Seiichi Furuya

First Trip to Bologna 1978 / Last Trip to Venice 1985

Book review by Alex Merola

A poetic chronicle of the first and last trips with his late wife, Seiichi Furuya’s latest synthesis of photography and narrative probes the photobook’s potential to reimagine the archive ad infinitum, writes Alex Merola.


Invoking Sigmund Freud’s idea of melancholia as unresolvable mourning, Susan Sontag, in On Photography (1977), describes photographs as melancholy objects that express the ‘vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction’. Yet, in the partaking of nostalgia, the fascination with death that photographs exercise is, as Sontag warns, ‘also an invitation to sentimentality’.[i] Few knew this better than Roland Barthes, who found a premonitory suggestion of an open wound in every indexical mechanical trace. His own Camera Lucida (1980) is of course a meditation on absence, compounded by his decision to withhold publication of the very photograph at the core of his musings: his deceased mother as a child in a winter garden.

Sentimentality might be too cloying a word to use in relation to Seiichi Furuya’s Mémoires, but it isn’t too wide off the mark either. Haunted by guilt ever since that catastrophic Sunday of 1985 – the “dull thud”, the strewn sandals by the open window – Furuya has revisited, over and over again, the vast archive of photographs made during the life he shared with his late wife, Christine Gössler. The resulting synthesises of photography and narrative are amongst the most powerful reflections on love, death and memory we have seen, and, indeed, few artists of our time have booked as faithfully as Furuya has. The Mémoires series was actually said to have been laid to rest on two occasions: the respective publications of the 2010 and 2020 editions. The fact that Furuya has returned with another book, however, should be unsurprising considering the sentiments he expressed at the end of Christine Furuya-Gössler: Mémoires, 1978–1985 (1997): ‘The more one blows on a fire trying to put it out, the larger the flame becomes. One stops blowing. The cold blue of the flame changes to a soft red. Why is that I tried to extinguish that warm, gentle fire?’[ii]

A beautiful volume containing a gorgeously varied narrative fabric, First Trip to Bologna 1978 / Last Trip to Venice 1985 is Furuya’s second collaboration with Chose Commune, and arguably his most experimental yet. It is divided into two chapters which literally bookend his and Christine’s seven-year-long relationship. The first, entitled First Trip to Bologna 1978, is comprised of stills extracted from rolls of Super 8 film which Furuya shot during his and Christine’s trip less than one month after they met. (The films were subsequently forgotten in Furuya’s attic, lost within the depths of memory.) Across black-paged spreads which open completely flat courtesy of the otabinding, the stills are laid out in spontaneous grid and linear arrangements, expanding upon the cinematic sequencing sporadically at work in Mémoires 1983 (2006). Furuya does not so much record a blossoming romance as remake it, the presence of Christine, ever insouciant in her grace, fluttering in and out of view like a soft red flame.

If the stills – which have been extracted with extreme precision, often to the extent that their lapses in time are almost imperceptible – represent the artist’s attempt to integrate moments both registered in the imagination and archived in memory, the black spaces that border them represent the abyss against which they compete. Measured irregularly in width and scale, they unravel like the fragmented rhythms of (mis)remembrance. ‘Despite this more than sufficient evidence, I cannot remember a single moment of the events’, Furuya’s words conclude the chapter’s climactic episode: Christine getting out of bed, in reverse. With the vertical strips resulting in lovely, undulating flickering effects, the filmic debt is strong. However, where, in cinema, the succession of frames is jointed by the vision and continuity provided by spectator’s nervous system in order to attain the flow of time, here, the stills are indefatigable in their stasis. Whilst one is reminded that these are indeed images, bearing, as Barthes articulated, a ‘lacerating emphasis’ on the that-has-been,[iii] the reversal speaks to something even more profound altogether: that they conform to what we think we remember, or want to.

