Thursday, February 26, 2009

Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon



Felix Feneon was an anarchist. He discovered Seurat and first published James Joyce in French. He toiled for years as an anonymous clerk in the French War Department. He edited Rimbaud's Illuminations. He founded and edited literary magazines including Revue Blanche, one of the most important literary journals of its time. He worked as a journalist for Le Figaro. He interviewed Jules Verne. He was an art critic. He died in 1944 at the age of 83. Before doing so he wrote anonymously for the French newspaper Le Matin short news items, thousands of them, economically describing true stories of murder, suicides and everyday occurrence. Faits divers.

The book Novels in Three Lines edited and translated by Luc Sante collects more than one thousand of them. Published in 2007 by New York Review Books. Here is a sampling.

In Belfort, signalmen of the 1st Engineers, visiting from Versailles, went up in a balloon, took pictures, and sent wireless telegrams.

Scratching himself with a revolver with an overly sensitive trigger, M. Edouard B. removed the tip of his nose in the Vivienne precinct house.

Nurse Elise Bachmann, whose day off was yesterday, put on a public display of insanity.

Scheid, of Dunkirk, fired three times at his wife. Since he missed every shot, he decided to aim at his mother-in-law, and connected.

Hanging on the door, a traveler a tad overweight caused his carriage to topple, in Menilmontant, and fractured his skull.

Fire started last night in a Bastille-Montparnasse streetcar that quickly was emptied of its riders and flooded by firemen.

The corpse of a sixtyish Dorlay hung from a tree in Arcueil, with a sign reading, "Too old to work."

He had bet he could drink 15 absinthes in succession while eating a kilo of beef. After the ninth, Theophile Papin, of Ivry, collapsed.

Louis Lamarre had neither job nor home, but he did possess a few coins. At a grocery store in Saint-Denis he bought a liter of kerosene and drank it.

Before jumping into the Seine, where he died, M. Doucrain had written in his notebook, "Forgive me, Dad. I like you."

Fencing master Pictori was wounded, perhaps fatally, by the thrust of an amateur, M. Breugnot.

The sinister prowler seen by the mechanic Gicquel near Herblay train station has been identified: Jules Menard, snail collector.

There was a gas explosion at the home of Larrieux, in Bordeaux. He was injured. His mother-in-law's hair caught on fire. The ceiling caved in.

Having just sniffed a pinch of snuff, A. Chevral sneezed and, falling from the hay wagon he was bringing back from Pervencheres, Orne, died.

In a hotel in Lille, M. H. Hallynch, of Ypres, hanged himself for reasons that, according to a letter he left, will soon be made known.

A ruling by the mayor of Angers concerning parades forbids union banners, songs not of a liturgical character, and canes.

Lightning in Dunkirk struck some men who were installing lightning rods. One of them fell into the soot from 135 feet up and survived.

Within a week, a second case of bigamy has been recorded in Bordeaux, that of a laborer's wife who has become a foreman's.

Near Brioude, a bear was smothering a child. Some peasants shot the beast and nearly lynched its exhibitor.

A merchant from Saint-Gaudens caught his wife entwined with a barber in Boussens. He fired. The lover was wounded, the beloved fled.

The singer Luigi Ognibene wounded with two shots, in Caen, Madelon Deveaux, who was unwilling to let him monopolize her charms.

Medical examination of a little boy found in a ditch on the outskirts of Niort showed that he had undergone more than just death.

Four hundred ecclesiastics welcomed, at Moulins station, Mgr. Lobbedey, their new bishop. Five of who were overcome with sacred frenzy were arrested.

Standing on her doorstep, modiste Rudlot, of Malakoff, was chatting with a neighbor. With an iron bar her wild husband made her shut up.

An unknown person painted the walls of Pantin cemetery yellow; Dujardin wandered naked through Saint-Ouen-l'Aumone. Crazy people, apparently.

Frogs, sucked up from Belgian ponds by the storm, rained down upon the streets of the red-light district of Dunkirk.

Some people are infatuated with telephone cables. They took 2,700 feet in Gargan and 4,500 between Epinay and Argenteuil.

"To die like Joan of Arc!" cried Terbaud from the top of a pyre made of his furniture. The firemen of Saint-Ouen stifled his ambition.

