December 4, 2013
On my wall, a collage grows. It is a living entity, an amorphous thing, that takes new shapes and holds all forms. Of two-dimensions in a three-dimensional world, the collage subverts the linear logic of our visual frame, and forces us into a conscious, dreamlike state. I love this, this way in which, the image converses with itself in a language all its own.
Dennis Busch is a master of the form. I first met him when asked to profile him in 2009. From this, a connection was born and so it was with great pleasure that I had learned Busch would be publishing The Age of Collage with Gestalten this Fall. A survey of contemporary work that is a rich as it is inviting, every turn of the page a surprise that redefines reality as something that is as once foreign as it is familiar.
I am pleased to share here a conversation with Dennis Busch. Give it up y’all ~
The book smells so good. I’m addicted to the sting of inks, the touch of the page, the thick luscious paper, the design, the art, the words, all of it. It’s a tremendous undertaking putting together a survey on this scale. What was the impetus to begin a project about the contemporary collage in modern art ?
Dennis Busch: As we are now living in a total “Collage-Culture“ it was kind of a logical consequence to push things forward with this book. The collage technique has such a great tradition in art making since back from the days (DADA, surrealism, punk, etc.) so i felt this cool technique has come to a point of renewal. The technique of cutting and pasting has come to a point of eye level to other contemporary techniques. So my impetus was to show a wide range of diversity in style and technique.
What is it about the collage that holds us in its grasp? I am infinitely spellbound by the space between the mechanical and the hand. It is the space where the mind takes us into another reality, one that seems more like the dreamscapes of the unconscious mind than the world in which we live. Please talk about your understanding of the nature of collage and the way it manifests unconventional energies.
The Collage technique is the perfect tool for an artist to push things right through the walls of time and create magical loopholes. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow can be mixed up to one strange brew. With the collage technique you are able to create a decomposition of time and space and step right into a dimension of transformation and everlasting changes.
Stuffed with his knifes, scalpels and his magical glue the modern collage artists are like astronauts on a never ending journey into an innerstellar “Reich“ made out of boundless fantasies where even “the blind man is able to see“. The modern collage artist can create a dreamlike universe in a state of enmeshment-like existence. It’s about the intuition of a real „becoming“ and the amorphic state of an universal „being“. It’s the digging for time, space, truth and beauty within a deep darkness.
What was the process for selecting work for this book ? It is daunting to bring together such a wide array of artists with such distinctive styles and still have the book hold together as a cohesive volume, yet The Age of Collage does this beautifully. What was the most challenging aspect of editing this book ?
It was a delight to select the artists for the book. I thought the time was alright for such a project. There are so many very good collage artists out there, i only had to shake the kaleidoscope a little to get such a nice constellation of people. It was important for me to show a wide range of distinctive styles, to show as much different positions as possible to keep the machine running. I wanted to focus a whole scene in all its different depth, complexity and beauty.
As an artist, as well as an editor, what do you enjoy most about the process of sharing your work with a larger audience ? What has been the most dynamic part of creating a book and an exhibition ?
I think it was an important way to bring this stuff to a larger audience. Now is the time with so many talented collage-artists doing such great stuff that there was no other way to turn. Collage making nowadays becomes such a hype so it was important to drop a compendium that is going in that nonspecific but crystal-clear direction.
December 2, 2013
I am pleased to announce that I shall be guest blogging at Hatje Cantz this month, writing about art, photography, books… all that good stuff. Please give a round of applause for the delightful work of San Francisco photographer Ruby Ray, whose first monograph kicks off my column…
And so it had finally come, From the Edge of the World by Ruby Ray (Superior Viaduct), because this is where it is. This, yes, California Punk. 1977, 78, 79, right on through 81. Brave New World like Aldous Huxley said—but out in San Francisco, the Man of Letters was William S. Burroughs. Ruby Ray was with him, right on the edge. She caught him with a gun through her camera lens. She captured so many of these moths to the flame, burning with a passion and desire that true punk could claim: Darby Crash. Hellinn Killer and Sid Vicious. Poison Ivy. Kids on stage. Kids off stage. All this raw gorgeous energy. Black and white. Color shots. A sweet little photo album, remembrance of things past like Proust said.
Read the Full Story at
HATJE CANTZ FOTOBLOG
November 24, 2013
Home to three illustrated book imprints plus handling domestic and foreign distribution for over sixty art book publishers, Antique Collectors’ Club has established itself as home to a wide array of beautifully crafted tomes. Though diverse in the breadth of their subject matter as they span the globe with stories from all corners of the world, the books all share a deep reverence for the art of the printed page. Whether showcasing the striking portraiture of Terry O’Neill or a tongue-in-chic look at the best-dressed dogs of New York City, the books featured in every Antique Collectors’ Club catalogue share a joie de vivre that speaks all languages.
First established in 1966, Antique Collectors’ Club began with a print magazine, Antique Collecting, and as the demand for information grew, ACC published its first book, The Price Guide to Antique Furniture, in 1968. The book has since been completely revised three times, and remains in print to this day, serving a dedicated audience. With the success of the book and the magazine, ACC expanded into distribution and book publishing to provide its audience with the content they craved.
As a distributor, ACC handles an international list that represents every continent except Antarctica. With a wealth of content as diverse as humanity itself, ACC brings it all together under one roof. From jewelry and textiles to food and wine, from gardening and landscapes to interior design, from hotels and cars to masterpieces of indigenous art, for over 45 years, ACC has delivered high quality subjects in beautiful tomes. More recently ACC has launched tow imprints: ACC Editions, which is home to more modern titles that focus on fashion and photography; and Garden Art Press, which was created to house the ever-growing wealth of garden and plant focused books.
As John Brancati, Vice President of ACC Distribution North America, reveals, “Sales have increased every year since the recession began in 2009. We are continuing to grow and find new customers but getting to them is different. There aren’t bookstores any longer. We have to find them in different ways, through special markets such as garden centers in Westchester and the Hamptons. They take books on not just gardening, but on things like Tibetan art and interior design. Price is no object for these customers. What has changed is that merchants have realized they need to keep shoppers in the story. The books appeal to husbands as they wives shop the store, and they get to peruse books on subjects like Aston Martin and polo horses.”
It is just this ability to adapt to the changes in the marketplace that allow ACC to flourish at a time when the global economy is struggling to adjust to the massive shifts taking place. Knowing their market is essential to this, for it is in the ability to partner with likeminded companies that keeps ACC in the forefront of the public eye. This August, ACC Editions released Polo: Equine Warriors, a collection of portraits by Bob Tabor, which will be unveiled at the grand re-opening of the Ralph Lauren Polo store at Macy’s Herald Square, New York. Tabor will also publish a second book with ACC Editions this fall titled Horse Whisperings, which meet the subject on their terms and allow their souls to be transposed on to the photograph, which we may then contemplate in silence and privacy as we consider the photograph.
It is this meditative quality that marks the photography book as an objet d’art, whose value is only further enhanced by the digital divide. As people acclimate to the disposability of digital culture, the photography book stands taller and prouder as a lasting piece of the larger culture. As Brancati observes, “Digital capability is not there in an economic way for publishers or consumers. Apps works for things like cookbooks and kids books, but not for art and photography books. There are no double page spreads in a Nook. The people who want information may be happy with a reader, but for art books are for people looking for inspiration or to convey the status of the object. There are people who buy books to decorate according to size and color, while there are others who collect simply for the pleasure of it. The book is an object that says something about the people who live in the house.”
Indeed, it is the book in all its glory, a source of knowledge, of spirit and style, a place for quiet repose, which has allowed ACC to grow and flourish over the past five decades. It is now, at a time when so many move away from the printed page that ACC holds it place, a repository for the wide array of art, beauty, and culture that makes life worth celebrating.
November 18, 2013
“Collaboration is the key to contemporary art. Everyone grows through it, but creative people live for it. It’s like walking down the street early in the morning. You walk, you are content, but when the street becomes filled with people you walk faster, you smile, you say hello to people, you interact. That’s how I see it. It’s the same with art. Collaboration creates progress and life,” observes Sergei Sviatchenko in his new book Everything Goes Right & Left If You Want (Gestatlen), a beautifully produced two-volume set of collages and paintings enclosed in a slipcase.
