While wandering through the Library of Congress internet site, I came across this wonderful picture by Ben Shahn, from 1935, while working for the Resettlement Administration. The title is Children of Fortuna family, Hammond, Louisiana. The girl was probably around 14, so she was born in 1921 and she celebrate her 100th birthday last year. She could have been my GrandMa if only she would have come to Europe.
But in fact she did ! Her name is Helen, and she married James in 1942, a young man she met in Hammond and who choose a military career, she was just 20. On the 6th of June 1944, James was part of the American troops who landed in Omaha, and unfortunately, one of the first to fall under the fire of the German defense. Helen was informed by William, a friend of James, who decided to settle in Paris at the end of the war. Helen had to wait for a couple of years to be able to afford a ticket to visit the American cemetery where her husband was buried, and then continue her travel till Paris to visit William. This is during that stay in Paris that one evening she joined William in a bar in Montreuil where he used to go, and met Jean, a young French man, friend of William, just arriving from Burgondy. They began to see each other more and more frequently and got married in 1947. From this union, they had a boy who died when he was two months and a year later, a girl, Michele, who is my mother !
This is a history that could have been !
It has been more or less two years and a half since my last post on this site. I have to confess that I got bored in reviewing photobooks. I felt obliged to keep a rythm and thus, the pleasure had gone !
So now, I am back to business, but not anymore with book reviews. I will share thoughts, ideas, photographs and sometime, it will just be a single photo.
I recently acquired a long sought after book about Italian psychiatry experiences, and I remember that the subject of psychiatry and mental illness is something I feel a great interest for. So I decided to dig in my shelves to enlight some books on this topic. There are so many great photographers who have done photographs in those institutions. I don’t mean to be exhaustive.
The first one, as said above, recently acquired, is “Gli esclusi” by Leonardo d’Alessandro, published in 1969 by Il Diaframma. this was in a time of the anti psychiatry reform initiated by Franco Basaglia.
More or less from the same period, in Italy was published a famous book named “Morire di classe”, also published in 1969 with photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin. I don’t have this book, but Contrasto published in 2015 a book with his photos from that period, named “Manicomi, psichiatria e antipsichatria nelle immagini degli anni settanta”.
In the middle of the seventies, French photographer Raymond Depardon met Franco Basaglia in Trieste and started a series in the Venetian hospital of San Clemente. It was first published by the Cente National de la Photopgraphie in 1984. there was a new edition in 2014 by Steidl, under the name of “Manicomio”.
Martin Parr, more known for a different kind of photography did also a series of pictures in an English psychiatric institution, in 1972, in Prestwich. I played a comparison game between Raymond Depardon and Martin Parr works here above. The book was published in the fantastic collection of Café Royal Books in 2018.
I could not do a post like this one without mentionning Diane Arbus work with mentally handicaped people, published under the title “sans titre” in France in 1995 by Editions La Martinière. This work was also done at the end of the sixties, not so long before she commited suicide in 1971.
Legus Förlag published in 1995 “Ingen har sett allt” by Swedish photographer Anders Petersen. In my opinion, I consider this work as one of his strongest, far before Café Lemitz.
I discovered Roland Schneider’s work while studying photography and I was really impressed by its therapeutic dimension. This was a time when I used to work with mentally handicaped people and I was moved by this work. From the collection of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, the book was published by Parkett/Der Alltag in 1988 and this one has always been one of my favorite book !
This book could be considered as the last opus in the anti-psychiatry Italian history. Published this year by 89 Books, it compiles photographs by Mauro d’Agati. The photographs were made in 2001 after that in the mid seventies, the O.P.G. (Ospedale Psichiatrico Giudiziario) model replaced the old criminal asylums.
So, despite, what I said in introduction, I haven’t been that short but I am passionate by this topic, and you may understand why in a future post !
After defeating Polyphemus on the Cyclops island, Ulysses, in an excess of arrogance, reveals his identity to the giant who in rage asks his father Poseidon to inflict the worst torments to Ulysses during his journey back over seas.
One eyed Ulysses, by JM Ramirez-Suassi is a fable, a contemporary odyssey, and the transposition is successful. For four long years, the photographer evolves around Madrid and its suburbs. No explanation accompanies the photographs, it is up to us to find a meaning … or not. The rythm is slow and we focus on small things, small people, small here having the sense of ordinary and not value. There is no broad view, the horizon never appears, as if to hide the final goal, or to tell us that the road will be long. Sequences are constructed and deconstructed to better lose us.
