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/
In 2013, the superb book « Promising waters » took us around the Caspian Sea to discover new post-Soviet states located around this inland sea. The new work of Mila Teshaieva reverse, this time, the proposal to make us discover an island and its inhabitants. Result of a two-year residency at the Museum Kunst der Westküste on the German island of Föhr in the North Sea, with this new series, Mila tries to understand what gathers and unites the people in their insularity (the title of the book is literally « being insular »).
It is never easy to arrive as a foreigner on an island, to enter a community without having acquired the codes. Thus you should take your time, give pledges to be accepted, and clearly, Mila has earned the trust of the islanders. She met locals and began his photographic work. A text, written by Marcus Lenz, in the book sums up this way to depict a territory : « The darkness sharpens your senses, suddenly you can hear the tiny sounds and you know where they’re coming from. You can see at night ». This is how we enter this world, Mila chose to literally paint with light his subjects. The photographs are made at night, they are very dark and we have to pay attention to explore the scene with characters and objects that are, in the darkness, revealed by a light brush. The photographic time is long, the image stretches and we are transported back in time. The characters are frozen, beyond all eternity, each focused on its task as if generations mingled to tell us the island. At no time we will cross a look and if sometimes it seems that one of them stare at us, his gaze pierces us and is already far behind us.
The choice of costumes and the use of light transform those images into paintings, particularly due to the effects of light and shade as found in Caravaggio or in some Flemish painters, but the reference to the painting also appears in a sense of déjà vu, like in Cezanne Card Players or Women at their toilette by Picasso, a sort of revisiting the history of painting ! Representation is clever, there is no need to show everything to say things. On the contrary, to represent is already taking sides, choosing what will be seen and deleting what is of no interest, putting in light, to finally understand what unites these men and women, to reach this timeless dimension, which, from universal becomes singular on this island and wwhich were the fundamentals of the community. A dimension that appears only to the one who will take the time, who will remain silent in the middle of the night to watch every gesture, every movement, to listen to every sound. The characters are revealed and nature comes to life, we discover the ancestral activities that were hunting and fishing, seasons, events, everything that was specific to the island despite the development of a seaside tourism resort in the early XIXth century. Any modernity is erased, as if the light only reveals that what lasts.
We leave this book as an imaginary world. We do not know if the story told was real or if we were asleep, just for a moment, while our imagination wandered. It remains however a few pictures, slightly unclear, of these bodies and objects that can be seen in the dark, and the feeling of coming back from a long journey in time.
The only frustration that remains at the end of this book is the desire to see the photographs in a larger size and high print quality. As for paintings, after seeing the book, we would like to see the work for real, to appreciate all the details and finesse. Of course, the offset process has difficulty to render the subtleties of lighting used.
Hardcover book published in 2016 by Kehrer Verlag, 23 x 21 cm, 96 pages, 38 color photos, texts in German and English by Marcus Lenz.
More info : http://www.milateshaieva.com/books
A previous review of Mila Teshaieva’s Promising Waters : https://whoneedsanotherphotoblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/promising-waters-by-mila-teshaieva/
St Davids is a small village, at the end of the world (1841 inhabitants) where Alex spent a part of his childhood. Well, in fact, St Davids is a city ! I remember years ago, talking to an English friend about what is the difference between a city and a town, and he told me a city is a place with a cathedral. So St Davids is the smallest city of the United Kingdom, located at the westernmost point of the Pembrokeshire in Wales. The place takes its name from the settlement around the monastery that David, Saint Patron of Wales founded in the VIth century. The Welsh name « Tyddewi » means literraly David’s house, which is the title of the book.
As often, the places in recluse areas are like islands, and the people who live there form an united community surrounded by a strong landscape, mainly of rocky coasts facing the sea. The landscape is both a constituent element and a unifying element. The landscape and the people become one. The community consists of a delicate mix between a landscape that shapes men and men who shape the landscape. There are however no struggle here, but rather a sort of ballet, a dance of seduction, a common love between Man and Nature.