Sviatchenko founded and managed Senko Studio from 2002–2009, an exhibition space dedicated to the tradition of artistic exchange. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Yoko Ono and Paul Smith to explore, “the malleable borders between the genres, above, and beyond art,” as the book’s introduction explains. It is through the diversity of media that Sviatchenko finds his truth, in the space between the naturalistic impressions and the intangible abstract that makes collage so beautiful, so compelling, and so profound. We take a leap of faith alongside the artist, leaving behind the realm of the known.
The introduction clarifies, “He often makes use of archetypes, images which, according to Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, are tied to timeless conceivabilities created by the ‘collective unconscious.’ Scissors and glue turn familiar motifs, such as animals, trees, and faces into an abstract whole.” The result is a feeling of the familiar made foreign, the space where we recognize what we know in a sort of dreamscape.
Here, the use of photography enhances our feeling of knowing and unknowingness. The juxtaposition of images against one another, out of scale and proportion as well as without a linear narrative creates a new kind of understanding that subverts the very idea of representation itself. That we can recognize what we see without having it make “sense” gives us a new way to consider the creation of form, of art, and of life itself.
Collage has always had its appeal in its ability to be at once absurd and profound, as it breaks through the limits of rational thought, of logic, and of language itself. No longer is a picture worth a thousand words; it might not be worth a single word itself. A collage is no longer a thing of words, but a study of the landscape of sight itself. We relinquish our need to knowing in favor of visual integration
Everything Goes Right & Left If You Want reminds us of the freedom of creation that collage affords, of the way in which it takes the photograph to another level by liberating the image from the confines of he frame, of setting the subject lose against an all new terrain. It is in this freedom that the photograph reinvents itself, now one part, rather than the whole, and it contributes to the sum by lending both a kind of veracity and falsehood that is evidenced in all construction. “Art is a lie that tells the truth,” Pablo Picasso said, and it is here in the collage that we are reminded of this. With our sense of knowingness being confounded by the absurdity of the image in its non-rational form, it is here in the work of Sviatchenko that we can consider the photograph as a means, rather than an ends itself, as a path to a kind of knowing only the right brain provides.
November 17, 2013
Founded in 2003, EYEMAZING is Eyemazing Susan’s labor or love, life, and photography, a beautifully produced print magazine dedicated to the avant garde, which has published artists from Sally Mann and Roger Ballen to Bettina Rheims and Michael Ackerman. To celebrate the magazine’s tenth anniversary, Thames & Hudson has just released the incredible tome, EYEMAZING: The New Collectible Art, a 544-page feast for the eyes and soul, which includes over 423 illustrations, as well as texts by Karl E. Johnson, Steven Brown, and John Wood.
We are pleased to have this opportunity to speak with Eyemazing Susan about her vision and her dedication to a passion I share, a love for photography and printed matter. Cheers.
Miss Rosen: I am very intrigued about the ideas of a publisher, who I see as a visionary, someone who has the ability to see what is happening in many different areas and synthesize these ideas into a cohesive platform for a diverse array of narrative and ideologies. Please talk about the inspiration to launch EYEMAZING in 2003. What brought you to the idea of creating a print periodical on photography? What were your inspirations, in whatever form they might take (be it intellectual, aesthetic, production, curatorial, etc)?
Eyemazing Susan: When I left the Theatre world and stopped dancing I needed a new language to express myself. Photography was that language for me, once again just like with dancing no words were needed to get creative.
The ex-dancer going back to school. After 4 years of schooling, I worked as a photographer but never considered myself as one. I was a frustrated image maker doing commercial work to make a living and take care of my daughter, but no matter how hard I tried, after 7 years, still not able to promote my autonomous work, and so I decided to do something else in the world of photography, I knew exactly what was missing for the artists and I was going to do something about it, my idea was to create a unique platform for exceptional photography.
And so EYEMAZING was born. A unique publication made by a photographer for other photographers. Nothing like my first magazine Free Eye, with EYEMAZING I was free to do the layout, design and photo editing my way, and so EYEMAZING became a new moving gallery, a gallery-on-paper with highly collectible cutting-edge photography, an independent publication, a source of inspiration for all kind of creative people.
I love this sentence from the introduction: “As a magazine devoted to contemporary photography, it points to the three supreme states of the medium: photography as photography, photography as art, photography as life.” As the founder and editor in chief, EYEMAZING could be said to represent your worldview, both in photography and publishing, as well as how those subjects relate to the world itself. Could you speak about how you, as the creative mind behind the publication, use EYEMAZING as a bridge between these worlds?
More specifically, how does the photograph, the story around the photograph, and the act of sharing this by print create conversation, community, communion, and connection between artist, audience, and art? How does this reflect your larger vision of the place of photography and print publishing in today’s world?
Having been a dancer I always had my body to express my emotions, and it was while making EYEMAZING book for T&H, that I realized my choice of photography in the magazine had a lot to do with my back ground as a dancer, my eyes were continuously seeking for expressive, moving, physical, dynamic, pictures loaded with human emotions.
Also I always looked for reflection of humanity in pictures, being a very private person, mostly isolated with no recall of any family memories, as an outsider I looked for other people’s memories of their past life through pictures in anonymous family albums.
Curious of other people’s faces, I favored portrait photography. Today still wondering, if after dancing I became a photographer because I was a voyeur or simply a social phobic hiding behind a camera?
I am not ashamed of saying that EYEMAZING is a very selfish project, I am a control freak and I believe that the only way to posses the editorial freedom is for me to work alone. Freedom of expression above all.
Vision of one person was the key to make EYEMAZING different than other magazines, I was never busy with the fact if readers liked or not my taste in photography. As a reader, you do not need to be a photography connoisseur to be moved by EYEMAZING. You only have to be open-minded to let yourself get inspired. And so EYEMAZING became slowly my diary book?
Some gallery owners criticized me as being too stubborn by showing only what I liked? I take that as a big compliment. Why must I feature in my magazine a work that doesn’t inspire me? I refused to publish work of artists just for promotion purposes of private institutions.
Looking back at the very first issues and my latest issues, making the magazine was a learning process, biggest lesson was that when your work becomes your passion and if what you create comes straight from your heart everyone at some point will be moved by it, positively or negatively, my goal was to move readers emotionally good or bad it didn’t matter.
What impresses me about your vision is the ways in which you relate to the object of the photograph itself, the way you connect with artists whose work pushes against the expectations and constraints of the medium itself. When viewing the work in EYEMAZING, we let go of our preconceived notions about what the photograph “is” and what it “does” and open ourselves to new ideas, iconographies, symbolic languages, and narrative ideologies.
How is it, do you think, that the photograph can take on so many different applications, and what is it that attracts you to (I want to say “iconoclastic” but I am not sure this is the right word so maybe I will say “challenging”) qualities of the medium itself?
I am never interested how a picture is made.
The final result is what it counts for me, technical aspects of photography, digital or analogue honestly I don’t want to know.
But what I do know is that I am a paper fetish, crazy about printed matters.
Photography’s very legitimacy as a true art form is still debated regularly? Photography as medium? Photography as art form?
Does it even matter?
To my opinion the real question should be if the photographer is an artist or not?
Today every single person on earth is making pictures, but that doesn’t make us all artists.
For the better part of its existence, photography has struggled for recognition from the art world proper. A great many people dedicated their careers to it being acknowledged as such. What I find attractive about EYEMAZING is the way in which it builds upon this, that it takes our understanding of the “art” of photography as a given and continues a conversation of art and aesthetics within the form. What has drawn you to this aspect of photography, and where (or how) does EYEMAZING situate itself within this conversation?
With EYEMAZING my passion for photography became my way of life, and the beautiful part of it was that artists had trust in me, maybe because I was always on their site, maybe because I was one of them.
I made EYEMAZING together with the artists; I was working for them, with them, hoping to get them one step further in their carrier.
For the last decade I have been spoiled everyday with a sea of artworks submitted to me, more than 800 email a day with only images and Links to photography sites.
In 2012, with a lot of doubt, as a tryout, I made a digital version of few of my latest issues (mostly for the sake of subscribers who never received the magazine because of heavy censorship in their countries). Reactions of fans and readers were very negative and disappointing, mostly like, Oh Susan why? Not necessary for EYEMAZING to go digital, and they were right, stupid of me for having tried and even considered the digital EYEMAZING.
Printed matter will never die; well, the good quality printed matter will never die.
The New Collectible Art Photography
Published by Thames&Hudson Ltd
33.50 x 24.50 cm
Hardback without Jacket
423 Illustrations, 423 in color
First published October 2013
November 13, 2013
On Thursday, November 14 from 6-8pm, street photographer Harvey Stein and writer Herb Boyd will be at Sister’s Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center, 1942 Amsterdam Avenue at the corner of 156th Street, NY, to celebrate the release of Harlem Street Portraits (Schiffer).
