Photography Reviews

A different kind of photobooks – texts & images

In 2019, there are several interesting photobooks that incorporate the clever use of text, turning them into the best photobooks of 2019 named by various renowned critics and artists.

One which I own myself – Slant by Aaron Schuman published by MACK and I wrote a review about, brilliantly combines the use of local newspaper reportage of succinct and “extraordinarily anticlimactic” accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events and non-events with black and white photographs. They are hilariously ridiculous.

Two more which came to my attention lately while reading the rest of the best photobooks of 2019 list by Photo-Eye.

Were it not for by Michael Ashkin published by Fw:Books

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© Michael Ashkin, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ Fw:Books

Were it not for combines a line phrase which begins with “were it not for…” with 218 photographs of the Mojave Desert. This combination creates a powerful sense of unease throughout the document, with the black and white images that show areas of bleak and grim, it seems as though don’t we always have an excuse for making this mess in the world? As Jorg Colberg mentioned in CPhMag, “Wherever you look, whatever you hear, it’s all the same hopeless mess: a lived environment that more often than not looks like a garbage dump, with soulless anonymous architecture everywhere, and a cultural/societal environment filled with endless violence, dread, and despair.”

Here the photographs don’t play the starring role like in most photobooks. They are not necessarily memorable yet it is its combination with the text and the whole book itself which creates this looming feeling of helplessness for the world. And that is what sticks to our mind.

I walk toward the sun which is always going down by Alan Huck published by MACK

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© Alan Huck, from the book ‘Were it not for’; Source @ MACK

By way of an interior monologue, I walk toward the sun which is always going down is a reminder amongst the daily stream of distractions to slow down, give full attention to our daily endeavours and, according to Annie Dillard, “to discover, at least, where it is that we’ve been so startlingly set down if we can’t learn why” as Raymond Meeks describes in Photo-Eye. It is a book that takes a visual form of what a long meditation of the inner self while exploring a place with a very long walk. Highly recommended by many.

Refences: https://cphmag.com/images-and-text/

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Photography Reviews

The Second Shift – Clare Gallagher

Sometimes I like photography work that is highly representational, but sometimes I love works that are just simple and more directive, that it doesn’t take a genius or knowledgeable brain to pick apart or understand. You know, entirely simple and close to us in our everyday.

Clare Gallagher, an Irish artist based in the UK, made laundry and the everyday chores just as beautiful. “Although there has been progress, women still resent the day-to-day reality of housework, its draining repetition and the anxieties it breeds,” Gallagher says. “The more I research the subject, the more I think it is tied to the relentless drive of capitalism, and informed by deeply embedded notions of female duty and respectability. What’s really annoying is that you become good at it – cooking dinner, cleaning, coaxing the kids, doing the laundry and making sure it dries fast. And then you go to your actual paid job. In both contexts, you are constantly being measured up and judged.” From the Guardian by Sean O’Hagan.

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© Clare Gallagher, from the book ‘The Second Shift’; Source @ Clare Gallagher

‘Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.’ — Simone de Beauvoir

‘And what’s worse is that all of it, all of this work that I shouldn’t be doing, is taking place in the one place I shouldn’t have to be doing work at all: in fact, the one place I come to get away from work. It is taking place at home.’ — Edward Hollis

Get the book here: The Second ShiftReview of the book by Jorg Colberg

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Photography Reviews

Studying family relationship through FujiQuicksnap – Fion Hung’s Solo Exhibition

There was something mesmerising from this work when I visited the exhibition two weeks ago.

An angle from a female point of view on her takes in looking at family relationships woven with Chinese traditions, is something that touches upon me and I can certainly relate to easily. The work itself was divided into 3 parts.

The first part was using the family salt business tradition as an anchor, where the passing down of such family traditions was created through the medium of photography by the artists. Chinese traditional culture is about passing along the possessions of one generation to the next, and down the chain of the family as a way of family identity. And instead of taking up the salt business, Artist Hung transfer this pass along and bring it to the area of her expertise – photography.