At the book’s mid-way point, one realises that the strategy of reversal is essential to the book’s formal manifestation, too. The “second” chapter reads back-to-front, requiring the reader to flip the book in order to view the photographs their right way up. There’s a sparser, celestial quality here, the result, perhaps, of the shift to white paper (then again, the end is always in mind). The couple appear in a photobooth portrait: the intensity of Christine’s gaze – the evidence of her advanced schizophrenia – is more pointed. What follows is a revised sequencing of Last Trip to Venice (2002), a small, modest book chronicling the couple’s time in Venice, one week after Christine was discharged from hospital in 1985. ‘The destination did not matter’, Furuya wrote in a text in the original, recalling the wishes of Christine: “Somewhere far away… Just the two of us.”

The imagery of Venice derives from two rolls of accidentally re-exposed film overlapping photographs from that trip and Furuya’s subsequent shots of East Berlin. Whilst some of these “accidents” bear a surreal aesthetic charge – the light flares scattered across the canal bridge, the luminous starfish drifting into a dissolving sky – most are at odds with the technical and compositional sharpness of Furuya’s previously published photographs. That said, the artist’s motivation has never been to show great photographs – though there have been many – but to probe or renew their effects under the accumulative weight of time and human destiny. Following the arc of Mémoires, one can observe the ways in which Furuya has gradually relinquished his authorial command. Where Face to Face (2020), his previous book, credits Christine as a co-author, this book has been independently (re)edited by Chose Commune’s director, Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi, whose soft, considered hand can be felt throughout. Furuya’s next book, he has said, will go one step further and compose, in some 650 pages, photographs made by Christine: a total fulfilment of the aspiring actress’ ambitions.

Although Furuya has always considered Mémoires a collaboration with Christine, its tragic motif is that they can never coexist; she is here because he has turned to her. And because Furuya’s troubled wife, in 1985, chose not to be, the risk has always been that she might serve as a tragic heroine. Some readers have, for example, conflated personal loss with collective loss, made all the more convenient by way of the fact that it was during the television broadcast of the parade celebrating the 36th anniversary of the soon-to-collapse German Democratic Republic that Christine threw herself from the apartment window. Indeed, the spatiotemporal paradoxes – the ‘anterior futures’[iv] – invariably feel like poetic fate: Christine, in Venice, superimposed by the bleak cityscapes of East Berlin, an environment yet to be experienced; a catastrophe that has already occurred.

However, Mémoires, in its entirety, is less a premonition of loss than it is an exercise in how Furuya actively remembers – or (re)constructs – the world. After all, Christine was not the always the centre of the photographer’s eye, even if she was his “I”. Take, for instance, Mémoires 1995 (1995), which laces alternate impressions of the couple’s stays in East Berlin and Dresden with views of flowers, plants and portraits of Bosnian war refugees, or indeed the inaugural Mémoires (1989), which moves through displays of architecture, animals, streets, ephemera, landscapes and portraits. Likewise, his latest book finds Christine floating within a sea of disparate images: of East German architecture; Venetian church façades; political demonstrations; city squares; mountains; shop interiors. Despite Furuya’s photographic compulsions, there is no sense of possession here – as there is, for example, in Masahisa Fukase’s photographs of his wife Yoko – but, rather, of being possessed. The arbitrary superimpositions of Venice embody Christine’s literal entanglement within the author’s perception of his past, further materialised in the book’s vulnerably-thin, translucent jacket, on which montaged frames overlap with alternating degrees of opacity: the stuff dreams are made of.

Resisting the sentimental even as he invokes it is Furuya’s quiet triumph, for the books of Mémoires are ultimately meditations not in the past tense but the eternal present. In response to Furuya’s Last Trip to Venice, Sally Stein suggested that Furuya’s compilation of “accidents” – supposedly salvaged from the ‘bottom of the archival barrel’ – indicated that he may have reached the end of his ‘archival possibility’.[v] Yet, this book, with its innovative visual strategies and anti-chronologies, attests, perhaps even more eloquently than its precursors, to the ways in which the archive can be reimagined to infinity. The destination did not matter… To my mind, a subtle metaphor for Furuya’s life’s work – his ultimate journey – for mourning can never know closure. Christine was, and will never cease being, the start of everything. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Chose Commune © Seiichi Furuya

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words.

References:

[i] Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Dell Publishing, 1977), pp. 70–71.

