PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Parasomnia. By Viviane Sassen.
Published by Prestel, 2011.
Parasomnia
Reviewed by Alexandra Huddleston
___________________________________
Viviane Sassen Parasomnia
Photographs by Viviane Sassen
Prestel, Lakewood, 2011. Hardbound. 104 pp., 55 color illustrations, 9-1/2x11-3/4".

The cover photograph of Viviane Sassen's new book Parasomnia shows a young boy floating facedown in flowing water. Only his outstretched arms and his curly hair emerge from the milky-blue current. The ambiguities of this photo set the tone for the book: there is a frequent feeling of suffocation and disorientation, the intimation of death that comes from holding one's breath for too long, but there is also a strong element of play, a feeling of buoyancy and laughter -- though perhaps with a more desperate edge than in her previous work.

Before Sassen gained a name in the art world with her first big project dominated by African scenes and subjects -- Flamboya -- she was already a successful fashion photographer. Indeed, the influence of the fashion world is still strong in Parasomnia. The size and thickness of the book is similar to that of most women's fashion magazines. While some of the photos without people have a hint of the documentary, most of the scenes are clearly predetermined and posed (her process is depicted in the book Sketches, but even without the backstory, the lighting and the clothes are much too clean!), and those large swaths of negative space would still serve as great places for a brand name.

Parasomnia, by Viviane Sassen. Published by Prestel, 2011.
However, Sassen successfully uses these elements to create a refreshing vision of an imaginary Africa. She cites magic realism and surrealism as two of her major influences and has clearly stated that she aims to create work that confuses both herself and others. Although the short story by Moses Isegawa that opens the book is set in Uganda, Sassen's photographs were taken in many different African countries (as well as few European ones). Indeed, it has always been the business of fashion photography to create fantasy worlds, especially ones that feel just this side of believable.

Parasomnia, by Viviane Sassen. Published by Prestel, 2011.
In his Spring 2012 Aperture Magazine review of her work, Aaron Schuman writes that one of the most important points of Sassen's photography is how it deals with the West's problematic postcolonial relationship with Africa. This is an element in the work, though perhaps a less important part of the photographs themselves and rather more relevant to how they have been received. Glancing at a cross-section of Sassen's photographs, it's interesting to note that she has used her signature style (flat, bright light; a fondness for verticals; deep black shadows that semi-obscure the subject; faces hidden or turned away from the viewer) with both white and black-skinned models. However, it's her work in Africa that most successfully caught the attention of her Western audience; it's this work that most successfully created an imaginary world that Western viewers still apparently desire.

Parasomnia, by Viviane Sassen. Published by Prestel, 2011.
This is an updated imaginary Africa: Henri Rousseau's lush vegetation and stalking lions have been replaced by pastel high-rises, stuffed zebra heads, dusty red streets, graves, and good-looking young people in fashionable, hip clothes. Although she was born and has lived most of her adult life in the Netherlands, her early childhood years in Kenya are often cited as an influence on her recent work. However, just as Rousseau created his jungles without ever leaving France, Sassen could well have created her imaginary world without ever visiting Africa (admittedly, since this is photography and not painting, she did need to be "on location" to create many of these photographs). Such is the nature of the imaginary.

Parasomnia, by Viviane Sassen. Published by Prestel, 2011.
What then of parasomnia, a word that describes a multitude of sleep disorders from sleepwalking and nightmares to bedwetting? Isegawa's short story sets a very concrete scene -- a morning scene in an urban slum -- but the story of the photos is one of dreams and desires. The cool tone of the printing contrasts with the bright primary colors. The playful poses and beautiful clothes of the models contrast with the signs of urban poverty and stunted vegetation. The playful and irregular design (where some photos wrap around to the next page and it's next to impossible to find any two images that are the same size, shape, or placement) sweeps us into and through this imaginary dream world so full of tensions. The true success of the work is that while Sassen successfully creates an imaginary Africa that is clearly deeply desired by the West, once in it, there's a tension that doesn't allow the viewer to relax or want to stay very long. This is a play and tension that needs a book to unfold, and that isn't evident in her luscious individual prints.—ALEXANDRA HUDDLESTON

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Shane Lavalette

purchase book

ALEXANDRA HUDDLESTON is an American photographer who was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and grew up in the Washington, DC area and in West Africa.  She holds a BA from Stanford University and an MS in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.  Her work has been published in The New York Times, Zeit Magazine, National Geographic Explorer, the Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience Grammy Award winning album, and exhibited in group and solo shows worldwide.  Her photographs are in the permanent collection of the US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art Eliot Elisofon Photo Archives.  In 2007 she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to photograph and research the legacy of traditional Islamic scholarship in Timbuktu, Mali.  Her current work in progress explores the relationship between modernity and tradition in a pilgrim’s life along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain and the Shikoku Henro, a pilgrimage of 88 temples on the island of Shikoku, Japan.
Mammatus: Texline, Texas -- Mitch Dobrowner
photo-eye Gallery artist Mitch Dobrowner has won the prestigious L’Iris d’Or Sony World Photography Awards Photographer of the Year 2012! Congratulations Mitch!

From the press release: Dobrowner was presented with the award during the Sony World Photography Awards Gala ceremony in London for his extraordinary series of images, Storms. Over 112,000 images were entered into the 2012 competition from 171 countries – the largest number of entries to date.

Dobrowner said at the awards, "In landscape photography, there is one moment that will never be the same again. I want my images to do the speaking. That’s what photography is all about."

