Medic: Jennifer B. Hudson

A good friend of mine wrote me last week and shared some grim news: Her mother was recently diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas. It came as a shock since we just saw each other nine months ago in Los Angeles and she looked well and at the prime of her life. As I was reflecting on this turn of events, I remember the book I bought last year which I've been meaning to write about.  It is Jennifer B. Hudson's book called Medic. I first saw the project through Photolucida and was instantly drawn to her work primarily because of the similarity to Robert & Shana Parke-Harrison's aesthetic. The sepia toned photographs are set in a sparse infirmary or laboratory with humans connected to or interacting with obsolete machines and unusual pieces of equipment through wires and suctions. The subjects appear tired with their bodies slumped over, heads bowed down, eyes closed-- others are lying on their backs peacefully asleep.  In between the photographs in the book are handwritten and typed notes containing vivid recollections of intimacy, feelings of regret and hopes for healing. There are no essays written about the work so I take it that these writings provide the cues and entry points to viewing her pictures. I do appreciate the open ended approach because there are so many questions when it comes to sickness and recovery. These carefully crafted photographs open up the conversation to these sensitive subjects. So as I peruse the book, I think about my friends mother and all those people I know who are battling an illness. It leaves me somber and reflective about life and mortality. 

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The Burn: Jane Fulton Alt

Having gone through a physical and emotional transformation in the last few years, Jane Fulton Alt's The Burn project spoke to me immediately. When I saw her images, I was drawn to them. I could somehow relate in a metaphorical sense to the idea of burning-- that these trees, shrubs needed to die in order for rebirth to happen. There is a spiritual quality to her photographs. I don't sense fear like a raging fire image that I would normally see in the news. They are beautifully composed, delicate and sensitive. When she captured fire with its amber colored flames dancing dangerously from a distance, she often used them as a backdrop against the blackened shrubs and twigs in the foreground. The focus seems to always be in the the moments of transformation. The first photograph below of a smoke engulfed single charred tree is one of my favorite images. When I went down to Los Angeles for Paris Photo LA in April, I was thrilled to find out that Jane was going to be there to sign her book. The Burn was one of those that I didn't even hesitate to purchase because the work just spoke to me deeply. I just wished I was able to articulate to her in person how I felt about her work.

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag

Deborah Turbeville: Past Imperfect

My friend JZ first introduced me to Deborah Turbeville's work while we were students at Brooks. When I first saw her images, I was blown away. I've never seen anything like it before. They were fashion pictures but they were less about the clothes but more about presenting dark and mysterious visual tales set at a certain time and space she created. Her photographs pushed the boundaries of the photographic scale with blown out highlights and blacks without details. She had a preference for blurred and loosely focused subjects to enhance a certain look, a particular point of view or emphasize an emotional moment. Exposing her creative process was part of the final product. She used contact sheets and raw polaroids which she cut, rearranged and pasted back together to form her visual narrative. She definitely opened my eyes to a different way of seeing pictures.

Here is Ms. Turbeville's own words from her latest book Past Imperfect.

The photographs on the following pages are of models who worked with me in the late 70's… They perform throughout this book as a kind of repertoire company… Little pieces that were put together like silent films… at least, the making of them…the process was very similar… It is typical of my way of thinking and working to prefer a work in progress… in this way I can play with different elements… place – light – time – space – texture –emotion (facial expression) – movement… Endless possibilities suggesting allusive stories that take you somewhere yet remain incomplete… a bit like fragmented dreams.

Publisher: Steidl

Jason Eskenazi: Wonderland

Jason Eskenazi's Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith reads and feels like a novel. At five by seven inches in size, the book is easy to retrieve from the bookshelf and it doesn't take up an entire night stand. The editing of this book is very tight. Each photograph was carefully chosen to connect to the next one. Every black and white image is rich with details, carries emotional pull and Mr. Ezkenazi's eye for composition is exquisite. Because of this, my experience with Wonderland differs every time I pick it up. That's what I love about it. When I look at them again, I often find details that I didn't notice before. Wonderland gets better with age and I choose it whenever I need a dose of inspiration. I am looking forward to Jason's new book The Black Garden which received crowdsourced funding last year via kickstarter.com. He is currently doing an artist in residence program at Lightwork in Syracuse, NY.

