Archivi categoria: photobook

Photo Books: The New Photographic Ritual

Moving down the aisles that are carved between each row of seats, the line slowly edges on. A choir of no more than three people — woman and two men — expel their voices gently and slowly, serenading the churchgoers as they inch forward toward the pulpit where they receive their bread and wine.

The communion is a ritual in Catholicism that occurs at the height of the mass. It exists in a ceremonial way to cement the beliefs of the Catholic church between those who gather at each mass. It is unremarkable and unsurprising yet it remains an event of significance. Catholics understand it’s importance and, like most rituals, it plays a pivotal role in helping those who participate to understand different traditions, stories and values. Traditionally, in a ritual, every person present must participate. The act of the ritual requires the whole necessarily because it carries the tradition and maintains the sense of community through interaction and representation.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a small library of photobooks. Few of them collect dust and are rarely viewed. The majority, however, are often spread throughout my house and office. I find myself continuously looking back to them, attempting to dissect what integral information I missed the last time. Maybe I interpreted something wrong, or I want simply to experience them all over again. Photobooks are more than just books of photographs that happen to go together or follow the same theme. There is a sense of narrative experience that is revealed within the pages of these books. It comes to life in the editing, the design, the paper choice, the ink; the physical things help to bring it to life-like wine or bread.

Sometimes I buy photobooks full of images I don’t – can’t – understand. Such was the case when Delaney Allen’s inaugural book Between Here and There arrived at my doorstep. The thick cardstock that forms the outside of the book with a typewriter font stamped onto the front cover is peculiar enough but the images inside perpetuate that sense. A snapshot-like image of a girl, blonde haired and ecstatic with bulging black sunglasses leads the viewer in. A close-up image of water with light refracting through it creates a rainbow while flares and dust settle around the edges. A cave; light peaking gently out of the far-end carries the viewer through the narrative. Of course, you must allow these images to lead you, to let them consume you and take you on the journey and to tell you the story they want you to tell. Further enhancing this effect are emails between Delaney and his then girlfriend. They break the flow of images but not in the way you would expect. Finding them hidden between caves and oceans they carry the narrative while forcing the viewer to maintain their own sense of curiosity and to form images in their own head of the events described. The combination forces you to question whether the images in your head were ever in the book.

Surely it can be understood, then, that the importance of the single image in this book is a moot point. There is no one single image that stands out rather, a collection of images that form an entirely new world. This new world that I so eagerly live in – one that I can escape to whenever I want – is the only point worth discussing. It is not a world given to me but one that I create of my own volition and is a direct product of the ritual nature of the photobook. My persistence in tracing back and forth the images as they relate to each other, trying desperately to understand what story they tell and how they relate to me. By sheer participation I have joined them in the collective act that is the photobook as ritual. My role as the viewer allows this story to be told and to be lived, to transcend the confines of when it occurred, if it ever did.

Photobooks have not always been as common as they are now. Yes, photographers made them, but they persisted to be a sacred element in the trajectory of the photographer’s career. The accessibility and availability did not exist for the amateur, hobbyist or emerging photographer to make a photobook. Recently, however, we have seen the rise of photobooks and zines in many forms. Photographers are frequently self-publishing large monographs of long-term works, approaching boutique publishing houses to produce limited zines and small-run books, or simply reigniting a DIY ethic where Xerox machines and home printers transform into a workshop for homemade books and zines. The photobook adds an unexplainable element to the significance of the image in our lives.

Photographers don’t, and haven’t been able to, heighten the significance of the photobook all alone. The collaborative nature of the format – the designers, editors, publishers, printers and audience – ensures that it is ever-evolving. Furthermore, the inclusiveness that the photobook provides is a glimpse into the ritualistic nature that it embodies. All of the participants of the bookmaking process work together to understand the narrative, to allow it to exist on a fundamental level that transcends just photographs in a book and rather, provides a platform for them to be understood and to live in the real world. Photographers look to books as the final form of their projects. The image in book form provides an interaction that every single person who comes in contact with it, regardless of their role, will interpret differently. This allows these images to live almost forever. Like a ritual, the photobook suspends in time the ideas and narratives expressed by the images, allowing them to be absorbed by viewers forever.

In celebration of such extraordinary and widespread publishing efforts by photographers, the Aperture Foundation, in October 2015, published a manifesto of self-publishing titled Self-Publish, Be Happy. This book serves as a bible of sorts for those who live the DIY ethic and endeavor to make their own photobooks (a relatively new concept given technological advancement and increased accessibility to professional-grade printers). Even still, the celebration of self-publishing isn’t to say that a photographer should completely avoid the traditional route for publishing a major body of work, but instead, this book showcases some of the many methods of bookmaking and speaks to the fact that each project demands its own methods for expressing its ideas.

