the photobooks of 2014

No “best of” nonsense here. Instead, here are all of the photobooks (defined broadly) published in 2014 (narrowly) that I acquired.

pile of 2014 photobooks

(Keep in mind the proportions of the pile above: the photos below of the individual books are at wildly different scales.)

Rob Hornstra has given some handy tips on how to get on end-of-year lists. Such as:

A GOOD NETWORK (send them stuff, beautiful things, [illegible], social media)

(Or that’s what Colin Pantall says.)

No, no, all but one of this lot, I bought. Aside from books duly paid for, none of the photographers/writers has sent me a beautiful thing, honest.

Each of the books is good in its way, but I do have qualms about having acquired the whole lot: I don’t have the space. (Writing them all up here might somehow nudge me towards buying fewer next year.)

Araki Nobuyoshi, Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife

As Araki approaches 75, he’s lost his wife, his cat, his sight in one eye, and his house; he’s come through a bout of cancer; and his sense of mortality is acute. But he still seems energetic and satyric. So he’s a lovable-old-rogue national treasure. (The type isn’t rare in Japan, but previous national-treasure photographers have tended to devote their later years to creating somniferous series of Buddhist statuary and so on.) This year Araki’s had a big show at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Niigata City Art Museum, and (Ginza) Shiseido Gallery, which is about as good as it can get as long as the already clean, fresh and well-appointed Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is inscrutably “closed for renovations”. I haven’t yet seen the show, but here’s its book.

According to Wikipedia, ōjō means “rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha” (not to be confused with the Pure Land of Sanrio); those in search of naked ladies will be seriously disappointed. But we do get about three hundred pages of photos, followed by sporadically interesting texts (Japanese and English). Of course there’s Yōko; there are stages in the life of Araki’s cat; the toy-strewn roof, and other series one might expect. There’s some (not enough) of the very early Ginza hipshots. There’s a large chunk of not-so-special photos of people sitting in the train. There’s Tokyo seen through smashed glass. (Apparently the Master smashes a lens annually to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima, or something. I don’t understand how both a broken lens element [or filter] and much of a townscape could simultaneously be more or less in focus on 24×36 mm; but I have worse things to smash with a hammer and so I’m not going to experiment.) And there are other pleasures. And plenty of the totally humdrum. (There’s a photo from last year of Araki with Umezu Kazuo. Yes I know what the hand contortion refers to, and it’s good to see old boys enjoying themselves, but . . . that’s it.) However, with Araki, it’s “the greater the quantity, the more arākist”. Or so I’m repeatedly instructed.

Well, disregard any content that doesn’t float your boat, and enjoy what does. And don’t rush to dispose of your other Araki books. Naked ladies aside, I infer that images of the world outside Japan aren’t thought suitable for the afterlife, or for whatever reason we get nothing of Seoul, from where, unburdened by celebrity, Araki has been able to bring back good photos.

Araki Nobuyoshi, Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife

Araki Nobuyoshi = 荒木経惟. 往生写集 = Ōjō shashū: Photography for the afterlife. Tokyo: Heibonsha. ISBN 978-4-582-27811-8.

Kikai Hiroh, Seken no hito

The bunkobon format (A6, or 105×148 mm) isn’t obviously suited to photobooks. Still, some of the various bunkobon publishers give it a try now and again. And the few examples can be long-lasting: all four volumes of a Chikuma set on the Japanese photos of Kimura Ihei are still in print 19 years after publication.

Here’s the first bunkobon by Kikai: more photos in the series variously titled Kings, Persona and Asakusa portraits than ever before gathered in a single book. (The title this time around means “people of the world”, or more precisely those of the loka, whether singular or plural.) It has close to four hundred photos; and while there’s no real black in them the printing is detailed, so the book is no mere novelty. If you want maximum Kikai portraiture per yen or gram, this is the book for you. I enjoy dipping into it and encountering photos I’ve not seen elsewhere. For example, of a girl with a zip-fastened bag in the shape of a hand grenade — yes, in Japan even a hand grenade may be kawaii — and, mysteriously, the character 魃 (hiderigami, a demon of droughts), tattooed on the back of her hand, staring at the camera.

As usual the photos are all captioned; unsurprisingly there’s not a word of English in the book.

Kikai Hiroh, Seken no hito

Kikai Hiroh = 鬼海弘雄. 世間のひと (Seken no hito). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō. ISBN 978-4-480-43156-1.

Hara Mikiko, These are days

These are days is just the second collection by Hara Mikiko. Could it be a response to Ishiuchi Miyako’s cromulently titled One days? Whatever Hara was thinking of, we get 25 colour photos from her 6×6 Super Ikonta rangefinder, well printed but in a stapled booklet and priced to go. (Another publisher would have given it a cloth cover, added “limited, numbered and signed” mumbo-jumbo, and trebled the price.) Most of the photos are in the “outtakes from something that might be interesting” genre: straggly plants, people with their eyes closed, the out of focus: Tokyo’s photobookshops have tons of stuff that looks like this and is negligible; but maybe because Hara takes her time and is selective, it starts to work here.

Hara Mikiko, These are days

Hara Mikiko = 原美樹子. These are days. Tokyo: Osiris. ISBN 978-4-905254-04-1.

Ogawa Yasuhiro, Shimagatari

Ogawa Yasuhiro is best known for Slowly down the river. His new book, Shimagatari (“island tale(s)”) looks very different: it’s in black and white, it’s of more or less depopulated places, and with its near-black expanses and tilted horizons it could have come from the 1970s. Ogawa is drawn to the islands; and what with economic gloom, rural depopulation, the decline of fishing, and perhaps also the recent appetite of the book’s editor (Sokyusha’s proprietor) for photos of decaying provincial Japan. But unlike the monotonous majority of recent books of decaying provincial Japan, this one took almost a decade to create and shows great variety. For each of the circa 65 photos, island and year are specified; but there’s almost no other explanation, leaving the reader (or this reader) eager for more information. And also eager to visit some of these islands.

