Category Archives: European photography

Review: Nina Poppe, Ama

If I had to choose a single word to describe Nina Poppe’s book Ama it would be ‘modest.’ It is not a ‘clever’ book, nor a powerful one. It is quiet and does little to promote itself (the book’s open spine design which does not allow for text guarantees that it will be all but forgotten on a bookshelf). This modesty runs throughout every aspect of the book, from the subject matter to Poppe’s photographic approach to her subject, and even to the book’s size and design. In many ways it is a very ordinary photobook: a simple, straightforward documentation of the life of a small community. These unassuming, unfussy qualities could make it easy to overlook, and yet I think they are what make Ama one of the better recent photobooks of its kind.

Ama takes its title from the Japanese word given to these female divers. The book centres on a particular community of women abalone divers on the island of Ise-shima in Japan. Poppe has photographed these older women (they appear to all be in their 60s or 70s) as they prepare for and emerge from their dives, and go about the business of daily life. There are no photographs of the dives themselves. Instead Poppe has come up with the elegant solution of reproducing a spread of an ama mid-dive from Fosco Maraini’s 1963 book The Island of the Fisherwomen, one of the books inspired her to undertake this project. The image is printed on a different, thinner, light blue paper stock which differentiates it from Poppe’s pictures. The same device is used at the end of the book with an accordion fold on the same paper, featuring spreads from several other books through which she presumably researched the ama. I found this to be an elegant way of introducing what it was that attracted her to the subject in the first place and to share her love for the photobook.

In addition to the ritual of the dive, Ama reveals the physical environment of the island, giving a sense of an extremely simple lifestyle turned towards nature. Although it opens with a saying from the Ise-shima region which states that, “A woman who cannot feed a man is worthless,” there isn’t a single picture of a man in the book. Their absence gives this proverb an almost ironic quality, as the men seem irrelevant in the world of these women. Aside from the ama, the only other people that appear are children and young women. Their portraits seem to act as a contrast to the divers, raising the question of how different the lives of these different generations are. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these young girls were in any way interested in the tradition of the ama, or indeed could even become divers themselves one day, or whether the women pictured here would be amongst the last to dive in this way.

While this all may sound rather nostalgic or melodramatic, this isn’t the sense that comes through in these photographs. These images are not romantic or lyrical. Instead, Poppe has built up a simple portrait of the ama and their island, one suffused with affection, warmth and respect, but which refrains from inscribing them in some form of mythology. This restraint is another of the book’s great strengths for me.

Japan remains a fascinating photographic subject for the West and one which has a potent exotic aroma. Much of the work that I see by foreign photographers on Japan seems to be unable to get beyond a search for the exotic other, a search for a series of clichés or preconceived ideas rather than an attempt to photograph what is there. I was struck by the fact that Poppe, a young German woman, avoided this trap so assuredly. The result is that Ama does not feel like the book of an outsider, but rather a work with an open mind.

Nina Poppe, Ama (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 88 pages, 56 colour plates, 2012).

Rating: Recommended

Note: An exhibition of the series Ama is on show at Foam in Amsterdam from 11 May to 27 June 2012.

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Review: Roberto Schena, SP 67

The road trip is one of the primal photographic gestures. It has given rise to some of the most celebrated series of photographs as well as to countless clichéd and forgettable pictures. Thanks to—or maybe even because of—Robert Frank’s ten thousand mile drive across America which led to The Americans, it also feels like a quintessentially American exercise. The term also has an epic quality: it conjures up the idea of a seemingly never-ending journey. With his book SP 67, the Italian photographer Roberto Schena has played with the mythology of the road trip to explore a short (13km) stretch of road running through the mountains in northern Italy.

The books cover sets the mood: the landscape is wintry and barren and the air seems to be heavy with moisture. This is a book that is all about atmosphere. Although its title and endpapers (a reproduction of a map of this mountain road) seem to place importance on the particular location that Schena has chosen for this project, its subtitle, La strada della tramontana scura (The road of the dark north wind), is more revelatory of its nature. The book is structured like a drive from East to West along the SP 67, one almost entirely shrouded in a thick fog which only allows for glimpses of the surrounding landscape.