WM Hunt, Chairman of the 2012 Honorary Judging Committee and MC of the 2012 Awards ceremony, said, "There is enormous pleasure in the jury's selection of Mitch Dobrowner because he is the best of what is classic and what is contemporary in photography. He brings a sense of its history and enormous skill in his craft while pushing his imagination and, even, physical strength. The work offers a visceral rush while being wonderfully well made. I think he is an exceptional choice."

In honor of this award an exhibition of work by Mitch Dobrowner, as well as other winners will be on display at The Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House.

For additional information see the article in todays UK Huffington Post which you can read here

The British Journal of Photography has just published a great article on Dobrowner and the competition which you can read here

Dobrowner's photographs can be viewed at www.photoeye.com/mitchdobrowner

Please contact photo-eye Gallery Associate Director Anne Kelly at 505-988-5159 x121 or anne@photoeye.com if you are intrested in purcasing work by Mitch Dobrowner.

Images by: Lydia Panas, Aline Smithson, John Chervinsky
Work by Photographer’s Showcase artist Lydia Panas is on display at The Athens House of Photography Phototheatron in Athens, Greece through May 27th. See Panas’ work on the Photographer’s Showcase here.

Congratulations to Aline Smithson who has been selected to received the Rising Star Award at the Focus Awards in Boston. The award will be presented on June 6th. Also in Boston, Smithson will be a keynote speaker for the Flash Forward Festival on June 8th and be showing photographs from her Arrangement in Green and Black, Photographs of the Photographer’s Mother series. You can see this series as well as other work by Smithson on the Photographer’s Showcase here.

Congratulations to John Chervinsky who will be a Light Work artist in residence this upcoming fall. Chervinsky’s photographs are currently on exhibit at Richard Levy Gallery in Albuquerque. Featuring work from his Studio Physics and An Experiment in Perspective series, the exhibition will be up through May 25th. photo-eye is also happy to announce that we’ll be releasing a new portfolio from Chervinsky in the next few weeks! See Chervinsky’s work on the Photographer’s Showcase here.

For more information contact photo-eye Gallery Associate Director Anne Kelly at 505-988-5159 x121 or anne@photoeye.com.
Öglunda
A while back Robert Adams turned a switch on in my brain. I'm not sure which receptors weren't firing, but after spending a little time with Adams' photographs I became struck by their subtleties. Subtle photographs take a certain patience to absorb and a dedicated amount of time to continually revisit. Adam's work and writings have pushed my own views and tastes with regard to the medium and how I approach taking my own pictures. If it wasn't for first exploring Adams' work, I'm not sure I would have developed such a strong respect for the photographs of Gerry Johannson.

Similar to Adams, Johannson makes subtle images, often focusing on a specific geographical region or town. His photographs are always simple, rarely (if at all) contain people, and create an ambient space reflecting on an urban or rural landscape shaped by those who inhabit it. It would be easy to look at Johannson's work and point out the mundane, but spending a few extra moments with his photographs is an exercise in seeing beauty and meaning in the ordinary.

from the book Öglunda
Appropriately, Robert Adams has written the introduction to Öglunda, Johannson's new publication by GunGallery. The photographs -- taken between August 2010 to November of 2011 -- are a survey of the Skara municipality in Sweden. The photographs of farms and the quiet countryside reflect the small agricultural community, sparse forests and roaming livestock. It is a simple story, but Johansson has created a series that is thoughtful in its simplicity. The artist's depictions of the surrounding forest are some of the most elegant photographs I have seen in a long while.

from the book Öglunda
from the book Öglunda
The design of Öglunda is also simple and elegant containing a debossed photograph on the front cloth cover and exquisite matte paper inside. The beautiful design only elevates the viewing experience. It is a comfortable book, handsome as an object and full of contemplative content. Here, Johansson continues to push the beauty of the subtle image, a subtlety that Adams has been pursuing over his prolific career, forwarding a photographic dialogue that started many years ago. -- Antone Dolezal

Purchase a copy here
A Girl and Her Room
For the past few years, we've been proud to exhibit Rania Matar's A Girl and Her Room series on the Photographer's Showcase and are now thrilled to be carrying the book of this series published by Umbrage Editions. In A Girl and Her Room, Matar focuses her lens on teenage girls and their relationships to their bedrooms, spaces they control, spaces that are often an extension of their burgeoning identities. Photographing girls from the United States and Lebanon, Matar's images are a sympathetic depiction, showing both the confidence of the young women and but also the turbulence and uncertainty of the age. Matar approaches her subjects with kindness and a genuine interest in the lives of the girls she photographs. Whether shooting in affluent homes or refugee camps, a cluttered or spare room, Matar photographs the girls with a consistency of vision, working with them to create a photograph that looks to capture the real girl underneath the trappings and confusion of the age.

Rania Matar was kind enough to answer a few questions about this series and tell us about the designing of her new book. -- Sarah Bradley
________________________________________________

from A Girl and Her Room
photo-eye:     You started this series by photographing the friends of your teenage daughters, and then the teenage daughters of your friends. How did the series develop to focus on the girls in the context of their bedrooms?

Rania Matar:     I had always focused on women and girls in my work previously and when my first book was about to be published, my daughter was 14 and I was ready to start photographing closer to home. I became fascinated with my daughter and how she was transforming before my eyes. I decided to photograph her and her friends. I started photographing them in a group situation when her friends came over, when they were getting ready to go out, etc. and I quickly realized that I didn’t even recognize my own daughter and that those girls were all performing in front of each other and acting according to what they perceived as being “cool.” I decided to photograph each girl by herself and originally asked a couple of girls to choose where they would like to be photographed. After a couple of them chose the bedroom, I realized I had a project. It was one of those YES moments. As soon as the girl was in her own surrounding, I could almost see the “real” person. She was amongst her stuff, in her comfort zone; she could just be herself and she just fit in there, as if the room was an extension of her and she was an extension of her room. I quickly realized that I was on to something interesting and fun and the project kept expanding. Every single room and every single young woman was unique and as such every single photography experience was too, for me as the photographer.

from A Girl and Her Room
PE:     How did the girls react to your request to photograph them in their bedrooms? They all seem at ease, but I imagine that it could potentially be an awkward situation for them. What did you do to make sure the photograph felt like a good representation of them as an individual?