Ogawa Yasuhiro, Shimagatari

Ogawa Yasuhiro = 小川康博. 島語り = Shimagatari. Tokyo: Sokyusha. ISBN 978-4-904120-43-9.

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto 5

Each “volume” of Ariphoto selection is a large-format (somewhere between B4 and A3) booklet of twenty pages, one excellent B/W photo on almost every page. The first two are of Tokyo (mostly Shinjuku) street portraiture, the third took a diversion to Tibet, and the fourth came back to Shinjuku. (All four are now sold out.) But now Ariphoto selection 5 depicts Okutama, Tokyo’s fairly wild west — primarily, its insects. The insects (and the occasional spider, etc) are shown close up, in detail; but it’s further from conventional insect photography (or Larry Fink’s mantis photography) than from the explorations in pattern by the restless Yasui Nakaji. For anyone who appreciates B/W and has at least a little curiosity about bugs. As always, you could buy two copies, cut the pages apart, and frame them.

Arimoto Shinya, Ariphoto 5

Arimoto Shinya. Ariphoto selection 5. Tokyo: Totem Pole Photo Gallery.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline

In 2011 Zhang Xiao won the Prix HSBC, bringing with it Actes Sud’s publication of the book Coastline. For this series he went all along the coastline of China (or so I’ve read). Some photos are of townscapes that aren’t obviously close to the sea, but these are a minority. As “the Chinese” are often depicted toiling away (when not lost within more or less surreal cityscapes), it’s refreshing for Chinese people to be depicted doing nothing in particular.

Though the Actes Sud Coastline is still in print, along comes a new and larger book of the same title. The earlier Coastline gives you about forty photos for an RRP of €25; the later 118 for $65. There’s a lot of overlap; either one book should be enough.

The sunshine is muted, whether by loess or smog, and the colour balance is slightly pinkish. The photos tend toward seaside “street”, with indecisive moments aplenty. There are some very odd scenes indeed, for a example one with a dozen or so model elephants and hundreds of model bison seemingly abandoned in a park.

The new book is “Swiss bound”: this is supposed to “look handmade yet totally refined”, but to me it just looks like a regular hardback whose front endpaper someone has sliced with a box cutter; I wonder how well the book will last if shelved vertically. That matter aside, it’s a very handsome package.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao. 海岸綫 (海岸线) = Coastline. Sham Shui Po, Kowloon: Jiazazhi Press. ISBN 978-988-12631-5-5. Book of colour photographs, no captions. With a booklet containing texts in both Chinese and English.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸線 = Coastline

When Zen Foto Gallery (Roppongi) gave Zhang a show (September–October), it published a booklet to accompany this. I bought the Jiazazhi Coastline at the show. But then, because I’m either an idiot or (shudder) a collector, I also bought this booklet, whose content is anyway in the book. Its circa 35 pages present about 26 photos. The photos across double-page spreads survive this fairly well. Printing is good too, so it’s a decent substitute for one or other of the Coastline books.

張曉 = 张晓 = Zhang Xiao, 海岸線 = Coastline

Zhang Xiao. 海岸線 = Coastline. Tokyo: Zen Foto Gallery. Texts in Japanese, Chinese and English.

Jens Olof Lasthein, Home among black hills

Jens Olof Lasthein is the master of colour panoramic “street” (which can be sampled within the patchy but worthwhile Street photography now). Here’s his report from Charleroi, whose fabric remains much as I hazily remember it, where times are hard but where the streets and bars remain full of life.

Lots of photos here: I’m not going to count. As in Lasthein’s Moments in between and White Sea, Black Sea before it, every photo is split across two pages. The photos survive the mistreatment; but quite why a photographer and three respected photobook publishers (Journal, Max Ström, Dewi Lewis) would agree to screw up photos in this way is a mystery. And similarly to its predecessors, this book has saturated colours. It comes with diary entries by Lasthein and an essay by Mano Calvo (the Charleroi restaurateur?), all worth reading.

All those brick terraces — I suddenly think of Byker, and how the new photography in Byker revisited is virtually all indoors. What would Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen say about this book? Now there’s a photography talk show I’d attend.

Or rather, I’d attend it if it were held in Tokyo — and I see no prospect of that. Lasthein writes that “This project came into being during a residence initiated by Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi. . . .” The Museum of Photography, Seoul adds that Lasthein exhibited there in 2008; and as this new book has texts in Swedish, French, English and Korean, presumably there’s a new exhibition there too. So the Charleroi museum and the Seoul museum differ from Tokyo’s timid photo museum, where (when it’s open at all) photography by foreigners seem to have to be of Japan, very famous, by the dead, prettily dull, or some combination thereof.

Jens Olof Lasthein, Home among black hills

Jens Olof Lasthein. Home among black hills. Stockholm: Journal. ISBN 978-91-981253-6-8. Text in English, French, Swedish and Korean.

Derk Zijlker, Souvenir de Charleroi

We’re among black hills again. “Charleroi was voted ‘ugliest city in the world’ in 2008 by readers of a Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant”, starts Derk Zijlker. This of course drew him to Charleroi, which he found himself liking more and more. Souvenir de Charleroi combines townscapes, street portraiture, and yes, “street”, for a total of about eighty photos of this remarkable city and its outskirts. But even in the “street”, Zijlker keeps his distance, so this book complements Lasthein’s bulkier one. A (well printed, colour) photo per page, which is how a far greater percentage of photobooks should be — if the photos are worth looking at, as they definitely are here. Lots of little pleasures here: one of my favorites is simply of a man enjoying a cig as he props up the « taverne de la place ‹Chez les Belges› ».

Derk Zijlker, Souvenir de Charleroi

Derk Zijlker. Souvenir de Charleroi. Amsterdam: Derk Zijlker. ISBN 978-90-822856-0-4. No captions, texts in French and English.

