Thursday, February 26, 2015

Aaron Siskind: Another Photographic Reality by Gilles Mora

My review of Aaron Siskind: Another Photographic Reality by Giles Mora (University of Texas Press, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

All images © Aaron Siskind/Aaron Siskind Foundation and University of Texas Press
All images © Aaron Siskind/Aaron Siskind Foundation and University of Texas Press
All images © Aaron Siskind/Aaron Siskind Foundation and University of Texas Press
All images © Aaron Siskind/Aaron Siskind Foundation and University of Texas Press

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts (update)

As we approach our publication date of late-April/early-May, I wanted to share some advanced praise the book has received from some incredible people. We'll be having some NYC based events and signings coming up, so stay tuned.

If you want to pre-order the book from UC Press, be sure to use the code below so you can get 30% off.

“A valuable, timely, and stimulating collection” 
- Geoff Dyer, author of The Ongoing Moment

“A remarkable compendium of important artists, practitioners, theorists, and essayists, who muse on what constitutes creativity in the lens and screen arts today. I think this book is destined to be essential reading for all those thinking about the future of our visual culture.” 
- Mark Lubell, Executive Director, International Center of Photography

“Brings together prophetic historic texts with the best of recent thinking to create an essential reader. This book provides a critical framework that genuinely supports a creative life in photography.”
- Charlotte Cotton, author of The Photograph as Contemporary Art

Pre-order the book here

For a 30% discount use source code: 14M6812

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Songbook by Alec Soth

My review of Alec Soth's Songbook (MACK, 2015) is now available on fototazo. You can read the review here and get the book here.

All images © Alec Soth/MACK
All images © Alec Soth/MACK
 All images © Alec Soth/MACK
All images © Alec Soth/MACK

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Printed in Germany by Christopher Williams

My review of Printed in Germany by Christopher Williams (Walther König, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

Christopher Williams is an acquired and erudite taste. His dense and discursive photographs tell complex stories about their subjects and production, which are both immensely pleasurable and maddeningly obtuse. Similar in many ways to The Pictures Generation, who are his rough contemporaries, Williams occupies a unique niche. Stubbornly hermetic, Williams utilizes both appropriated and rephotographed images, as well as his own photographs and those by professional photographers. Although drawn from a variety of different sources and taken by various photographers, the work maintains a uniform, detached, commercial look. The second volume in a three-volume catalog, Printed in Germany not only playfully deconstructs the exhibition catalog but also questions the language of photographic representation and exposes the knotty reality that informs and supports the images that surround us.

All images © Christopher Williams/Walther König
All images © Christopher Williams/Walther König

Since the 1980s, Williams has used the language of advertising photography, as well as a variety of photographic conventions, to create richly encoded images that foreground their own artifice. In each carefully crafted image, Williams lays bare the flaws of these visual models, while also directing ones attention to the expansive social, economic, and political forces that bring these images into being and sustain them. Loosely linked, Williams’ work includes variety of different subjects, including apples, smiling models, bisected cameras and lenses, overturned Renaults, and intricately stacked and sliced Ritter chocolate bars. Each image functions as its own visual essay with a non-inferable backstory or rationale that is often alluded to in the long, detailed descriptions of the images. In one case, a hovering tire points to the production of rubber in Vietnam, as well as the Vietnam War and possibly the remnants of a colonial empire. In another image, an African man from Gambia, wearing a crisp white German shirt, holds a Plaubel Makina, a German camera, which was later manufactured in Japan. Beyond suggesting a complex international chain of economic links, the exact meaning behind all these details remains unclear. Pristinely rendered, Williams’ work offers its own aesthetic pleasure, but is always asking us to look deeper. Whether we choose to follow is up to us.

All images © Christopher Williams/Walther König

Like Williams’ corresponding retrospective, whose true subject is the exhibition form itself, the book is and is not the true subject of the catalog. As Williams recently stated, the multi-volume catalog “really becomes a model of a book, rather than a survey catalog.” Stripped of text, Printed in Germany self-consciously plays with the book format. Images are abruptly cut off in the gutter, only to appear again in the next signature or spread, and occasionally run off the page. Depending on the version of the book you choose, the book is also filled with sections of green, red, or yellow monochromatic paper. In one case, an image of a bisected lens appears on one of these pages, but they are otherwise blank and function as both pauses and ruptures in the book’s flow. The gaps also remind one of spaces typically held by catalog essays or text. This possibility is underscored by the empty pamphlet that appears in the back of the book.

