Early into Christopher Anderson's Capitolio we are faced with a horned demon exorcised by a cross held aloft over its head. It is this one image which metaphorically sums up the presidency of Hugo Chavez and the polarized nation of Venezuela. The poor tend to see Chavez as a saint while the wealthy few - the four hundred year old elite - paint him as the anti-Christ.
Caracas has become the murder capital of the world and Anderson ushers us into this violent street life filling the journey with a tension that lingers through the book. Guns are drawn and a sidewalk becomes a smear of blood, hoods are lined against a wall arms spread - the dark shadows impenetrable and threatening.
Anderson allows some breathing room with a short parade of architecture and the general populace, less threatening and full of life - sexuality and sensuality perhaps providing the relief from the day to day pressures. Industry is nationalized and the petro dollars that used to flow freely become the source of Chavez's New Deal, Bolivarian Revolution but portrayed by Anderson, the industries seem run by incompetents. It all has the tenor of waste and unprofessionalism. One sleeps on some torn cardboard while the machines sit idle; another man seemingly gets swallowed by the truck he repairs.
Anderson tends to portray Chavez as some type of creeping, dictator-in-waiting who has two faces - one a populist president, the other a demon in sheep's clothing. One spread compares a portrait of Simon Bolivar opposite a stencil of Chavez's face over which someone has written 'capo' - meaning mafia leader. The politicians presumably in his cabinet fair no better as one tugs at his pants wearing a suit which seems to be far too constricting. By book's end Chavez is shown with the same horrific relish as a monster in a B movie - a Tor Johnson of Latin America whose base instincts of greed and gluttony cause his eyes to roll into the back of his head.
Anderson owes much to predecessors like Klein and Alvermann for the way he has constructed his journey book-wise. The photos bleed across double page spreads and are chopped and diced to make graphic layouts with dynamic results but for all of the visual excitement I feel the content relies too much on their trickery. Anderson tries his hand at using the same image in cinematic ways by blowing it up in stages to create a zoom effect. One spread that does work wonderfully of a streetcar and its chanting passengers is a visual delight.
Capitolio's political editorializing seems unexpectedly right-wing and at worst, propagandistic. Is this simply representing the opposing views? If so, why does the last "chapter" before villainizing Chavez describe hoards of soldiers in the streets resembling a scene from Pinochet's playbook. This closely followed by a stencil saying: "Men are like stars, some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive." The pages that follow are of Chavez enjoying mass public adoration.
Capitolio's bright communist red cloth covers are certain to get attention, as is the elegant presentation and printing which is finely accomplished with a great looking matte lustre. Capitolio was published by Editorial RM out of Mexico City.
Anderson has said "I sometimes imagine Caracas as a living breathing animal. Obscured by the darkness it appears both violent and sensual, but perhaps it's true nature will only be revealed at the moment it devours me." Those contradiction abound in Latin America but it seems to me that what has devoured Anderson is his own bias, which seems evident throughout most of this book.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When I first wrote about Joachim Schmid I asked several questions about the current state of mass image making; with all of the images that exist, is their continued proliferation necessary especially in a time now where cell phones now have cameras? We are producing more images than ever, could the reliance on images and visual material alter our vocabularies and the evolution of our ways of communication? Is this all just one more metaphoric example of how we do things impulsively and fill our lives with objects that we tend to store away and ignore until we decide to clean house? So the next time you aim the cell phone camera or put the Leica to your eye, consider what it is that you are bringing into this world. Is it necessary? Will you love it and take care of it? Or will they fall into the hands of others to see what we can no longer see?
Schmid has continued his investigation into the habits of amateur photography with a series of Blurb produced "Black" books. The project "Other People's Photographs" came about by trolling the internet for material on image sharing sites like Flickr and using keywords to find patterns of photographic behavior "focusing on the repetition of word, rather than the repetition of image. These are books about photography but from a more “light-hearted” perspective."
The first in this "Black Book" series is called When Boredom Strikes and it holds 156 photos and captions made when the "photographer" was bored. Boredom causes people to point the camera where ever and however the impulse directs - at shoes, at pets, at the ceiling, at the fabric patters of their pants. In some ways these pictures are experiments on the part of the taker and in other ways they are disposable images made just to fill time. Often full of humor and "light-hearted" as Schmid describes but, as a whole, the book is loaded with sadness. The subtext of the amount of boredom at work, at play, in everyday life can't be ignored. One image even is of a man's penis while he is masturbating. We have become a society that is even bored while masturbating.
