October 21, 2014
Edition Patrick Frey was founded in 1986 in Zurich, Switzerland, as publisher/editor. The house provides young artists with a platform for a first publication, as well as engages in long-term collaborations with artists including Walter Pfeiffer, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, and Andreas Züst. Today, the house publishes 15-20 books a year (“Too many!!” as Frey says), with a staff of are two full time and three part-time collaborators.
Each book is wonderfully considered on its own terms, conceptualized and conceived as an objet d’art befitting its subject. Publisher Patrick Frey has graciously agreed to speak about book publishing today.
Miss Rosen: Please talk about the mission for Edition Patrick Frey (EPF). How do you approach visual book publishing as a medium to communicate and explore larger ideas about the culture in which we live? What themes and motifs occur in the list as examples of this vision, and in what way?
Patrick Frey; I guess the term mission is missing the point a little bit. It sounds almost religious, as if I had have a message as a publisher. In German, when asked your message, there is a nice answer: messages are for carrier pigeons. When I started in 1986, it was all about artist books, books with artistic content, beautiful books. First of all, books were a medium to translate an artist’s work in a very direct way. The book could be considered a condensed body of the artist’s artwork itself, autonomous, not to be modified and not to be mediated or even explained. These years left its marks on my attitude as a publisher. That is why, from the beginning, every single book of EPF looked totally different, specific. And why there were very few or no comments. It was a sort of the contrary of a branding strategy.
With the years, my vision or maybe perspective – because vision is another one of those suspicious-looking terms – got broader and the books more diverse. Now we publish all kind of non-fiction books, some of them even look like ordinary photo books or even coffee table books, and still – there is this unchanged urge to keep our concept of a book absolutely non-ordinary, to maintain a specific and highly artistic approach.
Miss Rosen: What I love most about your list is the energy each book holds, the way each title is an exploration into its own world, and in some way, each is like a visual poem that gives us a new way of perceiving the ways in which photography can be used to tell stories. I am particularly interested by the way in which photographs are used to create a narrative in book form. It is the photograph that one meditates upon after (or in lieu of) reading the word. As a publisher, what are your thoughts on how the photograph connects and imparts ideas, energies, experience? How do you think the book does something that other forms of photography (the print, the scan) can not?
Patrick Frey: A photograph can be a narrative by itself. But this narrative is entirely different from the narrative it takes in a book. It is non-sequential, non-directional. Looking at a single photography, one experiences more something like a narrative field, creating a multitude of associative possibilities, fragments of stories, narrative paths and crossroads. A print on the wall of an art space is a free-floating piece of art. There are some references, maybe a reference to the print next to it, to a certain body of work, to the history of photography, or to certain trends in contemporary art, but the contextual references are rather coincidental and mostly rather weak. A book is and always was by its nature a medium of storytelling and reflection. That is, if you put photographs in a book, you sort of force them into a strong contextual reference, and you expose them to a specific kind of reflection, for instance into the dialogical structure of the double page. And most of all, you force them into a totally different kind of storytelling.
In a book – if it’s not just a simple collection of pictures, a typical catalogue, so to speak – the narrative power of photography becomes directional. Somehow, a book tells a story always in one and the same direction: from a beginning on page one to the end on the last page. Books do not just tell stories sometimes, like a novel for instance. Books are embodiments of narrative, they are narrative blueprints, they lead you on a journey, or through a man’s life, or follow somebody’s trains of thought. Books will always be mementos of odysseys or Bibles or Madame Bovarys. That is the referential impact photography always will encounter if it is published in a book.
Miss Rosen: Where did your love for books begin? Do you recall some of your favorite illustrated books? What made them alluring to you in your earlier years? Do you see a connection between the influence of certain authors, art directors, or publishers on your work as a publisher today?
Patrick Frey: I grew up on the countryside, quite idyllic, and I think my first love in the kingdom of illustrated books was Beatrix Potter. I adored The Tale of Peter Rabbit or The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, and in my eyes everything was totally real and highly animated. I was really terrified each time I saw the Mr. McGregor, the evil gardener, coming round the greenhouse, knowing that Peter hadn’t seen him. I loved these kind of strong feelings, mostly the fear – or Angstlust, to use a German term, that were triggered entirely by the illustrations.
Like in Struwwelpeter, a famous German educational book, a collection of quite sadistic stories about misbehaving children that are severely punished. Like Konrad, the thumbsucker. He is warned by his mum: Stop sucking your thumb, otherwise the evil tailor will come and cut your thumb. But Konrad continues sucking his thumb. And then comes the evil tailor and cuts Konrad’s thumb off and you see the blood dripping on the floor. Over and over, I checked the thumb falling to the floor and the dripping blood. Or the history of the Suppenkaspar who is not eating his soup and gets thinner and thinner from picture to picture, until he is drawn like a matchstick man and then you just see the soup bowl sitting on the grave of most probably the first anorexic (a boy!) in literary history.
I don’t know if there are any connections between the book experiences of my early childhood and my preferences today. I know that I still love and that I am still looking for very powerful emotions, triggered by images, be it photographic or otherwise. It may seem a bit of a naïve concept, but it is not because it is always combined with an intensive need or even desire for qualities like complexity and referential ambiguity or extreme precision. Because it is telling me a lot about the relationship between the author and his / her object or subject of desire – for me one of the most important issues in photography at all.