The second part was about the exchange of dialogue between the artist and her mother in a visual sense. They photograph each other creating a visual narratives of how one see each other – with added texts and sounds to represent her feelings towards her family.

And then the third part, from my memory is that it extended the narratives to the whole family – photographing mum and dad. But this part I don’t remember much.

Shame that the exhibition is already over – would love to visit again if there’s a chance.

 

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Photography Reviews

Stranger – Olivia Arthur

 

Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur‘s work “Stranger” is about Dubai, connecting its past and its present days. While she was researching for this project during her artist residency in Dubai, she found out about a shipwreck incident in Dubai in 1961 and lots of people died. One of the families believed that his son never died from the incident and that he is still alive in present days. Using this story as an inspiration, Stranger is about telling the city of Dubai through this imaginative character – what if he’s still alive now, how and what would he see?

Although she was trying to see it from the point of view of this character, the book encapsulated a feeling which is universal for outsiders coming to the place – a sense of isolation and loneliness as well as strangeness to the things that happen and exist in the city. From the book, she also collected quotes and extracts of conversations that she heard. For the final words of the book, she extracted from what she found out from the divers – that people were in their life-vest and pockets full of gold – to use as a metaphor for a city that draws people in with its promises of riches and full of workers on all levels of society, saving something for a life elsewhere.

The design of the book was also carefully thought out to represent “Stranger”. The book was printed entirely on transparent paper creating these new double or sometimes triple compilation images which gives a sense of confusion from the layering of the past with the present. This somehow matches what Olivia imaged the survivor would feel when walking around the city.

image courtesy to Olivia Arthur

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Photography Reviews

Corbeau – Anne Golaz

I don’t know much about this book. Actually I shouldn’t really write about it until I’ve read this book. But what intrigues me so much about this work is that it’s talking about family (which is a topic of my interest) and that it uses playwright and other forms of medium to weave into the narrative, talking about one’s struggle in life being pulled by different directions. References and talks about this book has lifted my interest higher. Especially it is shortlisted for Aperture and Paris Photo photobook award 2017. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

References:

https://cphmag.com/corbeau/

http://www.annegolaz.ch/corbeau

http://www.annegolaz.ch/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/CORBEAU-more-intentions-annegolaz-NOV17.pdf

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/mack-books-the-enduring-power-of-the-printed-page-thoughts-from-michael-mack

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Photography Reviews

Slant – Aaron Schuman

 

Aaron Schuman is an American artists based in the UK. I came across his work because I love books from MACK and his new book “Slant” caught my eye. Only then when I started studying about his work that his previous work “Folk” was listed as one of the best photobooks in 2016 by Alec Soth, and that he has also been a curator and educator for years. Well his “Folk” work I will need to spend another morning looking into and studying, but what “Slant” interested me is that it features the little police reports from a small town in Amherst, Massachusetts and they are just hilariously ridiculous. These succinct and “extraordinarily anticlimactic” accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events and non-events newspaper cutting from 2014-2018 are cleverly diptych with photographs made around the same town. The photographs are poetically matched with the text showing a “slanted” way fo rhyme, drawing this inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all truth but tell it slant”.

Each of the image pairing was carefully made with many layers and meaning, providing a third space for the viewer to imagine and create possibilities. Quoting from what Aaron says at an interview from photocaptionist, he explained thoroughly how 2 images have been carefully thought out with different added layers:

“in the case of the fig tattoo photograph that you mention, there are many layers. Firstly, I should explain that I grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts – eight miles from Amherst – which is the home of Smith College… … it’s Program for the Study of Women and Gender continues to be one of the most important and prominent within academia, and attracts feminist scholars from around the world. Furthermore, Northampton is often referred to as ‘the lesbian capital of America’, as its population includes the most lesbian couples per capita of any city in the United States… …. it is considered one of the most liberal, left-leaning, ‘open-minded’, ‘alternative’ or ‘countercultural’ communities in America.