Most of the images in SP 67 are technically landscape photographs, but they reveal very little… the odd curve in the road… the foliage that surrounds it… always obscured by the incessant fog. This unsettling visual backdrop is punctuated by the odd animal apparition. This is what gives the book its rhythm: a pig running along a ridge on the horizon, a closeup of a horse’s head, a goat or some dogs picked out of the darkness by the car’s headlights. This creates the sense that this world belongs to animals rather than to men. This road seems to run through a parallel universe, a place that we recognise but where space and time are distorted and unfamiliar (another reviewer compared Schena’s world to that of a Murakami novel).

While Schena has undeniably created a heavily atmospheric world with this work, I found it to be a little too impenetrable. SP 67 is a slippery book that left me with a lingering sense of frustration. Like a dream that you awake from feeling unsettled, but, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot remember.

Roberto Schena, SP 67 (Rome: Punctum, 112 pages, 51 colour plates, 2012).

Rating: Worth a look

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This is not a review: Paris Photo 2011

Paris is still recovering from the busiest week of the year on the photography calendar with the 2011 edition of Paris Photo which was held at the Grand Palais from 10-13 November and the many other events that pop up around it (Offprint, Nofound, Fotofever). In recent years Paris Photo has established itself as the most important photography art fair in Europe (maybe even in the world?) and this was a turning point for the fair. For it’s 15th birthday, Paris Photo gave itself a pretty big present in the form of a move from the not-exactly-shabby Caroussel du Louvre, which did suffer from a lack of space, air, seating and natural light, to the Grand Palais which has all of those in spades. The relocation was deemed controversial by some, as people were attached to the Caroussel du Louvre which had housed Paris Photo since its inception. There was also some concern that the size of the Grand Palais space would lead to a more impersonal, bloated fair that would lose the strong identity that Paris Photo had created for itself.

Now that the dust has settled, it is difficult to find many dissenters on the big move. The Grand Palais is pretty much unbeatable as a space for housing a fair, particularly given the amount of natural light that pours in through the several-storey-high glass roof (sunny days can be a bit problematic but if they can find a way to guarantee cloud cover, you will not find better light for looking at photographs). The fair has increased in size with 117 galleries, 27 more than in 2010, and 18 publishers, but the airier premises make it feel less crowded and, if you put your mind to it, it is possible to find enough space to spend time looking at photographs without jostling for space with other visitors. The gallery newcomers included Pace/MacGill, Gagosian, Fraenkel and Marian Goodman, which gave a heavyweight feel to proceedings. Gagosian, who apparently doesn’t really do art fairs, had a interesting quirk to his booth: a closet-sized “private viewing room”, presumably so that the unseemly practice of paying for art would not have to take place in public.

Installation of Ed van der Elsken's Love on the Left Bank

One of the biggest improvements of the fair was the space devoted to photo-books, something that had been a point of contention in recent years. Although there was no increase in the number of participating publishers and book dealers, their booths were far bigger (the Steidl booth must have tripled in size) and this seemed to be a particularly busy section of the fair. There was also a great installation by Markus Schaden of Ed Van der Elsken’s wonderful Love on the Left Bank. The installation, a kind of exploded book, gave a great sense of the process of putting a book together. And finally the Paris Photo book prize was launched to reward “a reference photographic book that has marked the past 15 years” (editor’s note: the English translation of the Paris Photo website leaves a lot to be desired). Paul Graham’s A Shimmer of Possibility was the deserved winner.

Andrew Bush wall at M+B gallery

I guess at this point that I should say something about the photography itself. With a fair the size of Paris Photo I’m convinced that every visitor has a different experience and it is impossible not to find things both to love and to hate. My overall impression was of a strong year with a fairly diverse selection of material, whereas sometimes it can feel like the same pictures pop up on every booth. I don’t think Paris Photo is the place to see the cutting edge of contemporary photography, although there is always something hiding around a corner if you look hard enough, but rather a venue for great vintage work and a cross-section of what is ‘hot’ right now.

