Photobook Wishes

Another Black Darkness- Saiko Nomura

I remember seeing Saiko Nomura’s work at the HKIPF Provoke show last year 2018. And her’s stands out the most because of the experimental way of printing.

“Another Black Darkness” is Nomura’s first experimental series created through solarization. The book, which consists of black ink oriented on black paper, has been highly praised for being the most experimental out of all recently published photo collections.

Would love to get my hands on this book!

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Searching for Mu – Paul Cupido

I came across his work while browsing and spying on what other people were following on social media. And here, I stumbled onto beautiful works by Cupido. “Searching for Mu” or actually Cupido’s artistic concept “revolves around the principle of mu: a philosophical concept that could be translated as ‘does not have’, but is equally open to countless interpretations. Mu can be considered a void, albeit one that holds potential. Searching for Mu — taking shape in photographs, film clips, sound and folded paper — is tantamount to a quest. I have journeyed nearly as far away from home as possible, nevertheless, a journey outward equally means an exploration of our inner selves. A journey inward searching for acceptance that life comes to an end, yet at the same time knowing that life is circular, starting over time and again.

The artistic philosophy behind his work is beautiful – combining some form of zen or buddhism philosophy of life is impermanent and that everything comes in full circle. What’s more beautiful is his artist statement:

“I aim to engage with the world with wide-open senses. My work is about the magic moments of life as well as its inconveniences. I want to take pictures, while forgetting about the process of photography, until I’m saturated with an existential sense of life. Every step I take begins with the notion of ‘mono no aware’: the transience of everything, the gentle melancholy of things, being sensitive to ephemera.

His work reflects so much about his philosophy of life. And I guess why I love it so much is because not only his visual works are strikingly beautiful and give me such a great feeling of calm and peace, but also we have such similar and common philosophy.

Some of his work:

 

 

 

 

 

 

His work and philosophy reminded me so much of Masao Yamamoto’s work, who is famous for his zen type of photography (will do the next blogpost on his work).

 

References (where he talks more about the process of his work, and the concept behind his books) – highly recommended:

Interview with GUP: http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/ephemere-an-interview-with-paul-cupido

http://www.bildhalle.ch/fotografen/paul-cupido/?L=1

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Masahisa Fukase

The renowned Japanese photography work “Ravens” by Fukase has recently has his “Family” book reprinted by UK publisher MACK. Family has always been a topic that’s close to my heart. Knowingly that the “Ravens” work was really an antidote of the aftermath of his wife and muse Yoko leaving him, bringing him to use “ravens” as a symbolism to characterised his solitude of loneliness, pain and sorrow, the work “Family” is somewhat a different visually narrated work.

The cover and the design made my very first impression of the book. The design of the cover was very much similar to the Chinese 族譜, a documented scroll of written names of the ancestors and family branches in the entire history of e.g. the Chans. The 33 plates images (all done by dry plate technique) are studio portraitures of his immediate and relative families beginning and closing with the house that he lived in.

 

They are, in fact, no ordinary portraitures. In all the plates, his wife Yoko stands out the most, even when in group photographs where all face backwards. From the review by Jorg Colberg, he mentioned that “she is allowed to only wear what I learned is a traditional undergarment for women (koshimaki). In effect, she is naked, and it is only said garment and her long flowing hair that allows for some form of modesty.” For me the work speaks a lot about the masculinity power and how women and females are positioned in Japanese families. According to Colberg, the work also talks about cruelty and the relationship between Fukase and his father. Without knowing the history of him being terrified of his father since young, I guess personally I wouldn’t be able to nitpick this from reading the image (plate 29) alone. I do wish I can read Japanese to understand the synopsis written in his website to have a better view of his family history and the work.

What I really agree with Colberg is that “…what attracts me to this body of work, to this book, is that it resists the kind of resolution of so many other family projects where differences are acknowledged, and people might go their own ways, but it’s all good. Often enough, life just will not conform. Here, that narrative is missing, and there is just an assembly of fragmented ideas and aspects, some which are fighting each other… Sometimes, it’s good when things are not too spelled out.”

