Sunday, March 30, 2008

PIG 05049 and Checked Baggage by Christein Meindertsma


What do paintballs, plaster, industrial explosives, pet food, wine, train brakes, wallpaper, matches, photographic film, corks, bullets, body lotion, dog treats, fish food, cigarettes, insulin, heart valves, tambourines, bio diesel, sandpaper, cellular concrete, safety gloves, crayons, toothpaste, floor wax and a deep fried pig ear have in common? Christien Meindertsma lets us know in her wonderful yet somewhat disturbing book PIG 05049 published by Flocks in 2007.

PIG 05049 could possibly be one of the clearest expressions of the globalized approach to the complete use of an animal in the processing industry. The premise is quite simple, very early in to this book we are faced with a black-and-white graph which shows the individual weights of the skin, bones, meat, internal organs, blood, fat and miscellaneous parts of one pig weighing a total of 103.7kg as it enters the processing industry. Each of these individual weights is then distributed amongst the various products that an entire pig is used in the manufacturing. 2,301g of skin goes into the manufacturing of a typical Valentines Day "love heart" candy. 2,6134 g of skin goes into making gelatin that is used as a clarifying agent in wine. 17,572 g of bone ash from pig bones is used in the production of train brakes in Germany. Insulin, used to treat diabetics, can be produced from the pancreas of the pig which is the closest human insulin in terms of structure. Blasting gelatine, which derives from the processing of pig bones, goes into creating powerful industrial explosives. The book itself is not only about PIG 05049 but it is made partly from PIG 05049 -- Usage number 71, "Bone Glue" derived from pig bones is used in book binding.

Meindertsma is an industrial designer and artist whose interest in this project was to trace the invisible connections between the raw material and the eventual consumers. As she explains, "In a strongly globalized world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace these lines and due to the increasing scope and complexity of the meat processing industry, consumer has hardly any idea of the route and animal takes to its various finished products." Although she goes on to say that this book should not be mistaken as a statement promoting vegetarianism, there is a surprising element to much of this information of what is in our consumer goods that it caused a similar reaction in me to that of the film Soylent Green. Through the 185 different uses illustrated, this book reveals man and science walking the fine line between ingeniousness and madness.

PIG 05049 is a perfect conceptual art piece and an exquisitely crafted object. From the cardboard cover with its embossed title to the interior design with thumb-tab indexed sections there is no part of this book that does not appeal tactually or visually. Lucas Verweij, the Dean of Rotterdam Academy of architecture and urban design lends a foreword in which he discusses the generational differences of ideas of complete animal usage in the processing industry.


Christein Meindertsma's first book Checked Baggage published by Soeps Uitgeverij in 2004 is another conceptual art piece that addresses another fascinating aspect of contemporary life.

After 9/11, Meindertsma purchased a container of a weeks worth of objects confiscated at security checkpoints in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Due to the heightened security, nail files, scissors, pocketknives, corkscrews and any other sharp object were not allowed in hand luggage. Meindertsma then set about categorizing and photographing all of the 3264 prohibited objects on a white seamless background as if for a sales catalog.

The resulting book of 330 pages causes the viewer to reassess these objects in terms of their potential danger in our post-9/11 world. The ability of a few hijackers to take control of planes with a few box cutters has now created an atmosphere where even a child's pair of scissors or a cigarette lighter is subject to deeper suspicion. Meindertsma's book raises this issue as many of the objects featured seemed to mock seriousness of the baggage checker's notions of what can be considered dangerous. In this new "war on terror" do these security tactics actually make us safer or is there a deeper, more sinister reasoning behind the continual screening and curbing of individual rights for the sake of the greater "good?" Like PIG 05049, this book is also about a kind of madness.

Checked Baggage: 3264 Prohibited Items is another example of fine design and book craft. Appropriately made to feel more like a catalog, one could easily imagine a copy sitting next to the x-ray screener as a reference book of items to watch out for -- or perhaps someday when clear heads prevail -- it could serve as a barometer of our current state of paranoia.

This book has now become very scarce and valuable as it was featured in Parr/Badger volume 2 but should you find a copy while vacationing do not try to take this on board an airplane in your hand baggage. Each copy of Checked Baggage comes packaged with one of the 'prohibited items' that appears in the photographs. That would turn this conceptual art book into an on-site performance piece as the baggage screener -- seeing the ingeniousness of your intent to smuggle a dangerous art object on-board -- re-confiscates the 'prohibited item' and sends you onto the plane safe and sound, and cleared of suspicion.

www.theseflocks.com

Buy online at Dashwood Books

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Robert Frank: Zero Mostel Reads a Book & Pull My Daisy


Judging from the tone of the recent Vanity Fair article on Robert Frank, the master at 83 may not be long for this earth. Charlie LeDuff's opening paragraph describes Frank after he collapsed in a Chinese soup shop as looking "like something from a Kandinsky painting-slumped between a wall and stool-sea green, limp, limbs akimbo. It would have made a good, unsentimental picture: a dead man and a bowl of soup. Frank would have liked it. The lighting was right." LeDuff continues, "Frank had not looked well even before the soup arrived. He was lumpy and disheveled, his eyes rheumy, the lids bloated. He carried the general form of a man who had been pummeled senseless with a feather pillow." Reading this article cast a morbid shadow over the recent exhibition catalogs and reissued books. It is as if the record of his working life is being written late in the final act.

Steidl is continuing to release new versions of many of Robert's book and two more -- Zero Mostel Reads a Book and Pull My Daisy -- are now available.