One of the great qualities of this book lies in its lack of explanations, but also and especially in the sequencing. The author could have easily fallen into a compilation of beautiful pictures, a collection of views. But on the contrary the story makes sense, recurring patterns return to the rhythm of pages, bottles, dead animals, people. All these elements stand at the margins of our society, they form signs that show us the hidden face of what surrounds us. All these little details that we no longer see, either because they are without value, without interest, or because we are in a hurry, because the goal matters more than the way.
Then JM Ramirez-Suassi challenges us and shows us that the journey becomes an experience in itslef. We get lost to better wonder what the next moment will reveal to us. We struggle in our progression, barriers, gates, strings strew our way, we must make detours. Associations are made, as in a dream, a broken windshield gives place, on the next page to a delicate spiderweb revealed by the morning dew. We must then abandon our preconceived ideas, leave the presuppositions aside and let us be guided by our imagination. Memories arise, a moment that we had already glimpsed, elsewhere, on another path, that we had not captured, but which our unconscious remembers.
The book reminds us of the montage of attractions theorized by SM Eisenstein. The sequences cannot be the result of chance, they must have a meaning, it could not be otherwise. We must cling to something that makes sense, reassures us and so, everyone will find their story by filling the gaps. This succession of small encounters becomes touching. We find ourselves in the middle of the story and it seems to us to belong to these places, we recognize ourself and we move in there with facility. Our ability to appropriate our surroundings reassures us and makes this environment safe in a resolutely resilient nature.
After being through this wandering, the book ends with a contemporary metaphor of our societies. The odyssey ends facing a wall surmounted by barbed wire which evokes the fences on the borders of Europe, and what we finally discover behind this wall, which, perhaps, was the goal of this quest, remains cold and scary. And now remains the bitter taste of what is inside and what is outside, wether it is in our societies or in a globalization context.
I finally want to add that everything written above is just a personnal interpretation due to the sequencing and the choice of the photographs. Everyone will have his own perception and his own reading when opening this book. And I really encourage you to do it by your own…
Harcover book published in 2018 by NOW photobooks. 24 x 30 cm, 144 pages, 91 color photographs. Very limited print run of 175 copies which may sell fast !
Take a guide book and this is how it will be spoken of Bari: both economic and cultural place, this university town has a long history and a charming old historical center. Take the time to discover the front door of Puglia, to walk its streets especially at the hour of the passeggiata. For me, I have mainly heard of Bari as a gateway for North African immigrants, more known during riots in 2011. It tells how much the connotation took precedence over the denotation.
Mara Dani lives in Bari where she teaches English. She has also developed in recent years an interest in photography which she used to realize a systematic and methodical exploration of the city of Bari. To complete the connotation, the idea of Italian photography convenes instantly two famous names : Gabriele Basilico, undisputed master of architectural photography and Michelangelo Antonioni, undisputed master of boring peri-urban desolate environments. These two influences are found in the work of Mara Dani : a highly architected approach of the urban structure, alternating pictures, shot from above showing the typology of urban form with views from ground level that takes us erratically to one neighborhood to another.
With this work, Mara urges us to follow her and to get lost with her in the empty streets. Spaces are designed for cars and atmospheres are far from those of downtown (which I do not know), far from the hubbub and the linguistic frenzy that inhabits the films of Italian neorealist cinema. We are in contemporary Italy, which, like every big city has been urbanized frantically in the second half of the twentieth century. This city is a port city with a high density of population, and Bari is like all our western cities, including this seen before building or piece of wall. Only vegetation, or an earthenware retail attests that we are in the South… and then, suddenly, the turning of a page, a photo of the Istituto per le case popolari… this building finally reassures us, it corresponds to our preconceived image of Italy.
Throughout these pages, Mara Dani talks about contemporary issues such as urban landscapes, post industrial forsaken territories, resilience, conurbation, urban transportation … It is both the backstage of the city, and the everyday banality of a city life, all these locations made of spaces we cross every day without noticing, sometimes without even looking up. They evolve back and forward without anyone noticing. We well remember that here, in another time, there was a field, but don’t know since when the latter disappeared. The city is built like a gigantic palimpsest, each layer superimposed on the previous one, while erasing details. Our memory is diluted and only a few old postcards attest about our grandparents’ stories.
