This Photobook week-end in Bristol promises to be a special event in which there will presumably be a certain amount of dialogue amidst the talks. The relevance of the photobook in regard to photography as a whole has not received much attention in the past but The History of the Photobook by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, now running to three volumes, has been published in the past decade and been accompanied by other similar volumes covering the Latin American photobook, the Swiss photobook and the Dutch photobook while the Japanese photobook has also been written about. Parr and Badger are due to give a talk on books that have not made it into their canon; one can’t help but feel that Parr and Badger are dictating what makes a good photobook yet this is unlikely to be their intention. Their talk today will be about widening the perception of what the best photobooks might be and with an audience present, some of whom are likely to be well informed, the range should be widened further.
In preparation for this week-end, I have been reading a book entitled “The Photobook: from Talbot to Ruscha and Beyond” which is a collection of essays by various scholars that covers a number of photobooks in depth. It contains more depth perhaps than the shorter descriptions one finds in Parr and Badger’s encyclopaedia of photobooks. I have reflected upon this book in another blog as it contains some excellent essays that give a sense of what this medium is actually about.
The Photobook Week-End is being held at the South Bank Club in Bedminster, Bristol rather than the South Bank in London as some have apparently misunderstood. Although talks are being given, this is also a social event and a chance to network. The club looks rather impressive and upmarket from the internet site yet it is a lot more unprepossessing in reality; the building itself is not purpose built yet suffices with a bar at the back of the auditorium (it might better be called a hall) and a table at the entrance acting as the reception area. One is however, given a nicely printed programme; at last one knows what is likely to happen and when during the week-end. Cool tea is served free for refreshment to one side as is fresh fruit; pizza and cake is for sale.
There is an obvious international flavour to this week-end with prominent German accents being heard as well as latin ones while there are also visitors from the States and one woman has come from Korea. This might be the first photobook festival in the UK someone suggests; it is unlikely to be the last. The organisers are lead by Rudi Thoemmes of RRB Photobooks based in Bristol.
The first talks are by the Portuguese and the Spanish, the Iberian Photobook in fact. Martin Parr sits alone in the audience at the front, notebook to hand. The first topic is on the Portuguese photobook to be followed by the Spanish photobook; all this is introduced Moritz Neumuller.
“A short history of the Portuguese Photobook” is the first talk; it is not a well covered subject and this is a subjective selection showing wonderful books one probably has not seen before. These include Politics of the Spirit, Portugal 1934 (mentioned in Parr and Badger’s book) which was masterminded by the Institute of Propaganda and inspired by Fascism with appropriated images from the Press. Portugal 1940 is a similar book also using photo-montage. These kind of books were distributed to other countries being translated into other languages notably English and French. Other titles include “No Rain in Portugal but Tourists Pour in” and “Romantic Portugal” which are both tourist books, portraying the country in a particular way including dramatic scenes and images of people proud of their roots.
Some of these books might be said to be organising reality through photography.
Lisboa: Happy and Sad 1959 (mentioned in Parr and Badger’s book) shows a more sophisticated sense of photography using different papers, colours with conscious integration of text and images.
Palla and Martins worked together, working to change dependence on the photographic print as the aim of photography common at that time; they saw greater reach of photography. Portugal do Fado by Barreto (1960) has good combination of text and photographs although his next “Ancient Lisbon” does not carry text with the images.
Death on the March in Angola (1961) is a small pamhlet published for propaganda purposes; strong content e.g. dead bodies makes it difficult to look at in some places.
A new style of propaganda 1968-1974 by Marcelist Spring; there is a Helen Harper Nitwear advert in which the model claims to have stolen a jumper from a fisherman; the book “Portugal: A country worth getting to know (1972)” is a new vision of the country and was distributed abroard.
The Last Day of Pide (1974) documents the occupation of a secret police headquarters where state censorship took place; images of files kept on people considered subversive were photogaphed among other things. Walls of Freedom (1974), Rooster of Barcels’s Little Red Book (1975) a subversive view of Mao’s Red Book, From Resistance to Liberation (1977) of which there were various authors are also mentioned. Proudly Together (1979) was a right wing publication and is about the destruction of a statue.
Folk by Gageiro (1971) was not part of propaganda machine; The Lives of Others by Cunha (1974) was published but then suppressed; Eternally by Nazolino (1982) and Lisbon by Night by Pavao and “ist” by Silva are other notable books. An important book was London Diaries by Blaufuks (1994) that influenced many; East/West by Duarte (1994) was another book.
Next speaker shows Island of Mozambique (1995) by Silva and other books that influenced him. Large format photography, quiet images, moments about nothing, not spectacular. Penumbra (1996) by Nozolino, Peepshow by Duarte (1997) of which a new version has recently been published. There is Shit by Estrela (2006) which shows images of graffiti using the shit word
Things Here, and Things Still to Come byCortes (2011), The Perfume of the Ox and White Noise by Duarte (2011)which is about casinos. New World Parkville by Correia (2011), Island by Ramos (2014) from a portuguese photographer living in Australia who does not identify as being Portuguese.
