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Book Review As I Was Searching (For Another) By Selina Kudo Reviewed by Brian Arnold "I want to start by saying that I’ve been unable to learn much about artist Selina Kudo, short of an installation she composed for the Tanks Art Centre in Australia in 2022 (a conceptual piece about backyard trampolines)..."

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK479
As I Was Searching (For Another)
By Selina Kudo
Bad News Books, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, NZ, 2023. English, 60 pp., 7x9½".

I want to start by saying that I’ve been unable to learn much about artist Selina Kudo, short of an installation she composed for the Tanks Art Centre in Australia in 2022 (a conceptual piece about backyard trampolines). When I googled As I Was Searching (For Another), the artist’s 2023 work with New Zealand based publisher Bad News Books, I didn’t find too much more information, but there is a brief quote from the artist about the book on the publisher’s website:

“Through each frame, I embarked on a journey to find something elusive, the nature of which I could not articulate at the time. This book encapsulates moments of subtle introspection and fleeting connections that were made while living in Japan. The images echo a quest for both self-discovery and a sense of belonging within the intricate tapestry of Japan’s everyday life.”

There is no text in the book to explain the pictures except that they were made between 1991-2000, so this quote is all I really have to work with.

I’ll be honest and say that I find the artist’s statement on the Bad News Books site to be a bit bland, kind of I like saying I photograph the everyday things most people don’t see, or I photograph human impact on nature. That said, however, I find As I Was Searching (For Another) to be a delightful little book. It’s only 60 pages, made with risograph prints, and in edition of 99 copies. The pictures present a clear, concise, and simple narrative. The book begins with a photograph made through an airplane window showing two flight attendants and ends with a picture of two stacked suitcases (a lovely framing to the story); in between, we see conventional pictures of Japan (some in unconventional ways) – Mount Fuji, carp swimming in a pond, kimonos, rice paper dressing screens, and iconic city streets are all depicted here. The charm of the book comes from a feeling I can only call naivety, a sort of innocence abroad story, fully articulated by the clear but crude risographs used to illustrate her story (again confirming my conviction that how pictures are made is essential for understanding them).


Through the course of the book, we do learn a little bit about the maker. Kudo’s pictures do embody a feeling of self-discovery, as articulated in the statement marketing the book, but this appears as a process tempered by equal parts alienation and warm acceptance. Kudo seems to be fully enthralled in a phenomenon that I like to call the glamour of strangeness, that intoxicating thrill of discovery found while traveling the world. We also learn some more intimate and personal things about the artist, specifically an early stage of pregnancy (the ultrasound is reproduced in the book) from which I can only deduce two things (I recognize that I might be totally wrong). First, the artist learned about her pregnancy in Japan. But I also like to think of this picture functioning metaphorically, suggesting the seeds planted by a seemingly banal experience in Japan run much deeper than the deceptively simple pictures suggest, rooted deep inside her and reshaping her sense of self.


I don’t want to say too much more about As I Was Searching (For Another) but will encourage you to try and get a copy if you can. Despite such minimal production, the book is a lovely object. The paper cover and taped binding might seem crude, almost like a notebook, but lend the book an intimacy that seem essential for understanding Kudo’s intentions. The embossed gold foil lettering gives it a little bling, and the small edition a temptation for a rare look into a private world of an Australian experiencing Japan.

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Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.
Book Review Witness Mark Photographs by Klea McKenna Reviewed by Sara J. Winston “If Klea McKenna’s spiritual practice is her creative work, Witness Mark, published by Saint Lucy Books, serves as a gospel for the ritual of process..."

Witness Mark By Klea McKenna.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK434
Witness Mark
Photographs by Klea McKenna

Saint Lucy, Baltimore, MD, 2023. 230 pp., 8½x10½". 

If Klea McKenna’s spiritual practice is her creative work, Witness Mark, published by Saint Lucy Books, serves as a gospel for the ritual of process.

“I think that conceiving of art projects is a way to prescribe myself an experience that I need to have. I tell myself a thing needs to be made, and then the path to make it requires me to do something which is often strange or inconvenient. In retrospect, I realize that thing didn’t really need to be made, I just needed to do that activity. I imagine that for people who have gurus or listen to oracles, that they might be told: you need to go to this place, at sunset, and sit for this long and observe this quality, as a mediation. My art practice does that for me.”