On a positive level one could say that when we are bored is when we actually start to really examine our environments. This book proves that we are at least inquisitive to "see" through photography what those surroundings look like in photos but I doubt that most of these images would be considered a second time by the taker at later dates. Whether or not this is true, they are here for us to consider.
When Boredom Strikes is the size of a hardcover novel, vertical in format and printed in text quality black and white. By reducing all of the images to black and white, Schmid levels the field of good to bad photos. The captions reveal various attitudes and oddly, many seem to be apologetic in referring to their "creations" made while boredom struck. In combination with these apologies and the fact that these were posted to image sharing websites is a curious means of admittance.
Behavior and photography is endlessly fascinating now that everything has a camera attached to it. The images may not be often worthy of serious consideration for many viewers (although Schmid would argue the exact opposite I am sure) but when collected and presented as a common impulse, we see where we connect and what that connection says about us. It is a group portrait of sorts, for better or for worse.
Note: For other series, check out Schmid's "White" books and the limited "Grey" versions as well. http://schmid.wordpress.com/
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 9:48 PM
Saturday, August 22, 2009
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the new book of photographs made by Ulrich Mack in the Ruhr region of the industrial landscape from the late 1950s. One of the industries occupying that land was steel smelting plants and a recent book discovery called Born of Fire: Steel offers an inside tour to some of those same plants that Mack photographed from the exterior. These two books sitting side by side offer very different approaches and tenor to the industry of the region.
Born of Fire: Steel could be just another 1950s era book championing an industry through mediocre photography and an overinflated sense of the public interest in such subjects, except the photography is actually the strong point. Yes there is the ubiquitous sentimentality and romanticism of the workers. All seem to be approaching a day in the smelting plant as an adventure instead of the grueling, sweat box that it probably was, and whatever exhaustion may have been present in such factories has been replaced by faces full of fascination or steady concentration.
The photos were made by C. A. Stachelscheid and the book was designed by Dr Wolf Strache. He opens his essay with a picture of a "Modern industrial man" in profile presumably stoking a furnace. Lit by an amber light offset by the bluish hues of the background he is a portrait of knowledge and professionalism - a perfect companion to the machines and infrastructure of the plant. Stachelscheid adds captions which appear in-between groupings of photographs and their content reads with the same fervor as a propaganda booklet.
"Even the most advanced technology cannot do without him. He is one of many; his name not recorded. But the camera reveals his qualities, his bearing, his being. Here is strength; but it is not to be wasted. Here is courage; but governed by caution. Here is also, plainly apparent, a sense of responsibility for complicated and costly processes."
Stachelscheid works all steps of the steel-making process from mining to the final products with a strong concentration on smelting steps which offers some of the more visually dynamic photos. Sparks flying and yellow streams of molten steel flowing from blast furnaces into ingot molds are favorite moments of photographers but
Stachelscheid's photos also reveal a concern for making complete photographs. This mediation is addressed in the captions as well; "Has the photographer assembled an effective composition just for the sake of the shot? A natural suspicion, but an unjustified one. This is how bent sheets are nested for better transportation."
The printing of Born of Fire is the third character of the book beyond the photographs and captions. The four-color offset renders colors in aged and unrealistic hues which enter in an element of fantasy to the "reality" of the work floor. Looking at times like hand-tinted photos, they are impressionistic and idealized. The close-up still-lifes overemphasize the clash of color and a few seem to follow in the steps of Keld-Helmer Petersen. One downright surreal image of a man measuring the precision form of a steel tube has the man's head, shoulders and arms seemingly trapped inside the ring of steel offset by a disturbing paint can of red gore entering into the right of the frame - quite a photographic magic act.
Some of the pairings of photos across page spreads is the other element that lifts Born of Fire above the expected. Certainly not all, but several are amazing compliments which reveal fine instincts on the part of the publisher Strache in understanding the difference between a book and individual photos.
Is Born of Fire: Steel a great book? Not by a long shot but it surely has its moments of surprise that extend beyond the quirks of printing and spectacular subject. I was certainly pleasantly surprised enough to pick it up several times so for 10-15 dollars you might take a chance. Published in 1956 by Verlag DBS Dr. Wolf Strache, Stuttgart.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 11:51 PM
Monday, August 17, 2009
I've had some trouble finding the time to write lately because it is crunch time for the next titles in the Errata Editions Books on Books series. I am trying to keep all of our contributors on the deadline for printing in October and, well, it is a bit like herding cats. Make that, herding cats that are really good photographers and writers.