All images © Christopher Williams/Walther König

Printed in Germany, so named for the only text printed onto the back cover of the pamphlet, is the second volume in a planned three-volume catalog accompanying William’s travelling retrospective. The first volume, The Production Line of Happiness, is a comparatively slim book and principally contains essays from the curators at the three institutions that hosted the show: Mark Godfrey, Roxana Marcoci, and Matthew S. Witkovsky. Interspersed in the book are other reprinted texts, including a talk Williams gave on the artist John Chamberlain, a piece by Barbara Kruger, and text by Claes Oldenberg. Whereas The Production Line of Happiness outlines William’s creative lineage and output, Printed in Germany foregrounds the pictures,. The third volume, not yet named, is slated for 2015 and will contain all of the artist’s copious image captions, installation shots from all the venues, and transcriptions from symposiums that took place during the show. Although the third volume has not appeared, the first two volumes recently won the prestigious Aperture Book Award for the Best Catalog. In some ways, it feels incomplete to discuss only the second volume, especially since all three are so closely tied. Despite this fact, this image-centric volume will clearly appeal to those who prize Williams’ images above their complex back-stories.

As Peter Schjeldahl recently remarked, Williams can offer three responses —annoyance and frustration, deeper exploration of its subject, or simple visual pleasure. Each response is equally valid, and not mutually exclusive. Yet, for someone who pays such close attention to images and image culture, it seems odd that Williams’ more recent work largely ignores the transformative effects digital and Internet culture have had on the way we consume, disseminate, and use images. Instead, Williams’ seems fixated on a dated analog image culture and critique from the 80s. For all Williams’ fetishistic attention to the expansive framework of his images, their meaning often feels circumscribed and restrained. Despite the conservative reach of Williams’ critique, it is hard to find fault with such an ambitious and fearless catalog. Whereas most retrospective catalogs are musty affairs, it’s rare to find an artist who so wantonly deconstructs what is typically a career-defining monument.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photo-eye on January 29th, 2015.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Out There by Bruno Augsburger

My review of Out There by Bruno Augsburger (STURM & DRANG, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

Like a receding mirage, the “wild” has always existed beyond our reach. The exact position and nature of this categorical landscape shifts and changes depending on where we stand, but remains a constant trope — teasing us from afar and then slipping away. Journeying out beyond the perceived edge of civilized society and into this untamed space, it is easy to see the land as a foil or test. The nights are long, cold, or hot, and one is left largely to oneself. More imaginary than real, this desire for an untouched landscape has less to do with the terrain itself and has more to do with our desire for utopian renewal in a pristine landscape — a blank slate with which to not only position and redefine oneself but also move forward. Bruno Augsburger’s Out There joins a long tradition of venturing out into the wilderness. Evoking writers like Thoreau and London, Augsburger’s expansive images of the Yukon chart a personal journey and escape into a mythologized landscape.

All images © Bruno Augsburger
All images © Bruno Augsburger

We begin in the arctic. The Yukon. There is no journey, no destination. We’re just there. Thrown into the snow, the mist, and fog, we’re left to plunge through the heath and moss, staring out into the expansive landscape. Moving from winter to spring to summer, Augsburger takes us on a temporal and physical journey through the arctic landscape. Over the course of the book, the landscape is slowly transformed from a veil of snow into a tangled maze of verdant moss. Although the human presence is slight, we see the presence of Augsburger and his companions, either in a makeshift tent and carved out sleeping quarters or a freshly caught fish and slaughtered moose. Their bodies and death are a reminder of the prices paid to survive in this space. In an image that recalls the work of Caspar David Friedrich, we see a lone figure set against an expansive landscape and moving forward into the mist. Recalling Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea (1810), the meager figure is dwarfed by the snow and shrouded mountains, but moves forward into the abyss.

All images © Bruno Augsburger
All images © Bruno Augsburger

While Augsburger maintains this serene, and at times sublime, tone for most of the book, the illusion is broken about one third of the way into the book when we are shown an image of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Opened to show a spread containing one of the book’s most famous passages where Thoreau states, “I went to the woods to live deliberately,” the text immediately draws us out of Augsburger’s world. As if the influences are not clear enough, Augsburger also shows us copies of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Rosseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker similarly opened to a key passages. Unfortunately, these additions are unnecessary explication. Despite this small issue, the book is full of incredible photographs. From the enigmatic image that graces the cover of a man in a tree blind to an image, taken at dusk, of a small camping spot carved out of the snow and illuminated by a lantern, Augsburger’s images evoke an other worldly sublime.