Matar's model Christilla standing next to a print of her photograph,
holding a copy of Matar's book
RM:     Most of the girls I approached understood the project and were excited to be part of it. This work could have been what it is, if they didn’t so gracefully and willingly cooperate with me. They let me in their most intimate and private place, opened their doors to me and let me photograph them. They trusted me and exposed themselves to me and as such to the viewers of this book and this work. I truly hope that I gave each one of those young women justice by representing them as truthfully as I could. I owed them that. I wanted to represent them without any judgment and allow them to be themselves. I think they felt that and as such allowed themselves to let go and be part of the process. I spend a long time with each one of them so she was comfortable with me and so I could learn to really see the person and her space, and their relationship to each other. The photography session was collaborative and intimate as a result.

I started this work with young women I knew either as daughters of my friends or friends of my daughter but I quickly moved in a different direction, choosing to photograph girls I had no prior relationship to. I felt that it was freeing for me and for the young woman when the relationship was that of a model and a photographer, with no prior expectation and preconception from either us. It was like starting with a clean slate and it was up to me discover the young woman and up to her to open up. The relationship of a girl to her mother is often complicated and I felt that it was important here that I was perceived as the photographer and not the mother.

However, I am a mother and this is why I wanted to represent the girls as truthfully as I could and with all the respect they deserved. My daughter was one of those girls! In some way, they taught me to be much more tolerant as a mother to my own teens at home.

from A Girl and Her Room
PE:     Based on the essays in the book as well as my personal reaction to this series, these images seem to bring out memories of adolescence in adult women. Is this a common response? Do you get similar reactions from men or have you found that they view the series differently?

RM:     This has been a pretty common response among adult women; it’s true. It did this to me as well in some strange way, which is why I decided to include girls from Lebanon as well. I ended up including the 2 cultures that saw me as a teenage girl and a young twenty year old. This is how this work became personal to me. When I photograph the girls, almost in all instances, I forget that I am not one of them, as if I am instantly thrown back in time. Then I pass a mirror and it is a call back to reality for me.

It seems that most women relate to this work, either because they were or still are teenagers themselves or because they have daughters, but it definitely seems to strike a chord. I didn’t quite anticipate this but in some ways, I find this reaction touching and it validates this work for me. I was very moved by both essays in the book and am so grateful that both Anne Tucker and Susan Minot opened up in that manner and wrote such a personal almost unguarded essays. If my work brought this up and stirred those feelings in them, then I am extremely humbled and gratified at the same time.

I found that men look at this work somewhat differently. I think many feel that it is a little voyeuristic and many make comments such as “boys don’t have the same relationship to their rooms” or “a man could not have taken those images.” I think both comments are valid and probably true. For the most part, I found that men were fascinated by the images, the girls and their spaces but there seems to be a simultaneous guarded mixture of discomfort, awe and curiousness toward the images.

from A Girl and Her Room
PE:     I'm interested in how the book came together. Some of the image pairings are striking -- particularly when a photograph of a well-off American teen is shown next to a girl living in a refugee camp. There are a number of interesting elements including the sequencing, the text from some of the girls and the several pages of collaged images. Did you collaborate with a book designer?

RM:     I worked very closely with my book designer, Unha Kim. It was a wonderful collaboration and I felt that she understood the work and the direction I wanted the book to take quite well. I used to be an architect myself before becoming a photographer and design is very important to me. It was important to me to team up with a designer whom I would work with well, and Nan Richardson, my publisher found the great person for me to work with. I wanted the book to be a beautiful art book, but also to be fun, to be a book about teenagers but also a book for teenagers. The design had to express all of those elements for me. I felt that the subject of the book itself almost demanded that it have an aspect of fun to it, a sense of freedom from rigidity and structure.

Rania Matar
Pairing was important. I wanted to include the photos from both cultures but without them reading like a comparison or without a specific and obvious rhythm. The pairing and the sequencing were more visual than anything. The text from the girls was important to include in some instances but not all, so we included the quotes that were most special and unique. We decided to make them small and light to make sure text didn’t compete with the imagery.

Lastly, I wanted to make sure every girl in the book was included. We originally started with a contact sheet idea and then Unha developed it to this real fun collage that is reminiscent of the walls in some of the bedrooms. Putting those images together like a puzzle and keeping track of all the girls was probably one the most complicated part of the design.

The whole design process was really teamwork at its best and I am grateful to Unha for being on the same page as me and to Nan for finding me the right person!

Purchase a singed copy of A Girl and Her Room here
See Rania Matar's work on the Photographer's Showcase here
Surface Series by Batia Sute
I have a fascination with dendrochronology or tree-ring dating. I really do not care much for learning about the science and deciphering what each respective ring means, I am more enamored with the idea that it can be done. By dissecting a living or once living organism, the trained eye can readily deduce what the life or environment of that organism was like. Human organs, hair, skin and even fossilized plaque can tell stories of what that person ate or how they died. Geological layers speak to the trained eye of volcano eruptions, violent swellings of massive amounts of water or astrological collisions. When we look at images, as with biological or geological matter, in or out of context, what do we see and what do they communicate? How is that seeing affected by our modern perceptions of contemporary life? What can the information on the surface of an object tell us?