Harlem Street Portraits reveals Stein’s reverence and love for the friendliness and warmth of Harlem’s everyday men and women, and the vibrant and bustling vitality of a historic place that has been the center of African American life and culture for over 100 years. Shooting with a wide-angle lens, Stein”s close encounters with families, couples, friends, the elderly, and youth are honest, direct and involving. Each portrait is more than a depiction of a person; it is an intimate record that necessitates direct engagement between photographer and subject showing the mutuality between people.
We are pleased to have Stein here today to share his thoughts about the work he has done on this project for over a decade.
Please talk about Harlem as you know it, as a place you’ve described to me as “your office.” What is it about the streets uptown, the people, the energies that exist on the sidewalks of this world, a place that makes public life an act of art ?
Harvey Stein: I enjoy going to Harlem since I feel it has a street intensity that isn’t found in many places in New York City. It’s busy, generally friendly, and really beautiful. The avenues (running north/south) are wide, broad and lovely, with old apartment buildings framing the pavements. The cross streets are often filled with brownstones and lots of trees. I have found that the people are quite friendly, open, and emotional. Indeed, the public life is robust, with people hanging out on stoops, and socializing. I seek out visually interesting environments in which to photograph people, and unfortunately in New York, these environments are being gentrified and commercialized. Harlem hasn’t escaped this. It seems cleaner; there is less graffiti, nicer store fronts, new buildings and development, more white faces populating Harlem. It is changing, and I think that my images peripherally document that. But my focus is always on the people and how they interact and get along in their neighborhood.
Please talk about the portrait, the way in which people compose themselves, for to be asked to be photographed is not only a compliment, but an honor. I’m always interested in the response of subjects, and how it sets the stage for the photograph. What do you enjoy most about the moment ?
I’m not sure that people think it’s an honor or compliment to be photographed on the streets. In Manhattan, at least in midtown or downtown, I’d say that 50% of the people I approach to be photographed say no, in Brooklyn only 25% refuse, in Harlem, maybe 20% say no. It depends on the day, whether there is an event going on, how I’m working, etc., etc. Some people grudgingly say yes, others seem to really enjoy it. You never really know what the response will be until you try. And that’s what I do, I try and keep trying, never getting upset by a refusal, and always keeping on. I stay cool on the streets, not showing how much I might want a shot, and always remain friendly and respectful.
I try to be casual when photographing on the street; I don’t really need or want people to do anything other than to be themselves. Poses are not of interest to me, just people being natural. I ask that they look into the camera and not smile. I believe that portraits are stronger and more engaging when the face is serious, and the gaze is direct. So I guide them somewhat, and am not interested in the subjects composing themselves or performing for the camera.
My street photography is different from most other photographers in that I always try to get close, and use wide-angle lenses to reveal my subject in his/her environment and context. I want the environment to suggest things about the subject that may add another layer to the image. For me, a face is usually not enough; I want their body language, the clothes worn, and some of the foreground/background elements. Ultimately, I am seeking to make as strong and evocative an image as possible, but with permission. I don’t really enjoy photographing people candidly; this feels empty to me.
Please talk about that moment of connection, when you, your subject, and your camera connect, capturing a fraction of a second forevermore. After all these years shooting, do you know you “have it” ? What do you think that illustrious yet elusive “it” is in the act of street photography ?
I like to think about freezing time with my images, that a person or scene I just photographed will never exist like this again except in the photograph. Nothing makes the passing of time and hence aging more vivid than photography.
I try to speak to my subjects; I want them to be aware of me as I am of them. Perhaps it validates my existence. I seek a collaboration and connection between us, even if very fleeting. I think I enjoy this moment because I am curious and learning something about the person. And learning something about myself. That is my “high”.
I sometimes think “wow, that was a great shot, that person really worked with me”, and it will result in a wonderful image. It’s a feeling not always correct. And it doesn’t happen often. For me, that elusive “it” in street photography is when I do make a strong connection with an individual, when we might talk for a few minutes, share the passing scene, and that I photograph 5-10 frames and think I’ve made a really good image. It’s rare, and since I still shoot mostly film on the streets, it takes weeks if not months, sometimes years to realize what I did.
November 4, 2013
Make a book or a building, if you want to leave your mark. Transform perception through experience. Redefine point of views from the inside out, or the outside in. Allow people to inhabit every dimension of space. We reconsider the world, as it is, with and without relation to us. We honor monuments of original thought, as they take form in the blocks that build human history. The book is the word recorded, the story that is told, passed from one generation to the next, over centuries made manifold. The building is the definition of wo/man in time and space, the portals through which we walk going into a past made present, that which lives both then and now. It is here in the building, that our story unfolds.
Kevin Lippert was an architecture student at Princeton, when he came upon master works in the library, and it was there that his love was born. Princeton Architectural Press began in 1981 when Lippert began making student edition reprints of volumes he thought worthy of attention. Though there was never a university tie-in to his publishing house, the name stuck after Lippert graduated.
He attributes his ignorance to his biggest asset in those early salad days. “I was in architecture school and began making books as a student. I found it was easier to make books than buildings. I graduated into the Regan recession with a 10% unemployment rate. It was easier to keep doing that than to get a real job. I wasn’t really running it as a business. I was reprinting books like Monuments of Egypt, a two-volume set with 700 or 800 pages of prints made during the Napoleonic era. It was elaborate. One volume was filled with gatefolds and a map that was suitable for framing. I wasn’t doing P&Ls then. By the time I figured out what these are, it was too late. We were up and running.”
In 1985, Chronicle Books was distributing Princeton Architectural Press. Lippert describes this partnership as, “A quantum leap from a hobby into a business.” The company, based in New York, is now home to a staff of 20 and releases 45 titles a year. With over thirty years in the business, the company has published over 1,000 titles to date. Each volume shares a love for the form, for the architecture of the book, from the photographs, drawings, and text to the art direction, design, and typography. Each book released by Princeton Architectural Press is distinctive for its stylish approach to some very smart ideas.
Take New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbott’s New York by Douglas Levere and Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris by Christopher Rauschenberg, a dialogue of photographs that bear witness to the all the beautiful confusion we like to call “progress.” That is where the building comes in, makes its entrance into the story, bringing us back to where it all began. The photograph, the building, the landscape, the city plan, the way in which design, man, and world intersect, all as collected between the pages of volumes dedicated to stories as diverse as Ghostly Ruins: America’s Forgotten Architecture by Harry Skrdla, Mythic City: Photographic New York by Samuel H. Gottscho, 1925–1940, and The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the End of the Analog Era by Robert Burley. Through many of these books, we begin to see how the building is a creature as much alive (and as dead) as the people who inhabit its walls, who use it as it was intended. We see the rise, the highs, and the lows, the ebb and flow, the way in which the building defines and redefines itself.
At the same time, we come to understand the photograph as a construction of the very book itself. Windows, portals into other realms. Photographs on photographs, books on books. Books to inspire, to guide, and to provoke. Books like Publish Your Photographs Book by Darius D. Himes and Mary Virginia Swanson, 75 Artists Books: The Kaldewey Press, New York by Clemens von Lucius, and Big Up by Ben Watts, which exemplifies everything that is exciting about the monograph.
The best part about the list is its broad appeal, its ability to reach so many people who have an instinctive love for the medium. For the object-nature of the book, the way it inhabits space, the feel of the papers and the inks, the paperback with flaps or the flexible fabric covered boards. The way in which every aspect is considered in service of the story. Form follows function. That is the Princeton Architectural Press way.
November 1, 2013
I been fanning Peter Beste since when ? I can’t even remember how we met, but I remember the day we sat at a cafe on Prince Street, me paging through his luscious prints. Page after page after page of madness. I was home as my fingers swept across the protective plastic and my eyes bulged out my head and my heart did a little dance, as each turn of the page took me somewhere else.
And so it has come, as the inevitable does, Houston Rap is now a book from Sinecure and an exhibition at Boo Hooray Gallery, New York, opening November 7. I like it like this. Peter graciously agreed to an interview, and to let me share of his work. These are a few of my favorite things. Enjoy ~
From Norwegian Black Metal to Houston Rap, you are bringing North & South together again. I am struck by your taste in scenes. Tell me about what brought you down to Texas, to document the Hip Hop community ? When did you begin ? How did you get down ? How did the project develop into a book over the years you worked on it ?
