Tag Archives: Last November

The Girls of Chechnya

In 2010, when she was working for a news agency in Moscow, Diana Markosian asked to be sent to Chechnya. The photographer, who is Russian but studied in the United States, was 20 years old and curious about the history of the embattled region.

“They wouldn’t send me so I decided to go by myself,” she remembers. “Grozny became my destination and later became my home.”

Markosian went back repeatedly after that first visit and soon became a specialist in covering a region where, she says, many of her colleagues don’t want to go. She moved to Chechnya last November to live there full-time. But, she says, her close relationship with the area doesn’t mean that it’s not a risky place to live and work—kidnappings are frequent, she says—or that such risk does not affect her photographs. Although Russian leaders declared the region normalized and peaceful three years ago today, following more than a decade of wars against rebels, life is still fraught. They may not appear in the frames, but Chechen authorities are the unseen presence in the work shown in this gallery, a personal project through which Markosian addresses the lives of girls growing up in Chechnya.

“It’s one thing to come here for a week like I used to do. It’s another to start living here, and not only hear what these women are going through but actually experience it yourself,” she says.

Markosian says that Chechnya has experienced a wave of Islamicization since the collapse of the Soviet Union: religious dress codes are mandatory, young (and polygamous) marriages are frequent and gender roles are increasingly conservative. The president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has said publicly that women are the property of their husbands. And at the same time, high unemployment has meant that many young women who are already becoming mothers still live with their own parents.

For Markosian, this has meant that—after she was told by security officers that her belt full of lenses made her look like a suicide bomber—she carries a handbag rather than the photographer’s gear bag to which she was accustomed, and that she has gotten used to being questioned or having her photographs deleted by officers. “As a regular citizen I don’t feel danger,” she says, “but just because I’m doing something a little out of the ordinary, especially for a woman, I’m looked at more carefully.”

It has also changed her working process. Because of what she says is widespread but justified distrust, people are wary of being shown doing anything that could be perceived as unusual. Something as seemingly innocent as a photograph of a woman smoking a cigarette could have dire consequences. The fear of being different has been a particular obstacle for photographing teenagers, as their parents are worried about what might happen if their children are seen as nonconforming.

But Markosian says that, by spending weeks with her subjects before taking a single photograph, she has been able to gain the access necessary for the project. And, in doing so, she says she has found these women to be a mirror for Chechnya as a whole. “That entire idea of a generation building itself and the resilience these girls have really motivated me,” she says. “They are trying to make something of themselves at the same time that this region is trying to build after almost two decades of war.”

Diana Markosian is a photographer based in Chechnya. See more of her work here.

Review: Inger Lise Rasmussen, Brilliant City

Inger Lise Rasmussen, Brilliant City

Inger Lise Rasmussen, Brilliant City

When I met Inger Lise Rasmussen at the Fotofest Paris portfolio review last November, one of the first things she said to me was “I’m not a photographer, I’m a print-maker.” This distinction is worth keeping in mind when looking at her work. Going through her portfolio at the time, it was clear to me that each of her prints should be considered as objects rather than just as images. She makes her prints using a photo-gravure process and her background as a graphic artist comes through clearly in her compositions of multiple images on a single sheet of the rich, textured papers which she uses. I found the results to be quietly beautiful and very different to the other work which I reviewed at the time.

Given the importance of the print-making process to Rasmussen, I was curious how her work would translate into book form, particularly into the form of a fairly straightforward exhibition catalogue such as this one. Although I think she is being a little hard on her herself (and more than a little tongue-in-cheek) when she says “I’m not a photographer,” I do think that her pictures are more interesting as graphic elements with a very particular atmosphere and texture than as photographic images.

In 2007 and 2008 Rasmussen made two trips to China to study the country’s exploding urban growth in the cities of Beijing, Xian, Wuhan, Chongqing and Shanghai. The resulting collection, Brilliant City, is not broken down into separate sections for each city, but structured as a series of small chapters on different characteristic aspects of urban China. These fragments go from the ‘big picture’ of the cities’ structures (old hutong neighbourhoods being torn down, cityscapes of new neighbourhoods of huge residential blocks) to the more detailed and human (a group of grasshopper collectors, a metal worker, a percussionist). Unfortunately, I found that the book suffered a bit from this fragmented structure: it felt like the series of vignettes that it contains didn’t quite add up to a coherent or complex impression of the China’s emerging mega-cities. Although the book is well printed, having seen Rasmussen’s prints, I don’t think the book quite manages to replicate the richness of the gravure tones and texture of her prints.

