs.
Spread from Maze by Celine Clanet via photo-eye
 So, there it is. Due diligence performed. Until I find the next precedent; anyone else got a pre-2010 book of Sami photographs I ought to consider?


P. S. This issue of Modern Farmer (the print component of a lifestyle site--FARM. FOOD. LIFE.--at modernfarmer.com. Check out their Culture Feature, "Celebrity Gentlemen Farmers: They're Just Like Us!" while you're there.) also includes work by Daniel Shea, Nicola Twilley's series on refrigeration, and a fashion spread--modern, indeed--by Aimee Brodeur. "Big up" to the art department there--director Sarah Gephart, photo director Luise Stauss, and photo editor Ayanna Quint.

02 February 2014

Richard Grossman, "The Man in the Gray [or is that "Grey"?] Flannel Suit," and Photography Books


I read in today's New York Times about the death of publisher Richard Grossman. According to the obituary by Douglas Martin, Grossman "was photographed, anonymously, for the cover of one edition of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" by Sloan Wilson, originally published in 1955, and the following year made into a movie starring Gregory Peck in the title role.

Martin quotes a friend of Grossman's as noting that "his pose was jaunty--the perfect suit with his back to the camera."

I searched Google Images and LibraryThing to locate covers of Wilson's book that would fit the bill.
Various covers of The Man... from LibraryThing

One image is of Peck, wearing the suit, dressed for the movie. And thus, clearly not anonymous or from the back, and appearing in variants on several other covers.

There is a graphic, probably derived from a photograph, appearing in the first row, far right, and the third row, far left, gracing the cover of a fairly recent Spanish language edition of the book (El hombre del traje gris, with a prologue by Jonathan Franzen).

So, my money is on Grossman's posterior aspect appearing in the positive/negative, animus/anima, figure/silhouette cover in the middle of the middle row, with its UK spelling of the operative color--"Grey" here, but "Gray" in all the other English-language editions I found. This paperback edition was published by PAN Books (based in West Molesey, Surrey, England - thanks to Tikit Resources at http://www.tikit.net/ for their compilation of data) in 1958.

Also on the bookshelves in 1958, at least across the Channel in France, was Robert Frank's Les Americains, published by Delpire (and in the US the next year, from Grove Press). Frank's photographs offered the flip side of the "gray flannel suit" version of America.

In partnership with Aperture, Grossman Publishers, started in 1962, released a second US edition of The Americans in 1969.

One of Grossman's biggest books was Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile (1965) which certainly annoyed a few men in gray suits.

While Frank's magnum opus may be the Grossman publication best known in photo circles, it was not the only recognized work from the company. Other photography books first released by Grossman Publishers include, in order by photographer or editor:

  • Cornell Capa, ed., The Concerned Photographer 2 (1972; including work by Riboud, Vishniac, Davidson, Parks, Haas, Hamaya, McCullin, and W. E. Smith)
  • Robert Capa, Images of War (1964)
  • Elliott Erwitt, Son of Bitch (1974)
  • Leonard Freed, Black in White America (1968) and Made in Germany (1970)
  • Mark Jury, The Vietnam Photo Book (1971)
  • Andre Kertesz, On Reading (1971), Sixty Years in Photography (1972), and J'aime Paris (1974)
  • Dorothea Lange, To A Cabin (1973)
  • Irving Penn, Worlds in a Small Room (1974)
  • W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, Minimata (1975; with Aperture)
  • Dennis Stock, California Trip (1970)
  • Paul Strand, Tir A'Mhurain: Outer Hebrides (1968; in conjunction with Aperture)
  • Adam Clark Vroman, Dwellers at the Source (1973)

And these are culled from the first 191 entries on ABE's list of 6,292 results from a search for Grossman Publishers, arranged from most to least expensive. There are over 6,000 items priced $200 and below still to be considered. (Be my guest.)

While it's clear that there wasn't a lot of women's photography appearing in Grossman's books--a fact we might attribute to the abundance of gray-suited guys a la Mad Men--it is also clear that Richard Grossman is responsible for an important chapter in the history of photography book publishing.