Mara’s look on her city remains always endearing, it takes us away from the waves of tourists who have invaded the historical city center. No selfies in these sets, there remains only the authenticity of a growing population to house at all costs. The beautiful title, itself, confirms this statement with both the accuracy and the vagueness of ambiguity : almost Bari.
Hardcover book, 16 x 21,5 cm, 92 pages, 77 black and white photos, foreword by Gian Luigi Sylos Labini and Alessandro Cirillo. 300 copies signed and numbered.
More info : http://www.maradani.it/recent-works/almost-bari/
And by the way, talking about contemporanean landscapes and Antonioni, you should also consider the beautiful Ravenna by Gerry Johansson. Ravenna was the location of the film « The red desert ».
Hortus Botanicus, one might think that everything is said in the title. This term refers to a botanical garden, and in this case, the one in Valencia – Spain, town where Rafael lives. For it to be factual, the title remains mysterious, precisely by this reference to Latin, the official language of the « plants and trees » world, although it often remains a linguistic approximation.
However, this is not to a guided tour that Rafael invites us, but rather to an imaginary journey. This work takes us back to those moments of childhood during which we slept in the grass to watch the canopy and let our imaginations wander. No way here to recognize the garden of Valencia, it is in a dream world that Rafael takes us.
To do so, he chose different methods. The first is the use of superimposed photos. Carefully cut out, the shapes in black and white, mix and recompose. We see shapes appearing and disappearing from a page to another one. We hear the sound of leaves together rustling. A tree, already seen, draws itself in the background, becomes tangled in the leaves of another to create a mutant species that remains to be determined. Herbs have the thickness of a trunk. At the end, we don’t know if these images are representations of reality or reconstructions of our memory.
The second process is related to the printing conditions. Rafael chose a silver paper with a metalic render for the cover and a semi-mate paper for the inside, which gives an extra dimension to photographs by the brightnesses and nuances that appear when leafing through the book. Shapes emerge from the fog of our dream. The images are very soft and gray background makes them immaterial, we find it hard to discern the shapes and to recognize them…
To photograph vegetation is not an easy work. You can easily tend to some superficial aesthetics which is only « nice » but without any background spirit. This book is the exact opposite, Rafael has found the perfect distance and appreciation to render the spirit of trees.
That reminds me one of my absolute favorite song :
Come closer and see
See into the trees
Find the girl
If you can…
A Forest, by The Cure, a recommended soundtrack to listen while reading the book !
Shirokuro Edition, softcover book, 32 pages, 13 X 20 cm, digital printing, edition of 60 copies signed and numbered . The book somes with a small print.
More info : http://tanaka-clan.tumblr.com/
In February 2014, the world turned their eyes towards the Maidan in Kiev, which became known as Euromaidan. The population rose up to chase a corrupt leader in the pay of Russia. Many photographers were there to testify, and during Paris Photo in November of that year, we discovered beautiful photobooks that came out of this popular experience. Then Russia annexed the Crimea and there was (is) a war in the Donbass … And then nothing!
This is one of the problems of Western society that has the ability to ignite quickly to support people, but that has, too, the same ability to forget them once the crisis has passed, even if the problems remain.
This is why these two works are remarkable. Both are confronted with the reality of everyday life, and thus, they’re confronting opposite approaches of their origins. Yulia Krivich is of Ukrainian origin and currently lives in Poland, while Christopher Nunn is an English photographer who shares time between England and Ukraine. And finally, both have produced a book, both from works in progress, which are as fragile as the current Ukrainian society.
Yulia Krivich choose an innovative form for her book. It is a newsprint, folded and stitched inside a hardcover binding. Her vision comes after the Ukrainian crisis, and we feel all of her cultural impregnation. She returns to her homeland to face this changing society. This is a committed book she proposes, concerned, not here in the sense of the denunciation of a problem, but rather as an expression of a deep feeling that she will try to share with us: her own feeling, facing with the reality that she finds again during each trip in Ukraine. Hence her title of Presentiment! Her photographs go through various states, sometime contemplative and peaceful, sometime charged with an underlying violence, like these armed men or a scar of unknown origin.