Here's a description of the book in Jason's words:

The USSR was not only a vast closed territory with extensive geographical boundaries that stretched from Europe through Asia but is also a huge well of memory or dis-memory - a utopian vision that became a dystopian nightmare lasting nearly a century. The story of Communism is the story of the 20th century. For many, the Soviet Union existed, like their childhood, as a fairy tale where many of the realities of life were hidden from plain view. When the Berlin Wall finally fell so too did the illusion of that utopia. But time changes memory. The ex-Soviets confused the memory of their innocent youth for their nation's utopian vision, unable to confront its history and thus creating nostalgia for tragedy. This book tries to seek and portray the socialist dream, the nightmare of the USSR beneath the veneer and the reality that emerged after the fall. And like all fairy tales try to teach us: the hard lessons of self-reliance.

Priya Kambli: Color Falls Down

I can truly relate to Priya Kambli's work. To quote an interview from 2010 with Qiana Mestrich at Dodge and Burn, she spoke of "giving a voice to minority artists dealing with similar issues of hybrid cultural identity through their own personal history- of belonging to and embodying multiple cultures but fitting into neither completely." Like Ms. Kambli, I try to make sense of this duality through my personal projects. In her case, she uses vintage portraits of family members and paired them with objects from her present life with accents from her rich cultural background. The highlight of Color Falls Down is her strong and consistent juxtapositions throughout the book.I just love the way she matches pictures together- they are unexpected drawing on the subtle graphic elements from one photograph to the next.Whether I open the book in the middle and leaf the pages backward or forward,I can still get the gist of her message. That is amazing. Receiving one of the top prizes at the 2008 Critical Mass was well deserved. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

E by Masao Yamamoto

I don't usually buy a photo book on a whim but this was one of those exceptions. I was at Photo LA in 2008 and an exhibit of Masao Yamamoto's work was on display at the Craig Krull Gallery booth. It was refreshing to encounter an array of small intimate aged prints that would fit in the palm of my hand. They were grouped randomly on the wall possibly suggesting a form of visual poetry. The images were elements found in nature such as clouds, water, plants and insects then interspersed with the female figure. It was a contemplative experience. I walked over to the Nazraeli Press booth and found Mr. Yamamoto's oversized book. The text was sparse with only the Japanese character on the cover and the acknowledgements and information about the publication on the last page. The paper was thin and delicate that a slight lift to it revealed the placement of the picture on the opposite page. When viewed in book form, his images still contained that meditative quality but it seemed as if a new story had been constructed. That really intrigued me and perhaps it warranted some further examination.

Christophe Agou: In the Face of Silence

I was immediately taken by the first image on the slideshow from Christophe Agou's In the Face of Silence featured on NPR's The Picture Show a few years back. It was a photograph of two horses and a duck on a foggy day. He elevated the picture by employing a layered and dynamic composition of an otherwise mundate and forgettable setting. I scrolled through subsequent images and they were equally strong both in content and composition. I made a note of his name. Later on, I found out that a book was published featuring this series and it won the 2010 European Book Awards.

A nice revelation and the most noticeable characteristic of the book was its grainy images-something that did not translate onscreen when I first viewed them. Although the film grain was a direct result from photographing in low lighting situations, it suited the narrative and established the mood for the project.The images were paced well with interesting combinations of gritty portraits, rich textural domestic details, handwritten notes and unexpected views of the rural landscape. What really drew me in was the emotional sensitivity of the series. Christophe's connection with the people and the land was evident and as a viewer, he successfully brought me right there with him.

Here is Christophe's own words describing the project:


In the winter of 2002, I began documenting the lives and emotions of French family farmers living in the Forez region, where I was born. I traveled to the lesser-known parts of this bucolic land, where I felt inspired by the silence I found and moved by the authenticity and charisma of the people I encountered. The more I saw, the more I wanted to immerse myself in their lives and reveal their hidden nature. This body of work is, to me, a meditation on the silence and solitude that seem ever-present in our lives.