A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frerotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Erwin Blumenfeld: I Was Nothing But a Berliner, Dada Montages 1916 - 1933



The claim to the "invention" of montage has been made by many. Perhaps like the birth of photography, there were a few innovators unknowingly moving in the same direction from different points. The Dadaist Raoul Hausmann explained his "claim" about inventing photomontage in 1918 in his 1958 memoir. "In nearly every house there was to be found hanging on the wall a color lithograph depicting an infantryman in front of military barracks. In order to render this memento...more personal, a portrait photograph of the owner...had been glued in place of the head in the lithograph. It was like a thunderbolt: one could - I saw it instantaneously - make pictures entirely from cut up photographs."

Hannah Hoch had a very similar moment of recognition upon seeing the same kind of technique where in an "amusing oleograph" in a fisherman's home, "...five soldiers in five different uniforms...upon whom the head of the fisherman's son had five times been glued. This naively kitschy oleograph hung in many German rooms as a memento of the son's service as a soldier." I guess the Dadaists were correct when in their manifesto they claimed that "anyone can Dada," making a fisherman ultimately responsible for inspiring the likes of Hausmann, Hoch, Heartfield, Grosz, Herzfeld, Baader, Dix, and Citroen.

Erwin Blumenfeld who was one of the most sought after fashion photographers of the 40s and 50s kept his early "Dada montages" that he produced between 1916 and 1933 mostly a secret. Never intending them to be for public viewing, he gave them as personal gifts or enclosed in love letters to his fiance. A new book by Hatje Cantz titled Erwin Blumenfeld: I Was Nothing But a Berliner, Dada Montages 1916 - 1933 explores this secret passion that predates the cited "inventors" of the medium.

His beginnings as a failed art dealer in Berlin shifted him towards the garment trade. His friendships with the likes of Walter Mehring, Paul Citroen and later George Grosz, fueled his own interests in painting, writing, and theater. His garment career was eventually bankrupted by the National Socialist seizure of power, forcing him back into the arts - an act that he later expressed gratitude towards Hitler for.

His early experiments were not strictly with photomontage but with brush and scissors. Using his talents as a painter, he combined images - photographs, paintings and drawings - often onto broadsheet posters allowing fragments of the underlying text to show through. These texts introduce the early thought towards the "ready-mades" that would disrupt the perception of art some years later.

Even though he was surrounded by the early Dadaists, and perhaps one by default himself and of some accomplishment, he is not once mentioned in the 500 page MoMA Dada book. In 1920, Paul Citroen mentioned Blumenfeld in regard to being a Dadaist in Richard Huelsenbeck's Dada Almanach, but Blumenfeld's aversion to being a part of groups may be the reason he was never officially associated with them. His aversion lay with the Dada movement's aspirations to globalization appeared to Blumenfeld as a negative German characteristic. Still, it is hard to not read the subtitle, I Was Nothing But a Berliner with dual meaning, perhaps referring more towards his de facto similarities in method with the Berlin dada group than a proud claim of nationality.

His tendency to inject cynicism and outrage into his montages during the second World War leads into direct comparison to Heartfield's work in the same vein. Images of Hitler with a skull for a face or with blood streaming from his eyes and mouth or a flight of fantasy to single handedly stop the dictator in Bloomfield vs. Hitler that depicts a plane flying over Hitler's head with a bomb strapped to the undercarriage that has Blumenfeld's name scrawled onto the side. (On the bomb is written Bloomfeld, but one of his stage names was Bloomfeld).

As a photographer Blumenfeld continued montage inspired techniques into the world of fashion and some of his creations that appeared in French Vogue reflect this. Some were repeated motifs that derive from his earlier montage. One series depicts women's fashion juxtaposed against cold industrial structures and arial cityscapes.

Erwin Blumenfeld: I Was Nothing But a Berliner is a well produced book in keeping with many of Hatje Cantz's publications. It is very text heavy but is interspersed with illustrations throughout. This isn't always my favorite approach as the work is constantly in competition with the layout but this approach may minimize a certain jumbled and disparate feel that the work has on the whole. He tried many things and, as I mentioned before, he didn't intend for much of this work to be viewed publicly so his freedom of expression and experimentation is what is to be enjoyed here. The texts by Helen Adkins give complete detail to his life and a fine look into this artist whose experiments placed him on parallel track to the more "well known" makers of montage of his time. "Who did what first" is not necessarily the question to be answered, "who accomplished what" is more interesting and Blumenfeld has finally found, through the efforts of this book, a deserving place in montage history as an innovator and a contender.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light now available



In an honorable effort to keep things tangible, Shane Lavalette has started a new print publication called Lay Flat and the inaugural issue #01: Remain in Light is now available.

