Familiar places by Ovidiu Gordan

The old-fashioned charm of post communist Romania is the first impression we feel with this book of photographs taken between 2007 and 2017, by Ovidiu Gordan. A bit like the feeling of going to see a friend who takes us through the streets and alleys of his village, then to the countryside.

As familiar as these places are, they are none the less singular. Ovidiu, with his camera, meticulously notes everything he meets and « finds ». He guides us through his country with a certain pride. He tells us his memories, the table of a restaurant he frequents, the cat he often meets on his daily journey and tries in vain to approach. Without knowing Romania, we can let ourselves be carried away by the narrative, this book tells us stories, it leaves priority to in our imagination, like this old Dacia, a copy of the French Renault 12 owned by a person who was dear to us… what has become of her?

We see nothing of the country, or perhaps, on the contrary, we really see it, in the sense of understanding it. No postcards or clichés, the photographs follow the rhythm of our wanderings. When a couple passes by, Ovidiu whispered to us the singular story of these two people. Old photos on the wall, hanged on a decayed wallpaper tell the story of a time when Romania was under the yoke of Ceausescu couple. The photos alternate scenes of incredible precision, as frozen timeless, and other moments vaporous, bathed in blur and fog. Things do not come out spontaneously, you have to make yourself available, give them attention, to find their preciousness. We meet people too, of course, some people who we dare to approach and others we do not want to disturb.

Time passes and we have to leave this friend. The book goes on and familiarity sets in, and becomes our own. We recognize signs, the local culture permeates us, a woman, met on the road, smiles, we are no longer strangers.

The book is endearing in many ways. The principal is certainly the generosity that he transmits which remains in us, after having traveled through those « Familiar places ». There is a need in Ovidiu to seize these moments, to tell their reality, as if we need to be convinced of our own existence. Capturing these little non-events, this collection of little things that we collect every day to keep them preciously in a notebook of memories, until we meet them again, a bit like the book « I remember » by Georges Perec that he presented as: « small pieces of daily life, things that, a year or another, all people of the same age have seen, lived, shared, and which then disappeared, have been forgotten; they were not worthy of being part of history, nor of being included in Memoirs of statesmen, mountaineers, and sacred monsters. Sometimes, however, they come back, a few years later, intact and tiny, by chance or because they have been looked for, one night, with friends. »

Hardcover book selfpublished in 2018. 23 x 23 cm.,108 pages with 52 black and white and color photographs.

More info : https://www.ovidiugordan.com/

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Dark cities, by Shyue Woon

The subtitle of the book could have been, « A tale of a forgotten future » as Shyue Woon takes us to a long journey exploring some emblematic areas in three huge cities : Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul.

Each of these cities is the object of an autonomous work, the three being collected in a superb box that gives its name to the trilogy. Shyue Woon is a trained architect and an architectural approach is evident in the way he looks at the places he passes through. He takes us with him in his wanderings, as if to make us visit the recesses of his unconscious. Of the three megacities chosen, he shows us almost nothing, or very little. In each city, he chose to isolate himself, at night in places that were, at other times, symbols of a prosperous future, utopias of the twentieth century.

The first book is entitled « Carpark » and Shyue Woon takes us for a night walk in a multi-storey carpark. I have always had a particular affection for the nooks and « non-places », well… all those places in front of which one passes without ever stopping or even taking a look at it. A succession of details slowly builds an abstract vision of this world of the night. Our imagination creates a parallel universe in which memories reappears. A silhouette draws itself in distance, or is it a ghost? We meet people whom we can’t reach, separated from a window or a blur that prevents us to get in touch.

Shyue Woon evokes the idea of a purgatory in which one evolves, trying to solve a crime story, reference to the black films or an insoluble enigma coming straigh from mythology, which proves impossible to solve. We meet our demons but we also get rid of our fears in a cathartic ordeal.

The second book entitled « Capsule » takes us, as its title indicates in the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza – Tokyo, futuristic project of the early 1970s which today, is on the brink of abandonment since the maintenance there is no more assured. Shyue Woon guides us through this labyrinth of doors and corridors. The light is more present, as if, out of purgatory we found our way to the surface, to the inhabited world. We get lost in this maze of colors to always end up in front of a wall, but with the hope of a light that will deliver the outcome.

Here again the author stops on small things, trivial details that say long about the state of the premises. We find ourselves locked in the past, as in the brain of a brilliant architect who would find himself trapped in his project too futuristic, and here the term capsule takes all its meaning, recalling the films of anticipation in which the deplacements were supposed to be done in some so-called capsules.

