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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“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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“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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“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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“Light & Shadow” by Daido Moriyama

Here’s another Daido book I picked up on my recent trip to Tokyo called “Light & Shadow.”

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It is the same exact size as the “Buenos Aires” one which is also a re-release.  You can refer to my previous post on that book here.

To be honest with you I have no idea how to interpret this book. It is a dense and constant bombardment of low-fi black and white images. But that’s exactly why I love it because it’s a celebration of just that: Light & Shadow.

From what I can tell, there’s no story or theme running through it but pure unadulterated visual stimuli of the black and white variety. It’s a great way to teach yourself to see things in their own context as pure graphic elements.

I can recommend this book without any reservation!

As much as I love this copy I do envy those who own the original version:

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For previews of the book you can check this link out here.

Other books by Daido Moriyama:
“Buenos Aires”