As a native from this city, Alex returned to his hometown to meet the locals. A neighbour, Dai Turner, was the starting point of this work : a desire to go to meet the people and to better understand them. During a slow work, we go side by side with Alex. We stop for a chat with someone we met, a proud man standing in his workshop, his tools on a wall, talking about his former life as a coxswain on a lifeboat, and who can, now, spend hours looking out at the sea ; or a retired farmer explaining his first date with the girl who’s gonna become his wife, on a boat to collect seagull’s eggs ! Both the portraits and the texts are touching and full of empathy. The portraits are very successful, and the texts provide some « extra time ». They are a complement which creates a synergistic effect. The quality of Alex as portraitist makes them beautiful, but mostly manages to make us understand that community. Photographed in situation, we perceive a link, something intangible that makes them part of a whole. All generations mingled, from older, settled on the land for generations, to younger, who have recently moved and have chosen this place by love. All of them stand proudly and look straight at us and say: yes, we are here and nothing will make us leave this city.
And between these portraits, we traverse the moor, we walk through the countryside, we follow a stream … and always come back to the sea. It must be said that three quarters of the area are made of rocky coasts. Life here is punctuated by the tides. We leave the Cathedral and we go to the fields, pass by a housing estate, we see an old abandoned caravan, toilets close to mobile-homes, farms… There is no doubt that this work is a representation « from the inside », which is offered by someone initiated to roads and detours. Again, the texts come back to mind, they form a kind of soundtrack that accompanies our walk and then, some words become evident : how could it be otherwise ?
The main economy of the town is tourism, but we do not perceive tourists, neither the area around the cathedral or some souvenirs shops. St Davids, as presented to us here, is the one those tourists who spend breezed along the beautiful coast of Pembrokeshire, will probably never see. They will not take the time necessary to understand this place. They will never see the bulb on a ceiling, or green beans freshly picked from the garden beside a cup of tea. Neither they will see all the villagers gathered in the village city ballroom around a mulled wine and the Welsh flag proudly hanged on the wall. Then the night finally falls on St Davids when silence settles. We perceive a light behind the blinds of a house, we look at the starry sky above the village and the sea remains in mind, as it all began and where it ends, as a final tribute to the missing at sea, common tragedies for such territories.
I might as well continue, talking about each image, listening to these stories, but the best is to preserve a little mystery. You will need to take the time to discover Tyddewi ; and with Alex Ingram as a guide, we can feel we have all grown up here!
Limited Edition Hardback (edition of 20) + 10″x8″ archival print, handmade , 21,5 X 28,5 cm , 114 pages, 55 colour images and paperback edition of 50, perfect bound.
« David’s House » has been shortlisted for the South West Graduate Photography Prize! The project will be exhibited alongside 6 other photographers at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane between 13th-16th October, with the opening night on Thursday 13th October, followed by further exhibitions in Bristol and Falmouth.
More info : http://www.alexingramphoto.com/
Another book by Alex Ingram previously reviewed : https://whoneedsanotherphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/the-sociology-of-football-an-unconditional-love-by-alex-ingram-and-fc-volga-united-by-sergey-novikov/
Torsten Schumann is a German photographer, born in 1975 in Dresden. Thus, until the age of 14, he grew up in German Democratic Republic. It has been said a lot about the communist bloc countries, but I have absolutely no idea what it could have represented to live in one of these countries. However I think that having experienced the transition of the unification of Germany leads to a very personal way of looking at the world. He started photography in the 90s, following various courses and began exploring public space, mainly in Germany.
Torsten could be considered a humorist, which is the sense of the foreword written by Hannes Wanderer, who published the book through his excellent publishing house Peperoni Books. Torsten likes to play with reality. He walks through the city, like everyone else, but it seems not to see the same things. He’s the kind of guy who, when you point your finger to show him something, turns his head to look at the other side. Nothing is more boring for him than the obvious!
This way of looking at the world transports us into a fantasy world. I can not help but think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, in which Torsten would be the mysterious rabbit that we want to follow and let it guide us in this mysterious world that is behind the scenes. It is a story passer, a revealer of the world. He allows us to understand what hitherto remained mysterious to us, what we do not see because of lack of understanding. We look at the world with distance, as spectators behind the mirror, and thus we discover the « behind the scenes » of these public spaces we travel regularly without paying attention.