[ii] Seiichi Furuya, “Adieu Wiedersehen” in Christine Furuya-Gössler: Mémoires, 1978–1985 (Kyoto: Korinsha Press, 1997).

[iii] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), p. 96.

[iv] Ibid., Barthes, p. 96.

[v] Sally Stein, “Seiichi Furuya: Last Trip to Venice” in Camera Austria #81 (2003), p. 14.

Images:

1>5-Seiichi Furuya, Bologna, 1979

6>9-Seiichi Furuya, Venice, 1985

10-Christine Furuya-Gössler, Venice, 1985

Photo London 2022

Top five fair highlights

Selected by Alex Merola

Bringing together over 100 exhibitors from around the globe, Photo London has returned to Somerset House for its seventh edition. Brimming with bold impressions on the medium from early trailblazers through to today’s most exceptional talents, it has something for all tastes. Here are five standout displays from the capital’s premier photography fair – selected by 1000 Words Assistant Editor, Alex Merola.


1. Once Upon the War in Kharkiv
Alexandra de Viveiros

Maintaining a robust commitment to the dissident photographers of Ukraine’s Kharkiv School of Photography – borne in the early 1970s out of a city now besieged by Russian troops – Alexandra de Viveiros’ presentation prompts a particularly urgent viewing. Of marked significance here are the pieces by Evgeniy Pavlov, one of the co-founders of the Vremia Group, which set out to create a visual opposition to dominant Soviet narratives and the aesthetic canon of Social Realism. Pavlov’s Archive Series (1965–88) italicises scenes of everyday life with a quiet, personal lyricism through colour retouching, whilst his ragged photo-collage, dated 1985, keeps the mind busy and ambiguity open. Sharing these walls with Pavlov are father and son Victor and Sergey Kochetov, whose wonderfully expressive hand-tinted prints – referencing Boris Mikhailov’s art of luriki – communicate both the backwardness of Soviet technology as well as a nostalgic attachment towards it. With the inclusion of the School’s newest wave of activities – Vladyslav Krasnoshchok’s harrowing hallucinations of the medical emergencies at a Kharkiv hospital, for instance – de Viveiros has staged a small but powerful constellation bringing together three generations of Ukrainian photographers, all united in their upholding of the right to independence and the freedom of artistic gesture.

2. Anastasia Samoylova, Floridas
Galerie—Peter—Sillem 

Concurrent with showing at The Photographers’ Gallery as part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2022, Anastasia Samoylova’s solo booth with Frankfurt’s Galerie—Peter—Sillem is an unmissable affair. Hung in handsome, white-wooden frames, the artist’s prints prevail for their technical brio: sleek, delectable renderings of colour which magically transcribe that distinctly brilliant Floridian light. However, what’s alluring is also alarming, for they convey the contradictory lives of a state totally distracted by its own self-image whilst in the throes of ecological implosion. Though these layered photographs contain subtle references to Walker Evans’ extensive but oft-overlooked body of work made in “Sunshine State” – a kinship teased out in Floridas (2022), her exceptional new book which is available to peruse here – Samoyolova is very much her own artist. Her merging of meticulous observation, deceptive aesthetic and sharp socio-environmental concern marks her out as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated photographers working today – and, indeed, one of the most important to reckon with the fallacies of Florida.

3. Christine Elfman, All solid shapes dissolve in light
EUQINOM Gallery

With an eye for experimental and rigorous photo-based practice, San Francisco-based EUQINOM Gallery has delivered a dynamic display as part of this year’s Discovery section – dedicated to emerging galleries and overseen by 1000 Words Editor-in-Chief, Tim Clark. Commanding a particularly slow and conscious appreciation here are the variously violet-hued anthotypes of Christine Elfman, who, with her series All solid shapes dissolve in light (2019–22), has developed an exquisite technique involving light-sensitive dyes harvested from lichen and month-long solar exposures to produce photographs whose chemical properties mean they are constantly fading. Boasting breathtaking degrees of detail, these capricious pieces reveal those infinitesimal shifts in colour, contrast or density to only the most patient and attentive observers. That these studies are at once disappearing and also becoming is perhaps their most confounding and, ultimately, magical quality. Elfman is evidently as curious about philosophical questions as by photographic ones, and how thrilling it is to find an artist employing such an early analogue process whilst, in turn, upending that dusty, medium-old fantasy of ‘fixity’.

