That was the longest stretch of silence yet from 5B4. For those unaware I was in Germany and Holland for about ten days. I had the honor of being invited to do a lecture at the second annual Kassler Fotofrühling (Photobook Festival) in Kassel, Germany. My initial intention was to do like I did at Paris Photo, occasionally taking a moment to post about the proceedings, but due to limited time, sketchy internet connections, beer, cigarettes and a general lethargy brought on by one too many döner kababs, it proved unlikely. So here is a recap of the last week and a half...
After catching a quick train to Köln to meet up with the Schaden crew a day before the festival, they quickly introduced me to the local beer, Kölsch which helped to put me on local time. I have felt a bit burned out on books lately and before I this trip I thought if I saw another photobook I would puke blood, yet one minute into Markus's new shop browsing all the titles that are slow to make it to the States, the disease showed full force. I'll tell you about things I found over the next few postings.
Friday morning I caught a train to the home of the "Becher School," the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, to meet up with Katja Stuke (Suits review here) and Oliver Seiber who generously offered to drive me to Kassel. Katja and Oliver where scheduled to be the very first lecture of the festival and I was a bit jealous of their calm and the fact that they had each other for support while lecturing. I haven't done much public speaking and those that know me know that I would rather hide behind my camera or computer so I was nervous and unsure of what to expect come my time at the podium. The festival took place in a school for photography and graphic design, the Kunsthochschule Kassel and it was almost completely empty but for a few workers preparing and setting up. Right when I thought the attendance would be minimal, the auditorium filled with over a hundred people for the first lecture. I suddenly became very nervous because from what I had been told, Friday is normally the slowest day of the festival and I was scheduled to speak on Sunday.
Between the lectures with Jessica Backhaus, Joakim Eskildsen, Andreas Magdanz, Dayanita Singh, WassinkLundgren, Gerry Badger, Krass Clement, Markus Schaden and myself, the festival offered portfolio reviews, a couple exhibitions - one of Stephen Gill's books, library tours, a show of book dummies, and a special exhibition from Nina Poppe and Verena Loewenhaupt's Marks of Honor project in which 13 contemporary photographers pay homage to their artistic role models. They invited the artists to pick a book and create a new work of art in response to that work. Harvey Benge, Chris Coekin, Peter Granser, Pieter Hugo, Tiina Itkonen, Onaka Koji, Jens Liebchen, Michael Light, Mark Power, Matthew Sleeth, Alec Soth, Jules Spinatsch, and Raimond Wouda all took part and an exhibition of these books will be on display at FOAM in Amsterdam starting this week on the 28th.
The book dummy show had a few interesting books but the most impressive / obnoxious, completely impossible to operate and somehow incredibly compelling book Rumanien by Katharina Gaenssler was my favorite. The book was one foot thick, hundreds - if not over one thousand pages - and each double page spread had eighteen photos.
It appeared to be shot entirely from the car during a road trip through Romania and my immediate reaction was to recoil at the pretentiousness of someone making a book a foot thick that is nearly physically impossible to look through (one really has to pick up this 30 pound beast and operate it on your lap, moving your legs as if you were playing with a giant slinky). But after giving it a little time which no one else seemed willing to do (it doesn't offer much invitation), it really does pay off. I can't imagine it ever being published and certainly the scale alone doesn't merit its production but I do applaud the maker for her attempt and for many great page spreads. Benedict Taschen watch out, you've been out sized.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Dayanita Singh who proved to be as mischievous as charming. She did a fine lecture on Saturday and also created a 'secret exhibition' of her photos by selecting a few people to slip a small print into the plastic holder of their name badges. Some attendees noticed and many didn't, but people who did came away with a smile.
A few antiquarian book dealers showed on Saturday and Sunday and my big find of the day was a copy of the reprint of Moi Ver's Ci Contre done beautifully by Anne and Jurgen Wilde, the couple responsible for the great Germaine Krull Metal reprint from 2002. For those that do not know, the Wilde's were big collector's of Blossfelt, Krull and others and over the years have done exquisite but somewhat pricey reprints of a few books. The Moi Ver book they issued in 2005, is a facsimile of an unpblished book dummy which they own. For those that know the Steidl reprint of Moi Ver's Paris and like that work should look into this book. I'll be featuring it on 5B4 soon. The frustrating thing about their books is simply tracking down where to get them. They have no website, no email and not surprisingly, almost no distribution. The Germaine Krull reprint goes for around 300-400 dollars and I have seen the Moi Ver Ci Contre for around 175-300. My copy was gotten for 90 euros ($125.00).
Kassel is somewhat small and although beautiful, let's just say it is a little quiet. So after each day's events at the festival, since all participants where housed in the same hotel, the hotel bar was the place for extended drinks and talk. It was there that I met many great people but I also realized how insane we must all be. After talking all day about photography and books you know you're among the infected when its 2:00 am, you're drunk in a hotel bar, lungs choked with smoke and you're still talking about fucking photobooks.
Sunday arrived and my lecture was looming close. I felt extra nervous for a while after seeing how anxious Markus was about his own talk. I figured if everyone knows Markus and he's done these things many times before then I was in for a real nerve wracking experience. Oddly, after Krass Clement and Gery Badger, I felt calm once it was time for me to start. I had everything written out in case I lost my train of thought which happens under normal circumstances for me just in my day to day, but my thoughts seemed to flow better than expected and I was able to just do the talk without much reading at all. I shuffled my notes and got lost a couple times and forgot whole parts which I had intended to say but everyone said I seemed natural. Huge relief I didn't self-destruct as I had imagined doing many times in preparation.
The day ended up in the library where Thomas Weigand had put together a small exhibition of books. Since Krass Clement was there and has published 18 books besides Drum - his best known of all - Thomas had him sign a few from his own collection. It was in one of his small exhibitions that I had a chance to look through a few of Hans-Peter Feldmann's small artist books from the Bilder series.
Afterwards I drove back to Köln with the Schadens, stopping along autobahn 44 at a rest area for some Frikadelle (meatloaf burgers), potatoes, beer and chocolate covered ice cream cubes. Oh...it isn't the daily menu that you want to know but what books I found?? Wait damn you...