I think sometimes you don’t need to be extremely knowledgeable in the art history or skilled in visual literacy to be able to feel the the work. I guess this is the reason why this work is another masterpiece of his. The emotions, the conflicts and the tensions happenings within and portrayed in these family photographs can be felt and understood even though I’m some stranger and no family connection of his. For me, that is a timeless piece of work.

 

Side note: Towards the end of his artistic life, he also made another work called Bukubuku (means bubbling), which is his self-portraits when bathing in water, showing his solitude and isolation of the world once again through this visual diary of himself.

An excerpt of the work and article published by FOAM.

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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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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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Girl plays with snake – Clare Strand

 

After watching the video of MACK and Clare Strand making this photobook, it got me interested to look into what the book is about and who Clare Strand is.

Clare is a conceptual artist based in Brighton. This photobook is based on a very simple idea of her conflicting love and hate of snakes. She as a person is terrified of snake yet she collects images of people, especially women, holding snakes since 30 years ago. Clare found this notion very interesting, she said, “It strikes me as rather perverse to collect what I despise.”

The book plays around with the magnified fragment of the original images, showing the intensity of the relationship between the hand and snake, followed by the original images (sometimes snakes held by women, sometimes just the snake on its own), and then a poetry which is automatically generated from the written stories on the back of the collected press images and tweeted by Strand. “Bound in a faux-snake leather cover, the book fits comfortable in the hands—its size suitably intimate. Combining dramatic full-bleed images with full-size reproductions, the book moves in and out of the images—drawing us close and then pulling away. Love. Hate. ”

On the surface, we see the book is about the relationship between girls and snake, yet deep down, the book also reflects the momentary power that women have over the snake, that split second when there’s a balance of control. As Strand mentioned in her website, “the relationship between snakes and women has a long history, which Strand acknowledges through her discussion on the work. “The snake has been the subject of allegory and metaphor since biblical times, signifying eternity when holding its own tail; suggesting cunning and temptation to Eve; the agent of suicide for Cleopatra, and even the symbol of health and healing in the rod of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The snake can represent both good and evil, wisdom and cunning, rejuvenation and death, and, of course, sexuality and the phallus.” This book is more than just about girls and snake. It can also represents our inner conflict tug of war between good and evil.

What interest me as well about this work is that we can see this work flourish from start to end. From the concept and idea to how the book is made, how the ideas and concepts are translated into book form. And then, how that same idea and concept is translated into forms of exhibitions, showing how the same concept can be played and manipulated with different forms of publications. In the “Girl plays with snake” exhibition, the poetry are instead boldly imprinted on top of the enlarged fragment of original images. “The result is an overt and graphic interplay between text and image. Alongside the framed works, another automatic poetry generator, constructed for this exhibition, is projected onto the walls of the gallery, creating new random arrangements of Strand’s poems. The automatic text is printed out as a snaking ticker tape for the audience to tear off and take away.” This is something which increases the interactions between the artwork and the audience that can be only done in the form of exhibition, but not in a book form.

Her more renowned work about digital misinterpretation “The Discrete Channel with Noise”  will be discussed next.

 

References:

http://blog.photoeye.com/2017/01/book-review-girl-plays-with-snake.html

https://www.clarestrand.co.uk/exhibitions/?id=352

https://mackbooks.co.uk/products/girl-plays-with-snake-br-clare-strand

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Make a photobook – from start to end

 

This is a good documentary video about how Clare Strand, a conceptual artist, worked with MACK publisher on her book “Girls plays with snake.”. From concept, to developing into a form of a book.

What I love about what MACK said was, “the book is an ideal translation of the ideas and concept from the author. Avoid excess of design, causing the ideas to be a distraction. As long as the content is good then it’s easy to make a good book.”

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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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Sabine – Jacob Aue Sobol; Dream Away – Michael Northrup

 

https://www.jacobauesobol.com/sabine-1/

Aside from Sally Mann’s Immediate Family and Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh, here’s another example of work that is photographing and publishing the work of someone that is personally very close to the photographer.