The response to the first four titles in the series has been great even with the severe downturn in the economy, so much so we are ready to publish the next four books. People have understood our project and approach and we thank everyone for the feedback and support. Especially thank you to the artists who are turning out to be the biggest supporters of all. Out of over a dozen that we have approached in just the last few months, only one decided not to participate (and even they did so throwing high compliments towards our books and mission). That, and our being named 'Publishing House of the Year' at PhotoEspana assures us that we are on the right track.
The next four, Books on Books #5-8, share the connection with a photographer working a specific place at a specific time but each with very different results. And they are...
Books on Books #5: William Klein’s Life is Good & Good for You in New York - Trance Witness Revels is regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking photo books created in the last half-century. Published in 1956, its visual energy captured the rough and tumble streets of New York like no artbook had before or has done since. Books on Books 5 reproduces in its entirety Klein’s brilliantly photographed and designed magnum opus. The American Art historian, Max Kozloff, contributes an essay called William Klein and the Radioactive Fifties. ISBN: 978-1-935004-08-0, Hardcover, 160 pages, 9.5 x 7, $39.95. Release date Trade Edition: February 2010
Books on Books #6: Yutaka Takanashi’s Toshi-e (Towards the City) is a landmark two-volume set of books from one one of the founders of the avant-garde Japanese magazine Provoke. Published in 1974 and considered the most luxurious of all of the Provoke era publications, its brooding, pessimistic tone describes the state of contemporary life in an unnamed city in Japan undergoing economic and industrial change. Books on Books 6 reproduces all one hundred sixteen black and white photographs that make up the two volumes. Photographer, writer and book historian Gerry Badger, contributes an essay called Image of the City - Yutaka Takanashi's Toshi-e. ISBN: 978-1-935004-10-3, Hardcover, 176 pages, 9.5 x 7, $39.95. Release date Trade Edition: February
Where the first two in this set address politics and class with a more metaphoric approach, the next two do so in more overt ways.
Books on Books #7: David Goldblatt’s In Boksburg stands as one of the most important observations of a middle-class white community in South Africa during the apartheid years. Published in 1980, it presents an accumulation of everyday details from the community of Boksburg through which a larger portrait is revealed of white societal values within a racially divided state. Books on Books 7 reproduces all seventy-one black and white photographs as well as Goldblatt’s eloquent introduction to the work. The noted writer and editor, Joanna Lehan, contributes a contemporary essay written for this volume. ISBN: 978-1-935004-12-7, Hardcover, 112 pages, 9.5 x 7, $39.95. Release date Trade Edition: February
Books on Books #8: Koen Wessing's Chili, September 1973 is a shocking document from a socially concerned and politically engaged Dutch photojournalist. Published in 1973, just months after the fall of Salvador Allende to Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’etat, it describes the tense days of the military attempt to root out public opposition in the streets of Santiago. Books on Books 8 reproduces every page spread from Wessing’s gritty documentation of Chile’s darkest historical moment. The art historian and film theorist, Pauline Tereehorst, contributes a contemporary essay called The Man in the Grey Suit. ISBN: 978-1-935004-14-1, Hardcover, 64 pages, 9.5 x 7, $39.95. Release date Trade Edition: February
As before each of our studies also includes Book Production notes, Biographies and Bibliographies of each artist. As the start of any series is really an experiment, we have made some improvements based on the feedback from the first four titles. We have increased the page lengths so as to allow larger illustrations and many more double page spreads. We are continuing to approach a variety of writers and matching them with books so there we can offer a chance to hear many voices in the series.
The limited edition of sets of all four will be available for pre-order starting now. These are special copies with a tip-on image debossed into the book cloth. Shipping for the limited editions is planned for Mid-December with the trade edition hitting stores and other venues in the Spring so please SPREAD THE WORD. To purchase a set of the limited editions please use the paypal button on the shop page of the Errata Editions website.
Also for the regular readers of 5B4 I will be doing blog posts from on-press in China during the book production so you can follow the daily progress of printing. If you like what we are doing, write about us. This series depends on you. Please help in any way you can.
Thank you for your support from the Errata team - Valerie, Jeff and Ed.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 7:02 PM
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Staying in the realm of plant life for another few moments I want to mention a great book from a graduate of the Institute for Book Arts in Leipzig, Handbuch der Wildwachsenden Großstadtpflanzen (A Handbook of Wild Plants in our Cities) by Helmut Volter.