Lay Flat
is a new print publication devoted to promoting the best in contemporary fine art photography and writing on the medium. Each issue is assembled by Shane Lavalette in close collaboration with a co-curator.

Included in the inaugural issue of Lay Flat are four essays, an interview and a poem, all accompanied by 20 unbound photographs from a selection of international photographers. This issue's photographs were co-curated by Lay Flat's editor, Shane Lavalette, and Chicago-based photographer Karly Wildenhaus.

Writing from:

One Credo After Another
by Tim Davis

Close Readings
by Darius Himes

The Secessionists Revisited: Artist Collectives in the Age of the Blog
by Cara Phillips

A Telephone Conversation with Mike Mandel
by Shane Lavalette

The Crisis of Experience
by Eric William Carroll

Castaways vs. Utopians
by Jason Fulford

Photographs from:

Andreas Weinand
Anne Lass
Coley Brown
Debora Mittelstaedt
Ed Panar
Estelle Hanania
Gustav Almestål
Hiroyo Kaneko
Kamden Vencill
Mark McKnight
Michel Campeau
Nicolai Howalt & Trine Søndergaard
Nicola Kast
Nicholas Haggard
Shawn Records
Raimond Wouda
Richard Barnes
Thobias Fäldt
Whitney Hubbs
Yann Orhan

Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light
44 pages and 20 unbound photographs
Edition of 1000
5.5 x 7.5 in.
$25 + S&H

Check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown



For some who have driven the Las Vegas strip during the day, the effect can be similar to glimpsing a slip-up during a magic trick. For the cultural critic Reyner Banham Las Vegas "truly reveals itself at night" transforming the foundations and armatures of architectural substance into ethereal light. This skin-deep deceit of Vegas has fascinated architects and their students for decades and in late-60s led to one of the most fascinating studies of one city. The book Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown just published from Verlag Scheidegger & Speiss presents the visual material gathered by a group of Yale students led by Brown and Venturi as they turned the city of sin into their own architectural research studio.

Originating from an idea to carry out a complete detailed analysis of Las Vegas, Scott Brown, an architect and urban planner, invited fellow architect Robert Venturi to join the study. Their goal was obtaining an understanding of an automobile-oriented city and documenting the aesthetics of urban sprawl in its "purest and most extreme form." This was published as the landmark book Learning from Las Vegas in 1972 and part of the aim was to introduce the 'Vegas strip' as the product of authentic American popular culture - one which evolved spontaneously and without the oversight of urban planning authority. Their aim was to accept this city as it was and serve as interpreters of "an existing cultural and urban state."



Their deadpan gaze of Vegas, seen through the lenses of today, is steeped in nostalgia and that may be the one danger which short change this wonderful book for many readers. I for one have no love of kitsch and Vegas is the ground zero of kitsch. The attention grabbing aspects of every piece of gravity defying signage or building facade of the old strip did seem to take much greater risks on the part of the makers than the current state of calculated heaviness which one sees now. The concepts of each structure embrace outlandish aesthetics as an expression of ideas of what the future city might accomplish - being able to offer something for every taste with non-stop thrill. The Roman guard statues outside of Caesar's providing a solid footing with a dip into past empirical extravagances while the mothership of the Stardust promises otherworldly adventure.

Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in design and execution is the exact opposite of the gaudy flash of its content. Cool, calculated and elegant, it embraces an aesthetic which is so controlled and clean that it manages to somehow reign in the explosion of typography, color, and scale that the photos describe. The printing is beautiful - the jacket stock perfect. The essay by Martino Stierli clearly and thoughtfully lays out the history and premise while a discussion among Peter Fischli, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas called Flaneurs in Automobiles explores what each brings away from this landmark project.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Errata Editions booksigning at The Strand Bookstore



You are invited to a Book Launch for the first four releases in the Errata Editions Books on Books series at The Strand Bookstore this Thursday, February 19th starting at 7:00pm. Please stop by and celebrate the publication of Books on Books #1 (Eugene Atget: Photographe de Paris), Books on Books #2 (Walker Evans: American Photographs), Books on Books #3 (Sophie Ristelhueber: Fait) and Books on Books #4 (Chris Killip: In Flagrante).