Sigmar Polke at Springer & Winckler Kunsthandel

Some brief personal highlights from the fair include San Francisco-based Fraenkel‘s booth, which was an achingly (overly?) tasteful mix of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Robert Adams, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Richard Misrach, Edward Weston and others; LA gallery M+B‘s wall of Andrew Bush vector portraits of drivers in their cars; an exquisite 3×3 grid of late 1970s miniature Peter Downsbrough cityscapes at the excellent Cologne-based Thomas Zander booth; and Berlin-based Springer & Winckler Kunsthandel‘s booth devoted entirely to photographs by the recently deceased German artist Sigmar Polke. The fair has also maintained the guest country/region format from previous years and this year it was Africa that had the place of honour. This is a hit and miss exercise, but I thought Africa was well represented, and although Malick Sidibe turned up absolutely everywhere, there was a fairly diverse selection of material on show. A few personal favourites were a Michael Subotzky prison yard panorama at the South African Goodman Gallery (not to be confused with Marian), Nigerian artist J.D. Okhai Ojeikere’s typological hairstyle portraits which appeared in several places, and a Michael Wolf Real Fake Art clin d’oeil to Malick Sidibe at 51 Fine Art from Antwerp.

Michael Wolf at 51 Fine Art

Another innovation of the fair was to host exhibitions of both public (ICP, Tate Modern and Musée de l’Elysée) and private (Artur Walther, J.P. Morgan and Giorgio Armani) collections, a pretty simple idea that makes a lot of sense in the context of an art fair. Thankfully the exhibitions went beyond the “here’s some stuff we bought this year” format and were generally well-curated and/or insightful.

J.D. Okhai Ojeikere from the Artur Walther collection

The only big question mark over the success of Paris Photo 2011 has to be a commercial one. These new premises must involve a pretty significant price increase and I wonder whether the less established galleries will have made sufficient sales to compensate for the cost of a Grand Palais booth, particularly in the current turbulent economic context. With FIAC taking place just a handful of days beforehand, and a growing number of contemporary art galleries present at Paris Photo there is also a question of how these two fairs will coexist. I hope the outcome is a positive one because this edition of Paris Photo certainly felt like the best yet.

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Review: Cary Markerink, Memory Traces

I should start by saying that this review is long overdue. This is partly due to the fact that my blogging activity has ground to a halt of late, but also because of Memory Traces itself. The book is an intimidating object consisting of one oversized (30.5 x 41 cm) volume weighing in at a hefty 202 pages accompanied by two smaller books, ‘Höffding Step’ and ‘Dark Star’, inset into a custom cardboard case. Memory Traces is not only intimidating but unwieldy. This is not a book that can be casually flicked through: it requires space (if only to support its weight and size) and time to get through its complex layout made up of gatefolds and double-gatefolds of different sizes. Its three-book structure is also complex and of course there is no easy instruction manual provided to tell you how to get started. However, while these first observations may come across as criticisms, it is precisely because Memory Traces is such a difficult book that it is so unique.

Sarajevo, Hrasno 1997

The central book in the trilogy consists of a series of large format landscape photographs that were made in Sarajevo; Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Berlin, Bitterfeld-Wolfen and Ronneburg; Bikini Island and Nam Island; Chernobyl; Khe San and My Lai. These images all depict places that have been deeply affected by recent man-made conflicts or disasters. However, Markerink’s images are far removed from the inflated drama of what has become known as ‘ruin porn’. His photographs of Sarajevo, My Lai or Chernobyl reveal places that seem to be defined by the scars of their past. As the Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu said of Nagasaki, these are places where it seems as if “time has stopped”. Memory Traces also depicts landscapes, such as those of Hiroshima or Berlin, that show few visible signs of past traumatic events. Although these cities are still defined in many ways by their history, their landscapes are in the process of being radically transformed by the objectives of economic growth.

You could say that Memory Traces deals with the different ways that history manifests itself within the landscape. However, it is as concerned with the present and the future as with the past. One of the most remarkable things about the imagery in this book is its treatment of time: the locations that Markerink has photographed all have troubling pasts, but these images do not give the sense of looking back. Instead they raise questions of how the past is carried forward and transformed as time passes. Although it is made up entirely of landscape photographs, this is fundamentally a book of big ideas. Markerink is not interested in the formal aspects of landscape, but rather in how landscape acts as a mirror for culture, for society in general. In ‘Höffding Step’, a book of text combining travel diaries, reflections on contemporary culture with Markerink’s views on the changing nature of photography, Memory Traces reveals itself to have even greater and broader aspirations.

