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.
According to the social medias’ new year’s wishes, there is a very pessimistic mood over what used to be our quiet little world ! But it is right that, if you consider the cold facts, the world seems turning upside down, just considering the wars, the terror attacks, the migrant crisis or the boost of weapon sells…
Well I can hear you saying, this is not the best way to start the year ! But in, the same time, more and more people started to engage themselves in a process of changing things in our society and it is no different in the photobook world with the emergence of a new form of protest books. I will write here about four different books published in 2016 on this topic of protestation…
The first of these works is “Forthright, stronger than a weapon” by photographer Sascha Kraus. For six years, Sascha has traveled the world and especially the countries with an authoritarian government, in search of new musicians emerging from the world of rap music. Individuals protesting in their country of origin, some were forced into exile and are still banned in their country.
This is a 444 pages heavy book with more than 250 photos of 43 artists from 13 countries. The book is divided into 4 geographical chapters which are presented as the 4 sides of a double LP. Each of these sides introduces 4 or 5 singers or groups plus some interludes which shows the framework of the countries evoked. Each section is constructed as a monograph about the artist and includes portraits, ambient views of daily life, live shows or photographs taken in his home country. There is also an interview in which each artist explains the origins of his commitment and the roots of his music, as well as the lyrics translated into English of a song by each one, given to better understand the reasons for the fight!
I also want to draw your attention to the quality of the photos in this book and the high standarts of printing. The book is built as a music album and uses its codes in the layout, even in its dimension, the one of a LP, except as to the thickness, of course, since it was necessary to insert the 444 pages. One cannot avoid, for this book, to speak about the quality of the music presented. A limited edition is sold with a double vinyl including the songs featured in the book, which comes with an author’s print and a poster. But for those who prefer the trade edition, it is very easy to find on the internet the songs from the book. Far better than any “world music” label, Sascha takes us to a worldwide journey from which we don’t come unscathed. But it definitely helps maintain hope, by hearing all these committed artists who constantly fight for changing the world from the inside, and to build a world with more justice for all. A real remedy for melancholy and of course… The fight carries on!
More info : http://forthright-project.com/
In a very different register but with a very strong power of protest, two small fascicules devoted to the migrants, and in particular to the jungle of Calais, were published during the year 2016.
The first one is a bootleg version of “Calais Mag”, the municipal bulletin that the mayor of Calais did not write. This special edition is a fake magazine in which the mayor of Calais renounces the construction of the enormous “Heroic Land” amusement park that the French state has committed to finance as a compensatory measure to the disagreement caused by the massive arrival of migrants, but also to reverse the “degraded” image suffered by the city of Calais due to the presence of migrants in the neighbourhood. Published by the PEROU (Pôle d’Exploration des Ressources Urbaines – Urban Resources Exploration Pole, collective of researchers, architects, landscape designers, graphic designers, photographers, sociologists, economists, lawyers and civil society stakeholders), this book proposes to “reinvent Calais” by allocating the money for the construction of the amusement park, to other projects aimed at fostering good integration, welcoming migrants and, above all, providing decent living conditions for all these people.
This version of Calais Mag is a sort of intermediate restitution of all the studies carried out on the jungle by the members of PEROU and lists the different actions carried out or yet to come. Originally published in 8000 copies, the magazine was distributed to all the inhabitants of Calais. A4 size with 32 pages.
The second one, “Immo Refugee”, is exactly the same size with also 32 pages. Published by Defrost.ed – Marco Tiberio and Maria Ghetti. The series of photographs were made with a typological approach of all kind of constructions present in the “new jungle” around Calais for the subject : Invisible Cities. Architecture of Exodus.
What is now called the migrant crisis is a global problem between poor countries, at war and/or in which populations are threatened, oppressed, massacred… and rich countries, who refuse to share their wealth. This situation leads people to take enormous risks, simply to try to do what every human being would do to shelter his family and to provide decent living conditions. This magazine is a pastiche of the fascicles of real estate sales abundantly present in our mailboxes or in our newspapers and it remarkably reaches us, forced to face our own contradictions of Westerners. The book uses all the codes of capitalism to the excess. Photos of makeshift shelters constructed by migrants are here proposed for sale by habitat types and geographical areas (the Sudanese area, the Eritrean area …). Of course the contrast works perfectly when we see these makeshift huts described according to our standards of traditional comfort, touting the proximity of shops or the quality of insulation. There are even “Best offers” and “Best deals” or attractive offers of “prosperous business at a competitive price”.