« Euljiro », third opus of this trilogy leads us finally in a district of Seoul. It is always dark and our wanderings continue in this dehumanized world. Lights seem to illuminate a vanished world, or at least of which the inhabitants would have leaved places in a sort of hurry. Cables guide us through the streets, like a ball from which we pull the wire to guide us to the exit, ponctuating our way of many traces of life, proof that we are on the right path. The light returns slowly, passing from the structuring spheres of the city to its surface state. If the first book was purgatory, we wonder now in what universe we will emerge.

The three books highlight Shyue Woon’s vision of the city, which is reminiscent of Marc Augé’s definition of « non-place » (one of the texts accompanying « Carpark » refers to it) and the architect he is can only wonder about the spatial organization of the city and the spaces that compose it. How do we go from one place to another, spatially first, but also temporally and here is appearing in the background of the three books, the influence of time on the « project ». Would the futurism of an era become now only old fashionned and, finally, what is this articulation of the present that tilts one towards the other? It is thus as an architect that Shyu Woon uses the night to deconstruct what was built, in order to understand the inner structure of buildings and cities, and to reorganize the spaces around a fiction stemming from our imagination, a little bit as Alice’s world by Lewis Caroll.

Three hardcover books 14,5 x 21 cm, open spine with silkscreen cover, in a box set.

More info : http://shyuewoon.com/


Where are we now ? by Geert Van Den Eede

Cape of Good Hope was first a photobook blog by David Nollet. It became an independent publishing house when David published his own book entitled « Façade Démocratique » in 2016. Two years later Cape of Good Hope offers us a new book whose poetry is reminiscent of the previous one.

Geert Van Den Eede is a Belgian photographer who brings us, throughout this book, in the Balkans. The photographs were taken from 2007 to 2015 in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. The title of the book refers, as much, to the state of this fragmented, disputed, broken territory, as to the photography itself and its own question of representation. Where are we now? of these borders, lines and continually changing patterns that have fueled all fantasies and generated so many dramas for centuries. Where are we now? of this ability to represent with the photography medium. In the foreword, Ognjen Lopušina compares these two statements with the Sisyphus ordeal, finally condemned to continually climb a rock at the top of the mountain without ever succeeding, so Where are we now?

Usually, I do not read the foreword of a book before seeing the pictures, I do not want to condition my perception by the considerations of another. Yet this time I did it, without really knowing why, so I already know a little what I’m going to find, especially since this text is a kind of caption of the photo on the cover: a structure of concrete terraces whose we do not know if it is a finished work, a work in progress, or a demolition site; a kind of perpetual movement which, like this country, never stops to reshape itself, to redraw itself, moving back and forward. So, actually, the photographic representation becomes a challenge. How by its immediacy could it show these turbulences, these movements, sometimes so subtle that a foreign eye would not succeed in discerning them.

So we turn the pages and move on to the book. Very quickly, we are touched by these ephemeral moments that get entangled. We walk with the photographer, we stop for a moment, then we resume the journey. We meet a few people, some suspicious, others distant and, everywhere, traces where an uncertain future stands alongside the tortured past. Geert Van Den Eede describes his work as a travelogue, a sort of wandering across the Balkans, with no purpose nor goal than to record everything that crosses his path, to try to understand this territory and its figures … and the form is successful. The layout is sober and a certain poetry emerges from these places that are not at first very attractive. They become touching or even fragile, even if they are embedded in concrete structures. Each image is rich and the frame filled. We stop and the drama begins, the actors are in place, the acts follow each other and are not alike, or maybe they are, since we read harmonics that hold the piece all along, which gives it its coherence. Each of these bits of history would be a pretext for a novel, point of departure or arrival of a story that would be built in the background.

Concrete is very present throughout the book, it give rythm to the sequences and punctuates the spaces, both public and private. It is subject, becomes scenery, sometimes disappears in rural areas to reappear further. It is the leitmotif of this country, a promise of a modernity to come which is already fading by turning to new futures, like this cosmonaut with the colors of America and its neoliberalism devastating trend. There remains, however, a certain grace in these modernist abstractions, but perhaps it is the same kind of grace that can be found in the photographs « underexposed on an expired 3200 ASA film from a forgotten East German stock », to quote Ognjen Lopušina.

So, I really do not know Where are we now? but with a certain humility, I got to know this country better now, and that’s not bad! Thanks to Geert Van Den Eede and Cape of Good Hope.