Like for instance in Mom/Dad by Terry Richardson, published by Mörel Books, one of those books I would have died to publish myself, a highly unsentimental and hilariously funny book on the author’s parents that reports on this relationship in such extreme, brutal and tender intensity that it makes you cry.
Miss Rosen: As technology takes hold, we are relating to image and text in new ways. How do you think digital media informs our experience of print? How does this impact the publishing industry? What aspects of digital culture have made work in books more exciting?
Patrick Frey: As digital publishing has almost completely conquered the news and information market, the analogue book is shifting from an informational medium towards a more artistic medium. There is a growing consciousness for the book as a physical object, for the book as a work of craft or art, a feeling for the book as a fetish. Among artists, there is definitely a growing desire to publish a printed artist book. Our concept and our experience of printed matter will become more aesthetical. Even if you look at average hardcover books nowadays, you will already find an intensified sensitivity for aesthetic values. Many ordinary catalogues or fictional books look like artist books now. There is even a growing consciousness for the experience of reading a real printed book, for the smell, the touch, the paper, the binding. Printed books are pimped and pushed towards physical fetish-like objects with added value, collectors items. What has been already true for artist books like ours for quite a while, will become a general rule: Printed books will increasingly be bought by book collectors. Or by people who are looking for a gift.
On the other hand, digitalization created growing sensitivity for the waste of paper. Not only if I look at a book proposal, if I look at any printed book, the first question now is: Does this REALLY need to be printed? Because the problem is: To print a book doesn’t MEAN that much anymore, everybody can make his own totally okay looking artist book online or create an evenly nice looking 800 pages non-fiction book with Wikipedia texts in less than 15 minutes and get it printed in ten days for about 30 bucks each. Digitalization means speeding up analogue processes, digitalization means self-publishing, and both naturally is a blessing and a curse. Ten years ago, book proposals looked like book proposals, bundles of copied material, stapled or glued together by hand. Now book proposals look like state-of-the-art printed books. I call them phantom books because they look like books but they aren’t really, they are just first ideas from which the editing and publishing work starts. Editing is the key word here. One could say that digitalization caused a radical shift in perception: I think in the near future publishing a book means you have to deal much more with editing skills and coaching processes.
Maybe I have to correct on sentence from above: Among artists there is definitely a growing desire to publish a printed artist book with a publisher. Some of those authors are only hunting for distribution (they don’t really know that distribution in the tiny niche market for artist books is a disaster anyway!) but some others are looking for an upgrading of their editing process, for an intensive professional dialogue between author and publisher, who is not so much a distributor, rather than a curator – or even a midwife ! – in order to assist in creating and customizing this cultural high-end object named printed book.
Miss Rosen: There are a great many projects out there, and so many stories to be told. With the wealth of content made available today, how do you select books for publication? What kinds of stories appeal to you as a publisher? This is a big, broad sweeping question, but what do you think makes a book timeless?
Patrick Frey: No idea, I rarely think about publishing a “timeless“ book. Books are fashion victims like all other artifacts. Attitudes and styles come and go in waves, even content does. The best you can do, is try to be as radical and true to the cause as possible. And to be contemporary at least, or, as Rimbaud puts it, one must be absolutely modern. Which means you have to keep a sharp eye on everything that is out of fashion, fallen out of time. And then time will tell. As I said, no mission, no vision, just wide-open eyes and this everlasting love for intensity and for the eccentric. Try to learn from the authors. And what selection concerns: no method and no recipe. Even in times where the so-called “freedom of choice“ seems to become overwhelming.
For more information, please visit
Edition Patrick Frey
October 10, 2014
It is the photograph that has introduced the world to art in the age of reproduction, the copy becoming the way in which we understand the original. And so it is that the photograph is the means to literally objectify our world. We gaze upon photographs as a means to travel beyond our limited scope and we take in what lies inside the frame and unconsciously disregard all else. And while we understand intellectually the need to question what we are told, seeing is believing in the sighted world.
It is for this reason that many become photographers; they need to tell their stories without words. Words are creation of the left brain, the way in which we translate experience into a complex coding that creates reality through the abstraction of language. But the photograph operates in the right brain; it speaks all languages simultaneously. Anyone looking at a photograph can read it, although various interpretations of the same photograph are certainly possible and likely. And so it is that in the photographs of Boza Ivanovic collected in Out of the Wild: Zoo Portraits (Glitterati Incorporated) that we are given layers of meaning in each image, each layer to be slowly peeled back and considered on its own merit.
“I did not focus on photographing animals until after I was recuperating from a motorcycle accident. The picture that rekindled my love for animal photography was taken at the San Diego zoo in Southern California when I was there for the sole purpose of taking my then six-year-old son. It was a photograph of a tiger. The beast, as I saw it, was in a perfect, mysterious combination of darkness and light. Since then on, I have focused all my energy to develop the kind of animal photography that would portrait the beauty, traits and characteristics of these caged animals. I have come to know and develop great admiration and respect for all the animals I have photographed since it requires quite a large amount of time and patience to have all the necessary elements to come together to take just one photograph.”