4. The Gallery of Everything

Few in the UK have done more to further the integration and celebration of so-called “outsider artists” – historically sideswiped by the mainstream – than James Brett has, and the fine line he has drawn between the professional and the vernacular at The Gallery of Everything’s (debut) outing makes it one of the most stimulating of this year’s fair. There’s a charming amateurism in the air, with some of the superstars of self-taught image-making packing these walls. Miroslav Tichý’s small, weathered objects – stolen glimpses of female forms through cameras constructed from cans and junk – wind up with a melancholic resonance, as do the mise-en-scène of Morton Bartlett, a fascinating figure who, in the 1940s and ’50s, built and photographed a cast of life-sized dolls that sublimated his lack of “real” relatives (there’s a unique opportunity to see one in the flesh, too). In the company of William Mortensen’s beguiling studio shot of a witch flying a broom, Bartlett’s works surprise for their uncanny awareness of the power of light, shadow and composition. Turning it up a notch are Pierre Molinier’s silver gelatin prints: formally-classic yet thoroughly transgressive propositions on gender, fetishism and narcissism. Flailing an impossible number of limbs encased in stockings, he’s seen through a peep hole, like this booth in general.

5. The Countess of Castiglione
James Hyman Gallery

For their rarity alone, the private, performative self-portraits of the Countess of Castiglione are a must-see. Yet, what is most successful about James Hyman Gallery’s tightly-curated booth, comprised of over 50 prints from three periods (1856–57, 1861–67 and 1893–95), is the way in which it offers a complex narrative arc charting the seductress’ mutating identities and inner-realities. However compliant in the eye of the camera the Countess might appear – self-masqueraded with masks, ballgowns and crowns which, as Abigail Solomon-Godeau argued, saw her act as a ‘scribe’ of predetermined and delimited feminine tropes – she is a rare example of a 19th century woman constructing images for her own gaze: a subject tricking us into thinking she is an object. Whilst the cynosure here is a pair of gold-framed, elaborately-painted photographs which have been unveiled for the first time ever, the most poignant pictures are the final ones through which the aristocrat confronts the impermanence of her beauty. This is a very special tribute to a practitioner whose place within the canon, one feels, should be radically reconsidered. After all, before Cindy Sherman and indeed Claude Cahun, there was the Countess, delving into the work images do and the lives they somehow lead us, or free us, to live.♦

Photo London runs at Somerset House until 15 May 2022.

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. 

Images:

1-Evgeniy Pavlov, ‘Untitled’ from Archive Series (1965–88). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

2-Viktor and Sergiy Kochetov, ‘Untitled’ (1990). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

3-Vladyslav Krasnoshchok, ‘Untitled’ from Bolnichka (2010–18). Courtesy the artist and Alexandra de Viveiros.

4-Anastasia Samoylova, Venus Mirror (2020). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

5-Anastasia Samoylova, Rust, Hollywood (2019). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

6-Anastasia Samoylova, Chain Link Fence, Miami (2018). Courtesy the artist and Galerie—Peter—Sillem.

7-Christine Elfman, Cloth Water Stone II (2021) (Variation II). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

8-Christine Elfman, Reproduction I (2020) (Variation II). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

9-Christine Elfman, Reproduction III (2021) (Variation III). Courtesy the artist and EUQINOM Gallery.

10-Miroslav Tichý, ‘Untitled’. Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

11-Morton Bartlett, ‘Untitled’ (c.1950). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

12-William Mortensen, Myrdith on Broom (c.1930). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

13-Pierre Molinier, ‘Untitled’ (1966). Courtesy The Gallery of Everything.

14-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, L’innocence, variation sur La Reine D’Etrurie (1863). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

15-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, La toilette (1861–67). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

16-The Countess of Castiglione in collaboration with Pierre-Louis Pierson, La Comtesse de Castiglione (1894). Courtesy James Hyman Gallery.