What I find fascinating about that particular ‘Police Report’ – ‘A man reported that he was uncomfortable with a protester standing at the intersection of Amity and South Pleasant streets with a sign stating “kill feminism”.’ – is the protest itself, and the fact that today, within Trump’s America, such an ultra-conservative sentiment has become a part of public landscape, even within the most progressive of places. But I’m also interested in the fact that the police were contacted because the protest was deemed threatening; that within this extremely liberal environment, someone’s public expression and protest via ‘free speech’, albeit of their very conservative beliefs, was deemed aggressive and provocative to warrant police attention, and met with such a conservative response. Also, the fact that it was a man who reported that he was ‘uncomfortable’ with this particular act of ‘protest’ is rather intriguing. And furthermore, there’s the irony of the street names – ‘Amity’ and ‘Pleasant’ – which imply certain, very American aspirations on the part of the original town planners, but which are somewhat undercut by the activities described as occurring on those streets today. So the text is already incredibly loaded in so many ways.

Then, there’s the story behind the photograph… … I knew that the fig had all kinds of symbolic meanings, Biblical and otherwise – the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves during The Fall, the fruits own sensual and sexual suggestiveness, and so on – so after the tour was over, I went over and asked her if I could photograph her arm. She guardedly said yes, and afterwards I asked her, “Why a fig?” – “Its kind of embarrassing”, she said, “It a reference to The Bell Jar. You know, Sylvia Plath?”

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet”. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, 1963

…the photograph of the giant foot … … In the collection, I actually have multiple Reports from over the last three years in which the police were contacted because someone asked to photograph the ‘victim’s’ feet (as you say, it could be a prolific local foot-fetishist, or more likely several undergraduate art students trying to fulfil some brief given to them by one of the surrounding colleges) … … I passed this bizarre foot sculpture on the outskirts of Amherst – it was in the parking lot of a local ‘winery’ (something to do with squashing grapes with bare feet, I guess, as the area is certainly not known for its wine production) – and it was just too good to be true.

The whole spin of the work “initially, in 2014, I simply found these newspaper ‘Police Reports’ quaint and hilarious. But today, in 2017, I actually find them both unexpectedly poignant and painfully disturbing; they seem to reveal certain worrying undercurrents in America, psychological or otherwise, that point to a particular loss, at least in terms of being in touch with reality.”

The work itself is layered, complexed and highly informative with different insights coming together after each read. Attractive and simple at first, but hidden with deep meanings with metaphors relating to politics, media and psychology. I personally find this book is a jewel.

Reference:

https://photocaptionist.com/ism/slant-interview-aaron-schuman/

https://www.aaronschuman.com/slantpages/slant01.html

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Chosen [not] to be – Marinka Masséus

 

Chosen [not] to be is a series about Down’s syndrome. A social activism project to bring awareness and act as a catalyst for government to make changes. These 5 girls, representing the Down’s syndrome’s community question and challenge a few questions that we are now facing.

  • What is beauty? As part of the Radical Beauty Project, which is about “challenging opinions and understandings of beauty in contemporary culture… working to provide an alternative vision for beauty today”, are we embracing diversity in the art fields? Why are we still considering Down’s as “faulty”?
  • With the rapid technological developments concerning prenatal screening (NIPT), we have the ability to know and decide whether we want to keep the child. So then are Down’s getting extinct? Are we embracing diversity of human forms?

What strikes me the most is that throughout this project, the artist found out that when the results of prenatal screening confirms Down’s, the first question the physician asks is “when are we scheduling the abortion”. Instead of asking “what do you need from me to make the best decision for you and your family”, the woman is immediately steered towards ‘getting rid of it’. Which means that the woman in question will never receive the proper information to make an informed decision about her new baby and prospective addition to her family. So the question is, what is the society and culture shaping us morally and ethnically?