Surface Series by Batia Suter uses found imagery-some I would assume to be vernacular, documentary, commercial, scientific, among other genres and sources - to collect and examine images with the theme of surface. Adorned with a section of a tree on the red cover, the book is produced in black & white with many images revealing the half-tone dots of their original publication, betraying the fact that the image has been appropriated from cheaply printed media (and adding another layer of interest and visual texture). They are decontextualized, sequenced like prose leading the reader through lines and positive and negative spaces. Suter's images bring up themes of the sacred through spirals and petroglyphs, man's use and misuse of the land with track marked fields and allude to the passage of time in the natural earth formations. Suter groups the images to create a narrative far removed from their original purpose.

Surface Series by Batia Suter

Surface Series by Batia Suter
Surface Series by Batia Suter
Accompanying the book is a color insert displaying a panoramic view of the exhibition of Suter's found imagery. Although the book is very much smaller in scale than the exhibition originally designed as a site-specific piece at Culturgest Porto in Lisbon, Portugal, the insert shows the proportional difference between the exhibition images and the reproductions in the book. This dialogue cannot truly be reproduced in book form, but without its inclusion we could not make this comparison and read both exhibition and book as two different pieces-the book being a more economical way to distribute the images and ideas. The book finishes with captions and copyright credits and a very heady essay "The Prosody of the World: Batia Suter and Writing" by philosophically-trained German curator Dieter Roelstaete. Roelstaete draws connections between the appropriated art of Suter and the theories of Jacques Derrida and Throdor Adorno. I do not venture to decipher the text here, but I would note that he finishes by questioning our obsession for experiencing found objects and the process of finding, the "archaeological paradigm of digging, excavating and dusting off," as art. The work of Suter has taken images from their utilitarian context and its whole, placing them as art pieces to communicate an entirely new message left open for our trained eyes do decipher.

Surface Series by Batia Suter
  Purchase a copy here.
From Polaroid to Impossible. Edited by Achim Heine.
Published by Hatje Cantz, 2011.
From Polaroid to Impossible
Reviewed by John Mathews
_____________________________________
Achim Heine From Polaroid to Impossible
Edited by Achim Heine, Rebekka Reuter, Ulrike Willingmann, texts by Achim Heine, Barbara P. Hitchcock & Florian Kaps.
Hatje Cantz, 2011. Hardbound. 192 pp., 230 color illustrations, 9-3/4x12-1/2".

In a quest to profile Polaroid as a serious and cutting edge art form, its inventor Edwin H. Land and the photographer Ansel Adams established the Polaroid Collection in the late 1950s. The collection was supplemented by the introduction of the Polaroid Artist Support Program in the 1960s, which provided free film and cameras to a range of established and emerging photographers in exchange for selected prints. Photographers donated work on the premise that the collection would remain together for public viewing and study. The mantra of this unique program was innovation, invention and creativity. By 2008 Polaroid had amassed 16,000 prints by a range of high profile artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. However in 2008 Polaroid was declared bankrupt and its assets, including the prestigious collection, were seized and later auctioned. The prospect of the sale produced an outcry from the photography fraternity and a group of artists spearheaded by Chuck Close campaigned against the dispersal of the collection. The European part of the collection has been preserved in its entirety thanks to a successful last minute bid by the Westlicht photography museum in Vienna. The resulting book, From Polariod to Impossible, celebrates the unique characteristics of Polaroid and explores the special relationship that existed between the company and an exciting array of photographers who were given carte blanche to experiment and push the format to its full creative potential.

From Polaroid to Impossible, by Achim Heine. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2011.
This book focuses mainly upon Polaroid works from the 1970s and 1980s and is classified by film formats. The first chapter looks at the ultra large 20X24” format that was used exclusively for special Polaroid commissions. Only seven of these cameras were ever manufactured and each required a team of Polaroid technicians to transport and operate. One such commission from 1989 is ‘Ritual Observance’ by Dennis Farber, which depicts an outdoor gym. The photograph has been embellished with layers of paint and gold leaf, which accentuates the energy and nascent qualities of the Polaroid image. A majority of the 20X24” images from this chapter tend to be very polished and meticulous studio based works, which is probably due to the cumbersome scale and expense of the format.

From Polaroid to Impossible, by Achim Heine. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2011.
The chapter featuring the 4X5” and 8X10” Polaroid formats contains an eclectic mix of portraits, abstractions and colour studies. These images range from everyday geometric investigations such as Terry Walker’s ‘Traffic Barrels’ 1975, to more staged works such as Paul Huf’s haunting ‘Untitled’ image from 1977, which features a dreamlike and sensual tableaux of draped mannequins. The book concludes with a chapter on the most iconic and widely used Polaroid integral film format. Images such as Auke Bergsma series of figurative colour studies from 1981 have a very spontaneous, playful and fluid feel to them. This vibrant sequence creates a type of fantasy narrative by channelling a spirit of inquisitiveness and furtive excitement.