'Moonset over Ground Zero Able & Baker A-bomb test shots (Bikini Island) and Bravo H-bomb test shot (Nam Island), Bikini Atoll – 1999'

With Memory Traces, Markerink has created an object that is designed to create the space for us to stop and think, a space that is essential when dealing with such ambitious subjects. Everything about the way it is made — the book’s huge size, its use of gatefolds, etc. — seems to be designed to slow down the reading process as much as possible. This is a book that also made me think about the way that we read photobooks. To use Markerink’s own description, Memory Traces is an “experience” with many entry and exit points rather than a book that can simply be read from start to finish.

If all of this sounds a little lofty, that is because it is: I doubt that you will ever come across a more ambitious photobook. It is a project that Markerink worked on for over 10 years, one which he describes as a gift he decided to make to himself for his 50th birthday “as a means to come to terms with (his) culture and (his) position within it.” It is a book that swims directly against the current of these times in which images are made, distributed and consumed and discarded in a matter of seconds. It will most likely bewilder you, frustrate you, confuse you and probably keep you coming back for more. Like Terence Malick’s Tree of Life, it is not without its flaws, but it is rare to come across projects that are this outrageously ambitious and for that alone Memory Traces is worth seeking out.

Ronneburg, Uran Tagebau Restloch, 2001

Cary Markerink, Memory Traces. Ideas on Paper (self-pub., clothbound hardcover, 30.5 x 41 cm, 202 pages together with two small booklets, ‘Höffding Step’ and ‘Dark Star’ 12 x 16 cm in a printed box, 2009).

Rating: Highly Recommended

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20 years of Savignano Immagini

Italy’s Savignano Immagini Festival (SI Fest) in the small town of Savignano sul Rubicone is celebrating its twentieth year. I’ve just spent two days at the festival and it has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Curators Massimo Sordi and Stefania Rossi have helped to turn a local photojournalism-focused festival into a far more international event that aims to keep up with contemporary photographic trends. With a Miroslav Tíchy retrospective, a clever presentation of Michael Wolf’s Tokyo Compression series, solo shows of Rob Hornstra’s Sochi project and Bernard Fuchs roads and paths, a ‘global’ group show on the theme of occupancy, and a lot more, they have put together a genuinely interesting mix of work around the theme of fragility.

Massimo Cristladi. Linosa, 2009 from the 'Suspended' series

However the stand-out exhibition for me was homegrown, an intelligent and intriguing presentation of Guido Guidi’s work on the Tomba Brion by the architect Carlo Scarpa (a book of the work has just been published  by Hatje Cantz). Guidi’s astute sequencing and analytical approach reveals the building’s extraordinary interplay with light as the sun passes through the sky. The Occupancy show was another favourite of mine; aside from the strength of the work on show, the exhibition also benefited from the space itself, a local government building from the Mussolini era covered in traces of its past life, adding another layer of occupancy in the process. The festival also has an ‘Off’ component which I didn’t have the time to explore, aside from an exhibition of Sicilian photographer Massimo Cristaldi’s latest series Suspended which presents a compelling image of the landscapes of his native island far removed from the clichés of mafia, corruption or ancient religious festivals.

The festival has put together a healthy programme of talks and discussions. Portfolio and book reviews kept me away from most of the action, but I did manage to catch Gerry Badger’s preview of the forthcoming third volume of the Badger and Parr Photobook: A History series. The book will be divided into three chapters: Propaganda, Protest and Desire and I’m sure there are many rare book dealers who are trembling in anticipation for its release (they are apparently going to have to wait until 2013).

Prints from Henk Wildschut's Shelter series

Savignano is a small festival, not on the scale of Arles or indeed Noorderlicht which opened on the same weekend. However, I think it benefits from a more human scale and If you throw in the fact that it is impossible to find a bad meal in Savignano, SI Fest is definitely worth a visit.

