From memory after death, Sarah Pollman gives us, in this book, a series, like a documentary work, about the remaining memory of the missing ones and the role of the graves.
Throughout the world, cemeteries are places of collective memory and each grave allows individual recollection. One comes to remember the moments spent with the deceased and, perhaps, to try to establish a relationship, a form of communication. Perhaps each one secretly hopes an answer to the questions he could not have asked…
In front of these tombstones, the work of Sarah Pollman, divided into two parts, refers to the notion of anonymity and universality. Except in case of cremation, graves are everyone’s ultimate residency. The first part was shot in New England cemeteries, graves whose only inscriptions refer to the notion of parents : « father » and « mother » for the sole mention of the memory of those whose status was to have been parents. No epitaph, but their only condition of couple, whose last will was probably to be buried together. Photographed in the dawning light that reveals the delicacy of the memory engraved in the stone, as a last attention by the children. These graves remain anonymous for anyone other than their descendants, but they become universal, as the parents of everyone of us. This work reminds me the old series of Sophie Calle, shot in California in 1978.
The two series are enclosed with a double blank page, a space of recollection like the silence that seizes us when we approach a grave, a mix of embarrassment and pain.
The second series is a succession of black and white photographs, showing numbers on different supports, metal, wood, concrete… slight remaining traces of forgotten graves. Again, all sign of identity disappears, and it just remains a file number. Sarah Pollman focus here on the cemeteries of hospitals, prisons and hospices, where are buried persons whose body has not been reclaimed. These photographs are touching because, those persons have been forgotten in death as they were during their life, these images evoke the sadness of a life of solitude (or at least at the end). No one will come to mourn on these graves, and yet this one idea would make me want to do it, as if to testify to these anonymous people a kind of last tribute.
In the middle of the book, a text separates the two series of photographs. It is writen at the first person and seems to be a personal experience of Sarah Pollman, revealing thus, the title of the work, when it is evoked what remains, finally, weeks later, when the snow falls… the distances between us.
A last thought comes to my mind as I go through this book. This is the quality of printing which is rather weak, as for, once again, to emphasize the previous idea and to gives us, here, photos « without qualities » in the sense of Robert Musil book or in the form of a « book poor » as proposed by Daniel Leuwers.
Hardcover book published in 2016 by Trema Förlag. 20 x 28 cm, 56 pages, 28 photos color and black and white. Print run 400 copies.
The Angry Bat is a publication house run by Matej Sitar, photographer himself, with a very slow rhythm of publication, more or less one book per year. « Nokturno » is the fifth book published, after « America my way », « Morning sun », « Requiem » and « American cowboy ». What I appreciate a lot with Matej is the fact that he is not working in a hurry but always takes the time needed to produce a book with high standarts of quality !
The cover of the book shows us what could be a bright cloud, enlighten by moon at night, and when the book opens, we find the same image in negative which could become some smoke at daylight. This very clearly claims that maybe what we see are not what things are!
Andrej Lamut is a Slovenian photographer born in 1991, and now living in Ljubljana – Slovenia. As says Andrej « My work is based on my research of performative acts and photography ». At the same time, this is what attracts and remains mysterious. Like others before him, Andrej wonders about photography itself, and its ability to show, to say, to represent. The images succeed each other without any narrative; forms appear then disappear, as to better reinvent themselves. Some images on facing pages create a meaning that probably does not exist; but that does not matter, the threads of a mysterious story are woven. The aesthetic dimension of the images takes the upper hand and, finally, we unhook and let ourselves be carried. No need to understand to accompany Andrej in this journey.
The blacks are deep and thick; we try to find our way in the night, as the title suggests, and we spend time with each image, we go back to them, thinking that we may have forgotten something. And by dint of scrutinizing these images, one wonders what inhabits the photographer, what are these strange scenes drawn by light. There is a cinematographic dimension in this book, plans follow one another, from fields to counterfields, in a sort of playing with the « montage and attraction » defined by S. M. Eisenstein.
