Photobook form, photobook sense. Part one.Posted: September 22, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ».
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…
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All images copyright John Gossage, Riochester Art Center, Mathieu Asselin, David O’Mara, Carlos Spottorno (can be removed on request)