Top 10 (+1)

Photobooks of 2021

Selected by Alex Merola and Tim Clark

As the year draws to a close, an annual tribute to some of the exceptional photobook releases from 2021 – selected by Editor in Chief, Tim Clark, with words from Assistant Editor, Alex Merola.

1. Gilles Peress, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing
Steidl

What Gilles Peress has achieved with Whatever You Say, Say Nothing – unsurprisingly shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2022 – is astonishing, and surely must rank amongst the highest feats in photobook history. In some 2,000 pages, sprawled across two volumes as well as an almanac entitled Annals of the North, the esteemed French photographer embarks on a visual and philosophical exploration of the ethno-nationalist conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. With no beginning, middle or end, Peress’ tale defies the orthodoxies of linear narrative by orchestrating 22 semi-fictional “days”: days that recycle, over and over, the rituals of violence, protest and grieving; days in which the carnage becomes inseparable from the quotidian. That said, whilst Peress exploits photography’s “reality effect” to register the material specifics of the Troubles, it’s in the work’s accumulation that the strife operates synecdochically. For it expresses – like a photographic Finnegans Wake (1939) – what is elsewhere – or, rather, everywhere: the simultaneity of good and evil; the push and pull of power; the helicoidal unravelling of time. That this work speaks to such profound, ineffable ideas is a testament to the potential of the photobook when it finds its upper limits. And, indeed, few could have executed this unison between content, structure and form so flawlessly as Gerhard Steidl has: a book of all books, unlike anything that has come before.

2. Gregory Eddi Jones, Promise Land
Self Publish, Be Happy Editions

With the mounting complexities which define our times requiring increasingly sophisticated modes of storytelling, it is exciting to witness an artist invent something so utterly imaginative that it makes us see the world anew. Promise Land, by Gregory Eddi Jones, is one such example. In this whirling, poetic mashup, Jones riffs off T. S. Eliot’s apocalyptic epic, The Waste Land (1922), of course penned in the wake of the First World War and influenza pandemic. Aligned with Eliotean tactics of appropriation, Jones’ sequences are comprised of stock photographs: consumerist fantasies which, for the artist, not only bespeak the excesses of contemporary culture, but represent photography in its most hollow, debased and regurgitative state. Through a profusion of détournements – cropping, compositing, inverting, inkjet hacking and digital retouching – Jones makes implicit values explicit, inviting readers to re-evaluate the relationship between photography and truth, or sever their ties altogether. Here is a work that is bold, irreverent and oftentimes chilling, not least for the bookending displays of a composer waving his wand before a spell-bound audience; suggestions that there may be as much method as madness in this heap of broken images.

3. Hoda Afshar, Speak The Wind
MACK

From start to close – and vice versa – Hoda Afshar’s Speak The Wind entrances with its eloquent rendition of zār: the wind spirits which, for millennia, have shaped the topography and traditions of the islanders of the Strait of Hormuz, an oil passageway joining the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. They are said to inflict disease, placated only through ritual dialogues conducted with the gusts themselves. Situated somewhere between the sacred and the baleful, Afshar’s incantatory, cinematically-paced photographs do not so much conjure a people but channel their psychic entanglement with place. Punctuating the book are bound pages depicting wind-sculpted mountains; they form pockets that conceal islanders’ drawings and writings describing their experiences of being possessed by zār. Afshar’s dimensional switches cleverly rupture photography’s predispositions for certainties; those which can be clutched, seen. It’s easy to get swept up by these pages, to concede to forces greater than us, yet Afshar also empowers readers like she does her subjects. Setting foot on twinkling black sands, or setting sail through seas as red as blood, we are ultimately met by a crossroads: between reality and fiction; between this world and another.