Another very important element with this book is the sensuality that emerges from it. A book is not only a succession of images, it is above all an object. And the care given to this book completes the sensations that the photographer tries to transmit to us. The photos are superbly reproduced with deep blacks, and, most importantly for a photographer who used to work with argentic films like me, some wonderful grainy shades of gray. By moments, you could even dive in those grainy photos, forgetting their subjects.
The book has a sewn hardcover with an open spine which makes it easy to open, particularly for pictures printed on two pages and, last but not least, the paper choosen is Munken Pure Rough 150g, and it is probably the first time I mention those considerations in a review, but the color and the texture of this paper add a wonderful soft feeling when you turn the pages.
Published in 2017, in an edition of 300 copies, signed and numbered. 17 x 24 cm, 80 pages.
More info : http://www.theangrybat.com/#nokturno
I do not know Saint Petersburg, but this place has always fascinated me. Two works by Fyodor Dostoyevsky come to my mind when speaking of this city. The short story “White Nights”, which describes a woman’s expectation for her beloved man and, of course, “Crime and Punishment”. After reading these books, how much have I dreamed of the banks of the Neva, passing beside this young couple or following the wanderings of Raskolnikov in prey to torment.
Finally, I do not know Saint Petersburg, one day maybe, but in the meantime Carma Casula takes us there, with her book Peter. The city of Peter is one of the most emblematic cities of Russia, so much so that it changed its name several times to Petrograd, then to become the City of Lenin, Leningrad, before returning to its name Saint Petersburg in 1991 after a tumultuous century in the history of Russia. In her project, Carma Casula watch the contemporanean society of Saint Petersburg, and how it has been wrought by history.
So Carma Casula takes us through the streets of Saint Petersburg. The city is modern and in many ways, hopes and desires seem the same as elsewhere in the world. But we can still read the history of the town, young people bathe in a basin under the eye of a statue of Lenin, young sailors remind us the crew of the battleship Potemnkin. Throughout the book, the past reappears and interacts with present. A picture of portraits of the children of Dostoievsky in his house museum, or the crowd that seeks to photograph, with their mobile phone, Leonard da Vinci’s Madonna Litta in the Museum of the Hermitage. Seasons come one after the other and the summer bathing gives way to snow ; couples get married, young people enjoy parties… Carma Casula offers here a portrait of the city in the thickness of time.
However, the work of Carma Casula is not limited to showing us public life in the streets of Saint Petersburg. She also meets the inhabitants, and her work of portraiture of these Petersburgers brings a new dimension to the story. The portraits are touching and come as a rythm in the book. A text presents the person(s), followed by a portrait and photographs of what is dear or valuable to them. We enter into the intimacy of these inhabitants, who give us a part of their inner feelings with frankness, which makes these testimonies highly valuable. They are fascinating, and also offer us a new entry key to the city. The younger ones express their hopes, while the older tell us about memories. Once again, these testimonies relate the everyday life, the sorrows and the hopes. Some are more touching than others, but these are individual considerations that appeal to our own perception or empathy. A way of deciphering a story in the light of our own memories and above all, of what we expect to find there. We meet these characters as we would meet them in the streets while a conversation takes place, we share ideas, we learn things we did not know before, and we read the history with more humility. The highlights of the twentieth century are unfolding : the horror of the siege of Leningrad by Germans Nazis is told with strength ; we are moved by the story of a couple formed during the Spanish Civil War, when Soviet Union sent troops to train revolutionary troops (this is my favorite story). We meet an Orthodox priest, a young model, a couple of entrepreneurs, a former soldier and many other characters who, at the end, make us feel that we know a little better this majestic city ans its inhabitants.
There are also some small details in this book that provide us some additional information, such as this comparison of kitchens with a bourgeois design “made by Ikea”, in opposition to a middle class kitchen or the extreme poverty of the Kommounalki shared kitchens. These three pictures remarkably show the diversity of the habitats and populations of Saint Petersburg; the stange feeling of what the capitalist dream has been able to represent since 1991, when the population has reappropriated its city.
What I love with this book its ability to let us coming back, for a moment or for longer, to go for a walk in the streets of Saint Petersburg, when we have an hour to lose!