Peter Beste: Since I was a young kid in the early 90s, I have been strongly intrigued by Houston’s rap underworld. My interest began in 1991 with the vivid and visceral rhymes of the Geto Boys and Gangsta N-I-P. Many years later while studying photography in college, I realized that documenting both the history of Houston rap and the neighborhoods that spawned these characters would make a perfect documentary photography project.
A few years later in 2004, I reached out to K-Rino, Street Military and others, and told them about my idea. Some of these guys were a bit hesitant a first. Obviously a white guy in the hood with a camera raises many eyebrows. It took a little time to get past their skepticism and for me to gain their trust. I did this by publishing some photos here and there in international magazines and by getting to know many of these guys on a personal level over time, which eventually convinced most of them that my motives were pure. In 2005 I brought writer Lance Scott Walker into the project to conduct interviews so the book would have more information and context.
The Willie D quote is killing me: “People ain’t been educated on fightin’ back unless it’s some street shit, like fighting your neighbors or beating up… fighting your family members, killing your best friend. And nobody like… fightin’ the government, the city. “What you mean, fight the city? You mean like… Houston against me?” What was it like meeting Bun B, Lil’ Troy, K-Rino, Paul Wall, (he died before I started this), Pimp C, Street Military, and Big Hawk ? What kind of perspective do they bring to the rap game ?
What differentiates these guys from the average American rapper, and what makes me respect them is their underdog status and drive to succeed on their own terms. For decades, it was extremely hard to make it in the rap game if you weren’t from New York or LA. Because of this lack of support from the mainstream, Houston rappers developed their own sound, became their own CEOs, and in the process they cut out the major label middlemen, built their own business model, and made a lot of money.
You got some ill shots, everything from the New Black Panther Party, the strip clubs, the cats hanging on the street, the dudes in the car sippinn syrup, all the grimy glamour captured on film in luscious color… What did you find most exciting about Houston as a photographer ? What qualities of the people you met were you most attracted to ?
One thing that really drew me to this project that went beyond the rappers themselves was the opportunity to document many of the changing neighborhoods. Houston has very few zoning laws, so huge portions of the city are torn down and rebuilt on a regular basis, especially the “economically challenged” areas. As a photographer and someone who is extremely skeptical about the motivations behind gentrification, I was drawn into the unique personality of the neighborhoods of South Park, Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards, their colorful hand painted store signs, their lack of chain corporate stores and general independence from the “white man’s world.”
One example of this is Fourth Ward, which was a beautiful historic neighborhood in the shadow of downtown that was filled with pre-WWII row houses, mom & pop shops, and BBQ joints where families had lived for generations. In the years since we started this project, it has been renamed “Midtown” and is now filled with high-rise condos, trendy restaurants, and a whole new set of residents. One of our goals with this book was to document these historical sites, many of which have since been demolished with few objections and little fanfare by the city at large.
I love that this is a photo book. It’s got so much energy. What’s been the best part of this project ? What has surprised you the most ? What would you like to see this book do ? Where can people pick it up ?
One of the most rewarding parts of this project for me was to gain access to this talented and dynamic group of self-made individuals that I otherwise would never have connected with. This experience has given me some dear friends who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and has made me grow as an individual in the process.
As you can see from the book, we didn’t dwell too much on the typical topics that the mainstream press endlessly promotes, like over-the-top materialism, the glorification of drug dealing and prison life, and the objectification of women. While these elements are part of the music and the book to a degree, we wanted to present a bigger picture to try to empower people and educate them through the words of people like K-Rino, Willie D, Brother Robert Muhammad, Justice Allah, Wickett Crickett, and others.
One of the most important topics covered by these community leaders was how “the powers that be” have deliberately targeted and taken advantage of most of these communities by creating an unfair playing field by filling their neighborhoods with with unhealthy food, liquor stores on every other corner, poor education, government drug dealing, dirty vaccines, and overall lousy city services. These controversial topics are discussed directly by those interviewed rather than the authors in an effort to enlighten folks and hopefully keep them out of the vicious cycles of addiction, poverty and the prison-industrial complex. That is my number one goal with this book.
Houston Rap will be available in quality books stores on November 25, and a pre-order is now available at sincecurebooks.com for the special edition which comes with a Fat Pat/DJ Screw 7″ record, a double DJ Screw 12″ (first time on vinyl) and several other goodies. This version will not be available in stores.
October 31, 2013
Vital Signs by Juan Delgado and Thomas McGovern is a marriage between text and image, between poem and photograph. Copublished with the Inlandia Institue, the book product of six years of reflection and documentation. Vital Signs takes us on a walk through San Bernardino in celebration of the working-class Latino communities of the Inland Empire and the intensity of their stories. There are many layers to the conversation that is taking place. Juan Delgao graciously agreed to share of his experience.
I had asked that he begin by speaking about the inspiration for this work. Where did it begin? What was the seed and where did it take root? What flowered of this idea? As you consider it now in full, the fruits of your labor, how does it manifest the original ideal? I am struck by the relationship between image and text, by the way in which they both speak in their own tongues, most notably in the fact that you write in both English and Spanish. Please speak of your relationship to the Word itself, about the way in which your fluency allows you to expand your understanding of its form, and the ways in which each tongue allows you a new approach to that for which we search. Miss, I marked the key words for me. What is it that the picture does that the Word cannot, that is both the paintings that we see, and Thomas McGovern’s photographs of them? What is it that the Word does that no picture ever could? How does Vital Signs approach this space to tell the story of a time and place that is at once specific and Universal in scope? How do you think the book, specifically the printed page, makes this possible?
Juan Delgado: Well, “marriage” is a cool word, and I will try to explain how this artistic friendship unfolded and how the different layers settled to make up Vital Signs. I will use the word “journeys” instead of layers. I like to think that Tom and I are nomadic in nature and that Vital Signs is made up of several journeys over a period of time.
First of all, I admired Tom’s books on AIDs, especially BEARING WITNESS; when I met him, he was also taking photos of lower riders, pro-wrestlers, and other local features of our community. In fact, we teamed up to do a series of poems and photos on our local swap meets for a grant, which we didn’t get. But more importantly, we formed a friendship. Tom is more practical than me, so he got the ball rolling on our book, which had a working title of Lavish Weeds and Vital Signs. After a couple of meetings with the editors of Heyday, we had a contract to artistically represent our city of San Bernardino and its street art, its people, and its signs. What a search or pilgrimage!
When I started writing the poems in Vital Signs, I practiced a “tracking” in the tradition of the aboriginal people of Northwest Australia; they practice a physical “tracking,” which is following another person’s footsteps to know that person and to know that place more closely. So for the task ahead of me, I kept several poets in sight, poets who were deeply committed to place. I studied or “tracked” the poet R.S. Thomas because I admire his critical gaze at his home country. I also loved his fluency about identity and place; he wrote in two languages or two tongues like me. He is an Anglo-Welsh poet.
In writing about home or place (space), I didn’t want to be sentimental or take the readers to nostalgic journeys through San Bernardino, though it’s hard to avoid this path. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to write memory (time) poems that dismissed the harshness and poverty found in our home town. I admire how R.S. Thomas in “The Welsh Hill Country” undercuts the romantic and touristy image of the abandoned cottage in the meadows. Some of us have seen that iconic image of a quaint cottage surrounded by a luscious green landscape. Thomas has us pan out and then zoom in on his Welsh landscape to help us re-imagine and re-think the social and cultural implications of a cottage and community in decay.
On a side note, Tom McGovern does a lot of interesting things with foreground and background in his photos, in which we see both idealized landscapes and harsh realities. For example, check out the photo on page 88 (Vital Signs). The poems and photos need to have layers; we want the viewer to go beyond the first layer of a word or image. We don’t want the viewer to be “too far” away, unable to relate to or witness the landscape.
In R. S. Thomas’ “The Welsh Hill Country,” the narrator says, “Too far for you to see//the fluke and the foot-rot and the fat maggot//gnawing the skin from the small bones//The sheep are grazing…, // Arranged romantically in the usual manner//On a bleak background of bald stone.” By the end of the poem, he is critical of the Welsh farmer who is “Contributing grimly to the accepted pattern,//The embryo music dead in his throat.”