Photographer Stacy Kranitz’s images live within the pages of her latest publication, Speak Your Piece. This book is much more a representation of a place than it is attempting to tell a set story. The typical boundaries of a book don’t exist. Kranitz experiments with the relationship between text and images but in an unexpected way. Many of the pages do not feature images at all which, at first, seems an odd choice but the lack of images and instead flourishing amount of text – all taken from a local paper with a column that shares the same name as the book – allow the viewer to define their own relationship in much more abstract terms. It leaves the viewer attempting to decipher who these people are and a craving overcomes you to know them. In a single quote, it is impossible to know them but it allows a brief glimpse into their lives and the things that make them tick. The simple act of you reading their letters – letting them speak their piece – allows them to move past the confines of time and space, enhancing their voices in a way that puts you there, with them.

The shared experience fills you with a sense of place. The looking over and over again at the images and text within these pages places you within them. It makes me think back to being told stories as a child. We were told these stories in a commanding way, as if they were biographical accounts of someone’s lives, but once they were told they were left and they simply existed. We discussed them, changed them, lived within them. I’d argue the same thing happens when peering into the lives of Stacy’s subjects who live between the pages of her book; although you read the stories as told by the subjects, the incompleteness forces upon you the duty to fill in the blanks, forming your own stories as you go, in fact becoming a part of the story.

Living within the image is a common trope in speaking about photography but it holds true at every turn. Staring long enough at a photograph prompts you to make up your own stories about them, as if you are there in the picture, not as a camera but as a part of the scene. An effective ritual does the same by placing you within the context of it – the story and events that it represents.

The first time I looked at Bryan Sheffield’s book, Lord God, I thought it was simply a record of trees across the United States. Sure, it is that. It is also a celebration of them, of nature, of the beauty of it but in a mysterious way that only Bryan could convey. The flash-lit images thrust you into the personal space of the trees. If it’s possible to find a candid moment in the life of a tree, he does it. The journey these images take you on is like no other. The viewer is sharing their existence with these trees each time this book is opened.

I’d imagine the only way to explain the mystery of looking at this book is by comparing it to a walk through the forest. Slowly, you move down the path, between the trees and bushes. The cool autumn air brushes your hair across your face but you remain unmoved. Your hands caress each trunk as you pass by it. These trees have been here for years; growing, living, stretching out across the landscape beneath the earth in web-like formations that go on for hundreds of feet. It’s like they are all connected to each other and in that moment of reverie, you too are connected to them. The forest speaks to you. Even if you decide to look up and away from the trees printed in ink back onto themselves, it becomes impossible to ever leave that forest because it grows deep inside your mind.

Within the confines of a printed book or zine, images take on a life of their own. The viewer interacts with them differently. Upon gallery walls, surely the viewer takes in the images in just as substantial of a manner, but there remains a separation between the viewer and artwork. The physicality of the image in printed form and our ability to truly interact with it lies only within the confines of a photobook. The viewer controls how the images are absorbed, experienced, the pace, the meaning, the story. More and more, this is becoming a viable option for photographers wishing for their projects to truly live within this world.

While the photobook industry has admittedly become oversaturated with books and not all of them holding deserving bodies of work, the importance of this medium cannot be ignored. The celebration of the book has changed photography’s role as an art form into something more experiential. The book has woven photography into the fabric of our lives. These books fill the shelves that line the walls of our homes, sit in piles upon coffee tables in living rooms around the globe, and sit forever open in our minds.

We live with this art in ways that are impossible as simply a single image anchored on the wall (or even embedded on a screen as a digital apparition, for that matter). Moreover, the true ritualistic nature of the photobook is proven in its transcendence of time. Each time we pull apart the pages of these books we again experience the story and it becomes a part of our consciousness.


You can find the archives of Alex Thompson’s column here.


About the author: Alex Thompson is a documentary photographer living in California’s Central Valley. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. His work focuses around environmental issues and the social consequences of environmental degradation. His work has been featured in publications like LA Weekly and The Guardian US and he is currently working on long-term projects documenting the effect of extraction in Wyoming and life in communities along the SF Bay-Delta. You can find his work at www.alexthompsonphoto.com or on Instagram @alexthompsonphoto.