This was a thesis work of design and book craft which takes its starting point as a field guide to wild plants in German cities. Part science and nature and part intoxicating design, Volker presents a herbarium of specimens which fight to grow between cracks in concrete and modern architecture. In a wider field of view, these plants seem no more than untamed weeds but upon close inspection they have the natural art of form that Blossfeldt celebrated in his own studies.
Volter taped his unmanicured specimen clippings down with all of their imperfections in entangled roots and insect chewed leaves and photographed them against a plain white background. Bisecting half-pages of light-weight paper give brief descriptions of each plant species. The book is divided into various spaces where different plant life can be found including; backyards, sport fields, ports and canals, on building rooftops, in rail yards and literally sprouting on the streets and sidewalks.
Unfortunately for me all of the texts are in German so the finer points of description and perhaps deeper examination are beyond my grasp. Still, Handbuch der wildwachsenden Großstadtpflanzen is a visual feast which can stand on its own and apart from the texts.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 11:49 PM
Thursday, August 13, 2009
From a printer's standpoint one of the more interesting aspects is the ability to pry into another's contact sheets. They have their way of leveling the playing field. Even the greatest of practitioners fail over 95 percent of the time but even so, the near misses can be sobering - just check out the 80 some of Robert Frank's contacts reproduced in the Looking In tome from the National Gallery.
I have students who, after developing film the first few times on their own, jump straight to prints without making a contact - editing from the negatives. In my experience, the worst photographs look the best as negatives and vice versa so the contact is always a necessity and not only as a record of images. Gilles Peress used to say that they allow the ability to "recreate the walk;" a way of following process and perhaps understanding instincts, allowing potential insight for honing. I like that idea that contacts represent not only a chain of images but the ebb and flow of instinct. Even some things can be gleaned from bad photographs. Some, like myself however, guard their contacts as if secreting away a stash of porn - as if chance viewing by another would amount to being exposed, risk embarrassment, or discovered to be a fraud.
There are many uses for contact prints and a book I recently picked up examines a mysterious set of 61 "working collages" - essentially reconfigured contact sheets from the grandfather of German New Objectivity, Karl Blossfeldt. Karl Blossfeldt: Working Collages published by MIT in 2001 presents all of these sheets offering a new way of perceiving his life's work.
These sheets are mysterious because Blossfeldt during his lifetime apparently never mentioned their existence to anyone let alone explain his method or intended use. They are not typical contact sheets on the whole but cut up and reorganized groupings of his now famous plant studies. From a historical standpoint, many questions arise; were these used to categorize various species or types (not always)? Were they used to coordinate negatives and prints (the numeric notations belie this)? Were they used to create a working model for planning books (could be)? Or, as the essayist Ulrike Meyer Stump asks, "could they be showing us a forerunner of conceptual art?"
Created between 1926 and 1928, the "collages" contain all of the images that later appeared in Art Forms in Nature, his book from 1928. The numeric systems and notes often contradict the various theories as to their intended use. The thought that these represent types is sketchy since Blossfeldt often dissected his specimens into unnatural shape and form, he didn't seem as interested in finding archetypal plant life. From this we may presume compared to the final images that these sheets reveal groupings which might be reducing the objects down to their most basic decorative design.
Seeing these apart from guessing Blossfeldt's intentions, the sheets, like in other grid systems, force the individual images to give way to formal arrangement and more sculptural dimensions. We are much less interested in the subjects but with the new order and effect of the system that has taken over. The visual experience taken as a whole brings to mind scrapbooks and other imperfect orderings or material where there is both elements of the personal mixed with the public. They tease our desire to make sense of method - why some are cyanotype and others are in sepia - and at the same time we accept the whole as a beautiful and unique unified work of light and shade, form and content set upon a cardboard backdrop.
Richter had his Atlas and Lewitt his photogrids. Divorced from their practicalities, sketchbooks, guides for process, source material reveal undeniable works of art. This book begs the question of where that "art" first appeared.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 11:58 PM
Monday, August 10, 2009
Photographic reproduction in books has vastly improved since the early letterpress or offset printing. Gravure had its richness and as duotone improved, the scale of grays has been increasing steadily leading into tritone plates and ever finer screening technologies. The gold standard of 600 line screen and quadtone printing in the Lodima Press books was the farthest I have seen the process achieve to mimic even the large format plates from Nicholas Nixon's 8X10. Oddly, as photographic reproductions have improved to this point there is another movement which is leading in the opposite direction with more work simply existing on-line at a screen resolution of 72 dpi or in poorly printed Blurb books and the like.