From Polaroid to Impossible, by Achim Heine. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2011.
Within our current digital age there is nothing to quite rival the tactile and alchemical qualities of Polaroid. The Polaroid archive spans more than sixty years and contains over 16,000 images. This book provides a brief glimpse into that unique collection and is a fitting tribute to the innovation, invention and creativity that the Polaroid format inspired.—JOHN MATHEWS

purchase book


JOHN MATHEWS is an artist and curator from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
White Noise by Antonio Julio Duarte
I had no context to ground me in what I was looking at when I first opened White Noise -- my eyes didn't take in the four words that appear as a preface to the photographs. The first sequence of images deliver such profound disorientation that even though it quickly becomes clear that we are looking at interiors, everything is tinged with a sense of the unreal. The vacant spaces feel like the cold and impersonal interiors of a spaceship, some sort of eerie and ominous futuristic world where the shadows are inky black and every surface reflects a harsh white light. Large decorative objects seem oddly imposing, as if they hold some secret purpose beyond ornamentation. Weirdly decorated hallways terminate in blackness or lead to blind corners. It is world of seductive sparkle, but is also unsettling, vaguely threatening. Paging through the book, the experience becomes more and more dream-like. The images convey a sense of haziness or blurred vision, though all of the photographs are crisp. It is perhaps an effect of the shininess of the surfaces, as if one's eyes couldn't focus correctly with the reflection and glare. These spaces seem to trick the eye.
So here's what we are looking at: Casinos. These are the lobbies of casinos, specifically those in Macau, a former Portuguese colony on the Southern coast of China. It makes perfect sense; casinos are one of the few places where such frigid tacky opulence exists. Shot over the course of 10 years, it's no surprise that Antonio Julio Duarte was often suffering from jet lag when making these images, they have the bizarre surrealness of a fever-dream. Knowing the location does not disturb the overwhelming sense of uneasiness, Duarte shows no humans and provides little to no context within the images themselves and they become more compelling for their mystery, allowing the imagination to wander on a guided tour.
from White Noise
White Noise is both well edited and designed, the large black circle on the front cover evoking the most surreal image in the book and also reminds me of the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a skillfully evocative collection of images, a fantastic example of a body of work that draws the viewer right in and conveys a specific feeling throughout the well-crafted sequencing.

from White Noise
'White noise' is an interesting title for this book. It implies a hum, a buzz, a non-specific tone that can both fill the head or be ignored. My mind immediately went to the concept of "musical wallpaper;" as described by my spitfire music professor in college, music that was unobtrusive, decorative, and provide ambience without being virtuosic enough to call attention to itself. If sound can be described through decor, it seems that decor could be described as sounds, and surely white noise seems to be an appropriate description of these interiors. Perhaps through the suggestion of the title, or maybe through some synesthetic force, but the images imply sound. Though I'm unsure of its formal relation to Duarte's work, I stumbled upon an audio file that is intended to accompany the work. Its eerie dissonance seems to fit perfectly, and while it affirmed my feelings about the book, a sound track isn't necessary -- the images have ample ominous tone all on their own. -- Sarah Bradley

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Horacio Fernández

Purchase a copy here
Dirk Braeckman. Photographs by Dirk Braeckman.
Published by Roma Publications, 2011.
Dirk Braeckman
Reviewed by Antone Dolezal
__________________________________________
Dirk Braeckman Dirk Braeckman
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIRK BRAECKMAN
Roma Publications, 2011. Hardbound. 400 pp., Color and black & white illustrations, 11-1/2x10".

There is something secret and sinister lurking in the depths of Dirk Braeckman's photographs. An omen that brings an uncanny atmosphere and uneasy tension I cannot quite put my finger on. It's this tension of unsettled mystery that keeps bringing me back, almost as if I could find myself hiding in one of the photographer's deep shadows or half empty interiors. And maybe this is it. Here I keep finding myself deep within these photographs, on some sort of journey, half lost and aimless.

It's the black that pushes such a strong ambience. A deep black, giving way to a dream-like seduction of a haunted world. It is a world that is surprisingly comfortable. The rich and persistent blacks are at the heart of the artist's secret -- a black that acts as a veil, never intending to fully let the viewer in. Images of empty dance halls, hallways and Victorian rooms are brought together alongside framed paintings that appear slightly overexposed from a hard light. The consistent dark tonalities mixed with this occasional harsh glow blend together a domain of half fiction and half reality. At times I am not sure if it is a vintage painting or one of Braeckman's bewitching mysteries I have wandered in to. Either way I find myself stepping in circles.

Dirk Braeckman, by Dirk Braeckman. Published by Roma Publications, 2011.
Dirk Braeckman, by Dirk Braeckman. Published by Roma Publications, 2011.
Braeckman's female subjects also remain veiled. Rarely do we see their faces. Only their bodies and gestures suggest a glimpse at the photographer's unseen intent. Viewing these subjects is cause for unease and strangely enough carves a path that leads deeper into this hidden place. Their sparse and strange gaze cautions us to step away, but Braeckman's complex puzzle of unease and apprehension has already formed its grasp. And then there are photographs of numerous beds, some untouched and others with crumpled sheets. There is a curious balance of enticing suggestion and an empty longing. It is never quite clear which to lean towards and only builds upon the enigmatic nature of this work.

Dirk Braeckman, by Dirk Braeckman. Published by Roma Publications, 2011.
Dirk Braeckman, by Dirk Braeckman. Published by Roma Publications, 2011.
This illusive work is contained in a hefty volume, consisting of 400 pages and almost as many photographs. Roma Publications has succeeded in the demanding task of representing the artist's subtle color palate. This book would not have worked if not for Roma's exquisite printing. And surprisingly, each one of the plates moves Braeckman's ghostly narrative further, while simultaneously leading the viewer into a series of deceptive turns. Viewing these photographs is like meandering through a labyrinth without an exit, becoming a curious observance in how one reads an ungrounded visual narrative.—ANTONE DOLEZAL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Alec Soth and Anouk Kruithof