According to today's obituary, he also prompted some great work to be made. Here's Douglas Martin again:

One story [Grossman] liked to tell about his publishing days concerned a visit to the photographer Richard Avedon at his home on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He found Mr. Avedon crying.
"Where are your 35-millimeter cameras?" he said to Mr. Avedon, who was best known for his fashion work. "Get out on the streets immediately."
The haunted faces of grief that Mr. Avedon shot that day are considered some of his most moving work.
Richard Avedon, The Night of John F. Kennedy's Assassination, November 22, 1963


Thank you, Richard Grossman, for making it possible for us to see this moving work, and so much more through your will to publish great black-and-white photography against the grain of those ubiquitous flannel suits.

Douglas Martin, "Richard Grossman, 92, Crusading Publisher of 1960s" NYT 2/1/2014





31 January 2014

McKnight Photographers Becoming Visual Artists


What do Anthony Marchetti, Paula McCartney, Alec Soth, and Mohamud Mumin have in common?
  • They are all recipients of 2013 McKnight Fellowships for Photographers, chosen from a pool of 108 applicants by three photography professionals from outside of Minnesota. As such, each received a cash award of $25,000 to use over the course of a year.
  • They resided in Minnesota for at least a year prior to receiving the award, and they intend to remain residents for the Fellowship year, July 2013 to June 2014. 
  • They are all artists who have used photography as a primary means of creative expression over a period of time that would mark them as beyond emerging in their careers. Marchetti, McCartney, and Soth have each received at least one previous McKnight Fellowship; Mumin was a first-timer. 140 photographers have received financial assistance, in amounts varying from $2,500 to $25,000 since the program began in 1982. (All awards, in all the McKnight Artist Fellowship programs, were pegged at $25,000 starting in 2001; that year 53 awards were made in twelve disciplines, and the number has seen an overall downward trend since then. Click here for the Foundation's list of all Fellows in all disciplines, from 1982 to 2013.)
  • Finally, Marchetti, McCartney, Mumin, and Soth are the last four artists to receive McKnight Fellowships awarded specifically to photographers. As the Foundation's May 10, 2013 press release explains, the visual arts program hosted by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (organizations outside of the Foundation serve as administrative hosts for all the programs) will "expand to include photography" starting with this coming spring's awards.

Photographers will continue to receive funding. I have no concerns about photography "falling short" when put head-to-head with other visual arts. Fellowship recipients will have work that is strong and may emulate the more conspicuously "arty" photography that is being done today. This is worst-case scenario thinking: A culture of commercial imitativeness may emerge among Minnesota photographers seeking McKnight funding. Risk-takers will be at a disadvantage, as will those whose image-making drives them to document realities that move them personally, profoundly, but quietly, often over periods of many years.

The work Marchetti and his fellow 2013 Fellows do is diverse and divergent. These artists, aside from the similarities cited above, bear little resemblance to each other. The same extends to the other 136 recipients of McKnight Photo awards, noted in the list below. Photography is as polyglot and vital a visual language as any expressive mode extant today. I understand that the MCAD program will make eight fellowship awards instead of four. But will there be a provision, or an insistence, that some of those be directed toward photographic artists? That kind of direction towards a quota tends to make review panels very uneasy. Here's what the 2014/2015 guidelines state about the reviewers:

Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe my experience of running the McKnight Photography Fellowship Program for ten years slants my perspective. But I feel that this change not only deprives Minnesota's photographers and shortchanges the audience for their work, it creates a precedent for further consolidations. How about lumping all of the ceramic artists, currently under the Northern Clay Center's McKnight Fellowship program, and the media artists at IFPMinnesota, into MCAD's program? Why not put all the word-smiths under one roof as well? Musicians, dancers, theater artists--they're all on stage, so why not unify them?

In the wake of this decision there are ten programs that next spring will award 32 Fellowships to mid-career Minnesotans with the following titles: Ceramic Artists (2 $25,000 Fellowships to be awarded); Choreographers (3); Composers (4); Dancers (3); Media Artists ("independent producers, directors, writers, and developers in film, television, radio, web, computer/video games, transmedia, and other emerging forms of media"- from the program's web site) (3); Musicians (4); Playwrights (2); Theater Artists (3); Visual Artists (4); and Writers (4).