Yulia manages efficiently to share with us her anxieties. If one begins his book with calm and serenity, tension is gradually seizing us, distorting the meaning of images and making us doubt their significance. Any attempt of appeasement is systematically offset by a factual return to reality of violence. We finally don’t know anymore if we feel our own anguish, or the result of the unstable situation in this society, transformed by violent changes. The form itself of this publication reinforces this feeling: the fragility of newsprint in its protective hardbound case.
Christopher Nunn has chosen to show us the Ukrainian society through the prism of Christianity.
His work does not take place after the revolution, neither has a real connection with it. He began his series in 2013 and his work is still in progress, but it is impossible to look at this series without having in mind the recent troubles.
The main interest of this work is to send us backward to a forgotten humanity. The medias have focused on land issues, the annexation of the Crimea, Donbass war questioning the Russian border, but beyond these questions of territory, there are human beings, people who share time together, having fun or being sad, who speak or who stand proudly… Well, they’re living!
With Christopher’s help, we enter into the intimacy of families. We are not here as tourists but rather friends visiting, who came to share a moment. I particularly like the lighting that gives us Christopher Nunn on the Ukrainian society. This is the kind of work that we need, to continue to understand a society subjected to changes, to inner or outer attacks, and which finally shows the resilience of the human being.
Presentiment by Yulia Krivich, published by Fundacja Sztuk Wizualnych in 2015. Newsprint 24 x 32,5 cm folded in a hardcover binding 17 x 24 cm. 40 pages, 20 colour photographss. 300 copies signed.
Holy water by Christopher Nunn, published by Village in 2015. Softcover 23 x 32 cm. 40 pages with 23 colour photographs. 500 copies (first 100 come with a C print).
More info :
Today is a post about a fellow photobook blogger and also a photographer… a bit like me in fact, and here am I talking about his work as a photographer.
“What does it mean to become a father for the first time? How will everything change, what will the days look like and what will be the new routine? Well, I can’t tell the answers to any of those questions, at least not now anyhow.” This is how Matej introduces his new book.
The title of the book is “Morning sun” which, for me, symbolises all the hopes of a new day. The first look through a window, in the morning, could indicate what the spirit of the day will be, and I assume this is what this title means : the morning sun of a new life.
The book can be considered as a diary of the couple’s pregnancy (in some countries, it is considered that the two are pregnant). Maja, carrying the growing fetus, and Matej, fussing around and trying to find answers to his own questions. The book is both, a tribute to his wife, and a catharsis : the tribute to his beloved, involved in the slow process of giving birth and a catharsis for Matej, temporarily excluded of the process itself, trying to find a cure to his growing anxieties. And therefore, he used photography to express his feelings.
The book is a succession of small moments with different levels of concentration. We stay beside him staring at a detail of Maja’s body with the fascination of the changes of her forms, and then, we run outside with little bashfulness. It takes nine months to give birth and the changes of seasons work as a metaphor of the cycle of life.
A bit like a woman’s envy, while pregnant, Matej concentrates on some details which are completely out of context, some water drops, flowers, clothespins… like a wandering mind, always brought back to Maja playing guitar, fishing, walking in the street or having a shower. She is the obsession of the book, and whatever Matej tries to entertain his mind, he is always back to her.
One of the quality of the book is that it does not show us any chronology, it is all mixed up. We do not begin with a pregnancy test, neither end with the birth. When I was talking about a diary, it has more to do with feelings than with facts, except for a few photographs showing Maja’s belly, we would not even notice about her pregnancy and the changes that means for a couple. The book is about Matej’s love emphasized by his feelings.
This is finally the answer of his questions. Yes it has changed his life because she/they became, once and for all, the most important persons in his life.
Well… It is all a question of love ! And I wish the very best to you all members of this new family !
Hardcover book, 21×24 cm, 68 pages, limited edition of 500 books
Self published in 2014
More info : http://www.matejsitar.com/books
Booksigning at Le Bal, on Thursday 24th September, at 07h00 PM : http://www.le-bal.fr/fr/mh/le-bal-books/matej-sitar-morning-sun/
All images copyright Matej Sitar
Here is a short post which, for once, is not about a published book, but about a forthcoming one, which, so far only exists as an ebook.