A short slideshow/presentation on each book by Ed Grazda, John T. Hill, Jeffrey Ladd and Chris Killip will be followed by a book signing by the photographer Chris Killip (In Flagrante) and the writer John T. Hill (American Photographs).

Copies of all four Books on Books titles will be available for sale at a discounted price of $31.95.

The Strand Bookstore is located at 828 Broadway (at 12th St.), New York, NY 10003-4805. To pre-order signed copies please stop by the Strand's website here: In Flagrante and here: American Photographs

Hope to see you all there...

Jeffrey, Valerie and Ed
Errata Editions


Note: The Strand usually frowns on bringing in outside books to these booksignings. For those that can't manage to smuggle in a book, do not worry, on Saturday March 28th from 4-6pm we will be having another signing with Chris Killip and John T. Hill at the Howard Greenberg Gallery. Several artists will be present too like Jessica Lange and a few others.

Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans by Sarah Greenough



Just when I thought I had the corner on the market for "books on books" I am upstaged by by the National Gallery and their new incredible 506 page tome on Robert Frank's The Americans. This is "books on books" on steroids. Of course there are only a few greats that should be the subject of such an exhaustive look and certainly there will be no argument that The Americans is worthy of such treatment. Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans is a must for Frankophiles and scholars alike.

The curator Sarah Greenough has been working on this book since Frank's Moving Out show in 1994, making this a fourteen year endeavour. What does fourteen years of passionate study into one book produce you might ask? Prepare yourself to be overwhelmed...

12 full essays from various contributors (Sarah Greenough, Stuart Alexander, Jeff Rosenheim, Philip Brookman, Luc Sante, Michel Frizot to name a few) exploring all facets of the work including; Frank's progress as an artist, his relationships with various curators and photographers including an interview with Delpire, manuscript material, maps and chronology, reproductions of handwritten letters by Frank while he was on the road, every photo from The Americans, a comparative chart of the various published editions including notations on the various croppings from each edition, Frank's original edit (including many unseen photos), six pages of photos of an "editing wall" showing his work prints (70% of which are photos I had never seen before and I am one that goes to extra lengths to search out Frank's variant photos and alternates), a wealth of photos of Frank himself, including a color one of him sitting behind the wheel of Walker Evans's Buick Roadmaster shot by Evans, and if all that isn't worth the price of admission, pages 378 through 458 reproduce 83 actual size contact sheets, each of which features a frame from the final edit. It is this last section which has had me spending hours going over each exposure with a loupe.



I am at a loss for what more to say other than this hasn't left my bedside for the two weeks that I have owned it. The printing was done by Steidl and it is good although not as good as their reprint of The Americans. (I don't know if that is because alternate prints of different quality were used to make the scans or if it is truly just difference in printing). My only real complaint is that it is such a thick and heavy book that it is hard to handle. That shouldn't be mistaken for a complaint about having too much information at arms length, I am just weak. That is why I have a sturdy side table.

Oddly this book has been released in a softcover "regular" and hardcover "expanded" editions. The regular edition leaves out what I think are the real treats: the contact sheets, comparative sequencing of the different editions, the map of Frank's route, a chronology and copies of various letters and papers. $75.00 for the expanded versus $45.00 for the regular is a large difference but the loss of those 150 pages is bigger. I advise to take the plunge and break out the loupe. If you can resist the temptation to look deeper into this masterpiece then you're a stronger person than I will ever be.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What Still Remains and One Day in November by Jessica Backhaus



It is hard enough to publish one photobook at a time let alone two but Jessica Backhaus, whose book Jesus and the Cherries I featured in the first year on 5B4, has accomplished just that. Perhaps this is partly why she is now teaching classes at the International Center of Photography on 'Publishing Photographic Books.' This year sees the release of What Still Remains and One Day in November, both by Kehrer Verlag in Heidelberg, Germany.

The first, What Still Remains, is a book whose focus is on incidental objects and the still lifes that can be found by those that pay close attention to the discarded. Trash and the detritus that accumulates is treated to a vibrant color palette which in most cases is otherworldly. Drawn to neon color schemes and rich pastels, many of the objects seem to radiate light from within forcing attention where outside of her photographs, the objects could be easily overlooked.

Where her approach in Jesus and the Cherries was drawing comparisons from one photo to the next to build her portrait of Netno, Poland, these in What Still Remains stand as individuals. She points us in the direction of objects which we rediscover, and perhaps seeing their beauty, are inspired to seek out and project our own meanings and experiences.

