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Another expert every month: We invite well-known bloggers and specialists from the international photography scene... Read more »

Zoe’s ‘Remainder’ Pick #4: I’m a Real Photographer by Keith Arnatt

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This book tells the story of Keith Arnatt’s journey in photography, in 19 series of photographs. Each series features prosaic subject matter – his dogs, the local garbage heap, everyday objects photographed in his studio, notes that his wife Jo left for him – exploring the conventions of the medium with a distinct edge and humor.

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Seen together for the first time, the threads and themes of Arnatt’s work connect to make a coherent statement about the act of photography and its relationship to the history of art. Arnatt’s story and work prove surprising, provocative, profound and moving.

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Keith Arnatt: I’m a Real Photographer: Photographs 1974-2002

Chris Boot, 2007.

ISBN 9781905712052

€ 6,95

 

Das Gebiet by Joachim Schumacher

IMG_7556Joachim Schumacher’s book Das Gebiet explores the Ruhr area of western Germany – a landscape shifting dramatically under the heavy weight of the dying coal and steel industry. Schumacher, a former student at the Essen Folkwang School of Otto Steinert, diverted from his teachers photojournalistic approach and adopted an objective documentary stance more akin to what was happening within the genre now known as the New Topographics. The photographs in Das Gebiet cover an eighteen-year span between 1976 to 1994.

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Das Gebiet opens with a handful of images from the mid-80s showing the remnants of industry dominating housing estates and backyard ‘Schrebergarten’ – perhaps calling to mind Walker Evans photographs of Bethlehem Pennsylvania but minus the graveyard tombstones. The small shacks and makeshift fencing around the gardens are a shock contrast to the engineering feats of the industrial buildings and machinery.

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As the book progresses industry falls far into the background, it gives way to newer buildings and neighborhoods. A different commerce seems to appear and the industrial no-mans-land is replaced by commercial zones of cement passageways, roads and in some places, a blitz of signage.

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Schumacher splits the book into three sections – Das Gebiet, Langer Aten and Von dieser Welt – although those titles seem more like metaphoric punctuation rather than clear divisions as the photographs provide a continuum that could maintain the course of the book without.

Das Gebiet is well printed and if I had one sticking point it would be with certain design choices. There are mainly two sizes the plates appear on the page and the smaller size is just a bit too small in my opinion for precision of Schumacher’s images. He obviously takes pleasure in the small details and resolve of the large format he employs most of the time – he says as much in his afterword – and many of those small plates sacrifice important details that would have taken on more and diverse pleasures for the viewer. For instance, a spread of pages where in two small images a group of women work on a garden plot next to large cooling towers and the facing page image where three individuals move what look like tables in front of a commercial district. It seems like a conscious effort on the part of the design was to minimize the human figures that occasionally appear.

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One last curiosity I have is also with Schumacher’s afterword as it is illustrated with other images made from this time period of the same material. Many of those images, reproduced as thumbnails, seem no less brilliant and begging to be included amongst the larger plates. By including these additional sixteen plates, for me calls into question the book’s editing.

Schumacher has been published previously but Das Gebiet is the first monograph on this body of work. The Ruhrgebiet has been explored by many over the last half of the twentieth century by both well known and less-known photographers. Perhaps Schumacher as a name, falls more in the latter category but much of this work is no less a powerful testament to the area’s history and transformation as this book attests.

 

Joachim Schumacher: Das Gebiet

Verlag Kettler, 2014

ISBN:9783862062263

The Stanford Albums by Carleton Watkins

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In today’s terms of photography, digital or even analog, it is hard to imagine what Carleton Watkins endured to make photographs – loading up a team of mules with nearly a ton of photographic equipment including a mobile darkroom tent, a dangerous assortment of flammable chemicals, and an enormous custom-built camera that produced “mammoth” 18 x 22-inch glass-plate negatives. Dust and grit could easily ruin a day’s work as the plates were coated, exposed for up to an hour, and developed. Water had to be carried great distances. The sun warped and shrank camera parts. If photography were this cumbersome still, there would not be the gluttony of images we are subject to today.

IMG_7178 IMG_7179 There is good reason that the New York Times declared in 1862 that, “as specimens of the photographic art they are unequaled.” I think that praise still holds true today even though the photographs will be perceived to many as too “old fashioned” to consider that they still hold as pioneers in establishing the language of contemporary landscape photography.

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The Stanford Albums are made up of three unique albums of Watkins’s work which were left to the university by Timothy Hopkins: Photographs of the Yosemite Valley (1861 and 1865–66), Photographs of the Pacific Coast (1862–76), and Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867 and 1870). This book is made up of a selection of large plate reproductions 25cm by 32cm, beautifully printed to mimic their original chocolate/purple tonalities. A back section of small reproductions, also well printed and large enough to enjoy on their own, show all 156 mammoth plates from the three albums.