I believe Tom and I didn’t want to represent our city without helping the reader to re-imagine our streets and gaze at their beauty alongside the decay. When the speaker in R.S. Thomas’ poem repeats the phrase “Too far, too far to see,” he is being critical of at least two kinds of blindness: the inability to see the decay and rot in the same way a tourist might romanticize about poverty, and the unwillingness of a people to acknowledge the “grim” pattern that they accept and are a part of. I don’t think I can celebrate our city if I don’t invite the viewer to contemplate the “object” or text or photo until he or she comes to understand it more, or at least goes beyond the blindness of the “spectator” or romantic tourist.
In writing Vital Signs, I was mindful of R.S.Thomas’ message about “romantic” blindness when writing about one’s home. In my poem, “El Tigre Market” (p. 76), I hoped to contrast the economic situation with the painted image of a tiger pushing a grocery cart full of food, which is a romantic image of a bounty displayed on an abandoned store market in our downtown. (See photo on page 19, Vital Signs.) As you know, in our communities all the large grocery store chains close due to the crime and violence, leaving our local communities with poor nutritional options. Sometimes, these large grocery chains leave our barrios because of low profits. Like in Thomas’ Wales, we too have barriers that blind us; in our towns, the freeway makes it easier for us to be “too far, too far to see.” Our freeways don’t take us through poor downtowns and neighborhoods as much as drive us above, below, and around them. Our freeways don’t allow us to “zoom in” on the “grim,” and at times, the freeway is more a tunnel than a road, more an exit or entrance marking our time. And few of us ever walk in the “bad” part of town. So much of our book is based on the politics and aesthetics of walking. This is one of the keys aspects of the book.
I hope Tom’s images help people to see the yellow weeds, the chain-link fences, the oil stains and bubble gum spots on the sidewalks, all of which represent the decay or “foot-rot” of our city. In fact, in San Bernardino people have made it very hard to see our poverty. When they built the 215 freeway, they had no exits to the west side, a poor neighborhood predominantly of Latinos and Afro-Americans. The freeway and train tracks divided our city and enclosed the poor. For generations, the freeway and train tracks killed foot traffic on the west side of our city.
I believe the people of our barrios have not accepted the grim pattern. We are people of many tongues; we are nomadic travelers in our language(s); we don’t have just one discourse or one path instead we drift in and out of different language communities. This is another kind of fluency. And I am reminded of a book entitled Gendered Transitions: The Mexican Experience of Immigration. The author analyzes undocumented workers in California, helping us to re-imagine the ways we see immigration and in particular, how women become more active in their communities as they become more independent economically and socially. The author paints an interesting story. She talks about Mexican families where the male leaves to look for seasonal work, starts another household in another state and leaves his first family, abandoning his children and his wife. At first glance, someone might think that the wife would have few options but to go back to her home country. But what often happens is that these abandoned wives get jobs, learn to support their families, and become the builders of safer communities, protesting against street violence. The book can help us to re-think our traditional understanding of migration and gender. And it reminded me of the strong women in my barrio, and how their barrio has become their new “country.” I wrote “Vecinos” (p. 43) with these themes in mind and end the poem with these women holding together our barrios:
and patch new familias together,
these viejitas, wind-driven
beyond their own raíces (roots).
Over 60% of the population of San Bernardino county is Latino (mostly Mexican), and I, too, wanted to dramatize the importance of immigrants building, maintaining, and fighting for their communities. Immigrants are a transfusion of vitality, though I also dramatize the fate of the “the unknown,” the immigrants who die crossing our borders. (“Como Llora el Viento” p.20)
R.S. Thomas also dramatizes towns that are losing its young people to the pound’s rigor and calling, and dramatizes the countryside as a graveyard. This will explain why I end my poem with the village’s crosses pointing to el Norte. Thomas also deals with this topic. In “Welsh Landscape,” he writes,
“There is no present in Wales,
and no future;
There is only the past…”
In another poem, “Welcome to Wales,” he begins by saying: “Come to Wales to be buried…Let us quote you; our terms are the lowest, and we offer, Dirt cheap, a place where it is lovely to lie.” The Welsh have faced many centuries of hardships, and I take heed to R.S. Thomas’ message that a people’s culture and traditions and land can also vanish—that the “old language” and customs of a people can disappear within a generation. I strongly believe that immigrants and artists can play an important part in renewing the past. I wrote several poems that celebrate artists who play a crucial role in keeping a barrio’s “voice” (tongue). This is the main theme of “The Singer, Amparo” (p.72), which is dedicated to Mexico singer-song writer Maria Amparo Ochoa Castanos.
Besides “tracking” R.S. Thomas, I also devote several poems to Larry Kramer who was one of those artists championing our undervalued community in his unique way. There are many poems by Larry Kramer that I studied for our book, poems about California, a shadow land of ghosts, of dreamers, of deserts, of landscapes where there is great hope and disillusionment.
Kramer was a great junk store poet. As you know, junk stores or thrift stores are shops that sell secondhand goods or “antiques.” In San Bernardino there are many wonderful junk stores selling cheap goods and items; its main streets are lined with vibrant junk stores. My poem, “Wood Stilts” (p. 74), gives you a sense of the wonderment that junk stores can bring. For me, junk stores become another symbol of San Bernardino. In my poetry, junk stores represent a city that is constantly trying to renew itself from the fragments of the discarded or “gathering debris” (p. 25).
We live a consumer world, but I don’t quite see junk stores as adding to this mad race to consume. When we make a connection with an object, a certain old knife, a particular pair of used leather gloves, we give those objects a story and a past, a connection with us. When we come upon that lost object again in a junk store, their biographies stand up in front of us, and we remember the experience of owning them. Those objects remind us of ourselves at a certain point and place in time. They are geographical markers on the landscape of ourselves. Junk stores are more than grave yards or museums of our junk; instead they are places of renewal, places where objects can affirm aspects of ourselves and our past. Witnessing the object becomes more important than the object itself. This is also true of strolling through a city. And the journey of writing about our roots is more important than arriving at one version of home. So, I am not concerned with reaching the “ideal” version of my home town. An object in a junk store will have more than one biography, and a city will have countless of biographies, countless faces. So, I focus more on the getting to home (renewal).
This aspect of renewal is best represented in Tom’s photos on page 58 and 59 when the same store wall is repainted, giving it another face. And when we see an image like the Virgin Mary, we are seeing layers of history and cultures, many faces. For instance, besides being a Christian symbol, she also represents Tonantzin, the goddess of sustenance in Aztec mythology, and of course, she was used by Emiliano Zapata and Cesar Chavez for their social and political struggles. For me, she is a symbol of resistance, “fending for herself like wild mint” (p. 6). In Vital Signs, she is the first image in the poetry, rising in the heat waves of a cinderblock wall. She is our reyna; she is given a new biography as our needs for her change. She is a myth, consistently being re-told. I hope our photos and poems are like a blood transfusion too. This is how word and image work together.
Like the Brown Virgin, weeds (roots) also play a key role in the book; verdolagas and other local plants are featured in the poetry because they also represent class and race issues and cultural markers of our community. They represent shared values and experiences that build our sense of community, which is equally as important as place. Verdolagas appear in “Lavish Weeds” (p. 9) and in “What Crowds Out that Smell?” (p. 23-24); others might know them as Pigweed or Little Hogweed. It is the poor person’s hamburger helper.
The idea of weeds and indigenous plants brings me to my second poet that I “tracked” in my journey to write Vital Signs. John Clare is considered a rural poet and was born in 1793 into a village community; he came from a poor family and was self-taught. Some people see a dandelion and some see a weed, but Clare would see a beautiful flower, a nutritious flower. Clare had many wonderful poems about place, about the countryside, and about his beautiful village, Helpston. His editors labeled him the “peasant” poet. However, I was interested in his struggle with mental illness and his sense of being an outsider or being in exile. I became interested in his nomadic wanderings and discovered that he lived the last twenty-three years of his life locked up in a mental institution. When he was moved from his village, he felt as if he was in exile. There is a story where he walked over eighty miles to get back home. As a student, I found his poetry accessible, not weighed down by the poetry conventions of his time; he was a narrative poet. I admired how he championed his village, though he was not completely accepted by his own. His poem, “The Badger,” came to represent that tension between the individual and his/her community, and the brutality of the mob. This is another example of the nomadic spirit and how it is under attack by the “civilized” folk.