Adam Lach, Stigma

Stigma is a compact book about a group of Gypsies from Romania living in scrubland in suburban Wrocław. (Maybe there’s a desire to avoid confusion with “Romania” and “Romanian”, often mentioned here; but for whatever reason “Gypsy” is the term consistently used in the book, so I’ll use it here.) They’re in Poland because they heard it’s possible to make a living there; even when this turns out to be largely untrue, and even though they’re stigmatized by Polish Gypsies as well as other Poles, life is still better than in Romania. (Reality check from Wikipedia for those who associate Romania with sunbathing on the Black Sea: while the record low in Wrocław is −29°C, that in Iași is −36°C.)

The book has about 48 colour photos; a couple of these take up double-page spreads but most occupy a single page. There are individuals, groups, interiors, people within their self-made huts, the huts’ insides and outsides, and more: it’s well rounded. A few photos are, by the more obvious criteria, boring. (Part of a tree at night, with a couple of lights in the distance. Er, yes.) Perhaps it’s the colours, perhaps it’s the editing; but for whatever reason, they’re all more or less absorbing and (unusually!) don’t strike me as mere filler.

The Gypsies’ circumstances are pretty miserable. Their ramshackle huts stand on what looks like wasteland. (Have there been chemical spills there?) A man holds up a rat by its tail. A baby’s cot is a very used Ikea bag. But the Gypsies get on with life. Misery isn’t on display.

The photos alternate with first-person accounts by the Gypsies (transcribed by Lach himself, Darek Koźlenko and Katarzina Dybowska). Their lives may not be solitary, but they sound intermittently nasty and brutish. It’s these accounts that explain the book’s blunt title: the Gypsies are despised for not working (and because of other stereotyping), want to work, but can’t get work because they’re despised. (And they may be incapable of the kinds of work that are on offer, having had little or no experience of anything like it. Cf the plight of some of the North Koreans who’ve made it to the South.) There’s plenty of food for thought here.

The printing here is excellent. (Credit where it’s due: Chromapress.) Physically, the book is elaborately assembled, with gatefolds and a patched-up cover. (Credit again: Poligrafia Bracia Szymańscy.) Good, but I hope the material comes out later within an edition of thousands rather than hundreds, so that more people can read it.

Adam Lach, Stigma

Adam Lach. Stigma. Warsaw: Adam Lach. ISBN 978-83-939574-0-8. Text in English. (There’s also a Polish-language edition.)

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger, Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria

Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria are cultural learnings of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic for make benefit glorious kickers of start at unbound.co.uk, and you too. Writer and photographer examine a sliver of a smallish nation . . . yes, it does sound familiar:

Transnistria Abkhazia
Quasi-nation Area 4,162 km² 8,660 km²
Population 505,000 243,000
The easternmost westernmost
part of Moldova Georgia
but friendlier to Russia Russia
Major language Russian Russian
Major ethnicity neo-Soviet Abkhazian
Book Title Back in the USSR Empty Land . . .
Pages 146 272
Photos a lot 102
Writer Rory MacLean Arnold van Bruggen
Photographer Nick Danziger Rob Hornstra
Top billing writer photographer
Price £20 €35

Although the two are very different in tone, as is evident from the very start:

Sunlight sparkles off the broad Dniester River. Grapes glisten in verdant vine terraces above Kamenka. Smugglers’ tracks wind across the snow and into silent woods. Patriotic oligarchs in Gucci tracksuits hunt wild boar with ak-47s. A springtime breeze loosens the blossoms from the apricot trees, scattering them over Russian peacekeepers guarding old Soviet munitions dumps. At the Che Guevara High School of Political Leadership the party faithful learn how to launch ‘spontaneous actions’ while sustaining the half lotus yoga position.

The book is enjoyable if perhaps overly sprinkled with “patriotic Soviet captions approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the 60th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution” and related jocosity. As we proceed, the quasi-nation sounds less like Abkhazia (or the much-photographed Nagorno-Karabakh) than Northern Cyprus. An elegant map at the front is marked with approximate directions and precise distances to Moscow, Monaco and Harrods, these being major destinations for the minority to whom the cash flows. And the photos? Townscapes, interiors, portraits: a portrayal of Transnistria that seems well rounded (though I’m not qualified to judge).

We read more than once that Transnistria is no North Korea. But the text doesn’t mention Danziger, or what the pair have done or plan to do together. I learn from the interweb that they’ve recently been to North Korea and had an exhibition of the results, for which there’s a catalogue: worth looking out for.

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger, Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria

Rory MacLean and Nick Danziger. Back in the USSR: Heroic adventures in Transnistria. London: Unbound. ISBN 978-1-78352-062-6.

Christopher Herwig, Soviet bus stops

There’s something of a boom in photobooks of Soviet and (sometime) satellite architecture: Cosmic communist constructions photographed, Soviet modernism, Spomenik, Ostalgia, and more. Does the world also need a photobook that limits itself to Soviet bus stops? Yes of course it does, when the book is Christopher Herwig’s Soviet bus stops. Curious, eclectic, energetic — what Martin Parr is to photobooks, Herwig is to Soviet bus stops. While enough material for a fine photobook can be amassed in just one evening, for a project like this to be done well you need time, experience and knowledge. Herwig has travelled widely and found a great variety of bus stops; the book is amply sized and the better for it. He often gives both a frontal view of the bus stop and a view from a different angle, the combination making the bus stop a lot easier to imagine. Good design, good printing. There’s an excellent introduction by Vera Kavalkova-Halvarsson, about whom I know little but who should be invited to introduce more photobooks as well.

The book was already described as out of print when I first heard about it. I sent Herwig polite mail about it anyway, and months later was informed that a few more copies were available after all. Now it’s out of print again; but Herwig writes: “FUEL publishers are working on designing the next edition with hopes to have it in shops and available online by the fall of [2015].” The new edition should have Russian as well as English text, or anyway the photos should be known where they might have an effect (ideas).

Christopher Herwig, Soviet bus stops

Christopher Herwig. Soviet bus stops. Brooklyn: Christopher Herwig. ISBN 978-0-692-02905-3.