purchase book


ANTONE DOLEZAL is a New Mexico based photographer and writer. He is a member of the media collective Finite Foto and his writing has appeared in photo-eye Magazine and Fraction Magazine. For more on Antone, please visit his site at www.antonedolezal.com.
We are happy to present a new edit of Michelle Frankfurter's Destino portfolio on the Photographer's Showcase
Oaxaca, Mexico 2011 -- Michelle Frankfurter
Frankfurter's stunning black & white images tell a migrant's tale, specifically, the journey of undocumented Central Americans making the long hard trek across Mexico in hopes of crossing the border into the United States. Photographing in migrant shelters and on the freight trains hopped by migrants, Frankfurter approaches her subjects with palpable empathy. Her images at once embrace the emotional hardships of the people she photographs, but also the element of adventure intrinsic to such a journey. While Frankfurter has a background in photojournalism, I can't help but think that her masterful technique has been further honed through her practice as a wedding photographer, a job that requires the attention of a journalist and the eye of an artist. Shooting medium format, Frankfurter's images form a loose but clear narrative. Her choice to photograph many along the way rather than focus on a specific individual universalizes the tale, yet as viewers we do not lack connection with the subjects of Frankfurter's photographs. She has described Destino as a visual epic poem; indeed, it is a human story bigger than any one person.

Frankfurter's own willingness for adventure and fluency in Spanish has thus far allowed her to undertake her project without the aid of guides or fixers, however the last portion of the journey presents new challenges. To complete Destino Frankfurter must photograph along the Mexico/United States border controlled by notoriously violent drug cartels. For this reason she has decided to hire a fixer and has looked to the photography community for help, crowd sourcing the financial support needed for this most dangerous part of her trip through the website Kickstarter. The response has been tremendous, her funding goal was met in the first few days. (If you'd like to pitch in, there's still two days left to contribute!) The outpouring of support is a testament to the importance and power of Frankfurter's work and its ability to connect with its audience.  They are emotionally powerful images, memorable in their frankness and beauty.

On the occasion of her new portfolio opening, we asked Frankfurter to tell us a bit more about her background, the process of making Destino, and her ultimate plans for a book. -- Sarah Bradley
__________________________________________

photo-eye:     You have a very interesting background, having spent time as a photojournalist working in the US but also Haiti and Nicaragua, and have worked with human rights organizations. How has your background influenced and informed your work?

Michelle Frankfurter:     The historical and political foundation of the project stems from my experiences in Central America during the late 1980s and from my continued interest in the region. I learned a lot about the role the United States has played in the political meddling of the region and the effect that had on Central American societies. In a way, the time I spent in Nicaragua and Guatemala was like a loosely structured International Studies and Geopolitics immersion program. The current immigration crisis did not evolve in a vacuum.

My family background and childhood possibly had an even stronger influence, as far as shaping the emotional trajectory of the storyline. My family immigrated to the United States from Israel when I was six-years-old, shortly after the Six Day War. Having survived the Holocaust in his native country of Hungary, my father was later forced to flee Communist rule, arriving in Israel as a refugee in 1950, at the age of 16. My parents met in the Israeli army and married shortly after they both completed their mandatory military service.

We moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in a suburb of Syracuse, New York after my father accepted a teaching position at Syracuse University. My parents were determined that my brother and I knew about the Holocaust - not only about the tumultuous events that transpired in Eastern Europe and Germany, but of the complicity of average citizens as well, who collectively enabled such events to occur. To that end, we watched a lot of grainy documentaries containing choppy footage of bulldozers shoveling emaciated naked corpses dusted in lime into open trenches. When I was twelve, I read Jerzy Kosinski’s violently graphic semi-autobiographical novel, The Painted Bird, based on his experiences as a child during the war in the Polish countryside.

Maybe because my family was different - we were the newcomers on the block, the parents with the weird accents and a funny last name, I was singled out for the quintessential childhood bullying experience. Being bullied by members of my own tribe effectively dispelled the myth, at least in my mind of Jewish cultural superiority. I concluded that brutish behavior was something that we, as human beings were all perfectly capable of. I developed a deep and fundamental awareness, both on a microcosmic and colossal scale of the potential for human betrayal. If Destino were yet another study in misery, it wouldn’t have taken such a hold on me. I’m always searching for some kind of affirmation of humanity. Although much of the storyline is grim and heart wrenching, there are moments of redemptive beauty as well.

Oaxaca, Mexico 2010 and Orizaba, Veracruz, 2010 -- Michelle Frankfurter
PE:     You've previously mentioned that Cormac McCarthy's book The Crossing was influential in the genesis of Destino and have described your project as a combination of a socially relevant tale and adventure story. I imagine that shooting also has required an amount of fearlessness on your part, riding the train with the migrants and venturing into places without a fixer. Do you think that this willingness to undertake your own adventure has influenced how you go about shooting this project?

MF:     Knowing Spanish well has enabled me to function as my own fixer, at least thus far. The more proficient you are in a language, the more culturally nuanced you become. It goes a long way towards being accepted by the people you are photographing. As important as it is for me to get to know people, I want them to get to know me as well. I don’t want to do that through an interpreter. For the record, I have only ever done one leg of the journey by train – the thirteen-hour trip from Arriaga, which is in the southern state of Chiapas to Ixtepec in Oaxaca. I’ve made that same trip three times, at different times of the year, under various weather conditions. For personal safety reasons and because of budget limitations, I’ve never traveled beyond the first leg of the journey by train (from Oaxaca, I continue north by bus). I’ve stayed within certain parameters defined by what I thought I could reasonably accomplish with the limited resources I had available. Having a fixer, or at the very least, a driver who could meet me at points along the way would have been extremely helpful, especially considering the current situation in Mexico (criminal organizations target Central American migrants for kidnapping and extortion). I’ve had to weigh the benefits of what I might be able to document against the potential risk of working alone.