There is a kind of minimalism of the ordinary in the photographs in the book. And yet the compositions are very sophisticated. One wonders how the photographer have gotten there, and what patience it took him to capture these moments. The colors are right, framing affirmed. Everything or everyone finds his place. Obviously, this work questions once again the relationship between beauty in representation and beauty in life. The subjects of the photographs are not beautiful, far from it. This is an apology of nooks, waste, poorly finished bricolages, all the little abandoned places that bother us, that « spoil us the view », to turn them into paintings with precise compositions that we think just coming out of the workshop of a painter who would patiently reconstructed the scene from still moments. The captured characters are timeless, frozen for eternity in this pose somewhat ungainly and clumsy, but that makes them so endearing.
Torsten is a precise colorist who manipulates color values subtly, from a shimmer of bright colors to images of such neutral gray that you would think they’re black and white (one of my favorite is the one of a lower part of a building and garage with a bent woman who melts into the gray values of the building). And of course, he also cleverly uses the light that comes to saturate a detail or reveal the transparency of a shadow. Each photograph is so « rich » that it takes time to read and reread this book. With each reading, we discover a detail that we had not noticed before. We have to take the time to fully understand this representation of the world.
Really, this little facetious rabbit still holds some surprises!
Published by Peperoni Books in 2016. Beautiful pearl effect hardcover book, 24 x 28 cm, 96 pages, 55 color photographs.
More info : http://torstenschumann.de/
And the publisher’s site : http://peperoni-books.de/cars_clothes_cabbages_en.html
Iran (former Persia) is a fascinating country, known to be the cradle of civilization; the country went through the twentieth century by first, having one of the most dynamic intellectual society, and then, since 1979, a closed and authoritarian religious society. Very slowly, the country opens again, offering us the opportunity to rediscover it.
Davide Palmisano and Manuela Marchetti offer us a song for two voices. Two photographers who travel Iran in 2015 and who deliver their vision of the country. Each of their books is written in the thickness of time. Together, they revisit the history of Persia.
Davide’s book is entitled « Timeless Persia » and, following his traces, we discover Iran as a palimpsest. He looks at the successive layers that have shaped the country. He stops on materials, on networks that accumulate and become entangled. We discover a country on the move, a country that never stops. It is built and rebuilt continuously, keeping the scars of the past. It rubs constantly to the past and it becomes difficult to date the photographs, archival images come mix with contemporary views. We keep this feeling that everything has always been where it should be: a kind of cultural resilience, a resilience of shapes.
One begins to dream of Scheherazade, each page is a snippet of a tale that holds us in suspense until the next page. Large black-and-white photos on double pages take us across the country, they chant the rhythm. This is a slow time between the faster sequences, the time of the passing with the feeling of these landscapes already known. The book is completed with texts that remain ununderstandable to me, as written in Italian and Farsi, but that is part of the « journey », these unknown sounds, like the multitude of signs that are piling up on some images which we pictorially read. We are captives and when the book ends, we have to start it again… and again.
Manuela’s book is entitled « Sokut » meaning « silence », in Farsi. As « Timeless Persia » was noisy, or to better say sonorous with a design that varied rhythms as a traditional song, as « Sokut » is silent like these harmonics that we do not hear but create depth in melodies. Time seems to have stopped and we discover a long poem. We stop on details, private moments and places that each image slowly inscribed in us. Frames are tightened, we are looking our way in a quiet place. The persons are faceless, the only faces we see are only representations (photos, paintings, statues…). We wander anonymously in the town, a quiet town, soothed. No matter that we no longer find our way, we loose ourselves with relish, looking for freshness or a moment in the shade, to settle in calm.
Texts come punctuate the book, alternating with images. These are poems of two of the greatest Iranian poetess: Simin Behbahani and Forugh Farrokhzad. Two women who have their whole lives claimed women’s voices. And the book ends with an excerpt from « It is only sound that remains », the voice of women finally out of the silence, full of sorrows but also of hope. In that way, this book is decidedly feminist, it is a tribute to all those women who have built the country in silence.
I’ve never really asked myself about the difference between male or female representation through the use of photography, but it is so clearly evident here with these two books. Maybe it is partially due to the fact that we are focusing on a society that is cleaved between men and women. But anyway, the combination of the two works is very interesting, Manuela and Davide evolve within a country, they can work side by side but look at things differently, tell words (or silence) differently. Although claimed as two separate and independent works, it remains true that there is a real added value to associate them to better succumb to the charm of Sheherazade and be guided in this tale of the « Thousand and One Nights ».
