Sunday, January 30, 2011

Black gold

Phil Nesmith sent word about his latest project, Flow, "a new series of wet collodion black glass ambrotypes made on the Gulf coast in Louisiana during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster".

As he showed already with his previous work My Baghdad - where he made ferrotypes from digital shots taken during his one year stint in Iraq - Nesmith has the ability to use alternative photographic processes to go deeper into contemporary issues, this time using the wet collodion process to better capture the spirit of the disaster caused by an endless flow of the black gold.

"It is fitting to use a photographic method from the time when our lust for oil was just beginning in order to capture the spirit of the disaster". [...]

"In 1859 Edwin L. Drake, working for the Seneca Oil Company in Pennsylvania, drilled the first modern oil well, ushering in the beginning of America's oil boom and our worldwide dependence on this resource. At the same time, the wet collodion photographic process that I used for this project was revolutionizing what photography could capture, ultimately changing the way people saw the world. The use of oil would expand until modern life could not exist as we know it without a continual supply".

Find two reviews of the Flow exhibition here and here, and you also might want to have a look at Nesmith's own blog, The Visual Adventure.

All images taken from Flow © Phil Nesmith


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'Self-image' - A review of 'Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut off', by Mariken Wessels

The cover shows the image of a woman, her dress suggesting we might be in the mid-60’s, the light and the grain of the photograph feel like it emerged from a long-forgotten drawer in somebody’s house. But what we notice most of all is the smile of this woman, the quiet amusement she shows below the fake thin moustache drawn over her lips. Inside the book, a private album unfolds in front of us: recurrent faces, places, memories from different times intertwine. We begin to connect imaginary dots among the different people, relationships, mothers and fathers, married couples - and her. A day at the beach, a birthday party, a walk in the woods: the woman in the cover keeps reappearing over and over. The title of the book reads Queen Ann. P. S. Belly cut off, by Dutch artist Mariken Wessels.

Is Ann the name of the woman on the cover? Probably so, and after a few pages she is wearing a wedding dress; then she is holding a glass for a toast, in love. Pages (and years) go by, and we see her face and her body change, gaining weight, losing beauty, the light in her eyes changing. The growing weight of her body is reflected by the weight of a mask of make up on her eyes, by the line of her mouth losing any grace. What happened to her? What was her suffering, who was responsible? Throughout the whole book, we see some photos altered by drawings, childish decorations added on top of her clothes and her face; earlier on, other pictures have details cut off: erased faces, scratches on the surface, a silent and constant struggle with the past and with its memories.

The found photos are reproduced often on a full page or a double spread - overblown, with no borders, enhancing details hidden in those private images now turned into an art object. An envelope concealed between two pages of the book contains a few small prints, bringing us back to what all the content of the book probably used to be, little pieces of paper to hold in the hands. The beauty and the cruelty of photography find in this book the perfect expression of how the can merge into each other: nailing somebody’s image to the factual loss of her past beauty and yet suggesting the inner struggle for some vitality, and the fantasy that, despite everything, can still inhabit somebody’s heart and mind.

Wessels managed to create a fascinating subtext which flows through every single image, like a distant music sweetening even the hardest moments. Through the end, the photographs become increasingly blurred, showing Ann outside, perhaps in a beautiful park, in one photo she seems to smile. The back cover of the book shows her from behind, standing next to a tree, while looking at the bright sky.
After having seen her face so many times in the book, in this last photo we are finally free to imagine her, as she is maybe imagining herself as a different person, while staring at the sun.
After all photography can show the invisible, and appearances can often be deceitful.

- Queen Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off. By Mariken Wessels. Alauda Publications.

All images © Mariken Wessels/Alauda Publications


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making a Book - Andrew Phelps

"I smile to think of him out there, cursing to no end, trudging away from his truck to compose that picture of his truck in the mud, capturing the spirit of the whole mess. The sunset simply being the excuse to go".

At the end of last year I asked
Andrew Phelps if he wanted to write something about his experience in bookmaking, what a book means to him, what makes him move between large print editions and self published projects.

To me, he seems to be able to perfectly understand how to shape his own projects, the right scale to give to his ideas, when to turn the volume up and when to fade down and dim the lights to give us the perfect fireside feeling for small but intense stories. Such is also the case for his latest book project,
Point Sublime, which he created from an inspiring personal story and is also devoted to a noble cause.

Once again, Andrew showed us how serendipity can come to us and create unexpected beauty, after all it is just a matter of looking into the right shoebox.

Enjoy the read.

Thoughts on making a book
, by Andrew Phelps

Since 2004 it has become more and more important for me to make books. The process has become as important for me as photographing.
I am concentrating on the 2 ends of the spectrum; both the large print-run style of working with a big publisher and at the same time I am producing my own set of limited edition artist books. For me, the two forms are very different and it would be impossible to say which is better or which is more important. They both have advantages and disadvantages. As much as I like the freedom of the self-published books, I also value working with an experienced publishing house when it comes to design, distribution and sales.

