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Books - Foam List No. 11 – November 2011
von Sebastian Hau
Bohdan Holomicek is considered by many to be a legend of Central European photography, a non-conformist representative of the old school of journalistic humanism. This somewhat inconspicuous book from Gwin Zegal has a black rubber cover and presents a selection of photographs that were taken in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s when Vaclav Havel was still a dissident. The first pictures are of demonstrations in Prague, but then the focus shifts to a farm in the countryside. This farm appears to be a meeting place for intellectuals, musicians and dissidents. Vaclav Havel is often the centre of attention, and he is shown in many different roles. We see him in a farmer’s jacket, as a dandy in a suit, as an athlete, and in the nondescript clothing of a father. The circle of people around him, whether at concerts of the Plastic People of the Universe, readings, or a small Christmas celebration with family and friends, radiates both seriousness and joy as well as the hope and pride of working towards political change.
In his classic publication In Flagrante, Chris Killip used editing to transform his documentary images into allegories. This new publication reveals the richness of his original material. For a number of years, Killip had visited a group of families on the coast of northern England. These families were living under precarious circumstances, collecting seacoal in the water and on beaches and in this way eking out a living. The seacoalers and their children lived in caravans and transported the coal with horses and carts. Their lives had a special energy, which is clearly what attracted Killip. The images refuse to make a clear statement on their meaning and alternate between drama and documentation, empathy and distance. Readers will be drawn in by Killip’s genuine interest and the seriousness with which he has confronted this subject.
Paul Graham’s new publication is likely to be disconcerting for his fans and larger audience. This strikingly designed book features close-ups of negatives. These images have an abstract quality that reminded me of works by Wolfgang Tillman. What Graham has done is to use negatives of photographs that have appeared in previous works of his. As a result, each image in this book corresponds to one of his published series of work, from Beyond Caring to Shimmer of Possibility. But a description of this process and concept does not, of course, equate with an understanding of the work itself. With this book, the publisher Michael Mack has pulled off a minor coup. Photobook lovers are already looking forward to the books he will publish this year, which will include work by Bertien van Manen, Christian Patterson, and others.
Mose is the name of a long-term project to construct gates around Venice which will attenuate water levels and protect the city from floods such as that of 1966. Stephen Shore was asked to document the progress of construction. This publication, which is the result of that commission, has the feel of an architectural sketchbook. It includes photographs in black and white and in colour, graphic elements, page-filling close-ups of the water surface, and thumbnail pictures of construction sites. In this work, Shore is perhaps less the old master and more the teacher who is attempting to give his students a better understanding of a complex subject. This book is successful mainly because Shore appears to have enjoyed working at this site and is interested in this theme. While this is a visually stimulating book, it is one that plays only a minor role in Shore’s canon.