Sobol’s first work “Sabine” is a book about the girl that he fell in love with when he was living in Greenland. The work shows intimate, closeness, sensuality and emotional photographs of his relationship with Sabine and his relationship with Greenland. For Sobol, he wasn’t a photographer in this project, he was a hunter, a boyfriend whom carries a camera and takes pictures. His work shows us that he was in it, part of the community, shooting from what he sees and feels as being one of them. It is a visual story of what he was experiencing, rather than an outsider trying to understand the community which, was what he tried to do when he first went.

‘I was ambitious and driven, but that meant nothing there,’ he laughs. ‘After a while, I realised I was only meeting the outsiders and outcasts in the community. They were drawn to this strange foreign guy with a camera, but no one else was even remotely interested. I was a distraction, an intruder.’

And then when he fell in love with Sabine the 2nd trip he went,

‘Something changed inside me and I got so much into hunting, shooting and fishing for trout and salmon. I realised that it was more important for me to come home with food than photographs. When I picked up the camera again, I was part of the community.’

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2006/may/28/art3

As we know, later on Sobol and Sabine fell apart, and the work was published under the name of Sobol. Now maybe they had consent with each other for the work to be published, who knows? Or where Sabine was from, somewhere that’s so primitive and aged, did she know about her portrait rights?

Now a similar work about intimate relationship – “Dream Away” by Michael Northrup which was produced in the US. It is about his personal relationship journey with Pam – his girlfriend, then wife and then ex-wife.

 

Similar sort of route and experience as Sobol’s with Sabine, yet with this work, there was a huge controversy discussion as to whether the book should/can be published. The case even went to the court. Pam although earlier on in their relationship consented these photographs, towards the end of their relationship, she refused to make her work public. This frustrated the artist, Northrup, and consulted Blake Andrew, a blog writer and photographer, about this issue.

Here’s the blog post about the email conversation exchange:

http://blakeandrews.blogspot.com/2013/02/correspondence.html

Which brings back to these moral and ethnic questions evolving around photography:

Should a photo subject (assuming they consent to the image) ever have some level of control over what eventually happens to their photos? Or is it always up to the photographer? Is this culturally affected?

Some food for thoughts.

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Bees and The Unbearable – Chen Zhe

https://www.zheis.com/BEES

Someone shared this book with me earlier this week and I was immediately drawn to the handcraft of the book and the powerful image of the arm. The work can be seen as two separate work.

THE BEARABLE is about how the artist photographs her self injuries. And this collection of “trash” she calls it came to become a body of work after she had to present her self-portraits at a class in University. While this work is about herself, THE BEES is about finding others who are going through similar experiences and her relationship and exchanges with them. These two woven together to become this book with tender, sensual and powerful book.

She said in an interview, “I had a hard time with all the attention, good and bad. Some suggested that I spoke for the people who cannot speak for themselves. That was not my intention. Other media said presented self-harm as a brave thing, which simply made me angry.”

In her point of view, art helps us ask difficult questions about ourselves. And in this work, Chen is glad that she had the opportunity to share these questions with others e.g. How does a fascination come to be? What does it feel like? And how bad is it if the fascination is a dark one? She said, “Why would a poet publish a poem after he wrote it? He can just be satisfied with having written it and then put it in a drawer. But what often happens is that he would read it out. He wants it to resonate with people, even though he must be embarrassed to admit it.”

And then there, her work has a deeper impact on me. Not just the book (which I am awaiting for its arrival), but these questions she imposed. Can what artists want to portray through their work always be understood by readers? And is it important to be able to read what the artist wants to say through their work? Or can art be about having our own interpretation? How does an art become an art? Do artists always want to publish art because they want their work to be resonated?

What is my fascination? How does it come to my attention? Is it bad to have evil thoughts? And is it bad to make these thoughts into art and publish them?

On some level, I do resonate with Chen’s work. And maybe that’s why I like her work.

Reference: http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/finding-resonance-an-interview-with-chen-zhe

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