THE EVERYDAY AFTERMATH
Charles Thiefaine’s Allah Ala
Extract from Then There Was Us - Home And Migration, Sep 2020
If you go onto Google Maps, click the little yellow body shape in the bottom corner and zoom out you can see the areas of the world which are the most densely mapped. As you look at it, Iraq has, surprisingly for a country of its size, very few mapped roads or sites. This is down in part to almost continual conflict in the region (various coups, the gulf war, the Iraq war and then insurgencies from ISIL), but is also a reflection on how little we know about a country which is so often in the news, and which Western societies have significantly affected in the last few decades. In its current form, it is a relatively new country, having being the culmination of three partition states brought together by the British after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. These constant conflicts are hardly surprising then, as social differences are a constant aggravating factor to the region. Alongside this, oil production funnels resources out of the country through BP and China National Petroleum, the companies developing the countries largest oil field. With conflicts having escalated every two decades or so since the state’s inception, it is difficult to see where to begin when rebuilding.
Charles Thiefaine first went to Iraq covering the liberation of Sinjar, a town close to the Syrian border, whilst he was a student. Once he had finished university, he decided to move to Mosul to photograph and work as a photojournalist. In photography, the allure of war has always been present. A photographer can work more lightly than videographer, but more-so the significance of moments cannot be overlooked through the still image. It is these moments that are so important to capture. War needs narratives, good, bad, victories, horrors, in order for the loss of life to seem justifiable. The moments captured through still imagery are those that will shape the recording of that time. What is lasting about Thiefaine’s work is not the images of war, but instead those of normality.
NOTHING WITHOUT LABOUR
Rebecca Burns My Father's Troubles
Extract, Published on Forme Journal,
With a practice formed somewhere around a social documentation, Rebecca Burns’ work and narratives are immediately influenced by people. From this, the narratives then form and surround the work. Her soft images draw landscape and portrait together in a captivating manner, allowing the landscape to reflect person and vice versa. Within this there is no real punctum - one pivot or anchor point - instead, a flat emotional understanding of subject. Harsh edges of the man-made clash with the muted nature of the natural scene. My Father’s Troubles follows a journey through Ireland that takes into account a rich heritage, but also an ever present violence. Unlike many of the originals documenting this during the heights of the troubles, it is not shot with this violence in mind. There are no stark black and white images, burnt out cars or truly militarised police. Instead, images become much more reflective of a more current mood within the history of the occupation of Ireland - the muted, toned violence which is still present psychologically, but cannot be named or seen in the same way. Through watchtowers, steel fencing and CCTV there is an ever present reminder of what may become, lurking beneath the surface. The images follow an exploration with her father, looking at the outposts and barracks that are left.
ENACTING THE PAST FROM CLOUDED VIEWPOINTS
Bebe Blanco's A Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara from the Pupil Sphere Exhibition Spotlight
One image sticks out slightly more than others in the series, the image is of Alex, a skater in Madrid. Whereas other figures are crowded, or older, a direct historical reference, Alex is young, performative. She found him at one of the remaining fascist monuments where, in a strange parallel to things happening now throughout the West, they would take materials from the monument to build skate ramps. Slowly deconstructing a facist history. Bebe’s work, from a more general stand point, is interested in memory and loss. Her interest is intimately linked with the process of reconstruction, and the distortion of narrative within memory.
In A Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara (which roughly translates as ‘In Bad Weather, a Good Face’) begins to trace the Pact of Forgetting, formed in 1977, which meant that after the death of Franco, in ’75, things that happened under the regime were not talked about. From the most general view, this means that forty years of history is lost. This pact of forgetting facilitated the return of democracy within Spain, but this ‘collectively enforced amnesia’ became known as a Pact of Oblivion, an assumed ‘historical truth’.
THE FAR AWAY UTOPIA OF THE LABOUR CAMP
Karl De Keyzer's Zona,
Published on Then There Was Us, April 2020
Much of Karl De Keyzer’s work involves itself in the places that most will never see. His projects are not explorations: unlike most photographers most base instinct, they involve being guided, and restricted with the images that can be made. Becoming a freelance photographer in the 80s, De Keyzer’s work has always been highly aesthetic – the high contrast black and white of his earlier work, right through to the wash of colour which then followed. In the most part, his projects are an abstract telling of places – they do not attach themselves to one narrative, instead they bring together moments of spectacle, portraying a community.
