Many thanks to Douglas Stockdale and the reviewers of PhotoBook Journal for their curation of photobooks where the photographer has really explored, and created a sense of place. You will find a link to the full review in each post.
©Florian Bachmeier, 2021
In Limbo by Florian Backmeier
Publisher: Verlag Buchkunst Berlin, Germany,
Review by Gerhard Clausing
Uncertainty and anxiety mark the life of the people of Ukraine, especially these days. Getting international attention, it is a crucial moment in the progress of a country that has been through so much already. The suspense is evident and well caught in the images in this project by Florian Bachmeier, and the design and format of the book are a strong contribution to conveying the plight of the people and their strife.
When you first pick up this photobook, it gets your attention with its unusual format. The images are printed on matte paper, and are presented as a physical continuity from cover to cover. It is like an accordion (leporello) that has been glued down on one side and has been given gatefold-like cover flaps on each end that enclose the sequence like a capsule.
The presentation of the images gives us the feeling that things go on forever and ever without much change; the photographs are often divided across each particular French fold to continue on the next page, providing a stunning design continuity that matches the feeling conveyed by the photographer’s images. The end fold-outs, when extended on either side of the book, provide views of the vast landscapes of a country that needs to be rediscovered and that holds great promise, currently in limbo:
Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography Since 1970, edited by Makeda Best
Publisher: Harvard Art Museums, Yale University Press.
Review by Douglas Stockdale
While we at PhotoBook Journal tend to defer from broad thematic photobooks with a multitude of contributors, and in general the illustrated catalogs for exhibitions usually have little design and layout merit. I take exception with the recent exhibition publication in conjunction with Harvard Art Museums being very worth investigating. The exhibition and catalog for Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography Since 1970 is articulate and packaged in a smart design. It is a factual and well documented narrative about the destructive consequences of the American military on the American landscape that encompasses the environmental, social-economic, political and other broadly related issues that they have created.
I will also share up-front why I find this book relevant and perhaps my own bias; I live on a decommissioned WWII and Korean War Navy practice bombing range in southern California, which we receive routine letters for the Department of Army on what to do if we do find a bomb or rocket. Thus, much of which is written and illustrated in this book resonates with my own experiences.
©Harvard College, 2021
©scott b. davis, 2021
sonora by scott b. davis
Published by: Radius Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Review by Wayne Swanson
“Perverse” is a word that tends to pop up when the work of photographic artist scott b. davis is discussed. Which is strange because other than his willfully lower-case name, davis is not a perverse guy. Approachable, low-key, and easy-going, he’s well-regarded in the Southern California fine art photography world as founder and executive director of Medium Photo in San Diego, mentor to many budding artists, and all-around force for good.
Nevertheless, if his photography is not perverse, it’s at least decidedly contrary. Even he admits it: “As the world became fixated on new technologies, I found myself looking the other way, to the past, committed to exploring uncharted avenues of analog photography.” Instead of embracing the digital revolution, he became a large-format camera specialist and a platinum/palladium printing guru.
These tools are renowned for producing sumptuous prints with fine detail and a wide tonal range. Yet here comes the P-word again. In describing the work in sonora, curator Joshua Chuang writes: “Forgoing convention in favor of uncharted expression, [davis’s prints] register information on the extreme ends of the tonal scale rather than in the sweet spot in between, where we have been conditioned to find satisfaction. Davis’s use of platinum and palladium salts is similarly perverse (some might say reckless), yielding a sensory visual experience by privation.”
Tanpa Izin (Without Permission) by Ohemaa Dixon
Publisher: Catastrophe Media
Review by Debe Arlook
The gently layered experience of Tanpa Izin begins with the cover: an untitled forest green and black abstract photograph speckled with the Ben Day dot technique, mirrored on the back cover. Bound by a four-sided kelly green rubber band; I make note of the color green.
In her first photobook, Ohemaa Dixon offers an unconventional viewpoint of Bali and its people with a self-imposed practice that is both contemplative and meditative. As a passerby, she records raw quotidian moments, far from the trope imagery associated with Bali and commonplace travel photography. The location of Bali is only hinted at with the use of the Bahasa Indonesian language in the title of the book, translated as “Without Permission.” The intentional omission of Bali as its setting leaves an important element of Dixon’s narrative unaddressed.
The forward and annotations, written by Britt Belo, subtly voice Dixon’s introspective narrative. Belo writes, if given the choice of superpowers most people would choose to be invisible or fly, providing protection, peace and freedom. She continues:
“So what happens when in reality you walk the line of constant anonymity, yet always being unmistakable. Though it presents its burdens or ‘limits’, dangers even, this experience also lends itself to form a lens that is cautiously skeptical, full of stern grace, yet remains deeply intimate.” Belo ponders, “how would things shift if we were completely invisible?”
©Ohemaa Dixon, 2020
©Bruce Haley, 2021
Home Fires, Vol II: The Present by Bruce Haley
Publisher: Daylight Books, Durham, North Carolina
Review by Wayne Swanson
Bruce Haley is a photographer known for his international coverage of war and its aftermath. His work during Burma’s bloody civil war in 1990 earned him the coveted Robert Capa Gold Medal. Yet in his quiet personal work he keeps the home fires burning. The lands of his youth and his present are the subject of his two-volume Home Fires study. Vol I: The Past, reviewed here earlier this year, focuses on the place where he grew up, the San Joaquin Valley of central California. The just-released Vol. II: The Present takes us to his current home in the far northeastern corner of the state, on the edge of the Great Basin.
Both in their own ways reflect a family affinity for off-the-beaten-path places. The connection dates to the “Okie migration” that brought his father and family to California in the 1920s, eventually settling in the vast agricultural Central Valley. Haley’s current home is in one of the most isolated areas left in America. As he notes in his wry and engaging introduction to Vol. II, “If you drew a line east from my front porch, it wouldn’t hit a town for over 400 miles.” Yet Haley’s lens finds visual appeal in both places. There is a quote from Camille Pissarro that he likes: “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
Course of the Empire by Ken Light
Publisher: Steidl Verlag, Germany
Review by Melanie Chapman
Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay a photographer is to be so inspired by their work that you go out into the world and attempt to make pictures in the same vein. Thus, on Christmas Day, Ken Light’s new photobook Course of the Empire compelled this reviewer to drive downtown, seeking images that illustrate the sense of disparity that comes not “but once a year”.
The contrast of the haves and have-nots in America is so increasingly apparent that no amount of over-shopping can mask this truth, yet this exercise demonstrated that illustrating this conviction is no easy task and reinforces what a masterful photographer Ken Light continues to be.
Course of the Empire could also be titled CURSE of the Empire, or CALAMITY, or CORRUPTION…as Light’s impactful afterword begins: “This is not the America I grew up in.” The 209 images of this new Steidl publication were made over a period of ten years, in sad small towns and fancy opera halls. Divided into chapters such as Heartland, Metropolis, Transformation, and Regime, Light’s black and white photography reveals an empire in decline while the decadence of wealth and power continues unabated.
Light is from the school of social documentary photography, yet he is clearly a visual artist as well. Working with film in square format, Light’s use of framing and angle is evocative of Weegee, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Larry Fink and Robert Frank...
©Ken Light, 2021