Zero Mostel Reads a Book was published in June of 1963 by the New York Times "for the fun of it" and is dedicated to the American booksellers. It opens with a brief account of the authors running into Zero Mostel, the actor and comedian, on the street while on their way to a bookstore. Mostel, after finding out their intended destination proceeds to tell them "about books." What comes after this introduction of purpose is a humorous sequence of 36 photographs by Frank of Mostel in various states of "reading."

Mostel, who was probably best known for his role as Max Bialystock in The Producers, was a master at conveying a multitude of personalities and infusing them with a comic twist mostly through the use of his eyes in tandem with his mussed comb-over. Who can forget the hotel scene in Martin Ritt's The Front in which Mostel plays Heckey Brown, a stage comedian whose career was destroyed by the 1950s HUAC blacklist?

In Frank's pictures, Zero takes on the personalities of various bookworms such as; a reader who turns the pages with dainty touch, the public orator, a man frightened by what he reads, the insomniac who finally drifts off with a bed full books and many others. Obviously playing for the camera, Mostel's creations are wonderfully infectious. For Frank, this must've been one of the more enjoyable photography jobs of his career.

Compared to the first edition the only real difference is a change to the arrangement of the typography on the cover and introduction and to the weight of the paper stock. The trim size remains the same and the new printing mimics the original very closely.

Pull My Daisy was originally published by Grove in 1961 two years after the film was completed. I do not own the original to make a direct comparison to this new edition but this version opens up with the poem Pull My Daisy by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac followed by a brief introduction by Jerry Tallmer and a transcript of Kerouac's voice over narration. The rest of the book is made up of 16mm film stills and behind the scenes set photographs shot by John Cohen.

Larry Rivers, who plays the character of Milo, recalls in his autobiography What Did I Do, "I never understood this goofy little masterpiece as it was being filmed, but it was pleasurable playing the part of the stoned train conductor and carrying and kerosene lamp in the company of such beat luminaries. Pull My Daisy was made by Al Leslie and Robert Frank, who had been arguing for 30 years over the rights."

One interesting note about this film is that the actor who plays Milo's wife, credited as simply Beltiane, is Delphine Seyrig who would go on to star in Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad.

The original edition of this book was in trade paperback format and is in no way worth the current prices it is commanding on the rare book market. This edition is in hardcover and similar to Zero Mostel Reads a Book, the paper stock is much heavier than the original.


Lastly, there is a small catalog on Robert Frank entitled Words from the Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano and Ediciones Lariviere in Argentina. This exhibition was curated from work in the collections of the Fotomuseum Winterthur and the Fotostiftung Schweiz. For Frank aficionados there might be only one or two images that have not been reproduced many times elsewhere so I wouldn't advise driving yourself crazy trying to track down a copy. The work is set chronologically opening in Switzerland in 1944 and progresses through Peru, Paris, The Americans, and the Polaroid work. It contains approximately 50 photographs into 64 pages in length. The design and printing is adequate but on the whole it seems a bit cheap.

Buy Pull My Daisy at Steidlville

Buy Zero Mostel Reads a Book at Steidlville

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Anselm Kiefer: Books 1969 - 1990


I will admit right from the get go that I feel way in over my head when trying to write about this next artist. Probably because my initial response to a lot of art is to define its meaning and a discomfort arises when the work is resistant and asks the viewer to experience the work and then live with the consequences of that experience. Anselm Kiefer's art seems in large part to want to remain enigmatic. By drawing on iconography from such varied sources that are largely unfamiliar to me in Germanic and Nordic culture, history, the Jewish Kabbalah, alchemy, and mythology, the deeper meanings feel forever just out of my grasp. I am sure whatever I divine from the work is only scratching the surface. That being said I often find his paintings, leaden sculpture and certainly the artist books vastly compelling.

There are many books published on Kiefer's work that lend entire sections to the discussion of his artist books but there was title published in 1990 by Edition Cantz und Autoren on the occasion of a traveling exhibition dedicated entirely to 21 years of his book craft called Anselm Kiefer Books 1969 - 1990. Now somewhat rare and costly, this edition is by far one of my favorite books on artist books in my collection.

For Kiefer, making books has been a major part of his work since 1968. What interests me about his artist books is that he incorporates not only photography into their making but many of the other materials such as sand, straw, tar, and lead. The physicality of his books expands the notion of what can comprise a book. These are handmade, one-of-a-kind objects that seem delicate and prematurely aged. I can imagine that these books are not handled very often but it seems that by incorporating these physical materials, part of what the artist was interested in was their change over time through use.


Much of Kiefer's work has been controversial because of what he saw as a necessity to boldly confront the horrors of Germany's recent past. He, along with Joseph Beuys, was among the first to use his art to address the war, Nazi-ism and the fascist attitudes that most German citizens were attempting to let reseed quickly out of the collective memory. A prime example of Kiefer's provocative attitude can be seen in one of his earliest books called Heroische Sinnbilder (Heroic Symbols). Made in 1969, this book opens with photographs of Kiefer clothed in boots and overcoat reminiscent of a soldier's and appearing to walk on water in a tub full to the brim. The caption in German reads, "Go on water" and below in parentheses, "Attempt in the bathtub.” Pages later Kiefer makes a different series of self-portrait photographs alongside the Rhine River bowing his head and giving a Nazi salute. Much of the rest of the book plays out in photographs with him in different locations saluting. Those photos sit alongside images of people like Josef Thorak who was one of the official sculptors of the Third Reich.

