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Books - Foam List No.8 2. June 2010
von Sebastian Hau
Jürgen Nefzger, "Fluffy Clouds", Hatje Cantz
This prize-winning series is a documentation of nuclear power plants throughout Europe. The detailed images are in the style of industrial photography and show the power plants together with their surrounding landscapes. This results in both humour and irony, since the foreground of the pictures reveals the different ways in which landscape is used: a new housing development, leisure parks, a public beach, tennis courts, and so on. In this series, humour is a product not of words but of images in which near and far have been brought together. The unconventional editing ensures that landscape photography and social criticism play an equally strong role. The photographs of landscapes in all seasons and from all parts of Europe are exceedingly well printed and the colours are precisely reproduced.
John Gossage, "Here", Rochester
This catalogue was originally a newspaper supplement for an exhibition of photographs commissioned by the city of Rochester. It is now available in a plastic sleeve, complete with belly band and the photographer’s signature. A surprising number of portraits round off a series in which Gossage presents small photographic metaphors of life in the suburbs. In handles, supports, clamps and fasteners, small makeshift defences against the powers of disintegration, Gossage finds elements for a series featuring the buildings and streets of Rochester. In many of his books and series, Gossage has followed his themes on and off the beaten track. Through the sequence of the pictures one can feel Gossage both walking as well driving à la Eggleston or Winogrand. This publication is fairly extensive and has allowed the artist to present generously sized pictures nearly as large as exhibition prints. Newspaper printing is perhaps not the best way to reproduce photographic precision but here it emphasises the ephemeral side of this artist’s photography.
Cracow Photomonth 2009
Poland and other eastern European countries are now producing more and more interesting catalogues and books. Distribution channels are still in early stages of development, which makes it difficult to judge the state of publishing in these countries. The catalogue of last year’s Photomonth in Cracow is, however, a good example: excellent production, carefully translated texts, and surprising editing are immediately noticeable. This publication begins with a selection of photographs by Viktor Kolar which the Czech photographer made in his home town over the course of the last thirty years. On his own initiative, he sensitively documented the city and its inhabitants without making concessions to social expectations. The team of curators in Cracow headed by Tomasz Gutkowski and Karol Hordziej made an excellent selection of well-known and less well-known photographers. The catalogue shows series by Weegee, Odermatt and Tichy, images on the festival theme of “memory processed”, and photographs from the Archive of Modern Conflict. I recognised many of these pictures, but they are nevertheless edited in an economical and surprising fashion. The catalogue also gives us an overview of interesting exhibitions of Polish and Czech photography and an opportunity to learn about a whole range of photographers. The organisers are planning to produce further books, which is something we can look forward to.
Kim Bouvy, "Phantom City", Pels & Kemper, 2010
"Phantom City" is a small pocketbook that would like to be several things at once: a documentation of Rotterdam with a geographical index, a photo novel with chapters, and an academic work with a two-page bibliography. When we open it, a walk begins through a grey and often gloomy city. The book presents us with black-and-white photographs, some of newspaper or television images, and of streets, towering buildings, narrow passages, and slip roads. Is this a dark version of the Japanese cult book "Tokyo Nobody"? Not quite, for even on the cover there is the spectre of a person walking, and now and then we can see people, although they appear to be turning away, just like the houses and buildings. After a while, a peculiar feeling for space sets in, one that is made of stones and concrete and of memories and history, which the photographer evokes with texts and images. This book has a clean and elegant design and seduces the reader with an approach that vacillates between a sober study by a photographer and curator and an almost paranoid and obsessive trip through the chasms of an unknown city.
