The unbearable sadness of the disappearance of the working class ! Pascal Anders : Lothringen.

In the XIXth century, during the industrial revolution, many steel factories have settled in the east part of France named Lorraine. This is a beautiful area which had its time of glory up to, what is called in France, « Les trente glorieuses » which means the thirty years period of prosperity, during the reconstruction after the World War II till the first oil crisis in the 70’s (1945 – 1975). This area was famous for being the cradle of the unions, when it was a full employment time, and when people were coming from all over Europe (especially Italy and Poland) to work in the steel factories. The steel was one of the production that French people could be proud of, participating in the construction of boats, trains, cars and trucks but also some fantastic projects like the Eiffel Tower ! Unfortunately, with the growing globalization, the French labor became too expensive in regard of the Asian one (especially from Mittal factories in India).

The decline was pretty fast, the factories started to close one after the other and none of the successive governments succeeded to stop this decline.

« The hope for the Lorraine, it must be the hope for the whole France. The one of a nation which rediscovers herself, which refuses the decline and is determined to reach the top of the industrial countries. » This speech was pronounced by François Mitterand, President of France, a couple of month after he had been elected in 1981. Thirty years later we finally know that those words were said in vain… The last two furnaces, in Florange – Lorraine, were definitely closed in April 2013.

Well, at this point of the reading, you may think : what the hell has this to do with photography and photobooks ? It is time for me to introduce Pascal Anders, a photographer who is living in Lorraine. He already self published some photobooks about the Berlin Wall (Mauerreste), New-York (NYC and Alphabet city)or Paris (Paris est tout petit) and his last publication is focused on the place where he lives : the Lorraine. It is a very small book, 13 x 20 cm, 32 pages and 24 photos, color offset printing in a limited edition of 100.

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I received this book recently and I was instantly overwhelmed. This is probably one of the best representation of the loss of, what I could call, the utopia we have been fighting for, in the XXth century. From the industrial revolution to the end of the XXth century the rights of the workers have regularly increased, including 35 hours of work per week, five weeks of holidays and the retirement at the age of 60 (in France). All those rights, hardly won, have blown out recently with the peak of capitalism which has driven us straight in the wall of crisis !

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What can we see on the photographs of Pascal ? We discover what seems to be abandonned towns and villages, deserted by their citizens. The curtains of stores are all closed and the only remaining traces of people are posters of workers and unions on walls, or an old sculpture to celebrate the past glory. Despite a few cars, it seems that the photographer is walking in a ghost town. The worst may probably be that it is not devastated which means that people are still living here. It is not a wasteland and we wonder if people stay inside to hide their shame of what this beautiful land has become.

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Last but not least, Pascal is distributing his books for free. Via his web site you can send him a request to receive his books.

More info on Pascal Anders site : http://www.squale.hostzi.com/index.php?/books/lothringen/

All images copyright Pascal Anders (can be removed on request)

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Photobook form, photobook sense. Part one.

Many of you will recognise the paraphrase of S. M Eisenstein’s masterpiece : Film form, film sense, in which he theorized the sequencing in cinema and theatre. With more humility, I will try, in this post, to talk about some new forms of photobooks that have been more and more used recently.

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This is a first post, in a series, that introduces some reflexions about the form of a photobook. By the form, I don’t mean design, which is another topic, but more photo works which has been published in another form than a common photobook.

So let’s start with some newsprints. Almost every new week, we discover a new publication in newsprint style. This has become very trendy and I really don’t know if it is for some economic reasons (of course, it will be cheaper to print than a luxurous hardcover tritone printed book) or for some boboisation (this is an neologism that I invented, relating to the French part of population called Bobo – Bourgeois bohêmes – who is the new medium class who disposes of comfortable incomes to invest diversely with speculative interests) of the photobook market.

So what do we expect from a newsprint : it has to be cheap (and its corollary, low quality printed and fading with time passing), it is supposed to be thrown after reading and it has also to be printed in a large print run, and distributed widely. One of the most famous example was « The Family » by richard Avedon, published as a special issue of « Rolling Stone » during the American campaign for presidential elections in 1976. According to that, I will consider three publications which really took advantage in being published in a newsprint form.