Hardcover book published by Editorial RM in 2016. 17,5 x 23 cm. 234 pages, 130 color photographs
The relationship between men and horses goes back to the origins, when the strength of the second was placed in the service of the former for the needs of agriculture or for the necessities of transporting distances which the march would not have permitted. The welfare of the one depended on the well-being of the other, and the roads were punctuated with relays where animals and men could find rest and food. All our imagination is fulfilled with stories of horses : love stories, wild stories, sad stories…
Brenda Moreno chose to use the metaphor of this relationship to dig back in search of her identity. B to B is a book about memory, and therefore about what shapes us throughout life, but also about memories that we have.
The book begins on the cover with a « mise en abime » of a identity picture, decadred that would have « slipped » out of its housing. We open the book to discover a series of identity photos of Brenda at different ages. The identity photo is the document that attests our existence. This is the document we have to show to prove who we are and, most importantly, that we are indeed the one we claim to be. It has even been amplified recently when the regulation of these small photographs has become hardened, standardized to the extreme, without allowing any expression on the face, thus pointing the fact that we have to be as neutral as we can !
Well this book is quite the opposite, it synthesizes the existence of emotions and memories more than any official notion of identity. Through the book, Brenda searches for herself, in a Proustian approach where every memory is a brick of the building she is trying to reconstitute. The horse is recurrent, like a subliminal image, perhaps of another life, reincarnated in her present body, with the pain that comes out of this forgotten past. The memories are sometimes imprecise, or childish; Brenda experiences collage to express her ideas, it is a work in progress, or, to better say, in the making, in reconstruction.
The book is a vast psychoanalytic collage in which Brenda poses mental images, collages, juxtapositions, as well as family photos including their ghosts. The ghost in a family history can often be the source of disorder that must be fought. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of it in this book, or at least we think of it, in the suture of an image, or the blur of another. Dreams are present, nightmares too! We have to unravel all this, pull a thread, follow it and see where it leads us. We leave the book exhausted, filled with an impression that we are missing some keys, but that, nevertheless, Brenda has opened us doors to rooms that still have to be explored. The impression that Brenda gave us a lot and that we know her a little bit better, like having spent the afternoon with a friend, talking about the time passing, about ourselves, memories, hopes, well… life.
When the book is finished, we close it, but there are still pages : a fiery black horse arises in the frame, rebel to any appropriation, and two pages where, then, identity photos have disappeared. We no longer need them, no answers in these small documents, it is elsewhere, probably in the pages that preceded.
At the end of this book, I remind a film of Bela Tarr : The horse of Turin. The film begins with the Turin episode of Nietsche’s life, and then evokes the life and destinies of a farmer, his daughter and their horse. Of course, it is another story, but maybe this is one of the doors half-opened by Brenda Moreno?
Published by Witty Kiwi, softcover, 88 pages 17 x 21.5 cm, text by Carmen Dalmau. Edition of 900 copies.
More info : https://www.brendamoreno.com/book
Vera y Victoria is a simple book, a book about love, but above all a refreshing book, at a time when many countries question the notion of couple, sometimes legislating toward a direction or another, about union between two people when, finally, it should only concern themselves. The notion of gender is at the heart of the work of Mar Saez and his book, smooth and subtle, gives us a tender look on the concept of couple.
When they kissed, for the first time in a park, Vera told Victoria she was transsexual. Things were said and the budding love was going to flourish in this relationship. From 2012 to 2016, Mar Saez will share the intimacy of the couple. For the two V. nothing will count but their relationship that they will live fully. With grace and elegance, we share moments of complicity of the couple: close-ups on gestures, stop on fleeting moments, loaded with emotion, Mar Saez does not stay outside the story and that is why she manages to convey her empathy. We are always very close, without ever falling into any form of voyeurism. The two young women give everything of their love, their joy, their happiness. They are one. Their respective identities are never mentioned in the book, reinforcing this impression of unity of their story, of their bodies, of their love. Transsexuality is evoked only in one image, in the middle of the book, as if to punctuate the story, but also to say that we must leave preconceived ideas elsewhere. Love has no sex, no genre, it is a particular alchemy which it would be very difficult to explain.