With heavy cotton jackets and shaven heads, the characters wouldn’t look too out of place in Brixton, or any of the UK’s art schools. The mural covered walls, and the brightly coloured gaudy furniture could be mistaken for holiday seaside resorts. But these are images from another world – Russian prison camps (formerly known as gulags) dotted out in the rural countryside of the East, near Krasnoyarsk. Shot in the first two years of the millennia across visits to forty plus different camps (of the 130 in the area) the project encompasses, each camp containing roughly 1500 to 2500 inmates. They are bright and colourful, non-conformant to the usual images of prisons as we imagine them. There is a distinct absence of high watchtowers and impossible walls, instead replaced by green space, only a handful of fences, and even a river for inmates to bathe in. Inside, instead of the grey walls and barred windows, a colourful non-uniformity penetrates. Here, the inmates look like individuals. Camps come across more like small towns with a well established community rather than a disparate and desperate place.
Jack Springthorpe’s work focuses heavily on a space, and what happens within. Across various projects there is always a recurring theme of people and place – a mixture of the landscape and the people which inhibit it, creating a rich tapestry within every series exploring the small nuances that every space exhibits though isn’t noticed by locals and is missed by outsiders described as a wider characteristics of the larger area. The photographer has a very special place when carrying out this work – they are an observer of the community from both inside and outside, creating a work which picks up on these nuances and small details that describe a place with an incredible accuracy but also softness – in the act of exploring a place photographically a part of the photographer is also involved: they become as much a part of the place, and it becomes a labour of love to create images that do justice to where they are working.
Jack’s work hones in on this softness more than most can – creating an intimate portrait of places by focusing on these smaller details; his stylistic choices are very much nailed down, and in many ways he is slowly creating a large portrait of the North of England focusing on one town or village at a time. Relocating to South Manchester after living in Huddersfield, and studying in Bournemouth (about as far from the North as it is possible to get) Jack, and his work, is very much based in the North, and it doesn’t seem like a place that he is set to move away from. Knowledge of a place that he is very much a part of helps to create these series – and this can be seen especially in projects like Saddleworth and God’s Own. Like in much of the North of England – especially outside of the largest cities like Manchester and Liverpool – there is a feeling of a place being left behind, with shopping streets that haven’t really changed much since the eighties, and a lack of investment within these areas as they are left to their own devices. However one thing that the North has always been strong on is identity – and this is one of the hallmarks of Jack’s work: identity within a space or place. In the collaborative project Saddleworth, created for TripMag, working with his brother George to create a text and image based zine, this notion of identity within a space is broken down into the absurdity of wanting to belong to a certain place, and how important that is within the local communities that have undoubtedly become stronger because of the local economies as more money is being driven to the cities rather than towns or villages. God’s Own takes a similarly tightknit community in Gateshead and photographs their local congregation as they question the notion of Christianity in the modern age as numbers dwindle and how this affects them as a community and as people.
Stylistically his work is controlled, creating images that are often very clean and flat, which helps to bring about an objective approach to what he is photographing. There is no imagery that is immediately emotionally charged by heavy contrast: portraits are concentrated on the subject, the background fading away giving an idea of place though only offering a clue, landscapes establish the scene, giving details on the outside of what is happening, again without emotional charge or spectacle. By working in this very objective, standardised manner, an impressive series is curated which allows the viewer to become a part of it, slowly taking in each image and building them into a small, contained world; there is no doubt that the work is tailored more towards being a series – it isn’t about individual images, but instead a collection creating a feeling of connection to the people’s lives, and ultimately to the place.
His most recent project (as seen on these pages) is his most ambitious yet – untitled at the moment - he has begun photographing his hometown of Huddersfield, creating intimate images with a very real colour palette, straddling the thin line of gritty and clean without quite tipping over the edge. Aesthetically the images aren’t quite as open and flat – they lack the fresh air of the countryside, trading it in for the pollution of an ex-industrial town. Instantly they feel like a city – they don’t have the unique quaintness of villages, instead a lack of sky and all concrete surroundings confirms a claustrophobia bolstered by the way that the images can be categorised into three decisive groupings: portrait, urban landscape/architecture and, crucially, evidence. Cities change the way in which people interact and think – it’s difficult to quantify of course, seeing as the project is on-going, but already less portraits reflects the rush and disinterest of a people always on the move without any time to give or spare. As this happens the eye turns to whatever else there is to photograph; and by doing this a strange intimacy is created between Jack and the architecture – the soft flatness that characterises his other work is now turned towards the ‘modernist’ town centre, designed to be entirely functional whilst obsessed with concrete. The intimacy, which once came from people, now comes from the place itself and a strange beauty that the anti-aesthetic architecture seems to hold. The third part: the evidence, is the result of the interaction between the people and the city – evidence of presence within that space, showing what is left behind.
Trading the optimistic greens and blues of photographing small communities out in the countryside for the greys and browns of the inner city isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it marks not only a more ambitious project, but also an exploration of a place that is closer to him. As much as his presence is felt to a certain extent in other projects, they are all focusing on a place that is not his own. By photographing his hometown perhaps we will be seeing not only his most ambitious project yet, but also his most intimate.