I admire Clare’s struggle to overcome his “exile,” both physical and mental. He is a nomadic soul, traveling between the borders of sanity and insanity. He is always on a pilgrimage to get back to his beloved village of Helpston. I feel when you are writing about home that you are always in a pilgrimage in time, traveling through your past, your youth, your nightmares and dreams. In my poem “The Evidence is Everywhere” (p. 38), I paid homage to Clare; I imagined the speaker to be Clare’s twin sister, Bessy, who died in infancy; her death haunted Clare all his life. I put Bessy in our century, living in San Bernardino, struggling with similar demons that plagued her brother. I hope readers see that I am not writing about just one community. I hope the relationship between identity and place surfaces throughout the book.
The last poet who affected me while writing Vital Signs was Jorge Teillier. He was born in 1935 in Chile and grew up in La Frontera, a southern region in Chile that is considered Mapuche territory. When I was a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine, I had the opportunity to meet writers in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, writers such as Lucia Guerra-Cunningham, Alejandro Morales, and Juan Villegas. Dr. Villegas was the chair of the Spanish and Portuguese Department, and in the evening, they ran an informal creative writing workshop. One evening I asked Juan to recommend a poet I could translate for one of my graduate courses. He suggested Jorge Teillier; I went to the library and found only one of his books, Cronica del Forastero, which translates into Chronicle of the Stranger, a historical narrative centered on Teillier’s childhood landscape. Like Larry Kramer, Teillier believed to write about the local was to write about the universal. I think it’s important to affirm the value of the particular; murals and hand-painted signs are a safeguard against the monotony of our environment. And street art exposes us to the ephemeral beauty of our barrios; it is also a contrast to the boring blank walls. And of course, street art is a kind of resistance to the sameness of overly-planned cities. Damn, it’s easy to find ourselves being swept into the hegemony of a market view of the world. Sometimes I find myself in a mall, wondering if I am in San Diego or LA or Palm Springs. I went to school in Irvine, California, where you could paint your door only a certain HOA-approved color. Anyway, I hope our readers pick up on the theme of resistance which starts the book:
“You pause in front of a freshly painted sign
that says “Wrong Way,” and see a sign within
a sign, a resistance to the newest strip mall,
the black lettering unevenly spaced and painted,
a homespun warning to keep moving on.” (p.7)
I hope Tom and I can give our readers ways to re-animate their sense of the local: weeds, junk stores, murals, signs, etc. I hope people paint their front doors any damn color they want. I love when a Mexican family moves into a neighbor and paints their house pink or purple. I know there are trade-offs when we renew our places, ourselves. The poem I wrote for Larry Kramer deals with the toll of renewal because “coming back” is not easy. Yet, I hope our book reminds folks that artistic gazing or contemplation is not an escape from the world, but a way to situate ourselves in the ever-present past of our surroundings.
October 28, 2013
War is organized brutality; the politicization of violence to achieve power, to dominate by any means. To kill, main, destroy, rape, pillage, conquer—to fully inhabit the beast, the monster that lives deep below the surface of things. The creature that can be called to action to serve a power structure that few know, for the soldiers on the ground are not the generals calling the moves. Those who die are sacrificed, and sacrifice of themselves to become pawns in a power play, the truth behind which is often too dark and disturbing to truly say. So we say, “War is hell,” and we try to give way, to allow those four little letters to explain the unexplainable.
This is where the photograph speaks in ways that words cannot; it provides the visceral, the viscera, blood, and guts that lives deep inside, that which is spilled by countless men who have come before, men whose names we may never know, as we gaze upon their decaying flesh.
War, as we have been taught, proceeds for the greater good, to right a wrong, to defy those who have corrupted the populace. But when it reaches the level where it becomes a conflict that seems without beginning and most certainly without end, then what is war but a profitable industry. This is the Drug War, as it is played today, a way that takes place across the globe, with the United States leading the way. As the primary consumer of narcotics in the Western hemisphere, the United States leans on countries like Colombia and Mexico to fight those who lead the organized criminal underworld.
But that underworld is not so nearly underground, not in these countries where who is on what side is more often than not obscured. Not in these countries, which celebrate the outlaw, which honor the legacy of the revolutionary, after they were colonized by European imperialists. For it is here, in these countries, that a war continues, just as it has never ended. And as crime pays, the political, the economic, and the criminal mix and mingle at every level, despite the propaganda that would have us believe otherwise.
Narco Estado: Drug Violence in Mexico by Teun Voeten (Lannoo) takes us inside a war that has claimed 55,000 lives in just seven years. Since 2006, when President Calderon declared war on the cartels running the drug trade, blood has been spilled, graves have been filled, and for what? The criminals continue to ply their trade. It is not possible to know the truth. Too much is being obscured, but with books like there we get a glimpse into a horrific level of violence that few have endured.
As Voeten writes in the book’s introduction, “The violence in Mexico has passed a threshold and has become a war. A new kind of war. Traditionally, wars were waged between states with organized professional armies. The outcome was decided during confrontations on well-circumscribed battlefields. To quote Von Clausewitz, ‘War was a continuation of diplomacy by other means.’ In the early nineties, a new form of warfare emerged: prolonged, low intensity conflicts, where ideology seemed lost…. War was no longer a means to an end. Rather the state of lawlessness, chaos and anarchy had become a goal in itself, a necessary precondition for warlords to exploit local resources—drugs, minerals—and exchange in black marketeering. Political scientists like Kaldor and Münkler call these conflicts ‘New Wars.’ Typically, they are not financed through taxation by a central government, but by shady deals that the warring factions make with criminal elements. In Mexico, the concept of this New War has gone far beyond that point. No need for warring factions to develop liaisons with international crime, simply because they are the criminals themselves.”
In Narco Estado: Drug Violence in Mexico, Voeten brings us along the edge of the abyss, providing a wide array of images, still moments, taken in what is a war zone unlike any you have ever seen. It looks more like life, as we know it, life as it is lived. Yet it is a testament to the level of terror that war brings that the very battlefield is one and the same as the place in which we live. Tens of thousands slaughtered, and no one is brought to justice. Most of the murders will never be solved, simply classified as “Drug Related” and left uninvestigated. There’s really nowhere to go with this when the military and city police are hitmen for hire, working with the cartels. If journalists investigate these relationships, they are treated like enemy combatants, and murdered just the same.
The Drug War in Mexico isn’t like anything we have ever known, and as so much of the story will never be told, it is a tribute to artists like Voeten who take to the streets in order to acquire bits and pieces of the puzzle. For all we see in his pictures is the very tip of a deadly iceberg.
October 23, 2013
The photography book occupies its own realm in modern life. It is both an object of art as well as a repository of knowledge, of spirit, and feeling. It is a record of the world as it is seen through the lens. It is a telling of tales real and surreal, documents of our time and place that are captured in inks lavished in images spreads across the page. The photography book delights in a world of mass production, in the way that it is at once the world of an artisan and a machine, of a world of reproduction in the grandest scheme. All to tell a story, to record a moment in time that accumulates in images that bring us far and wide.
Prestel Publishing understands this. As leader in the industry, they have developed a photography list that is brilliantly situated among a larger program that includes art, architecture, design, fashion, and children’s books produced with an eye for the extraordinary. They understand the book as an object of contemplation and study, and the way in which the medium it showcases defines the parameters of its presentation. This is a tribute to a refined vision of publishing that meets market needs. Featuring a list that includes monographs by Roger Ballen, Pieter Hugo, and Horst Friedrichs, as well as collections of work by Robert Mapplethrope, David Seymour (Chim), and Magnum Photos, Prestel’s list is a distinctive mix of the classic and the cutting-edge, brought together by a commitment to high-production values, elegant design, and consumer demand.
Founded in 1924 with over 500 English titles, Prestel is based in Munich, where it is a division of Random House Germany. Yet the company maintains an international flair, with offices in New York and London, and international distribution for their list. The success of the photography list can be attributed to the work of Curt Holtz, Commissioning Editor for Photography and Architecture Books. Holtz’s understanding of the artist as author, and the story that is to be told as it is laid across the pages of each book allows him to explore fascinating subjects that command the interest of the photography world, and beyond. The appeal of the monographs on the Prestel list is their ability to transgress cultural boundaries and to bring us inside new worlds.
Holtz observes, “It comes from a gut-level response when looking at the images, at the book dummy, meeting someone, you know, there’s something here. This can work. You understand the work in its context. You know if it will fly in London and New York, and how much can move on a local level. Perhaps it is niche but it has a universal appeal. You look at how this can translate, and what makes it have popular appeal. Of course there is the materiality, the paper, the inks, the production values, but there are many beautiful books that do not move. The spirit needs to be there, in the pictures.”
