“Rasen Kaigan” by Lieko Shiga published by AKAAKA Art Publishing

“Rasen Kaigan” was included in many best of 2013 photobooks lists and rightly so – it is a stunning book. The photos taken are of the Kitakama region of Japan which was worst hit by the 2011 tsunami. Leiko Shiga is the resident photographer for the area and also recorder of its oral history.

The first few images of the book set the tone of other worldliness. High contrast shot of an extraterrestrial rock and martian sunset or dawn. You’re unsure as to whether you are on a different planet or some parallel universe. The landscape is familiar but altered in some way like the photographs themselves. An alien fish eye stares at you as you move through the images.

You pick up clues along the way that it has something to do with the passing of time. Images of tree rings are juxtaposed with images of youth and age. The flow is interrupted two thirds of the way through by a double black page spread. We are back at the beginning with images of an excavation site, antique photographs and another series of high contrast rocks. The eye of an old woman stares at you.

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Paris Photo 2013

After my training in Vienna, I spent a couple of days to check out photobooks at the Paris Photo exhibition at the Grand Palais. It was definitely a good idea to buy the ticket ahead of time as the line to get in was much shorter.

I had a limited budget and baggage space for acquiring photobooks. “The PIGS” was an easy choice as it was 10 Euros and the size of a magazine. Shiga’s “Rasen Kaigan” almost broke the bank and the luggage but was well worth it as the photographs inside the book are stunning.

From the shortlisted titles I also got the last copy of “Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives”. I just love Hatje Cantz’s books for there no nonsense design and hard hitting subject matter. Finally, I pre-ordered “The Photobook: A History – Volume III” by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger which is coming out in March 2014. Phaidon was offering free shipping of autographed copies so how could I resist?

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Holy Bible
Photographers: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Publisher: MACK, London / Archive of Modern Conflict, London20131218-054106.jpg

The PIGS
Photographer: Carlos Spottorno
Publisher: Phree and Editorial RM, Madrid20131218-054114.jpg

A01 [COD.19.1.1.43] — A27 [S | COD.23]
Photographer: Rosângela Rennó
Publisher: RR Edições, Rio de Janeiro20131218-054121.jpg

Rasen Kaigan
Photographer: Lieko Shiga
Publisher: AKAAKA, Tokyo20131218-054129.jpg

Silvermine
Photographer: Thomas Sauvin
Publisher: Archive of Modern Conflict, London20131218-054135.jpg

KARMA
Photographer: Óscar Monzón
Publisher: Dalpine, Madrid / RVB Books, Paris20131218-054145.jpg

Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives
Photographer: Simon Menner
Publisher: Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, Germany20131218-054151.jpg

Nine Nameless Mountains
Photographer: Maanantai Collective
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany20131218-054159.jpg

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Art As Therapy

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As with all de Botton books there’s always the compulsion to read it from cover to cover without stopping. Will do a detail review later but here’s a quote for now:

Art can save us time – and save our lives – through opportune and visceral reminders of balance and goodness that we should never presume we know enough about already

Daido Moriyama’s “Labyrinth” published by Aperture

To understand the works of a photographer nothing can be more instructive then looking at their contact sheets. Published in 2012 the book is 304 pages long jam packed with black and white photos. It is evident from just glancing at the book that there is something very territorial and obsessive about Daido’s rhythmic modus operandi. These contact sheets are like universes unto themselves, each frame a little window looking out into bits of the world.

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There’s a lot to explore in the book and room for many interpretations. The book is one big experiment in composition of repeating subject matters ranging from abstract to documentary. These experiments are so meticulous at times it is nearly impossible to tell the differences between one frame and the next. This is as close to a plastic medium as photography gets: the framing and subjects are constantly being rehashed and reshaped.

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Subject matter is treated democratically with the same attention being paid to discarded rubber gloves as to mesmerising female forms. There are subtle shifts in style between the photos taken in Paris and Tokyo with the former being more formal and the later more dynamic. However, even though the cities maybe different the subject matter remains the same. Proving that you can never really escape yourself.

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Ed Van Der Elsken’s “Een Liefdesgeschiedenis In Saint Germain des Pres” published by Dewi Lewis Publishing

First off, many apologies for the long absence.  Work and other interest have taken over my life of late.  A good place to pick up where I left off with photobook reviews is this svelte black and white beauty.   I picked up Ed Van Der Elsken’s “Een Liefdesgeschiedenis In Saint Germain des Pres” (henceforth SGP) at one of my paris haunts – the awesome photobook store – Comptoir de l’Image.

Walking into the store is bewildering because it is a veritable treasure trove.  But luckily the proprietor Michel is quite a good judge of character and makes very good recommendations.  Sensing my fondness for all things parisian he recommended SGP.  Ed Van Der Elsken’s photographs really captures the Left Bank bohemian culture.  The   images are held together by Ann’s “Love Story on the Left Bank.”  In the book we are immersed in her romantic world of artist and bar patrons.  I love it for it’s gritty realism which you don’t see much of these days in the age of digital imagery.  It is possible to fall in love with a woman made of silver halide.