Ideally though, I would prefer not to have to need a fixer. I worry I’ll start thinking about them instead of being able to focus on the work: Are they bored? Do they wish they were somewhere else? Are they getting in the way? Do I feel like chatting up the fixer more than photographing the migrants? It’s a distraction. However, the heavily militarized U.S./ Mexico border is controlled by warring drug cartels, which makes it especially dangerous. I don’t feel comfortable working there on my own and I seriously doubt that I would be able to gain any kind of access to the story. Cartels such as Los Zetas and Las Aztecas control the smuggling trade. The border presents a very different and much more dangerous situation than the migrant shelters run by sympathetic clergy.

Home of Mercy migrant shelter, Arriaga, Chiapas, 2009 -- Michelle Frankfurter
PE:     What are the reactions to Destino of the people you've photographed for the project? Do you tell them about what you are doing before shooting? Have any of your subjects seen the photographs you've taken?

MF:     For the most part, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. Occasionally, there are people who ask me not to photograph them, but more often than not, people are very receptive to talking and being photographed. For one thing, there isn’t a whole lot to do inside the migrant shelters, except watch American movies dubbed in Spanish on TV, smoke and talk. You’re essentially just killing time, waiting. At the very least, I’m a novelty. Every year in Mexico, where racism against Central Americans is prevalent, immigrants simply vanish without a trace. The relatives of the disappeared get little to no cooperation from the Mexican government. I think they feel anonymous and disposable – like their lives don’t count. They want to be seen as individuals. Overwhelmingly, I felt that they appreciated my interest in them.

On my most recent trip trip, I brought along an 8x8 copy of my first Blurb edit. I kept it wrapped in a plastic Ziploc bag inside my camera bag. People were extremely enthusiastic about it. A crowd of migrants would invariably gather as soon as I took it out. They saw it as a visual diary of their experiences. They passed it around with a great deal of reverence, as if they were handling a sacred or fragile text. Sometimes, they recognized individuals in the book. Occasionally, I met people I had photographed during previous trips, who had subsequently been caught and deported and were making another attempt. The little book earned me a degree of respect, in that they could see I was taking some of the same risks. Sometimes, I was met with skepticism from individuals who found it difficult to believe that the project wasn’t a commercial venture from which I stood to profit monetarily. They wanted to know what my angle was. Other times, I felt like they bestowed upon me altruisms I didn’t deserve. I explained that my motivations were a mix of artistic, ego-driven self-interest and personal outrage.

Hermanos en El Camino migrant shelter Ixtepec, Oaxaca, 2009 and Orizaba, Veracruz, 2010 -- Michelle Frankfurter
PE:     Strictly speaking, the project falls into the classification of documentary, yet your images are not a straightforward description of the events in these migrants' lives. We see their surroundings, know their journey, but your images are more strikingly emotive -- we connect with the subjects on an emotional level more than we understand the specifics of an individual's journey. There's a clear element of storytelling in these images, your subjects are individuals, but also stand-ins for all those who make this trip every year. Can you discuss your process for putting together this loose narrative? How do these goals affect what images you look to make and which images you select when editing?

MF:     I see it as a work of historical fiction - a kind of dark Exodus tale featuring a cast of unlikely hero protagonists. It’s a classic storyline of the epic journey across a hostile wilderness. The reality in Mexico has changed since the time I began taking these photos in 2009. Increasingly, Central American migrants are caught in the crosshairs of Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s war against the drug cartels while a stagnant U.S. economy has prompted lawmakers to lobby for harsh anti-immigration legislation in the United States. There is a growing climate of lawlessness and depravity within Mexico to which migrants are especially vulnerable. Early on, I made a few images that defined the arc of the narrative. But what originally began as an odyssey towards a promised land has evolved into the journey of a generation of exiles across a landscape that is becoming increasingly dangerous, heading towards a precarious future as an option of last resorts. I took a sequencing workshop last summer with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. They helped me refine the narrative with a pattern of sequencing that emphasized the emotional journey of the storyline over the chronological or literal journey. I paired some of the textural details with the portraits, repeated spreads of panoramic landscapes, while circling back to the train as the connective tissue. In the last third of the book, the images get progressively darker, both literally and emotionally.

Michelle Frankfurter photographing in Mexico
PE:     You describe this body of work as being a book project, where are you in the process of getting a book made? From what you've mentioned on your Kickstarter page, it sounds like you have put together at least one edit of images. Are you working with a publisher?

MF:     I’ve always seen this as a long-term book project. There really isn’t any other outlet for photography, aside from independently produced photography books that interests me at this point. So far, I’ve used Blurb to make two edits of the project, which has helped me conceptualize the work. I honestly haven’t thought about the actual process of publishing yet. I’ve been scrambling to figure out how to actually finish shooting. So far, it’s mostly been a dream, but as I get deeper into the work, I can actually see it becoming a reality. David Alan Harvey has been a huge motivating influence on me as well, as far as helping me see its potential. I took a bookmaking workshop with him two years ago, at a time when most of the work hadn’t been seen by anyone. He’s been a mentor and a friend ever since. I was accepted to Review Santa Fe, where I was hoping to possibly book reviews with people in the world of photography book publishing. But I had to take a pass for this coming year. I’ll be back in Mexico during the review. I am mostly concerned with trying to create a body of work that transcends its immediate news relevance. It’s still a work in progress.

See Michelle Frankfurter's portfolio on the Photographer's Showcase here

from the book 100 Polaroids

It still amazes me that Polaroid film has forever slipped from our grasp. Sure, there is the Impossible Project, but I have yet to be convinced. There is almost nothing in photography more instantly gratifying than snapping a Polaroid image. That's not to say that taking a good Polaroid picture is easy, but the image sure does stand out when one does. Looking at a striking Polaroid is similar to being taken out of reality for just a little bit of time, and I think this is what draws me in.