Homer Sykes, This is England

Homer Sykes’ 1977 book Once a year merits an augmented reissue from Steidl or similar; until that happens, his earlier work trickles out from Café Royal Books and now also in This is England from Poursuite, to accompany the exhibition he richly deserved in Britain but instead had in France. Sykes’s England (1970–1982) on show here is richly peopled and full of action (once-a-year rituals, of course, but also demos, parties, Bay City Roller appreciation): I wouldn’t want to live there, but I’d enjoy a visit. No duds in this stapled booklet of about thirty photos, and no design gimmickry; the design gets the job done in the most efficient way. Good, but something more lavish is deserved.

Homer Sykes, This is England

Homer Sykes. This is England. Paris: Poursuite. ISBN 978-2-918960-77-5. No text; captions in French only. (Perhaps I read somewhere that some copies had captions in English only, and perhaps I just think I did.) Already out of print.

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi, 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday

Yanai Yasushi’s Palm Sunday is an unassuming book of photos of sleepy suburban Fukushima City (and occasionally Kōriyama), from March to June 2012, in square-format black and white. This was just one year after disaster hit a nearby nuclear power plant. Yanai’s insomnia led to early-morning walks, and he found himself photographing views with palm trees, planted at a more optimistic time. There’s no palm monomania here, though: there are palmless views, there’s a close-up of a snail, and more. Captions (place and month only) and a short text in Japanese only. Printing quality is decent and the price is low; a quiet book for a quiet mood.

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi, 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday

矢内靖史 = Yanai Yasushi. 棕櫚の日曜日 = Palm Sunday. Fukushima: 青蛙舎.

M Bruce Hall, Promised land

Promised land (title by Chuck Berry) brings street photography in LA, 1981 to 1992, by M Bruce Hall, as introduced by Blake Andrews. From Blue Sky Books, as again introduced by Blake Andrews. We read: “These titles are not available in any store or other online retailer—only through Blue Sky.” Or rather, only through MagCloud. Which in turn has become part of Blurb. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the 44 or so photos here are indifferently printed. It’s an odd collection of photos that do and don’t do something for me. The cover photo isn’t one of the strongest: there are enough photos inside that could be by Frank or Winogrand to make this a keeper.

M Bruce Hall, Promised land

M Bruce Hall. Promised land. Blue Sky Books 7. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Mary Berridge, On the eve

About 41 colour photos from 1998 of Moscow and environs, by Mary Berridge. The Soviet Union isn’t long gone, the Russian economy will soon collapse; there’s not a mobile phone in sight, and many of the people here stand, sit, wait, rest, or sleep. Quiet and satisfying street work here, with some surprises (eg an ancestor of Borat’s bear): it didn’t make much of an impact when I first saw it; but the more often I return to it, the more I enjoy it.

Mary Berridge, On the eve

Mary Berridge. On the eve. Blue Sky Books 35. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Proms

About 68 B/W photos by Ken Graves and Eva Lipman of teenagers at proms. A wondrous pre-cellphone world where (I infer) adults could take photos of kids dancing, snogging, and passing out without anyone calling the cops on them. Some photos are more Winogrand, some are more Fink; whichever, every one is a delight. They merit duotone or better, but for now MagCloud will have to do.

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Proms

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman. Proms. Blue Sky Books 23. Portland, OR: Blue Sky Books.

Calin Kruse, You scared the shit out of me, so I'm leaving

The title You scared the shit out of me, so I’m leaving is nowhere explained in Calin Kruse’s collection of photos of one or more strip clubs (and their surrounds) in an unidentified “hick town”. There are 44 or so spiral-bound leaves, so that almost every double-page spread either has one photo on the left and another on the right, or has a single photo broken across the middle — the break somehow not damaging the effect. (Once there’s a seeming parody of censorship, where a break neatly replaces a vulva.) There are no captions, except that a couple of signs (in German) are obligingly given English translations. The girls don’t look unhappy; the viewers aren’t always bedazzled but they’re well behaved (this is far from Meiselas’ Carnival strippers). The surroundings are grotty, as strip club surroundings always seem to be — and I’m puzzled by Kruse’s talk (both inside the handsome cover and on the web page) of “smooth smugness” and “family idyll” in the daytime. (Still more by his talk of “bigotry”.) The collection could have been slimmer, but there are some arresting photos.

Calin Kruse, You scared the shit out of me, so I'm leaving

Calin Kruse. You scared the shit out of me, so I’m leaving. Leipzig: Dienacht.

Clément Paradis et Romain Gavidia, Condamné à marcher seul

Clément Paradis provides the photos and Romain Gavidia the prose-poem for Condamné à marcher seul (“sentenced to walk alone”). The prose-poem is in French; but to aid the undereducated such as myself, it’s englished at the back.

Let’s go in, for oysters. These normally have a disastrous effect on me, but not here. Existentialism, or something like it, is alive if not completely well. Fuelled by booze, coffee and coffin nails, Gavidia’s narrator manages to get through the zombie-populated day, in the race against death. The black is very black; most of the photos are a little blurry. Yet a bottle of Martiniquais rum (“50% vol.”) is rendered in horrible clarity. My head is throbbing and tonight I think I’ll go to bed early.

Clément Paradis et Romain Gavidia, Condamné à marcher seul

Clément Paradis and Romain Gavidia. Condamné à marcher seul. St-Étienne, Loire: Timeshow Press. ISBN 979-10-97253-01-1.

Arjan de Nooy, Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen

Look in the index to the hefty and seemingly authoritative volume Dutch Eyes: A critical history of photography in the Netherlands, and we see the filmmaker Jan Jansen (1904–1979); but the next name is the groovalicious Cor Jaring (b. 1936): the remarkable Pep Jansen (1931–1969) goes unmentioned. Kudos to Arjan de Nooy for rescuing this figure from obscurity, in Party photographer. The hedonistic hollandosphère does not end with Billy Monk: whether using a Land camera, Hasselblad or just a bakelite 127, the protean Jansen had a knack of capturing the Dutch at their most riotous (or sated).

Twenty-eight or so photos by Jansen, three of Jansen at work. The essential filler for the stocking that doesn’t already decorate your Festivus pole.

