Blog zur zeitgenössischen Fotografie
und digitalen Bildkunst
Books - Foam List No.9 06.October 2010
von Sebastian Hau
Takuma Nakahira, “For a Language to Come”
An aura of mystery has always surrounded this book. Published in 1969, it became a legend in Japan. The original, however, was known to only a few specialists in the West until it was republished by Christoph Schifferli. The third edition was published this year by Osiris in Tokyo and has a cover that is reminiscent of Vasarely. Well printed and with accompanying essays by the philosopher, author and avant-garde artist Nakahira, this book is an intelligent re-interpretation of a cult publication. Slight changes have been made to its format and it is scaled down in size. When considered alongside the equally radical Provoke classics of Moriyama and the more objective Toshi-E of Takanashi it stands out on account of the programmatic and consistent response it makes to a self-posed challenge, namely to establish photography as an independent language at the cost of everything previously thought or done. The raw pictures with their deep blacks and barely recognisable subjects may repel or entice the viewer, but their power and sensitivity cannot be denied.
Heinrich Kühn,“ Die vollkommene Fotografie“
Around the year 1900 pictorialism was in full vogue and its adherents were everywhere to be found. Today we are rediscovering a second path taken by photographers of that time: early colour photography. The images in this volume are not coloured photographs but dye-transfer prints made in a complicated printing process with three layers of colour. When seen in person they are objects of great beauty. An exhibition and a monograph are now paying tribute to an early Swiss discoverer and artist, Heinrich Kühn. Whether his pictures are of family or models, they appear at first sight only charming. A classical sense of order, an exact study of light and colour, and a reserved approach to sitters result, however, in carefully balanced photographs. And Kühn did not only photograph walks or idyllic scenery. He also cropped and enlarged his pictures until they were almost pointillistic. The academic essays and the large selection of pictures make the practice and oeuvre of this photographer accessible even for someone who has grown tired of the pictorialists. The appendix is also valuable, since it explains photographic techniques that are often difficult to grasp.
André Cepeda, “Ontem”
A striking book with the title “Ontem” (yesterday) has recently been released by the Belgian publishing house Le caillou bleu. André Cepeda is a young Portuguese photographer who for a number of years has photographed the inhabitants of a small district located on the outskirts of the city of Porto. Many people here eke out a living only through prostitution and petty crime. The book contains portraits, (drastic scenes), apartments, and landscapes, often in the colours of dusk or under a grey sky. Some portraits reminded me of Chauncey Hare or Jacob Holdt. These are interspersed with pictures of sex or trashed rooms. There are also portraits in which people have been photographed with great clarity and sobriety. (It takes time for these pictures to reveal their meaning). They seem to show a “bare life” (Agamben), one that is reduced to the absolute minimum. But they also show the full sympathy the photographer has for his sitters. In an interview at the end of the book, Cepeda mentions a couple who found one another only late in life and describes their love under these difficult circumstances. This allows us to understand small details, such as plant pots outside a closed door or a broken window, and we are more willing to accept nakedness and unadorned physicality in the images. This is an important book alongside “Messina” by Pieter Hugo and “Niagara” by Alec Soth. It too uses the means of a new documentary style (flash, reduction, the artistic use of colour) to confront viewers with the inhabitants of a small peripheral world that is more representative of ours than we wish to acknowledge.
Miki Fukumoto, “A Paris”
Parisian street scenes? After looking at the first two pictures I thought “cliché!” and almost put this book aside. In the pages that followed, however, I encountered a number of small gems: portraits of friends or acquaintances perhaps, and encounters and discoveries on the street: a garbage bag for example, transparent and almost happy against the light of a sinking sun. Working together with Daido Moriyama and Ota Michitaka, Miki Fukumoto has taken a carefully edited selection of pictures and made this small book, which will delight, amuse and move readers again and again with its casual portrayal of the colour and richness of life in this almost over-photographed city. She pulls this off by showing not only typical French scenes but also several migrants, a wedding couple who look proudly into the camera, a waiter, and a saleswoman. In every case, these people face the camera with an astounding openness. The Japanese publisher Sokyu-Sha develops a different approach for every book. Simple, direct and attractive, this volume shows great affection for a type of photography that tells enthralling short stories in unremarkable scenes and images and with restrained prose.
Bruno Serralongue, ”Bruno Serralongue”
Serralongue sees himself as a reporter on a self-assigned mission. Whenever he feels drawn towards a story in the news (a strike in India, unrest in Chiapas, demonstrations), he travels to the scene, photographs the events and protagonists in an unobtrusive manner, and develops series, exhibitions and books from these pictures. As with the work of Luc Delahaye or Allen Sekula, viewers themselves must be interested and willing to work through stories that often take place outside their worlds. But the images, which appear neither casual nor detached and are taken without tricks or artificial light, are able to satisfy viewers solely by renouncing drama and concentrating on events. In this way they enable us to see beyond the everyday and into distant political developments. Published by Ringier, this book is cool and smooth. When I held it in my hands for the first time, I wanted to quickly leaf through it since it appears repetitive, but this is misleading. As part of a long tradition starting with “American Photographs” by Walker Evans, Serralongue strikes an exact balance between description and narration.