Brilliant City is at it’s best when the pages of the book echo the graphic compositions of Rasmussen’s prints. Her gravure technique is also better suited to the more intimate images (grasshopper collectors, a lone percussionist) than the sprawling cityscapes. In a chapter entitled ‘Lost in Singing’, an old woman singing fades gradually out of focus across a series of three images punctuated by a fourth image of an ancient stone, a sequence which manages to be both poetic and, frankly, strange.

What I enjoyed most about Brilliant City was seeing one of the hottest subjects in contemporary photography (urban growth in China) treated in a very different way from the many large-format formal studies that have appeared in recent years. Although Rasmussen uses old, some might even say antiquated, techniques this gives her work a more lyrical sensibility without misleading the viewer into thinking that these are images of the past. There is still a strong sense of this being China now. Although some of the subjects felt a little too obvious (the fading lanterns or the building sites), the book doesn’t fall into the trap of romanticising the past and criticising it’s modern replacement. It feels more like a slightly melancholy acceptance of the fact that China is undergoing a radical transformation, for better or for worse.

Inger Lise Rasmussen, Brilliant City. Aarhus Kunstbygning (Soft cover, 63 pages, black-and-white and colour plates, 2009).

Rating: Worth a look


Related posts:

  1. Takashi Homma: Adrift in the city of superflat
  2. Review: Hijacked Vol. 2, Australia/Germany
  3. Christophe Maout’s city of light

Preparing for portfolio reviews in Stockholm, May 27-28, 2011

While preparing for the upcoming international photography portfolio reviews in Stockholm, Sweden, we were happy to find this video from our previous portfolio reviews in Paris last November. (Video by Alain Beulé. Special thanks to Pierre-Yves Mahé of Spéos, Paris.)

The Paris portfolio reviews were very successful — great memories, and a lot of good business deals and opportunities came out of those meetings. We’re hoping for similar success for the photographers and reviewers who will come from all over the world in May to meet in Sweden.

The portfolio reviews in Stockholm will be limited to 100 serious, career-oriented photographers. If you are interested in attending, we suggest you register today. You can find all the details, including the impressive list of international experts who will be reviewing the portfolios, at the Stockholm Photography Week website.

For the Stockholm reviews, Lens Culture has teamed up with Fotografiska (The Swedish Museum of Photography), with generous support from Blurb.com. It’s going to be great. And can you imagine how wonderful Stockholm will be during the last weekend in May?

Missa inte det här !

Aaron Schuman’s Sunday brunch, mushrooms included

Aaron Schuman, Jason is a funghi

Aaron Schuman, Jason is a funghi

After having met Aaron Schuman at Fotofest Paris last November I just stumbled across his latest project Jason is a Funghi (pronounced ‘fun guy’) in which he as turned one Sunday morning of conversation with Jason Fulford into a delightful series of stream of consciousness musings on eggs, signs, comic books, childhood, blood oranges (which I just squeezed a few of into a glass), photographic greats and unknowns, memory and, inevitably, mushrooms. Aaron is a writer, curator, photographer and, well, a funghi himself. If you’re not having brunch with him this Sunday, don’t miss the next best thing.


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Future of photography books : food for thought

THe Future of Photobook ? When few days ago, Andy Adams, the indefatigable producer behind the online magazine Flakphoto and Miki Johnson the editor of Livebooks Resolve blog raise the idea of a collaborative projects within the photo blogosphere to create an online and prospective debate over photography books, I did an immediate booking ! The list of bloggers who are replying positively to the Call initiated by Andy and Miki is impressive and their thoughts are quite inspirational.

Actually I couldn’t dream about a better way to make this blog alive again, discussing a topic I’m closely concerned with : photography book.

During the week of Paris Photo , last november, I’ve spent most of the time ( a daily routine)  to meet and talk with photographers having a photography book projects or a book freshly published , reviewing dummies, discussing collaboration and ideas with european photobook publishers and even receiving a photo book I’ve purchased online delivered in person by his author. Needless to say, that the entrance of the fair where photobook publishers and book sellers had their booths was animated with a sparkling atmosphere… And last but not least, during the previous weeks, I was collaborating with an american female photographer as we did the editing and sequencing for her forthcoming book, after a work she produced during a residency in South France.

I can not predict what will be the medium in 10 years, but based on observations, trends and that photobooks gained in popularity….we could be confident that Photography Book has a future !

Nowadays, and because of the shift within the photo industry, documentary photographers who are doing long term projects or “slow journalism” are more and more inclined to think about a project in a book form, and less and less about a photo essay published in a magazine…

But let’s face a reality, to meet the right publisher and signing a deal with  is not only being at the right place at the right moment or having an awesome photo story, it is also a long way, that could take years before seeing the object printed and distributed.