Arjan de Nooy, Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen

Arjan de Nooy. Party photographer: Life and work of Pep Jansen. The Hague: De Nooy Collection.

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse, Same old story

Tony Fouhse is best known to us non-Canadians for his blog “drool” (dubbed “dead” since September, but with old posts that are very much alive). He’s put out a number of slim photobooks; Same old story is unusual among them in showing older work, and being in B/W.

“These photographs were taken in Toronto, 1981–83” — and this is all that we’re told. I’d long lazily assumed that “America’s coonskin cap” was a placid expanse of sanity, but the photos show that Toronto strangeness long predated Rob Ford.

It’s a very slim paperback, but you get 29 photos, more than in some arty hardbacks. And there’s a story, too, by Cindy Deachman. Being utterly unfamiliar with Toronto, I don’t know to what degree the style reflects the language as spoken there and to what it’s stylized (cf Henry Green); I had to read the first page a couple of times in order to make sense of it but thereafter the lect clicked and I could enjoy it. Do the photos and text serve each other (even indirectly)? For me, no; but I enjoyed each independently, so no matter.

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse, Same old story

Cindy Deachman and Tony Fouhse. Same old story. Ottawa: Straylight Press. ISBN 978-0-9691684-5-4.

Chris Steele-Perkins, A Place in the Country

I heard some time ago that Chris Steele-Perkins would publish a photobook on the Holkham Estate; the name didn’t ring a bell and I vaguely supposed that this was the kind of estate that might have appeared in Survival programmes. But it’s instead that of Holkham Hall, a Palladian pile in Norfolk.

The front cover is somewhat staid, showing a tree that has just shed its autumnal leaves — ah, no, those aren’t leaves but deer. So that must be quite a tree. The house is of similarly giant scale; it’s not run by the National Trust or similar but instead by a Viscount and Viscountess, presiding over a number of teams for the maintenance and running of this and that: the fabric of the house and estate, of course, but also functions. Horses aren’t as prominent as I’d feared, but shooting and killing certainly are. (The squeamish should turn the pages carefully.) There are a number of more or less posed group portraits, done very well; but I prefer the far less formal material — particularly those of the public, at or near the beach.

Chris Steele-Perkins, A Place in the Country

Chris Steele-Perkins. A Place in the Country. Stockport: Dewi Lewis. ISBN 978-1-907893-62-8.

Alexis Maryon, The Bristol estate

The Bristol Estate was put up on a hill behind Brighton in the mid-fifties; it looks rather like a trial run for campus accommodation a decade later, with added allotments. Alexis Maryon photographed it, and the result (spiral bound, fifty or so B/W photos, one per page) is out from Fistful of Books. You might expect that high-density low-income housing would look squalid and miserable but if so then you’d be wrong. It doesn’t even look shabby. Kids running around, people shopping and eating, congas outdoors: it’s pretty lively and friendly-looking. Nothing particularly stunning here, just a good-natured portrait of a place. While the printing looks zine-ish at first glance, it’s actually pretty good. I hope that a future Fistful of Books includes a collection of Maryon’s Newhaven photos.

Alexis Maryon, The Bristol estate

Alexis Maryon. The Bristol estate. Castle Douglas, Galloway: Fistful of Books. No captions.

Ken Grant, Flock

Ken Grant’s 2002 book The close season is still in print after 14 years (I think even remaindered), suggesting that Dewi Lewis overestimated the intelligence of the “photobook buying public”. This year two publishers bravely put out a new book of his work anyway.

Hereford had Britain’s last urban livestock market (we read), and when in 2009 Grant heard that it would close (in 2011) he started to go there and photograph it. Flock is the result. Many of the sixty-plus photos show people looking at the merchandise. (Poultry are particularly prominent.) There are splendid faces here. We also see auctions and sales, and the wider scene.

The working market has now moved out of town; and, to quote the “developer” of what’s now capitalized as the “Old Market”, once “developed”, this site “will include a Debenhams department store, six screen digital Odeon cinema, Waitrose food store and a variety of shops and restaurants.” Which sounds to me like a very last-century kind of gentrification.

The book is well produced, with good colour — except on a very few pages (half a dozen or fewer), where the colour is slightly odd. But maybe that was the way it looked.

Ken Grant, Flock

Ken Grant. Flock. Dublin: Artist Photo Books. ISBN 978-0-9927485-2-4.

Ken Grant, No pain whatsoever

With about fifty square B/W photos of Liverpool and Birkenhead (1986–2010), Ken Grant’s No pain whatsoever is a lot closer than Flock to The close season. Liverpool’s industry and port are just about dead, and whatever is driving the city’s economy doesn’t seem to be hiring. (“In 2007,” Wikipedia helpfully tells us, “over 60% of all employment in the city was in the public administration, education, health, banking, finance and insurance sectors.”) And so there’s an unemployed class: fishing, waiting, burning plastic off wires to sell the copper (also in Peter Marlow’s Liverpool: Looking out to sea), smoking, catching rays, spending time with the family. The portrayal is sympathetic but clear-eyed. No captions and minimal text. (And if it worries you, the cover material is designed to pick up grease from your thumbs.)

Get a copy, and also one each of The close season and Marlow’s Liverpool while you’re about it.

Ken Grant, No pain whatsoever

Ken Grant. No pain whatsoever. Stockholm: Journal. ISBN 978-91-981253-5-1.

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The photobook: A history 3

The first two installments of Parr ’n’ Badger were to photobook books what those of The godfather and Pirates of the Caribbean were to mafia and pirate flicks. Could the enterprise escape the Curse of the Third Episode?

It could. Parr’s combination of curiosity and (I infer) wealth led to new directions for exploration. The format is the same as it was in the first two books; if you liked it there, you’ll like it here too. A lot of the book is devoted to recent stuff that I thought had already had its fifteen minutes in the blogosphere, but enough of it hasn’t been. No matter how repellent the material (and right-wing propaganda is conspicuous here), Badger can be depended on to provide an interesting little read. (Not that the pair lack taste: this time, they include Takanashi’s Machi.)