Publisher: Dewis Lewis

Michal Chelbin: Strangely Familiar

I couldn't pinpoint what drew me to Michal Chelbin's portraits when I first saw them online but I was curious enough to purchase her book entitled Strangely Familiar: Acrobats, Athletes and other Traveling Troupes. In her project statement, she spoke often of contradictions mixing the "odd with the ordinary" or the" twilight between reality and fantasy." Indeed, her photographs, all taken with available light, richly depict these dichotomies. There are portraits taken of adolescent boys and girls just on the verge of maturity-their childlike faces do not seem to match their muscular bodies. There are combinations of men and women wearing costumes removed from their original context and placed in intimate interiors or placid landscapes. One particular photograph that stayed with me was a father carrying his daughter while submerged almost knee deep in a swamp. Both are looking straight at the camera. He is bare chested while she wore only a pink and white tool skirt. The image is quiet, intriguing yet mysterious. Page after page, my gaze is sustained as this theme of incongruity threads beautifully throughout the book.  

Publisher: Aperture

Contact Sheet: Alexander Gronsky

I blogged about Alexander Gronsky's work back in 2009 and I've been following him ever since. When I saw his name in the latest issue of Contact Sheet, I bought a copy right away. His new body of work is called Pastoral and it doesn't disappoint. Mr. Gronsky's command for composition and capturing the subtleties of the light in the landscape is exceptional. I read this in the introductory essay in the catalogue:

Gronsky roams these areas as an unobtrusive observer. He stays at a respectful distance from the people he photographs and rarely engages with them directly. In fact, most people are probably not aware of him or the camera at all. In most cases, he uses no tripod, since many scenes he spots only last for a moment. He relies on his medium-format camera to be able to respond quickly. One moment later he, or the critical moment could be gone. –Hannah Friesier, Contact Sheet.

Amazing.

Website: Alexander Gronsky

The Book Collecting Dilemma

Dust unto dust, the saying goes — and books, hat boxes and ceramic figurines unto dust. Especially books. Unlike speech, text survives when the writer is long gone. The voice fades but a well-bound book could last forever — as long as someone bothers to keep it on a shelf somewhere, clean, dry and free from the onslaught of hungry cockroaches. (They feast on the glue used in bindings.) Books dominate our house, thousands of them, mostly about art and design.

We love our library which entombs a lifetime of fleeting interests and enduring obsessions, but we're also oppressed by its physical and emotional weight. Like many others we worry about what will happen to all these volumes when we're gone. Do books have souls? Is there an out-of-print afterlife? Do midlist titles die and go to hell on a flaming kindle?

—Ellen Lupton
How to Lose a Legacy, NYT

I have a modest photography book collection at home and I often struggle with the decision whether to add to it or not. The quote above triggered it. The author’s point of view appealed to my practical side. However, I have a deeper relationship with photography books that conflicts with the logical side of my brain.

I finished the only three photography courses that were offered at the university I attended in Manila. Still, I had this insatiable need to learn more about the medium. Not having the internet as a resource then, I was thrilled to discover a collection of photography books at the Thomas Jefferson Library which was affiliated with the US Embassy in Manila.

Books helped keep my passion for photography alive for several years before I enrolled in photography school in Santa Barbara. When I worked in Boston prior to that, I used to habitually plop myself in the corner of the bookstore near my workplace and peruse the latest monographs. I worked at the library when I was a photography student and I learned about many photographers while putting books and magazines back on the shelves.

Today the internet provides more information than a physical library could ever hold, and I love it for its accessibility. But clicking a mouse or swiping the screen is a completely different experience from holding a book in my hands. Sure, the latter can be cumbersome. But it is precisely for this reason that I am better at absorbing and retaining its content.  It is a slow process that allows me to focus. It holds my attention longer. The weight of the book, the act of turning the pages and the feel of the paper — these enhance the viewing experience for me. I must admit  though that once I own the books, I only retrieve them occasionally. But when I go through my lethargic periods and need some inspiration, I do pull them from the shelves.

I have to strike a balance when it comes to adding new titles to my collection. I limit myself to a maximum of 5 books a year. It is a hard choice to make especially in the midst of a resurgence of independently published books. The options are endless. And of course, books are expensive and I have to keep within a budget. 

Someday, I hope to pass on my small collection to a worthy institution back in Manila. Hopefully a few kids will rediscover the magic of the printed page again just like I did so many years ago.

10: Ten Years of In-Public

10: Ten Years of In-Public
Nick Turpin Publishing

Publisher’s Description
‘10’

‘10’ is published to commemorate ten years of the In-Public international street photographers group and features ten images from each of the groups 20 photographers.