4. Tarrah Krajnak, El Jardín de Senderos Que Se Bifurcan
Dais Books

The breakthrough of Tarrah Krajnak has been one of the most significant of the year, and the artist’s nuanced handling of archival material is on full view in this precious book. Borrowing the title and parable blueprint of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, The Garden of Forking Paths (1941), it plays a deep concern with the circumstances surrounding her birth: amidst the terror of Peru’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, Krajnak’s biological mother travelled to Lima to work as a maid; she was raped, and gave birth to Krajnak in 1979, ‘the year of the orphans’. Instead of attempting to resolve these personal and political narratives, Krajnak invents mothers, imagines lineages and initiates what she calls ‘misremembrance’. The asymmetrical sequences pull our attention in fractured ways, moving through re-photographed images from political magazines, oral testimonies of women born in 1979 and the artist’s interactions with projections in which temporalities enmesh like palimpsests. Krajnak’s sharp prose and deliberate mistranslations bestow an added intensity to this book’s reckoning with subjectivity as much as history, all the while collapsing the boundaries between them. With El Jardín de Senderos Que Se Bifurcan, Krajnak shows that affinity can be innate, even historical, persisting in the psyches of those separated by space and time yet linked by collective knowledge, memory and trauma. Theirs is a storied history, seen through a glass, darkly.

5. Catherine Opie
Phaidon

Boasting lavish printing and impeccable production values, Phaidon’s survey of Catherine Opie’s prodigious output is of the highest order and entirely befitting of one of the great chroniclers of this century. There is much to be praised for the ways in which over 300 photographs, spanning 40 years, have been mapped, not chronologically, but thematically across three chapters: People, Place and Politics. Yet, the lines which delineate them are almost non-existent. One spread pairs a headshot of Pig Pen (Opie’s long-time friend and subject) donning a fake moustache with a photograph of a lesbian couple seated in their backyard with arms interlocked; another the iconic ‘Self-Portrait/Cutting’ (1993) with a literal manifestation of the domestic scene carved-out on Opie’s back. They are juxtapositions that steer us towards the central paradox of Opie’s oeuvre: for all its supposed extremity in staging the queer body as a site of self-actualisation, there is, at its heart, a yearning for the fundamental. Because, whether documenting human, ecological or architectural subjects, she never strays far from home, hence the tome’s modest, perfectly-judged cover, which displays the young artist photographing herself in the mirror alongside potted plants and a wood burning stove. Opie’s work feels vital; it always did.

6. Raymond Meeks, Somersault
MACK

Raymond Meeks’ very beautiful and affecting ode to ­his daughter, Abigail, is a charged companion piece to his much admired aubade, ciprian honey cathedral (2020). Through imperceptible yet tenderly convicted narrative shifts, Meeks unveils the inner-world of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood and leaving home. He coaxes out Abigail’s emotional subtleties in a way perhaps only a parent could; she is alternately timid, whimsical, inquisitive and fearless. However, Meeks honours the guarded mysteries of adolescence, too. Abigail becomes, for her father, a horizon where intimacy and loneliness converge, as mirrored by Meeks’ sublime evocation of the wilderness that envelops their home, delicately tethered by train tracks, telephone wires and wilting daisies. His impossibly lucid visions crackle with longing throughout until we reach the parting words of Abigail herself, who recalls the innocent daydream of her younger self: ‘She wants to climb on a train and go where it takes her.’ The grace of Somersault is to measure distance whilst recognising that few distances are ever fixed.

7. Zora J Murff, True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis)
Aperture

Where Zora J Murff ’s previous book, At No Point in Between (2019), takes as its subject the historically Black neighbourhood of North Omaha, Nebraska, his new book is nation-wide in scope. Beneath the swirling surface of True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) – currently displayed in exhibition form at Webber Gallery, London – lies a provocative meditation on America: its fragile bonds, elective affinities and colonial legacies. From police brutality and lynching to redlining and economic oppression, violence – fast and slow – runs through the veins of this book, so arresting in its dense web of image types: vernacular photography, newspaper clippings, Internet screenshots, video stills, landscapes, portraiture and more. Murff’s dexterous use of juxtaposition – often contextualising his own photographs alongside found and appropriated material – brings into focus the medium’s complicity in creating and maintaining racial hierarchies through the spectacle, commodification or erasure of Black bodies. This book serves as not only a complicated, oft-impenetrable ‘manual’ for coming to terms with the country’s past and navigating its present, but – true to its title – an autobiographical retelling of the epiphanies of a young Black artist finding his voice. And it’s emphatic.