Read more carefully, and one does start to wonder: Why mention all three editions of Gōzu Masao’s self-published In New York (p. 163) but not the bigger New York? If “It is difficult to see A Criminal Investigation being made in the same way had it been published in 1958–59″ (p. 163), then how is the book “a perfect re-creation of a 1950s or 60s Japanese photobook” (same page)? (It’s nothing like any 1950s or 60s Japanese photobook I’ve ever seen.)

Let’s not niggle, but don’t let the enthusiasm go to your head or anyway to your credit card.

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The photobook: A history 3

Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. The photobook: A history 3. London: Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-6677-2.

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds, 10x10 Japanese photobooks

Twenty “specialists” were each asked to nominate ten Japanese photobooks for display either at ICP or on the interwebs. A couple of years later, the book of the show came out. For this, each of the twenty was asked to nominate one out of their ten as the superlativest.

So twenty books are profiled here. Two are by Moriyama (and about one and a half of these are American); none is by Araki or Suda. Whew, other people have inscrutable tastes: out of the twenty books profiled, fewer than half say anything to me. But a number are often praised, so clearly it’s my sensibilities that are at fault.

And some of the selections are most definitely worth exploring. A special tip of the hat to Nicolas Codron; while his ten aren’t all to my taste, none is expected, Iwamiya Takeji’s Sado (1962) is superb, and two obscurities I’d not heard of were easily worth the small sums I paid for them when they turned up at Yahoo Auction (and, predictably, nobody else bid for them).

In the back are an interesting interview with Hagiwara Akira and a perceptive essay, both of these in both English and Japanese. Book design and production are excellent.

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds, 10x10 Japanese photobooks

Matthew Carson, Michael Lang, Russet Lederman, Olga Yatskevich, eds. 10×10 Japanese photobooks. New York: 10×10 Photobooks. ISBN 978-0-692-20866-3.

Miloň Novotný, Londýn 60. let = Sixties London

Miloň Novotný is perhaps best known as co-photographer of New York (1966); his book Londýn first came out (from Mladá fronta) a couple of years later. Eight thousand copies were printed, the new book’s chronology tells us, and they flew off the shelves. Presumably this retitled 2014 edition is closely based on the original, but aside from two or three obvious additions the relationship between old and new isn’t clear. The new book has about 68 B/W photos of London, one per page. There are Londoners avoiding the rain, enjoying the sunshine, people shopping in Carnaby Street (not quite yet a tacky tourist trap), gents wearing bowlers, nutters at Hyde Park corner, a pearly king, cricket, and the other expected subjects; but these are deftly done and there’s a lot more besides. (And can this be Georges Perec in the second photo?) Unfortunately there’s no mention of how Novotný was able to visit London; I wonder if other Warsaw bloc photographers were also given a fairly free rein in the west and produced comparable collections that are ripe for discovery.

Miloň Novotný, Londýn 60. let = Sixties London

Miloň Novotný. Londýn 60. let = Sixties London. Prague: Kant. ISBN 978-80-7437-122-6. Placenames as captions; with a long essay about London by A G Hughes and a chronology, each in both Czech and English.

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara's photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years

A highlight of the year was the Kuwabara Kineo show at Setagaya Art Museum. A generous selection of photos from the thirties to the nineties (with breaks when Kuwabara simply wasn’t taking photos), presented intelligently and with informative texts (very conveniently for my challenged and lazy self, in English as well as Japanese).

Here’s the book of the show. It’s compact; it isn’t the photobook that Kuwabara deserves. (A two-volume set that came out this year has a good selection of photos but [pace John Sypal] wretched design; and, if this matters, its captions and text are in Japanese only.) Still, the book of the show is (bilingually) informative and the plates aren’t impossibly small. When a good photobook does come out — or if you snag one or both of Tōkyō Shōwa jūichinen (Tokyo 1936) and Manshū Shōwa jūgonen (Manchuria 1940) put out by Shōbunsha in 1975 — then this will be a good reference companion.

This book was never retailed in the normal way; it’s available from the museum’s own shop: write to samshop○samuseum.gr.jp, replacing “○” with “@”. (Although there’s likely to be an assumption that the would-be shopper reads and writes Japanese, has a Japanese address, and has a Japanese bank account.)

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara's photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years

桑原甲子雄の写真 トーキョー・スケッチ60年 = Kineo Kuwabara’s photographs: Tokyo sketches of 60 years. Tokyo: Setagaya Art Museum.

So there you are. I hope that some seem appealing. Whether you buy two or twenty, I hope they live up to the promise.

Back to Rob Hornstra. Another good idea of his is the most overrated photobook of the year. I’d have at least one contender for this, but I’d concede that Quitonasto form Chanmair Mao Tungest did at least manage to make an impression on me. (Several impressions, one of them being that its aroma didn’t start to resemble that of the original.)

Ah, Quitonasto form Chanmair Mao Tungest doesn’t seem to have made that many best-of lists. Well then, the most overrated photobook of the year 2013: The holy bible. An amusing idea, executed without flair. (Anyone with an urge to rework an existing book might take a look at A humument for inspiration.) Still, the fact that Quitonasto and The holy bible made some impression(s) puts them ahead of a lot of polite, earnest photobooks that I picked up, flicked through and quickly put down at Tsutaya (Daikan’yama), Sōkyūsha, or elsewhere. The front covers of some of them appear in best-of lists.

I’m not eager to knock photographers (or photo-appropriators). But yet Anouk Kruithof’s « BUMMER! » is inspiring. So here’s my bummer: designs that screw up what could have been good photobooks. As one example, I give you Sawatari Hajime’s Showa 35, Japan = 昭和35年日本. It has an elegant cover (if this matters). Internally, over half of its double-page spreads are of single photos, every one of which is pretty much ruined by the gutter. (For examples on web pages that you’d expect to depict books flatteringly and appealingly, see here and here.) Which is a great pity, as the designer hasn’t managed to trash the photos to a point where you wouldn’t realize that the twenty-year-old Sawatari shows the Japan of 1960 as you’ve never seen it before.