Composers, choreographers, playwrights, writers--all of these original target groups remain autonomously funded groups in the McKnight array. Why not photographers? Why deny the prescience that the foundation demonstrated when commencing the Artist Fellowship program in the early 1980s? Conversely, why did it take thirty years to recognize that photography qualified as a visual art? And on a third tangent, why have there never been painting or sculpture centers in Minnesota? I guess photographers need to be happy that, like printmakers, they remain in the running at all.

I will be very interested to see what the MCAD panels select in future grant rounds. What kinds of photography will be identified as viable (fundable) visual art? The practitioners and consumers of an inquiring medium want to know. In the meantime I say goodbye, good McKnight Photo Fellowships. You served us well.

The deadline for uploading your submission to the MCAD 2014/15 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists is noon on Friday, March 21, 2014. Here's a link to MCAD's site.


McKnight Photography Fellows, 1982 to 2013
Jen Ackerman + Joseph Allen + Thomas Allen + Eric Altenberg + Chuck Avery + Jack Bardon + Andrew Baugnet + Doug Beasley + Sara Belleau + Mae Benson + Elizabeth Berardo + Vicki Berg + Carol Berlin + Ricardo Bloch + Keith Braafladt + Thomas Bremer + Priscilla Briggs + Linda Brooks + Gloria DeFilipps Brush + Bruce Charlesworth + Peter Happel Christian + Richard Copley + J. John Corbett + Bill Cottman + Dorit Cypis + Gina Dabrowski + Stephen M. Dahl + Michal Daniel + Ioana Datcu + Todd Deutsch + Tom Dodge + Beth Dow + Natasha D’Schommer + Amy Eckert + Osama Esid + Sheila Farrell + Chris Faust + Teri Fullerton + Linda Gammell + Gretchen Garner + Lynn Geesaman + Vance Gellert + Frank Gohlke + David Goldes + Wayne Gudmundson + Terry Gydesen + Monica Haller + Gary Hallman + Barry Hansen + James Henkel + Stephen Hermann + Kristine Heykants + Keith Holmes + Wing Young Huie + David Husom + Jennifer Jenkins + Richard Johnson + John C. Johnston + Kathy Hemingway Jones + Dale Kakkak + Leigh Kane + Stephanie Kays + Diana Keller + Kel Keller + Shannon Kennedy + Ellen Kingsbury + Lynn Klein + Angie Klidzejs + Stuart Klipper + Jim Knipe + Jeff Krueger + Sue Kyllonen + Timothy Lamb + Peter Latner + Vince Leo + Peter Lindman + Lauren Lippman + Lynn Lukkas + Paula McCartney + Heather Mackereth + Anthony Marchetti + Roger Mertin + Jeff Millikan + Deirdre Monk + David Monson + Colleen Mullins + Mohamud Mumin + Robert Murphy + Barbra Nei + Celeste Nelms + Gary Ness + Justin Newhall + Jila Nikpay + Meg Ojala + Wendy Olson + Sheryl Olson + David Parker + Jason Pearson + George Peer + Sarah Penman + Bambi Peterson + Phuong Phan + Keri Pickett + Gail Rapson + Karl Raschke + Stevie Rexroth + Thomas Rose + Linda Rossi + Molly Rucks + Orin Rutchick + John Schlesinger + Barbara Schubring + Richard Sennott + Rik Sferra + Paul Shambroom + Mickey Smith + Rosemary Smith + Alec Soth + Carla Steiger-Meister + William Stieger + Angela Strassheim + Xavier Tavera + Carrie Thompson + Lex Thompson + Peter Haakon Thompson + Jim Tittle + Tobechi Tobechukwu + Stephanie Torbert + Mary Tortorici + Andree Tracey + Katherine Turczan + Charissa Uemura + Inna Valin + JoAnn Verburg + Diana Watters + Catherine Whipple + Tom Wik + Steven Williams + Mark Wojahn + Vue Xiong