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The first one was published on January 27th 2010 by Rochester Art Center as a supplement (80 pages) to the « Post Bulletin » with a print run of 40 000 copies. It was named « Here… half blind ». John Gossage was commissioned to work on the area around Rochester – Minnesota. From this publication, 500 signed copies were sold separately on the photobook market. What is really appreciable with this form of restitution is that, quite often, when a photographer is commissioned, if you want to see the result, you have to go to a museum what is not always easy for the common people who finally remain out of the project. But this one was widely diffused, even in some secluded places around Rochester where everybody could be aware of the photo work.

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The second newsprint which caught my attention was published in 2011 during the « Occupy Wall Street » movement. It is a very simple four pages, self published newsprint by Mathieu Asselin. The paper shows a collection of photographs shot on the site of demonstrations, where Mathieu installed a rudimentary studio. As often, during those worldwide demonstrations « Occupy… », the ambiance was really festive and we discover people happily expressing themselves. The publication was called « The ninety-nine percent » and the print run was 1000 copies which 900 of them were distributed freely on the location of demonstrations and in the streets of New-York.100 were sold on the photobook market. Here again, I can only love this project, which is strongly politically engaged to witness the social uprising, and to make people involved, the first recipients of the restitution of the photo project. This is a modern form of « concerned photography » when the photographer becomes a stakeholder of the demonstrations, not being only a witness but also walking down the streets to distribute the newsprint.

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The two previous examples were connected to a form of social photography, at least, in the way they have been propagated. There is another kind of work that perfectly fits to the newsprints form. It is David O’Mara’s work « Detritus ». Detritus is a series of, so far, four issues, selfpublished in an edition of 100 plus 10 which come with a print. The size is about 29 x 38 cm, 16 pages each. With these publications, the form works in a recursive dimension with the subject. As suggested by the title, David emphasizes, in each issue, a particular aspect of what a detritus is. Each subject is supposed to fade away with the time, whatever it is a waste or a place in transition. Fading and disintegration are the two main qualities (or defaults) of a newsprint. David is working, here, on a second degree, or even a third sometimes, showing us the process of disappearance and/or disintegration, including the process in his own work. The first issue was made of found photos, from abandonned housing estates, the second is a collection of pictures of « work in progress » that David shot during the time he was working as a decorator, to, both, survive and fund his artistic practice as he said. In issue three, he went back to Heygate estate and focused on the architectural decay of the area. The fourth one was a combination of found papers from the streets, particularly A4 sized, which he reproduces, both as damaged paper and/or photograms. We can imagine a never ending series of pages of this fourth issue thrown away in the street then collected again, and again, and again… A bit like the perpetual renewal of life ! Those subjects shown in Detritus could be considered as contemporary archeology : what will remain of our time.

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I will add another publication which caught my attention this year. It is « The Pigs » by Carlos Spottorno. Strictly spoken, it is not a newsprint, rather a magazine like, but I shall consider this publication of 4000 copies with the same consideration than the three above. In this book, Carlos has chosen to illustrate, what is now known as European economic crisis, with photos shot in the countries united by the acronym PIGS for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain which where supposed to be responsible, because of their lack of economical rigor, of the never ending fall of our economy. Carlos Spottorno deliberately photographed what could justify the arrogant judgement of a few countries ruling the European economy (Germany, England, France…) like some messy area or some supposed lazy people wandering outside. This create a sense of absurdity which is emphasized by the form of the publication which uses the color and the font from the cover of the English magazine « The Economist ».

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Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but here are some works I like and the reason why I like them. Photobook form, photobook sense part 2 coming soon…

More info :

http://www.rochesterartcenter.org/exhibitions/2OG/2010/gossage.html

http://5b4.blogspot.fr/2010/04/herehalf-blind-by-john-gossage.html

http://mathieuasselin.com/ninety-nine/

http://propagandaphotos.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/occupied-spaces-ben-roberts-the-ninety-nine-percent-mathieu-asselin/

http://www.davidomara.com/#/detritus-shop/4540332022

http://thepigs.spottorno.com/portugal-italy-greece-and-spain-through-eyes-economists

http://propagandaphotos.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/the-pigs-carlos-spottorno/

http://melaniephotoblog.blogspot.fr/2010/07/newsprint-and-contemporary-photobook.html

All images copyright John Gossage, Riochester Art Center, Mathieu Asselin, David O’Mara, Carlos Spottorno (can be removed on request)


On being a cleaning woman… and a photographer : Inta Ruka

Inta Ruka is a Latvian photographer born in 1958. She married the famous Latvian photographer Egon Spuris, and was a member of the photogroup that he created : Ogre. I wanted to talk about her for a long time now and I have been very impressed by her work which belongs to the tiny world between amateur and professionnal photography. Her main work being an office cleaner at the Swedish Embassy in Riga, where the ambassador gave her one day free per week to practice photography.