And next year? Great things in the world of the introspective, revealing photobook! “Rizzoli to publish a book of Kim Kardashian selfies”; about which the Artist writes: “I mean every girl takes full pictures of their ass in the mirror… I might share some of them.”

Other 2014 lists here at Phot(o)lia. (And not to be missed: “The year in photobooks”.)

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great photobooks of 2013 that I didn’t buy

Carolyn Drake, Two rivers. Apparently promoted via Kickstarter during one of those long periods when I avoid Kickstarter because the last screenfuls I saw were too dreary. Now that I learn of it, just months after publication, already out of print. This is a great shame as the subject is most interesting and what JPEGs I’ve seen of the photos look excellent. I hope Drake follows the Sochi Project in bringing out a second edition — perhaps a regular paperback so as not to upset collectors thrilled by the (artistically!) wrong-sized cover of the first edition.

Kurata Seiji, Flash up. The original is a routine sort of paperback that contains the most enjoyable photos ever of this (rather overdone) sleaze genre. (Don’t be put off by the front cover of the original, which oddly has one of the least interesting photos in the book.) One of my rare intelligent bookshop decisions decades ago was to buy it when it came out. My copy resides in an actual bookshelf with glass doors, and when I want to look at it I have to shovel piles of other books off the floor in order to open and close these doors. I haven’t seen the new edition, which may be worth its high price; but I think I’ll just keep on shovelling.

Martin Kollar, Field trip. Though I was disappointed by Kollar’s Cahier I liked his Nothing special. JPEGs of the content of the new book looked intriguing and I recently came across a copy. The photos are just as good as I’d hoped. A lot are mystifying, which is fine with me. But for the price, I want explanations after I’ve enjoyed the mystification. True, explanatory text isn’t a trendy notion; but David Goldblatt for one provides explanations and these don’t seem to deter potential buyers or indeed award committees. If Kollar rectifies the omission (and all this needs is a web page), then I’ll buy a copy.

Seto Masato, Cesium 137Cs. Anthropomorphic branches and other mysteries of the freshly irradiated forest, a fascinating example of a kind of book that usually holds little interest for me. Expensive, but yes I can stump up the cash. It’s B4 format, which may well be justified — but I’ve simply run out of niches for the storage of books that big. ….. PS There’s currently a 20% discount if you buy the via the internet from Place M and a 30% discount on the book if you buy it at Place M.

Suda Issei, Waga Tokyo 100. Good stuff in this book, but I have one of the thousands of copies of the original, whose printing quality is tolerable.

Zhang Xiao, Shangxi. I bought Zhang’s two previous books and enjoy them both. I don’t know how many photos there are in this third one, but the photos I’ve seen of it make it look slim, and its RRP is $75 even before postage is added. And it’s got an (artistically!) wrong-sized cover. Zhang kindly provides thirty of the photos on his website, so I’ll enjoy them there. For his fourth book I hope he returns to Jiazazhi, which did a very handsome job for his They, and which sent me a copy efficiently and inexpensively.


signing off

Lots of copies of “They”I recently got a copy of Zhang Xiao’s book They. It’s compact, excellent and reasonably priced: highly recommended. And it’s signed. Apparently there are 499 other copies, also signed.

Some people seem to thrill to signed books. But when I contemplate this pile of signed (or about-to-be-signed) copies, my own very mild interest is quickly eclipsed by sympathy for Zhang. He’s a young man, I’d guess full of energy. Energy surely better expended on taking more photos, editing them, enjoying life with Mrs Zhang (actual or potential), or whatever.

Still, the prospect of signing five hundred isn’t enough to inspire thoughts of suicide; the task can be surmounted — perhaps in thirty-minute bouts, twice a day (just as I once learned to touchtype). And the book is published in China, a technologically advanced nation; which gives me hope that his signing chore might have been, shall we say, assisted.

AutopenBack to Japan (via Berlin). A book that deservedly won praise last year was Suda Issei’s The work of a lifetime — of which we read that there are 535 copies, all of them signed.

Though I didn’t buy one, I did buy a copy of Suda’s newer book Fushikaden — of which we read that there are 500 copies, all of them signed.

I didn’t buy Suda’s even newer 1975 Miuramisaki, charming though its six (6) pages are. We read that there are 350 copies, all of them signed.

signed by Suda IsseiNo, instead I bought a copy of Suda’s Kado no tabakoya made no tabi (more pages, lower price). I’d guess that there are between five hundred and a thousand copies of this; mine’s signed, and perhaps all of them are. Certainly BLD is selling signed copies of it, of Suda’s book Rubber, and of his Minyou sanga (my copy of which is signed), each for the list price. So it’s probable that hundreds of copies of these three books are signed, too.

Suda Issei had to write out his name three times just for me. If I ever meet him, I must apologize.

And in the space of just a year or so, he’s written out his name well over a thousand times. Perhaps close to two thousand times.

Suda is in his seventies. He could be attending to his juku, fishing, walking the dog, or whatever. Or of course taking photos. Assuredly he has better things to do than write out his own name, and again, and again, and again. . . .

GhostwriterWhile China and Japan have much in common (e.g. Borgian patterns of political appointments), Japan seems less enterprising. I do hope that its publishers/photographers too are employing labour-saving technology, but the variation among “my” examples of Suda’s signature suggests otherwise.

What is it about signed books, anyway? I have books that were signed especially for me by perhaps ten photographer friends and (face-to-face or email) acquaintances. And there’ve been some other bonuses too, like my copy of Stand BY, signed by three of its photographers. I didn’t ask for such signatures, and they were and are welcome. But this idea of signing (or autopenning) every copy of a book seems stupid. Photographers, if your publisher suggests this, just say no. Shouldn’t your photobook sell on its content and presentation? If you also want to appeal to the nitwit market, fine: cash in on it and cut down on the tedium: add the combination of a signature, a more interesting cover (ideas) and a small inkjet giclée print for an additional édition de luxe, priced accordingly.

Meanwhile, I look inside my copy of Suda’s Ningen no kioku, and am happy to see no signature.