Over the last decade In-Public has played a major role in bringing Street Photography to public attention, it has demonstrated that Street Photography is a unique, specific and very vital way of picturing the world. With a foreword by in-public’s founder Nick Turpin, an essay by the Guardians Design and Architecture Editor Jonathan Glancey and interviews by photography writer David Clark, ‘10’ is the first survey of contemporary Street Photography talent since the second edition of Bystander.

The book is only available currently through the publisher’s website.

Fraenkel Gallery: Art & Photography Book Sale

Hundreds of books from the gallery’s library collected over thirty years.

Signed books, rare books, out-of-print books, impossible-to-find books, 19th, 20th and 21st century books, museum & gallery catalogues from all over the world, Avedon, Arbus, Atget, Evans, Friedlander, Fuss, Goldin, Hujar, Levitt, LeWitt, Misrach, Penn, Sugimoto, Winogrand, and many, many more.

Fraenkel Gallery
49 Geary Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco
10 am–5 pm
Friday, December 11
Saturday, December 12

Before thumbnails, there was...

The Contact Sheet
Photographs by Steve Christ.
Ammo Books, Los Angeles, 2009. 224 pp., Numerous illustrations.

Publisher’s description:

When a famous photographer creates a noteworthy photograph, many images are taken before and after the moment are left unseen to anyone but the photographer himself. When the photographer creates an extraordinary or famous photograph, these unseen images take on even more importance. Examining the contact sheets from these original photographic sessions allows in depth insight into the subject matter, the photographic process, and often reveals a deeper story that has never been told. Over forty iconic photographs by world famous photographers are examined in detail in The Contact Sheet—complete with short interviews and background details on the sessions themselves. The Contact Sheet is a must have for any serious lover of fine photography.

Sources: NPR’s The Picture Show and Photoeye.com

Elinor Carucci at SF Camerawork

Elinor Carucci during the book signing at SF Camerawork.
Chronicle Books
released a second revised edition of Closer this fall.

Last Tuesday, Elinor Carucci gave a talk at SF Camerawork. I must admit that sometimes, I find her images difficult to look at but it is for this reason that I was curious to hear her speak about her work. She was soft spoken in front of the audience but she is fearless and passionate about her photographic work.

I learned that she always kept her camera, tripod and lights accessible and she never stores them away. She is able to photograph spontaneously especially when emotional tensions is present within her personal relationships or when she is experiencing it herself. That is how she captures the rawness and honesty that is so distinct in her images.

I especially enjoyed a story she shared while she was giving birth to twins in the hospital. All of sudden, she felt this light coming from above and shining upon her while she was having contractions. “Oh, my God! Is that daylight?” she asked herself. She recounted that the nurses were screaming at her when she insisted that they call her husband to bring her camera and tripod in the room so that she could capture the moment on film. Unfortunately, I cannot find the image anywhere in the web.

Currently she is working on a series called My Children.

Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks

Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz
Introduction by Michael Bloomberg. Text by Phillip Lopate.
Aperture, New York, 2009. 300 pp., 250 color illustrations, 12x10½".

Publisher’s description:

Hidden pockets of wilderness still exist within the urban environs of New York City, and in Legacy Joel Meyerowitz invites us to discover them. This beautiful body of work is the result of a unique commission Meyerowitz received from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to document the city's parks. During the course of this project, Meyerowitz honed in on the 8,700 acres within the five boroughs of New York City that still exist in their original pristine state, as well as areas within parks that have been left to revert to wilderness. In creating this work, Meyerowitz has drawn on his own childhood memories of a New York that included “ green space—open and wild, alive with rabbits, migratory birds, snakes, frogs and the occasional skunk—(that) gave me my first sense of the natural world, its temperament and its seasons, its unpredictability and its mystery.” Through this rich compendium of images of parks, shorelines and forests, Meyerowitz's magnificent project transports the viewer into the heart of a lush wilderness, while contextualizing these nooks of nature as an inextricable part of city life today.

Source: Photoeye

Book: Ed Kashi’s THREE

THREE by Ed Kashi
Essay by Alison Nordström

Publisher’s description:

In a world inundated by visual imagery, our ability to take in more than one image at a time has become innate. In fact, our attention span demands it. Three, a book of triptychs by acclaimed photographer Ed Kashi, plays on the visual appetite of a hectic world. These triptychs span eras and continents, challenging our notions of perspective and the individual image. Contained in a format dating back to Christian art in the Middle Ages, Kashi’s images examine current issues of social and political significance, bringing together the joy, sorrow, destruction, and reconstruction of a world in flux. These triptychs compel us to see the relationships between extreme ends of the human experience and to appreciate the strange beauty inherent in that experience.