Often Kiefer's books and paintings will recycle subject matter at different times throughout his career. In terms of books, often they appear as a series based upon a theme. One fine example is called Die Uberschwemmung Heidelbergs of which there are five books that share that title differentiated by Roman numerals. The cover of the first book of this series displays a historical photograph of soldiers alongside a gigantic antiquated cannon. The book mixes references to war and the establishment of the foundations of Nazi-ism alongside images of what appears to be the chaotic paper strewn studio of the artist. Towards the end of the book, landscape photographs (of Heidelberg?) are displayed in a sequence in which the images darken until they become voids of black. This work seems to be an early example of Kiefer mixing symbolism and narrative in two the books to work ideas in a much different manner than which his paintings can operate.


Das Deutsche Volksgesicht Kohle fur 2000 Jahre (The Face of the German People: Coal for 2000 Years) created in 1974, is a curious mix of two books -- one mounted to the face of another larger book. The smaller seems to be an actual offset book of German faces that was printed for public distribution; Kiefer's contribution in the larger book is a series of charcoal drawings overprinted with the texture of wood that give the impression of people ingrained into the land.


Ausbrennen des Landkreises Buchen (The Cauterization of the Rural District of Buchen) also from 1974 utilizes the common imagery in Kiefer's work of the barren landscape. It is this work that might be most comparable to the photography of the Japanese provoke era. Most of Kiefer's photographs whether made by him or appropriated draw attention to their deteriorating surfaces either through chemical contamination, print fogging, splotchy development or other means. The heavy grayness accentuated by the muddy landscapes and tonally darkened skies steers the viewer towards a mood that expects the worst possible outcome. This book progresses through fields that become covered with fire smoke until the book becomes double-page spreads of textured black. The last few spreads take on the tonality of ash.


The next book could possibly be one of Kiefer's most accessible. It was the first for me that provoked a deeper interest in Kiefer's work. Sigfried's Difficult Way To Brunhilde made in 1977 is a book of 108 pages of double-page spread photographs that Kiefer made while walking along abandoned railway beds. For obvious reasons, railroad tracks provoke unwanted memories of their used during wartime. In this work in Kiefer parallels this history with the third cycle of Wagner's opera The Ring. Each photograph essentially describes the same view standing in the center of the railway bed and looking off into the distance and following the diminishing perspective. The railway bed itself, for the most part lacking actual rails, takes on further significance when the piles of rocks that make up its foundation conjure association to images describing piles of shoes and eyeglasses of victims of the Holocaust. Within the last 10 pages of the book, painted fire appears on the horizon in direct reference to Wagner's hero Siegfried entering the ring of fire surrounding Brunhilde as well as the crematoriums used in the Final Solution.


A shift occurs in the 1980s where Kiefer's allegorical or metaphorical subjects shift from the physical world and history towards the spiritual. This occurrence is in keeping with Kiefer's original provocations to face difficult history in order to heal the self. Isis und Osiris (Isis and Osiris) made in 1987 is a prime example of this shift. This 17 double-page book by its title and content refers to the Egyptian mythological gods that often symbolized the transition from the earthly realm into the afterlife. Kiefer buries his photographs under layers of mud and occasionally intersperses the pages with images of coffin like voids filled with water possibly meant to represent the river Nile.

These are but a few of the 33 artist books illustrated in Anselm Kiefer: Books 1969-1990. This is not a complete catalog of all of this book works between these years but it definitely illustrates the range of not only subject but physicality of his books. It was published in both hard and soft cover. Due to the size and thickness my softcover edition seems very susceptible to damage to the spine. The reproductions seem faithful to the originals although in other books the same exact copy photographs are often reproduced with much more contrast, richness and density. This book was published in both German and English editions and features essays by Gotz Adriani, Peter Schjeldahl, Toni Stoose and Zdenek Felix.

Note: The illustrations used in my composites were scanned from a book on Anselm Kiefer by Daniel Arasse that was published by Abrams in 2001. Although the book described above contains hundreds of illustrations of spreads from these artist books, I chose to scan from this lesser valuable title to keep from damaging the spine of the other. Most of the illustrations shown above appear in Anselm Kiefer Books 1969-1990 but some may vary.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fine Photobooks auction at Christie's


Those of you with deep pockets will be interested to know that there is another Christie's auction coming up on Thursday, April 10, 2008. This is being touted as the greatest photo book auction to date. All of the 200 lots come from an "important private collection" in which some of the rarities of photography book history have been amassed and all of which are supposedly in very fine condition. What additionally makes many of these extra special is the fact they are signed or are association copies. For instance should you have an estimated $40,000 you might be the highest bidder for a copy of Brassai's Fine PhotobooksParis De Nuit signed to Andre Kertesz from Brassai. Oh -- and many come housed in a custom-made cloth folding box with foil stamped titles and information on the spine.

Here are a few other items that caught my eye:

A copy of Jindrich Styrsky's Emily Comes To Me in a Dream published in 1933 for $70,000. This is the deluxe issue, one of only 10 copies signed by Strysky and Bohuslav Brouk who provided the text.

A copy of Facile inscribed by Paul Eluard and Man Ray to Hans Bellmer. ($35,000)

Bill Brandt's The English at Home within which Brandt inscribed a note to his wife's sister and signed it ‘Billy.’ ($4,000-6,000)

Hans Bellmer’s La Poupee with an additional silver print. Number 4 of only 5 copies. ($60,000-80,000)

Robert Capa's Slightly Out of Focus inscribed “To Pat Covici who published my first book [Death in the Making] and sold 317 copies in ten years of it. With continuous love, Robert Capa.” ($5,000)

Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment signed by ‘Hank’ to Edward Weston. ($25,000) Bresson seemed to enjoy finding different ways to sign his name by using Hank, Henri and the very unusual moniker of Enri Ca Bre'.