Timeless Persia, by Davide Palmisano. Softcover self published in 2016, 16,5 x 24 cm, 76 photos , 96 pages. Limited print run : 150 copies signed and numbered.
More info : http://dpalmisano.jimdo.com/books/
Sokut, by Manuela Marchetti. Softcover self published in 2016, 21,5 x 15 cm, 35 photos, 96 pages. Limited print run : 150 copies signed and numbered.
More info : http://manuelamarchetti.jimdo.com/books/
How to start talking about this book? Perhaps noting that this book is one of the weirdest that I have seen recently. In 2014, when Bruce went round the publishers, the answer was quite unanimous: this book cannot be published… too strong. What a strange answer! It is true that many publishers have become very cautious and unwilling to take any risks, despite the fact that it is their role. Some even ask photographers to participate in the production of their book through crowdfunding campaigns. We are far from a Robert Delpire who, against all American reluctance and with a resolutely avant garde editorial approach, published “Les Américains” by Robert Frank and “New York” by William Klein.
Let’s be back to our subject. No clues about the suject when we discover the book. A black linen cover with just the photographer’s name : Bruce Connew, followed by the title of the book : Body of work. We open the book on a new black page before arriving to the title page, inserted on a special light blue paper : this blue used by parents to repaint the room of the boy to come. The last page of the book, which includes a text from the author and the colophon is … pink, the same pink with which parents repaint the bedroom of the girl to come. Two ribbons to mark pages are of these same colors. I always like, when I discover a new book, to look at the title page, and then go through the colophon before interesting myself in the content itself.
We then return to the beginning of the book and, between two white pages, we find inserted a small photograph of wildflowers, like a torn page of a notebook or a diary like those used to note the daily tasks. And the first image appears on the following page. A large dark image on which we recognize the hoof and lower part of the leg of a horse and his erect penis. A slow rythm will settle through the pages, double pages alternating with blank ones, all in a certain dim light. Muscles tense, we are witnessing a beautiful ballet between the stallion and the mare. The book is violent and intense. He tells us about the reproductive process within the equine world. But beyond this, it is also the story of a fascination Bruce Connew had since a former photograph he saw a long time ago already. His first approach was still uncertain and one can imagine the surprise of the owner of the barn when Bruce told him about his plan! This is the way a new work emerges, there is a kind of intuition of the subject that is often difficult to formulate; this is classic, the subject will be built slowly. In the case of Bruce Connew, the idea of documenting the world of horse-breeding was full of presupposition, but after spending months scrutinizing the horse breeding process, he became attentive to every detail! And from that patience was born this superb book. You could almost miss an important aspect of the work, focused on the formalist photographs, shapes and light that glides on the fur. But taking the time to look at pictures, back and forward, you may discover all the sensitivity of this work that appears in the amazing gazes. Everything happens in the dark, you have to be constantly attentive to detect these tiny details. If the eyes are the mirror of the soul, Bruce asserts: Through mournful eyes, they would make known an understanding of their peculiar predicament.
The book is beautifully printed, which is necessary to render this special atmosphere of the barn in a dim light, we come to smell the musky smell of horses, the sweat, the semen. What was formerly related to economic issues simply becomes sensitive. For those who followed horse races and bets at bookmakers, you know the importance of filiation in the racehorses world, the temptation of a genetic optimization for the “perfect” animal with “absolute” qualities. But all that is set aside here and Bruce well says : I wonder now whether this was my construction, and sprang from somewhere other than what I witnessed in the breeding barn. His work is convincing because, at the end of his book, we ask ourselves the same question! I will probably never look at a mare the way I did before this book. And to be honest, it has taken me some time to really enter this book, but it is definitely worth a review.
And by the way, the 38 images of the series (size 800 x 532mm, frame size 830 x 562 mm) are available for international exhibitions, and I would love to see them, because, even if the book is beautiful, I would so much appreciate to see the large prints.
Hardcover book self published in 2015 in New Zealand ; 24 x 35 cm, black linen cover, 68 pages with 38 black and white photos. Signed and numbered in an edition of 600 copies.