A PORTRAIT OF PRESTON
Studio portraits stick out like a sore thumb in Sam Jackson’s portfolio, which contains projects and images obsessed with looking at a space, and the miniscule features within that – projects like Chasing Dragons which makes tonally subtle, and technically controlled images of waves as they hit the shoreor Stubshaw Park which looks at a suburban space, and the way in which private and public space clash form the foundation of his work. Two of the facets of these series seem to describe his work in a broad manner – the attention to detail within the geography of a landscape whilst at the moment of the shutter being released relinquishing the absolute control that has been set up, allowing the environment or subject to express itself or themselves as they like to – and this is where A Portrait of Preston comes in, a marriage of both an interest in the links between people and place, as well as a release of that total control within the image.
Each image in the series has a counterpart – one shot by Sam, one self portrait by the sitter; each sitter is a member of a cultural exchange programme between sister universities UCLAN, Lancashire and Guangzhou, China, and graduating in Preston last year whom Sam met whilst on a trip to China during his first year of the course. A red background is self explanatory of China’s past and present, but made with cloth bought and cut in Preston especially for this series of portraits. Although Sam says that originally these were going to be shot within the quintessential English landscape the studio allows for a near clinical approach which like in his other bodies of work takes away any extraneous information and allows it to take on something else, leaving the viewer wondering about where the link is between Preston and the sitters surrounded by red. As students and not just tourists they have made their mark on the place, adopting slightly illogical English names that had no real relationship to their Chinese names, like ‘Wendy’ or ‘Jeff’, and once you learn this the project delves into the duality of cultures within these exchanges – the process of moving, and taking as well as leaving behind.
It is no coincidence that most, if not nearly all cameras, are produced in the East - like most other technologies - though there is also a very long ingrained visual culture that is apparent through a love of anime, and though we are traversing towards this heavily visual culture in the West also, Sam says that they are on another level, constantly taking pictures of themselves and their surroundings. This creates an interesting choice in using a 5 x 4 film camera in the studio to create the images – it retains the allure that comes with the magic of photography that can perhaps be lost in a digital age where image making is taken for granted. By taking away the ability to be able to witness the results instantly as well as it’s size a large format camera demands attention and care because of its presence but also method of making, an exotic relic not yet extinct but arguably in decline. This rarity of the format is something that can be seen within the images – 5 x 4 isn’t just about producing a colossal negative size, but is also about breaking down the process of creating an image into the most base form – a light sealed wooden box, a shutter and a subject. As with all great portraits, this means the image is the accumulation of the camera and the subject, and that interaction between the two. Despite the constant use of digital technologies (the sitters are all journalism students) large format cultivates interest like nothing else does – instantly the creation of an image, otherwise something we take for granted, becomes a magical act again.
Like myself and many others, the only visible outlet when we were younger for photography was National Geographic, with incredibly explicit, direct landscapes that in many ways show the wonder of the natural world arguably without saying anything at all about the human condition, or the condition of the world – these images are reconfirmations of spaces that are already known to exist, and contain none of the muted dialects which photography took part in later. Stating Edward Burtansky as one of his main influences, this immediate attraction between using a geography of a place to discuss social aspects in the work comes through, especially in regards to the muted tones and subtleties of what is happening within the images. When going through his website this control and subtlety within the tonalities is one of the most apparent stylistic choices linking everything – despite all the work being in colour, there is a distinct lack of colour: using some of the aesthetic qualities of black and white, prodding tones and textures slowly into the images. They are as much abstract pieces of art as they are a documentation of surroundings – something that he had always admired in Burtanskys work – able to place itself within a gallery whilst also having that documentarian appeal that it can fit in National Geographic.
Whereas at first glance the series is a departure from the usual for Sam, it fits into his ethos and vision perfectly once his work is more familiar; this project is a meeting of two twin interests of Sam’s in a perfect harmony – the geography of a place and the space within it, as well as allowing the image to make itself in some manner, letting go of control at the most vital moment to create a collaboration of the photographer and subject. Rather than this being the capturing of a single important or decisive moment - as much of photography is taught to be - his work feels like the recording of an eternity.
21st CENTURY PHOTOBOOK: TRANSCENDENCE
Visual culture has overtaken the written, and as this has happened photobooks have had a strange resurgence: through organisations like Self Publish Be Happy and also a determined drive towards the ability to self print and play with the materiality of the process. No longer is it a necessity to find and build relationships a publisher exclusively, the production and how it is done is completely in the artist’s hands.