Photography and the Road: The American Way

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A few weeks ago, I walked outside of my house and nearly stumbled over a package. It was flat, rectangular, and large. Excitedly I read my name on the postage. “This is it,” I told myself. Quickly, I ran inside and removed the scissors from a drawer in my kitchen (the one that for some reason refuses to stay on the rails, no matter how many times I fix it) and sliced the package open.

What I saw was a book I had been waiting on for weeks. It was a recent release from the Aperture Foundation, a book that received numerous accolades from the photography community. The photographer even had a short essay published in The New Yorker, a version of the essay in the back of this book.

As I pulled back the cellophane protecting it and discarded the garbage, the cover was revealed. The smooth white text reflected in the morning light and threw itself at me, forcing my attention to it. I scanned the cover and silently rejoiced at the beauty. The cover resembled an open grain wood, oak maybe. I slid into a chair in my living room and slowly spread apart the pages, absorbing each photograph, and let myself fall into them.

Justine Kurland’s latest book Highway Kind is transformative in every sense of the word and transports the viewer not only into her world, complete with her son Casper, but into the world of transients and train-hoppers, commuters and travelers.

The book opens up with a photograph of her son playing with toy trains at a table somewhere in the mountains. A nondescript location. Casper, her son, has his attention taken away from him for a moment while a train passes in the near distance. His infatuation with trains is apparent and works to lead the viewer across distances throughout the book and understand the relationship both he and Kurland have with the road and with each other.

Waiting for Trains While Playing with Trains, 2009. © Justine Kurland
Waiting for Trains While Playing with Trains, 2009. © Justine Kurland

The theme of trains is common through the early part of the book and they clearly work metaphorically to induce a feeling of unstableness, transience and adventure. Whether they creep like a black snake on the dry desert floor or are camouflaged among rocky, mountain grades, they keep the viewer on their toes, awaiting the next destination.

Like a Black Snake, 2008. © Justine Kurland
Like a Black Snake, 2008. © Justine Kurland

A favorite set of images of mine that comes late in the early section of this book is of a train approaching a mine sat between two mountains. The visceral image reminisces of a brief stop along the way. Immediately following this photograph is another of Casper playing with his toys. The ground is dark, coal-like, as if the family is taking a break as the train loads up; they, too, are transients.

The images, when viewed together, seem kind of odd in the sense that the usual comforts found in other photographs in this book do not exist here. It maintains an otherworldly feel. But, maybe that’s the point. Photographers have married a level obsession with the American road with the way it conveys youth, freedom and adventure ever since Robert Frank embarked on his famous book The Americans. Whether the photographer is Stephen Shore, Walker Evans, Alec Soth or, now, Justine Kurland, the tradition is carried.

I often wonder why so many photographers are drawn to the road and almost as much, the American landscape itself. There remains a quintessential mystery cloaked around this country’s society that can only be found when you move within it, as a part of it, on it’s network of highways and nearly-hidden roads. The familiarity, the kitsch-ness, the friendly scenes that are found repeatedly in new places are most likely to blame yet there is also an undercurrent of society that continually impresses and attracts us, one that refuses to be discovered by those unlike the.

These curiosities hide behind mountain passes, in the desert, or within the small towns that dot the open road. They expose themselves only to those willing to discover them. Usually, these curiosities go overlooked yet photographers continually return to them and provide them a brief platform on which to be seen.

After Weston, 2010. © Justine Kurland
After Weston, 2010. © Justine Kurland

America is so complex and full of life that a different approach to the same subject is often full of surprises. Photographers are always seeking interesting characters to attach ourselves to and photograph, whether that interesting thing is the way they move through the world or maybe there’s just something visually appealing about them that we can’t put our finger on. We just know that they’re important enough to photograph.
Take, for instance, Kurland’s subject Cuervo. He has an air about him that resonates with a friendly expectation. When he’s introduced in the book, we simply see a man riding a mule and pulling two others behind him.

We know little more than this and the fleeting train in the background leaves us feeling that he’s just arrived. He moves toward the camera as the sun is falling, gently looking over his shoulder at his animals. The next page shows another photograph of Cuervo, titled Cuervo Writing Me a Shopping List. He sits down on the left side of the frame, in the shadow of snow covered mountains, flanked on the right by branches that form a dome shape and within it, his tent. Obviously this is his living space. We don’t know much more about Cuervo other than what these visual clues provide. Possibly, he is a transient or perhaps he lives here permanently. The landscape is barren and the snow, along with leafless trees, forces me to be overcome with a sense of loneliness.