Zwelethu Mthethwa, "Zwelethu Mthethwa", Aperture 2010
Born in 1960, Zwelethu Mthethwa studied photography in Cape Town only to give it up later in favour of painting: he was unable to find a place as an art photographer in South African society under apartheid. Supported by the sales of his drawings and paintings, he returned to photography, and today his pictures are regularly shown at festivals and in museums and galleries. He has made a significant name for himself among representatives of African and South African photography. This most recent book from Aperture shows series such as “Sugar Cane”, “Coal, Quartz and Gold Miners” and “Brick Workers”. Besides his interiors, the portraits of people at home and at work are particularly impressive owing to his respectful, friendly and clear presentation of people. Especially in his series “Interiors”, which features portraits of people from the countryside who are looking for work in the big city (and who land first of all in emergency shelters), the colours of clothing and furniture are used to enhance contrasts and precisely balance one another. As a result, the quiet and almost peaceful portraits (far removed from both well-known African studio photography and most press photography) gain a certain tension. In an accompanying essay, Okwui Enwezor highlights differences between this and the photography, for example, of David Goldblatt, which European readers must first learn to see. Regardless of how I classify this book, it has moved me more than any other photobook with portraits in some time.
"Time is a Book", Ghent Festival
The organisers and curators of the photography festival in Ghent invited an exciting group of photographers and artists to discuss the theme of time. Focusing on people who work with books, they invited Lawrence Weiner, Robert Adams, Guy Tillim and Susan Meiselas. Els Dietvorst and Dirk Braeckman have made a catalogue documenting the exhibition which nevertheless works as a book even for readers who were not at the festival. Although it is not lavishly produced, this large-format manuscript is a combination of a give-away, an artist’s book, and a department store catalogue and thus has a special significance. It contains part of Simon Norfolk’s most recent series documenting missile launches, works by Lynn Cohen, Jitka Hanzlová and Craigie Horsfield, as well as texts by Eliot Weinberger, Ben Okri, Rimini Protokoll and John Berger. All of this is found in a three hundred-page brochure that gives considerable space to the images and text and in which we can detect a clear artistic direction.
Stefan Bladh, "The Family"
For seven years, the Swedish photographer Stefan Bladh visited and photographed a Turkish family living in destitute circumstances. He has now self-published a selection of these pictures, some 60 in all, in a book with a foreword by Anders Petersen. The closeness of the photographer to the parents and their nine children is exceedingly clear in this selection. Intimate images such as these can only be made by photographers who place friendship and benevolence on equal footing with the interests of photography. This volume includes pictures of the nine children at work and play, portraits of the parents, scenes and a few landscapes. The majority of the pictures are in black and white but there are also a few colour photographs. Seldom have I encountered such a convincing début in recent experience. Bound in cloth and with a belly band and a tipped-in photograph on the cover, this book has a serious design and provides the pictures with enough space for the reader to become fully engaged in the story they
Koen Wessing, "Chile 1973", Errata
Among the new books that Errata has published in its second set of lavishly reproduced study editions of rare photobooks, "Chile 1973" is a particularly notable milestone in photobook history. One reason for this is that the original was not a book but rather a staple-bound booklet with 26 photographs. Wessing decided to visit Chile during the military coup against the Allende government. Wearing the inconspicuous grey suit of a bureaucrat, he was able to photograph without arousing suspicion. The series begins with burning books and a funeral procession and moves then to a football stadium in which intellectuals and supporters of the Allende regime are interned after they are photographed and have their heads shaved. The concluding pictures show masses of soldiers on the street after the military has assumed power. They are little more than faceless agents of power ready to use violence. The juxtaposition of power and injustice, violence and oppression is precise in its accusations. The pictures, which are in the aesthetic tradition of Cartier-Bresson, are powerful and masterly. Errata has now made newly accessible Goldblatt’s "In Boksburg", Klein’s "New York" and the photobook jewel "Toshi-E" by Yutaka Takanashi. All of them have been beautifully reproduced and feature carefully researched texts and illustrated bibliographies. Although Wessing’s book is most powerful in the original edition, this small volume from Errata allows us to feel his moral indignation and his shock even forty years later. The publishers have done their very best to convey this feeling.