Exhibition of Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression

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Interview: Yannick Bouillis, Founder of Offprint Paris

Offprint Paris 2010 (© Gallery Fotohof Salzburg)

Yannick Bouillis, a former journalist and bookseller from France, is the founder of Offprint Paris, “a project space for contemporary photography and a book fair for independent publishers.” He also recently organised the Amsterdam Art/Book Fair 2011 in collaboration with De Brakke Grond Amsterdam. I interviewed him over the summer to find out more about the second edition of Offprint Paris coming up in November, his thoughts on photobooks today and why the Dutch are so damn good at making photobooks.

You used to be a political journalist, how did you first become interested in photobooks?

I am not so much interested in photobooks per se. I am drawn to photobooks because the experimentation and innovation of the avant garde in photography has always taken place through publications. I came to photobooks because I realized that the place to find the most cutting edge work was not in a museum or a gallery but in the form of a publication. If tomorrow the space for formal innovation in photography becomes the exhibition then I will turn my attention to exhibitions. Today, if you want to be aware of the most interesting new trends in photography you need to be looking at photobooks or magazines, rarely at exhibitions.

Do you think the book has always played a crucial role in photography as a venue for the avant garde?

With contemporary art, there are a large number of spaces open to young or emerging artists in which to experiment. This is not the case in the photo world. With photography, from the beginning there have been a restricted number of spaces for photographers to exhibit their work and the book quickly became the primary venue for photography. As a result of this lack of spaces and the restrictions of commercial assignments, many photographers came to perceive the book as the most important output for their work. I would say this is still true today: specialists and experts who want to know what’s going on in photography still have to buy photobooks.

The focus on the so-called ‘collectible’ aspect of photobooks, which is reinforced by the endless “best photobook” awards (are there not enough competitions in daily life already?) masks the importance of the photobook within photography.

Most academics try to understand photography by importing concepts from contemporary art, where books do not play a key role, but failed obviously to understand that photography has a specific way of organising itself, generating its own validation process. The “school – gallery  – museum – art fair” sequence does not operate in photography. Even the oppositions between the ‘art’, ‘commercial’ and ‘amateur’ fields don’t operate like they do in art.

Bart Julius Peters, Hunt

Although you are French you have been based in Holland for many years. Holland seems to be punching above its weight in the photobook world in terms of inventiveness and experimentation. What do you think makes the Dutch so good at making photobooks?

I think there are two things that need to be separated out: there is the question of photography in Holland, which is very avant-gardist, daring to explore new fields and new practices like videos, installations, performances… and then there are photobooks in Holland. If there is one field where the Dutch are the best in the world, it is graphic design. While Dutch photography is generally strong, their graphic design is even stronger and this is what really makes Dutch photobooks stand out.

A photographer in Holland knows that when they start making a book, they are no longer on their own terrain, they are on the terrain of designers. Graphic design is strong and photographers also know their limits: there is a general recognition among photographers here that the standard of graphic design is so high that it makes no sense to go about trying to design a book themselves.

Uta Eisenreich, A not B

What recent photobooks have stood out for you in Holland?

I just saw the 2011 catalogue of the Arnhem Mode Biennale by Laurenz Brunner and his artistic direction is amazing. It illustrates all of the strengths of Dutch graphic design. Hunt by Bart Julius Peters is another recent discovery. The editing for this book, in collaboration with Mevis and Van Deursen, is great. Also Fake Flowers in Full Colour by Jaap Scheeren and Hans Gremmen. I also look at a lot of magazines, for example the artistic direction of Fantastic Man is pretty impressive. What interests me in these magazines is the way that they make use of photography, their irreverence for it.

Last year I would say the best book for me was A not B by Uta Eisenreich. The thing that is symbolic for me about this book is that it is representative of the transition from the artist as photographer to the artist as image-maker. This is the direction that photography has taken in Holland in the last couple of years. This is interesting for photography as art: it challenges the historical link between ‘photography’ and the ‘document’ towards non-documentary practices by people that consider themselves to be ‘photographers’. And from a commercial point of view, these image-makers is what the internet needs: more specific online esthetics that image-makers are able to provide.

 

“If there is one field where the Dutch are the best in the world, it is graphic design… this is what really makes Dutch photobooks stand out.”

 

The role of design seems to be more important in Dutch photobooks in general than in other countries. It seems to be accepted that design is essential to the success of a photobook, regardless of whether a book is published by a major publisher or self-published.

