JACK FRENCH

Photobook about Brighton

I’m going to Photobook Bristol next weekend and on the Monday to the Auto: Self-Publishing Strategies workshop hosted by ICVL. We’ve been asked to bring along a photobook dummy if we have one. I didn’t, but I thought to make the most of the workshop I’d better put something together fast. 

I took quite a few photos in Brighton last week and they’re quite a typical mix of the kind of photos I like to take so I might as well use those. It’s not exactly a grand project, but maybe that’s a good thing. 

I had choices between a unified series on one theme, e.g. the marina, the beach, or the undercliff walk to Saltdean, or combine all three as ‘shorelines’. Or add more unexpected elements like photos of the apartment, a bar, posters, a shop window, to make the set more unpredicatable and multi-faceted. Cover more ground. 

 I was thinking of Rinko Kawauchi’s book Ametsuchi, which is mostly about fires on grasslands and hills in the farming region of Aso in Japan, but near the end goes off track and introduces unexpected scenes of the Wailing Wall and the Shinto dance ceremony. 

Compare this with Frank Watson’s book Soundings From The Estuary. Superb photos, and very coherent as a series even though they were taken over several years. They’re all very much the same kind of pictures, the same tone throughout, a great sense of place. It’s an excellent book, but nothing catches you off guard. 

I like a journey with an unexpected destination or at least a variety of stopping points along the way. Something that seems out of place makes you wonder what it’s doing there. How does it connect with the rest of the pictures? A strange juxtaposition gives the reader some work to do. We all try to make sense of seeming incoherence. 

So I decided to include the photos that didn’t seem to belong. The series is just a collection of images of what caught my eye over a few days in Brighton. Casual snapshots, mostly with the iPhone. I don’t know if they’ll go together well enough to make a good book, but it’s a nice experiment.  


Land | Sea

I was in Brighton for a few days last week and I found this publication Land | Sea at the Brighton Photography gallery under the arches along the seafront. 

I like photography magazines - like Source, Aperture and Foam - and this one was local and devoted to landscape photography, so just the thing for me.

It’s beautifully produced, usng different kinds of paper, perfect bound. I’m always impressed when thought is given to texture an weight. The tactile quality of turning the pages is what gives print the edge over digital. 

Land | Sea showcases five photographers with a portfolio, interview and a list of influences/recommendations from each. The only one I’d heard of before was Joe Wright, from Instagram. His work here is quite different from his book project The Floods, including details of colours and patterns found in rocks. 

All the work is good, showing a variety of approaches to landscape. Valda Bailey’s photos are impressionistic and abstract, using multiple exposures and camera movements to create painterly effects. Somehow they managed to misspell her name on the title page of her section, one of many silly typos.  

Al Brydon (Peak District) and Finn Hopson (South Downs) show more conventionally picturesque landscapes, very nicely done. Giles McGanny’s monochrome photos of modern architecture don’t really fit in. 

The written material is very lightweight. OK, it’s relief not to find academic essays here, but this is too much like the kind of writing you’d find in general photography magazines sold in WH Smith’s. The interviews could have been more tightly edited and a conversational feel would’ve felt more natural. They read like interviews done by email.

I don’t agree with that ’photograph (missing the y!)  isn’t the many thousands of images posted upon numerous social media platforms each minute, but those gems, those visionaries, who are creating truly great work.’ 

I don’t really believe in visionaries. Maybe William Blake was a visionary, but they don’t come along very often. And I’ve certainly seen plenty of great work on Instagram. Photography is lots of things and everyday use is just as legit as ‘those gems’. 

Anyway, there’s lot of nice pictures in Land | Sea and if there is to be a second issue it will be worth a look.





Office Romance

Another book I bought at Offprint was Office Romance by Kathy Ryan. She works at the New York Times and these photos were taken at their new building in Times Square, New York, designed by Renzo Piano. 

I’d seen some of the photos before on Lens Culture, but what convinced me to buy the book was its format as a novel-sized hardback with handwriting on the cover and a photo on almost every one of its 150 pages. It’s an unfussy design that fits nicely with the way the photos were originally taken and shown, using an iPhone and Instagram. 

The book maintains that feel of an Instagram feed, with a wealth of images coming thick and fast, promiscuous in style. Each photo is dated to preserve that sense of a stream, like a daily diary entry or a logbook of what she saw each day. 

Ryan didn’t have to go out into the world to seek her subjects, she just went to work. In the office she took notice of the details of her surroundings and took time out of her working day to make creative work in situ, like stopping time briefly in a busy workplace. It makes you realise how rare it is to see office life documented, let alone celebrated like this. 