The grouping of photographs in Three is deliberate and provocative, asking us to read not only the individual photographs but their cumulative stories. The triptychs defy the confines of any single frame by presenting them in a lyrical, dynamic context, exploring the intersecting points when decisive moments converge, and opening a dialogue between images. A celebration of the language of photography, Kashi's work layers color, form, and content, while allowing time to pass in the course of three images and offering multiple screens to order the chaos that surrounds us.

Publisher: Powerhouse Books
Clothbound Hardcover w/ tip-on, 11.25 x 8.25 inches, 162 pages (with 16 gatefolds), 87 four-color and black-and-white photographs
ISBN: 978-1-57687-461-5

Visura Magazine also featured this series.

Book Review: Doug DuBois, All the Days and Nights


The image on the cover of Doug DuBois' book, All the Days and Nights, is intriguing. A woman on the left is looking down, absorbed in thought, while the man on the right engages her in conversation. Although they are sitting close to each other, there is a gap between them, heightened by the dimly lit surroundings. The two people are DuBois' parents.

After his father was seriously injured in a commuter train accident, and his mother suffered a breakdown and was repeatedly hospitalized, DuBois took his camera and delved into the complex dynamics of his family relationships. Even after his father's long recovery, he continues to explore these relationships and has done so for 25 years.

©Doug DuBois

©Doug DuBois


The book is presented in two parts. The first set of photographs was taken from 1984-1990. DuBois portrays a visual narrative of the growing tension between his parents. Images are thoughtfully paced to show the build up. In between, he reveals other facets of his family relationships in photographs of his younger brother Luke and sister Lise. DuBois often pulled his camera back to show context. There is a picture of his mother reaching down the floor littered with Christmas gift wrappers, red ribbons, boxes and a shopping bag. Another one shows his family in the living room where all of them are wearing pajamas. Luke is looking directly at the camera while Lise, his father and mother are staring elsewhere, distracted. A bottle of champagne and four glasses sit on the coffee table signaling that the family is celebrating for a special occasion. These establishing shots around the home provide a foundation for understanding his narrative.

©Doug DuBois

©Doug DuBois

The second set of photographs was taken from 1999-2008. By this time, DuBois parents have divorced and each parent is photographed separately. Also, Luke is now a young man and Lise is a mother whose son, Spencer, is introduced for the first time. In this series, he turns to portraiture and collaboratively works with his family to achieve “a visual, almost palpable tension in the photographs to initiate an emotional or narrative cue."1 He brings his camera closer to his subjects and presents stark physical and facial expressions evoking one to wonder and question the narrative behind the image. A particularly compelling portrait is of his mother facing directly at the camera, the front of her neck plastered with strips of translucent bandages revealing a dark scar. Complementing these portraits are photographs of domestic details—his mother's incomplete jigsaw puzzle on a table, rubber darts stuck in the window on a cold winter day, or the collection of plastic toy dinosaurs playfully arranged on the floor as if they were racing with one another. What is the meaning underlying these objects?

Donald Antrim's beautifully written essay is a must-read for photographers whose personal projects deal with their family as a photographic subject. He ponders the dilemmas encountered by the memoirist in relating with his subjects. He also discusses DuBois work and incorporates thought-provoking questions that lay the groundwork for viewing his photographs. DuBois' afterword is evocative and well-written. He shares poignant stories resulting in an urge to revisit the book and contemplate his images again.

DuBois' visual consistency is simply remarkable in this collection of 62 photographs taken over 25 years. He is steadfast and passionate about his family and it is palpable in his photographs. The act of triggering the shutter in the midst of familial discord and tension is a courageous feat and he does it with sensitivity and respect.

Turning the last page of Doug DuBois’ All the Days and Nights is akin to one’s feeling after finishing a good novel. The visuals and the narrative linger in your mind and you wonder how the sequel to the DuBois family will unfold.

1 Interview with Doug DuBois conducted by Alec Soth. Published in a blog by Jörg Colberg, Conscientious. October 22, 2007.

Aperture, New York, 2009. 128 pp., 62 color illustrations., 9½x10½".

Doug DuBois Website