Front cover of a dummy for 720

The decision whether to self-publish or go with a big publisher has always been clear to me and determined by the project itself. The bigger projects, meaning the ones which go for years at a time, or that are bigger bodies of work seem to fit the process of working with a publisher. NATURE DE LUXE (Pustet), HIGLEY (Kehrer), and NOT NIIGATA (Kehrer) fall into this category. BAGHDAD SUITE and 720 are projects which I felt fit more to the self-publishing format; conceptual, small print run, a bit abstract.

Front cover and spread from Baghdad Suite

When I start thinking about a book, I begin by printing out all the images simply onto standard paper, not worried about the quality. I then start laying these on the floor. I have found it is best to lay them on the floor running vertically and not horizontally as one might suspect. This seems to mimic the way I see a book. As you walk down the line, the images that will be on the right side of the double page spreads are right above each other and your eye can move directly from one to the other. It is very important how the images on the right sides of the pages follow each other, almost more important than how a double spread works.

Front cover and spread from a dummy for Nature De Luxe

Then, when the order and selection is fixed, I simply bind a dummy of these images so that I can get a feeling for how it will feel. I have only once ever made a dummy cover image which ended up being the actual cover of the book. The cover image seems to take shape as the book comes together.

These early dummies are usually just taped and glued together at first, than after some fine-tuning, I take one to the book binder and have a linen bound dummy made, unless in the case of 720, I knew it would be a soft cover so didn’t bother with the hard binding.

Spreads from dummy and final version of 720

Front cover and prints from a dummy for Higley

Final version of Higley

Front cover of a dummy for Not Niigata, spread and final cover

What I miss most about self publishing the small editions is the off-set printing process. Because the print runs are so small, I have always done them with a digital print and this is of course no comparison to standing in front of the off-set printing machine for 20 hours and watching the sheets as they come out, the noise, making slight adjustments, getting high on the inks. The digital printing process is very clean, steril, silent and almost clinical.

NOT NIIGATA; The printing of. 2009 from Andrew Phelps on Vimeo.

Andrew Phelps "720" from Andrew Phelps on Vimeo.


The latest project POINT SUBLIME, which is also a digitally printed booklet of 24 pages, is the first time I am bundling a book and print. I have been very successful with the special editions of HIGLEY and NOT NIIGATA when I offered them with a print in a pre-release offer. Each was in an edition of 100, HIGLEY sold out right away, there are still a few NOT NIIGATA left.

So I have decided for this new little self-publication to only make them available with a print. The reason for this decision is a result of the project itself. The images are not made by me but by my father. First off, he doesn’t have any kind of art-market value that he has to worry about diluting with too many images and secondly (and most importantly) is that the reason for this publication is to raise money for cancer research and by adding the print to the deal I can charge more money and thus donate a bigger sum to the cancer research. Besides all of the practical and marketing arguments, the spirit of this project just fits so well as an artist book.

In the summer of 1984 my father drove his Ford F250 alone into Point Sublime, a remote overlook at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. His only objective was to photograph a sunset. On a visit to Arizona last summer I began sorting through thousands of slides, deciding what to scan, what to archive and what to throw out. When I came upon a sheet titled “Sublime”, it wasn’t the sunsets that interested me, but the photographs he never showed me; his truck stuck in the mud, the lonely road, a spooked deer in the woods. I know he will say different, but if you have met my father, you will agree that below his rough outer-surface is a romantic renaissance man. An otherwise practical man, he was inspired to narrate his journey to watch the sun go down. I smile to think of him out there, cursing to no end, trudging away from his truck to compose that picture of his truck in the mud, capturing the spirit of the whole mess. The sunset simply being the excuse to go. So many elements of this trip; travel, solitude, isolation, obsession, reflect the same spirit that I always feel dominates my small artist books. They are these little things that, for some reason, I just feel like I have to do.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Participatory acts

Peter Ainsworth, Gabe standing on a pile of rubble, Bramley Moore Dock (A5036), 2008

Peter Ainsworth, or photography as a philosophy in images:

"Spring and Summer, 2008, represents the development within my practice of concerns surrounding the peripheral and ephemeral within urban edge space. [...]"

Peter Ainsworth, Kirsty with broiler chicken, Angel Road (A406), 2008

"Similarly in the works informed by Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs, (1559) the protagonist is engaged in an act that seems incongruous with the space. Bruegel's paintings have themes of the absurdity and foolishness of mankind so within the photographs I drew parallels to them with my method of art creation. [...]"

Peter Ainsworth, Summer after Breugel 1568, 2008
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Summer, 1568

"The project became an attempt at naming or categorising and in this capacity the enterprise became quixotic beyond the individual actions depicted within the photographs. The works represent an engagement with a site in flux encompassing issues surrounding social designation of space and action in public spaces by drawing reference from the work of Pieter Bruegel in the enactment and realisation of idealistic, participatory acts."

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559