The idiosyncrasies of cheaper printing can be a joy. The uneven and dusty callotype plates of Atget's first book Photographe de Paris has its charm for me because they feel touched by the pair of hands that made them and since Atget considered himself to be a craftsman rather than an artist. so for me it is a more fitting match more than the beautifully done recent books of his work. Not every book needs a 600 line screen or a quadtone plate to be felt by the viewer but undoubtedly those improvements seduce with their clarity and exquisite tonal range.
A new printing system developed by Dieter Kirchner, High Definition Skia Photography, is a process which has gone even further to define a longer visible range of tone and deeper black range in ink on paper to create the most natural three dimensionality to date. The German publisher Moser Verlag in Munich has just released Ruhrgebiet from the photographer Ulrich Mack which was one of the titles that came home with me from the Arles festival last month.
In the autumn of 1959, Ulrich Mack left Hamburg with two Leicas and films and stayed in the region between the rivers Ruhr and Emscher for a couple weeks and was drawn to describing the industrial architecture which dominated the landscape.
Making images just for himself and without plans for publication, he explored the hard edges of factories and coal mining plants as their structures contrasted with the oft heavy gray sky. The division between sky and ground is disrupted by these beautiful monstrosities which seem to be absorbing the light and gathering it like dust on every surface - the dampness from rain providing some necessary highlights.
Mack's vision attempts an objectivity which would later be played to the umteenth degree by the Becher's and their students but Mack's photographs hold a balance between a metaphoric hellish cast and underlying joy in his depiction of this wasteland of productivity. Often climbing among the structures, he looks out from elevated vantage points and fills his frames making complicated compositions full tension between bending forms and hard right angles. Highways split the frame and although a human forms are not prevalent, their cars break the stillness and announce their presence. If it weren't for their inclusion, the smoke stacks and gigantic spinning wheels of the mining operations would seem to be performing under their own will.
The plates in Ruhrgebiet were created through the aformentioned Skia High definition printing and being this is 35 millimeter negatives and not large format, one could question the match of such a high quality process used for the presentation of a somewhat rough medium. In my mind, the match is necessary as the results show what is little respected from contemporary photographers of what that tiny format can achieve. His working with small format emphasizes the atmosphere of the subject as the sense of grain and grit, although very fine, is so pleasing to survey.
The plates in this large format book are almost 16 x 20 in size and the paper has the same feel as double-weight fiber printing paper. This choice suits the work wonderfully. With vellum interleaving paper between each print, it feels more like a portfolio of bound prints than a traditional photographic book. The ability to become engulfed by the images set apart from the book's wide margins deepens the sense of richness and tone.
All plates are oriented to the vertical so manipulation of Ruhrgebiet is a bit cumbersome but with it lying flat there are few books which I have that seduce my attention on such a grand scale. One minor but important criticism is that this book, partly due to its scale, is a delicate object. The binding is sound but the slipcase due to its surprisingly weak design is too fragile to sustain the weight and size of the book. The contemporary approach of the title design to the cover and binding construction - albeit delicate - keeps this work from the ghetto of boring and uninspired presentation of which this work could have easily been subjected.
With its beauty comes a price - a very high price of 500 euros. The printing, although an achievement, may make a book like this impractical. It is certainly work that merits such a treatment but being that the process is 4 or 5 times as expensive to produce as a regular book will certainly limit its access to many wanting to see a copy. This is a collector's item of a very limited quantity, 400 copies, each is signed and numbered by the photographer.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 11:58 PM
Monday, August 3, 2009
The work of Anna Fox may be off your radar but she is an important figure in British color photography that arose from the West Surrey College of Art and Design in the mid 1980s. Her highly charged photographs, lit by flash, are a mix of social observation and personal diaristic projects which placed her apart from the male crowd of Paul Reas Martin Parr, and Paul Graham who were forming the 'second wave' of color photography. A recent mid-career retrospective book Anna Fox: Photographs 1983-2007 published from Photoworks covers 25 years of her work.
Her earlier projects - Work Stations (1986-88), Friendly Fire (1988-91) and The Village (1991-93) - are concerned with rural places and cultures, gatherings of people and the physical dramas which are played out in each situation. In Work Stations she describes the work spaces and offices of mid-80s Britian with a flare for agitation. Her photographs and the accompanying captions taken from articles in business magazines reveal (or create) a sense of an internal warzone where worker comraderie is left to the weak and the corporate climb is a matter of survival of the fittest. Quotes such as, "Should a competitor threaten to kill a sale, the modem would provide a lifeline back to base computer" and "Fortunes are being made that are in line with the dreams of avarice" sit under images of workers seemingly absorbed in newly adopted attitudes inspired by Thatcher's free market policies.