Softcover book published by Cape of Good Hope in 2018. 24 x 30 cm, 56 pages and 31 B&W photos. Essay by Ognjen Lopušina

More info : http://www.cape.ag/

And : http://www.geertvandeneede.be/where-are-we-now/

The link for my previous review of Façade démocratique : https://whoneedsanotherphotoblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/facade-democratique-by-david-nollet/

 

 


Les Coupes, by Philippe Bazin and Muriel Martin

It is becoming urgent for our society to resolve conflicts with our fooding community and the agricultural world. Conscious of its excessive practices, driven by capitalist excesses, this community has gone through many economic and identity crises. What touches me the most in this book is the infinite sweetness with which Philippe Bazin approaches a world close to his neighborhood, in the geographical meaning, to reveal its qualities.

For a dozen years, Philippe has been through being a neighbor then a friend; however, and this is important, he remains a « foreigner » to the family and to the farm domain of Les Coupes. We are in 2015 and, at the request of Muriel Martin, Philippe Bazin will document life at Les Coupes during a summer that, under the gaze of the photographer, seems a never ending one.

What we notice at first glance is the empathy and closeness with which the photographer is involved in this story, fruit of a constantly renewed astonishment and a complicity that is tied up throughout the pages. And by the way, this book is not so much a book of photographs than a narration of a relationship within the farm community. We meet Muriel Martin with the various members of the family that Philippe meets, approaches, and then sometimes, he removes distant, as embarrassed to be in this place, clumsy facing situations that seem to us from another era. All along this long summer, Philippe Bazin looks witness this agricultural world of polyculture and breeding. He pays the same attention to everything, be it a piece of landscape, humans, animals, agricultural tools… Each element is part of the harmony of the exploitation, each of them is interdependent of the others, they are rub shoulders and rub as if to perform a dance or a farandole. With the photographer, one is always closer to the actions, until smelling furs, fresh milk, blood, manure. It comes back to us the memory of the trips we had made, as children, at the farm of an uncle, an aunt or a cousin, each gesture then seemed simple and natural.

This book also tells us about the tie of the family to the farm, the transmission within the family. Traditionally, it is the boy who takes over the farm, but at Les Coupes, the cards are redistributed, it is a family inheritance that is transmitted intuitively and, from an early age, children testify to this ancestral relationship to animals and everyday tasks. This is this tie, that Philippe Bazin discovers during this long summer which is also explained by Muriel Martin who speaks to us, with her words, in the last part of the book. It was not originally planned, when Muriel asked Philippe to come and have his « foreigner » look on Les Coupes, it was rather a form of hindsight, a distance of the everyday to better look at ourself, from distance, more like watching a video to correct our flaws. But when autumn came and Philippe organized a projection of the photos of the previous summer, emotion overwhelmed her, she had to put her emotions on paper and tell the story, weaving a dialogue with the photographer. The text is generous, as are the photos. We discover a narrative talent that takes us through the persistence of the images encountered in the book, Muriel reveals the images, the hidden meaning we had noticed, but above all, it extends the history of Les Coupes, it enriches. Faced with the eyes of the « foreigner », it brings us the point of view from within, the everyday experience, with its strengths, its weaknesses, its joys and its pains.

Finally, I should precise that to fully appreciate this book, it is important to make yourself available to it and to spend time with it. At first reading, I found it a little bit to obvious with some basic framing, even not close enough (you know, in the meaning of Capa), but it is a book to which we must return, again and again, as a long summer spent in the countryside : at the beginning you get bored and then when you get to know Hermès, Hollywood, Jaurès or Agathe (the animals who are the subjects of these photographs), you take a liking to them and you look forward to the next summer and the moment when you will be there again. It is the same for this book which, once closed, gives us the furious desire to spend a summer at Les Coupes !

Harcover book published in 2017 by Créaphis Editions, 136 pages, 62 color photographs, 21,5 x 23 cm, with a foreword by Marie-Hélène Lafon.

More info about Philippe Bazin : http://www.philippebazin.fr/

And about Créaphis Editions : http://www.editions-creaphis.com/


She looks into me, by Nuno Moreira

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In Zona, his previous book, Nuno Moreira explored the limit of the dream and the unconscious. Using the same techniques of staging and scenography, he has published, early this year, this new opus, much more accomplished and which now clearly claims its surrealist filiation, including the title borrowed from a poem by Paul Eluard: She looks into me, which opens the book.