The best of which like Orchids in Salzburg with its smear of a handprint on the window sit with clear hierarchy over others while Blue Umbrella may represent, for me, one that would not inspire deeper insight. This hierarchy among the images is apparent throughout the book and I wish there was a harder, more demanding edit at work. My other bit of criticism which may come across as harsh is that each plate is titled and I advise to ignore them. They gush with sentimentality and cliche and are far beneath the fine images.

Like many of Kehrer's releases, the book itself is a well crafted object with a very clean, if traditional, design. Photograph on the right-hand side and a centered title on the facing left. The printing beautifully renders her unique tonalities. Jean Dykstra offers a short introductory essay entitled The Importance of the Incidental.



One Day in November is, for me, the much better of the two offerings. An homage to the photographer Gisele Freund, or more appropriately, to a friendship which helped shape a young artist.

In 1992, Backhaus had the opportunity to meet Gisele while she was a young student living in Paris and quickly started a friendship that would last until Freund's death in March of 2000. One Day in November refers to the month of that first meeting and this book demonstrates the impact that relationship would have on Backhaus.

Even with a large edit of 90+ images, the work here are a better gauge of Backhaus's talents not only as a photographer but as a bookmaker. Some images sit as individuals while she combines others into triptychs that work wonderfully.

Freund tended towards quieter images that resonate beauty and a harmony in everyday still lifes, and Backhaus is a modern successor. Jessica's world is devoid of turmoil and basks in optimism even when examining pollution or decay. This is a thread through most of her published work. At a moment in history when the world is preoccupied with depressed economies and fear of what the future may hold, her photos offer a small refuge in a better, perhaps more innocent world. Her observations, even when we have seen them before, are sound and worth our fullest attention. Thankfully due to their seductive qualities, there is no conscious effort involved in giving it.



One Day in November is almost square in format and has a smaller trim size than What Still Remains. The sea blue Japanese bookcloth, which has a debossed title along with a couple simple line drawings of gulls flying in formation, looks like the surface of water as the slight "pulls" and "runs" in the fabric resemble wave tips and foamy white caps.

I had been eagerly awaiting the release of What Still Remains as a follow up to Jesus and the Cherries and was surprised to find this third book which I had not even heard was in the works until the publication announcement. I was all the more surprised to find that I prefer it to the one I had been waiting for. I think beyond the edits of these two books it is the personal nature of One Day in November that makes it a more enjoyable book for me, like the friendship that inspired it, I sense a deeper and more resonating bond -- and that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

http://photemera.blogspot.com



Just in case you aren't already spending too much time on the internet there is an extremely promising looking site for those who are fans of photographic ephemera. This is a site that will be posting a couple times a week featuring old gallery announcements and other paper goods that usually wind up in the dustbin.

His first posting is on various Ansel Adams Christmas cards which some were actual gelatin silver prints mounted onto personalized letterpress cards. More interesting to me is the Bernd and Hilla Becher announcement from 1973. He also includes interesting anecdotes about each piece that weaves a tighter web around this medium's history.

I know the guy who started it and I have to say that he saves gallery announcements even more obsessively than I have. He literally has thousands of them. That said we'll see if he has a copy of the Another Country exhibition card of Graham Smith and Chris Killip from 1985. How about the 'pig cakes' announcement poster from Martin Parr's Common Sense exhibitions. Check it out and I guess we'll see.


http://photemera.blogspot.com/

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs



Being that photographs often represent one moment in time it may be a natural conclusion that by default they also represent a response by a photographer based on his or her mood at that moment. For mediums such as painting which can take days, weeks or months to complete one work, the artist can often bring a wealth of different moods to that individual work. The artist Gerhard Richter, who works meticulously layer by layer and is in a state of constant reevaluation as the process is engaged, has said of his painting that they "never come into being in a single mood." His new book Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs from Hatje Cantz features work that can be seen as departing from this sensibility allowing for direct and rapid creations of painted works which act more to represent, like photography, a single mood of the artist.

Working with his own photographs printed as 10 x 15 cm quick prints as anyone would get from a commercially developed roll of film, he uses left over paint from a day's work scraped from canvasses and applies it to the photographs via pallete knives and doctor's blades. The application is done in an instant, the works are completed with spontaneity and with irreversible gestures. Those judged unsuccessful are immediately destroyed. This exercise, for lack of a better term, has produced over one thousand images from which 400 are reproduced here in Overpainted Photographs.

