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Books - die Foam-Liste Nr. 2, Dezember 08

von Sebastian Hau

Joan Fontcuberta: Deconstructing Osama

The truth about the case of Manbaa Mokfhi, Actar 2008 First of all, this is a surprising and quite beautiful book. Bound in leather, like a private journal or official document, with mostly arabic text and all images set against a mosaic relief, spanish publisher Actar has produced quite an object. The book, as do all of Fontcuberta’s aims at nothing less than the truth. In this case not about art or science but the ongoings around the Al Queda myth, which is still so strongly influencing politics today. Fontcuberta is one of the most innovative artists and photographers in Europe today, and in his recent political work his sharp anger and irony let us feel the righteousness of an artist who grew up during the Franco dictatorship. All of the images in this book, however manipulated they are, work against the currents of the dominating visual media culture we live in. A fictious character (who is no more convincing than the characters the media and governments present us as terrorists) played by Fontcuberta is set in the sort of images we see in the news. The simple recipe: arabic-looking men conspiring, waving guns, lecturing, praying. The book asks: who infiltrates who here? Which images and stories can we trust? And as Fontcuberta is not out to look for friends, his jokes ridicule both cultures, the islamic as much as our own. A discussion in French, Spanish and English between two Al-Azur journalists provides the back-drop of information, conspiracy, illusion and truth. In the way this book is produced against everything we want to believe, and showing us the failures in the way we perceive the world, it surely is one of the most important publications in this season.

There are a lot of images from the book on the photobookguide www.photobookguide.com/review/joan-fontcuberta/deconstructing-osama/ and a very interesting review by Jeffrey Ladd
"5b4.blogspot.com/2008/04/deconstructing-osama-by-joan.html"; 5b4.blogspot.com/2008/04/deconstructing-osama-by-joan.html .

Oliver Sieber: Character Thieves

Oliver Sieber has slowly built his reputation among the photographers of his generation through his precise portraits of very different circles within today’s youth culture. The fanzine (Böhm) he publishes with Katja Stuke, their exhibitions and their web gallery and all their projects follow a path of independence that rarely crosses the path of museums or galleries. Through this he has been able to work with Asian and North American photographers in a realm that goes by unnoticed by the larger public. In a word, he belongs to those independent photographers today, who sometimes become well-known, like Stephen Gill or Morten Andersen, but sometimes lesser known, who produce according to their own principles. This series that Sieber has been working on about cosplayers for two years now has become more extensive than his previous work. The book (which has just received a price for one of the best books 2008 from the society of German bookdealers) is produced in a clear design by Oliver Sieber himself that does its best to help focus on the images. It presents fifty portaits of those people who self-fashion dresses and dress up as their favourite anime, manga or video game character and go out to meet each other at social events. The community, mostly based in Japan, is growing and the cosplayers in the book are from such diverse places as New York, Berlin, Toronto and Osaka. The portraits were taken in the cosplayers' homes by which strategy Sieber confronts everyday life with this somewhat excentric reaction to consumer culture. The gap between someone that is an avid fan of action films or animes and someone that longs to become the hero is not so far in the end. Lara Croft, both guns drawn and her arms hanging by her sides, looking into the distance, photographed in front of her family home in a suburb in New Jersey. Looking at this well-shot portrait I can’t help asking myself, what kind of language can describe where this person is or wants to be? I like the way Sieber treats the people he works with and I’m prone to compare it to certain ideas Robert Bresson writes about in the „Cinematograph“, namely those concepts on working with non-professional actors to reduce the dramatical and psychological side.

The best way of checking out the book is on Oliver Sieber’s own site "www.os66.de/buch/"; www.os66.de/buch/ .

