a Belgian photographer in Bolivia

Earlier this year I bought a copy of a book of political drawings by an eminent, living British artist and illustrator. (I’m not going to name names here, as I’m referring to private correspondence.) The book came with a letter (written in 1989) from the author to a person with a German name, whose identity is unclear. The letter has nothing to do with the book. Instead, much of it is about an entirely different book, a copy of which the letter seems to have originally accompanied.

This mystery book gets very high praise. The reader of the letter learns that it’s a photobook, of life at or surrounding Siglo XX, the notorious Bolivian tin mine. And that it’s by a young (in 1989), female, Belgian photographer, who subsequently returned to south America to photograph indigenous peoples.

A web search got me nowhere. Anyone have any idea what this book might be, or who the photographer might be?


books for So Books

Oh dear, hibernation lengthened into humid aestivation. True, I did go out on my bike, but only at a hypometabolic rate. And I did once briefly emerge for a top secret editorial session (not) for 10×10 Japanese photobooks.

Of course, even aggravated by the high percentage among new photobooks of “understated contemplative color […] Blank-gazed portraits, nondescript no-man’s areas, poignant vistas, etc” (zzz), a hypometabolic interlude didn’t stop additional photobooks from adding height to the piles on the floor of Microcord Mansions. Just last week: Dutch eyes. A huge and superb book — and one that, upon unwrapping, I immediately realized I’d already acquired. How could anyone accidentally buy a second copy of a book like this? Clearly, something was very wrong.

All in all I was very receptive to news from Mr Saito of an appeal for books (and prints) to help the excellent So Books get back on its feet after a destructive and expensive flood two months ago. So Books (here) is one of my favourite places in Tokyo, and clearly it needed some of my photobooks more than I did.

There’s going to be a sale of donated books and prints on 13–14 September. Just two days. So I dug around for books that I thought would go fast. The final selection for So-aid:

So Books aid

(The second one up is by some Swiss bloke that Parr ’n’ Badger natter on about quite a bit. Next one up is by a Japanese photographer who’ll forever be beneath their attention; that’s their loss and our gain. The other three induce intermediate degrees of salivation among photobookies.)

Yesterday I bagged the five and staggered under their weight to Poetic Scape, whose proprietor is generously storing all this stuff and hosting the two-day blowout sale. And who treated me to a glass of fizzy wine. As yet another bonus I could see a little show there, notably photos by Iinuma Tamami, whose series Salute, Mr Bruno Taut I like a lot.

Got any good photobooks you don’t actually need? Then send or take them to Poetic Scape. This is at Nakameguro 4-4-10, Meguro-ku (map); it’s open Wed, 16:00–22:00; Thu–Sun, 13:00–19:00.

By mid-September of course we’ll all need a topping-up of photobooks (and prints); so, cash in hand and equipped with eco-bags and backpacks, let’s all go along to Poetic Scape on 13–14 September. (Just among this year’s new books, I’d spring for a copy of Them or Home among black hills, if anyone would care to donate either.)

yet more opportunities for spending your cash

A belated discovery that the Daikan’yama branch of Tsutaya is open from 7 a.m. had me heading there (rather later) this morning, because why not. I emerged after no mammoth expense; in part because I missed (or perhaps because they didn’t have) Suda Issei’s latest: the pair of Tokyokei (here at its publisher, here at Nite-sha) and The journey to Osorezan (here at Nite-sha).

Later I might get one or even both; because after all I’m not yet bankrupt and the price of a copy of every one of these Japanese/Taiwanese Suda books from the last couple of years adds up to less than that of one sixth (the Suda part) of this plutocrat pack. And the new pair probably have photos that are a lot more rewarding than the average in the pluto-pak, too; though the latter does come “on [Nazraeli’s] exclusive heavyweight Japanese paper and bound in Japanese cloth”. (Me, I’m less interested in the nationality of binding material than in the degree of welcome it provides for mildew spores.)

So anyway, Daikan’yama Tsutaya. This store has new copies of She dances on Jackson (whose cover makes it the perfect complement to Watanave’s Hito), of the Super Labo zine Wild flowers, of Stakeout diary, and of other much-discussed books that I’ve read are out of stock elsewhere.

How can this be? I’d guess because this branch of Tsutaya is designed to “navigate the lifestyles” — really! that’s what they say — of the moins de vingt dents: people sufficiently sprightly to be cruising for photobooks while the youthful and civilized are still having breakfast, but lacking the energy to have gone to the vernissages months earlier and picked up the free booze and tips on who’s hot and who’s not.

18 October: Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam / Sakharov Centre Moscow / lenta.ru

First Rob Hornstra was refused a visa for Russia, then Arnold van Bruggen was refused one, then the Moscow exhibition of the Sochi Project was cancelled.


On Friday 18 October at 5pm, two alternative openings of The Sochi Project’s cancelled Moscow exhibition will be organised simultaneously in the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam (Pleinfoyer) and the Sakharov Centre / Fotodok Центр Документальной Фотографии (in collaboration with Lenta.Ru) in Moscow. A small part of the cancelled exhibition will be shown in Moscow. At the same time, an online version of the cancelled exhibition will go live on Russia’s largest news portal, Lenta.ru.

For more, see this.

If (unlike me) you’re somewhere between Yaroslavl and Kiev, or somewhere between Bretagne (regular or grand) and Copenhagen, then consider going along and seeing some photos. And if (unlike me) you’re into “social media”, then book the face of the exhibitions or twatter them or something.