What is the place of the photobook in the digital age though? Consuming images and art now for the most part through the screen and things are no longer physical: contemporary art is obsessed with virtual reality; two works were displayed though VR could be seen at the recent Format photography festival in Derby, and a huge amount of attention was gained by Jordan Wolfson’s ‘Real Violence’.
The artist book is one of the few places left in which the artist does have complete control over the product – designed to be interacted with in a certain way, it holds the vision of the artist in relative solidity. Is this not a weakness in the 21st Century, where the consumer has all choice? Not much has changed within the photobook aside from small evolutions in design.
Perhaps this is where it hasn’t quite been cracked then – online publishing sites like issuu are growing, and increasing the scope for work to be looked at differently right out of the box, a myriad of mediums to increase the accessibility of work. For something that works on aesthetics primarily it isn’t a very attractive thought and holds about as much pull as sending around PDFs but there are alternatives, Lisa Barnards ‘The Gold Depository’(seen at Format also this year) is one such work, which uses a website to allow for an exploratory space with similar intimacy as the photobook – the viewer gets lost in the work, and creates their own experience. It should be noted also that this work is extremely collaborative, again something that is only made possible by working in this way.
It is worth bearing in mind that these certainly aren’t sounding the death knell for the traditional photobook, instead they are just the readdressing of the balance between physical and digital; material and immaterial. Photography at least has for a long time struggled to be really accessible to people, though perhaps this is the sign of change.
We met after Gareth had just returned from the Netherlands, playing a few dates as guest vocalist with the band Gnod; having been in the country for only about two hours and one of the first things that he said to me when we met was that he liked to cram things in and this comes across when you research him. It seems that there is little he hasn’t been involved in, and it becomes an ever growing wormhole of different projects, though all lyrically driven brought together by working with a certain group of people.
Vanishing is the bringing together of many different parts: the music is used as a way to give place to the vocals, which is the punctum of the project. There is a strange similarity in this way of working that parallels with many other acts that use something closer to spoken word than lyrics, a slight jarring between the lyrics and the music in the mix as if each is fighting for a little more space. This dichotomy creates something interesting entirely within that in-between space – a claustrophobia, a clinging, that brings an intensity and discomfort to the record. At times the music and the lyrics seem to come together, and this brings forward an incredible ability to create music in an almost disharmony but also push the listener into these places that are hard to reach, and push you further as a listener. The writing of the tracks comes from an initial prompt from the sound collection of Gnod’s Paddy Shine, which then begins to form the basis of the tracks and this collaboration quickens the process, almost diffusing the intensity of working alone. Abstracted sounds thrust into the premise of a loosely defined song; don’t mistake this for a pop record.
Like Gareth himself, the lyrics are direct and honest – there is no vagueness, something that probably comes from a working class background growing up in East Hull. This honest engagement with the listener is integral to the work: there are no smoke and mirrors, though it may be slightly abstract, but that down to earth, to the point attitude creates many access points and broadens the idea of what the avant-garde can be, and who it can appeal to. Relocating to Manchester around fifteen years ago after finding that at that time Hull didn’t have a place for what he was trying to do, and was incredibly bound by guitar based music. This year sees a return for Gareth, who still ahs family in the city, as he was part of the COUM Transmissions events which were held in the city earlier this year at Humber Street Gallery and Fruit in February.
He’s someone, that like many of the most interesting musicians, is very cautious about where he takes influences from - only buying a handful of records a year. It’s easy to get bogged down in a creative process taking small parts from everywhere, and eventually this will dilute a sound; it seems that producers should own all the records while musicians should only have a few. This also helps the tracks not become reactive to everything around him, and that’s important to create something that is undoubtedly standalone, arguably avant-garde, but most definitely away from the trend. He seems to do this by operating around an array of people – from working with Gnod in the past as well as appearing as guest vocalist for them, and also playing in Lone Lady’s band as well as close links with Islington Mill without really being a completely constant part of any. By being on the outskirts of so many things, this complex layer of sound seems to come from his writing and composition, both sure of itself and aware of what is around it.
Over time Gareth says his music has become more personal, and through that closer to him and more of a form of expression than anything else. When asked how he would describe himself he uses the one term that allows anything, without carrying the baggage of needing to fit into a specific place or time: artist. It’s easy to see this: the music isn’t designed to fit into any genre that you’d like to place it in, but neither is it really difficult to access. Lyrics are imaginative and dark, but without using the usual tropes to get across the ideas; ideas which aren’t overly complex, but natural and are at no point dumbed down in order to create a certain track. Part of this must come from the tracks being written in a responsive (to the stimulus) way, which allows for a natural order and composition to be curated from both parts.