Witness Mark catalogs a decade of McKenna’s camera-less analog renderings, from 2013 through 2023, taking readers on a journey through five bodies of work: Rain Studies, Web Studies, Faultlines, Automatic Earth, and Generations.

Intermittently there are images of McKenna, both in the studio and the field. To see the artist, who has powerfully dedicated her book to her “daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter,” absorbed in the act of the intense physical process of making, adds to the marvel and importance of her physical self in her creative process.


It is a wonder to follow the genealogy of McKenna’s making. To know McKenna’s work is to be aware of a beauty, technical sophistication, and complexity of seeing that is unlike any other. The language of silver gelatin prints, embossment, and rubbings holds distinctive memories that are effusive in their sensuousness — aspects of a print’s materiality that are hard to reproduce in a book become tangible in the way the book is assembled and sequenced.


Rain Studies’
images saunter across the gutter; Web Studies' go full bleed; an installation of Faultlines and Generations emerges as a delicious reproduction of a photographic relief seen beyond the book’s width as an unexpected gatefold. The surprises of the book's content pull the reader deeper into McKenna’s studio and psyche.

The materiality of each unique photographic object — often large-scale, embossed, silver gelatin prints, intended to be seen on the wall — would seem impossible to replicate in book form. Yet, through image, text, and a unique book construction, we are given a different vantage into the ways that these works convey the emotion of their careful meditative making.


The image reproductions are thoughtfully interspersed with insightful texts by experts in the field, including Corey Keller, Leah Ollman, Vanessa Kaufman Zimmerly, and McKenna herself. I find the artist’s own diaristic writing, Darkness / Light / Touch, to be most profound. The entries are powerfully non-linear in time and evocative of the emotional landscapes that underpin everything included in the volume. These pages are produced on a matte peach paper, in contrast to the bright white glossy paper stock of the rest of the book, and are situated nearly in the center of the volume. They call out to the reader’s senses, refusing to be overlooked.

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Sara J. Winston is an artist based in the Hudson Valley region of New York, USA. She works with photographs, text, and the book form to describe and respond to chronic illness and its ongoing impact on the body, mind, family, and memory. Sara is the Photography Program Coordinator at Bard College and on the faculty of the Penumbra Foundation Long Term Photobook Program.
Book Review Dead Ringer Photographs by Yael Eban & Matthew Gamber Reviewed by Blake Andrews “It’s no secret that the world is awash in photographs. The current image glut fills every conceivable vacuum, mostly via screens. This may seem like a condition of the times, but before this wave came an analogue precursor. The early 20th century enjoyed its own photographic Big Bang, as cameras, film, and print technologies became widely accessible and affordable for the first time..."

Dead Ringer. By Yael Eban & Matthew Gamber.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK521
Dead Ringer
Photographs by Yael Eban & Matthew Gamber
TBW Books, Oakland, CA, 2024. 120 pp., 95 plates, 9x12".

It’s no secret that the world is awash in photographs. The current image glut fills every conceivable vacuum, mostly via screens. This may seem like a condition of the times, but before this wave came an analogue precursor. The early 20th century enjoyed its own photographic Big Bang, as cameras, film, and print technologies became widely accessible and affordable for the first time. Small photographs, postcards, and drugstore snapshots spewed off in all directions like primordial particles. The aftershocks still reverberate today in flea markets, albums, garage sales, and basement boxes.

These physical materials have provided the grist for numerous found-photo curations. Anonymous snapshots have been collected into books of all shapes and sizes, and the pace seems to have picked up with the new millennium. But to date none have yet taken the approach of Matthew Gamber and Yael Eban. Both authors have extensive experience as photo archivists. Together they’ve spent the past seven years scavenging anonymous snapshots from various sources.

So far so good. But their collaborative book Dead Ringer offers a twist on the found photo genre. Unlike previous curations, this one is organized into pairings grouped by origin. Each set features multiple prints spawned from a single negative. These identical twins (plus a few triplets and quartets) were separated at birth, then made their way through the world over the course of decades. Through the remarkable efforts of Eban and Gamber — how in the world did they track down and match all these snapshots? — they’ve been reunited. Pictures respond to destiny, the photo version of quantum entanglement.