8. Massao Mascaro, Sub Sole
Chose Commune

Sub Sole ­– a classical, richly-layered piece of narrative work which was recently exhibited in an elegant show curated by Fannie Escoulen at Fondation A Stichting, Brussels – follows after Homer’s The Odyssey (c.750 BC), traversing the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Its waters have, since time immemorial, been a crucible for voyages: some mythical and heroic; some real and tragic. Against the backdrop of such tense, intersecting contexts, Massao Mascaro furnishes our gaze across relics, architecture and the gestural relations between those who have sought refuge in Europe. These passing impressions are loosely arranged through nine visual poems, each introduced by a literary fragment which rolls along the bottom edges. The clarity of Mascaro’s frames; the lyricism of his sequences; the mesmerising gradations of Mediterranean light: all of them are a function of the casual grandeur of the world he has crafted. Yet, there is also a deeply disturbing cycle to this book, which ultimately feels suspended in time – timeless even – as intimated by the dialless clock that decorates its front cover, or the line from which its title derives: ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes, 1:10).

9. Frida Orupabo
Sternberg Press and Kunsthall Trondheim

Although the subversive strategies of Frida Orupabo are best experienced via her Instagram feed, @nemiepeba, and on the gallery wall, this debut monograph affords a persuasive translation of her work in book form. The opening black pages (preceding incisive essays by Stefanie Hessler, Lola Olufemi and Legacy Russell) showcase Orupabo’s social media images, offering flashes of the artist’s extraordinary online archive – a ‘voluptuous trail of black continuity’, as Arthur Jafa called it – which she uses as a laboratory to make her paper collages. Whilst the inclusion of installation views here attests to the uneasy transitions these physical pieces undergo when they enter the gallery’s white space, it also evinces the manifold ways of seeing Black bodies that Orupabo compels. W. E. B. Du Bois’ notion of ‘double consciousness’ – that is, viewing oneself through the coloniser’s eyes – is undeniable, but so too is bell hooks’ ‘oppositional gaze’. Orupabo’s greatest triumph might be in the transmission of a wholly new consciousness, found in the unforgettable, searing stares of her feminine protagonists. Their pasts are fraught, but, in Orupabo’s curative hands, they embody the spirit of resistance that literally underpins them.

10. Alexis Cordesse, Talashi
Atelier EXB

The catalytic inquiry of Alexis Cordesse’s subtle entry into the vernacular genre is this: how does one evoke a tragedy that is paradoxically made invisible through too many images? The tragedy in question is the Syrian civil war, an ongoing conflict that has displaced over half the country’s population since 2011. Seeking an alternative to the sentimental dramatisations of war all too often circulated by mainstream media, Cordesse performs an act of collective remembrance by collating personal photographs belonging to those living in exile in Turkey, Germany and France; those who entrusted him enough to share the memories they hold dear. These artefacts have, like their owners, survived perilous journeys, for, if they had been seized as pieces of evidence at the borders, they might not have made it – and, indeed, many didn’t. Such is the precarity of Talashi, whose title translates from Arabic to Fragmentation, Erosion or Disappearance. Slowly weaving what ultimately becomes an ever-vanishing tapestry of home, this book quakes with a quiet, mournful energy: a reminder that though all photographs are silent, some are more silent than others.

+1. What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843–1999
10×10 Photobooks

The advent of photobook history – a still relatively new field of study – set in motion the books-on-photobooks. Although doing much to further our understanding of the medium, they have failed to redress the canon’s long-standing male biases. Enter What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843–1999. In the foreword to this important anthology, editors Russet Lederman and Olga Yatskevich stress the issues of access and funding or lack thereof; ergo their necessary expansion of what constitutes a “photobook” via the inclusion of albums, scrapbooks and maquettes. Indeed, marginalised histories are not just a question of gender, but of class and race too, hence the scarcity of, for example, African photobooks as opposed to books-on-Africa. The anthology countervails these factors through its signature turn: an interwoven, parallel timeline that charts publishing, magazine and small press events which might not have realised “photobooks” in the narrow, Western sense, but certainly influenced history. Many of these notations are incomplete, acting more like leads. Of course, one wishes that such a sole dedication to female authors did not have to exist. However, until it doesn’t, it prevails as a critical resource for discovering forgotten parts of photobook history: a history that is longstanding, forever rich yet still being written.♦

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. 

