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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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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