It is fitting that Fox follows this project with Friendly Fire, a series where she plays 'war photographer' among corporate sales teams as they foster team spirit by blasting away at one another with paint-ball guns in abandoned army bases and on de-commissioned farmland. Their macho role playing is overlooked in one image by a blood-splattered cardboard cutout of Margaret Thatcher, flashing a friendly and encouraging smile on a job well done - perhaps mistaking the corporate workplace with the Falklands.
The Village, the third in this trilogy, explores a picture postcard English village. The underlying violence behind its creation alluded to in the adopted values of the business market in the first two bodies of work, extends into this series with its attitude of privilege and goals obtained. Shot both in black and white and color the pictures have the frenzy of the the former but her camera moves in for claustrophobic details which reveal anything but delicate nature and sophistication of its citizens. A chatting elderly couple seem to be attacking one another, while at a social event, a young woman's hand-turned-claw is grasped and highlighted by Fox's moody flash.
A switch in her work towards ideas of 'home' comes with the series Afterwards in which she photographed the aftermath of rave parties in rural Hampshire, her hometown. Amongst the detritus of broken bottles, cigarette buts and trash, ravers sleep off the previous night's event in a series of pictures which create a portrait of broken home life and make-shift families. After the splurge of immediate gratification, the country sleeps off its hangover.
In 41 Hewitt Road, Fox turns her camera on her own domestic scene which, considering the chaos and run down atmosphere of this North London flat, seems to be an extension of the Afterwards party pictures. Children's scribbles on the peeled paint walls and the grim of dirty hands evident on every surface presents a crumbled foundation for family. A dead mouse on a stretch of green carpet, a dead worm on a tile floor, a note penciled onto a door-jam that 'Martin Parr Called' and a violently scratched out child's drawing on the wall, point to a reality that violently undermines the national values and bourgeois spirit of the upper class. It seems to be a household where the children have taken over and all rules have been thrown to the wind resulting in a cross between a drug den and an artistic playground.
One of my personal favorite series came from Fox in 1999 with an artist book called My Mother's Cupboard and My Father's Words which interrogates family relationships through text and photos. She introduces the series with, 'My father was ill for many years and as his illness developed, his frustrations grew. I kept a notebook recording his outbursts, mainly directed at the women in the family, and at the same time photographed my mother's incredibly ordered cupboards.' Next to an image of a cupboard full of wine glasses sits the caption, 'She's bloody rattling again. Can you stop your bloody fucking rattling.' Next to a stack of plates, 'I'm going to tear your mother to shreds with an oyster knife.' And opposite a pink decorative plate and crystal, 'Bloody bitches. Filthy cows.' Though deeply disturbing, these pairings of 14 photographs with 14 outbursts, have an underlying twist of humor through the extreme violence of his wordings in the face of the defiance perceived from the order of the mostly fragile objects.
A large part of Fox's work comes in the way of confrontational portraiture. Her Zwarte Piet series which are straight forward portraits of Dutch citizens painted in blackface and dressed as the assistant to Sinterklaas. Neither descriptive of the larger tradition as a whole nor an endorsement of this complicated masquerade with its racial overtones, Fox opens the dialogue to a host of questions concerning gender and race, values and perceptions, and cultural change. Photographically these portrait works hold less power for me than the aforementioned series on work places and village life. Certainly they are subjects worthy of notice and loaded with content but formally the individual photographs suppress my full attention for her concerns.
A few of her other portrait series - In Pursuit (1989), Back to the Village (1999- ) - explore the festivities, cultural events and customs woven into the fabric of the surrounding villages in Hampshire. Theatrical and overtly absurd she often photographs children as they dress for Halloween or as participants in nativity scenes continuing ritual and acting out arcane activities. Macabre in tenor, she portrays both the old and young as citizens in a community lost in their own performance and spectacle.
Featuring tastes of all of her projects to date, including many not mentioned here, Anna Fox: Photographs 1983-2007 is a fine volume which has me asking how work this interesting hasn't found its way to my shelves before. At almost 400 pages and with essays from Val Williams, Jason Evans, David Chandler and Micke Bal, this full evaluation of Fox's oeuvre is a pleasant discovery which demands an immediate searching out of her previous books that somehow slipped my attention. Might I suggest you do the same.
Posted by Mr. Whiskets at 7:15 AM