At first glance at Ivanovic’s photographs, we are struck by a high contrast graphics that draw us in, for darkness is never so radiant when light shines through its untenable depths. Set against these vast and impenetrable fields of black are animals, exotic and foreign to our normal lives. These are not the creatures we observe in the course of our day, not our domesticated pets or the livestock that provides us with food, apparel, or accessories. The animals of Ivanovic’s photographs are not creatures of comfort or creatures of use. They are creatures of curiosity, creatures of grandeur, creatures of dreams and nightmares, creatures of a world not our own, for each lives within a confined area, in a zoo.
Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.
October 7, 2014
Insectum. Avialae. Fungi. Mammalia. Mister Finch moves across the animal kingdom with the precision of a surgeon, creating creatures of the land and the air out of recycled textiles that are nothing short of delicious with their intricate and intimate details that make them a pleasure to both have and to hold. They recall nothing so much as the dreams of fairytales from a time and a place long ago.
Mister Finch has been crafting a world of pleasure that is to be found in the art of the hand, of the ability for one man to transform reality into fantasy and back again. His creations are devilish delights, works that at once be still our eye while tempt our fingertips. Endlessly delectable, Mister Finch’s menagerie of woodland beasts, birds, insects, and mushrooms returns us to a time when the world was innocent, and anything was possible.
Mister Finch: Living in a Fairy Tale World (Glitterati Incorporated) debuts this Fall, with back-to-back New York events. On Wednesday, October 8, from 6-8pm, Lord & Taylor will host a book signing and reception. On Thursday, October 9, from 6-8pm, Mister Finch heads to Chelsea for a book signing and reception at Kasher | Portwood Gallery, where original works will be on display. Please RSVP to email@example.com with “Mister Finch” in the subject line.
On the cusp of his New York debut, Mister Finch has arranged to speak with The Chic, offering us a rare glimpse into his world where hares find themselves mounted proudly on the wall, while toadstools float like helium balloons and butterflies flutter from day to night, each creature more alluringly inviting us into a magical world where creatures come alive the moment the eyes are put into place.
The artist introduces himself: “My name is Finch—it’s actually my surname…everyone call me it and I like it. I’ve called my business Mister Finch so it’s clear from the start that I’m a man and one that sews. I live in Leeds in Yorkshire, not too far from the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.
“It’s been my home now for almost 18 years and it’s been very good to me. It’s a vibrant place to live and being so close to the city is great…but also not too far from the country. You really have the best of both worlds. I live in a corner house at the end of a quiet street next to a graveyard. From the top window, you can see the city lights glittering and its brilliant. As much as I love the countryside, I also need a bit of lights and action and love the contrast. I need the busy markets and bookshops.”
Read the Full Story at THE CHIC.
October 3, 2014
In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville comes Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990 (Glitterati Incorporated), the first book by French photographer Jean-Pierre Laffont.
Weighing in at 392 pages with 359 four-color and black-and-white photographs, two gatefolds, and an introduction by Sir Harold Evans, Photographer’s Paradise is nothing short of a publishing tour de force that is equal parts news and art. The book launches on Thursday, October 9 from 6-8pm at Clic Gallery, New York. Hosted by David Elliot Cohen, Mr. Laffont will be making remarks at 6:30pm to speak about his life in photography, and its culmination in this incredible volume of work. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Photographer’s Paradise” in the subject line.
Christiane Celle, the founder and owner of Clic Gallery, states, “I’ve known the wonderful Jean-Pierre Laffont for many years as a result of my friendship with his daughter, Stephanie. I’ve always had great respect for him and his work, but I was fascinated to see his extensive catalog of images representing American life. Photographer’s Paradise has given me a much broader representation of Jean-Pierre’s skill to create an emotionally-moving photographic history. His portraits are both educating and inspiring. I’m pleased and excited to bring his book launch to Clic Gallery on October 9.”
Photographer’s Paradise is a testament to the power of photojournalism to shape the course of human events. As the media rose in power during the second half of the twentieth-century, it was a call to action for many to bare witness to history firsthand. Mr. Laffont found himself on the front lines, something he did with a presence of mind few can lay claim to bare.
Mr. Laffont’s wife and business partner Eliane Laffont has worked with him throughout his career, first as his agent, and then again as his editor. The Laffonts’ shared professional history gave them the knowledge and depth necessary to edit through hundreds of thousands of images that Mr. Laffont had amassed as he traveled all over America.
Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.
September 30, 2014
Photographer, author, vagabond. Christopher Makos has been training his eye on the world’s stage since he came to this earth, creating an understanding of life that integrates everything into a cohesive whole. Whether people, places, or things, Makos’ gift is his ability to embrace them all as subjects of beauty befitting himself. For Makos is nothing if not a presence, a force to be reckoned with.
The author of 21 monographs. Makos’ work has been exhibited around the world since 1975. He first burst onto the photography scene with his 1977 book White Trash, which was recently re-released by Glitterati Incorporated in a deluxe edition titled White Trash Uncut. The book, at once raw and luxurious, chronicled the New York City pink scene, interspersed with portraits of Uptown Boldface names.