The quality of this work really has to do with the choice of the moments photographed. We are far from any anecdote or clichés. The story is intense and we feel it through a kind of tension that is created between the photographs. A rhythm appears between these bodies which approach each other, touching each other, moving away, then coming closer again, unable to bear the idea of being at a distance any longer. Small moments succeed the biggest, or, to better say, the more intense. The whole book is punctuated by texts, thoughts laid on paper, the need to say, to shout, their happiness to the face of the world.
The intensity of a story that, ultimately, is told, but more over lived. The book is an ellipse, it begins with entwined bodies, and ends in the same way, the story has no beginning nor end. No matter how long it will last, the story is timeless. Mar Saez opened a window for us, and now it’s time to retire, the parenthesis closes and the story goes on … or not. But this is no longer very important because we have seen moments of grace, moments of happiness, moments of joy: everybody’s ultimate quest. And a last special mention for the quality and the beauty of the black and white photography.
Published by Editions André Frère in 2016, softcover, 16,5 x 21,8 cm. 80 pages, 43 photographs in black and white.
It’s been a while since my last post, so today is a batch of seven Romanian photobooks.
Let me start first with two books by Oliver Merce. They are both the result of a long term project conducted in Anina County in Romania where Ceausescu dreamed to build an enourmous power plant complex.
The first book is « The anatomy of decay ». Through several chapters, all in black and white photographs, Oliver presents us the two main entities in the district of Anina: the petrified city of Crivina and “The New Town” which was built to accompany the future development of the area.
The New Town is the megalomaniacal aspiration of a dictator: building a city ex nihilo, not in function of classical geomorphological considerations, but just because of an unbelievable desire to mark his reign with traces of his power. Gigantic buildings appear on the horizon, on a ridge, huge abandoned carcasses among which roar phantoms that have no other place to live, prisoners in this void!
In Crivina, we discover a population that is busy with everyday tasks, among concrete and steel wastes left behind after the power plant was stopped. After years of hope in a modern, better world, most of them have returned to agrarian tasks, while immense abandoned cathedrals of concrete punctuate the landscape in which they work. The contrast is striking between this decayed technology and the vernacular traditions. Oliver is always close to the people, showing great empathy. The book is classical, sober and generous. We really take the time to immerse ourselves in the heart of these populations, to live with them, to understand them.
More d’info : http://www.olivermerce.ro/book-order/books/
The second book, or rather a booklet, is named « Juju ».
The book has been published by Oliver Udy in what is called the « Antler Documents » series. In this publication, Oliver Merce focus on an inhabitant of Crivina and offers us a beautiful portrait. Juju was a talented musician and philosophy passionate, but his father decided that he had to join the army, finally becoming a Civil Engineer. That’s how he started working in Anina, until the accident in 2006 which forced the mine to close.
Now Juju is still living in the old building where he used to work, at the margin of the society. The book is constructed with a great empathy and it is almost impossibile not to fall in love with Juju ! This is the perfect companion book of « The anatomy of decay ».
More info : http://www.antlerpress.co.uk/juju.html
Another work takes us into the mountains area, accompanied by a shepherd named Ion.
Ion is the title of the book by Gabriel Amza who has spent a week by his side, last year, in the Sureanu Mountains, documenting his everyday life. In the company of Ion, his dog and his family, we discover black and white photographs of a pastoralism that exists only in the rural world furthest from the cities. Secular traditions transmitted generations after generations have often been erased by urbanism and capitalism. Profitability, efficiency have gained the upper hand over a way of living in relation to the environment. In this book Gabriel Amza takes time to understand what rhythms life in the countryside; the cycle of days, animals, nature and seasons. Ion lives in symbiosis with the mountain around, and the book alternates the naturalist views of these majestic landscapes with small scenes of the ordinary and touching daily life.