Patrick Sansone's new limited edition book 100 Polaroids does just this, it takes me somewhere else for a small moment. There is a seductive air of mystery in many of these photographs, each image tells its own story. And this is what is so refreshing about Sansone's book; I can look at each image, gain a small insight and move to the next. There is no linear narrative, just a series of single striking pictures. That being said, there is a definite influence of Southern aesthetic weaved throughout this book. A hint of Eggleston and Christenberry find their way into the artist's work. Maybe it's the rusty street signs and old automobiles mixed with a distinctive color palate, but Sansone's subjects share a history with photography's Southern predecessors and this is something I find to be a compelling component of this work.

from the book 100 Polaroids
from the book 100 Polaroids
I have previously known Patrick Sansone as a musician from Wilco -- one of the most frequently played bands on my turntable -- so absorbing the images in this book gave me another way to view this artist's creative life. Most photographers are constantly absorbing the world around them; it’s a hard switch to turn off at times and I can imagine it is the same for a talented musician like Sansone.

from the book 100 Polaroids
from the book 100 Polaroids
The classically elegant design of 100 Polaroids makes for appropriate viewing. Each image is reproduced at the original size and makes for an intimate and at times contemplative experience. Old carousels and outdated neon signs become artifacts from a different time.

Purchase a copy of 100 Polaroids
Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present.
Edited by Peter Pfrunder. Published by Prestel, 2011.
Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present
Reviewed by Adam Bell
_____________________________________________
Peter Pfrunder, Ed. Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present
Edited by Peter Pfrunder, Fotostiftung Schweiz with Martin Gasser, and Sabine Münzenmaier
Prestel, Lakewood, 2011. Hardbound. 640 pp., 700 illustrations, 8-3/4x11".

Books on books seem to have become a genre unto itself within the expanding world of photobooks. Beginning with Fotografía Pública and The Book of 101 Books, the genre was given its most comprehensive treatment with Gerry Badger and Martin Parr's groundbreaking work, The Photobook Vol. 1 and 2 (I've read a third volume is on the way), and continued with Aperture’s recent volumes on Japan and Latin America, as well as their upcoming releases on Dutch and Chinese photobooks. This list is by no means comprehensive, but points to an increased engagement with and scholarship around the photobook, as well as a belated critical acknowledgement of the important role they've played in the medium's history. The most recent addition to these new publications, Swiss Photobooks From 1927 to the Present, focuses its attention on the varied books produced by Swiss photographers. From Robert Frank to Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, the book covers impressive ground and offers unique insight into the history of Swiss photography and photobooks.


Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, by Peter Pfrunder, Ed. Published by Prestel, 2011.
In many ways, the history of Swiss photobooks follows the trajectory of European photography. The book is not strictly limited to books produced in Switzerland, but includes books like Frank's The Americans which was first printed in France and then the United States. There are a number of familiar dust jackets, but there are also a lot of lesser-known books and names, as well as some surprises, like a book by Le Corbusier on airplanes from 1935, which is exciting. From such canonical figures as René Burri, Robert Frank and Jakob Tuggener, to more contemporary practitioners such as Fischl/Weiss, Jules Spinatsch and Shirana Shahbazi, the book covers a wide range of different types of books from the documentary/anthropological and technical/scientific to the more intentionally and self-consciously artistic books. The book is a reminder of how many excellent Swiss photographers there are and have been, and how much they've contributed to the medium.

Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, by Peter Pfrunder, Ed. Published by Prestel, 2011.
Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, by Peter Pfrunder, Ed. Published by Prestel, 2011.
I'm as much of a sucker for these books as any bibliophile and photobook devotee. There is something deliriously appealing about discovering so many new books and seeing images of books presented in this manner, but I wonder what is in store for this genre, if it is even a genre. How many more books on books do we need? Will these books begin to be included in similar volumes as meta-entries on important books on books in future anthologies? Or even a book entirely devoted to books on books? Perhaps somewhere Borges is smiling. A temporarily amusing and admittedly snarky thought, but it misses what is really great about these anthologies. As the book market becomes more and more inundated with limited edition books selling out overnight, books quickly disappearing into private collections, and older volumes becoming prohibitively expensive or rare, we run the risk of many important books falling out of the hands of the people to whom they might matter most – namely other photographers, students and artists, especially those with limited financial means. Ironically, these anthologies have become buying guides for collectors – exacerbating the very problems they might help to alleviate.

In addition to important reprints, publishers like Eratta Editions have done a great deal to address this issue. Books like Swiss Photobooks From 1927 to the Present help too and offer us a glimpse into what has been arguably the primary vehicle for photographs in the 19th and 20th century – the printed page. Although only a few spreads are generally included, each book is given generous space and critical treatment within the book and text. Seeing the books in this way can never replace the original object, but it brings us a little closer and allows us to see a little of the photographs, design and context of the book. Photographers have long known the importance of photobooks to the medium and their practice, so it is nice to see them continuing to receive the sustained critical feedback and legitimate place in photo history that they deserve.

Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present, by Peter Pfrunder, Ed. Published by Prestel, 2011.
With over 600 pages, and weighing close to eight pounds, the book is daunting in its scale and size. While the primary text is in German, there are French and English translations in the appendix. For non-German readers, this makes navigating the book a little tricky, but that is more of a personal failing than one of the book. The essays are all very good and have been assembled from numerous scholars – including Sarah Greenough, Urs Stahel and Peter Pfrunder, the books editor. In addition to addressing each book, they also cover specific time periods and developments within Swiss photography. Photographers and scholars, especially ones who have a little extra room on their bookshelves, should check out this impressive book.—ADAM BELL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Sven Ehmann
purchase book


ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are adambbell.com and adambellphoto.blogspot.com.