Probably because Latvian was a former state of USSR, Inta Ruka remained unknown till the 90’s. She began photography in the 70’s and she is mainly known for her portrait work. Especially in the rural environment of Balti district, where she came from. Her first important work was named « My country people » and was exhibited, in 1999, at the 48th Biennale of Venice in the Latvian Pavilion. This is how she started to be internationally known, with the publication of her first book named after the exhibition « My country people ». This is a thick book comprising a collection of portraits shot during a couple of decades in the East part of Latvia. The portraits are very subtle, in black and white, done with a medium size square camera. The high quality of those portraits is due to the invisible presence of the photographer. People are not acting, they stand proudly in their normal environment, and assume their ways of life. The fraction of time which the photo captures is like a thick slice of time in their life. Facing us proudly, we start to imagine their background, who are they, what is their work, what do they had in mind in the time of the photograph ? What Inta Ruka gives us is a portrait of a country. We can strongly have August Sander’s work in mind when we look at those photographs !

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Her more recent work is probably my favorite, just because it fits so much to the photographic genre that I love. The project was done between 2004 and 2008, and the subject is a community house with its inhabitants (in fact, the subject is mainly the inhabitants !). Like she had already done in her previous works, the portraits are very simple and the pictures come with a factual caption about those portraited people : what they do for living, what they expect, what is their family situation… This piece of work is like a wider jigsaw puzzle and each piece give you an extra knowledge about the whole community and/or area. The tenants share a yard where they can take part in events happening here. The reason why I like so much this work is that, on the opposite of « My country people » which was documenting a sort of typology of rural inhabitants in Latvia, this work makes us enter a community of people. Inta Ruka is so well accepted and integrated that we feel a real sympathy for those persons, like if we knew them as relatives or friends. We would not be surprised if we discovered our own picture on the following page. With this work we understand that she uses the camera as a medium between her and the human beings who she cares for ! Photography is an artefact to communicate with people (but in fact, has this ever been something else !)

It is not that easy to find her books, and, so far, she only did four monographies (they are those I know, maybe some unknown books can be found, and she did some books with others and/or small catalogs).

I have already talked about the first one « My country people » which was published by Sorosa Musdienu makslas centrs in 1999, for Venice, with texts in three langages : Latvian, English and Italian. This is a cobblestone, softcover book (293 pages) with a light brown cover, not very attractive. The quality of printing is not very good (fairly poor in fact !) but, as I already refered to Sander, it becomes a catalog of the population in a rural area, a kind of survey of those who remains !

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The second one, Inta Ruka « Amālijas iela 5a »  (« Amālijas Street 5a ») published in 2008 by Neputns, a Latvian Publisher. A softcover book beautifully printed, in both Latvian and English, 72 pages, 20 x 25 cm. As the title indicate, this book is dedicated to Amalia Street project and is my favorite. The form of the book is just perfectly fitting to the spirit of the house photographed, all the typography is declined in different grey values. According to pragmatic considerations, the building is probably not the best place to live, but we instantly feel that life would be good in such a place !

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Published the same year, Inta Ruka: Amalias Street 5a, by Heden, Den Haag – Netherlands. Another softcover small book (16 x 22 cm, 48 pages).

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The last one was published in 2011 by the Swedish publisher Max Ström. This is the first retrospective book including more than 150 photos from different series like « My country people », « People I Happened to meet » and « Amalias Street 5a ». A big hardcover book of 30 x 31 cm. It was published on the occasion of many forthcoming exhibitions of Inta Ruka in Sweden during 2012 and 2013.

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Some useful links if you want to know more :

Inta Ruka’s blog : http://intaruka.wordpress.com/category/photos/

A film on Inta Ruka, VOD : http://www.onlinefilm.org/de_DE/film/26934

Neputns, Latvian publisher (one of my favorite, unfortunately, good books are out of print) : http://www.neputns.lv/en/

A video from Moderna Museet in Stockholm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atYQoZlum-Y

And, for the pleasure, if you have never heard about Egon Spuris, just have a look here : http://www.egonsspuris.com/

 

All images copyright Inta Ruka and the publishers (can be removed on request).