Kiyoshi Suzuki: Soul and Soul 1969 – 1999

Suzuki was a photographer who set his own course. He self-published his first book Soul and Soul in 1972 and was friends with photographers like Moriyama and Robert Frank. Apart from the Noorderlicht Wonderland exhibition in 1999 his work has not been shown outside Japan and consequently he is not very well-known. Machiel Botman and the Noorderlicht team have managed to produce a beautiful book that helps establish Suzuki as a photographer. Nine book dummies of his images and an intimate and thorough text by Botman help illuminate the background. But it is the poetical quality of Suzuki’s images and the loving way they are reproduced that makes this an instant classic and collector’s item. Suzuki was a perfectionist. His book dummies underwent changes so often that his search for meaning cannot be fixed by a single photograph. Only few photographers, like Ed van der Elsken, Myako Ishiuchi or Antoine D’ Agata, have succeeded in this: forming a visual language that is poetical and descriptive, raw and authentic, open and dark.

Noorderlicht has background infos at "www.noorderlicht.com/eng/gallery/suzuki/index.html"; www.noorderlicht.com/eng/gallery/suzuki/index.html and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg have opened an exhibition with his work on 20th November.

Niels Stomps: Mist

The Three Georges Dam in China was one of the dreams of Mao Tse-Tung. Since construction began photographers and film-makers have documented this gigantic project that so radically changes the face of the landscape as much as it puts the people living there in peril. From Burtynsky we learn about the first stage of construction, the architectural dimension of the building works; when Niels Stomps travelled there two years ago, he concentrated upon something different. For a younger generation of Dutch photographers, a lot of images have already been seen and there is no need to reproduce them. For this generation the production of a book means the same as an exhibition in a gallery meant in the eighties and nineties. Mist was designed to be lightweight, to present the images both as a narrative and as a series, to have a text on the side that provides the necessary information and facts about the dam and is comparable to the book Empty Bottles by Wassink and Lundgren. The photography is neither dramatic nor sentimental, it doesn’t shun the new stereotypes when it comes across them, the emotional response is drawn from the colors and light; if reality chooses to be structural, industrial and repetitive, fragments will be enough to understand whatever’s necessary. Mist sets this to work by showing us the empty spaces of the buildings that are so hastily built, the backsides of Chinese tourists, and the courts and backyards of the houses of the cities that rise and fall so easily in China today.

Stephen Gill, Series of Disappointments

A hand in a pocket that crunches a slip of paper, two hands that tear apart a slip of paper, fingers that roll another one into a tight cone. These are anonymous sculptures of lost hopes, hopes that range between 3 and 80 Euros. The betting slips that Stephen Gill has collected and photographed in the neighborhood where he lives, don´t tell their stories directly. Rather by going back and forwards through the 34 photographs, by comparing them, wondering which piece might have been the starting point, which image the end, by quieting down, focusing, feeling and thinking, this series, the sombre clarity of its photographs, that are like a echo chambre to lost emotions, begins to open up. Working on poverty and distress, as Paul Graham and others have shown allows no easy access and simple description. Over the past few years the different techniques and books that Stephen Gill has used express himself and to search for a language to come are among the most fullfilling world-wide.

There is a nice text and a very informative discussion on "5b4.blogspot.com/2008/05/series-of-disappointments-by-stephen.html"; 5b4.blogspot.com/2008/05/series-of-disappointments-by-stephen.html . I just saw Stephen Gill’s new artist book „warming down“ at Paris Photo and it knocked off my feet. All of his publications can be found under "www.stephengill.co.uk/nobody/books.html"; www.stephengill.co.uk/nobody/books.html .