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Throughout his career, Watkins documented the remote American West, generating more than 7,000 photographs of its most majestic wilderness sites as well as the dramatic transformation of isolated territories caused by logging and mining industries. His photographs won awards throughout the United States and abroad. With his early success, he established a gallery in San Francisco on prestigious Montgomery Street in 1861.

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Watkins’s fortunes took a turn with the 1874 failure of the Bank of California and the resulting economic panic. Heavily in debt at the time, Watkins had to declare bankruptcy and lost both his gallery and the majority of his negatives to a competitor.

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Watkins rebuilt his inventory, continuing to travel and work into the 1890s, but never recovered financially. At one point he and his family lived in a rail car in Oakland. Watkins’s health also declined, and by 1903 he was nearly blind. If that weren’t tragic enough, the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed his studio and his life’s work, and he never got over the shock. His family eventually had him committed to Napa State Hospital. He died there in 1916. This publication and recent exhibition of The Stanford Albums is testament to his sweat and brilliance.

 

Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums

Stanford/Cantor Art Center, 2014

ISBN: 9780804792158

Mila’s ‘Remainder’ Pick #4: Medebach by Petra Wittmar

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In this photographic inventory of her birthplace, Petra Wittmar analyzes the architectural and topographical appearance of Medebach, a village located in Hochsauerland, in the center of Germany, and attempts to disclose the structures of village life in the process.

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Her interest in this subject was sparked by the drastic changes in the 1970s, which practically replaced the village with an increasingly interchangeable, standardized culture and lifestyle. Just as newly imposed construction norms and new directions in taste were taking hold, an apparently contrary yearning arose for “home” and personal happiness in this rural corner. Aesthetic breaches and varied cultural and political contradictions were the result, which led to an intensive investigation of questions surrounding the significance of identity.

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Medebach is an extract from a project to which the photographer devoted her time from 1979 to 1983. Her renunciation of inflammatory moments and her largely formal stringency distinguish the quality of these images, which can also be read as the German reaction to the American New Topographics movement in the late 1970s.

 

Petra Wittmar : Medebach – Photographs 1979-1983

Steidl, 2007

ISBN: 9783865212801

€ 15,00

Norma by Roger Eberhard

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Roger Eberhard’s book Norma looks curiously simply and straightforward. A photograph of a house, a photograph of a tree, house, tree, house, tree, house, tree, house, tree… At first it looks something similar to a Becher school typology study – different house forms alternating and juxtaposed with tree forms. The photographs are interesting because the houses are interesting. The approach is artless. The photos could be hanging in a real estate office wall of available properties although the color palette is too muddled – probably from being photographed in what looks like twilight.

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Then you go return to the beginning and read the essay that you skipped over. In most cases when the essay is the only thing that provides the context of a work, I find fault in the work and roll my eyes. It is like a voice over in a film telling me exactly what to pay attention to or trigger feelings. It is a cheap trick. In this case, I still do a fair amount of eye rolling (read: skepticism) but the context here is very interesting. These houses are all on a street that is only a few hundred meters south of the new take-off and landing runways of the German headquarters of the firm Airbus which currently operates the world’s largest passenger airplane, the A380.

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Fearing lawsuits from the home owners on Hasselwerder Straße in Hamburg from noise disturbance, the Hamburg Senate simply bought up the sixty-seven homes that would be most effected. But that isn’t the end of the story. The houses weren’t destroyed but instead preserved – empty of occupants but heated in the winters and with lights set on automatic timers. It is the appearance of normalcy and a healthy living neighborhood. This clean idyll, ‘no broken windows’ policy also planted the trees on the embankment across the street.

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Ok, so now armed with this information, the house photos take on an eerie, empty tone and one starts to think about governments imposing odd practices to keep up appearances (not to mention the power of corporations to displace people). But there is still a discrepancy between the essay and the photographs. The essay mentions sixty-seven homes. There are only eighteen of the house photographs and sixteen of the tree photographs. Since this is now more of a conceptual piece then I would be interested in seeing all sixty-seven homes. Why are they not all shown?

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At the end of the book there is a leporello foldout of the 18 house pictures already shown. I am not sure why this is there other than as a design extra. The opposite side doesn’t show the trees. It isn’t further enlightening and just seems to be an add-on, for?  I am left guessing.

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If I seem harsh it is because I want to like this book. It is interesting, cleanly designed and tests the reader’s notion of a book being a passively read object (this you have to turn sideways every other page) but too many unimportant questions leave me at odds. Why not show all of the houses? That would seem to make it complete and drive the point further – through excess. Was it because there were not enough trees on the opposite side of the road?