We confront here a documentary photography close to the subject and after a few pages, we feel like being at home with the main character, talking to Ion, understanding what animates him. The photos are precisely framed and they plunge us into the world of the shepherd, in these small details that make his daily life.
Personally, the reproach that I would make to the book is the choice of an accordion binding, which brings no adding value. Reading the images one after the other, it becomes rather embarrassing because it does not restore the intensity of each moment lived. It does not really give justice to the slowness of the ambaince.
From static oblivion, by Ion Grigorescu is a book recently published by the young Publisher Avarie whose it is only the third book.
Using many contemporary techniques, Ion Grigorescu is one of the most reknown Romanian artist from the communist period. Painter, photographer, film maker and performer, this book is a kind of anthology of his long career. The book itself is a performance, mixing different techniques in a collage, pages after pages. We are completely immerged in his work, with notes, photograms or extracts of videos of his performances, texts that tells us the genesis of certain actions, all chanted, as a pattern that repeats until exhaustion. This exhaustion to which he could have been subject from the communist authorities and the censorship.
The book is chronological, we go through a decade alongside Ion, his style evolves, his actions also, we get lost in ellipses, we go through a story told by photographs, drawings… The book is very dense, the whole printed on a very fine paper, with the sensation of going through fragile moments. It is not easy to talk about this book but holding it in your hands is an experience in itself. Really a great discovery!
Costică Acsinte was born in 1897, during WW I, he’ll be an official war photographer, before opening, in 1920, his own photo studio « Foto Splendid C. Acsinte » in Slobozia.
In 1985, the Ialomița County History Museum aquires more than 5000 photographic plates made by Acsinte between 1935–1945, and since 1991, all images are into Public Domain. The museum has been recently publishing a few books of his work which are definitely brilliant. The volume presented here is called Social life (Viața socială) and is a fantastic collection of group and single portraits. The photographs are sorted by thematic series, farmers, school photographs, musicians, sport, traditions, leisures… and we discover a wonderful testimonial of the Romanian life in the first half of XXth century !
All images are printed rather small, probably at the negative size or slightly larger. Some of them bear the beautiful traces of time with cracked gelatin or burned part which sometime give even the photos an added aesthetics value.
Well I may add here a book which is not stricly speaking a photobook, but a large photojournalist work about the Armenian community in Romania.
« Armenians in Romania. The stories of the people close to us. » by Andreea Tanase is a 3 years long project. During those years Andreea explored sixteen different cities in Romania where Armenians settled after leaving their country in 1915 when the Armenian genocide occured. She mainly focused around the Armenian Church as a positive pole of the community, as the Church has always kept a important role to gather the people. All the photos are very insightful and at the closest of the people. We share their moments during daily events of their life, with some beautiful and touching portraits. A very interesting book for those interested by this important part of history.
More info : http://www.andreeatanase.com/
Finally, to complete this series of books, a last work that comes from Belgium and whose subject is Romania. Tomas Bachot revisits the codes of the documentary in his book « Those who eat fish from the cyanide lake improve their sex life ».
After a discussion with Matei, a Romanian guy he met during a student job, who told him about the problems related to the reopening of the gold mines in Romania, he decided, in 2015, to go there for a reportage.
Tomas started to show his first pictures to his hosts who were immediately shocked by his images, by what he was showing of their country. Tomas realized that he came to take pictures with a connotated vision of Romania, and that he was finally only looking for confirmation. This observation made him to question his work and thus became more interested by the essence of the reportage : what is objectivity and, moreover, what does it mean ? Tomas shared his time with his subjects by bus from Belgium where he lives until Romania. He slept with them, showed them his photos, talked about the reasons of his journey… and finally through this book, Tomas questions the codes of representation. How everyone clearly shows, in a way, what he meets on his way. The title of the book is a sentence from the mayor of a village located in the Golden Quadrilateral in the Apuseni Mountains of Transylvania, in order to affirm that groundwater poisoning due to the exploitation of gold mines can be a blessing. The book is therefore very well named and this is how Tomas will unfold it, constantly confronting his point of view with the one of his hosts, being very often on the verge of confrontation. The tension is palpable, as when talking with the father of a young girl photographed or with a social worker who reproaches him to spread a false image of Romania. And the point of view is also sometimes reversed, when a farmer from Rovina tells us about his idea of Belgium.