A publisher has to find a “sale potential”, that’s why one or several exhibtions scheduled could be a driving force….But now, within the photo book publishing community, independant publishers and self-publishing are a part of the “zeitgest”.

Kodoji Press, based in Zurich is one of them. Winfried Heininger, the publisher of Kodoji Press who is also a designer creates each book as an object, with a limited edition print run and selects the paper, the book format, the printing witih care., with a constant search for the right form for the content of the books. Each book he publishes is unique and make them object of desire . I’m looking for the upcoming “Dark Rooms” inspired by children books printed on a thick paper or Esther Levine’s book which previously existed as a self published artist book in a limited edition of 5 only (sold out).

As a result of both the difficulty to get a book published and a self-entrepeneurial temperament of photographers with a DIY attitude, the option to self-published has been a choice, for the dutch documentary photographer Rob Hornstra or for the british photographer Stephen Gill, …..Gill has been running his own publishing company Nobody Books since 2005 in order to supervise first hand the materials, sequencing and production of his books. While Rob Hornstra took the subscription model as a business model since his first book , “Communism and Cowgirls”in 2004 as he was still a student. He has also developed a collaboration with a team of designers. His book 101 Billionaires was sold out just after few months and he has been “forced” to publish a second printing called the “crisis edition”” in 2009.

I would like to see more and more photographers jumping into the band waggon of self-publishing, looking for exploring innovative and alternative way to fund their projects, getting inspiration by the funding platform KickStarter…..

The Printing On Demand service like Blurb is another option, enhanced with the PhotographyBook-Now competition. Printing quality and lack of creativity are the main critics we could hear. Distribution and price are maybe the main problems….

Recently, I’ve discovered, ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative an online network for Print-On-Demand Artists books. This platform seems to answer the problem of distribution for self-published books produced via the P-O-D technoiogies, we can  imagine with ease, a similar network for self-published photography books only…

It’s interesting to see also the way some photographers use a service like  Blurb .:

Robin Maddock couldn’t wait to find a publisher for his book ” Our Kids Are Going To Hell” and so he did a “Blurb Book”, as a dummy and to make a test. Few months later the book was redesigned and came out with the help of a brick-and- mortar publisher.

Olivier Cablat had first published a very limited and expensive version of his hilarious artist book of typology study “Tribute to Panini Sticker Album Champions League”. Few years later he did a new design for a “more democratic” version of his Typology Study with Blurb. The book is also distribute via the online bookseller Schaden as a limited-edition printed on demand

Online self- distribution and word of mouth are the best marketing tools for the small company like Farewell books in Sweden or Morel Books in UK. They are both independant publishers specializing in affordable limited edition photography books, and many more small company like those ones  exist… We can hunt their books in specialized art books stores, or buying them online as well. Though they could be on display in some trendy boutiques besides the latest fashion designer products….or in cutting edge indie bookstore in your city…..

During the past 5-10 years , Festivals of Photography around the world and Portfolio Review meeting became a major phenomenon attracting an ever expanding photography community. Photography Books Prize at major event like Rencontres Internationales de le Photo in Arles and PhotoEspana show the dynamism of the photography book production…

And now, a new festival offer is emerging : International Foto Book Festival will take place in Kassel in May 2010 for the third year, while PhotoBook Days 2010 in Hamburg will be opened in June 2010 for the first time,. Both in Germany , this two apparently similar festivals will celebrate the photography book medium, with book presentation and signing, lectures, reviews and photobook dummy prize, and schmoozing….

Proof that the photobook publishing industry is taking the developpement of the photography book seriously for 2010 and beyond !….Promising future ?!

” Boring Landscape” series by the italian…

” Boring Landscape” series by the italian photographer Marco Citron,  features in german magazine PhotoNews, with a review about the work written by Martin Parr :

“The photos of Marco Citron from ex-soviet countries look strangely familiar. They remind us of the images of Utopia, so beloved by Communist block photographers in the 60’s and 70s. These can be found in postcards, propaganda books showing the bright new cities they depicted and many other forms. Yet somehow we also know
they are different. Not only are these taken by a artist of some sophistication, but just the way he arranges the cars, and the foregrounds,for example, in the photographs has a real wit to them.
It is both playful and very subtle. The photographs have a humour to them which is almost a contradiction, given the dry and pedestrian nature of the subject matter.
That little ambiguity is  what makes these photographs really work.”

A part of Food For Your Eyes Slideshows presented during  Month of Photograhy in Vienna last november ,  “Boring Landscape” is exhibited at the 5th Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie