First Edition of “Olele Olala” by Kishin Shinoyama

This is by far the oddest photo book I own.  Published in 1971, “Olele Olala” is a cross between a travel monograph and commercial photoshoot.  As per the “Photobook: A History Vol. III” by Parr and Badger: “Kishin Shinoyama is one of Japan’s best-known commercial photographers, probably the country’s most successful commercial photographer, renowned for his celebrity portraits and his female nudes, where he rivals even Nobuyoshi Araki.”

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If the funky graphic cover doesn’t give the nature of the book away, the intro does not leave you guessing: “Kishin Shinoyama and his mad crew challenge Brazil.  The land of dazzling sex craze at the other end of the globe!!  Here!!  The human document of his bitter comic struggle for 25 days!”  “Olele Olala” was commissioned by Hitachi Corp. to help market their electric shavers, which are featured sporadically throughout the book.  It’s this strange juxtaposition that makes this such a startling photo book.

“Olele Olala” starts out with ariel views of “Christ the Redeemer” over looking Rio.  The flyover continues over hillside slums crowded with small houses, commercial areas of the city and beaches teaming with people.  The next sequence is of lively street carnivals which are melting pots of cultures and races.  The shots are dark and underexposed with dashes of colour.  Plenty of scantily clad women dressed in sequinned bikini costumes.  Certain images of street carnival revelers are repeated and close cropped for effect.

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The second half of the book jumps between shots of these street carnivals and pictures of naked women on the beaches and indoors.  The washed out colours of the photos make the scenes more strange.  Awkwardly, at this point, we are suddenly presented with a glossy full colour foldout advert for Hitachi Electric Shavers.  The product is being held by men in bathing suits surrounded by bikini clad women on the beach.  There’s no hiding the fact that sex is being used to sell these shavers.

“Olele Olala” is an iconic photo book that encapsulates an era and a specific culture of photography.  It openly celebrates photography, the female form and electric shavers in equal measure.  Boldy combining Japanese erotic and commercial photography into one package with no hidden agenda.

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“Die Mauer ist weg!” by Mark Power published by Globtik Books

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“Die Mauer ist weg!” which translate to “The Wall is gone!” is as much an autobiographical work as it is a document of a significant world event.  The photos contained in the book are from an assignment that saved Power’s photographic career.  The self proclaimed social documentary photographer was struggling for five years to get enough work to pay off his credit card debts.  Fortuitously a friend named Nigel gave him 200 Pounds to have “one last go” and the photos in the book are the result of that effort.  The photos taken from the trip were sold to newspapers and made enough money for Power to pay off his debts and relaunch his career.  More importantly, it helped him to find his voice as an artist photographer.

As more newspaper photographers showed up at the event, Power felt compelled to seek out the behind the scenes images. Through these images taken at the fringes we see a much greater context for the events that were taking place.  By looking at the sequence of images I get the sense that the blind rush towards The West resulted in the abandonment of values which Power ask us to re-examine.  He does not make it explicit what these values are, but my guess is that they are probably not related to commerce.

In terms of format, the book design pays tribute to the newspapers that helped fund Mark Power in those early days of his career.  The design of the front cover of the photo book is an imprint of one of the newspapers published at that time in Berlin. (The front page of that particular paper can be seen in the second photo below.) The binding of the pages is exposed with only the last page attached to the back of the book. The sequence of photos progress from documentary to one that more resembles Power’s current signature style.

To purchase a copy please click here.

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“Desire Lines” by Jan-Dirk Van Der Burg (self published)

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Making plans is important but having things not go accordingly is usually the norm.  Improvisation is as decisive a factor as the original intention.  These were thoughts brought to mind by Jan-Dirk Van Der Burg’s book “Desire Lines”.  The title describes the shortest path people take to get from one point to another eschewing the prescribed path that is usually marked out in concrete.  The book is a simple yet compelling collection of mostly dirt paths that people create by walking and biking.

The subject matter may seem a bit niche but Jan-Dirk makes it interesting by showing a wide variety of these desire lines in different context / uses and by all kinds of people.  As you can imagine some of these paths can be quite long.  But it is the shortest ones that offer the most insight into human behaviour.  Some paths are hard to find in the picture as they may not be the focus of the composition.  But this works well by requiring the reader to look more closely at the context.

We’ve all used desire lines before on a daily basis.  But it takes a certain kind of talent to document and present them in a compelling and engaging way.  It’s amazing how such an insignificant subject matter can be satisfyingly rendered so significant by a well executed photo book. Hope to see more works in the same vein in the future.

Some brief remarks about he design and layout. The overall feel is a lack of pretension. Simplicity in concept and design is consistently applied. Most photos are accompanied by a blank page with the location and the distance saved/gained by the desire lines. There are the odd double page spreads which have been omitted in the samples below.

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Martin Parr’s “The Non-Conformists” published by Aperture

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Silver Jubilee street party, Elland

I bought this book a year ago when I went to “Only In England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr” at the Science Museum.  I must admit that I got it more as a souvenir of the show.  That is until I spent time reading it cover to cover I realised what a real gem it is.  (I had my copy dedicated and autographed by Parr when he came to Hong Kong for his “Hong Kong Parr” show.)

The book is in many ways an autobiographical work of Martin and Susan Parr – but more so Martin.  The title of the book refers to the Methodist and Baptist chapels in a specific area of Yorkshire.  George Parr (Martin’s paternal grandfather) was a Methodist lay preacher and also from the Yorkshire region.  Martin would attend chapel with his grandparents every Sunday: “For us, there was something about the Non-Conformist ethos that resonated with the West Yorkshire outlook: hard-working, frugal, temperate, disciplined, self-reliant, fond of tea and cake.”

Throughout the book’s text and photos you get a sense that the Parrs became an integral part of their subject matter: “Although we didn’t realise it at the time, Stanley Greenwood took our interest in the community and chapel as a sign that we might be the ones who could keep the chapel going in the future.  This was partly our fault because we had become too involved in the very thing we were trying to document.”  Vicariously the reader becomes a neighbour and fellow chapel goer with the subjects portrayed in the book.

To a larger degree than other phonebooks this level of closeness is achieved symbiotically through the text and photos.  As cliche as it sounds Susan Parr’s writings breath life into Martin Parr’s photos:

Between films, Lloyd entertains the audience with short, crackly recordings of Glenn Miller or Bing Crosby, played on 78 rpm discs. Downstairs, in the foyer, a lonely policeman comes in for a cup of coffee and a chat with Mary.

When you get to the chapter “Calderdale” – which is absent of text – you sense what a powerful effect the text has on the photos.  Every photo becomes part of a narrative more than a single image. They become film stills with a life before and after the shutter was pressed.  You feel more empathy for the characters and begin wondering about the circumstances of their lives.

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Hebden Bridge Picture House

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Two local policemen taking breakfast, Colden Row Farm, Heptonstall

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Old Town fete

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Travelling hairdresser, Heptonstall

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Mytholmroyd

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Silver Jubilee street party, Todmorden

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Halifax Town football ground

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Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel

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Sarah Hannah Greenwood and Charlie Greenwood, Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel

 

“From One China To The Other” by Henri Cartier Bresson published by Universe Books, 1956

In 1948-49, Henri Cartier Bresson travelled to China on assignment for Life magazine.  He spent five months photographing the Kuomintang regime and witnessed first hand the Communist take over.  After another six months he left China by boat from Shanghai to the then British colony of Hong Kong.  “From One China To The Other” is a compilation of photos he took during this historic trip.

Han Suyin writes in the preface for the book: “All humanity deems itself worthy to partake equally of the wealth of this rich world of ours.”  I think this phrase alone captures the essence of the book and that period in history when extreme levels of human inequality were corrected.  The corrupt Kuomintang rulers in the cities were displaced by peasant soldiers and students.

The photos below were taken from the six sections titled: The Celestial Empire, From day to day, The last days, Interregnum, Celebrations and planning, Departure.  It shows a steady progression from everyday “normal” life to one that is highly politicised.  The only conflict shown is the aftermath of aerial bombing of Communist captured / liberated areas.  I chose these photos because they show a good contrast between the China of the Kuomintang and of the Communist.

All the photograph captions were written by Henri Cartier Bresson.

About eight days before the departure of the Kuomintang troops and the arrival of the People's Army, life in Peking goes on peacefully. A street trader is delighted to meet a friend who has just bought a length of cotton material. Respect, benevolence and clam, virtues which the Chinese are unwilling to lose in any circumstances, are practised on the eve of one of the greatest changes in China's long history.

About eight days before the departure of the Kuomintang troops and the arrival of the People’s Army, life in Peking goes on peacefully. A street trader is delighted to meet a friend who has just bought a length of cotton material. Respect, benevolence and calm, virtues which the Chinese are unwilling to lose in any circumstances, are practised on the eve of one of the greatest changes in China’s long history.

The Tai-miao gardens, temple of the imperial ancestors, near the former Palace of the Emperors.  Every morning at dawn, and even earlier, men came to practise sabre exercises and to do Chinese gymnastics.  The movements have a spiritual or mental as well as physical object, and are designed to give mastery of both mind and body.

The Tai-miao gardens, temple of the imperial ancestors, near the former Palace of the Emperors. Every morning at dawn, and even earlier, men came to practise sabre exercises and to do Chinese gymnastics. The movements have a spiritual or mental as well as physical object, and are designed to give mastery of both mind and body.

Booksellers of the Peking "flea market".  A gramaphone plays an old Viennese waltz while collectors search for rare books.  Peking has been one of the principal cultural centres of the world for many centuries.

Booksellers of the Peking “flea market”. A gramaphone plays an old Viennese waltz while collectors search for rare books. Peking has been one of the principal cultural centres of the world for many centuries.

This photographer also sells ceremonial clothes, advertised by neon letters.  Below the shop sign his goods are advertised in the following terms: "My ceremonial garments, the very latest, are very precious.  You will give me pleasure if you come in and try them on.  My prices are very reasonable."

This photographer also sells ceremonial clothes, advertised by neon letters. Below the shop sign his goods are advertised in the following terms: “My ceremonial garments, the very latest, are very precious. You will give me pleasure if you come in and try them on. My prices are very reasonable.”

General Ma Hung-kwei came to Nanking, Kuomintang capital, every year to meet Marshal Chiang K'ai-shek.  The first syllable of his name, Ma, means horse, a very common name designation among Chinese Moslems.  Behind him, carefully written, are some old ryhmed precepts: "A good general should occupy a splendid place in history.  He should be praised during a hundred generations.  He should be full of care for his men and also for his people."  General Ma was the big war lord of Northwest China.  His secretaries were dressed as hospital nurses.  He adored ice cream and always had bucketfuls handy, and offered to his guests.  Shortly after this photograph was taken, General Ma was abandoned by his troops.

General Ma Hung-kwei came to Nanking, Kuomintang capital, every year to meet Marshal Chiang K’ai-shek. The first syllable of his name, Ma, means horse, a very common name designation among Chinese Moslems. Behind him, carefully written, are some old ryhmed precepts: “A good general should occupy a splendid place in history. He should be praised during a hundred generations. He should be full of care for his men and also for his people.” General Ma was the big war lord of Northwest China. His secretaries were dressed as hospital nurses. He adored ice cream and always had bucketfuls handy, and offered to his guests. Shortly after this photograph was taken, General Ma was abandoned by his troops.

Eight o'clock in the moring at the Imperial Palace in Peking.  Ten thousand recruits, mobilized principally from the ranks of small traders, line up to form a new Nationalist regiment.

Eight o’clock in the moring at the Imperial Palace in Peking. Ten thousand recruits, mobilized principally from the ranks of small traders, line up to form a new Nationalist regiment.

Shanghai, December 1948.  The gold rush.  Enormous lines form outside the banks, on the Bund, and overflow into the neighbouring streets, dislocating all traffic.  About ten people were crushed to death.  The Kuomintang had decided to distribute some of the gold reserve, at the rate of 112 ounces per head.  Some people waited for more than twenty-four hours trying to get rid of paper money.  Order was more or less maintained by soldiers equipped with odds and ends deriving from all the various armies which in the past fifteen years, have played a part in Chinese history.

Shanghai, December 1948. The gold rush. Enormous lines form outside the banks, on the Bund, and overflow into the neighbouring streets, dislocating all traffic. About ten people were crushed to death. The Kuomintang had decided to distribute some of the gold reserve, at the rate of 112 ounces per head. Some people waited for more than twenty-four hours trying to get rid of paper money. Order was more or less maintained by soldiers equipped with odds and ends deriving from all the various armies which in the past fifteen years, have played a part in Chinese history.

High officials about to take off by plane for Formosa.  The tennis racket looks more like a holiday departure.

High officials about to take off by plane for Formosa. The tennis racket looks more like a holiday departure.

The first soldiers arriving in Nanking on foot.  They are cheered, but at the same time regarded with good deal of anxious curiosity.  In China, a soldier has always been considered a looter, living off the country, for which reason the military profession is greatly despised.

The first soldiers arriving in Nanking on foot. They are cheered, but at the same time regarded with good deal of anxious curiosity. In China, a soldier has always been considered a looter, living off the country, for which reason the military profession is greatly despised.

The soldiers of the People's Army were almost all peasants.  They had never seen refrigerators and were surprised at the sight of them in Shanghai.

The soldiers of the People’s Army were almost all peasants. They had never seen refrigerators and were surprised at the sight of them in Shanghai.

After the taking of Shanghai there were so many parades and meetings that they almost overlapped.  Here is the celebration of the official entry of the army into Shanghai on August 1, 1949.  A Union delegate holds an enlarged copy of the new paper money.  The processions were used to publicize the problems of the hour.  The ceremony had been planned for July 5 but in the face of the Kuomintang threat to bomb it from the air, it was postponed to the 6th.

After the taking of Shanghai there were so many parades and meetings that they almost overlapped. Here is the celebration of the official entry of the army into Shanghai on August 1, 1949. A Union delegate holds an enlarged copy of the new paper money. The processions were used to publicize the problems of the hour. The ceremony had been planned for July 5 but in the face of the Kuomintang threat to bomb it from the air, it was postponed to the 6th.

Aboard ship.  A group of Europeans and Americans who had long been resident in Shanghai.

Aboard ship. A group of Europeans and Americans who had long been resident in Shanghai.

“Iris Garden” Stories by John Cage and Photos by William Gedney published by Little Brown Mushroom

“Iris Garden” brings together the work of three artists: John Cage, William Gedney and Alec Soth. This photobook is a visual enigma that contains stories within stories.  Every reading reveals something new and unexpected.

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The leaves of the book are not bound together and are seemingly disordered, but there definitely is a pattern at work.  The book cover serves as an envelope / folder that holds everything together.  Tucked inside the front cover is a William Gedney photo of a house with white picket fence. This is followed by a single sheet of white legal size card (240mm x 340mm) folded horizontally. On the “cover” of this card is the first story by John Cage:

ONE SUNDAY MORNING, MOTHER SAID TO DAD, “LET’S GO TO CHURCH.” DAD SAID, “O.K.” WHEN THEY DROVE UP IN FRONT, DAD SHOWED NO SIGN OF GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. MOTHER SAID, “AREN’T YOU COMING IN?” DAD SAID, “NO, I’LL WAIT FOR YOU HERE.”

Unfolding this card reveals a photo of a reposing man’s leg jutting out the window of a Volkswagen Beetle.  On the back of this photo is another story:

When I told David Tudor that his talk on music was nothing but a series of stories, he said, “Don’t fail to put in some benedictions.” I said, “What in heaven’s name do you mean by benedictions?” “Blessings,” he said. “What blessings?” I said, “God bless you everyone?” “Yes,” he said, “Like they say in the sutras: ‘This is not idle talk, but the highest of truths’.”

We then encounter the first mini book held together by off white card stock.  On its cover is a photo of a bunch of apples / potatoes on a board sitting on a wooden chair. Inside are stories and photos on three more pieces of folded white card stock.

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“Iris Garden” is packed with information that is seemingly unrelated and dishevelled.  And yet the artistic sensibilities of Cage, Gedney and Soth find concordance.  The stories and photos are about families, neighbourhoods both near and far, and personal spaces. Through the works of Cage and Gedney, Soth is able to articulately reflect on the role of the artist in the modern world.  To find inspiration one needs to be fearless and not be afraid of being bored.

Scan 5Scan 6The entire sequence of items in “Iris Garden” is as follows:

  • Folded full bleed photo tucked into front cover
  • Folded white card with story on cover, photo inside and story on the back
  • Off white coloured mini book with three folded white cards inside.  All printed with photos and stories
  • Folded white card with stories and photos on inside and covers
  • Folded off white card with story on cover, photo inside and story on the back
  • Folded white card with photos on inside and covers
  • Off white coloured mini book with three folded white cards inside.  Printed with photos and a story
  • Folded white card with photos inside and on covers
  • Folded full bleed photo tucked into the back cover
  • Single card with book details also tucked inside the back cover

“The PIGS” by Carlos Spottorno published by Phree and Editorial RM, Madrid

Finally decided to take the cellophane off my pristine copy of PIGS the other day. The photos show life among the economic ruins of four southern European countries. These are not the images of youth protesting on streets but rather of abandoned construction sites and idyllic seaside rubbish heaps. Luckily, the photos included are not the hit you over the head kind of destitution. The scenes portrayed could be from the wrong side of the tracks of any modern city. Except the scale is much more vast and the poverty seemingly more pervasive.

I especially like the photo of the field of worn out tires in the foreground and what looks like abandoned housing blocks in the background. The shot of the stray cow wondering the city streets is also quite effective. The design of the photobook is obviously evocative of a certain periodical with it’s iconic cover, obligatory introductory article and satirical cartoon. The author definitely wants to bring our attention to how the media is used to help sell concepts like PIGS / BRICS / etc to the public. Don’t you just love the back cover?

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“Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives” by Simon Menner published by Hatje Cantz

The funniest things in the world are simultaneously the saddest and truest things. The intent of this comedy is not to belittle the circumstances but to make them bearable. Simon Menner acknowledges the ironic re-intrution of privacy by publishing surveillance images. “The presentation of most of the pictures reproduced here is naturally a two edged sword” he writes in the introduction.

The design of the book is surprisingly light hearted and has a tongue-in-cheek feel. At times it reads like an instruction manual rather than a photobook. It strikes a balance between being matter of fact, shocking, funny and frightening. This is especially the case when you realise that a lot of these type of images can now be seen on peoples’ instagram or facebook feeds. We don’t need people to spy on us anymore we have machines and ourselves to do that.

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