Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lime Works

I am not sure why, but lately I have been drawn to Japanese photography. I am finding the aesthetic of these photographers fascinating. They present their world through photography very differently than western photographers. Perhaps it is because of the history of Japanese art and calligraphy that influences these photographers, similar to how western painting influences European and American photographers.

Recently I came across the works of Naoya Hatakeyama in a book of his photographs called Lime Works. At first glance the photographs are similar to the works of Edward Burtynsky's Quarries presenting similar intensity of how man has imposed himself carving the earth with giant machines. Hatakeyama takes a different perspective, however. His images have an abstract quality that both is surreal and at the same time engaging. The scale and size of the factories from Hatakeyama's point of view appear intense and chaotic. The texture of the surfaces combined with the light of these color photographs are not like anything seen before. Turning the pages of this book leads one on a journey into a world most of us have never seen. The complex jumble of industrial shapes inserted into a landscape appears like science fiction.

Then without warning, the book gives you a breather. Several pages of photographs of lime powder covering everything. You are now inside the lime works. Every surface is white with lime dust. As you peer at each photograph, you wonder, why are there no foot prints? I was struck by Hatakema's images that he never shows people or their presence. Yet, they are always there somehow.

The final journey in this book takes you again outside. This time to the dig sites. More images of disorienting landscapes, but without the industrial hardware. These photographs are beautiful, seemingly off planet vistas of what the lime works leave behind after carving the earth. They have a peacefulness to them while at the same time being slightly on the edge of comfort. Similar to the other images in the book, the theme is seeing (and not seeing) how we humans scar the earth.

A truly enjoyable book of photography!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Modern Century

I finally got around to looking at the book I picked up at MoMA from the the Henri Cartier-Bresson show. This show was outstanding. Over 300 photographs by the master, spanning his career. Actually, it was a bit overwhelming. That is why, not surprising, I decided to buy the book and view this collection of a his life's work from the leisure of my home.

We all know how great Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was as a photographer. Looking at this incredible book, The Modern Century, is like holding greatness in one's hands. From the essays by Peter Galassi, chief curator for the department of photography at MoMA, to the superb reproductions of the photographs, this book is wonderful. It not only has the great photographs that has made Cartier-Bresson world famous; e.g. Sunday on the banks of the River Marne, 1938 it has surprises throughout. Photographs that are incredibly powerful but not as well known; e.g. Wrestlers on Independence Day, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1958.

Sunday on the banks of the River Marne, 1938. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

This book of Cartier-Bresson photographs is a masterpiece also because of the care in how it is assembled. It is more than a catalog of the exhibit and his oeuvre. The images are placed together in sections that are thematic. Then within each chapter the sequencing of photographs are very thoughtfully arranged to augment the story each individual image conveys. I found myself transfixed with each page to the next. Yes, the photographs are powerful, but credit must be awarded to the editors as well. This book is destined to become a great source for students of Cartier-Bresson, photojournalism, and the art of bookmaking.

This exhibit is on view at MoMA only until June 28. If you are in NYC or plan to visit, this show is a must see. If you miss the exhibition, there is always the book, which should be in your library any way.

More information: Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Monday, May 31, 2010

Japanese Photobooks

While on a recent trip to NYC I made my usual pilgrimage to one of the best photography book stores in the country, Dashwood Books. Not only is this a great photobook store, it has a broad collection of Japanese photography books. And it was here that I discovered this wonderful volume, "Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and '70s" by Ryuichi Kaneko and Ivan Vartanian, Aperture, 2009.

The eye opener for me, is that Japanese photographers use the photobook format as presentation for their photography, not the print. The photographer collaborates with the book printer to create this work of art and tell their stories.

"Japanese photography is best understood via the photobook. As will become apparent in the following texts, Japanese photographers of this era treated photographs as an entirely different creature from exhibit prints." - from the introduction.

Ivan Vartanian's introduction is a wonderful essay of the Japanese photobook and helps to put it into context as an artist book. The most valuable lesson for me, is to challenge my western perceptions of art and photobooks. Again, the artist book becomes the predominant label for these works. You can see the influence with today's aesthetic of full page bleeds, double page spreads, and panoramic images in book form that was championed by these artists.

For those that study and appreciate both photography and photobooks, this volume is a must have. I have gained yet another opportunity to expand my "reading" of photography and the photobook through this book.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jazz and Photography

When you surround your life with things photographic and jazz music, it is a great and wonderful surprise when you stumble across a photobook that features both. This is what happened recently when I came across this outstanding book by Sam Stephenson on the work of W. Eugene Smith, The Jazz Loft Project.

This book is a collection Smith's photographs and tape recordings documenting a period of jazz history in a cold water loft located at 821 Sixth Ave. in New York City from 1957 to 1965. The people documented in this book is a who's who of jazz. The photographs are vintage Smith that only his eye could have captured. And only someone like Smith, who is the consummate documentarian would of had the insight to create audio recordings of these great musicians. "He had wires reaching like roots through walls and floors to microphones all over the place." He exposed 1,447 rolls of film (about 40,000 pictures) and made 4,000 hours of reel to reel recordings. Some of this material appears in the book, transcripts from the recordings are of conversations captured between Smith and the musicians or the musicians themselves. This volume is amazing as a slice of time during one of the greatest periods of jazz.

The photographs that are reproduced are of both musicians and life inside and outside the loft. Many of the images are from the fourth floor windows looking down onto the street life at dawn, when these musicians were leaving or just the dramas playing themselves out on the street. Life on the corner of W. 29th and Sixth Ave. is played out for Smith's camera in the rain, snow, during the day or night. There are numerous images of the musicians in stark black and white playing their instruments together or alone. This loft was a gathering place for them to practice and jam without any concern of bothering neighbors. And Smith was there to document it all. Zoot Sims, Thelonius Monk, Hall Overton, Lee Konitz, Don Cherry, Ronny Free are some of the greats captured in this book.

Author Stephenson did a tremendous job of culling through the mountains of material over a seven year period to create this book. His introduction and notes throughout are insightful and provide context for this period of jazz and photographic history. My many thanks to him for doing this work. I encourage anyone who loves jazz and appreciates great photography to buy a copy of this book for their library.

Learn more at the Web site: Watch the video and more, the Jazz Loft Project channel.