 

Roger Eberhard: Norma

Peperoni Books

ISBN 9783941825475

Nail Houses by Peter Bialobrzeski

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A ‘nail house’ is a building or home in an area being redeveloped where the residents holdout and absolutely refuse from moving, often halting construction or making the builders continue around these homes (which stick out like a nail) with elaborate changes to construction plans. It can be a proud protest against the overwhelming machinery of capital and so-called ‘progress.’ Each of these holdouts seem to ask deeper questions about the shift of culture and erasure of antiquity. In his newest book, Peter Bialobrzeski sought out neighborhoods in Shanghai China where groupings of nail houses form small communities surviving under the oppressive weight of the transitioning landscape surrounding them.

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A wall of brightly lit apartment skyscrapers loom in the background of nearly every picture – the houses below a jumble of ingenuity and improvisation to keep them standing and habitable. Bialobrzeski – obviously excited by the visual mashing of walls, power lines, plastic tarping, laundry, and rubble – makes pictures that are full of small details; a bin full of blue garbage bags, bright green leaves in a makeshift garden, scaffolding holding up parts of walls and ceilings, every conceivable form of air conditioner, a smattering of advertising which attempt to create the desire for a ‘cleaner’ more ‘modern’ approach to living – and in one image – a cat who has held still long enough to be clearly described during Bialobrzeski’s lengthy exposure.

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Another obvious character is the light. Bialobrzeski mostly photographs in the middle of the night among the playful mix of artificial light that emanates from street lamps and apartment windows. The towering skyscrapers give off their own glow of light pollution turning night into never-ending day.

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Bialobrzeski calls the series a ‘typology’ of these houses but it is the tangled mess of details and the formal play that the structures seem to be supporting that I am most drawn. His method is thankfully not strict or cold and his frames are filled with the enjoyable chaos of his subjects. If forced I would put him more in the likes of Atget and Evans than the almost clinical approach of the Bechers.

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Nail Houses is very cleanly designed and vertical in format so there is a mixture of images on a single page and double-page spreads across the gutter. I prefer the larger plates even though the gutter can be intrusive. Even though Lost in Transition was chosen for inclusion in Parr/Badger’s The Photobook Volume III, this is my favorite of Bialobrzeski’s books.

 

Peter Bialobrzeski: Nail Houses or the Destruction of Lower Shanghai

Hatje Cantz, 2014

ISBN: 9783775738293

5070 by Kurt Hörbst

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As a recent father of twin girls (who at 10 months are discovering that screaming at the top of their lungs is fun!) I can relate to Kurt Hörbst’s recent book from Fotohof called 5070. Over the course of their pregnancy, Horbst photographed his wife Alexandra with a large format camera and black and white film.

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Hörbst describes the day to day in frames that lend themselves to formal play; his wife standing in a stream, lounging outdoors, on the metro, waiting for an ultrasound, listening to music at a kneipe, and finally in the hospital. The 29 photographs are beautiful and full with his wife playing a static part while the world seems to flow around her. The anticipation of each step of pregnancy can seem to drag time to a stand still, while afterwards, all becomes a blur.

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There is a quiet and introspective tone at work although the camera always seems to be a presence. Perhaps it is the formal rigor of many of the better photos that draws this to the surface and in my opinion rings a slightly false note. It is a delicate balance.

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In the publisher’s words the work depicts “issues such as loneliness, uncertainty and joyful anticipation, unrest and calm, curiosity, anxiety and pride.” Perhaps if one is speaking generally about the emotions of pregnancy but in these photographs of Alexandra I find no range, just a vague sense of indifference in her expression (or perhaps the reality is an over awareness of the camera). I don’t fault the book for this necessarily. Much of pregnancy is a slow uncomfortable boredom.

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On the surface the sequence seems to adhere to the progression of time but a thumbnail index in the back of the book reveals the photographer/bookmaker playing some slight tricks for the benefit of the sequence which I am not entirely certain made much of a difference. Looking at the thumbnails, other than the frontispiece of Alexandra in the stream (which is the right start to the book), I think the sequence could have worked also just following the natural order too.

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The last image reveals the title, Hörbst’s son in his first hour of life, in color and on a scale weighing 5070gm. That image is an actual print adhered to the page.

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Funny but many publishers relate making a book to giving birth. As someone who has done both, publish books and seen through the process of my wife giving birth to our girls, I hope that metaphor gets retired. Making books is trite in comparison.

 

Kurt Hörbst: 5070

Fotohof Edition

Edition of 350

ISBN: 9783902675910

Eye to Eye by Vivian Maier

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The unveiling of Vivian Maier, the Chicago nanny and photographer whose entire life including her negatives and prints wound up in a storage auction and bought for a few hundred dollars, took the internet by storm. A Kickstarter campaign for the first book of her work raised over 100,000 dollars in a matter of weeks. A blog run by John Maloof, who bought her possessions at the auction, quickly spread to larger outlets and news stories revealing Maier as a talented woman who photographed seemingly daily in the streets of Chicago and New York. The work was surprising in that there was a lot of it and that she had kept it completely a secret. Many of those families that she worked for remember her having her Rolliflex slung around her neck but never saw the photographs.