All this could be laughing, but the laughter turns sour, up to the cover of the magazine with a tent proudly displaying the French flag, hope of a reception in the country of the human rights that seem long time forgotten. Published in an edition of 1000 copies, which is far too small, this book should be studied in schools … And last but not least, part of the revenues of the book sale will be destined to an Italian association based in Ravenna dealing with unaccompanied minor refugees.
More info : http://www.perou-paris.org/
The last work I want to talk about here comes from Russia. This is “Identity Index” by Andrey Ivanov. This book is the fruit of long research on the use of public space as “writing desk” in service of certain ideas. It is obvious that this practice is not artistic, neither street art. It is more often an act of urgency, an irrepressible need to say things. Indeed, it is generally the case of people who are qualified as extremists, or marginalized, who do not have access to conventional means of expression or feel excluded. They then have only to appropriate the voids that they can fill with their expressions. Andrey Ivanov’s work is interesting on two levels.
The first level is that it focuses on this form of public writing that marks our environments. Of course, the one presented here is completely unknown to me, but each country and period have their own forms of expression. And we must not neglect the strength and power of these writings, not so much in terms of conviction as in terms of signs. Everyone passes in front of these signs, day after day, and their messages end up imbuing us. Our eye stops naturally on the text (this is the characteristic of the advertising signage) to read it. This first aspect is therefore more form-oriented; without addressing the subject, one can wonder about the existence of a public space of expression, which is not given, but which some appropriates. All protest movements, whatever they may be, have largely used this process.
The second level that this work reveals is more substantive: what are these messages, what do they mean, to whom do they address themselves? The act of making extremist statements is punishable by the Russian law, and the work presented here is a compilation of these marks, all of which would fall within the scope of the law that punishes all “incitement of national, racial, religious enmity or abasement of human dignity “. The combination of these words and expressions forms a long litany of hatred and apology for a strong Russia. But above all, it is the expression of hidden frustration that dares not show its true face, but which remains omnipresent in our societies, and can end in violence.
Finally, the choice of frame, by the photographer, gives us to see these signs as they are in the public space. The views are more or less wide, but always include the landscape crossed. Sometimes it is necessary to pay attention to discover the incriminated sentence, as a sign that one would notice only after several passages and which, all of a sudden, reveals itself! These ordinary landscapes bear an underlying tension, especially by their accumulation, a way of pointing something that we would have preferred to ignore. And in this also, this book contravenes the law, since it reproduces these words sanctioned by article 282 of the Russia’s Civil Code.
Self published in 2016, softcover 128 pages with a booklet with essays by Irina Chmyreva, Tatiana Mironova and A. Melnikov, both in a cardboard boxset in an edition of 88 copies.
More info : http://cargocollective.com/ivnv/Identity-Index
Many great books have already been listed this year. This list is not a “best of” but just a few recommendations for books I consider very interesting and that deserve some attention.
Only the sky remains untouched, by Claire Felicie. With this book, Claire keep on investigating the psychical damages of war on soldiers, as the subtitle of the book says « The invisible wounds of war. With, as usual, a superb design by Sybren Kuiper which, metaphorically, shows the broken bodies of former soldiers when they’re back from the theater of war. I could say more, but you’d better take a look by your own.
Habiter Berlin 1900 – 1920. At the beginning of XXth Century, the General health insurance fund in Berlin and in the neighborhood, commissionned Heinrich Lichte studio to realise photographs to show the conditions of insalubrity of some appartments in Berlin. The booklets were published once a year or every two years as “Unsere Wohnungs-Enquête”, a survey of housing in Berlin. 175 photographs are compiled here, under the direction of Philippe Bonin, architect and anthropologist, and Margaret Manale, historian, published by Creaphis éditions. Maybe my favorite book this year !
Cista zona, by Sergej Vutuc. Eastern Europe seen through the eyes of Sergej, with an invisible drama outcropping from his beautiful aesthetic photographs. A fantastic discovery this year !
Land, by Laura Van Severen. When quarries and larger stone exploitations become some incredible sophisticated abstract oraganisations. I really love those beautiful photos and I had a great pleasure of a little chat with Laura at Polycopies. Another great discovery this year.
Los amorosas las bravas, by Bénédicte Desrus and Celia Gómez Ramos. A fantastic series on Las mujeres de la Casa Xochiquetzal, a place in Mexico for retired prositutes. The profits from the book selling will help to fund the place. Unfortunately, this book is hard to find, because it did not really reached Europe before it was sold out.
Tada, by Algis Griskevidicius. This book compiles photographs taken between 1985 and 1995 (last decade of comunism era in Lithuania) as material for paintings. It becomes a great testimonial of a decaying country with, out of time Soviet architecture and landscapes.