A copy of William Klein’s Life is Good and Good For You in New York: Trance Witness Revels that he gave to Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. ($7,000-10,000)

If you have an estimated $60,000-90,000 you might wind up the proud owner of a complete set of Ed Ruscha's 19 different artist's books.

For $2,500-3,500 you could own Bruce Nauman's Burning Small Fires which is an artist book of photographs of Nauman burning a copy of Ruscha's Various Small Fires and Milk. I like the book but financially speaking I think Bruce would've been better off if he hadn't taken a match to his copy.


Harry Callahan's Photographs signed to Aaron and Caroline Siskind ($4,000-6,000)

One fun item is a copy of Lee Friedlander's Self-Portrait on which the back cover of the book is printed with an upside down and sepia colored version of the front cover design and photograph. Within Lee's inscription he offers a return policy to the recipient Arnold Crane.

There is an interesting copy of Robert Adams's The New West that was from the collection of Peter Bunnell a curator at the Museum of modern Art who curated Adams's show. This copy comes with a photocopied maquette predating the book that was meant to assist in installing the exhibition at MOMA in 1971.


There is a copy of a book that I must own at some point in my life. Take this as a small cry of assistance to anyone for whom money is no object and who feels an appreciation of my efforts here at 5B4 enough to want to reward me with a copy of Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e - Towards the City. ($4,000-6,000) Raise a paddle in the name of 5B4. Pretty please? (Second book in comp above after Friedlander)

One other book that I saw down in Washington that is up for auction is a copy of William Eggleston's Morals of Vision. Number 2 of only 19 copies it is a book of eight C-prints mounted onto heavy paper. From what I have heard the couple of Eggleston's books that do include C-prints (Election Eve, Flowers and Wedgwood Blue) were made as a way to protect the prints from fading. ($28,000 to 35,000)

A copy of Donigan Cumming's disturbed little book, The Stage within which Cumming has annotated many of the pages with the subject’s current status of: ‘alive’, ‘gone mad’, ‘beaten to death’, ‘dead’, etc. ($2,500-3,500)

For those of you like me who feel out of place even observing auctions from the sidelines should at least find a copy of the catalog which is the thickest I have ever seen for a book auction. Each title is given its own page and often its own spread of pages. In most cases, the signature or inscription is shown.

Christie's is offering six days of previewing for this auction starting on April 4 and running each day until the auction so albeit unfortunate that that will be the closest that most of us will ever get to these great books, it will be a treat to see them in person.

It will be interesting to see how this auction does considering how fine the American economy is doing. According to Bush all is well because our Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke worked over the weekend to straighten it all out so I am expecting record-setting results. So go to it, turn your gold into paper at the wave of an auction paddle.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Three books on Saul Leiter


Making art does not always seem suited for people who wish to be left alone. A majority of artists produce work that they wish to be seen at some point usually, hopefully, while they are still alive. It seems to be the case today that -- hiding closely behind the impetus of having something to say and creating the work that says it, is also, for some, a need for the attention that the work may bring to soothe the ego. Saul Leiter is an artist of the rarer sort who has worked quietly for 60 years and has taken steps to avoid the spotlight.

Leiter has been a painter since the early 1940s who, after visiting the Henri Cartier Bresson exhibition at the Museum of modern Art in 1947, decided to pursue photography seriously. After exchanging a few W. Eugene Smith prints for a Leica camera, he started making black-and-white photographs around his neighborhood in New York City. Within just a few years Leiter was exhibiting in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo but he also made decisions like not to submit photographs for the Family of Man exhibition even after being invited to by Steichen. Unlike many photographers who work hard and then become embittered if they are ignored, Leiter found some early public success but seems to have become less interested in sharing the work to larger audiences and just wished to continue working in solitude.

What set Leiter apart from most of his contemporaries that were mining similar territory within everyday life on the streets of New York was his use of color as early as 1948. Where many photographers were using black-and-white film and choosing an aggressive confrontation with their subjects, Leiter seemed more like a spy or private detective taking notes and wishing to go unnoticed. It does not seem that he is doing so out of a sense of timidity but, rather to do unto others as he wished done unto himself -- be left alone. His compulsion to observe beauty is what drew him into the lives of others on the street but there is no sense that he wished any more contact with them beyond making his photographic notes. This becomes clear when given the chance to look through a substantial amount of his work. Leiter takes his notes when his subjects often have barriers between where they stand and his camera or he sandwiches them within reflections of store windows, mirrors, or car windows. Other times he chooses vantage points from above or behind his subjects where minor body language and gesture take on a larger meaning that carries the weight of the photograph. Leiter's color palette is one of muted tonalities that convey a sense of age. Most likely partly due to the instability of the dyes in the materials he used, the photographs "read" as belonging to another era and flirt with, but avoids falling into, sentimentality and nostalgia.

In 2006, Steidl published Saul Leiter Early Color a collection of 79 images from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. This elegant book, modest in size, has quickly become a collector's item as it rapidly sold completely out. This was a long awaited title for those of us familiar with Jane Livingston's The New York School: Photographs 1936-1963 book and exhibition which, in the early 1990s, was partly responsible for Saul's name as a photographer to reemerge into public view after decades of silence. A second exhibition one year later at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York confirmed Leiter as one of the major overlooked talents of his generation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this quiet artist has found an audience so appreciative of his work.