The subject then turns to The Spanish Photobook at the present time and what is going on in the Spanish photobook scene. Cristina de Middel (such as Afronauts now also available as a photobook) has done very well along with others such as Ricardo Cares as well as previous books by Echague, books of photos with well known Spanish writers, Miserachs about Barcelona, books on feminism and Punk, Fauna by Foncuberta, Cristobal Hara’s An Imaginary Spaniard, David Jiminx Infinito etc
The first meeting of different photobook makers was in Madrid during 2011. Publishers and Bookshops also got involved helping to create a guide to self-publishing. “Books that are photos, photos that are books.” These days there is cheaper and better digital printing, online promotion, need for hardcopy in the digital age, no more huge postmodern prints; more peole becoming more aware of photography with Spanish photographers also being published abroard.
Cristina de Middel is becoming well known along with a new documentary style; her award winning book Afronauts was initially self-published; Julian Baron also a contemporary worker. There are a number (about 16) photobook clubs around Spain with publishers like Casa de Campo and Bside Books, a small publisher in Madrid, and others. The Pigs by Spottomo in 2014 is a present example. However, KJowasa one of the biggest bookshops in Spain is due to close partly due to internet but also because the owner is retiring and there is no one to step into his shoes.
Next speaker, does not know English well; he focuses on the photobook in Spain from the point of view of a small town in southernmost Spain. He reads his talk about his passion for publishing photobooks in Spain and his strategies for doing so! For more information, one needs to search Kursala on the net for a downloadable PDF about scheme that sets out to publish photobooks on a limited basis.
(cf Le Bal on Facebook)
Ostala is a new prize winning photobook from Spain; others include Ouroboros, F.Clavarino Ukranian passport, Ricardo Casas a well known Spanish photobook maker while MADRID is the name of a photobook published that shows many images of children killed by Fascists.
Some of this stuff is hard to follow when the speaker has limited knowledge of English.
Photobook exhibition at Sofia?? 1999 – catalogue well known, might be reprinted
Reign of Sofia
No real history as yet of Portuguese photobooks with others existing that need recognition. Not found in public libraries. Overall, there is not much study of photography in Portugal.
There are lots, thousands in fact, of photobooks lying around in warehouses because sometimes only a few e.g. 50 out of 3,000 printed copies, get sold.It is difficult to say what the future of the photobook might be yet likely to be no different from that of other countries.
There is a need for domestic histories in the photobook which turns out to be the subject of the next talk which happens after a break that includes a cup of cold tea and a piece of cake. Looking at the books on sale, I meet Helen Warburton from Ffotogallery in Wales who is also an OCA tutor.
The next talks are introduced by Martin Parr.
Pete Mitchell is from Leeds who has lived in the same flat for 40 years. He initially shows a photograph of his parents in their back garden and other personal photos from a rescued family album. He uses his local post code as the title of his book which contains found photographs from his area, a photograph of his area by Denis Healey (the politician), a map of a local park that was never constructed, other old photos of his area, rubbish from his area, strange signs and other oddities, stuff being thrown out, old girlfriends, old press cutting about area, mention of a well known criminal on a sign advertising a newspaper, a photograph of a newly built house, an old brothel transformed that became a home for refugees and is now derelict, graffiti on walls, a photo by Don Mac Cullin, an image of a letter redirected, a poster from the street, painting on a wall, silk scarf on fence, demolished builing, another Yorkshire Ripper location, football sign, missing cat poster with mention that cat has been returned, broken clock on old wall! basically, he has been photographing rubbish in Leeds and this includes menus shoved through his letter box. There is much humour in this talk which contains interesting photographic records, images of everyday life. There is a blog about him on the photo book week-end organiser website; his book costs £150.
PHOTO OF SEBASTIAN?
Sebastian Girard, the next speaker, studied architecture not photography; realised that the Kodak idea of “you take the photograph we do the rest!” to be an oversimplification. He shows some of his influences from photobooks. His first book self-published “Nothing but home” starts with an inventory of things left in a house twenty years before he restored it; his second book Desperate Cars shows damage done to cars in streets near to where he lived; another book is about fencing around houses; Club Tropicana is about club for women made from appropriated photos purchased from eBay; searched eBay for “stripper” images and got an odd collection e.g stripograms. He printed this correspondence with eBay along with †he images in †he book he made.
He did an important book on Mars, which was shown at Arles last year (which I saw and liked very much); it shows areas of Mars photographed in high resolution by NASA. When he did the book on Mars there were a lot of images to play with, thousands in fact; he was chosen for the job as an artist since it was considered that a scientist was not required. Wind has helped to sculpture the surface of Mars which is about the same age as the Earth. One is shown beautiful graphic landscapes! This talk revals an interesting development of a photographer; he likes Sergio Larrain.
The next talk, “Not in Parr and Badger” is about photobooks that Parr and Badger would liked to have included in their three volume trilogy but have not for one reason or another. this is also a talk about the nature of the photobook. There are lots of different kinds of photobooks – big:small, fixed pages and loose etc Photobooks read like a history of the world.