Forthright, stronger than a weapon, by Sascha Klaus. This could also be the heaviest book of the year. A strong compilation of rap singers from what we call the Third World. This is a fantastic discovery of all those people who fight day after day against totalitarian regime. This remind us that the world is going wrong and that there are lots of things to do and to fight for ! A new form of protest book.
I wish to see where the winds meet, by Christian Bragg. The book as an object. You can turn the pages of this book with a specific sequencing, and by turning the pages, you understand that there are fold outs which could be unfold. You open the eyelets and then discover posters and leporellos which tell a new story. Create your own poetry by unfolding your book !
Glasgow, by Raymond Depardon. Let’s give a break with Depardon bashing. I was a fan of his early work, like San Clemente and Correspondance New Yorkaise. So it was with great pleasure that I discover this early unknown work he did in Glasgow in 1980 for the Sunday Times Magazine. Thanks to Editions du Seuil for this book.
The last son, by Jim Goldberg. With this new book, Jim Goldberg turns his narative process to examine his own growth through his relation to his father, and how his origins have influenced his work. Published by Super Labo as the second part of a personal story in three books.
And I just want to end with two promising photographers and books they did for they’re graduation. They both self published their graduation work in a limited edition of more or less 30 copies. You should keep an eye on both of them.
David’s House, by Alex Ingram. You know this part of Wales, at the end of the world which is called St David, that’s the place where Alex is from and he went back to the place to document it. This is just the sensitive way I like in a photo work.
Belfast, by Aäron Maes. A Belgian photographer focused on the troubles in Northern Ireland as subject of his Master degree. I have a particularly tenderness for Ireland and I like how Aäron immersed himself to try to understand what « Troubles » mean.
You can find the compilation of the 2016 lists here : http://photolia.tumblr.com/post/153778783632/photobooks-2016
Viriginie Rebetez is a Swiss photographer whose concerns revolve around the invisible, the trace, the absence, the death, but above all the space that this absence creates. A possible, immaterial world which she seeks to qualify with her own representation.
In 2014, Virginie was in Residence in New York. Looking for a topic to work on, she searched for unresolved missing people cases and was aware of the story of Suzanne Lyall, a nineteen year old girl who disappeared in Albany (New-York), 16 years before in March 1998. Virginie will spend two years working on the « case », not to solve it, but to reinterpret it !
For her work, Virginie Rebetez got access to the complete family archive, photographs, objects, correpondance (mails, letters…) between the family, the police officers and the psychics who offered their help to solve the case. The book opens with a series of aerial views from the first days research with an helicopter. Then, we discover the backside of a photo, not knowing what the photo shows, dated June 1994. Suzanne tells about her : « Well, this is me ! … Love always ». Probably more than with a physical view of her, it seems that we start to know Suzanne. The connection is created and we are, now, ready to follow Virginie in her quest ; the quest of an immaterial presence, the resilient memory which try to fullfil a loss !
All along the book, we will never see Suzanne’s face. We will only confront her traces : cut off photos, notes, Suzanne’s belongings or known places. The book is made of several series. Some photographs have been shot on location around Albany. We discover several places all located upstate NY where she could have gone before or after her disapearance. Knowing that, those locations appear unsettling, we explore them, looking for a trace, a sign… We discover Suzanne’s bedroom, which remained untouched since her missing. And portraits of Suzanne’s parents, Mary and Doug Lyall, with an ineffaceable sadness in their eyes (or maybe this is just our own projection). Compiling the documentation, Virginie Rebetez also build a wall of documents, in the spirit of a police investigation to rephotograph the rearranged pieces, giving us clues and fragments of Suzanne’s previous life, even if it remains an unfinished portrait.
The missing of a child can be considered with two aspects, the first one is factual, and this is the one that outcrop through the photogaphic part of the book. Photographs tell facts in a raw manner, we can add our own interpretation and its sense is our own adding value. The second aspect is the moral distress associated to the loss of a child. This is something really hard to explain and to transmit to someone who have not experienced the loss. This is what we are confronted in the second part of the book, with the pink pages. Here are shown some various letters, emails, drawings resulted from exchange with police officers or psychics who offered their help to the family. And that is the tragedy which is depicted, when reading assertions about Jupiter opposite Neptune, or Uranus square Saturn, considering this could be of any help ! Or those maps with some incredible precise GPS localization. Every new attempt to locate Suzanne was a new form of hope for Mary and Doug !