2007 saw the release of Photo Poche number 113 which is dedicated to an overview of Leiter's work. In keeping with the standard format of the Photo Poche series, this features a mix of 64 black-and-white and color images. Interestingly this title includes a few intimate photographs of women that hint at Leiter's personal relationships. These black-and-white photographs, often nudes, are at times shot employing the same strategy of the street photographs with oblique framing that achieves a voyeuristic tone.

Unfortunately the quality generally achieved in these little books does not lend itself to the subtlety of an artist like Leiter's tonalities. In comparison to the book mentioned above, several of these plates are over-corrected in their color balance and drain some of the character of the originals.


This year sees another collection of Leiter’s work, this time published on the occasion of an exhibition at the foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris on view until April 13. Co-published with Steidl, this book is the largest offering of Saul Leiter’s work with 106 black-and-white and color photographs. Also modestly sized but slightly taller than Early Color, this book is beautifully printed and designed. What makes both of these titles additionally appealing is in their handling of the photographs in terms of scale. Both reproduce the images approximately 4” x 6” and surrounded by large white margins. This creates clear definition of the borders of the images and adds to the sense of their individuality.

I have heard that this book, like Early Color, is already selling so rapidly that it is difficult to find in certain places. According to the Steidlville website it is already SOLD OUT!

I love the idea that work of this nature is so popular but I am also somewhat distressed at the idea that these books may become collector’s items and thus less readily available in the future. That would be the ultimate irony, if the attention that Leiter avoided during his career, would now be the element which pushes his work back into obscurity.

Book Available Here (Early Color)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The New West by Robert Adams Aperture reissue


In 1972, due to a job transfer imposed upon my father, my family moved from Medford, New Jersey to Phoenix, Arizona. Sight unseen, my parents purchased a home in a Phoenix suburb with the promising name of Paradise Valley and over the course of a few weeks they packed up our belongings, arranged for the moving van to leave a couple days ahead of our own departure date, and embarked on what must have been a frightening prospect of leaving family and friends to make a new life in unfamiliar territory. They were the first of any of our extended family to head west. My father was ten years younger than I am now. I was four.

My earliest memories of ‘out west’ seem two or three stops overexposed. What made an immediate impression, and what took a long time to get used to, was the Arizona sunlight. One hundred and eighty degrees (in the shade) from any of my remembrances of my time in New Jersey which seemed clouded and gray, the sunlight out west was exposing, dangerous, and yet excruciatingly beautiful.

Our home sat at 9222 on a street called North Arroya Vista Drive East and on the edge of a desert preserve within which my brother and I could venture out into what we thought was unblemished desert. There, with green plastic military style canteens linked to our hips, we would stomp through dry river beds -- driving pellets from our air rifles into the bellies of Saguaro cactus and smashing beer bottles with rocks launched from ‘wrist-rocket’ slingshots. After a few hours we would return home exhausted and sunned with the odor of crushed creosote leaves on our clothes and hands. Looking through the new Aperture edition of Robert Adams perfect book The New West, I now realize that Adams, at the same time, was forming his critique of suburban sprawl within the communities and ideals of families like my own.

Looking at The New West for me is very similar to tapping into the slight sense of unease that I felt within this landscape. Architecture and signage sprung up in places where they seem as susceptible to rejection from the soil as the sporadic growths of sun-dried vegetation. The brick church in Colorado Springs with its Sunday school gathering outside on page 54 of Adams's book could easily be mistaken for a wing of my school, Mercury Mine Elementary. Both of these buildings sit on flat land extending in all directions with no clear borders of a fence or tree line like I was used to seeing in New Jersey. Everything in this new landscape seemed exposed and surrounded by the sense of the unfinished.

Adams starts his book by traveling along on a farm road lined by grazing lands. On page 10, four pictures into the sequence, the unpaved frontiersman's road doubles its width in blacktop and on the following page immediately claims its first victim with a jack rabbit road-kill. Quickly Adams throws the barriers of the man-made in between where we stand and the West of our imagination. A gas station, a four lane highway, a grid of tract houses designed as if following a child's drawing becomes the focus of attention. Within these vistas, metaphors abound; on page 24, a man / gold-seeking prospector digs a coffin shaped basement for tract house; the skeletal frame of another tract home sits on the corner of ‘Darwin Place’ -- foreshadowing its own extinction by looking like many a sun-bleached carcass; a reminder of Manifest Destiny lurks in the shadow of another home which resembles the peaked steeple of a prairie church.

As John Szarkowski wrote in the foreword of The New West, "But whether out of a sense of fairness, a taste for argument, or a love of magic Robert Adams has in this book done a strange and unsettling thing. He has, without actually lying, discovered in these dumb and artless agglomerations of boring buildings the suggestion of redeeming value. He has made them look not beautiful but important, as the relics of an ancient civilization look important." He concludes his essay, "Though Robert Adams's book assumes no moral postures, it does have a moral. It's moral is that the landscape is, for us, the place we live. If we have used it badly, we cannot therefore scorn it, without scorning ourselves. If we have abused it, broken its health, and erected upon it memorials to our ignorance, it is still our place, and it before we can proceed we must learn to love it. As Job perhaps began again by learning to love his ash pit."

Aperture's new facsimile edition of The New West: Landscapes Along the Colorado Front Range is most likely the most beautiful of the three editions. I do not own the first edition to make adequate comparison but given the technological innovations since it was originally published by the Colorado Associated University Press in 1974, I can’t imagine it compares to the exquisiteness seen here. I do own a copy of the Walther Konig edition from 2000 and sitting that edition alongside this one, I immediately noticed an extension of the tonal values of each plate in this new edition. The Konig edition has much more contrast and loses detail on both ends of the scale. (I also hope that Aperture used a more acid free paper than the Konig as that edition is very susceptible to yellowing of the page edges.)