Kurland’s book is filled with these images that evoke a sense of uneasiness, like every moment is fleeting: a young child in the backseat of a car, Casper at a campsite, Casper in the car, a train moving through hills, a couple at an auto repair shop. In many of the photos of Casper, I imagine a mother in the distance yelling for her child to return to the car. It’s almost as if there is a steady sense of urgency. Then, all of a sudden, a moment of calm arrives. It’s an ethereal image: Casper stands in a small opening along a rushing river. It’s late morning, maybe, with the sun just angling over the horizon and lending it’s soft golden hue to the scene. It reflects and refracts, through Casper’s hair, off of the water and the trees, finally settling over the forest floor like a warm blanket. Casper is standing in a field of pinecones, nearly naked save for the diaper he wears. He drinks juice from a jar with enthusiasm as if there is no more juice left in this world and he must enjoy it while he has it.

I constantly return to this image in the book but not for its technical prowess or particular visual beauty. What draws me in is the context in which this image exists. Among the photos of transients and trains, the hustle and bustle of constant travel and the unsettling feeling of never really getting to know a place, exists this image of brief reprieve. Casper is finding a moment to fully enjoy himself and escape all of the needs of his mother and the world. The unwavering beauty of the natural world serves as his backdrop and lends itself to the present sense of serenity. The photograph leaves me wanting more. It leaves me wanting to find my own Eden in which I can step away from it all while at the same time being as present as ever with the world around me.

As you move through the book, the peacefulness you yearn for gently peeks out. A man with a beard sits in the fork of giant tree with his eyes closed. A couple sits in a field of overgrown grass and wildflowers, having a picnic in the shadow of Interstate-5. A young girl plays an accordion, in the distance a group of men, quite possibly related to her, seem to have a party. A women sits on the trunk of her car, Colorado plates, looking just out of frame with tires piled all around her.

Fix a Flat 2013. © Justine Kurland
Fix a Flat 2013. © Justine Kurland

Casper, much older now than when he was in the forest, leans against his mother’s car blowing spit bubbles.

Justine Kurland, Spit Bubble, 2013. © Justine Kurland
Spit Bubble, 2013. © Justine Kurland

Toward the end of the book, a man with hair like Casper’s but much, much older, looks slightly upward and out of frame. He’s wearing a black faux leather jacket and a silver heart-shaped locket hangs from his neck. His fingers are wrapped tightly around a Coca-Cola can, overlapping each other. From his eyes pour a multitude of emotions and thoughts I will never understand but his presence is of the present. He maintains an air of peace about him that maybe only a life on the road can provide.

These feelings of serenity are combatted by Kurland time and time again within these pages. The repetition of trains is unsettling, in the least, constantly berating me with the sense that I am on the move. Their beauty is unwavering, the way they wind through mountain passes like fish swimming upstream or like the way the tail of a mermaid might flow effortlessly in the stillness of the deep sea. The trains seem to connect us to things we might otherwise ignore. A cowboy, drunk and on his horse, has a moment with his steed that breathes an air of genuineness and sincerity into the image. Piles of junk sit in the background but the peaceful demeanor of the horse as it lifts it’s head up, being pulled by the cowboy, is one that will be difficult to forget.

Drunk Cowboy 2007. © Justine Kurland
Drunk Cowboy 2007. © Justine Kurland

In-between moments like this surprise me regularly within these pages. A favorite image of mine is of a camper in the woods, sitting by a small fire on a makeshift bench, playing the violin.

Packing Goats in the Marble Mountains 2011. © Justine Kurland
Packing Goats in the Marble Mountains 2011. © Justine Kurland

This picture transports me to a place with an air of emotion that speaks like a metaphor to the calming potential of the road and the American landscape. I think that’s why so many photographers have such an intense obsession with the road. We find kingdoms in the most unsuspecting places and meet people with the experiences to make our travels worth it. The American landscape offers infinite possibilities that often go ignored by mainstream media but are integral to the very fabric of our society.

The voice of the photographer has acted like an anthropological record of American ways of living, following each dead-end road, dusty highway, and crossing every bridge to reach the fringes of our society in order to make our view whole. In the life of the medium, photography and the road have become synonymous with each other because this combination powerfully shows us parts of our world that we might otherwise forget is there at all.


You can find the archives of Alex Thompson’s column here.


About the author: Alex Thompson is a documentary photographer living in California’s Central Valley. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. His work focuses around environmental issues and the social consequences of environmental degradation. His work has been featured in publications like LA Weekly and The Guardian US and he is currently working on long term projects documenting the effect of extraction in Wyoming and life in communities along the SF Bay-Delta. You can find his work at www.alexthompsonphoto.com or on Instagram @alexthompsonphoto.