Hope these iPhone images will motivate you to pick up the real book!

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“Miroslav Tichy” published by International Center of Photography and Steidl

Were Miroslav Tichy’s photographs intended to be the end result or were they just a part of his artistic process? On cursory examination they look like quick sketches one would do as studies for more laborious paintings. The fact that he used his pencil to outline and sketch over the photos suggest that this may have been the case. However, Tichy took far greater pains to acquire these images then necessary if a reference was all that was needed. This book published together with Tichy’s exhibition at the ICP effectively answers this and other questions regarding the enigmatic artist.

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The book contains some thought provoking essays and a poem by Nick Cave called the “Collector” dated 2008. Here’s a quick preview of the essays in the book along with some on my own thoughts:

“What Happens When Nothing Happens” by Brian Wallace

Wallace sees Tichy’s work as a continuation of the surrealist movement in that he was “willing to engage viscerally and critically with the environment, in other words an amateur.” For Wallace Tichy was a flaneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, Benjamin and Breton. Like Breton’s book “Nadja” (which I bought recently in NYC but have yet to read) Tichy regarded the urban space as an erotically charged environment. However, Wallace goes on to conclude that unlike the amateur who strives to make clear and pristine images, Tichy’s photographs are anti-snapshots which are double exposed, blurred, and badly cropped. These photos are focused “on inconsequential details or gestures” and “begin to create a kind of lexicon of everyday communication that is scarcely ever recorded or understood.”

“The Artist With the Bad Camera” by Carolyn Christov-Bakargrev

This essay takes the anti-snapshot argument even further by suggesting that Tichy himself is the camera. Considering he took great pains to fashion and create his own clothing to look like an inconspicuous common laborer. Tichy also used homemade cameras that did not look like they even worked to the casual observer / subject. “So in his daytime derives in the town, his body took photographs: organic, biological photographs each an encounter and impulse toward life, each a moment marking the flow of time like the sand of an hour glass, each “take” proving to himself he was alive.” According to the author of this essay Tichy’s photographs look more “alive because you are aware of their materiality…because there is more space for the viewers’ projections and the activity of interpretation.”

“Velvet Revolution” by Richard Prince

In Prince’s essay, he takes a less formal approach but is more aggressive in asserting Tichy’s quiet revolt against the modernist endeavor and the social-political environment during his time. Prince writes: “What does Tichy believe in? Buttocks and Breasts, that’s my guess. The outline of a bra. And what is in a bra? Heaven, everything that matters. All the rest of it…the highways, the smokestacks, the poured concrete, the public housing…the intermittent electricity, the plumber that never shows up…it can all go away with a girl in a towel in the sun turning over and lifting an unshaved arm. Fuck the Cold War. The reincarnation of Georgia O’Keefe. That’s what we look for.” It is interesting to note that Tichy never had a serious relationship with any women and that his artistic career was interrupted by stints in political prison.

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After this essay by Prince we are presented with Tichy’s photographic body of work. All works are printed at full scale. The numbers next to the photographs are the MT inventory numbers of the works in the catalogue of the Foundation Tichy Ocean. The photos run the whole gamut of posed and unposed portraiture from full body to tight head shots. They are of women of all shapes and sizes and age groups. The photos give the sense that they could have only been taken by someone who is familiar to those in the photos. Who over the years due to his persistent presence became part and parcel of the landscape. Maybe it was the use of his homemade telephoto lenses but even in the up close shots you never get the sense that he is interrupting. The relationship the artist has with his own work is ambiguous since the photos seem to be obsessed over and neglected at the same time. Tichy lovingly and compulsively created and decorated all the frames for his photos by hand. But most if not all of them look to have been discarded at some point. This maybe some what problematic since it calls into question Tichy’s intent. Perhaps it is informative that the publishers chose to include Nick Cave’s poem titled “The Collector” to follow the photographs.

“Miroslav Tichy: Tarzan Retired” by Roman Buxbaum

In this last essay and perhaps the most authoritative, Tichy’s long time friend and psychologist Roman Buxbaum gives us the insider story of the artist’s life. Buxbaum grew up with Tichy and remembers taking photos with a pin hole cameras Tichy taught him to make. We learn from Buxbaum that after the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia, the students at Tichy’s art school were forced to draw workers in overalls instead of the female models they were used to drawing. According to the author Tichy refused to draw the workers. Furthermore, we get details like how Tichy wanted to insure his homemade ragged coat for 100,000 czech crowns which was then the price of a luxury car. Buxbaum interprets these as acts of resistance against the prevailing regime. However Tichy may not have even cared enough to resist as he seemed quite happy going about doing his own thing.