Movement is another constant within the album – it seems to come from a lot of his ideas coming to him whilst walking, something that gives space and time to think without being bogged down in the trivialities of the world around you. This movement, whether it be the constancy of the percussion attacking within the track or whether it be those fleeting glimpses of synth seeming to swing into the track as they fade in and out of prominence, is key to allowing the words to fall easily away into the album with the music mirroring the pace and insistency within his writing. There is a something a little strange about a record which has such a strong driving force and yet no full band, yet it works incredibly well to create an intimacy to the work which otherwise would not have been there, yet at the same time this is always an attacking intimacy.
With Vanishing gigs rare, but on the horizon, this is another one of those rare albums/projects/acts, whatever you want to call it, that comes along every once in a while and does something really special, creating a record which just fits into a space where there was previously a void. It isn’t for everyone, and the intensity that the project has can be unsettling at times, but that’s sort of what it’s designed to be, and through that design there is something somewhat masterful about it.
AN UNEDUCATED PHILOSOPHY OF PHOTOGRAPHY
w. Emma Wilkins
The white washed gallery wall is typically vastly vertically and horizontally extended, and is sanctified by the eerie quiet of the reverence we award to work situated upon it. Compare to this the page of the photobook. Its form is a phantasmagoria of tangible possibility. As a body upon which shades of light can perform. Waning visibility in the form of shadows that fall in concaves, and in geometric compositions that arc in a push-pull clinging rhythm, as the volume’s spreads are leafed over one another. And then there is the spine. Strong, centralised, a book’s spine is a tree's trunk and lies in parallel with its namesake, the series of supporting structures nestled within the human body. In this way the body of the printed work is a kind of real fiction. It is a textual flesh. The photobook reflects the structural, sculptural qualities of the human body. Without compensation in the design stage of the work, the perfect bound book cannot be leafed fully apart without a splitting, without a varying quantity of visual information, whether negative space or printed visual element, being lost to and immersed invisibly within the gutters of the spread. Such qualities, by comparison to the gallery wall, my feel incongruous and antithetical as exhibitor of photographic art.
Unlike anything else, the photograph is nearly entirely dependent on its context – which is why photography uses so prolifically the white wall gallery space to display work, this act is to get rid of extraneous information and allow the ideas of the work to be sat alone, dependent on nothing. Yet the image is also the thing that we see all around us – it is the thing which informs daily, and has allowed our transition into a much more visual culture. We now see hundreds of images a day – as I write this on Word, an image of a highlighter depicts the tool to highlight, an image of a rubber depicts the tool to erase. Either because of the way technology has developed, or the way in which we have learnt to read the world around us, images, and symbols are the basis of our culture. We think of a painting as an object, separate to us. Though the contexts can be changed when we look at a painting through a book or a television screen, it is still historically fixed to the way we read art, we still recognise the painting as an object of art. The photograph is not afforded this luxury – the photographic image is dependent upon whatever is around it in order to find its meaning. It has no fixed place. One moment it can be a snapshot, the next an advertisement and then find itself in a gallery, as part of an exhibition. This is of course a rather crude example, but it gets the point across that whilst the image may never change, the contexts in which it is seen give the meaning to it, according to what is around it. No other form is capable of that, even if we see a painting in a restaurant or a living room it is an object of art – the photograph is not, and is transient, ever capable of being re-contextualised; much like drawing it is seen foremost as a recording of information. The nuance of order has huge implications in photography upon the way the work itself is rendered and encoded: the putting together of a photobook then is very selectively considering how each work complies or jars with the next: like in the editing any book, or essay, it is making sure that the pieces fit together in the right order to still make sense or not make sense. It is the creation of something which is supposed to be read in a certain way.
Photography, as a referential medium, broadly speaking, lacks the pictorial qualities associated with painting. If we are to use the well used (and better contested) mantra of the photographic as the Pencil of Nature; Its referential quality and its relationship with the ‘real’ means that, in staged and performative photographs, ceremonies are played out on the level of the personal, of the real, the banal. In terms of the subject, there exists multiplicitous ways that photography can re-present the range of human experience and activity. These methods may combine and evolve to embody a kind of fluxus sensibility; combining of mediums to create a more of a total work, take for example the ongoing collaborative projects by Rut Blees Luxemburg & Alexander García Düttmann, which include the Self Publish Be Happy-published The Academic Year, which, draws equally from the languages of literature and the photographic by being offset printed, the book presents drawings, photographs and type, upon traditional paper pages of a Penguin-style paperback novel, with the visual quality and execution of an artists book.
The self publish movement of photobooks and visual art publications has contributed to a seismic shift shift in the power play of how photography in particular is disseminated and experienced at large. The focus and control, moves from curators, gallery directors, to artists and viewers. This process is analogous In observing the book in comparison to the gallery exhibited work; one may typically see their own reflection in the plexiglass or perspex housing, behind the bordered glass framing of an art object, while the photobook, and in turn the photographic publication, subverts this mirroring and degree of separation between viewer and work.