A Classic Photo Book Transformed Into an Adult Coloring Book

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Coloring books for adults have exploded in popularity over the past few years, as more and more people are revisiting their childhood activity for fun and therapy. Now one photographer’s classic photo book is capitalizing on the craze by being re-released as an adult coloring book.

Back in the Days by photographer Jamel Shabazz was originally published in 2001 and documents hip hop and street style in the 1980s.

Craig Cohen of powerHouse Books, Shabazz’s editor at the publisher, came up with the idea of turning the photo book — which has never been out of print — into a coloring book for adults to jump into the booming market, PDNPulse reports.

Released on August 2nd, 2016, Back in the Days Coloring Book has already become the #1 best seller on Amazon in the category “Fashion Coloring Books for Grown-Ups.

The 32-page book features 30 original drawings based on Shabazz’s photos and is “fun for ages 1 to 100,” the publisher says. Here are some of the photo-based illustrations found inside:

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“Straight from the old-school streets of NYC at the dawn of the hip-hop scene comes Back in the Days Coloring Book,” reads the book’s description. “Here is your chance to redraw the birth of old-school hip-hop fashion: hangin’ in Harlem, kickin’ it in Queens, and cold chillin’ in Brooklyn.”

If the craze continues and if this book takes off, it seems likely that other classic photo books will soon find their way to the adult coloring book market as well.


Image credits: All images from Back in the Days Coloring Book by Jamel Shabazz, published by powerHouseBooks.

Photographer Returns to Chernobyl 30 Years Later with Former Residents

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Chernobyl and the nearby city of Prypyat is a common subject, particularly for URBEX photographers who go there to document the deserted town. But photographer Alina Rudya‘s project/book Prypyat Mon Amour is different. Her family was there when the infamous accident happened, and when she returned to photograph the people whose lives were changed, she returned ‘home’ as it were.

For those of you who don’t know, today marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, still considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. To mark the anniversary, EyeEm interviewed Rudya about her experience photographing Prypyat, and what it was like returning over and over again over the past several years.

“My father was an engineer at the Chernobyl plant,” she tells EyeEm. “In fact, he was working a night shift at the atomic plant on that very night. The catastrophe altered my parents’ lives drastically and radically—and mine too.”

The place holds a special, if tragic, place in her life. A draw that brought her back for the first time in 2011, and then again in 2012, 2015 and 2016. “Chernobyl is a town I never knew and never will but, in many respects, all of my desires and passions sprung from its ruins,” she explains. “Many people I miss are gone because of it.”

Alina’s mother standing on what once was the main street of Prypyat.
Alina’s mother standing on what once was the main street of Prypyat.

Many of the first trips were about capturing her own past, understanding a place that was so important to her even though she was forced to leave it at just one year old. But the final trip, right before the 30-year-anniversary, was about other people.

“When I returned in 2016 … my life wasn’t the central focus,” she told EyeEm. “It was about the lives of others, of those who were evacuated—some my age, some older, some with children of their own.”

She brought these people with her, photographing them inside their old apartments, in the surroundings that make up their past and may have made up their future if the disaster had never happened. “I was documenting the stories of the city they left behind,” says Alina.

The completed project—the result of kind supporters that helped her realize Prypyat Mon Amour through Kickstarter—are haunting in a way that no Urbex image of gas masks ever could be. Here are just a few of them:

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Alina goes into much more detail about the project, her experience going back to Prypyat, and more in the full interview, which you should definitely check out.

You can find more of Alina’s work on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and EyeEm.


Image credits: Photographs by Alina Rudya and used with permission.

Things Organized Neatly: The Perfect Photo Book for Your Inner Neat Freak

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If you’re a neat freak—and I’m convinced almost everybody has a little bit of neat freak inside them—then Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday may be the most satisfying photo book you could possibly purchase.

Created by blogger and photographer Austin Radcliffe, the book is based on his Webby award-winning Tumblr blog by the same name, a blog dedicated to “the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90-degree angles…” also known as Knolling.

In short, it’s like a warm bath for your brain: no item out of place, everything arranged perfectly by size, color, shape, type, or all of the above.

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Six years after Radcliffe started the blog and two years after Rizzoli approached him with the idea for the book, Things Organized Neatly is finally up and available for purchase. Get it in hardcover for $17.

(via Mashable)


Image credits: Photos courtesy of Rizzoli Publications.