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It seems that after all his toils and tribulations in his life, Tichy was able to find a mode of expression that was unique to him. It was something unforced and came perfectly natural to someone like him living in his times. He no longer had to justify himself or his works to anyone so he could behave and act in accordance to his own will. Tichy was motivated and inspired by the one constant unchanging beauty that was around him: women. And how he saw them is how one would view a beautiful sunset or an idyllic landscape. The experience of this beauty in and of itself was all that Tichy needed and the photographic works were just a bi-product for him. Luckily for us we are able to also experience this beauty through Tichy’s dreamlike yet suprarealistic photographs.

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“Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscapes” by Melanie Bono and Thomas Palzer

Don’t judge a book by its cover but “Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscape” looks like an astronomy text book.  Upon closer examination it is by the art photographer Thomas Ruff of The Dusseldorf School and published by LWL State Museum for Art and Cultural History.  Cudos to Kehrer for their deceptively simple design – it sure peeked my interest.  The book is comprised of works from Ruff’s following works:

  • Newspaper photos
  • Stars
  • Night
  • jpegs
  • Cassini
  • zycles
  • ma.r.s.

The above series are not grouped together in coherent sections as you would expect but are organised instead by their preceding essays (in German and English) which are:

  • Foreward by Dr. Hermann Arnhold (Director of the LWL Museum)
  • “Stellar Landscapes” by Melanie Bono
  • “Conquest of the Suns: News from Space” by Thomas Palzer

The essays give valuable insight into this amazing body of work comprised of found images from traditional and new media such as Nasa’s Cassini Mission to Saturn website.  Here’s a brief description of each of the different types of images found in the book:

Newsprint photos

Are comprised of film based black and white newsprint photos of astronauts floating in space and crop circles.  It’s interesting to see how the earliest days of space exploration was portrayed in traditional media.  The pictures in this series are grainy and ultra low resolution in comparison to the more recent images.

Stars

Begins to move towards abstraction and digital photography.  These are beautiful images of high contrast black and white night skies densely populated by heavenly bodies of all shapes and sizes.

Night

“Nacht 12 III, 1993” is the only photo from this series that vaguely resembles what you can see of the night stars with the naked human eye.  The photo is placed adjacent to the “Conquest of the Suns: News from Space” essay and speaks to the yearning that man has to understand more about the universe.

jpegs

Only two samples from this series: one depicting an ICBM rocket on the launch pad; and the other of the US Lunar Rover.  Both images are very pixelated and reminiscent of the early days of digital photography.  The jpeg section serves as a good contrast to the Newsprint photos.

Cassini

This series is one of my favorites in the book.  It combines the ingenuity of science and art into some awesome eye candy.  Here’s a sample:

zycles

Here’s how these gems were created: It is hard to believe that these compositions, which consisted of curved lines and were spread all over the image, originated in mathematics, or more precisely, in antiquated 19th century books on electro-magnetism that portrayed magnetic fields on copperplates.  As the essays in the book explain these patterns exist in 3D virtual space and were rendered into 2D by selecting the field of view inside the 3D space.  That just blows my mind!

ma.r.s.

It’s like the google earth for mars with unearthly abstractions.  Who knew there would be so much variety on the Martian landscape.  Can’t wait to go and check it out 🙂  Although buying the book would save you about 228 days.  Here’s the link to buy the book on Amazon: thanks for your support.

Conclusion

The essays and photos in “Thomas Ruff Stellar Landscapes” are thought provoking and spell binding.  A great artful retrospective of the development of imaging and image manipulation technology alongside our growing knowledge of space.

“Eigenzeit” by Elger Esser

Having recently learned about Elger Esser through reading “Dusseldorf School of Photography” I decided to buy the photo book of Esser’s exhibition “Eigenzeit” which means “proper time” in German.  The term refers to the physical phenomenon of time dilation which is put forward in Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  The most famous example of time dilation is the hypothetical one of the twins, where one stays on earth and the other one rockets into space at the speed of light.  When the space travelling twin returns to earth he finds his brother aged considerably while he himself has aged very little.  Each experiences time differently and lives according to their own clocks.

The forward written by Groos and Schimpf effectively describes Esser’s photography in relation to the time dilation principle as does the various essays in the book.  In summary, the authors’ views is that Esser’s photos of historical landmarks and scenes evoke a sense of timelessness so that the viewer is unsure whether the photos are taken yesterday or hundreds of years ago.  According to the text this feeling is enhanced by the special processing technique that Esser employs.  This is made all the more interesting and subtle when you look very closely at the “Combray” and “Vedutas” photos to find clues of modernity.  A power line over an old bridge or the a very distant sky scrapper along an otherwise historic view of the Seine River in Paris.

The book is divided into six sections with each part being comprised of an essay followed by one fold out double spread photo which starts the series of photos under the same theme.  This format is very well thought out since Esser’s photos really benefit from the larger printing.  Too bad there are only six of these spreads in the book.  The photos in the “Wrecks” section portrays hand colored black and white photos of ships run aground.  Personally, I find the “Wrecks” photos a little too contrived.  In contrast the “Views” photos are also hand colored but feel less contrived and more authentic.  The photos are blown up to such a large size that the grain in the film become like pointillist dots.  It would be amazing to see these photos as larger prints.