Where a wall may be marred and dirtied by a stray bootprint or finger-smudge, the photobook equally is dignified in its capacity to be manipulated, dog-eared, in an orphic process of discovery. Like the modernist concrete of the 20th century, the work of art that is the photobook becomes an envisagement of completion only by decomposing, being handled and worn in a series of intimacies with its viewer. Before the contact with the interior commences, the closed book, like Bataille’s closed mouth, is as beautiful, and as resolutely inviting as a safe. Then opened, becomes the canon, with its open mouth of fire spilling forth oracular treasures.
These intimacies are analogous with that of one with his paramour; dust jackets and belly bands implore the viewer to commits the acts of undressing, of entering. As the contents of a volume unfurl, are exposed and explored with eager hands as one strives to demystify, the bookish body before him. The content, revealing, illuminating, can then become the familial, like temperately warm bathwater. The pages of the much exalted saccharine-kitsch photobook works of Martin Parr and Tom Woods vibrate with this curious, enveloping notion that the reader is not merely observing something, but instead is absorbed into the shared cultural history emanating from the papers surface. From this we analogise, transform the photobook from complete work of art to kind of alternative photo album; in its physicality renegotiates our notions of the private and public, the personal and universal. The photobook satiates our primordial desire to have and to hold, and more than that, to take ownership of the visually referential; with what we interact with on a tactile level. The content of the printed pages may encompass the antitheses of absurdity and plausibility, of legibility and incoherency. Each contribute, through their presence and inclusion on the page, to a process of revelation, of exposure where the attention and manner of reading is as central to this process as the work’s curator, or the publishing house’s image editor. Both are simultaneous acts of choreography in spite of one another.
To read is to perform, to perform is to commit an act. Just as when we take in a series of images it is also a performance – whether or not we feel that we are passive towards said images, we are still performing the acts of seeing and looking. Making an image is in itself undoubtedly an act – the camera is held up, in a position at which the viewfinder can be seen and then within the moment that the thumb or index finger presses down on the shutter button, an image is made in the ‘prototype’ form. This performance is not about the creation of an image; it is about the creation – or at least the preservation – of an idea. From the idyllic landscape, to the portrait, it is about the act of making that idea of how the subject looks into something more solid, ideally the ‘stereotype’ – the reproducible copies of that frame as that idea or moment. In that one moment we do not perform the simple act of taking a photograph, we perform the act of creating an aesthetic, or forming an idea, of making something. The entire history of image making is within that thumb or finger press, and the choices which come with it. Just as is true with the painter and the designer, despite having a slightly slower process do the same thing, as does anyone that makes something. Do we take or do we make a photograph? To make implies consideration in the thought process, in the composition of the camera, whereas take implies a brief momentary act. To create an image is parts of both – it is reacting to a moment, whether that be transient or immediate. The act is not chronological, or bound by time – it defies time because of the encoding which is done within that nth of a second, up to minutes or hours which may be spent recording an image. This act boils down everything within that ‘moment’, despite how long it may be, into one form, frozen. The performance here then is the summation of the idea for the communication of and to others.
The artists’ body, represented in a portrait, is the image of self-embalmment and self-exaltation. the body, doused and immortalised in silver nitrate, is victim to both erasure and affirmation, The photograhic image, as Sontag writes, in human representation unmakes its reference, and the body undoes itself: we recognise bodily transience. In the printed pages of a book we are master, kingdom-key swinger, over the mulchy stock surface. At will; rub, scratch, tear the self-aggrandising ‘artist’ from existence, and simultaneous non-existence. Must we kill our idols in order to better serve them? The fragility, organic quality of the unpresent body is transcended as the viewer, the beholder of the work, completes it, its Situation, as audience, during the fact of experience. If the reader so chooses, the pages materialise as a playground where visual and textual elements, play out, interact, conglomerate to form a whole, or not. A book can be hollowed out and places upon a dining room shelf and be made to contain all manner of things; indiscretions, precious sentimentalities, or a pistol. Additionally, one does not choose, typically, the work seen upon the wall of a show viewed by chance at a local gallery, but one most probably would choose which volumes populate the footspace at the base of his coffee table, hence an assimilation between the domestic and institutionalised art spaces. As a result of this re-contextualisation, the socialised, conventionalised behavioural codes encouraged towards and around art works can be subverted. There would be, without doubt, some form of penalisation awarded to the person who dared to do violence to, say the piercing of a museum canvas, but what is the charge for the mutilation of the commodification which an individual owns?