As one might expect, some twins bear closer family resemblance than others. In the book’s opening pages, the pairings are literally dead ringers. With no introductory text, initial mountainscapes and city skylines pose a quandary to the reader. What exactly are we looking at and why has the same photo seemingly been printed twice? The riddle resolves in the pages to follow, as minor physical artifacts begin to delineate clear differences. One print is slightly larger than its twin. Another shows handwriting. Another print seems to have been left in the sun too long, for its colors do not match its sibling. Just as with human twins, events gradually leave their marks. The singularity devolves to individuals.


For readers, these minor tics and baubles prove to be quite stimulating. After we’ve been put on alert to look for small differences, they seem to crop up everywhere. Photos sport punctures, tears, stains, notes, commercial banners, and more. The eye moves between pairings searching for discrepancies, and Dead Ringer becomes a treasure hunt not entirely dissimilar from the act of photography. In the words of Todd Hido, it’s “one of those rare books that forces you to stop in your tracks and set aside all distractions in order to deeply look at the details of the images contained within.”


Dead Ringer’s
no-frills design lets the photographs do most of the work. It’s an open-spine body wrapped in an unbleached paper dust jacket. If the cover had a separated-at-birth twin, it might be a brown paper grocery bag. The photos are reproduced at actual size and finish, paired across double spreads with scars intact. Broad white pages provide plenty of room for detailed snooping. After all the photographs have been digested and decoded, Clément Chéroux chimes in with an anecdotal afterword. “Photography….seems to have been born under the sign of Gemini,” he notes in a roaming digression that broaches genetics, overshadowed twins, Talbot, Benjamin, and Arbus. Coming after an entirely visual feast, the essay is a nice intellectual dessert. It fits the photos so well they might have been separated at birth.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.
Book Review Pharmakon Photographs by Teju Cole Reviewed by Cheryl Van Hooven “With its startling bold cover of cryptic and elongated black letters printed on a dark blue cover, Pharmakon, Teju Cole’s most recent photobook, reveals its full title only upon unfolding the cover’s flap. It’s in that gesture that we are brought into dialogue with Cole’s strategy of withholding, giving nothing away quickly or easily, even baffling the effort to identify..."

Pharmakon. By Teju Cole. 
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK529
Pharmakon
Photographs by Teju Cole
MACK, London, UK, 2024. 200 pp., 8½x11".

With its startling bold cover of cryptic and elongated black letters printed on a dark blue cover, Pharmakon, Teju Cole’s most recent photobook, reveals its full title only upon unfolding the cover’s flap. It’s in that gesture that we are brought into dialogue with Cole’s strategy of withholding, giving nothing away quickly or easily, even baffling the effort to identify.

Regarding his choice of title, Cole said, “Something about being in Greece brought back to mind that ancient double-sided concept (poison and cure) which opened up my thinking about the wide-ranging photos and helped give language to a previously unnamed intuition.”

Pharmakon opens with a disarmingly conventional photo: a landscape through the car window, rearview mirror in the frame. This simple black-and-white image sets up a presumption of travel, perhaps an investigation into place or geography, but the enigmatic, often abstract, color images that follow could be anywhere, and indeed are from many disparate locations: Europe, India, Chile, Canada, the UK and US.

Provided with no captioning, we are dropped into the realm of indeterminacy. Assuming all visual matter is associative, it’s still the authority residing in individual experience that makes meaning unique, and Cole is asking each reader to form their own understandings of his images, stories and juxtapositions.


“One of the pleasures of putting a book out into the world is that each person who gives it time will come up with their own particular forms of emphasis. . . a joy to the person who's made the book because it’s out there in the world living its own life.”

A master of how words and images interact, Cole employs twelve short stories to connect to human experience, albeit anonymously. Interspersed among the photos, his stories evoke an undertone of unease, peril, or even dread. They complicate our experience with the photographs inserting a hum of danger. Meanings expand. Privy to anxious exchanges, we are brought in as silent witnesses. However, Cole is neither naming nor explaining; again, nothing is truly revealed.


With one exception, the stories are extremely condensed, most at only half a page. That brevity and the surrounding white space sets them on visual par with the photos, maintaining a smooth aesthetic continuum.

Wide fore-edge margins press the vertical pairs of photos in close relationship, and a similarly unusual but disciplined use of white space energizes the synergy of the book’s components. The high production values one expects from Mack: dreamy printing, sewn binding for lay-flat viewing, substantial paper weight, and a subtle tactility all contribute to the dichotomous beauty and mysteries held within this deeply considered and intriguing book.