The separations were made by Thomas Palmer and the printing is by Trifolio in Verona and more than ever do the plates do justice to the harsh quality of the Western light while holding full detail. The reproductions in this edition were made from the original master set of prints which reside at the Yale University Art Gallery.

My family spent 12 years escaping from the sun and employing inventive ways to keep the car seats from blistering our skin before the pull of extended family eventually drew us back East where I cultivated an interest in the arts. I often wonder what I would have made of myself had we stayed on. The Phoenix of my childhood is more than twice its size now and has become susceptible to hovering sheets of smog. Our suburban development called Heritage Heights now seems tiny and completely surrounded by superhighways leading into downtown.

I have a hard time imagining it, but perhaps I would have gone on to stake my own claim to the west by spray-painting my name onto an outcropping of rocks in the foothills that overlook the home where I'd live out my days in blissful ignorance of Robert Adams's prophetic masterpiece.

Buy online at Aperture

Book Available Here (The New West)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Under Bordet by Hans E. Madsen


I remember the first time I saw the photograph that William Eggleston made of the view under a bed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1972. It was a revelation because Eggleston had stuck his camera into place I can't ever remember seeing before. Walker Evans showed us the sharecropper’s bedroom. Many other artists like Chauncey Hare have offered many views of bedrooms as well, but never had I seen in a photograph a view so ordinary; it is as if the photographer had woken up on the floor, having not made it to the bed after a night of drinking. In fact, many of Eggleston's views have chosen such low vantage points of laying prostrate that they introduce the sensation of something tangible; the coldness of the floor as we look towards the toilet with its upturned seat and glowing red by the bathroom light; the feel of the okra colored carpet as we look towards the miniature up right organ pushed against the wall looking faintly religious.

I recently discovered a small publication of photographs from Denmark called Under Bordet by Hans E. Madsen which concentrates on poking the camera into similar territory. Published by Space Poetry in 2006 Under Bordet is an inexpensive artist book of 16 color photographs that were shot under dinner tables.

The implication of photographing underneath kitchen and dining room tables is more akin to the somewhat perverse genre of so called “up-skirt” photos common from Japan. And although that is not the intention, nor the content of these photographs, there is a slight unease stirred in the viewer because we really have no business being privy to this vantage point. Somehow these are spaces that have become private.

I don't know if Hans is looking through the viewfinder or shooting from the hip or, should I say from the lap, but the photographs have had implied casualness about them. The best of which, reveal so much interesting photographic happenstance and geometry that they run in close competition to the examples set forth by Eggleston. These are photographs that have been brought together to work under a conceptual framework as opposed to being taken on their individual merit, so it is understandable that some of these photographs do not work beyond relating to the others. In one of the more remarkable, the frame is split in two nearly equal halves - the upper half of which is the illuminated underside of the table; the bottom reveals an arched tablecloth, a blue flowered skirt, and a human hand that witnesses our intrusion. In another, the flash ungracefully lights the shoe of someone sitting cross-legged as it encroaches into the personal space of another person's jean-covered knee. This encounter is hidden underneath a yellow tablecloth.

Under Bordet is approximately 6 x 8 inches, 24 pages and staple bound with glossy bright yellow covers. The full-color reproductions are decently printed.

This little artist book is not entirely satisfying but it avoids falling into complete novelty. It is more like a snack, or hand out, given discreetly under the table.

Buy online at Space Poetry

Friday, March 14, 2008

Baghdad Suite by Andrew Phelps


Tape Transcript, Oval Office, White House, Washington DC April 3, 2006

(Recorder #1315 Nouthwest corner directional)

(Start transcript: 02:11:17:41)


Bush: Rummy could you step into my Oval? Condi, babe could you get me a cup-o-joe -- light and sweet?

Rumsfeld: What's happening, Mr. Presi…George.

Bush: Someone mailed me this -- uh -- book to my ranch in Crawford and ah, it's got a name called Baghdad Suite by some feller named Andrew Phelps. Take a look Rummy and tell me what this is -- uh -- about.

Rumsfeld: I don't do book reviews. Quagmires either.

Bush: I ain’t uh -- asking for a book review there Rummy. I remember how mad you got when I asked for the briefing on My Pet Goat but this here book looks kinda like a -- political doohicky.

Rumsfeld: My God! Henny Penny the sky is falling! Are we letting photographers out of the press pools to wander free? Was this Phelps an inbed?

Bush: Whoa -- heh heh heh -- look at all that destruction. Where is this Tikrit? Looks like we opened a can of whoop ass -- heh heh heh -- on some insurgents. Evil-do'ers.

Rumsfeld: George, something doesn't look right here. Something seems suspicious.

Bush: Suspicious. I know it. Look at how these people live. They could use some -- uh -- democracy. Do those buildings look up to code?

Rumsfeld: Please George, focus. What I'm saying is the buildings don't seem real.

Bush: Well not anymore -- heh heh heh -- not after a couple Daisy Cutters.

Rumsfeld: Give me the book George.

Bush: Pretty color pitchers. 8 of them. Kinda like Stephen Sho...

Rumsfeld: Give me the book George!

Bush: It was sent to me! I'm the decider guy here...

Rumsfeld: (Wrestles the book away) Look George, look at this picture closely and tell me what you see.