Makos 21st monograph, Everything: The Black and White Monograph (Glitterati Incorporated), is a sumptuous retrospective of three decades in the artist’s illustrious career. Weighing in at 352 pages, with 248 photographs, Everything is printed in quadrotone for the richest, most effective reproduction of Makos’ work. The oldest photograph in the book was a taken in 1973. It is a single foot set bare upon the beach in Ditch Plains, Montauk, New York. The journey of a thousand miles had begun. Everything stands as a testament to a life lived in the present tense, forever creating itself anew with every click of the lens.
Everything will launch at Lord & Taylor, New York, on Thursday, October 9 from 6-8pm. Hosted by Manhattan magazine, the event will include a book signing, as well as a fashion presentation, fashion style, a photo booth, grooming stations, and a live DJ. All are welcome to attend, and to RSVP with the subject line “Everything” to email@example.com
Everything can be seen as a photo-biography, if you will. Here are portraits, landscapes, nudes, snapshots, studio shots, cars, dogs, horses, from Fire Island to Ascot, Mallorca to Moscow, Morocco to Puerta Vallarta, Giza to Palm Springs, as well as portraits of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Queen Elizabeth II, from Man Ray to Jean-Michel Basquiat, from Tennessee Williams to John Lennon.
The Lord & Taylor launch is the only New York public appearance Makos will be making this Fall, as he tours the world presenting his original collaborations with Ports 1961 and Kiehl’s, featuring some of his most iconographic images. He chats with The Chic about his life in photography.
Read the full story at THE CHIC.
September 19, 2014
Perched at the outskirts of Museum Mile, the Museum of the City of New York is a rose in Spanish Harlem. Located at 1220 Fifth Avenue between 103 and 104 Streets, the Museum was incorporated in 1923 to preserve and present the history of New York City and its people. The collection includes more than 1.5 million items, and is known for its comprehensive photography collection, which includes works by Jacob Riis, Berenice Abbott, Andreas Feininger, Byron Company, Irving Underhill, the photographic archives for LOOK Magazine, as well as the photographic work commissioned by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White. The collections document the city’s ever changing landscape, reminding us of the ways in which New York presents itself upon the world’s stage, as well as to itself.
Sean Corcoran is the Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. His interests in photography, art, and history overlap in a distinct way within the Museum’s walls. The personal passions of collecting find them manifest in ways that are remarkable. Most recently the Museum hosted “City as Canvas: New York City Graffiti from the Martin Wong Collection” to great acclaim.
The exhibition, which closes on Sunday, September 21, presents 105 works by legendary writers DAZE. DONDI, FUTURA 200, Keith Haring, LADY PINK, LEE, and SHARP among others, alongside historical photographs by Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, Jon Naar, and Jack Stewart. Paired together, the paintings, drawings, and photographs take us back to a time and a place that, though not far away at all, no longer exists in our daily lives.
Corcoran speaks to The Click about the space where his work as a curator and a collector overlap, as made manifest by one of the finest exhibitions of native New York art. Read the full story at THE CLICK.
September 16, 2014
In the 80s, a time before Photoshop and plastic surgeons offered picture perfect complexions, masking even the slightest imperfections, Johnny Rozsa captured the flawless features of Hollywood’s fresh crop of celebrity beauty. Rozsa captures pristine beauty and the exuberance of 115 stars before they were famous, and shows us what they were like before they began following the plan for eternal youth, an elixir of Botox, surgical procedures, and editorial support in the form of computer generated beauty.
From Hugh Grant to Halle Berry, Janet Jackson to Nicholas Cage, John Malkovich to Natasha Richardson, with a special section dedicated the gay legends including Leigh Bowery, Quentin Crisp, and Divine, Untouched (Glitterati Incorporated), captures the era’s most enduring icons at a time where ingénues rubbed shoulders with luminaries like Charlton Heston, Jane Russell, Joan Collins, Dolly Parton, and Tina Turner.
Rebelling against the paparazzi’s obsession with capturing unflattering shots that compromise the integrity of celebrities to increase sales to a snark-fueled populace, Rozsa’s work pays tribute to the old school Hollywood model of glamour. Be it Rick James or Robert Mitchum, Aretha Franklin or Muhammad Ali, Mariah Carey or Sade, Rozsa’s camera captures all the glitter and glitz of fame, beauty, and celebrity style during the 80s.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Johnny Rozsa spent his earliest years in a beautiful and remote country where every day was an adventure. “Living in Kenya made me curious,” he observes in his introduction to Untouched (Glitterati Incorporated), a collection of celebrity portraiture. He arrived in London in the 1960s and, after college, ran a vintage shop in Covent Garden where he met fashion editors, models, actors, and photographers on a daily basis. Making the rounds at all the parties, Rozsa hobnobbed with the likes of Ian McKellen, Leigh Bowery, and John Galliano while setting off on his own journey as a portrait photographer.
Rozsa recalls, “When I was a teenager I painted. I enjoyed the texture of oil paints and painted almost every day from the age of 15 until I turned 20. In Nairobi, I had several solo exhibitions and sold quite a few paintings, which were mostly of faces, with big eyes, long lashes, and big pouty feminine lips—and that was just the men!
“I loathed filling in backgrounds because they were so time consuming, and often wished I had an assistant to do the boring bits! I studied Communications at College in London and it helped me develop the ability to connect with other people and to comprehend the immense power of journalism, of radio and television.”