As a photo editor Kathy Ryan knows a lot about photography and appreciates good work of all kinds so when it came to making her own photos so didn’t feel the need to stick to one style of her own. She appropriates styles and uses them with confidence, then moves on to the next. 

Ryan’s main theme is the play of light over the course of a day in the office, filtered through a screen of ceramic rods on the outside of the building that creates striped patterns everywhere. She also finds shapes in black and white that look like experimental photograms and uses reflections to create collage effects with uncertain spatial relationships. She shows portraits of co-workers and the bright colours (especially red) of post-it notes, coloured paper and magazine stacks.

I like how she recognises and accepts the particular character and charm of the iPhone and Instagram and exploring the limitations and affordances of the square format and the filters. It’s fun to play inside rules and restrictions and make the most of what you can do with them. Perhaps accepting these bounds helped free Ryan from the need to adopt a consistent style. The discipline comes from the technology. 

The encouragement of your Instagram community counts for a lot, even when you only have a few followers. You get positive responses from people you don’t know otherwise, who don’t feel obliged to tell you your work is nice because they like you. Of course, a double-tap on a screen doesn’t take much effort, but it’s something to go on. 

And that stream of Instagram images and its system of followers and likes encourages you to try out a variety of approaches. You don’t want to bore your followers. You want to surprise them from time to time with something new, other than what they’ve come to expect from you. You don’t need to give it too much thought. You can make pictures quickly, select one and send it out. Soon you start receiving likes. There’s a thrill in making images of your personal, everyday and intimate world public.

The best thing for me about Office Romance is how it all seems achievable, small scale and fun to do. I don’t mean to belittle Kathy Ryan’s accomplishment by saying anyone can do this. She’s put together a great collection of photos and a well designed book. Her process, though, is something to learn from. It’s simple and straightforward, gathering step by step. It may not seem like a grand project as it goes along, but it accumulates into a strong body of work. And it’s ongoing, on Instagram





Photo London and Offprint

Somerset House

I went to Photo London and Offprint last Saturday, not sure exactly what to expect since they were inaugural events. Lots of photography and lots of books, obviously. Maybe too much for one day.

Photo London took over Somerset House with 70 exhibitors, mostly galleries showing work in small rooms, like an art fair. I also saw the exhibition Beneath The Surface, from the V&A collection. I tried to see as much as possible, but I missed the Sebastião Salgado and Kāveh Golestān shows because I just ran out of steam. I was impressed by the scale of the event and much of the work. I’m more used to seeing photography in books and on the web, so large framed prints made quite an impact. I didn’t entirely enjoy the experience, though. Maybe there is such a thing as too much photography. I was worn out by the time I’d got about halfway round Somerset House. I couldn’t relax enough to make the most of anything because always in the back of my mind I was aware there was so much more yet to see. Ideally next time I would have a plan, but then I’d miss out on the pleasure of coming across the unknown and unexpected. 

I saw a lot of familiar and favourite work, including Awoiska Van Der Molen, Mona Kuhn, Susan Derges, Massimo Vitali, Lillian Bassman (above), Deborah Turbeville, William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, Nobuyoshi Araki (below), and Robert Adams.

I was excited to find a book of otherwise unpublished Saul Leiter I was unaware of, Here’s More, Why Not, from Gallery Fifty One in Antwerp.

And I discovered plenty of photographers new to me, including Robert Voit, Tamas Dezso, Sze Tsung Leong, Simon Norfolk, Ori Gersht, Norihito Ogata and Kenro Izu, to name but a few highlights. 

After exhausting and being exhausted by Somerset House I went east across town to the Offprint art book fair in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. I love independent/self-published books and zines and it was amazing to see the vast quantity of publications here from all over the world.

Stephen Gill had a fantastic display of his huge and varied output of photobooks. I bought the latest Aperture, Tokyo issue, and the Foam special on William Klein. I’m dubious sometimes of the value of these big, fat expensive photography magazines, but these are excellent, luxurious, more like large format softcover books that cover their subjects in depth.

I saw the Effect Twin performance by Daisuke Yokota & Hiroshi Takisawa, defacing prints with iron and cement before stitching them into photobooks, although I didn’t stick around to see the finished products. 

My eyes had seen enough. All in all, it was a worthwhile trip just for the sheer spectacular breadth of material on display at both venues. Next year, probably not. I feel I’ve seen everything the galleries and publishers have to offer for the time being. 

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