Bush: Well -- ah -- I see an insurgent compound. I see an insurgent compound cleared of insurgents. I see an insurgent compound where we did such a good insurgent-clearing job that even the dead insurgent bodies have been cleared from the insurgent compound.

Rumsfeld: Thank God for that, death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war. But -- George look closely. The building on the last page is fake. There's no real structure behind it. It's just a façade.

Bush: Façade? I didn't know you spoke French. Is it true the French don't have a word for entrepreneur? How you say Skull and Bones in Francaise?

Rumsfeld: Never mind that! Let's think about this logically. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist, does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist. Based on that assumption, I don't think these pictures are from Baghdad at all.

Bush: What the hell do you mean these ain’t from Baghdad? The title of the book is Baghdad Suite! Of course they're from Baghdad. Look at the writing on that wall on page one. That's arabic. Plus nowhere else on earth looks that messed up except for maybe Flint, Michigan -- and there ain't no arab writin’ on the walls in Flint.

Rumsfeld: Let me check out this Phelps guy. I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know.

Bush: You gonna look em up on The Google?

Rumsfeld: Yeah just a second.

Bush: Check my ranch on The Google Map. Come on Rummy -- Google Map Crawford -- Pull up one of them satallite...

Rumsfeld: Calm down George. Oh, Phelps is an artist photographer.

Bush: I guess he's the one that took these pictures. A hot-air artist, people who have got something fancy to say.

Rumsfeld: Grew up in Arizona and currently lives in Austria.

Bush: Arizona -- the wild west -- frontlines of the fight to protect our borders. Gotta keep out the terrorists coming in from Mexico.

Rumsfeld: Terrorists from Mexico? No George, it's not El Quada, it's Al Quada.

Bush: Al Quada? That's it! -- Double A's! Where ever this Phelps artist-guy lives, the places start and end with the letter A. Like Al Quada too! Connect the dots with me -- he may be a -- an evildo'er with a camera.

Rumsfeld: I don't think he's a terrorist George, I'm just trying to figure out what he means by this book. I mean, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know. I think this is an unknown unknown.

Bush: Well one unknown thing I know is -- well, maybe he's obviously a supporter of the war and he wants to show the good job were doing bringing democracy to these democracy lovin' Iraqis.

Rumsfeld: I don't know George, I think he's trying to say something more metaphoric.

Bush: Like that Jeff Wall guy?

Rumsfeld: What?

Bush: That Jeff Wall! That other artist guy, Jeff Wall. You remember, we saw one of his pitchers at the National Gallery. Remember?

Rumsfeld: No...

Bush: Yeah Rummy -- you were the one that pointed it out to me. A big Afghanistan photo with the dead Russian soldiers eatin' each other's brains.

Rumsfeld: Oh right. You think this Andrew Phelps character is just out to get his photos into the National Gallery?

Bush: Maybe he wants me to pull some strings? I can see this hangin' in there.

Rumsfeld: Well, um, you know, something's neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so, I suppose, as Shakespeare said. I'm just concerned that he mailed this to you directly. This must be a statement of some kind.

Bush: Let me take a gander here. See if I can deduce -- maybe -- he -- maybe he's trying to say that the façade of these buildings is a metaphor for how little we really understand Iraq and other civilizations. Maybe that -- our concept of bringing democracy is really only based in the surface appearance of things -- that the true core is -- the true core is not -- ever addressed.

Rumsfeld: Where did that come from?

Bush: Hold it, I'm on a roll -- maybe he's also saying that these façades are kind of like a filmset -- and you know, we are in a -- theater of war and uh -- the whole war is like a fake construct -- uh -- you know like when we were planning it and we created the story about the yellow pie...

Rumsfeld: Yellowcake.

Bush: Right, the yellowcake -- when we made the yellowcake an issue and we got all the people behind us -- you know like manufacturing consent. Maybe that's what this Phelps guy is trying to say. You know -- let us know he's onto us.

Rumsfeld: I'm impressed George. The clarity of your thinking. I've never quite witnessed that before. Even the allusion to Chomsky.

Bush: Chomsky -- he's funny -- you know my daddy said, when he was a part of the CIA -- he read Chomsky and used all of the techniques of manipulation that Chomsky said he discovered. The funny thing was that none of the techniques of manipulation had actually been used before. See my daddy -- heh heh heh -- learned how to manipulate the media and manufacture consent from Chomsky's books! Jokes on you Chompy!

Rumsfeld: I had no idea. But how do you know so much about art?

Bush: I've been -- uh -- reading Artforum. You know Paul McCarthy? I like that Paul McCarthy.

Rumsfeld: I like the title of this book, Baghdad Suite. Nice design and printing too.

Bush: Signed and numbered -- limited edition of 100 -- Wait, I thought you said you don't do book reviews?

Rumsfeld: Oh, er -- So what you want to do about this Phelps character?

Bush: Waterboard em...

Rumsfeld: We can't do that anymore George. In fact I don't even think we can say that word.

Bush: Damn Democrats! Tying up our hands and giving freedom to them freedom-hating terrorists. The question is, who ought to make that decision? Congress or the commanders? As you know, my position is clear -- I'm a commander guy.

Rumsfeld: We can wiretap his phone.

Bush: Good start. But we gotta hit him where it hurts.

Rumsfeld: Rendition him to Guantanamo? I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty.

Bush: Worse -- I'm gonna delay his tax rebate check. No stimulus for you art guy -- heh heh heh -- and you can forget about the National Gallery too! CONDI GODDAMN IT! WHERE'S MY COFF...