Pharmakon
abounds with mystery. Resolutely indeterminate photos, mute landscapes, undecipherable graffiti, and the motif of travel to unnamed places all create a context in which even the most straightforward pictures are infused with ambiguity.

In Cole’s universe, these are less acts of obfuscation than attempts to provoke questioning. What are we really seeing? How do we create meaning? How is a typical carte de visite image redefined by being placed between impenetrable pictures? Without signs, how are we to know where we are? Does it matter?


From multiple readings, one gains a strong sense of the author. Quietly but forcefully he emerges: photographer, writer, the artist of beauty, gravitas, telling stories which stir the dark murmur resonating through the photographs.

Pharmakon cannot be considered separately from the happenings in the real world: war and dislocations, the crisis of mass migration; when asked about that subtextual context, Cole said “…I think that reading suggests itself. But I'm also hoping that many years from now, there will be something resonant about the book … so that people quite remote from us can come to the work and find that it speaks to them.” No doubt it will.

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Cheryl Van Hooven is a photographer and writer based in New York and often working in the California Mojave Desert. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints & Photographs, Imagery Estate Winery Permanent Collection at Sonoma State University, among others. She is currently working on a photo/text book.
Book Review The Lizard By Gabriele Rossi Reviewed by Brian Arnold "The 2011 film starring Johnny Depp, Rango, tells the story of a domesticated chameleon, blissfully comfortable as a young boy’s pet in a well-kept terrarium..."

The Lizard. By Gabriele Rossi.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK550
The Lizard
By Gabriele Rossi
Deadbeat Club, Los Angeles, California, 2024. 80 pp., 11½x16¼".

The 2011 film starring Johnny Depp, Rango, tells the story of a domesticated chameleon, blissfully comfortable as a young boy’s pet in a well-kept terrarium. Early in the film, his quiet life is upended when his family pulls roots and moves across the American West. Out on a poorly kept road in the desert, Rango’s terrarium is jostled and falls out of the car. Suddenly he is out in the wild of the Mojave Desert and must learn to fend for himself. He stumbles into a town of reptiles and other wild beasts called Dirt (a place somewhat like Deadwood), where eventually he’s appointed sheriff. Thrust from his comfortable life, he confronts many of the challenges of the American West — lawlessness, water, corporate expansion, and the harsh, grueling sun of the desert. Ultimately, Rango becomes the town’s hero; more than surviving his new life, he learns to blossom.

I don’t know why photographer Gabriele Rossi called his new book with Deadbeat Club The Lizard, but I like to think it was named after Rango. In promoting the book, Deadbeat describes it as “a strange and uncanny atlas of the familiar transformed into the unfamiliar through the vision of a stranger who's only looking for some sort of home,” not unlike the story of the chameleon lost in the outskirts of Nevada. Rossi is Italian but came to the States to pursue a residency in New York City. He felt overwhelmed by the scale and cacophony of New York, such a stark contrast from his small village along the coast of Italy, and eventually he sought refuge by fleeing to the American West. An avid student of photographic history, Rossi approached the region thinking about Robert Adams and Timothy O’Sullivan, and used the dramatic vistas and mythologies of the West to reflect on the nature of home, his vision tempered by his feeling as an outsider in the United States.


Everything about The Lizard is lovely. Measuring over 11x16 inches with the pictures printed one per spread, the book quickly seduces with large, rich duotone prints of familiar American landscapes. Rossi developed his pictures with a rigid formal and technical aptitude, beautifully articulated in the book as each page radiates light and clarity at the core of all his photographs. Perhaps most surprising here is his sense of humor. It’s not often I see landscape photography and grin, but I do so every time I open the book. I find this gives a refreshing view of the American West; Rossi does point out the successes and perils of Manifest Destiny, the political doctrine that dictated westward expansion, but he can see it as folly rather than tragedy. This is a subtle but important distinction, because it is easy to think that Rossi is repeating photographic histories of the American West. Artists like Emmet Gowin, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams thoroughly documented the tragedy, but Rossi accesses a sort of cleverness that I can only compare to Jason Fulford, perhaps best seen in the jagged white line he finds along the perfectly squared horizon, documenting a building that must host a business like the one Peter Gibbons experiences with Initech in the cult classic Office Space.