Read the full story at THE CHIC.
September 4, 2014
We who know most paintings by their photograph are more often than not looking at distortions that arise from the process itself. Flattened a three dimensional object, the painting becomes a shadow of its former self, the energy that once was live on the canvas now lost on the page. But our eye acclimates, and we read distortions of color and texture and surface with infinite grace, and we have mentally replaced the copy with the original until we come to see it face to face.
Where the tradition of Western painting once sought to become a time immemorial depiction of the transitory nature of life, the camera easily upset this apple cart. By producing a more accurate representation of the thing itself, the camera liberated the painter from reality and allowed them to explore the medium itself. This would begin in the mid-nineteenth century, just as the camera took hold, and painters, informed by this process, began to study the effects of light itself.
But before this, there was one last gasp at a kind of realism that showed the danger of time elapsed. This is most evident in the still lifes of the period, of the faithfully rendered fruit and flowers that sparkle with life and hint at death. These still lifes remind us of the place where Man and Nature meet, as Man carefully culls from the garden to create a bounty upon the table and plate.
During this era, worked American painter Raphaelle Peale, who concentrated intently upon the genre to create a distinctive atmosphere that has been described by art historian Alexander Nemerov as eccentric. As Nemerov notes, “Raphaelle’s paintings simulate the artist’s own physical existence projected into the objects of perception,” creating a tangible quality that makes his subjects more life than still.
In response to Peale’s work, Sharon Core has created Early American (Radius Books), a series of photographs faithfully recreating the paintings themselves. Core was interested in the uncanny lifelikeness of Peale’s work, which blended an American austerity with a distinctly non-American style of painting to create a series of paintings that are more of a period than of a place. Core was also interested in the relationship between illusionism, trompe l’oeil, and photography could be explored through replication of the original still life itself.
As Brian Sholls notes in the book’s introduction, “It took Core long hours to collect the items (both organic and inorganic) necessary to re-create Peale’s compositions. At first she spent time exploring antiques stores, garden centers, and flea markets in New York’s Hudson Valley. However, the age and rarity of what she sought made that work impossible, so she turned to more systematic methods. For dishes and tableware, including a particular kind of Chinese export porcelain so prevalent in Peale’s canvases, she monitored auctions on eBay. For rare and heirloom species of fruit and flowers, such as Anne Arundel melons, she likewise turned to online sources, such as the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.”
Working closely to recreate every last detail of the original works, Core has produced a series of photographs at once magnificent, evocative, and provoking questions about the nature of the relationship between the mediums. Artists aim to recreate both their inner and outer world, more often than not producing a dialogue between the two. Where Peale was inspired to use still life to document America’s bounty in the country’s earliest decades, showing us how the newest nation of earth was rapidly modernizing and kept abreast of the developments in Europe, two hundred years later, Core is inspired to reflect on this in the medium that surpassed painting as the most faithful mode of representation.
It is here that Core’s work as a photographer gives us pause, for her dedication to the original work creates a surreal feeling of hyper-realism that is unfamiliar in photography. It is a kind of realism that is about the medium of painting itself, as Core deftly manipulates her camera to record the painterly qualities of light, color, and the invisible brushstroke that makes realist painting so real it’s fake. Looking at Core’s photographs we are reminded of the act of painting itself, and the way the camera can manipulate the surface of the image to create the same feeling on its own terms.
Early American is a treasure trove, a collection of photographs that are both new and old. These images remind us of a way of life so long gone it evokes a powerful response, a kind of nostalgia for a time and a style that is no longer part of our lives. And yet at the same time, Core reminds us that the past is never over, it is part of our lives, forever recreated as we need it to serve us as a means to understanding and experiencing life.
First published 8 March 2013 in
Le Journal de la Photographie
August 28, 2014
“All the new media, including the press, are art forms which have the power of imposing, like poetry, their own assumption,” Marshall McLuhan observed. We live in a time when new media is so ubiquitous as to be omnipresent and the only escape from the world we’ve built is to be out of satellite range—or, even more difficult, to simply turn it off.
But we don’t because we won’t because, like the greatest pharmaceutical drugs, new media has rewired our brains to change the way in which we perceive ourselves and the world itself. The way in which we live has become so extreme that we are hard pressed to remember how we operated any other way. We take for granted the way in which these interactions create and define experience, allowing ourselves to fall under the spell, whether we want to or not. At a time when to not have a Facebook account is an act of defiance, we must consider the bigger picture—the machine itself.
Gingko Press has just released The Book of Probes, a collection of Marshall McLuhan’s finest words culled from his books, over 200 of his speeches, his classes at the University of Toronto, and from nearly 700 shorter pieces he published between 1945 and 1980. The book has been designed by the renowned David Carson, and is aesthetically divided into two sections. One section features quotes, set against the traditional white background. This section is understated, simple, and easy to grasp. It allows the words to do the work of words, and requires nothing except our focused attention.