There’s an an entire website devoted to autopenned astronaut signatures. (I haven’t yet found one on autopenned cosmonaut or photographer signatures.) Further reading: “Great moments in autopen history” (Gawker), “Ten facts about the ‘autopen’” (Politico), another perspective on signatures and “collectibility”, Steidlheads managing to go nuts even over unsigned books.

The italic print. Three of the four photos above are copyright Jiazazhi Press, the Autopen Company, and Automated Signature Technology respectively. The other one depicts works of calligraphy that are, in one way or another (I’m no expert on this stuff), the intellectual property of Suda Issei.


Buy more of it, or

I long dismissed Daikanyama as just yet another area for elaborate courtship rituals, where young chaps take young gals to buy frocks and have lavish meals. But I kept hearing good things about the branch there of Tsutaya (book/fun shop) and therefore yesterday, as a compromise between (A) doing useful work and (B) going to faraway Morioka (for the Watabe show), I went to take a look and if possible do my duty as an obedient consumer and help the nation’s moribund economy.

The Daikanyama branch of Tsutaya has a lot of photobooks. There are new ones, and there are used ones. The used ones are uniformly labelled “vintage”, even when they’re as recent as 2008. The “vintage” books are in reach or out of reach. Those in reach are amusingly expensive. Those out of reach are hilariously expensive.

Now that I duckduckgo the shop, I see that it:

  • serves as the anchor for the upscale Daikanyama T-Site shopping complex
  • has a luxuriously appointed lounge-bar area on the second floor
  • has individually curated specialty departments

I’m a sucker for luxuriously curated upscale anchors, and so I looked at the new books too. Odd: it felt as if I’d landed on Planet Photo-Eye, or anyway Planet The Top Half of This Page. There were plenty of the books that US bloggers fawn over but I’d not seen before. Some of these were good, too: a small book by Alec Soth elaborated on the best (B/W) ingredients of his yellow anthology From Here to There, and the label on the sample copy was marked with a reasonable ¥1750, too. Eh, what, ¥4750 on the shrink-wrapped copies? Perhaps not then.

Oh noes, now I see that Photo-Eye says that this book is unavailable and amazon.com has it at $127; so I missed a chance to get something rare and collectible!

If I missed a bargain or three in this luxuriously curated upscale photobook shopping complex, I blame the powerfully repetitive piano noodling going on most of the time. (The short breaks were for powerfully repetitive other-instrument noodling.) This must be Usen’s recommended easy listening for the book-shopping hipster. (Kinokuniya’s muzak seems more suited to hospice waiting rooms.)

What with this aural slime, I wasn’t in a receptive mood for hip photobooks, and escaped to the next building. This was gloriously muzak-free. Even the lack of photobooks was refreshing at first, but when that sensation dissipated I looked upward and saw a promising cover. And yes, it was a photobook worth looking at.

Iijima Kōei (飯島幸永)’s Kanryū: Tsugaru no onna / Echigo, sekka ujō (寒流 津軽のおんな/越後・雪下有情). The main title means “cold [sea] current” and it’s a collection of older, B/W photos of snowbound Tsugaru and Niigata, particularly of girls and women there. (Many of the adult males would have departed for seasonal work elsewhere.) The editing could be a little tighter (and there are no captions or other text in any language other than Japanese), but it’s impressive. Iijima’s website needs updating (it doesn’t mention this book, published late last year), but it does have a set of images that would appear in the book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-7791-1810-4; CiNii.)

Ueno eki no makuai, the 1983 editionUeno eki no makuai, the 2012 editionTsutaya’s copies of Kanryū seemed slightly bowed so I didn’t buy. But the book reminded me of another I’d wanted to see: the late 2012 reissue/reworking of Motohashi Seiichi (本橋成一)’s 1983 book Ueno eki no makuai (上野駅の幕間). The title means “Intermission at Ueno station”, and it’s full of, yes, B/W photos of Ueno station. Rail fans will revel in such things as the labelling with metal plates of departure platforms, but even the rail-unenchanted will see how different this is from present-day Tokyo stations, what with giant baskets, alcohol- and tobacco-fuelled picnics on the floor and so forth. Motohashi seems to have been hugely energetic for this ample book, photographing everything from uniformed ceremony to one worker taking a leak from a platform down to the track. It’s from a time when quantity meant more than formula or repetition. I haven’t compared it with the original but the printing is at least as good and a copy of this costs a lot less than does a copy of the older book. (Here’s its publisher’s page about the book; ISBN 978-4-582-27795-1; CiNii.)

Zhang Xiao, TheySo I bought Ueno eki no makuai, and enjoyed it on the way home. But I felt a little sad. I’d got most enjoyment out of a couple of books of photos taken before most of Tsutaya’s customers were even born. Did nothing appeal among what was new (and perhaps unimaginable thirty years ago)?

The doorbell rang and help arrived from China: my copy of Zhang Xiao (张晓)’s They (他们). Zhang, from the northeast of China, was living in Chongqing in the southwest, when he took the (uncaptioned, unexplained) photographs here. Apparently they’re all taken with a Holga, and with no trickery. It would have to be an extraordinarily well behaved Holga, and certain phenomena seem preternatural even by urbanizing Chinese standards. So I’m not sure what’s going on here. But there’s a contrast: while I don’t know what’s going on in a lot of the photos in books on display in Tsutaya, I generally couldn’t care less; here, the misty, oneiric scenes are odd indeed, and whether they’re real or fake they fascinate.

There’s a lot from this series available on the web: here and here, as well as Zhang’s site. See for yourself. And reading material here and here. The book is published by Jia Za Zhi Press in Beijing and very handsomely done it is too. The publisher writes about it here and here; you can order it by email from them (as I did) or from Bigcartel (here), and it’s said to be available from some retailers.

I’d not heard of the book, the series or the photographer till a couple of weeks ago. (I must have missed this at Eyecurious.) Though Zhang’s CV lists a lot of exhibitions and awards, it doesn’t mention any book. They isn’t his first; there’s also Coastline, published by Actes Sud in 2011. I wonder if there have been more.