Alec Soth is a divisive figure in the photo world, something that comes with the territory when you get a lot of attention in an attention-deprived microcosm or when you become the figurehead for a whole sub-genre of photography. His quirky, folksy attitude may not go down well with everyone, but I thought his collective, LBM‘s idea to set up a photobook summer camp for “socially awkward storytellers” instead of doing just another photobook workshop was genuinely refreshing. It doesn’t sound revolutionary—replacing the campfire with a digital projector to show the other participants images while telling them a story—but I for one would be interested to sit in on a session. Not all photobooks need a strong narrative to work, but there are a LOT that could definitely use it. Perhaps most importantly, it’s free. They don’t fly you out to LBM Land, but they are not asking you for hundreds of dollars for the privilege of taking part. For more info and to apply (deadline is April 15th), check out the LBM website.
I don’t normally post about awards, competitions, book launches, etc. (despite the best efforts of all the PR people who have got their hands on my email address) but I wanted to congratulate Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs for their recent win of this year’s Foam Paul Huf Award. I was asked to nominate for the award and they were one of my picks so I’m extra happy for them. Their work is always surprising and visually exciting, but what I love the most is that it is also fun, something that is all too rare in contemporary photography. I also heard that they will be exhibiting at Le Bal in Paris from May through summer, so 2013 just might be the year of TONK!
The latest installment in the ongoing series of photography eating itself comes courtesy of the consistently innovative and extremely prolific German duo of Oliver Sieber and Katja Stuke (confusingly known as Böhm Kobayashi). They have just released their latest Ant!foto publication in the form of a Manifesto newspaper. The paper includes contributions from a bunch of photo types from across the spectrum of which my favourite would have to be Jeffrey Ladd’s list of demands/wishes/grievances. There is also a website (how could there not be) which allowed you to contribute your two photographic cents to a Visual Manifesto event organised with Markus Schaden at the Dusseldorf PhotoWeekend but sadly it is now too late and you have missed your opportunity to enter the Ant!foto Hall of Fame. If you are interested in all the navel-gazing and existential self-interrogation that photography has been getting into of late (and yes, I am actually interested), then this Manifesto is worth checking out.
Book Machine looks like a great initiative by Onestar Press and Three Star Books from 20 Feb – 10 Mar 2013 at the Centre Pompidou. The event is a FREE workshop open to the public during which you get to make a book. You get a 3.5-hour slot to work with a graphic designer from one of three design schools (ECAL, ENSAD or École Estienne) to produce a final PDF. The final book (in a very limited edition of 1 copy!) will be yours to pick up in “the next few days” at the Centre Pompidou. The book format is 14 x 2.25cm with 100 black and white interior pages and a glossy color cover, although I’m not sure what the printing process is going to be… all of this being entirely FREE. Plus there is a bunch of other book-related stuff going on. So if you have a book idea, sign up here.
(Incidentally this post is a defining moment for the blog since this is its first animated gif… slowly catching up with the times.)
Cristina de Middel, The Afronauts
For those of you who had been hoping for me to repeat last year’s meta-list compilation of all of the ‘best books of the year’ lists I could find on the Internet, by now you will have realised that regretfully, I was going to disappoint you. Thankfully your disappointment will have been short-lived: QT Luong has stepped into the breach and has just posted the meta-list for 2012. The comfortable (and deserved, in my view) winner is Cristina de Middel’s The Afronauts which I am extremely glad to have got my hands on while I still could. For the full list head to Luong’s Terra Galleria blog. As for the meta-list, I believe that this is an exercise that a person should only do once in their Internet life so if there are any volunteers for compiling the 2013 photobook best of list, be my guest!
I’ve always found it fascinating to see early examples of colour photography, because they inevitably reveal a world that isn’t so monochrome as all those black-and-white photographs might make you think. I’ve written about an archive of colour photographs of Depression-era America here before and now I’ve come across another even earlier archive (which also happens to be held by the Library of Congress) that has recently been published as a book. Nostalgia is a collection of 283 photographs from the early twentieth century “Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II”, by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. A pioneer of colour photography, he convinced the Czar (a fairly impressive sponsor) to back his project to travel across Russia to assemble a photographic portrait of the Empire, which he did from 1909 to 1915. The archive was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1948 but has only just been restored. Nostalgia is not a groundbreaking publication, but it’s one that really deserved to be made, given how few people have been able to see these images in their original form.
I wrote about Romka magazine over on the eyecurious Tumblr some time ago, but I will confess to never having picked up a paper copy before, so the latest issue (#7) is the first I have been able to flick through. The conceit is a simple one, “favorite pictures and the stories that lie behind them” by pros and amateurs alike. No book reviews, no interviews, no ads… no excess fat. The result is a kind of crowd-sourced collective photo-album, which makes it sound terrible when it is really quite good. Romka simply does what it says on the tin: it presents a series of single images by photographers (that might be Roger Ballen or it might be Sachi “the builder who lives in a pink house in New Orleans”), each accompanied by a short text explaining what that image means to them. It is a very simple recipe, and like many simple recipes it is hard to get right, but when it works it is rather delicious. Although it follows a fairly strict formula it doesn’t feel formulaic because of its democratic, all-inclusive approach to images and because it helps to reveal some of the myriad reasons why photographs matter so much to people. This simple formula also makes it refreshingly different to most other photography magazines out there.
Loving this short film montage by Mishka Henner and David Oates, collectively known as BlackLab. By extracting and resequencing hundreds of movie scenes featuring photographers, Photographers explores the tropes of the photographer on screen from voyeur, to fashion photographer, investigator or war photographer. Beyond the fun of trying to figure out what films were used for the montage, this is also a fascinating deconstruction of the mythology of the photographer.
Andres Gonzalez’s book Somewhere is a deliberately slippery beast. As its title implies it is not about a specific place, but more about the idea of place itself. It begins and ends in an airplane, as if to make the point that it will be taking us on a series of journeys. These photographs were taken all over the world (Mexico, China, Namibia, Ukraine…) over the course of a decade, but Somewhere is clearly not a travelogue. There are no images of the Great Wall of China or of the Namibian desert, but rather of the late afternoon light pouring into a bedroom or of an anonymous shopping mall parking lot. The book doesn’t follow a narrative or focus on a single subject, but instead it seems to have been structured to mimic the way we remember, where one memory will lead to the recollection of another from an entirely different time and place. The design by Dutch graphic designer extraordinaire, Sybren Kuiper, emphasizes the overlap between these moments even further by interweaving sections with different sized pages to create a subtle flow of images that slowly appear and disappear.
2012 is turning into the year of the Japanese photobook exhibition. After Contemporary Japanese Photobooks at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, New Yorkers now have the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks Reading Room to look forward to from 28-30 September. 10×10 is a 3-day pop-up reading room sponsored by the International Center of Photography Library with 100 Japanese photobooks selected by 10 specialists (=10×10). Since this event is also sponsored by the Photobook Facebook Group, there had to be some online action too, so the organizers have asked 10 people from the Internet to each select 10 books, which, according to my stellar arithmetical abilities, gives us a total of 200 books. For my list, I have tried to select books that represent different facets of Japanese photobook production over the last 60 years (I have managed to get one book from every decade since the 1950s). I should also mention a few obstructions in my selection. Firstly, I was asked not to select books that had already been selected other participants. As I tend to do things at the last minute, I had to make a few changes to my initial selection. Secondly, I have only selected books that I own so I could include some (rather poor quality) photographs of them. So without further ado…