Deadbeat Club has been on my radar for some time — coffee and books are two of my favorite things in life — but this is the first of their books for me. I am interested in seeing more; The Lizard is clearly a book from a design team with great skills and perspectives on photographic narratives. With books from the likes of Vanessa Winship, Anne Rearick, and Toshio Shibata, Deadbeat is probing interesting and important photographic ideas about the connections between landscape and its manifestation in personal and cultural identity issues. Gabriele Rossi’s book fits perfectly into this vision by providing a familiar, engaging, and subtle approach to photographing the histories that help define the American West.

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Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.

Book Review The Seraphim Photographs by Jesse Lenz Reviewed by George Slade "While reading The Seraphim I was struck by a sense of contingency and transition. All the life of Jesse Lenz’s family farm is seen in flow. The inevitable future is often foretold, yet the particulars of life in the moment are vividly compelling..."
The Seraphim. By Jesse Lenz.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK512
The Seraphim
Photographs by Jesse Lenz

Charcoal Press, 2024. 144 pp., 9¾x12¼".

While reading The Seraphim I was struck by a sense of contingency and transition. All the life of Jesse Lenz’s family farm is seen in flow. The inevitable future is often foretold, yet the particulars of life in the moment are vividly compelling.

Let’s start at the end. The book’s last plate literally depicts the end of a life. Tracks in a few inches of snow tell the story of a small creature and a winged predator meeting in a very brief, one-sided battle. The victor left its feather prints in the snow, fringing a triangular depression where its talons seized the abruptly not-hopping rodent. Though the participants are no longer visible, this is as clear a narrative and as succinct a conclusion as a book can possibly offer. The moment between life and death is summarized in these traces.

The Seraphim is an extended contemplation of veils. There are numerous meditations on death. Animals of various species are seen dead (trigger warning), while humans are more subtly placed along the living end of the continuum. There is an exuberant boy band playing on one page while another image peers down on a younger child laid out next to Minnie Mouse. There’s something funereal and fantastic about the moment, as both figures wear the same benign grin. Another child (the second of a pair of twins) is seen entering the world wearing a veil, freshly delivered from the womb enwrapped in the amniotic caul, a rare and portentous occurrence in childbirth.


A couple of voracious praying mantises appear, one caught mid-monarch in a scene that is simultaneously biblical, comic, and horrific. Lenz retains dead creatures to teach his children about the continuum of life, offering evidence of the other side of the veil. Contingency is ever present; life is a series of chance operations.

The seraphim are a high order of angels, often associated with purity and light. There is ample suggestion in these photographs that humans and animals inhabit the realm. Children float in a tub and fly against the background of a rural idyll. One scene of a boy with his face in the sun is positively transporting, though the fact that his feet rest in moving water makes it incongruously earthbound. Owls populate the pages of Lenz’s book. Owls that have allowed themselves to be seen, peering from branches and cavities in trees, caught against skies that glow through the leafy canopies. Owls that serve as memento mori, brought home to provide evidence of life’s unstoppable journey toward death.


Lenz doesn’t dwell in myth or archetype. There is one awkward archer who might, in a stretch, be measured against Chiron, Diana, or William Tell. There are any number of innocents, from human babies — one who snoozes with a stuffed (toy) owl — to bunnies and raccoons. A hefty snake slithers out of a tree trunk, though it offers no apple.

The most bounteous crop seems to be a harvest of mushrooms, morels if my insufficiently trained mycologist eye doesn’t deceive me. Here’s another potential veil between light and dark; I would have to trust that Lenz and his pickers know what they’re gathering.


The photographer is a canny narrator who is expanding his skills as his long-term project evolves. (This is the second book in a planned series of seven extending over three decades.) He is increasingly using motion pictures, shooting 16mm film to produce a parallel visual chronicle. When reproduced in the book, the films overtly announce themselves, showing sprocket holes and adjoining frames. By integrating the notions of movement and elapsing time Lenz is exploring another transitional space and deepening our consciousness of photographic representation.

Overall, a quality of fluidity suffuses The Seraphim. All of the elements are mingling, moving from the first book’s skillful compendium of well-seen moments towards a more organic, contingent embrace of this unique and universal mise en scène in central Ohio.

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George Slade, aka re:photographica, is a writer and photography historian based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization TC Photo. georgeslade.photo/

Image c/o Randall Slavin