In his previous work, it seems that Nuno sought to « capture » his moments of unconsciousness, whereas in the realization of She looks into me, he appropriated the unconscious to strive to represent it, and his work is now much closer to that of the Surrealists. Life, death, dreams, thoughts, are the raw material. The threads are woven into a play. The pictures are always aesthetic, but it is to make us forget their presence and allow us to focus on the narration which remains interpreted by everyone’s mind. It draws, one after the other, the « being », the « becoming » and the process of deconstruction that follows (« unbecoming »). Consistency remains throughout the book, with recurring patterns that allow us to read a continuum, such as the cycle of life and death, which are, of course, ubiquitous motifs throughout the book. The rhythms change, accelerate and then slow down, before accelerating again. In this book, all the formal elements that constitute it (photos, layout, texts …) disappear at the service of the storytelling.

And finally, the title refers us to the perception that Nuno Moreira proposes to us. It is no longer a question of looking at things, but rather of looking into things, in the sense of the original French title of the poem, Elle se penche sur moi, which speaks of being available to understand the other, to find a confidence in him/her. Where it is about seeing in the other to put his life/love in his/her hands, proof of ultimate confidence, beyond life and death. Then one reads there love, the only one capable of transcending the physical limit of the body, of time, of the wear and tear that reappears in the third part of the book. Death approaches, and one then questions oneself about existence, his own and that of the other, whom we build a relation with.

The book is beautifully printed with black and white tones incredibly rich. The open spine allows a clear reading of the photos. A booklet with a text in Portugese and in English by Adolfo Luxuria Canibal, Portugese musician and poet accompanies the softcover book. Limited edition of 200 copies, 22 x 28 cm, 84 pages with 42 B&W photos. Foreword by M. F. Sullivan and afterword by Jesse Freeman.

More info : http://nmdesign.org/

 


A few books that have not been mentioned so far and that I loved in 2017

We have read so many lists of best books for 2017 that all the best books have probably been already mentioned. But I’ would like to add a few ones that were kind of forgotten and that, in my humble opinion, are worth a look. In no specific order, here they are :

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Island by Reza Kalfane, self published. A French photographer in his land of adoption : Iceland, very strong black and white poetic photography

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La vie sur terre, archéologie de la mine by Didier Vivien, published by Editions Loco. Another French photographer in this impressive thick volume of 640 pages. The story of the mining area of Nord Pas de Calais through its complete story from 1720 till today with more than 800 photographs and documents in this book.

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36 views of mount Brusilia by Christopher de Bethune, zine self published. I am a real fan of Christopher de Bethune, and particularly of this series made around the famous tower, built in Bruxelles by Jacques Cuisinier. A dark, grainy and poetic photography.

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Exist to resist by Matthew Smith, published by Youth Club. Subculture and resistance in England from 1989 to 1997. A piece of English history from the inside. The title of this book just says it all !

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Zapis socjologiczny 1978 – 1990 by Zofia Rydet, published by Muzeum w Gliwicach. Another strong piece of work by a Polish photographer who began this series at the age of 67. She took more that 20 000 images in more that 100 towns and villages in Poland. The book comprises three series which are “Sociological index”, “Women standing on their front door” and “Professions”.

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Pédiatrie by Philippe Spigolon, self published. For 24 years, Philippe Spigolon has been working as a nurse in a French hospital, at the children department. And for all those years, Philippe always had a compact camera with him, taking photographs everyday. This huge box set comprises four volumes, each containing 772 photographs, following his long time carreer, and each volume retraces exactly the same period, but with different photos.

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A proposition for departure by Sohrab Hura, self published. Following his widely acclaimed “Life is elsewhere”, this proposition is, according to Sohrab “a blueprint of my experiments with the relationship between images and sound.” Not really the awaited second volume of his story, but more like an intermede.

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Finché tornerai terra by Valentino Barachini, published by Origini Edizioni. origini Edizion is specialized in artist books in very limited print run, and this book is probably one of the most beautiful book I have seen recently, with everything perfectly achieved, photos, poetry and form. A one not to miss !

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Seconda porta dell’anima by Michèle Mettler, published by Origini Edizioni. Second book by the same publisher. Different form, and different story but another beautiful artist book, about acupuncture and soul… Another fantastic work with photos and words interwined.

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Arktikugol by Leo Delafontaine, published by Editions 77. The strange story of a territory administered by Norway, where are living people from more than 20 countries (climate observers) and with a main background connected with the Soviet mining history : the Svalbard is the Northern inhabited land on earth, and this is this story, past and present, that is told in this book, living at the margins of the world.