Each innovation in technology or method recontextualises and forms anew our relationship with that which may be deemed anachronistic, arcane or surpassed. Rather than submitting to the reductionist, pseudo-narrative of our allegedly dystopian cyber-consumed twenty-first century, instead it may be appropriate to think of the photobook as a kind of champion of the Situationists’ slogan ‘Down with telecommunication, long live communication;’ expressing a desire to stay true to shared experience and physicality, that makes use of, rather than condemns, our currently available, and ever evolving, array of information technologies, and in its sensorial and interactive qualities, challenges the notion that analogue is and has been superseded by digital image making and sharing technologies. Exemplifying this is the rise and rise of the self publish movement, spearheaded by Bruno Ceschel and his organisation, Self Publish, Be Happy, as posterboy for the movement towards the democratisation, revolution and popularised proliferation of the photobook.
Ed Ruscha, author and photographer of 1963's 26 Gasoline Stations, aimed, in the production of the later editions of the book, to “produce a mass-produced product of high order.” This sentiment is echoed by the 21st century artists and individuals, such as Ceschel, pushing for a freeing, a horizontalising of the field of opportunity for artists, makers and art lovers. In this spirit, Berthold Lubetkin, castrated and maligned as he may be as a result of a few sore judgements regarding a penguin pool in the 30’s, amongst other things, was enigmatically free of error in asserting that ‘nothing is too good for ordinary people.’ The Modernist building projects of the twentieth century and the shifting in the method of dissemination of the printed and curated photographic collection are not so discordant. The photographic, springing forth from the printed page, embodies the silkscreened figure of Joseph Beuys, drenched in a Van Dyke tonality, resolutely mute, asserting ‘La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi,’ mid stride, mid charge towards the viewer.
Unlike other ‘mediums’ photography is a visual language which is readily legible – we read photographs every day, and unlike painting or other forms of communication, it does not have enshrined in it certain codes (codes which are only accessible to those that are educated to them) of how to read the image, how to make sense of it. Perhaps this comes from photography’s ties to reality – in that we always see an anchor point within the image that we can relate to, something familiar and recognisable; or perhaps it comes from our (now especially) constant interaction in both the consumption of image and the making of images, across society, following the ever proliferating mechanical, and now digital, means of reproduction at our disposal. Whatever the answer, photography can communicate arguably more effectively and efficiently than anything else. Language is a key part of this – as much as photography has a language, it is also part of language, on a larger scale as we have transferred into a visual culture. This accessibility that photography has is like no other – it puts photography into a place in which it is not just another ‘medium’ of art, it is not in itself a technique, it is not just another means of communicating ideas, it is something more all consuming than that. The link that it has with everyone – because of how many images we read daily – makes it transcendent of place. This is why we have struggled to categorise photography, and still eternally ask, ‘What is photography?’, and perhaps rather than trying to answer this question (a question that is perpetuated generally by those that are paid to do so, yet we have never come to any conclusion. Perhaps that’s because its easy to get paid for attempting to answer an eternal question.) We accept that photography is. That question, in part, is exactly a symptom of trying to make photography into a definable, tangible thing, in turn used to justify value.
The death of wonder has been cancelled. In parallel to the array of technical considerations available to artists is the heterogeneous divergence in genre, stylistic aesthetic, and narrative considerations of the content of the photographic image itself, and the possibility for pushing the envelope regarding what can be considered to be such. The diorama of possibility offered to photographers, is reflected in the myriad of potentials to approaches in photographic arts, and their distribution in photobook form thereafter. This can be discussed in terms of 1967 John Szarkowski’s suggestion, in 1967, that the new generation of photographers, had begun, rather than provide an aspirational image for an objective eye, not to present the world merely as it apparently is, ‘but to know it.’ From diaristic modes of production to the vastly constructed tableau, or the candid portrait, the abstract alchemic deposit in silver nitrate; all routes present photography's place as a medium in allowing the directed rendering of the theatre of imagination.by Daisuke Yokota and Hiroshi Takizawa's photobooks negotiate what the photographic is and can be considered to be, creating nebulous imagery combining alchemy and performance in their materials based experimentation. The visual results are seductively abstract but simultaneously disarmingly visceral. The editions of Effect Twins, bound in small runs as live performances at events such as Photo London and Tate Mordern’s Offprint utilizing varying experimental printing techniques and materials. Their approach highlights the opportunity for he ephemeral and the ethereal to, rather than impend and do detriment to the other; to instead allow their distinct (but not always) separate natures to compliment and illuminate the other in their idiosyncrasies. The two are moon and ocean; distanced but agreeably bound.