What makes The Book of Probes fascinating is the other section, the one in which Carson interfaces with McLuhan on a dynamic level. Here, McLuhan’s words are set against a graphic, a photograph, or an illustration. The spread becomes a synthesis of image and text, where the font and layout of the words change the energy of the image upon which they lay. The written word takes on an aesthetic dimension, conveying in equal parts meaning, spirit, and energy. Meanwhile, the image no longer serves as images traditional do—it does not offer reportage or meaning on its own terms. Instead it serves as a vehicle for the words themselves, fusing with the spirit and the energy of the greater thing—the Idea as Ideal.
One of the most challenging aspects of the photography book is the use of words. Words, so dominant in our culture and our society, demand our attention in the way nothing else quite does. They are perceived by the eye and translated by the brain. They are a series of symbols that mean different things depending on the way in which they are ordered. The more evocative the order, the more compelling the idea, until something clicks inside us, and the words stop being words and start being “real.”
When images appear near a photograph they are taken as something greater than words. They are taken as interpretations of the thing which we are viewing. We either read or resist, we want to know or we don’t. We trust our perceptions or we give them over to another to define our experience for us. The challenge of great photography books is how to find the balance between the image and the text, the way to provide information and context without altering our visceral experience of the image itself. Words should be used to provide support, but all too often we become lazy and allow the words to pull the cart.
The Book of Probes is powerful because it addresses just this issue, with words that comment on the experience as we are living it. Taken on their own, McLuhan’s observations are essential to cutting through the fog and the haze of cultural complicity. His insights force us to question our assumptions about the way we communicate, the way we connect, the way we create meaning through media today.
“Obsolescence is the moment of superabundance,” he notes, making us think about why print took such a sharp nosedive, a decline from which it may never recover. In the world of photography books, that superabundance was all too obvious. With the transition to digital production at the same time that China grew in the print industry, costs declined so dramatically that the publishing model of producing more for less did itself in. While publishers were focused on producing cheap product, no one was talking market share or audience building. Instead publishers stood back as superstores killed the retail industry, only now to be terrorized by the power that Amazon wields. No small thing the company named itself after the great rainforest and the great woman warrior. Did publishers really think they stood a chance against a business model that took advantage of their short- sighted thinking?
McLuhan’s single quote in a book of 576 pages stands out to me, but that is only because that is the spread to which I flipped as I write this story. Turn another page and there is a question McLuhan poses. “What happens when the ad makers take over all the popular myths and poetry?” What do you think? What do you feel? We all live in a world where advertising has become culture and culture has become advertising and it becomes very difficult to distinguish the line between art and commerce. That is—if there ever was one to begin with.
The Book of Probes is, in many ways, the ultimate objet de McLuhan. It forces us to stop rushing from end to end, to enjoy the means and the journey instead. It asks us to contemplate and consider rather than conclude. It suggests that the answers do not matter as much as the questions do.
Originally Published 12 March 2012
in Le Journal de la Photographie
August 11, 2014
The portrait has become the icon of our times. Where we once venerated gods and saints, we now elevate ourselves to the object worthy of beholding, worthy of veneration—by ourselves, our loved ones, or by perfect strangers. The portrait is a means of recording that one moment in time as a universal constant; this is us now and forever more, this is who we are and how we see the world. And as we see, so we are seen. And as we believe, so we become.
The portrait was originally an invention of painting and sculpture, a means of recording greatness to sway the populace. Kings and queens and lesser nobles had likenesses produced as a means of asserting their power. For the image speaks in every language and can be understood by all, no matter when we live, what we perceive through our eyes is a mirror of the world.
When photography replaced painting as the tool of recording life, painting had to redefine itself. But photography, photography was immediately taken as a form of truth, as a means of both art and reportage at the same time. It is a construction, in as much as all objects exist in our mind first. But it also the reconstruction of memory as mediated through our contemplation of the object itself.
It is this, the significance of portraiture in our lives, that makes the work of photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé so profound. Their ability to show us the lives of modern Africans forever changes our assumptions about the place in which life began. The politics of Africa are so tremendous it does not behoove me to try to frame them within this piece, but suffice to say the work of these photographer strips us of the assumptions, prejudices, and distortions that history has decreed.
There is something about being one of the people that one photographs that has authenticity. Not just authenticity, but authority. Both Keïta and Sidibé are from Mali, one of the poorest nations in the world. But you would never know this to look at their photographs for the people who stood before their cameras maintain a dignity that defies the worst of circumstance. Humanity, such as it is recorded in portraiture, is how we see ourselves in our own eyes—and thus we reflect our self-image back on the world.
It is in these reflections that two beautiful new books have been released: Seydou Keïta: Photographs Bamako, Mali 1948–1963 (SteidlDangin) and Malick Sidibé: The Portrait of Mali (Skira). Sidibé’s photographs cover the period of the early1960s through the 1980s, making these volumes a discourse on the continuity of people, photography, and portraiture created in Mail from colonialism to revolution to dictatorship. Democracy was finally established, but that was after these photographs were taken, so what we are looking at is people living in the shadows and aftermath of French occupation.
The Keïta book is a marvel. It stands at 17 x 12.3 inches, with 412 pages and over 400 photographs. It is as much a piece of furniture as an objet d’art unto itself. It is a timeless compendium of portraits, mostly unpublished, taken by the man who became Bamako’s most successful portrait photographer during the 1950s and 60s.