End tape transcript (02:11:22:57)


Lecture: Andrew Phelps

Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m., Coor Hall Building 174, Herberger College of the Arts, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ Phone:480.965.6536

Andrew Phelps will speak about his photographic work "Higley" and recent book of the same name. Phelps grew up in Higley, a small farming community in central Arizona, and documented what he described as ..." this moment, where one place, with a definitive history, is rapidly losing ground to an undifferentiated sense of progress."

Buy online at Dashwood Books

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Booksigning for Pedro Linger Gasiglia's El Mozote



The Eye Studio Gallery proudly presents a book signing for Pedro Linger Gasiglia's new book El Mozote on the afternoon of Saturday March 15 from 1 to 4pm.

For several years Gasiglia has worked with the forensics team that has been piecing together the details of a civilian massacre by government forces in El Salvador in December of 1981. Through photographs and extensive documentation including eyewitness testimony, Gasiglia reaches back into history in order to shed light on this crime through documenting the process of identifying the victims and returning their remains to their families for proper burial.

Unlike most photo books, El Mozote acts as not just a passive suite of pictures but as a full report on the abuse of human rights perpetrated by the US backed Salvadoran government. El Mozote includes a prologue by Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute; an introduction on the investigation & its course since it began in 1990 by Maria Julia Hernandez, director of Tutela Legal the legal office of archbishop of San Salvador; and an epilogue by Juan Mendez President of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Books will be available for sale. Please join us Saturday, March 15 to meet the photographer Pedro Linger Gasiglia who will be present from 1 to 4 pm. Also on display is the exhibition The Books of Martin Chambi and Pierre Verger in the Eye Studio Gallery.

The Eye Studio Gallery is an exhibition and work space for the photographers Ed Grazda, Jason Eskenazi, Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Doug Sandhage and Jeffrey Ladd. The exhibition schedule will alternate between presenting original works of these photographers and other exhibitions dedicated to the widening awareness of the photobook as a work of art.

Eye Studio Gallery is located in Manhattan’s Chelsea gallery district at 526 West 26th Street in suite #507 on the fifth floor. Besides specific event dates or opening reception times, the gallery will be open by appointment only. Appointments can be arranged by calling (212) 242-1593.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Poles by Frank Breuer

There have been many books that follow in the tradition of the Düsseldorf School of typologies that I just find boring. In fact, I even have a hard time looking through an entire book of the Bechers themselves when it is entirely made up of one of their subjects. Like many other genres of photography, their conceptual tendencies seemed to lead to a whole generation of photographers that would simply pick their typology and plug in the information. Of course one needs to make interesting photographs but the makers seem to say, “I'm going to photograph X” and then their job is to photograph “X” 200 times. Within this framework is common for these bodies of work to be a bit more interesting conceptually than visually which is why I was surprised to like Frank Breuer's book Poles as much as I do.

Breuer, a former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher, started his career photographing roadside and parking lot signs that hinted at the commercial sprawl encroaching on the suburban landscape. His interest in globalization shifted his attention to shipping containers and the superstores that they supplied.

In this new work shot mainly in Massachusetts in 2004 at 2005 is of large utility and telecommunication poles that spring up in the landscape and through a mystery of tangled wires and transformers connect different parts of the country.

His approach is familiar, each of the utility poles sits squarely in the middle of the frame and the crisp focus of the 8 x 10 camera is lengthened to include the entire frame from foreground and background. Brewer does not vary his distance from the object so that the end result is the same amount of distance from the top of the pole to the top of the photographic frame. He has chosen, like his predecessors, to photograph on days where an overcast sky provides a clean backdrop upon which his subjects could be drawn.

What immediately gets addressed is the seeming impossibility of the wiring and engineering that makes these functional objects. To us, it seems randomness and jury-rigging has been placed upon a well thought out initial design. (It would be interesting to show this book to an employee of an electric company and for them to provide the schema in which to understand whether the messiness is necessary or perhaps just sloppy maintenance).

For me what makes these fascinating objects to look at is the paradox of strength and fragility. The telephone pole material sometime shows its strength and resistance to the forces that are connected to it and other times they list and cant with the tug and pull of the high tension lines. Some have broken completely, probably sheared from their moorings by the weather, and are literally tethered to a reinforcement pole. In his introductory essay, Marcus Verhagan describes these photographs, as does the artist, as portraits. I tend to agree. Without resulting to anthropomorphism one can see individual characteristics while the basic framework, the structure that anchors, is very much the same. It is the configurations and geometry of the connections that varies drastically and is what ultimately makes each unique.

Another enticing characteristic of these photographs is that they work very much like line drawings. In many of the images, Brewer has chosen to photograph poles that stand next to buildings that share the same color-drained palette as the sky. Not only does the pole and its wiring show with remarkable contrast against the sky but so does the random darkened window, curbside, or strip of grass; providing an equally minimal dose of description and color. The overall effect is a background luminosity that might remind us of objects placed on a light box.

What I enjoy about looking at Brewers series of poles is becoming conscious of the remarkable ready-made sculptures that are common but not noticed along our daily treks to the mall or to work. There is something about the attention paid to these objects that oddly reminds me of the background details used by Robert Crumb in his drawings. I think what set Crumb's drawings of the contemporary American landscape apart from many of his contemporaries was that he was perhaps the first cartoonist to include utility poles and transformers as the subliminal details that we attach to everyday seeing. These objects are part of our infrastructure and they exist as a link between the primitive and the current miracles of technology.

Poles by Frank Breuer was published in 2006 by the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College.

Book Available Here (Poles)