Consider the works of Pieter Hugo, which as distinct as they are extraordinary. From The Hyena and Other Men and Nollywood to Permanent Error, Hugo’s monographs sweep us in a whirlwind of the foreign and the familiar. His images heighten our senses, sharpen our eyes, make our hearts beat fast then slow then gasp. It’s flow, page after page after page. The elegance of their construction adds to the intensity of the photographs, as the physical weight of the book holds together the world inside Pandora’s Box, and what we are left after we close the covers is the feeling of magic which is the photography book.
It is this feeling for books that allows Prestel to execute the exquisite precision necessary to publish the work of Elinor Carucci. Mother, which is set for release in October 2013 and was edited by Karen Levine, Prestel’s New York-based Executive Editor, follows the birth of the artist’s twins. She photographed them as babies, as toddlers, as children, exploring the complexity of the relationship between mother and child. Such a tender, sensitive, highly personal and nuanced series such as this requires a delicacy of touch and of vision, as well as an inner strength. As Holtz describes the process of the creation of this book, the very metaphor of motherhood comes into its own.
There is a passion and an understanding that allows great books to be born, stories that peel back the layers of our daily lives, stories that take us into spaces we would never otherwise be and allow us to join in as witness and audience to a wide array of themes. “We’re in a bit of a privileged position,” Holtz notes of photography and book publishing. “This is a fantastic, small community who care about producing books, who care very deeply about making work that matters.”
October 17, 2013
We ask, “What is love?” because we don’t actually know. We feel this power, this pull, this powerful undertow, this energy that unites us in spirit and flesh, this bond between beings living and dead. We ask, “What is love?” so we can begin to understand. All the right questions offer many paths to the same place. Love. It flows from within, overtaking us, with a passion to connect in the most profound sense. Yet we seek definitions, words to frame and make manifest that which is ineffable, that for which words will only ever be the emissary of an essence so joyous and transformative that so many lives are defined as a response to it
It is this response that envelops us, not just the love we hold but the love we share with condition or recourse. Our identities develop in response to love given and love denied, love received and love lost. We cannot always fathom what is happening to us, the way in which love heals ancient wounds and unifies our splintered selves into Oneness. So we look to artists, poets, mystics, people whose sensitivities are finely tuned to nuance. To a means of expression that liberates us from the desire to use words to shape experience.
We Used to Talk About Love, edited by Natasha Bullock (Art Gallery NSW) explores the areas in which photography becomes our language of expression. Featuring the work of eleven Australian artists, this intimate volume includes an array of essays, photographs, videos, multimedia installations, collage, and sculpture, which was curated for exhibition by the Balnaves Foundation. Featured artists include Polly Borland. Paul Knight, Angelica Mesiti, Darren Sylvester, David Rsoetzky, David Noonan, Eliza Huchison, Justene Williams, Glenn Sloggett, Grant Stevens, and Tim Silver. The book also includes a short story by Gail Jones and Lily Hibbert’s essay on two pieces by Roland Barthes: “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” and “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.”
Brought together in a series of images and text, We Used to Talk About Love is a book of quiet provocation, taking us into the complexities of the relationship between art and idea, allowing us to see how each artist uses photography to explore the rich tapestry of love’s siren song. “How can pictures convey a sense of this complexity, of the cyclic tendencies of love’s repetition and transformation through time and space?” Bullock asks in the book’s introduction. The book organizes itself into four visual sections to examine this question. “To Begin With the Flesh” offers a selection of figurative and representational works that explore sexuality, adoration, and eroticism; “Expressive Abstractions” addresses the realms of solitude and togetherness in social relations; “An Archive of Feeling” looks at the relationship between reality and fiction as they inform our understanding of longing, nostalgia, and memory; and “Filthy, Crushing, Ending” takes on the romantic notion of absence, disintegration, and sentiment.
Bullock beautifully creates context for each visual meditation, providing us with not only the ideologies of each artist, but also within a larger framework to consider not only their relationships but our own. Bullock offers ideas but more than ideas, she questions assumptions and allows us to reconsider how we approach love in our own lives. Everything is at once simple and complex, knowably unknowable, familiar and foreign, sacred and profane. Nothing is as you might expect, except for the very real possibility that you may discover chambers of the heart beating in time to the turning of the page.
We may never have the words to speak, but we will know love by the feeling it creates in our being. A pure flame that ignites our being, not quite the fires of passion not the burns of pain but rather a smokeless flame that burns eternally, that allows us to see the divine spark that exists in all we encounter. We may speak of We Used to Talk About Love with question, concern, and care. We may peruse its pages time and again, always sinking deeper in. We may not know until we know and then we do not have the words, but we may see in our mind’s eye these metaphors as they come undone, as art acts as the emissary for experiences that we may never be able to translate into any other form.
As Bullock concludes, “These pictures speak of tenderness, longing, confusion, elation, and sadness in sophisticated ways that are not easily categorized by a single adjective. Did we used to talk about love more? Or do we talk about it differently now? Love connects words with their effects. For the artists discussed pictures connect with a realm of feelings. Here, in flesh and fragments, is an atmospheric and contradictory journey through the language of love and all of its expressive emotional ambivalence.”
October 16, 2013
Gigi Giannuzzi is wonderfully grim. He has a darkness of spirit that glows from within. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Trolley Books, the photography book publishing house that he founded and has operated since its birth in London, Giannuzzi shared his thoughts on producing work of integrity, work designed to inspire and provoke, work that comes from a desire to connect and share powerful stories with the world.
Over the past decade, Trolley has published an incredible array of provocative books, from the devastating photojournalism studies of Philip Jones Griffiths (Agent Orange) and Pierpaolo Mittica (Chernobyl: The Hidden Legacy) to the brilliant collections Taliban (photographs found by Thomas Dworzak) and Official Portraits (photographs of world leaders given to the United Nations for publicity use) to the classic style books Gentlemen of Bacongo and Buffalo: Ray Petri.
Giannuzzi is the modest mastermind behind this stellar list; the inspiration for the name Trolley came from his earlier days at book fairs, when he was sure to be spotted wheeling around a piece of luggage full of dummies and proposals in need of happy homes. In fact, it was at Frankfurt Book Fair that I first met Giannuzzi, who proudly showed me a collection of photographs titled The ABCs of Garbage. Equally horrified and amused, I was immediately a fan for there was no one in the industry with half the panache, testosterone, and humanity of this man.
“I have a deep curiosity about humankind and the way people lives their lives,” Giannuzzi reveals. “And books have a physical presence, they don’t fade a way and people can read them later. I get satisfaction from touching people’s hearts and reaching them.” As a publisher, Giannuzzi is a leader, following a path to truth and enlightenment. He is committed to telling the side of the story that receives little to no coverage in our media, whether it is the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008 or the stories of those who have been abused by the clergy and forced into silence for years. Giannuzzi’s commitment to speak truth to power, to show the world the terrors it has tried to bury behind lies and propaganda, is a testament to the importance of photography book publishing in the digital age. Here it is, a permanent record that cannot be erased.
Originally from Rome, Giannuzzi has the Italian artisan’s touch; with each book he works with the author to produce the perfect object. He is an art director and a production manager and an editor wrapped up in one; he goes on press with each book, printing in Italy, the land where photography books have become a form of art unto themselves. Forgoing the cheap costs of printing in China, Giannuzzi’s commitment to the extraordinary industry of his native country is both a tribute to the work of the Italians as well as a statement of quality; unit price is less important than a work of beauty.
“Details give feeling to the book,” Giannuzzi observes, “Every little details brings together something that you want to hold in your hand—or not.”
Indeed, the evidence is clear in the wording of the 2005 special commendation from the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards that Trolley received for its outstanding contribution to photography book publishing. As the award declared clearly, Trolley presented “(an) exceptional and extraordinary group of books exploring a range of difficult subject matter…Trolley’s beautifully designed and produced books have a real sense of conviction and purpose that sets them apart.”
In addition to operating the publishing house, Giannuzzi opened Trolley Gallery in London in 2003 because he wanted to live in a gallery. As he described to Photoespana, “We decided to move there, and initially used the space to show exhibitions related to the books and artists we knew already. Inevitably there was some cross-over between the two worlds of publishing and the area being full of artists we were friends with… The gallery has continued in this tradition of presenting emerging artists who haven’t had major solo shows anywhere before. In some ways it’s quite separate from the publishing programme, but there are many times where they combine, and everything is of course run from under the same roof.”
