The Waiting Room

Independent photobooks, yes please! After all, who’d condemn photobooks to dependence or serfdom? And hooray for The Independent Photobook, an excellent browse. But all too often I read its descriptions of new publications merely for the unintended humour. The current top four:

a re-exploration of Penn Wood, Buckinghamshire and a journey back to a vivid childhood fantasy. Working at dawn, dusk and night blending natural and constructed lighting techniques in conjunction with elements from the landscape, the betwixt, large-scale images lie in a place that is somewhere between realities, as if you have stumbled upon a happening £20.00
the whirlwind relationship between the young Japanese photographer and a young mother of two in a series of intimate color photographs $75
A brief summery of my first year in Los Angeles after leaving Philadelphia. Installing other peoples art, making friends, seeing shows and surfing. $10
Regarding photography as visual expression, I attempt to capture impression of experiences, a result of my visual influence on it, by realizing elements as it can be interruption of sight ¥1500

Some of these may be good, but I wouldn’t know because I didn’t look: the very blurb somehow managed to make each sound no more whelming than does the modish mainstream. But the other day among all the art-school stuff there appeared:

The Waiting Room is a ten-year documentary project, taking a look at this unique country squeezed between Europe and Russia. The main focus is on daily life, atmosphere, and questions of post-Soviet identity, not politics or Chernobyl. $25

The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)“This unique country” being Belarus.

At last, somebody (Bill Crandall) who actually spent time and effort trying to get the best photographs of something. Most refreshing. A quick look at the photographs to which this linked confirmed the good impression. Minutes later, I ordered the book. And a very few days afterwards, it arrived.

Packed well, too. (Which does not go without saying. Though I’d long presumed that no self- or small publisher could pack as incompetently/malevolently as, last year a tiny London publisher proved me wrong.)

Bill Crandall’s photography is good, and it’s varied too. But a couple of negatives need saying. First, the printing is reminiscent of photobooks from twenty or more years ago; or, for the present day, very much of self-publishing or small publishing. I’m spoiled by duotone, but anyway I’m aware of the lack of true black here. A pity, but no doubt unavoidable in the circumstances.

More strangely, the book is “portrait” format even though the ratio of “landscape” to “portrait” photographs is about eleven to one. Some of the former go across a double-page spread:

The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)

Holding the book with one hand, as above, of course exaggerates the effect of the gutter. But not by very much: Even holding the book with two hands and flattening it as much as I dare, I can’t enjoy the photograph as a whole. Putting a photograph across a double-page spread rarely fails to screw it up. (A humongous exception is Arif Aşçı’s İstanbul Panorama; a compact part-exception is Jason Eskenazi’s Wonderland.) Book designers: Please don’t do this.

The “portrait” photographs are presented very well:

The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)

The photograph on the right is unusual: Crandall more often keeps a little distance.

The commonest arrangement is one “landscape” photograph per page, as seen below.

The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)
The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)
The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall)

All good, and the photograph to the left of the first of those three page-spreads is a masterpiece. (“Doisneau meets Blake Andrews”, one might say.)

(And if you’re interested by the one at the bottom left, be sure also to see Circus, by Valeria Mitelman.)

The Waiting Room (Bill Crandall): introductionThe book comes with a long and interesting introduction (in both English and Russian) by Victor Martinovich, who is the author of the novel Paranoia, which I can’t read (though an English translation is on its way) and which people in Belarus can’t buy. And the book concludes with a discussion about being Belarusian with Valery Kavaleuski, who has seen Belarus from outside as well as within.

The printing quality and page size of the book don’t do justice to the photographs. But this is so much happier than all those photobooks for which the photographs don’t merit the exquisite printing. Every photobookstore I know has piles of the latter kind of book. Fashions will change and what’s now trendy will eventually be passé, and your copy (one of just five hundred) of The Waiting Room may become a “collectible” — but no matter if it doesn’t, because you’ll have enjoyed good photography for a modest outlay.

Bill Crandall. The Waiting Room: Photographs from Belarus. [Washington, DC: Bill Crandall, 2012.] ISBN 978-1-4675-0193-4. (The book should be here at Worldcat, but isn’t so yet.) Available here at Big Cartel.

Crandall’s website seems a bit opaque, but maybe this is because (as Iceweasel tells me) “Additional plugins are required to display all the media on this page.” A lot of his photographs are here at Photoshelter. He’s here at Metro Collective; here’s his blog; there’s an interview-via-email of him here (in English, it’s here in Russian). There’s a video about (and showing) this work here and another showing much of the content of this book here.

Above I may have given the impression of poohpoohing any photobook that’s not the result of years of work, or of not appreciating The Independent Photobook (other than for unintended comedy) or the books that it introduces. Wrongo! First, though I’ve given up hope of locating a copy of Krass Clement’s Drum (entire content photographed in one evening) for a palatable price, I’m looking forward to its Errata mini-edition as much as anybody is. Secondly, I’ve bought six or ten books via The Independent Photobook and been happy with most, and below are some more that I haven’t seen but that look tempting (or at the least are titled alluringly):

Copyright of the images above belongs to Bill Crandall, not to me.


3 Comments on “The Waiting Room”

  1. Hester says:

    Hey Mr. Micro! Thanks for ordering via The Independent Photo Book. It means our selfless service to the community bears its rightful fruits. One remark about the descriptions: as true punk bookshop, we don’t curate the selection, we just list anyone who lacks a proper distribution network and whose books adhere to our formal criteria. Taste-making and cherry-picking we leave to our dear readers, because: isn’t it more fun to make your own discoveries? Cheers, Hester

    • microcord says:

      Hello Hester! That’s only half the rightful fruits. The other half was: Me clicking on the “Donate” button. (I did, I did! But soon I should do it a second time.)

      Yes, you’re entirely right. The write-ups aren’t yours, and the books may be more appealing than the sometimes rather too earnest or too studiedly casual write-ups suggest. But I do like browsing it all.

      Aside from this fine American book of Belarus, I’ve got a Spanish book of the Ukraine, a Slovenian book of Albania, and more via your fine site.

      My commuter pass won’t extend to Groningen, so I can’t see “Cruel and Unusual” for myself. I hope that a link to its catalogue will appear in the Independent Photobook.

  2. Thanks a lot for the thoughtful and thorough writeup, including reasonable quibbles w/design and printing.

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