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The story was told and retold many times and the center character besides Maier herself was John Maloof, a real estate agent and part-time historian who won the auction that contained the boxes of over 30,000 negatives. What I hadn’t known was that Maloof was not the only buyer that day of Maier’s estate – Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow also wound up with boxes of negatives. Maloof’s portion was the largest but eventually Prow sold 17,000 negatives to the Chicago art collector Jeffrey Goldstein whose collection has been featured in two books, Vivien Maier: Out of the Shadows and the recent Vivien Maier: Eye to Eye published by City Files Press.

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Eye to Eye presents about 200 images from the Goldstein collection and as the title suggests, all of the images chosen have the subject looking directly into the photographer’s lens. Joel Meyerowitz in the recent documentary on Maier expresses, “As she was photographing, she was seeing just how close she could come into somebody’s face and make a picture of them. That tells me a lot about her. That tells me she could walk into the space of a total stranger and get them to accommodate her by being themselves. And generate this kind of moment where two presences were actually kind of vibrating together.”

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Eye to Eye is well produced, if a bit formally stiff design and concept-wise. It feels like a well made book from a university press but with a finer printing. Being an edit made entirely of her subjects acknowledging her presence, unfortunately the tone of the book is mostly, well, just nice. There are a handful of images that for this reviewer are very moving and meaningful without overt sentiment whereas the majority suffer from a saccharine sweetness that leaves me feeling nerved.

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Maier was a deeply secretive person so one can only guess which images she felt strongly towards, but from the little light that has been shed on her personality in essays and interviews with former employers, there was a darker and introspective side that I find difficult to match with this edit. In her best work, where the subject is unaware of her camera’s presence, there is a mixture of the profoundness of daily life flowing around her and a dynamic range of life’s experience. Eye to Eye would have benefitted greatly from a little more emotionally diverse choosing on the part of the editors. Just looking into the eyes of another does not mean there will be anything profound revealed about that person and by default, the larger world that connects to the viewer.

 

Vivian Maier: Eye to Eye

Richard Cahan and Michael Williams

ISBN: 9780991541805

David Goldblatt – Photographers’ References #1

IMG_7526I have seen many artist lectures in my time and most are a disappointment. Perhaps expectations for artists to give insight into themselves, their process and work are too large. What is one to gain by knowing anyway? Does one’s process repeated work for another? This is how they did what and this is what happened. It is an odd intellectual exercise. That said, few people are able to eloquently explain themselves and their work better than the photographer David Goldblatt. A new series of books called Photographers’ References starts off with a volume dedicated to Goldblatt and his thoughts.

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Photographers’ References is collection of in-depth interviews, and extended conversations with established photographers. Held over a period of time the interviews “expose a photographer’s creative and thought processes and provides insight into their practice, mapping out personal references and influences that have contributed to shape their distinctive visual language.”

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This series is the brainchild of editor Frédérique Destribats and photographer Baptiste Lignel. Small and vertical in format with a stark cover and typography the interior is nicely designed with foldout references that can be viewed alongside the texts.

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I return to compliment Goldblatt’s voice as a perfect starter for such a series but part of me asks what future artists will be featured, and will they be as forthcoming and interesting? The publishers are not revealing the future titles yet but I was told a few are in the works.

If I had one reservation it is with the price. The book is well-designed and substantial at 170 pages, but a price set of 20 euros (27 USD) means that the promise of inspiration come with a price.

 

Photographers’ References: David Goldblatt

Photographers’ References, 2014

ISBN: 9782954383910

Zoe’s ‘Remainder’ Pick #3: West Bank by Sophie Ristelhueber

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In her photographs, Sophie Ristelhueber embraces and records the scars of human existence. “I have these obsessions that I do not completely understand, with the deep mark, with the ruptured surface, with scars and traces, traces that human beings are leaving on the earth“, she says. She transcends the turmoil and specificity of a location and creates art without limits of time and identity through photographs that are haunting, provocative and telling.

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In West Bank, Ristelhueber’s photographs only ever carry evidence of human activity, never images of people themselves: it is through the absence that she manages to address, through the metaphor of various roadblock constructions, the divide and conflict of people in the region.

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West Bank could be considered a companion of sorts to her 1991 book Fait which showed an abstraced view of the landscape of the first Gulf War – both share the same size and basic design.

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Sophie Ristelhueber: West Bank

Thames &Hudson, 2005.

ISBN 9780500542989

€ 8,00