It offers us a glimpse into the space where the public and private meet. For no matter how carefully we compose our face, there is always something in the eyes that gives us away. There is desire, dreams, hopes, fears. There is who we think we are and who we wish to be. There is who we are with one another, and who we are when we stand alone. Seydou Keïta: Photographs Bamako, Mali 1948–1963 is a picture window into a time and a place that few of us know or understand or investigate for the mythology of Africa is so vast and grand.
Keïta’s portraits show us that all the world over, in any time or place, humanity is more alike than it is different. We know love and we know hate. We know beauty and we know ugliness. We know others in as much as we know ourselves, and when we look at these portraits, what we see is the the ephemeral forever caught by the eternal.
Beautifully complementing this volume is the book by Sidibé, a paperback book that offers us a look both inside and outside the photographer’s studio. Sidibé’s work is taken after colonial occupation ended and we see the people of Bamako creating themselves as in a new world. It is a space where traditions of the past meet the opportunities of the present, where one can create themselves in the space between. Sidibé’s portraits have an emotional intensity that can only be ascribed to the space in between the photographer and the subject, that one moment in time where eyes connected and energy was shared, and the spirit of life is forever caught on silver gelatin paper.
In going outside the studio, Malick Sidibé: The Portrait of Mali shows us a larger world, an environment and a context into which these people appear. We see Mali through the eyes of one of its citizens, and the Mali he knows is not the Mali that is reported to the world. This is a place of power and beauty and style, and though it may be among the poorest nations in the world, you cannot put a price on pride.
The work of Keïta and Sidibé serves a great purpose—to enlighten and inspire us with self respect and self love. To understand Africa is to understand ourselves. Let us begin by listening to Africans tell us their truth.
First published 22 March 2012
Le Journal de la Photographie
August 8, 2014
Coney Island is a world unto itself. It is a time and place that exists independent of everything else. Situated where South Brooklyn meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is an urban fantasy of beachfront life. It is equal parts escapism and entertainment, strange and seedy and strikingly American at its core. It is a fantasy world of populist delight: rides, games, and half-naked girls.
Harvey Stein has been photographing life in this inimitable stretch of land since 1970 and the result is Coney Island: 40 Years 1970–2010 (Schiffer), and it features a carefully curated selection of images that take us there. From the boardwalk and the pier to the amusements and the Mermaid Parade to the workers and the beach, Stein’s photographs take all that is original and iconoclastic about Coney Island and puts them in arm’s reach.
While Coney Island is available to all, it is home to Brooklynites. It is a place that breeds its own kind of people and attracts them in kind. It has a “you tawkin to me?” kinda vibe that allows its denizens to live in the public eye with a kind of shameless nakedness of spirit that makes its inhabitants unlike any other. It attracts exhibitionists and voyeurs, the people themselves being the greatest part of the show. And whether they are participating or simply kicking back, they make for what, in Stein’s eye, is undoubtedly, a memorable photo opp.
There is a spirit of love and acceptance that surrounds this neighborhood, and part of that comes from being a place for escape—what goes on in Coney Island stays there. There is an urban edge to this slice of paradise, a way in which the bright sun casts a long shadow and there is a sense of something else lurking within this distinctive world. It is that the stress of New York is not quite forgotten but simply put aside, and it lingers and it floats and it makes one wonder just who these people are. How did they get here and how did they get this way? Stein’s photographs do not provide answers so much as they provoke question after question with each turn of the page.
Mr. Stein observes, “Coney Island is about people, it’s the people that intrigue me and what I am always drawn to photograph. All sizes, shapes, races, ages, religions, behaviors. The amusements, the sea, the open air, the sun and the sand all impart a kind of freedom of behavior that I don’t see anywhere else. And I am interested in the contradictions and ironies present in its social world. I am always impressed with how we all get along at Coney Island.”
Read the full story at THE CLICK.
Marilyn Monroe is a star cast to earth, a spirit in the flesh, and on camera, that’s ethereal. Eternal. Forever a star glowing bright in the sky and we watch as it burns, burns everything in its wake until one day, it’ vanishes. Explosions of sorts, and things leading in that direction, and stories and legends and myths. And Marilyn was the greatest star of them all.
August 5 marks the 52 anniversary of her death, a death that has become as iconic as the legend herself. Less than one year before she died, Monroe posed for Douglas Kirkland, who was then a young photographer on assignment for the 25 anniversary of Look magazine.
The date was November 17 and as Kirkland recounts in his book, With Marilyn, An Evening/1961 (Glitterati Incorporated), “My greatest difficulty during that meeting was telling Marilyn exactly how I wanted to photographer her. As I’d looked into her eyes, which seemed especially warm and virginal to me that evening, I felt as though my two older colleagues were sitting there in judgment, like two ancient schoolmasters, as I tried to gently seduce her into doing the picture I had envisioned, I felt conflicted: one part, the masculine, photographer side, just wanted to say, ‘You’ll get into this bed we’ll have, with nothing on, and we’ll figure it out from there. Period!’
“However, the Sunday School-side of my background wouldn’t let the words come out. Marilyn, with her sweet intuitiveness, made it easy. She simply said, ‘Okay I know exactly what we need. We need a bed with white silk sheets and nothing else, and it will work. But,’ she added, ‘the sheets must be silk.’ She had done the biggest part of my job for me: understood my ideas and articulated them better than I had been able to—bless her.”