How do we value a piece of art, or how do we value a photograph? Value is something that photography struggles with. It tries to be both part of the art world (limited print runs, concentrating on the reproduced image as a farcically ‘unreproducible’ object). Photography confounds capital, as do many things in the digital age, because it takes labour whilst not using up any raw materials. This makes it difficult to attach value, and instead we attach arbitrary value to the objects, based on the rules and conventions learnt from the wider art world but also from a set of arbitrary rules based on the ‘difficulty’ of making an image. Traditionally an image made on an 8x10 camera will be seen as more complex, and therefore more worthwhile, or difficult, than making an image on a digital point and shoot camera, despite there being roughly the same process. In both the shot can be composed, in both the exposure can be measured, in both it is likely that a light meter will evaluate what the exposure is and then in both the shutter will be pressed. There are more things to forget to do with the older analogue process, but there is no true difference when actually making them image. Similarly, the same goes for the conceptuality of an image – we attach value to their being a greater implied meaning within what the image is supposed to discuss. And yet a photograph from a nightclub is nothing more than a throw away photograph, a snap shot, because of the context it has been placed in. Arbitrarily we have decided that one image has decided more about the human condition (and everything that we make and record speaks about the human condition) than the other, because of the aesthetics that it proposes, and because of the way we have previously been taught to read art and imagery. We have to throw away the shackles of archaic value systems recognising one thing to be as valuable as the next to be working within photography, the thing which is the postmodern in an absolute form. Our aesthetic taste is dictated in Kantian terms, still, where the popular aesthetic is of ‘barbarous tastes’ while aesthetics of value are disinterested. Our aesthetic taste then is determined entirely by sociological norms, though we do not actively recognise this, and instead we allow the aesthetic tastes that we value be dictated by a bourgeoisie or middle class taste: despite social outreach, and minimal efforts to make art accessible, art is still only for a certain few, because it bears no relatable meaning to people not involved in art, and practitioners rarely make the effort to make it accessible for people outside of the arts. Seeing certain photographs as an object of art, and others as not, is an outdated and outmoded system of value which continues an art for arts sake culture.
Pushing the envelope is the proliferation of technologies such as rendering, three dimensional printing, and app creation. Such technologically innovative projects include Lucas Blalock's Making Memeries, which utilities an app that extends the physical object of the book beyond the printed pages, embellishing the viewers experience of the printed work. The augmented reality component activating additional layers, movement, and surprise elements that float forth from the images, expanding virtually the physical parameters of the book. Weproductions, similarly, is a company involved in the popularization of international photo and artist book production and distribution. Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas' works as part of Weproductions' ourvre are interesting unique as examples such as Real Fiction: an Inquiry into the Bookeresque, explore, and actively employ the sculptural aspects of the photobook format, the page, and printing methods. The playfully finessed negotiation of congruous and incongruous space demonstrates that the printed book, far from being a static platform, is constantly breaking ground. The results of such work, in being distributed by such organisations, or by zine and print fairs are bridging the gap to the platinum print, to the precious, sumptuously bound and packaged limited-run photographic collectors’ edition of what may otherwise be content-wise similar but financially nonviable.
Every photograph is an object, be it digital, virtual or physical. The photograph is not wholly seen as the subject of which it represents, we see the photograph as a space separate to that, a representation of a time and space not currently present. In looking at a photograph we recognise that, and therefore the photographic image is a summation of everything that goes into it, rather than the image ‘alone’. Previously the only public images of us that would be extensively witnessed would be family photos, organised in an album. They would be printed a certain size, usually 6x4, and held in a plastic to protect it. Is this to preserve the artefact of the photograph, the memory, or perhaps something else – to give the image the notion of being special, intangible, separating the viewer from the image through a minimal plastic coating. A continuation of that has happened on Facebook, extensive galleries of holiday pictures and family, but also something new – the presentation of drunken photographs, presenting ourselves as the ever important socialite. In both cases, the Facebook album and the classical photo album, the images make sense because they are encoded contextually – that is where these photographs ‘fit’ in. As soon as the contexts are changed then the meaning is also changed – even if a new meaning is not found, then there is a jarring sense of discomfort around the images. We have learnt intuitively through visual culture how to automatically contextualise, and what suits what. The photograph is still thought of as an image with the subject weighting the entire thing. In actuality every new use of the ‘image’ a new ‘object’ is created, according to subject and form coming together. The object is not necessarily tangible, but it is the viewing of a fully encoded image. The use of white walls in galleries, or borders on a photograph or in a book is there to decant the image to being seen as only an image, without extraneous variables that effect it and can change it – it sterilises the area around the image, to strengthen the original meaning of the image, and separate it from the world. This is turn is an act of encoding however – it encodes into the object the ‘aura’ of the transcendent; the elevated piece of artwork, something which in turn links to our sense of value, and our sense of merit. By encoding in such a way, the object of the photograph can be elevated far beyond how ‘good’ or relevant the subject matter is, but because we see it in this context we assume that it is valid, and valued.