Slightly oversized, the book is filled with beautiful reproductions that capture both the subtle white tones of the snow and the rainbow hued colors of the spring grass and moss. Underneath the dust jacket, the cover is blind stamped with a graphic of twin moose antlers over a fish — a fitting homage to the two animals killed in the book. Created in an edition of 600, the book is clearly a labor of love and result of many trips to the Yukon throughout year. The book begins appropriately with a quote from Thoreau about getting lost in order to find oneself. Followed by a pristine studio shot, taken from above, of all of Augsburger’s gear — knives, fishing rods, worn flannel shirts, cameras, and sleeping bags — these two elements are the only preface we need before we embark on our journey. I just wish Augsburger had trusted us enough to get lost with him.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photoeye on Jan. 22nd, 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Land Without Past by Phillip Ebeling

My review of Land Without Past by Phillip Ebeling (Fishbar, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

The erasure of individual and collective memory is often intertwined. Slow and cumulative, one image, one document or brick at a time until the illusion is complete and we’re left with blank spots or holes in the past. Phillips Ebeling’s Land Without Past deals with the painful erasure of one of the 20th centuries darkest moments. In the wake of WWII, Germany was left not only physically devastated, but forced to reconcile with the crimes it had committed against its Jewish population and the world. For those who participated, a simple denial was often all that was needed to move on. Burn the pictures, rebuild, and forget what happened. For those born in the wake of WWII, the task was not so easy. As Ebeling’s title suggests, they were born into a country without a past, or with part of its recent history excised, glossed over and forgotten, much less discussed openly. Combining his own color images with archival family photographs, Ebeling’s powerful book offers a glimpse into the difficult task of looking backwards, but also living with and acknowledging a past long forgotten.

All images © Phillip Ebeling and Fishbar
All images © Phillip Ebeling and Fishbar

Measuring approximately 10”x11” with a stark black dust jacket, the book commands a quiet presence. Dotted with empty photocorners, the cover resembles the internal pages of a photo-album. However, like the family albums Ebeling draws from, the photographs have been removed. Only one photograph remains on the back, and shows three happy young adults laying on the grass and looking at the camera. Slightly tilted, the remaining image appears as though it is about fall off the album, soon to be lost as well. Paired with Ebelings own medium format color images, the black and white family photographs inside the book have been enlarged and cropped to match size and proportions the color images. While many are innocuous family snapshots, some are more ominous and suggest a past many have chosen to forget. In one image, a group of Hitler Youth gathers and poses for the camera. In another, a small group of Nazi soldiers march past in the road and turn mid-stride to acknowledge the camera.

Ebeling’s own images are full of hidden and suggestive meanings that echo and draw on the older pictures. The book opens with the shot of a pristine house and well-manicured lawn. In typical German fashion, everything is perfectly maintained and organized, but the order seems to be hiding something. The next spread shows an older image of a young boy slouching in an armchair and is paired with a contemporary shot of a train set in the attic. Far from ideal as a playroom, the disheveled and long abandoned set-up shows a cloistered children’s playroom, shut off and insulated from the world outside. In light of the book’s larger themes, the boy’s sullen and annoyed expression takes on more complex meaning. In the book’s final image, we see an older man power washing a sidewalk — another mundane task that takes on greater meaning in the context of the book. While the symbolic meaning of Ebelings photographs works on their own, they are given added depth through the inclusion of the historical photographs, which force us to move constantly backwards and forwards in time, and reframe the present.

All images © Phillip Ebeling and Fishbar

Having left Germany for England many years ago, Land Without Past represents not only a return home for Ebeling but also an attempt to grapple with a past that was never truly left behind. By examining the subtle erasures that occurred within his own family history, Ebeling offers us a small glimpse at what must have taken place at a larger scale. While the years between 1930 and 1945 represent a large hole within the German historical consciousness, Ebeling’s work also hints at Germany’s struggle and turmoil in the wake of reunification and the years that followed. As Ebeling notes in the concluding essay, it’s possible “no two generations in the last hundred years has grown up in the same country.” Deceptively simple in its design and approach, the result is hard fought. Land Without Past succeeds in large measure because of its clarity, and demonstrates an astute and intelligent eye, as well an admirable courage that required looking into the past with clear eyes.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photoeye on Jan. 12th, 2015.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

100 Years by Doug Aitken

My review of 100 Years by Doug Aitken (Rizzoli, 2014) is now available on the newly relaunched Art Book Review. It's a great issue and I'm excited to be included in the relaunch issue.

All images © Doug Aitken and Rizzoli
All images © Doug Aitken and Rizzoli