In France for example, the book designer is thought of as a “maquettiste” (ed. layout guy) rather than as an artist. In Holland there are genuine ‘stars’ in the field of graphic design, the way that you get stars in fashion design or architecture. In Holland, and also in Switzerland, book design is considered to be part of the creative process rather than the production process, which is not the case in France. You can see the importance of design in Holland in the fact that some major museum directors here have been designers like Willem Sandberg at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam or Wim Crouwel at the Boijmans Van Beunigen. In France no graphic designer will ever become the director of the Pompidou Center.

It seems like there aren’t just one or two “super-designers” doing all the photobooks, but that there are many talented designers in Holland. What is the graphic design landscape like?

In Holland there are probably more graphic designers than photographers, there are so many of them that you trip over them in the street if you’re not careful. The country is renowned for having some of the best design schools in the world and a relatively cheap education system, which attracts a lot of foreign talent. It’s not just “Dutch” designers, but there are also a lot of foreigners who have been educated in Holland: the schools here are very international.

Jaap Scheeren and Hans Gremmen, Fake Flowers in Full Colour

Is there such a thing as a Dutch design style? It strikes me that the image in Holland is less ‘sacred’ than elsewhere, there is less of a need to place a photograph in the centre of a page, framed by white space. Designers seem to have the freedom to use the images as ‘raw materials’ when making a photobook.

Dutch culture has a specific “distrust” towards images because of Protestantism and the iconoclasm (ed. destruction of religious images) of the reformation in the sixteenth century. Strangely, although portrait photography is very strong in Holland, most of the photobooks don’t feature images on the cover. This is very striking: when you buy a Dutch photobook, either there is no image on the cover, or it is a portrait from the back, or the text hides the image, etc… Basically, the cover tries to counter the “seduction” of the image… it seems like the image is an impure thing for graphic designers. The love/hate relationship to the image probably gives a special twist to Dutch photobooks in general.

But it’s also true that, in Holland, designers have a lot more control than in other countries: the cover is their cover, their moment. They are given the freedom to digest the photographs as they see fit. This can lead to the question of who the author of a photobook actually is, the photographer or the designer. For some photobooks, the translation of the works in book form is sometimes so strange and so far from the photographer’s work that the book seems to reflect the graphic designer’s creativity more than anything else.

But of course the strength of contemporary Dutch photography must also have a major role to play in the effervescence of the Dutch photobook world?

Sure. Holland has a great photographic tradition. I think the fact that the image is less sacred here gives them the freedom to be more inventive and experimental. Also there are many excellent photography schools in Holland for such a small country. And there is a pluridisciplinarity in art schools: you learn photography next to designers, graphic designers, fashion designers, videos makers etc… Many artists don’t want to stick to one medium, some would even be ashamed to be considered “only” as a photographer. Also, the definition of a ‘photographer’ is a lot more flexible and malleable than elsewhere.  That will keep them on the cutting edge for the next decade. Even in the context of a very conservative political situation, Dutch photography should remain creative for a while.

Amber, the Arnhem Mode Biennale 2011 catalogue

A few years ago, it seemed like we had come to the end of the world with photobooks and now in the last couple of years there has been a huge revival, not only in terms of the number of books being published, but also in terms of the different models of publishing (cheap limited editions, deluxe boxsets, lo-fi self-publishing, etc.)? Do you have a view on why this explosion has come about?

I think there is a reorganisation of the economic model of photobooks. Booksellers are becoming publishers. Designers are becoming booksellers. It’s a bit chaotic at the moment. Book fairs have become the new bookshop. I think this isn’t a passing trend but a fundamental business shift. Just as with galleries, most of their sales happen at art fairs, not by people walking into a gallery on their way home to pick up a photograph.

And so you have launched Offprint, the artist book fair? The first edition fair took place in Paris last year. How did you first come up with the idea?  

Initially I wanted to sell books at Paris Photo but when I saw the prices of booths I gave up on that idea pretty quickly. And then I heard about people selling books in the carpark underneath the Carrousel du Louvre… I thought about selling books from a hotel suite near the fair… In the end I got a few publishers together to sell books and that grew and grew into what ended up being Offprint.

