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Books - die Foam-Liste Nr. 1, September 08
von Sebastian Hau
Chris Coekin: The Hitcher
A few years ago Dewi Lewis published Coekin’s book „Knock Three Times“, which went by largely unnoticed. Focusing on a social club for the working class, combining reportage, portrait and found material, this was already a very nice book. Coekin’s starting point was his parents, who frequent the club, a close circle of family friends and the beginning of a research into the emblems and imagery of the working class and its politics. One of Coekin’s strong qualities is his photographic eye for gestures, something that re-appears in this new book. Over the last few years he has been hitching, zig-zagging across the UK, and „The Hitcher“ could be considered as a travellogue. The book was produced in collaboration with the Photographers’ Gallery, but its design doesn’t make it a regular photobook on first sight. The main qualities here is not printing and slickness, but rather the handmade and badly reproduced. The book doesn’t want to appear worse than it is, but directly one feels that it doesn’t belong to the usual crowd of photobooks and that its author is looking at things somewhat differently. Chris Coekin was not out on an exploration, following intuition and chance, at least that’s not the story the book tells. The simple and convincing set up is this: Self-portraits of the hitcher, on rainy and clouded motorways mostly, stretching out a sign with his destination, portraits that take time to be read. Coekin documents the different types of asking to be took along (which can only be asked by a complex gesture of the body – looking friendly, trustworthy, in need of help, etc), and abstracting an interest in his self rather seeks an outward view, e.g. how do I look like for the people who drive by me.
This is set against portraits of the drivers that took him along and little details of the debris along the roadside and scraps of paper with obscure handwriting. Only on second sight do these messages reveal their meaning, because as a part of his concept, Coekin asked his drivers to fill out a questionnaire, with the main question, „Why did you take me along?“. And the answers to this are dispersed throughout the book. „I was lonely“, „It was raining“ or „You looked nice“. Not that these answers are especially revealing or offer any sociological truth. Only by asking them Coekin succeeds in transforming a simple concept and very normal photos into a book about travelling in a much larger sense. But the most impressive maybe this: the photographer, through travelling (we see nothing of his actual travels) questions what he’s doing, and by accepting the challenge of chance meetings puts himself at stake, exposing himself to the whimsy of those that can say „no“ to him. The photographer is not the one whose journeys are paid for by an agency or government, nor is he someone that works in a given setting of right and wrong. And so an image of his sore feet can be a lot more moving than reportage images of pain and suffer.
On www.lensculture.com/coekin.html there is a somewhat less favorable review, but some portraits and self-portraits are shown, which is handy, since Chris Coekin doesn’t have a website. The Telegraph website has some images of the „Knock Three Times“ project: www.telegraph.co.uk/core/Slideshow/slideshowContentFrameFragXL.jhtml?xml=/arts/slideshows/coekin/pixcoekin.xml&site=
Katja Stuke: Könnte Sein/Could Be
Stuke’s work has explored the possible contacts between photographer and subject from the beginning of her career. She has published a few artists books and with her partner Oliver Sieber the fanzine „Frau Böhm“ for nearly ten years. Although the images in her first book „Could Be“ from Kodoji publisher, Basel are mostly culled from the TV-screen it nevertheless focuses on that minimal sphere that surrounds all of us. Something Agamben calls „genius“ in his „Profanisations“, or, more profane, a certain form of privacy we express in public. Stuke’s working method in past years has been to take movies with a video-camera, mostly in the streets of big cities, during her travels. Back in the studio she edits those movies and ends up taking photos just like screen-shots of the moments that are the most valuable to her. Such a highly intuitive working method that has no predecessors is difficult to condense in a book, and most people flip through the book without seeing what is at play here. The book has been edited to combine these series with screen-shots of computer games and Hitchcock-movies. Reality and fiction become interchangeable? They are already, and Katja Stuke is among those photographers who enter into that strange image sphere. The images following one another in the book create a sphere of possible encounters and secret moments in the midst of a hurried city life. The streets are sometimes crowded, sometimes empty, some portraits were taken on public transport or in parks but in all of the people depicted there is a feeling of heightened awareness. There is no direct threat or danger, only, like in Ruth Orkin’s 1952 portrait of the American student in Rome, the feeling of being watched, the power of the eye is tangible and manifest.
Katja Stuke has a very nice way of showing her book on her website:
Philippe Terrier-Hermann: 93 Hollandse Pracht
The title is easily explained. Terrier-Hermann has asked 93 people to tell him what they feel to be the most beautiful place in southern Holland. Those people are from different milieus and not all of them are Dutch. Among those invited to participate are architects, farmers, politicians, artists, business people and expatriates as well as tourists and immigrants. The same working method allowed him to come up with a very nice and unexpected work about contemporary Japan a few years back. In a short text Terrier-Hermann (born 1970, French artist and photographer) describes this method of working as aiming at a topographical record or a visual archive of the contemporary Dutch landscape. There is one image per page, set against a description in English, French and Dutch from the person that recommended the site, place or building on the opposite page. The images clearly parallel Dutch landscape paintings of the 17th century as much as the new topographical photography from the seventies. It would be to easy to call this a conceptual work, as if the description of an idea could fully explain its formulation in an artistic statement. Throughout this well-designed book ideas on beauty, landscape, environmental issues and politics reverberate, the images themselves in their often factual manner present their documentary interest with a solid background in the history of landscape paintings. Overall this is a very intelligent statement and document, and a book that uses new Dutch design to promote an artist whose questions go well back a few centuries.
Gallery Poller from Frankfurt has a part of this series on their website: www.galerie-poller.com/artists/PTH/PTH-bh.htm
Bromberg & Chanarin: Fig
The authors were commissioned by the institution Photoworks to do a photographical survey of Great Britain and its history. The book that came out of it is a lot more than that. Adam Bromberg & Oliver Chanarin, who after having worked for the Benetton Colors magazine, have produced four books, travelled through the UK, visiting historical museums as well as the homes of people they became interested in or hidden government anti-terror sites. They travelled across Africa or used images taken there on previous journeys and have included images from private collections and photos of murals in Italy. The book opens with two nondescript photos of two hills on which beacons were lit to warn of the coming of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The slim book that has about sixty photos, all shot in a similar desaturated color style by both the authors, and combines these with short descriptions or historical background information, will only work for a reader who is willing to fill the gaps. The method of editing is similar to that of W.G. Sebald or J.M. Coetzee in „Elizabeth Costello“, for example. We are asked to follow across giant gaps, those between the photos and the texts, between history and anecdote, we move along circles attempting to categorize the world around us through photography. Which is one of its oldest functions, and the authors come across it in historical and natural history museums. The will-full and free movement is not fanciful, it comes to stop at stories of the horrors humans inflict on humans, in Ruanda the same as in the UK, big stories known to everyone and little private stories they found because they asked the right questions. These gaps between the rational and irrational, between terror and hope, are there for us, to bridge or to let open, borderlines that are at once well-known and hidden. We can only listen and think, decide and react. Artists like Tacita Dean and writers like Alexander Kluge come to mind for having similarly followed hidden trails, asked the right questions, used a dead-pan approach to the scales and categories we devise to hide the dominance we seek. Needless to say Bromberg & Chanarin do little by way of photographical style or technique to make their work more interesting. They are good photographers interested in how the world works, and they go to wherever they believe they will find out.
On www.choppedliver.info/, their own website, the artists present the complete series. On 5b4.blogspot.com/2008/06/fig-by-adam-broomberg-oliver-chanarin.html, there is an informative and enthousiastic review.
On www.seesawmagazine.com/figpages/figinterview.html both are interviewed and provide background information.
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