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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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“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.

Scan 4

“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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