And it is under that roof that Giannuzzi now sits, celebrating a decade in the industry as one of the most original, innovative, and iconoclastic photography book publishers that has ever lived.
First published 7 September 2011
Le Journal de la Photographie
October 14, 2013
Mutuality. It lies in the space between you and me. It is the act of sharing, the communion of two as one in order to create a brand new space, a space that did not exist until we came together at this very moment to share our lives on the page we hold in our hands. Mutuality is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It requires a commitment to our highest selves, the will and the power to be fully present in the here and now. It requires each of us to let go of “me” in favor of “we” in order to produce something the world has never seen.
Photography is one of the greatest means of mutuality, for it is a three-way street. It is the time and the space where photographer, subject, and viewer meet. The photograph is the place where the past enters the present tense and speaks to us here and now, and so long as it shall exist, it will speak to the future as well. The photograph is the fraction of a second when all conventions of thought and measurements of reality collapse. The ephemeral is now eternal and, in defying the strictures of linear thinking, the photograph creates a new path through our lives.
It is the photographer’s ability to walk between the dimensions of space and the illusions of time, and to fuse dualities that makes their work so powerful. The photographer is a magician, transforming the physical world into an objet d’art. To create the image, the photographer willfully flattens the world, collapsing three dimensions into two. To understand this process intuitively is to think without words. It is to think spatially and react accordingly. It is to know that what stands before the lens is both real and an illusion. As the photographer creates the world anew, he recreates it in his image, as a manifestation of his soul. A portrait of an artist is always his subject, as each photograph he creates is made in his image of the world.
Street photography takes the world as its stage and allows the photographer to see himself in the divine and profane aspects of daily life. The street is where we live our most public life, where we can play so many roles at the same time: native, neighbor, stranger, commuter, tourist, guide, friend, or foe. Our sense of belonging determines the masks we adopt, choosing that which makes us feel most secure, most comfortable in our own skin.
Thus, the street photographer has a distinctive task: to penetrate the proverbial mask during a brief and fleeting moment in time when strangers meet with mutual curiosity. It is here, with the mask half on, half off, that we can see we are all so very much alike. We can look at differences as social, cultural, political constructions and go beyond what lies on the surface of life. We can look into the eyes of a stranger and see something deeper than the thousand words we might use to describe the photograph. We can see and feel the photographer reflected back at us in each person he photographs. This is mutuality at its finest.
from HARLEM PORTRAITS by Harvey Stein
The first photographic encounter renowned New York street photographer Harvey Stein had with Harlem was when he documented the annual African American parade on Malcolm X Boulevard in 1990. Swept away by the spirit and humanity of the legendary neighborhood and its inhabitants, Stein continued to photograph Harlem for 23 years from 1990 to 2012. His close-up, evocative portraits of the people of Harlem are published for the first time in Harlem Street Portraits (Schiffer Publishing, October 2013). Accompanying the photographs are essays by African American activist, writer and teacher Herb Boyd, and writer and third generation New Yorker, Miss Rosen.
Harlem Street Portraits reveals Stein’s reverence and love for the friendliness and warmth of Harlem’s everyday men and women, and the vibrant and bustling vitality of a historic place that has been the center of African American life and culture for over 100 years. Shooting with a wide-angle lens, Harvey’s close encounters with families, couples, friends, the elderly, and youth are honest, direct and involving. Each portrait is more than a depiction of a person; it is an intimate record that necessitates direct engagement between photographer and subject showing the mutuality between people.
With a population of nearly half a million people, Harlem is America’s most celebrated African-American neighborhood. Its rich past and historical importance has made a unique contribution to our national popular culture. Stein’s photographs capture and celebrate the Harlem spirit. There will be three book launch events this fall:
Wednesday, October 16
Talk and Book Signing, 5:30-7pm
31 West 57th Street
(between 5th/6th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
Thursday, November 14
Conversation with Herb Boyd and Harvey Stein + Book Signing
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore
1942 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10032
Sunday, November 17
Talk and Book Signing, 12-2pm
B&H Event Space
420 Ninth Avenue, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001
HARVEY STEIN is a professional photographer, teacher, lecturer, author and curator based in New York City. He currently teaches at the International Center of Photography. Stein is a frequent lecturer on photography both in the United States and abroad. He is the Director of Photography at Umbrella Arts Gallery, located in the East Village of Manhattan. He has also been a member of the faculty of the School of Visual Arts, New School University, Drew University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Bridgeport. Stein’s other books are Coney Island: 40 Years, Schiffer Publishing, (2011); Movimento: Glimpses of Italian Street Life, Gangemi Editore, Rome (2006); Coney Island, W.W. Norton, Inc. (1998); Artists Observed, Harry Abrams, Inc. (1986); and Parallels: A Look at Twins, E.P. Dutton (1978). Stein’s photographs and portfolios have been published in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Time, Life, Esquire, American Heritage, Forbes, Smithsonian, and all the major photography magazines. His photographs have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe—75 one-person and over 150 group shows to date. His photographs are in more than 50 corporate and museum collections, including The George Eastman House, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh), the Denver Museum of Art, the Portland (Oregon) Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography.
September 24, 2013
Man and Woman. Husband and Wife. Artist and Muse. It’s a path few travel because it demands. A kind of commitment to creativity unparalleled, as standard of excellence, an ability to balance the personal and the professional, the private and the public, a kind of elasticity and mutability that comes from years past, experiences shared, mysteries unfolding, new opportunities revealed, the moment made eternal. The photograph, the space where the two meet, where time stops and what once was shall now and forever be.
Fat Girl by Carlos Batts (Barnacle Books) is a love story. It is a story of love that begins with a knowledge of self, a fearless acceptance of truth, of a way of being that is deeply one’s own, so FTW if they complain. April Flores found her happiness in the body voluptuous, the body scorned by society as this, that, and the third thing because they won’t let a woman live.
April Flores does not just live. She flourishes. She is not but a flower but a field, a meadow, a deep luscious jungle, for she is not merely muse and model, she is a feminist porn icon to (knee-high) boot. This is her body—and this is her world. And it began with her first encounter with Batts, when he suggested she put on a bikini, and after a moment’s hesitation, Flores freed herself, and she stepped before the camera, and the love affair began.
Fat Girl is a tribute to the beauty of woman as she is, as she discovers herself in all her glory, as goddess, siren, and beauty. The photograph is the space where artist and muse meet, each enchanted with the other in the self, enacting Nature’s math of one plus one equals three. The photograph lives in our world, now a thing to contemplate as a reflection of both Flores and Batts and the space in between, where all are invited to meet.
The book is an invitation into their world, and a celebration of all the spirit made flesh, manifest in each photograph, for Miss Flores is an energy, radiating fire, light, flame. She changes her image but never her identity, like a diamond revealing facets of herself, as she grows, blossoming like the flora for which her name stands.
Flores writes, “It is hard for women of all sizes to feel confident because, from the time we are young girls, we are bombarded with messages and images in the media and other places that make us feel like we can never be too thin, too young, or too successful. It is even harder for plus size women to feel good about themselves because rarely are plus sized women represented in a completely positive way. The book is my answer to that problem. This book is an exhibition of my confidence and happiness as a plus size woman.”
Indeed it is, a beautifully, thoughtfully, tastefully curated collection of Batts’ deliciously vivid celebration of his wife, the yin to his yang, the fusion of seeming opposites. Through his photographs, we come to see his vision of a world where women are creatures of completeness, knowing themselves better than anyone else. No longer do we ask, “What do women want?” so much as we say, “Yes, more please.”
Flores is more than a sex symbol, she is a symbol of the sex that inspires the act of creation, be it in life and in art, in the way that the book becomes a treasure chest to be perused at leisure. Fat Girl is one woman’s path through this world, one that is exquisitely pleasurable, risqué and erotic, an adventure in art and style, a tongue planted firmly in chic. Batts’ photographs of Flores naked but for red stilettos and a Miss Piggy mask, remind us that the truest icon of womanhood begins with the Venus of Willendorf.
Fat Girl is deeply personal, yet splendidly friendly, just like Flores and Batts themselves, their lives an open book, a collaboration of kindred spirits now pressed in inks on paper and tucked between the covers. Fat Girl reminds us that she is we and we are she is beauty is deep. It is of the skin, muscle, flesh, bone, soul, and spirit. We are lucky to witness and share it.