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