The combination, in a book form, of those two apsects reinterprets the space created by the absence of Suzanne. Definitely not in the same way than experienced by the parents, but as our own experience of the missing, which is emphasized by the addition of a poster which comes with one of three different images. These images were made by a professional forensic artist who created “age-progressed composites” depicting the possible appearance of Suzanne at the age of 38. This photograph will be the only complete image of Suzanne’s face seen in the book, which is highly perturbing, because of the unreality of the portrait : this is not Suzanne and it probably never will be.
Despite the accumulation of documents and/or evidences, the puzzle remains unsolved and the only certainty we have at the end the book is the reality of absence. But in a way, what is absence ? The book brings less answers than it opens new questions. The space that Virginie Rebetez was trying to explore is maybe, what we call souvenirs, an immaterial part of our own personality, something located in the unconscious, and very personal.
Published by Meta Books in 2016. Hardcover, 144 pages, 57 color photographs, with a booklet and a poster. Essays by Frédérique Destribats, Elisa Rusca, and Simon Karlstetter. 700 copies.
More info : http://virginierebetez.com/projects/out-of-the-blue/
Want to buy the book : https://tictail.com/s/metabooks/virginie-rebetez-out-of-the-blue
After a short period of silence, I’m back to write about the most disturbing book I’ve seen this year, but maybe even for a long time. Maybe It was the time I needed to digest this fantastic book!
Valentina Abenavoli is the co-founder with Alex Bocchetto, of the wonderful publishing house Akina Books. Specializing in various publications from zines to artist books, Akina did a great work by raising the standards of small print run photobooks, remaining affordable at the same time, which is not the least of qualities ; artist books are often reserved for wealthy collectors.
So, after some time of inactivity, for Akina at least, Valentina returns with a punching book, with a strong formal and visual structure, but above all, a dark and strong subject. It’s a black book with a thin golden square line on the cover and, written small between brackets, the title anesthesia. At first glance, the book intrigues, one wants to touch it, to look at it closely. The texture is very nice and attractive, as are always the books produced by Akina, remarkably well manufactured. Then it opens and we discover a bibliography that is hard to understand because normally these references come at the end of the book. Here it could work as a warning, the words “evil” and “war” are recurring. Using the principle of film editing, this list creates some tension for the reader. One stiffened in his chair. There follows a black page, then a white one, before the book begins. It starts like a movie, with a vertical frame rather than horizontal. A black rectangle appears with a subtitle such as those for hearing impaired in movies, describing sounds. A deafening noise before an explosion, then silence, and black that is spreading over the page. The previous sequence was on glossy white paper, with high contrast, white and black, good and evil. Everything is laid … and yet the book has not begun. We turn the page and we get the title of the book. The whole book is constructed as a cinematic metaphor and we just saw the pre-title sequence.
Paper has changed for a texture closer to those to which we had been accustomed by Akina, a cream paper, slightly thick and very pleasant to the touch. All along the book, text and images alternate and combine. For this book Valentina collected quotes (we came across philosophers, poets, essayists…), images and films found on the internet, through major medias feeds and is proposed, here, a kind of organization, an opportunity to put in order the chaos of the world. One walks in the desert in the company of a woman who remains unseen but who is suggested by the subtitles. She mourns her son’s death. We understand the issue because the decor looks familiar. We “know” these war scenes whose the medias feed us, even if we only confront them from our comfortable interiors, from distance or by proxy when our leaders decide to send troops on a particular theater of war.
And then the images are blurred, they mix and some seem already seen. We see bodies, faces, scars, corpses. One reads the horror, suffering, hatred and inhumanity too! We go from black to white, the movie continues and we lose our marks. Sitting in front of our television or reading a newspaper, we are told what is right and what is not. But in this book, one is struck in the maelstrom doubt which takes us all without distinction. The blast of violence sweeps away everything on its path.
Finally, a kind of nausea invades us. We want to leave the book as we can leave a theater, but we cannot, these images repel as much as they fascinate, we become like… anesthetized. This horror is expressed, in the middle of the book in a passage about Abu Ghraib, probably some of the most expressive sentences :
There was a door I was afraid to walk through
If you walk through it at which point do you say it is enough ?
What is it that you call enough ?
How do you go back from that ?