Meanwhile, from darkest Tokyo, I raise a glass of Dutch beer to the success of the exhibitions. (Or rather, I’ll do so twelve hours from now.)

ethica incognita

Thames & Hudson used to publish photobooks; wondering if they still did, I surfed around their site and arrived at a book by one Sasha Gusov (Саша Гусов). What little I could see of it was interesting enough to have me duckduckgo for more, whereupon I learned of a (non-Thames-or-Hudson) book enticingly titled Belarus: Terra incognita. Photos from this aren’t obvious anywhere in Gusov’s website. The book’s page at Hurtwood Press (which prints and publishes what some body pays it to) also gives no samples, but does say it’s:

a collection of celebratory photographs of ordinary people living their lives in freedom, peace and happiness. […] The book has an introduction by Lord Bell and gives the lie to the western perception of this beautiful country as an autocratic dictatorship.

Oh? I hadn’t been thinking of autocracy or dictatorships. But since they were mentioned. . . . With no photos to look at, there wasn’t much to go on other than the unfamiliar name “Lord Bell”. Who might he be?

Well known in the context of Belarus, it seems. “The [Belarus] regime recently hired a UK spin doctor, Lord Timothy Bell, to polish its image abroad” (No breakthrough: Another dodgy election in Belarus, Economist, 2 October 2008). There’s more on his relationship with Belarus in ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ gets Western PR makeover (AFP, via Google, 29 November 2008).

Could Bell perhaps be some worthy, ennobled for philanthropy, whose spin-doctoring for Belarus was fully consistent with a disinterested love of that nation and appreciation of its regime? Time to investigate further.

In December 2011, Bell was the chairman of Bell Pottinger, a PR company whose employees “talked openly about the work the firm had done with other regimes with questionable human rights records including Sri Lanka and Belarus”. They were happy to be paid to fend off pesky questions about Uzbekistan, and claimed to be able to stitch up Wikipedia articles (Caught on camera: top lobbyists boasting how they influence the PM, The Independent, 6 December 2011). The claims about Wikipedia have been verified (Wikipedia founder attacks Bell Pottinger for ‘ethical blindness’, The Independent, 8 December 2011).

In 2006, “veteran fixer Tim Bell” agreed with the Saudi regime that an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into “allegations that huge Saudi bribes had been paid by arms group BAE Systems to get weapons deals” was not necessary (Brutal politics lesson for corruption investigators, Guardian, 16 December 2006).

Bell Pottinger has done much work for the Bahrain regime (PR watch: Bell Pottinger Private, Bahrain Watch).

Hard to avoid the suspicion that Bell is happy to shill for anyone. But as he points out, while he’s not a priest, he does know the difference between right and wrong (Professional liar Lord Tim Bell with a fawning Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight). That’s good to know. Indeed, “he would not work for the Labour Party because he would lack the conviction to do so, and so believes he would do a bad job.” Though he did have the conviction to work for Pinochet, the South African National Party, and the mysteriously affluent Mark Thatcher (Godfather of spin with his fingerprints all over history, The Observer, 17 December 2006).

Bell signs the “Introduction” (preface) to the book “Lord Bell” — I’d thought plain “Bell” was good form for somebody who’s not a screaming lord — and unashamedly describes himself as “Former political advisor to Margaret Thatcher”. He was variously indiscreet in his youth (Do unethical lobbyists feel any pain at the dirty, seedy role they play in politics?, The Independent, 7 December 2011) — was the Thatcher association merely another such indiscretion? Back in 1994, when he “[had] a splendid house in Belgravia and [drove] a Bentley”, he was asked “Is Lady Thatcher still your heroine?” and responded:

Certainly. I have met some remarkable people in my life, but she was the greatest. She was in touch with the mood of the people more than any PM has ever been, and she freed the people from the burdens of the state.

(Just don’t mention the Spam fritters, The Independent, 24 May 1994)

For both instances of “the people”, read “the people living splendidly in Belgravia”, and Bell’s observation starts to make sense.

But back to the Belarus book. Further digging reveals more photos from it: some here at the book’s designer, others here (not obviously an organ of Fox “News”). These have a childish kind of humour and aren’t bad. On the cover is a leafy figure that you might momentarily take as a character from some pagan festival — until you suddenly notice his large weapon. The book then starts with a preface full of truisms, non sequiturs and falsities by a professional propagandist who has publicly succeeded in deluding himself. I can only infer that after taking the money for the book, Gusov did his best to turn it into a joke. Smart move.

Russia puts the clock back

The Sochi Project’s website has been revamped (English; Dutch), so that it displays what must surely be the content of the upcoming book, An atlas of war and tourism in the Caucasus. (If the Sochi Project is entirely new to you, then for a quick introduction try this at HuffPo.)

Rob Hornstra (photographer) and Arnold van Bruggen (writer) have already produced a book about the north Caucasus that for me is the best photobook of the year so far. But Rob can’t return to Russia (even for an exhibition starting less than three weeks from now), because his visa application has been turned down. (Arnold’s application is still being processed.)

Read about it here at RIA or here at the Calvert Journal. But not about the reason for declining the application, because no reason has been supplied.

If I knew any Russian diplomat, I’d ask about this matter.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded of a much older book.

Edgar Mowrer, Germany puts the clock back