Another Twenty-Six Gas Stations by Gregory Eddi Jones can either be called « a tribute to » or « a cover of » Ed Ruscha’s famous book.
When I was first contacted by Gregory, I thought this was about another attempt to create a book with some found footage or to use Ed Ruscha’s style to create a buzz on his name, as many have done.
In fact, the connection with Ruscha’s work is obvious and, for once, successful. The seminal « Twentysix gasoline stations » was part of both, renewal of modern photography, and one of the foundation of new landscape photography. Ruscha in the 60’s was attentive to the recent evolution of the society, which will be shown later in the « New Topographics » exhibition. The world was moving fast, mainly with the help of cars, people were always on the road. It was the peak of oil industry, and with this subject, ruscha showed us a portrait of the society imbricated with a self portrait (the road between his residence and the place where he grew up, kind of emphasizing the passage between childhood and adulthood).
In his own book, Gregory draws our attention to what are the components of contemporary society. Using the same topic, gas stations, he collected some film footage found on internet of which he extracted images. The book is a collection of 26 photos from surveillance cameras showing acts of robberies. We find here the key points of our society : the gas stations seen from inside as representation of the world of consumption where you can almost find everything. A second point is the use of surveillance cameras film footage which reminds us that we are always observed wherever we go and whatever we do ! Third point is the use of internet : the modern tool for appropriation of knowledge. This knowledge had become superficial and everybody has an opinion about everything, but this is the new way to explore a world (I already published a post about Street View) where we can find almost everything if you get enough time for it. Gregory deliberately kept the indications around the picture which indicates the provenance, as a sort of modern caption. The poor quality of the pictures is a metaphor of the poor quality of what we get access through internet.
What is also shown is the growth of violence which also refers to the world of consumption. Capitalism exacerbates the class distinctions which pushes more and more left out people to fall in a lawlessness world. It becomes a representation of what was supposed to be freedom and welfare but became an allienation. Benjamin Franklin once said : “If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both“. Here we are…
The photos also get a high aesthetics interest due the sort of modern choreography operating in front of our eyes. This could have been a recording of some of Pina Bausch spectacles.
Well it becomes an interesting subject and we could discuss for hours, and this is the reason why I like this book to come. Showing a collection of gas stations as a piece of art in the 60’s was probably equally disturbing as pretending that found film footage from internet can now be art in XXIst century. Maybe the weakness of the book is that, according to its contemporaneity, it should rather have become a virtual object like a beautiful app for iPad. Making it a paper book is a bit contradictory !
The book comes with an essay by Lance Speer and will be published in September 2014, you can pre-order it here : http://www.another26.com/
This is an extended version of a few thoughts that I have already published elsewhere.
The book was published in March 2012 and it is definitely an important, haunting book. A the cross of vernacular photography and found photography, this book is an album of the photos from what was called « la colonie des enfants d’Izieu ». This house was an orphanage created in the east part of France (former free zone), to protect Jewish children at the end of World War II. But under the order of Klaus Barbie (the infamous butcher of Lyon), on April 6th 1944, 44 children and 7 adults were arrested and moved to Drancy, then deported to Auschwitz or Reval, where they have been assassinated.
The book is an important testimony about this place. La Maison d’Izieu opened in 1994 to document the short “one year long” existence of the colony. It combines texts and images. A few texts have been written for the purpose of the book, for instance one by the chairman of “La maison d’Izieu”, introducing the purpose of the book: talking about life. And the beautiful text by Jean-Christophe bailly called “Dwell the time”, about mourning and moreover about the necessity to never forget. The photos come from the collection of the Maison d’Izieu and have been made during two period: the main corpus was done during the summer 1943, by different adults, working here, and teenagers who owned a camera and the last 7 photographs were shot, by a neighbour, on March 26th 1944, twelve days before the raid by the French authorities. A last series of photographs come at the end of the book to illustrate the complete list of the deported children and adults from the colony.
As a complement to my article, you can read the excellent essay published by paopagandaphotos blog about two books whose subject was the Nürnberg trial. In the essay, comes the question of the ability of photography, and photographers to show the unshowable or the infamous. This book about the colony of children tells so much about the stolen lives.