For many photographers the image has no surface. The illusion of photography in providing a window into which we perceive literal description and dimension by Richter's hand is now disrupted due to the addition of paint. Often a tense relationship, the results run the gamut of the surreal to the beautiful to the disturbed. It is all the more surprising that each in its perceived completeness was in essence accomplished by chance and trial and error.



The color of paint applied corresponds or contrasts the tonalities of the underlying photograph but link the two through formal relationships of the layers. A photograph of what appears to be a woman in a flower patterned shirt has her face obscured by a swath of thickly applied grey paint leaving her shirt uncovered and the blanket that appears on the lower half of the frame a formal compliment to the paint layer. A scene of houses in snow is disrupted by a "thicket" of amber paint whose sharp edges lends itself more to photographic description providing a less obvious manipulation. A vertical landscape of lush greenery and an idyllic road leading off to the horizon is left untouched as a "sky" of smokey grey tones sucks the earth up for the rapture.

The work represented in Overpainted Photographs spans almost twenty years from 1989 to the present. In presenting 400 of them I am equally impressed by the sheer number but more importantly, their consistency and ability to hold one's attention repeatedly. The book itself is handsome in design and printing and the tipped-in plate to the cover adds an elegant contrast to the plain canvas book cloth. Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs was co-published with the Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen and the Centre de le Photographie, Geneve. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Walter Benjamin's Archive



"I remember these two," he said. "That gives me some place to start," Old Betonie said, lighting up the little brown cigarette he rolled. "All these things have stories alive in them." He pointed at the telephone books. "I brought back the books with all the names in them. Keeping track of things." He stroked his mustache as if he were remembering things. -from Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Since reading this passage, I haven't been able to look at a phone book the same way. To Old Betoine, a phone book is an archive and one with a rich history that deserves to be kept safe. For me, a phone book was always just a phone book. In our culture of waste it is easy to, perhaps necessary, to overlook "the stories" that are alive in objects. Otherwise we would live like the Collier brothers and other obsessive hoarders in overwhelming clutter (or wind up as characters in a Paul Auster novel).

The great literary and cultural critic Walter Benjamin had also set about collecting and creating small archives that represented experiences and ideas drawn out of the scraps of modern life in order to provide a portrait of his own existence. The new book from Verso, Walter Benjamin's Archive is a fascinating, if difficult, look into these small collections.

Influenced by Baudelaire's notions of the ragpicker, the chiffonnier, an object plucked from the roadside would, with others, assume the shape of something useful. The fine threads that link disparate objects start to create a new form but one that remains open ended and without conclusion. The tasks of a modern researcher "at home in marginal areas" and fascinated with the incidental, could gain a new perspective on history. It is this seeming randomness and open ended categorization that make his archives challenging to occupy that same "marginal" space and mode of thinking.

Walter Benjamin's Archive presents material from 13 different areas of study from miniature Russian toys (Physiognomy of the Thingworld) to documents that make up his famous Arcades Project (Rag-Picking). Each chapter presents introductory essays that do their best to give an idea of the basic concepts and Benjamin's thinking. Even though well written I find myself struggling to keep my mind from folding in on itself trying to fully comprehend his ideas and explorations.

The most accessible for me was his documentation of his son Stefan's development of language. Stefan's expressions for Benjamin were proof of "the child's world picture, thought, and knowledge." Twists or distortions of words and phrases for Benjamin had no business being corrected but when left to examine the play of relationships, created an "archive of nonsensuous similarities, of nonsensuous correspondences."

I was surprised to see that this fine book was published by the radical lefty house Verso since most of their backlist deals more with political analysis. The design is well executed with lots of illustrations of the original archive papers and postcards etc. Dense at over 300 pages, it has enough challenging thoughts and ideas to make your frontal lobe give your medulla oblongata a wedgie. Highly recommended for the mental exercise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

William Eggleston Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video 196-2006



William Eggleston. Heard of him? I think you have so I won't waste your time with repeating his story but the thick catalog that accompanies his retrospective at the Whitney Museum is worth spending a bit of time over. At 304 pages, William Eggleston Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video 196-2006 is a substantial contribution to the discussion of this quirky artist much like Figments from the Real World was for Winogrand or Peter Galassi's exercise in the extreme was for Lee Friedlander.