Sergey Bratkov: Glory Days

Bratkovs work comes as a surprise. It’s now being exhibited at the Fotomuseum Winterthur and this is the catalogue to accompany it. The texts and the interviews help us understand a photographer whose way of working, critizing and provoking can be compared to Mikhailov – with whom he collaborated in the nineties – but who follows his own path, away from western notions, inventing itself anew for each new project. They share a passion for levering out dialectics, but Bratkov seems to have been less interested in photographical technique, and rather going for the straight shot photo. Confronted with those fotos, mostly direct and sometimes brutal, sometimes „banal“, it’s not easy to undergo the clichés that Bratkov puts into play to overcome the language of propaganda and lies. For the younger Western generation the old dialectics of the east are not easy to understand and thus the interview with its hilarious stories provides necessary background infos. His recent work from the post-communist era, panoramas of petty bourgeois gatherings are more distanced than i.e. the portray of a twelve-year old in make-up, smoking a cigarette, or a man sitting next to a murdered dog, or a dog sucking on a women’s breast. But I directly felt this is man that can be trusted, although his images seem to lie.

A little background info is at "blog.sonicsites.de/2008/06/11/sergey-bratkov/"; blog.sonicsites.de/2008/06/11/sergey-bratkov/ .

Christoph Büchel: Korean Business Directoy 1975 – 76

Christoph Büchel is an artist at the brink of larger fame. He is, let's call it "open for discussions", which means he goes a long way to materialize his certainly difficult projects and installations. I cannot imagine how he persuaded the publisher to realise this book. It is the facsimile replica of a korean business report (including a printed-in bookmark) with clippings from German magazines and TV guides inside. The choice of images and texts reminds me a little of Feldmann's "Voyeur" and I could surmise that a similar interest to Peter Piller's is at work, looking into the dark heart of the petite bourgeousie and the hidden ghosts of German history, but overall this is a totally incrompehensible book. Why is it worth mentioning? From the first time I saw it up to now, I keep going back and forth, enyoing the interplay between the clippings and the business directory (which is just as boring as one imagines it to be). I feel Büchel is formulating an idea that is not so far from what Martin Parr has been doing, lowering himself deeply into the lowest strata of our society and then willfully mixing his findings.

More info on the publisher’s webpage "www.snoeck.de/09102.html"; www.snoeck.de/09102.html .

Luca Nimcova: Unofficial

Luca Nimcova has made a small collection of the images that were taken in the eighties in her hometown in Slowakia by a commissioned photographer and put them together in one little volume and the second volume holds her own images and portraits from today. The black-and-white pictures from the 80s are mostly from official gatherings and are questioned as to their historic value and their ability to tell the truth not by a historian but by someone who appears in them and who cares about what they can tell about the past. Then Luca Nimcova started portraying the people again, sometimes bringing them back to the old settings, townhalls and schools, sometimes just photographing the life in the city today and these images make for some humoristic and emotional responses to the "found photos" from the first little book. The books come in a box and are nicely produced. I would go so far as to say this project has a distinct "Dutch" charm.

I very much recommend Luca’s own website "www.luco.sk/"; www.luco.sk/ . Also there is a brief interview on lensculture www.lensculture.com/nimcova.html .

Onaka Koji: The Dog in France

Onaka Koji is among those Japanese photographers from the new generation that awaits his discovery outside Japan. In the beginning of the nineties Koji went for a short trip to France, to flee "personal problems" in Tokyo. Neither did he know French at the time, nor did he have any plans on what to do. The series that came out of it is sentimental and melancholic, in a way that reminds me of Laurence Sterne or Robert Frost. Not that the images are literary, but the mood the traveller seeks is solitary and sensitive. In later works Koji evades those dangers and his photos today have become simple and beautiful, "inevitable". His images are dense, nearly palpable, but not overwhelming nor very artistic. He is not overly concerned with his personal problems, and a picture of his drab hotel room does not result in nabel-gazing. His sentimental style never errs from the documentary approach he has learned from his elders (his first exhibition was with the Camp group in Tokyo). This is a small and very appealing book. And on his webpage you can find out more about his books and other projects. Koji is among those Japanese photographers to look out for!



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Schlagworte: Joan Fontcuberta, Niels Stomps, Sergey Bratkov, Christoph Büchel, Luca Nimcova, Onaka Koji, Oliver Sieber, Kiyoshi Suzuki, Stephen Gill