This is finally, far beyond the photographs themselves, what is interesting with this book. Tomas does not hide anything and sometimes the doubts and questions of his hosts seem legitimate! All these pictures are images of everyday life, images that appear to us « without qualities » (in the sense of the book of Robert Musil) and which, therefore, become universal.
The book is in the form of three notebooks containing photographs and excerpts from his diary, accompanied by a reproduction of an anonymous photograph on glass plate that was offered to him.
The characteristic of photography, of all times, was to record the real, in order to preserve a trace or a memory. It has long been considered that a photograph can not lie, that it was essentially objective. Nevertheless, the most known examples of manipulation of images will appear during the XXth century, in the Soviet Union, especially in the political field when Stalin was erasing all of his opponents from photos and thus from history, one after another. So the picture is authentic ! If we are on the photo, then the moment has existed, at least for us. If we are not on it, it is because the moment did not exist!
Based on these considerations, Natalya Reznik became interested in her family history. In the XXth century, and particularly, in the Soviet Union, the family photo album was a central element of the family memory. A book that used to tell the family saga, the history of the parents, the grandparents … It was the opportunity to find similarities, to understand links. But Natalya never knew her father. An absent military father, who, when she was three-year-old, disapeared from her mother’s life and divorced. He left, above all, to her mother, the feeling of a betrayal that she would never forgive. She will refuse to talk to Natalya about her father and will even remove every pictures from him. Like many teenagers and young women, her mother, to overcome her disappointment, will fill the blanks, with dreams of cinematic loves with European movie stars of the moment : Jean Marais, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo or Marcello Mastroianni!
But if the mourning overcomes the death of a loved one, it is quite different for the absent. How to be oneself without knowing where you come from, without knowing those little things that characterize us all. With this book, Natalya began the search of her father. Starting from family photographs, she will rework the photographs by incorporating the figure of this idealized father through the cinema of the 60s and 70s. Daily scenes which sometimes include Delon, or Belmondo. A strange impression emerges from the images. The cinematographic dimension is very strong, as the images of the actors that she uses have become, through time, icons (thinking about it, icons are another aspect that brings us back to Russia!). An impression of déjà vu which remains disturbed by the context of the daily scenes of the Soviet Union. This imaginary world reconciles East and West and represents all the aspirations of people that come out of years of struggles and wars.
With this work, it is a cathartic process that initiates Natalya. From photographs extracted from her mother’s album, she patiently (re)builds her past, between dream and reality, but above all, from her own memories, reversing the process that it is no longer here photographs that tell the story, but the story that determines the photgraphs. Photography is no longer a source of memory but becomes the representation of memory! This representation takes all its strength when Natalya uses the only bexisting photographs of her father, a series from a photobooth where he posed with her mother. In these photographs, we do not recognize him, he wears sunglasses that hide his eyes, large aviator sunglasses, in vogue during those years, which were supposed to confer a certain charm. She then reworked some of these images and intertwined them with the originals, making it more tangible and recognizable those surrogate fathers who look at us in the eyes, rather than that unknown man hidden behind his smoked glasses. The book ends with two sea views, the first, sunny and calm with birds, seems to send us back in the south around Sochi area, where it all started, during a resort affair. The second shows us a sea caught in the ice, and evokes the northernmost seas, where his father worked and how the story found an end; metaphor of an antagonism of two incompatible worlds despite of appearances.
The book is very elegant and the artistic experience really interesting, but beyond these considerations, this book also addresses a very serious subject that is the need for identification with parents (for me without considerations of gender, according to the current debates in our modern societies), but also the idealization of parents during childhood. Finally, the generosity of this work gives me the feeling, even if I have never met her, to know a little better Natalya!
96 pages, 13×21 cm, 200 numbered and signed copies, self-published.
Digital print, thread stitched binding, hardcover. Text by Victoria Musvik.