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Youth Unemployment by Tish Murtha, published by Bluecoat Press. There are three reasons for me to mention this book. The first one is that Tish Murtha passed away far too young and never got the recognition she would have deserved as a major English photographer. This book is the first one showing her work with teenagers in North of England and that’s fantastic to be able to see this series. The second reason is for the recognition of Bluecoat Press who’s doing a great work for English photography, and Colin Wilkinson already published this year the long awaited “Small Town Inertia” by Jim Mortram (already mentioned on a few lists). The third reason, is that I LOVE English photography particularly in its social and political dimension !

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And a last one which I like a lot : Township and Bement grain by Adrianna Ault, Tim Carpenter, Raymond Meeks and Brad Zellar, published by TIS Books in a box set as Dumbsaint 01. A photography full of sensibility which I like a lot. A sort of minimal photography which tells a lot ! Beautiful design and beautiful print quality.

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Some interesting magazines

Leaving aside the books to talk about some photography magazines that are really worth a look, and what a better time than the new year to subscribe or offer a subscription.

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So let’s start by mentioning the new French/Belgian photography magazine « Halogénure » which has just published its third issue. This is a biannual journal, published by a small group of enthusiasts whose desire is to show a silver and alternative photography of quality that struggles to find its place in other mediums. The magazine is presented in the form of three thematic notebooks gathered by a strip for a generosity of pages that goes, for the moment, from 136 for the first issue to 168 for the third. The quality is in every way excellent, whether in the editorial assumed choices, in the layout and in the print quality. All of this reminds me the excellent magazine of the 80s « Camera International » in which portfolios were very important and beautifuly presented, although it was obviously not that much dedicated to alternative photography. In this magazine, we can find, amongst others, substantial interviews in which we learn a lot, essays on the photobook world, portfolios of Belgian photographers (which is not to displease me), but above all, everything in a generous form, the interviews are long and developed, portfolios are consistent, far from a few images shown out of context. This magazine is for the better of photography, and you should consider to support it.

More info : https://halogenure.com/

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The second project I want to talk about is the Spanish collection « Pewen Cuadernos de Fotografía ». It is not strictly speaking a magazine, but rather a small series of monographs devoted to Ibero-American photographers. On the initiative of Ros Boisier and Leo Simoes, Muga is a small publishing house that produces books in very small print run, each volume of this series is limited to 60 copies. We find for each volume a simple but effective layout that favors photography. The brown cover reveals nothing of the interior and it is always a surprise to discover an author hitherto unknown to me. This collection is not far from the beautiful collection of Café Royal Books dedicated to English photography and for an equally affordable price, it is an opportunity to build a beautiful collection of books on South American photography. Many numbers are out of print now, but it’s not too late to subscribe to forthcoming issues.

More info : http://mugaproject.com/pewen-cuadernos-de-fotografia/

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The third issue of the « Migrant Journal » has just been published and three more are announced in this collection of six issues. As its title indicates, this magazine focuses on the very actual and important theme of migration through the world, and proposes to analyze the notion of migration across several major themes. The editorial of the first issue began as follows:

« What will it talk about ?

Migration.

You mean the migrant crisis ?

That and other things. Migration is everywhere, it’s time we realise it again. It’s time writers, spatial thinkers and designers, artists, researchers of all kind get together to re-think the concept of migration. »

Each theme is announced from one volume to another and operates on the process of an open call for participation. Publishing two issues per year, the quality of this journal is constituted by the variety of answers, photographers (not that much), designers, researchers who offer reflections on the subject. The topics covered so far are « Across country » for number 1, « Wired capital » for number 2 and « Flowing grounds » for number 3. Each number, except for the first one, out of print, is available on their website.

More info : https://migrantjournal.com/

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The Russian photographic scene has been very active recently and a new magazine has just been released : « Violet INNER VISION » is published under the coordination of Anna Block. The publication still remains confidential since the print is only 40 copies. The first issue was published in July 2017 and contains photographs of Nikita Khalkin, Katherina Sadovsky and Andrey Krapivin. Each copy is signed by the three authors and Anna Block and contains a small print, also signed and numbered. This magazine is sober with an elegant layout that, again, values the photographs. Beyond the discovery of these authors, still unknown to us, there is an interesting attempt to manipulate the narrative form that combines the different photographs. The images follow one another and we do not know, first,who is the author, even if a style emerges from each series. We then witness a narrative with three voices, images responding to each other to create an additional meaning. The explanations are given to us only in the colophon. The subject of this first issue focuses on the images considered as tabooed, blasphemous, pornographic or morbid. A new magazine which will be interesting to keep an eye on.

More info : http://annablock.ru/blog/violet-inner-visions/