William E. Jones,"Killed”
The New York artist William E. Jones searched the Web for images of the FSA archive (a total of 170,000 negatives) that reveal traces of the private and homosexual lives of its photographers. Led by William Stryker from 1935 to 1945, the FSA’s Information Division employed a large number of photographers to make documentary images of American life. Stryker had a clear visual programme and most of the photographers quarrelled with him. Jones found negatives that had holes punched in them. This brutal method was used by Stryker to sort out unsuitable pictures and these pictures make up the majority of the book. In many cases the pictures by Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Arthur Rothstein, Behn Shahn and others are wonderful scenes of everyday life, portraits and photographic sketches. The holes were punched not along the side but right in the middle of the people shown, as if Stryker had been trying not only to devalue the pictures and the photographers but also to “kill” the people in the photographs. Lavishly published by Andrew Roth, this sober and elegant book brings together the pictures in a mysterious dance. The photographs are reproduced on a black background and appear invigorating and sensuous owing to this reappraisal of an important period in the history of documentary photography. An appendix shows several private photographs from the collection in which viewers can easily recognise sexuality and homosexuality: pictures taken in hotel rooms or at the beach, hidden in an endless number of street scenes.
David Favrod, “Omoide Poroporo”
This is another superbly produced publication from the ambitious Swiss Kodoji Press which exhibits a number of surprising and successful solutions. With Japanese binding, this book consists of individual images, some of which overlap. If we release the clasps, the pages can be taken out as spreads and can be directly pinned to the wall. The pictures are like photographs from a family album, snapshots from trips, and small romantic moments. There are pictures of mountains, both in Switzerland and Japan, a Kabuki actor, snow, and family pictures of the Swiss-Japanese artist. The photographs have large borders and are shown in different formats. What first appears to be a strange ragtag collection that ignores the laws of art photography becomes a light and pulsating web of private moments and valuable memories as well as a rough self-portrait of the artist as a restless young man. The title is Japanese and translates as “Diffusing a memory drop after drop”.
Julien Magre, “Caroline Histoire Numero Deux”
Filigranes produces a small number of photobooks every year, most of them by younger photographers, and is committed to productions that emphasize poetry and emotion. Julien Magre selected photographs of his wife and his two daughters from three different periods, the years 2000, 2004 and 2007. These pictures were then brought together in a medley of love and astonishment. The small scenes (which reminded me of Takashi Homma and Eva Bertram, two artists who have worked on similar projects) use available light and hidden colour accents. They speak of trust and closeness and were made during pregnancies, games, trips and masquerades. The pictures are quietly presented in a small book with a white cover. Recent years have witnessed the publication of several books focussing on the theme of family. This interest, which can also be found in contemporary literature, may be tiring for some (the French disparagingly refer to “naval-gazing” in some cases), but Magre avoids this danger by his economical use of intimate and private moments and allows his images to stand on their own without relying on our curiosity.
Maziar Moradi, “1979”
This book contains 37 photographs and English and Iranian text and can be viewed from front to back or the other way around. Staged as scenes with models, the pictures have been conceived as individual images but when considered together they form a disturbing family story. The young German-Iranian artist is clearly influenced by his role models Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Tina Barney. I nevertheless found myself confronted with a idiosyncratic work that was not easily deciphered. Whether the photographs are of a seemingly quiet meal in the garden or of a man standing on an upside-down flowerpot and being hit by a stream of water, they speak of an Iran we know very little about and allow us to sense terror, trauma and memories. The family shown here, which is certainly middle class, often appears caught or lost in moments that isolate the individual from the outside world. In other pictures the family is shown in the living room, in the garden, or on the street. With a scrupulously precise use of light, unsettling and ambivalent scenes, and a small cast of characters, Moradi has created a strong series of images that resonate with us, whether we can decode them or not.
Pascal Hausherr,"De Quoi Demain”
The seventy-odd colour photographs in this book by Pascal Hausherr tell a number of stories, both personal and political, fictional and documentary. The tranquil pictures were taken with a medium-format camera and form a loose essay that includes demonstrations and policemen, a man on his deathbed, a fashion show, family reunions, and quiet moments. I sensed that Hausherr was coming to terms with his native France and with its internal and external borders, and I noticed an openness for epiphanies. Seldom are mixtures of commissioned work, surveys and observations as mature and confident as this. Trans Photographic Press has produced a gorgeous book that allows readers to give their full attention to the pictures.
Johan van der Keuken, “14 Juillet”
When Johan van der Keuken went to Paris in the mid-1950s, his intention was to make films and take photographs. While several of his films can be found on YouTube, his photographs languish in largely out-of-print books such as the famous and rare “Paris Mortel”. Galerie van Zoetendaal has now edited and produced a small, masterfully designed book that reproduces the photographs on the contact sheet that contained the picture of the dancing couple, the one that van der Keuken decided to publish. The images are of a national holiday in France and people are celebrating. The photographer decided to spend the day at a spot on the banks of the Seine and instead of wandering he stayed close to a stage and watched the groups of people that gathered there. He was also interested in the various foreigners, the young people who were perhaps dancing for the first time, and the decorations. This new publication reveals the ability of photography to capture the flow of time, something hitherto only attributed to film.
Redaktion: Thomas Leuner