The trilogy is deliberately not pro-American, wanted to redress balance in Volume 3 which includes more American books as the photobook is thriving there. America is presently wobbling on the world stage which is good for artists there.
The session starts with a short movie, stills with sound, showing images of babies accompanied by the sound of babies crying. Evocative!
Volume 3 of the History of the Photobook which tends to give a page to each photobook along with images of it, is structured slightly differently to the previous volumes as it deals with nine topics. Many of the books could be included in more than one category.
Badger might have included “Letters from the people” by Lee Friedlander. A conceptual photobook, well designed by Mark Hoburn, that almost bankrupted the publisher; it recalls the work of Walker Evans and is still available
Grays The Mountain Sends by Brian Schutmatt; simply made by Silas Finch, this sold out almost immediately.
Antipersonnel. Badger not fond of conceptual art books neither is David Goldblatt who uses the word “arty-farty”. This book is about mines designed to kill and maim people; it photographs of such objects and their extraordinary shapes.
Edgar Martins “The Time Machine” with text by Geoff Dyer is a survey of hydro-electric stations, making them look beautiful, showing these extraordinary spaces; nowadays, only a few people are involved in running these stations.
Dust by Michelle Cera is composed of photographs from Albania by an Italian; shows people stranded in a landscape. Metaphor for Europe!? Photographer told to throw out boring photos and keep interesting ones.
Now Parr talks; he is doing a new book on Chinese photobooks which will be exhibited at Arles this year although the book is not due to be published until later. He shows us pages from an Iranian photobook that has not been seen widely before; the pages are quite dramatic in appearance with their layering of photographs and use of colour.
Mommy and Daddy Are Divorced by Perry and Lynch is what Parr describes as a naff book yet nevertheless of interest. It is quirky and frivolous and not to Badger’s taste.
Album de Oro (1956) is a propaganda book from Dominician Republic; the author was later murdered. Parr is working on a volume of photo propaganda books which exert a fascination on him.
Los Ultimos Dias De Franco about death of Franco contains screen grabs of his funeral on telly. There is a similar one on the crowning of the King of Spain.
Eamonn Doyle was a book that the photographer sent Parr and that he liked; most he gets sent end up in the rubbish bin.
Gerry Badger now talks again. “Jesus and the Cherries” is a book of strong portraits and interiors.
Oliver Sieber is someone Badger wanted to include in Volume 3. He has made an obsessive coverage of youth clubs; one of his books is about an Imaginary Club, a book that shows his work well.
The Pigs, a current hot book is not expensive to buy (about 10 Euro) is printed on cheap paper. PIGS is an abbreviation of “Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain” the poor men of Europe. It contains gorgeous photographs.
Tim Davis’ book “Quinto Quarto” (about a quarter of Rome where butchers are allowed to eat offal) contains graffiti from Rome that shows an alarming number of swastikas; it is a kind of secret archive
Martin Parr talks again, firstly about a book he found through the internet called A Yanks Memories of Calcutta by Clive Wadell, an American army photographer living in Calcutta just after World War 2 and just before Indian Independence. Good photographs of India from this period are uncommon.
Manchoukuo is an Epic example of a Japanese photobook from China, being propaganda published in Front magazine. It will be shown in it’s entirety at Arles this year.
The Night Climbers of Cambridge published in 1937 was photographed by a student and covers a tradition of students climbing buildings at night. It was reprinted in 1953 and again since.
“El Morocco’s Family album” about a club in New York from the 1930’s. Once the most famous club in New York.
China by Cartier-Bresson 1952 is an important book; a photo-diary of his trip to China. Helped by the Chinese novelist, authoress of “Love is a many splendoured thing” who also helped Marc Riboud.
Photobooks are fascinating historical documents as well as great aids to undertanding the history of photography.
There is a chance to ask questions and I pipe up, pointing out that the first book mentioned in the trilogy is a nature photography book; Anna Atkins’s account of Flora. However, not many if any nature books are mentioned after this. Badger and Parr admit to not really being interested in them and are not very impressed either by contemporary photographers like Nick Brandt who makes photographs of elephants that sell for high prices and prove very popular. Nature photobooks tend to be rather matter of fact and hence are not good for art; I am made aware that Parr and Badger’s history is quite subjective in nature and interested in a certain kind of photographic book in which there is a documentary element as well as an artistic one.
Are the 3 volumes of The photobook really a history? To a certain extent they are but the volumes are more about understanding photography. Photobooks are often conveying fictions but this does not mean they are not telling the truth; photographers are mostly trying to tell a truth about the world. These days many photographers being very personal with “me-me-me” books. Sophie Calle is an example of someone who makes auto-biographical books but they are always about something else too.
At about a quarter to eight, the talks are over and it is time for BBQ and music. I enjoy a stuffed pepper but then need to walk back to the station to take a train home to reach at a reasonable time to sleep and then start off early the next morning back to the Photobook week-end
CLICK HERE for Day Two of the Photobook week-end
CLICK HERE for Day One of the Photobook week-end