The first thing one notices with Democratic Camera is the dustjacket. Now, choosing an image that will be the face put forward for a life's work can be tricky business to say the least. One might jump to certain obvious mainstream 'hits' from the artist's career. For Eggleston this might be say, the tricycle picture (cover of the 'Guide'), or the woman with the red hair at the concession counter (Hasselblad Award). The red ceiling picture (Foundation Cartier). Obviously you wouldn't choose one of those for this cover too but you get the idea. OR you can pick a lesser known image, you know he has tens of thousands laying around. But what they decided upon would have been my last choice - the dolls lined up on the Cadillac hood. The paper stock has a glossy finish too. For a book on David Byrne? Perfect match. Here, I'm not loving it.

Getting into the body of the book, it starts off decent enough with the ubiquitous Sponor's Statement and Directors' Forword, a preface, and onto the first essay by Thomas Weski which gives an extensive peek into Eggleston's background and practice. Finely written, it serves both newcomers and Eggleston aficionados well and is the most substantial of the essays included.

A second text by Elisabeth Sussman discusses his video work with the Sony-PortaPak and the rarely seen 'Stranded in Canton.' This footage, over 72 hours in total, has been edited into a 76 minute rough cut video from which many stills are reproduced. As a side note, small book from Twin Palms has been published which reproduces many stills as well as includes a DVD of Stranded in Canton.

The 'plates' section starts off with 9 of his early black and white photographs mostly made around shopping centers - 6 of which were unknown to me. These early photos follow in the traditions of Bresson and Winogrand and are fine examples with much merit. I think this set up makes his turn to color seem all the more important in terms of taking a risk as he was mining a good vein in black and white as well.

The selection of plates is a good mix of familiar and not. Although printed by Steidl, some of the reproductions do suffer from slight heaviness and others seem murky. The aforementioned girl with the red hair at the concession stand image has had all of the golden tone of sunlight somehow drained away and the image of the young black children along the roadside is dreadfully reproduced out of focus.



The back of the book features three short essays by Donna De Salvo, Tina Kukielski, and Eggleston's long-time friend Stanley Booth. One that I particularly enjoyed was Donna De Salvo's dedication to discussing one image - the photo of the plastic toy animals from the 14 Pictures portfolio published in 1974. It was this image in particular that made Eggleston a complete mystery to me when I was in school and is an example of how my view of him has swung dramatically. That picture drew an almost irrational response of anger from me when I first saw it. Like my father when visiting the MoMA asked if I thought Picasso was putting us on, I couldn't see any merit to that photograph. Today, it is one that I can't shake and think of often with enjoyment because it so easily confounds by appearing silly or overly simple. Deeper consideration proves otherwise yet the image seems so understated that it doesn't invite such consideration easily.

Of course all of my criticisms are subjective and aimed primarily at the choices of design and material but the overall feel of this book is a turn off. The paper, which I think has been flood varnished (a process of coating the entire page as opposed to spot varnish which just covers the photos) has a very glossy appearance which I don't like. Did I mention I hate the dustjacket?

Is it true that this is the first retrospective of Eggleston in the United States? If so it has been much needed as his influence has spread to many outside of the medium, especially those in filmmaking. He is now the stuff of legend partly due to his persona with its air of Southern aristocracy, ever present libations, and his speech pattern which has the slowness of a spilt molasses/quaalude paste. Unfortunately, those that put together this catalog drained some of this added charm from the project and what is presented seems clinical and plastic - much like the dolls that grace the cover.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New and Improved 5B4 Print Donation Offer



Desperate times call for desperate measures. I have reconfigured the 5B4 Print Donation page to offer tons of new images that will appear a few times per week. These prints are 16 X 20 and handmade on either C-print color paper or fiber-based, gelatin silver paper. These are all "artist proofs" meaning that they are not part of editions and will be labeled as such. These are final prints which I have made as first proofs to determine the final printing quality for the editioned versions. Many of these are the first prints made of an image. All are correct densities and color balance same as editioned versions.

There will only be one or two copies of each available and if any show very slight imperfections it will be clearly described in each post.

Each print is being offered to those who donate $100.00 or more to 5B4 Photography and Books using the donation button. If interested in donating for a print, PLEASE EMAIL ME FIRST AT jeffladd99(at)hotmail(dot)com to make sure the print is still available. Since there are only one or two of each (which will be specified in the description), these prints are being offered on a first email inquiry / first served basis and not the first to donate.

EMAIL FIRST! Donate only after I have confirmed you will be the recipient.

There is a small postage charge on each. See the print donation page for details.