 

“Today, if you want to be aware of the most interesting new trends in photography you need to be looking at photobooks or magazines, rarely at exhibitions.”

 

So you started out by selling photobooks?

I started out collecting, after reading Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1, like a lot of people. But more so than the collecting that this book has generated (against its will), I was very interested in the way that it placed the photobook back at the center of the history of photography.

Then I become a rare book dealer, to make a living out of a passion. But I got tired of that pretty quickly because you never come across new publications, you end up selling the same few books, and get totally irritated to see every discussion starting about “architecture” but ending up about “real estate investment”. Then I came to the contemporary photobook and the artist book. And now I’m launching a publishing house and stopping my bookselling activities.

What are you going to publish?

It’s going to be focused on visual culture—design and photography books—but I also plan to publish theory and philosophy.

Self Publish, Be Happy

Self-publishing has been the big trend of the last year. Do you think it is here to stay or that it is a passing fad?

I think it is here to stay, but I’d say that it is not something people will do consistently throughout their careers. It’s something that is more appropriate when you’re launching your artistic career. Self-publishing is all about getting rid of intermediaries e.g. the publisher, the designer, the distributor.

But designing, printing, publishing, distributing, marketing, selling, shipping… having to do all of this yourself is extremely tiring. Once you have self-published a couple of books you tend to want to get other people to take some of the work off your hands. It’s like moving house… you might do it yourself once or twice, but if you have to do it regularly, after a while you get a company to do it for you. There is some space left for publishers.

There is a balance to be struck with self-publishing. Every time you cut a link out of the chain you are losing expertise and experience—and you are adding work for yourself. When you cut out the publisher for example, you are losing distribution networks, press contacts, marketing, etc. It all depends at the end on what you are willing to do and for how long.

 

“I am not so much afraid of the disappearance of publications, but of photographers to produce them.”

 

To finish with an eye on the future, you’ve spoken about a shift from ‘photography’ to image-making and to specific internet-based imagery? How do you think this is going to affect the photobook?

For Offprint, the rise of the internet in both esthetic and commercial terms, raises the question of how to show emerging practices in photography, if online practices are taking over from printed ones? How can you show web activity at a fair? And if innovation is done by photographers, but not only (graphic designers, image makers, video artists), what does it mean to be a ‘photographer’? What is an ‘art book fair for photo publications,’ if there are no ‘photographers’ or ‘publications’ anymore?

On the other hand, the photobook itself has definitively gained an ‘art’ status over the last few decades, alongside artist books. But art-photographers will be swallowed by the art world, by art book fairs, art museums and galleries. I am not so much afraid of the disappearance of publications, but of photographers to produce them. Or the specificity of anything called ‘photography’.

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Related posts:

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  3. This is not a review: Paris Photo 2011

Picture this!

Linus Bill's answer to the question "If you weren't a photographer what would you be?"

Linus Bill's answer to the question "If you weren't a photographer what would you be?"

The creative website of the franco-German TV channel Arte has started a great little weekly series of interviews with ‘emerging’ photographers entitled Picture this! The interviewees are not the usual suspects (I will confess I only recognised 2 or 3 names on the list), but it’s the format of the interviews that is the real hook: the interview follows a standard 10-question format which is to be answered… in pictures. This often leads to visual gags, but it’s interesting to see how the character of a photographer can emerge from such a small selection of pictures.

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Fototazo guest post

Marie Quéau from the series Gojira

Marie Quéau from the series Gojira

I have just done a short guest post over on the fototazo blog. fototazo has asked a group of 50 curators, gallery owners, blog writers, photographers, academics and others actively engaged in photography to pick two photographers that deserve (more) recognition – the underknown, the under-respected as well as not-appreciated-enough favorites. For my guest post, I selected Marie Quéau and Erik van der Weijde. Check out the post here and look out for an interview with Marie Quéau, coming up soon on eyecurious.

Linus Bill / Erik van der Weijde: Linus’ family in Switzerland and Erik's family in Brazil.

Linus Bill / Erik van der Weijde: Linus’ family in Switzerland and Erik's family in Brazil.

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Related posts:

  1. Book of the Week #2: Erik Van der Weijde / Der Baum
  2. Guest ‘curator’ on Bite! magazine
  3. Picture this!