In terms of the visual elements and conceptual symbolism, I must say I don’t really understand. What does the rope all over her face leaving an open eye means? It feels to me that the rope represent struggles from the outer-world, and that even that is so, she is piercing through. What about the dead plant on top of her head? It feels to me that the higher ups (those with authorities) are treating Down’s as dead weight, but still her face not entirely covered may mean that they are fighting against this issue. What about the pixels covering her face? Usually in television, we cover those who are of crime, or of shame with pixels to blur out their faces, so as they say to protect them from being recognised but also shaped us to label these are people as shameful and of vulnerable and dangerous groups. Marinka has cleverly used this symbolism to represent that conflict. Are they or should they be the protected type? Are we or should we be ashamed of them? But why she used yellow pixels I’m not entirely sure. Finally, the velvet circle and lines in on of the photographs. What does that represent? The lines reminded me about geometry and that maybe it means society or the outerworld is boxing this group of community. There are still other symbolic images that I have no clue why the artist uses it that way – e.g. the green smarties around Down’s faces. Or those red dots on a black and white landscapes etc.

All in all, I believe this is an important piece of work that brought us to question some very important topics about humanity. And what I admire the most and hopefully works out is, that it really does act as a catalyst for governmental changes. That we will have to wait and see.

References:

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/marinka-masseus-chosen-not-to-be

http://www.marinkamasseus.com/chosen-not-to-be/

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Dear Chris – Katrin Koenning

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“Dear Chris” is a body of older work by Katrin Koenning. I must say, I don’t used to understand this type of documentary photography. It’s like, when you learn English, and you haven’t learnt the style of poetry. My belief of photography at first was focused on single photographs. How to get the sort of “perfect” photograph. Time passed and after exposure to so much more variety of photography, especially with narrative photography, I began to understand and appreciate this type of work. And actually, it is the type of work that I want to move forward to. There’s so much more depth and layers that can build upon within a body of work.

Storytelling is very interesting. As a young kid, I’ve always loved illustrations and reading picture books. The range in storytelling with photography or visuals can be so huge. I used to think in movies, simple and direct, everything then in photographs must be literal so people can understand. Yet, the way Western artworks is told through symbolism. And visuals help audience to widen their imagination on the topic presented.

“Dear Chris” is composed of three interchangeable chapters – childhood albums, his objects and photographs of places of significance to Chris.

“As a society we don’t talk about death, let alone about suicide, so I felt a sense of responsibility,” Koenning explains. “But I was also aware of the fact that out of the family I was probably going to be the only one who could do that, because as an artist I had the right tool kit.”

Old family photographs immediately fill all of us with sentimentality, as a viewer you are not just seeing Chris’ childhood but, depending on your cultural background of course, you are seeing your own memories. On the website, I like how Katrin juxtapose these images with the clinical ways of presenting his objects. Objects are meticulously placed centre frame and the pale blue and blue background of the objects Chris’ possessed gives a feeling a “blue” but also the feeling of objectivity. That these objects are neither alive nor dead, losing its original function. The juxtaposition interchange our memories of Chris from past to present, from hope to loss, mirroring how we might feel when we loose our loved ones.

The landscapes – “places of significance” – are empty and still, using suggestive titles for viewers to extend their imaginations for what it would be like or where would Chris go when he was alive.

The title of the photograph below “Missing (2009)” made me think that this was taken while looking for Chris the first time he tried to commit suicide.  The light behind the trees suggests hope at finding Chris, it is a hint of how much happened before Chris’ death.

https://cheapevictoria.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/certificates-of-presence-dear-chris-by-katrin-koenning/

I absolutely adore her visual language and poetry. I used to be taught that the work needs to punch you in the face. Her work isn’t like that. It’s like water, lingering and longing, sip into your body here and there, gentle yet powerful. I didn’t know colour work can be so mesmerising. I used to think that deep contrasty black and white work is the way to make a punch. And a way for a statement. But slowly, being more open and receptive to ALL kind of imagery, I enjoy more and more the ordinary. The little here and there through life, which we all must go through and must encounter.

https://insidestory.org.au/a-country-big-enough-to-disappear-in/

http://katrinkoenning.com/work/Dear_Chris.html

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