The history of the representation of war and its collateral damages has evolved through the history of photography. First, Roger Fenton showed us the Crimean War by cannonballs between camps, then Mathew Braddy was ruined for daring to show, in the heart of Mannhatan in his gallery of Broadway, the dead bodies of the Battle of Antietam, more recently, Nick Ut and Georges Griffiths among others, have changed the course of the Vietnam war by testifying of civilian massacres. Nowadays, it is very difficult to cover a conflict for photographers, but the images always come to us from various origins. The images multiply, reproduce and spread to the speed of electricity and networks. For his editorial work, Valentina Abenavoli brings us a book on contemporary war, the one in XXIst century, but also, and especially, about suffering, and our own positioning in front of horror. The book points out our role in this horror. We are one and only humanity that suffers and that hurts. There is no good neither evil, but a single whole, of which we are part. It reminds me of the complete sentence for “For whom the bell tolls” by Hemingway: never ask for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.
This book is hard to go through, in that sense that it makes unbearable the horror that has anesthetized us for too long. We can consider that this is the ultimate book, the aestheticism as a book (the book is beautiful) about horror, forces us to look at reality in the face: this duality is also ours. This book enters, for me, instantly in the category of major works.
Softcover book published by Akina in 2016, 26 x 19,5 cm. text by Veronique Pin Fat.
More info : http://akinabooks.com/product/anaesthesia/
In Spanish, on Gabriela’s blog : https://gabrielacendoya.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/10-de-octubre-2016-anaesthesia-valentina-abenavoli/
On Collector Daily : https://collectordaily.com/anaesthesia-ed-valentina-abenavoli/
And the stunning video made by The Tipi Bookshop :
Energy is really the word that comes to mind to talk about the work of Sergej Vutuc. Both in the production of zines and in the photographic work itself, there is the generosity, passion and even profusion. The world is moving, the world is changing, public spaces are constantly in evolution and it is here the question of appropriation of these territories. From the deep roots of subcultures from the margins of society such as punk and skateboarding, Sergej explores territories and makes them his. It makes us rediscover the city and invites us to look with new eyes that requires abandoning preconceptions. The city comes alive, and it is difficult to recognize.
Sergej chose not to work on conventional representations. The photographs are handled, crushed, interpreted. He interposes plastics filters, often simple bags for creating the texture in his images. He deconstructs reality, like memories out of a dream. The images are blurred as if to get away from reality. This aesthetic is becoming his trademark, his way of looking at the world, with which he combines some other signs, texts strummed we hardly read, like a background noise that would tell us something important but remains difficult to hear. Sergej’s own interpretation emphasizes and valorizes our imagination. The pictures are interactive, we must fill up the story with our own one.
The various works of Sergej are pretexts to explore the great themes of photography. In « Western Ave », he works on the longest urban avenue in Chicago, in the footsteps of iconic American photography. A tribute to many great photographers. He revisits Robert Frank in a journey that condenses on a road, which also remind « Route One » by Robert Kramer. We also have in mind the legendary « Route 66 » which, precisely starts from Chicago, through the United States, up to Santa Monica. Steinbeck’s images in the head, with migrants, and we think to Ed Ruscha passing the “Drive Today” that could have been one of his « 26 gasoline stations ». The American road is a symbol, it unites and separates. Bridge stretched between two places, it is also, in some cases, a rupture or a frontier!
« Good to be to walk away » is an experimental work, the themes (skateboard, public spaces, appropriation…) and processes (blur, images burned, unframed negative, scratches…) in this zine are Sergej’s favorites. The need to put his energy in pictures, a way to let the rage come out loud. It is less constructed than the following zines, but it lays the foundation for future work. Everything is said, but it remains messy. The following books will be built patiently but preserving intact all the energy of beginnings, by channeling it to give it full force.
In « Painful reminder », the title evokes the subject. One looks for a trace, the book is dark, photos more deconstructed, as a person who must rebuild. It is a kind of chaos interspersed with quieter scenes, wandering aimlessly with memories that fade. This is somehow the book of memories with one of my favorite image in which we see two human beings wandering in an industrial environment with fences, which seem burned by flames which swallow the image itself.
The last book I want to talk about here is « Abfolge », which means sequence, published in 2016. Continuing his experiments, Sergej, with this book, combines, for the best, photographic processes and printing technique risography. The fleshy images take here all their depth. You get lost with relish in the deep blacks. The book consists of A3 pictures folded in half to form an unbound 28 pages booklet. We must unfold the book to read the entire image, but above all, each half picture recombines, according to the facing page with another half. The pictures recompose themselves and it is impressive to see how these new images take so much strength.
We now understand that the chaos we had already glimpsed in previous works here finds its fulfillment. This energy organizes the world and makes it intelligible. Certainly for me « Abfolge » is one of the best books published this year!
All publications by Sergej Vutuc can be found here: http://www.sergejvutuc.bigcartel.com/category/publication
And his site: http://www.sergejvutuc.com/