In Kirkland’s photographs from this historic sitting, there is an energy, a spirit flowing through the ether, captured forever in these images, a force that floats through our fingers as we page through the book, which is page after page of Marilyn wearing nothing but Chanel No. 5 in bed. It is quite literally exquisite.
Read the full story at THE CLICK.
July 31, 2014
On the cover of Gitta Seiler’s About Girls (Kehrer Verlag) is a beautiful teenager carefully applying mascara to her lashes as she gazes in a compact. Her skin glows with the porcelain finish that youth possesses in droves, and she reclines comfortably as she makes herself beautiful. This image, one of pure repose, is soon revealed in a chapter headed by a single word: Aborted.
It is in this chapter that Seiler visits an abortion clinic for underage women, taking casually composed photographs that belie the pathos of the moment. There is something horrific about these images in that they are understated glimpses into a moment the turning point in many a girl’s life. We may debate the idea that pregnancy is ever unplanned, we may consider that every boy and girl knows the consequences for their actions and are tempting Fate for reasons we cannot understand, but we can consider this: once conception occurs, all preconceived notions are meaningless in the face of this decision. Life or death is controlled for the first time by women, very young women.
Seiler writes, “…I wait with mothers at bed who comfort, and concerned father. I wait for girlfriends who accompany their girlfriends. I wait for a very small ray of happiness. And there: The only boy on the bench serves the hopes of all. There are still people like this, if you’re lucky, people who stay, people who come with you, people who are there. I am stuck in the girl’s soul and I weep. I wipe away my tears and look in them mirror. Like the laughing girl in the mirror who says: it’s over, it’s better than yesterday, things will go on, things will happen. It is a passing misfortune.”
But is it?
Seiler’s photographs are distinctly unsentimental, quiet yet emotionally charged challenges to our assumptions about and understanding of girls. This challenge is issued to both men and women, for in looking at her photographs I find myself reconsidering everything.
Jailed is the single word of another chapter. Seiler takes what has become a fetish and shows us the dirty underbelly; reform school girls are not sexy. Skin is littered with self-inflicted cuts, with self-made tattoos, ad aged by stress. Does it matter what they did to get here, or should we consider who failed them first and led them to act out crimes as a way to release their pain?
There is something taboo about females committing crimes, if only because most shut down and quietly punish themselves. But here we see the girls whose aggression is so extreme, they decided to punish society instead. Like the girls in the abortion clinic, we can never know what lurks deep within their heart, what remorse they may feel (if any) for betraying themselves in this way.
Prison is a lonely place, a place where one is not just locked away from the world, but locked within themselves, forced to deal with or avoid the real issue. That recidivism is high is understandable; nothing about this space creates a feeling of trust, respect, or human potential.
Unwanted is a terror, a living nightmare. It is the story of some girls who did not have the abortion. It begs the question that we can never know; is it better to take a life or to bring it into this world under these conditions? I would hazard to say, there is no answer to this question, for no matter how you try to slice it, abortion is a horrific act. But so to is bringing a child into this world that you deeply resent.
And yet it is all too common for people to just this, not stopping to consider that not one person on this earth ever asked to be born. How it has come to pass that sex has become a thing that we so easily disrespect, so much so that lives can be destroyed by one of Nature’s greatest gifts is evidenced in Seiler’s photographs. There is no love; there is resentment and disgust, there is despair and despondency, there is a much bigger problem waiting to grow up and act out these emotions, emotions passed from by a dark spirit across generations.
Lastly, there is Ran Away, the first chapter of the book. Maybe these girls were unwanted, unloved once. Like all of Seiler’s photographs, it is impossible to know what has brought these girls to this point, what it takes to break them down into nothing but crumbs. About Girls is one of the most powerful and provocative portrait of girls that I have ever seen, taking on some of the darkest aspects of humanity without offering reprieve. But more than that it offers no answers at all but it offers a question mark, a call to rethink what we know.
First Published 28 October 2011
Le Journal de la Photographie
July 29, 2014
Debra Shriver, a 12th generation Southerner, Francophile, passionate preservationist and jazz devotee, is the author of two books on New Orleans: Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard (Glitterati Incorporated) and In the Spirit of New Orleans (Assouline). Although she is an inveterate New Yorker, living and working as a media executive here in the city, her heart belongs to New Orleans.
Shriver recalls, “Creating both books was a labor of love. Each was written in less than a year. I’d been collecting clips, photography, and books on New Orleans for years. I have always been a student of the city. Both volumes are a great mix of old and new, of vintage, historical, and contemporary street scenes, portraits, landscapes and still lifes.
The first book, Stealing Magnolias, was a very personal book. “There were many intimate vignettes taken throughout the house, like a café au lait served in the morning or a beautiful banana truffle adapted from a recipe I remembered as a child.
“New Orleans feeds all the senses,” Shriver said. “For me, ‘chic’ is another word for beauty. It could be the scent of a perfume, or a bottle of wine just poured, or the color of flowers on the table, or a person walking down the street with a bigger-than-life attitude.
“I opened Stealing Magnolias with a beautiful quote by Roald Dahl: ‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’’
Read the full story at THE CHIC.