Tim Clark is Editor in Chief at 1000 Words, and a writer, curator and lecturer at The Institute of Photography, Falmouth University. He lives and works in London.

Images:

1-Gilles Peress, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing (Steidl, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Steidl.

2-From the chapter ‘The Last Night’ in Gilles Peress, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing (Steidl, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Gilles Peress Studio.

3-‘Betterland’ (2019) from Gregory Eddi Jones, Promise Land (Self Publish, Be Happy Editions, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Self Publish, Be Happy Editions.

4-‘Untitled’ from Hoda Afshar, Speak The Wind (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

­5-‘Dead Ringer/Self-Portrait as Found Photograph (1979 Lima, Peru)’ (2018) from Tarrah Krajnak, El Jardín de Senderos Que Se Bifurcan (Dais Books, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Dais Books.

6-‘Joanne, Betsy & Olivia, Bayside, New York’ (1998) from Catherine Opie (Phaidon, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Lehmann Maupin, New York/Hong Kong/Seoul/London; Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Naples and Peder Lund, Oslo.

7-‘Untitled’ from Raymond Meeks, Somersault (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

8-‘Stole-On (or, I wanna be a world star)’ (2021) from Zora J. Murff, True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Webber Gallery, London.

9-‘Untitled’ from Massao Mascaro, Sub Sole (Chose Commune, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Chose Commune.

10-‘Untitled’ (2017) from Frida Orupabo (Sternberg Press and Kunsthall Trondheim, 2021). Courtesy the artist, Sternberg Press and Kunsthall Trondheim.

11-‘Untitled’ from Alexis Cordesse, Talashi (Atelier EXB, 2021). Courtesy the artist and Atelier EXB.

12-Spread from Christina Broom and Isabel Marion Seymour, Women’s Social and Political Union Postcards Album (self-published, 1908–14). Courtesy Museum of London.

Brea Souders

Vistas

Essay by Alex Merola

What will be left for us to probe? What ‘aesthetic entrances’ will be used? Alex Merola on Brea Souders’ weaving of pixels and pigments that offers intricate yet epic articulations of the natural world, continuing long traditions of American landscape photography.


The counter-mapping of Michael Wolf, Doug Rickard and Jon Rafman – armchair street photographers who arrived following the inception of Google Street View in 2007 – was distinctly radical at the point of emergence. They mined data captured by roving robot cameras to uncover the forgotten, harrowing and sometimes sublime. Yet, given our urge to seek out the unchartered and unseen, have the possibilities of such appropriations been exhausted? After all, as Philip Larkin ventured: ‘All streets in time are visited’ (1961). So entered Google Photo Sphere in 2013. The software enables users to take 360-degree panoramas deep in the wild, where there are no roads, utilising AI to stitch together hundreds of images and construct navigable constellations. Whilst Rafman even trawled Street View to discover parallel histories of the medium – with one screenshot a repeat of Garry Winogrand’s ‘Los Angeles, California’ (1969) – users of Photo Sphere can contribute to the world of images by rendering a slice of earth for the first time ever.

Of the many quandaries such technologies have tabled for photography, one looms on the horizon most existentially: once we reach Jorge Luis Borges’ vision of a map so vast and detailed that it becomes indistinguishable from the empire itself, what will be left to probe? As an artist exploring the limits and possibilities of the medium, Brea Souders has channelled this conundrum into an inspired new work, currently exhibited at Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. Comprised of images culled from Photo Sphere’s reconstructions of the American West, Vistas stages a geology of ghosts; of shadows sheared from their real bodies. The latter have been erased by Google in a concession to privacy, but the silhouettes – often truncated, splintered and smashed in uneasy syncs – remain, with the algorithm not recognising them as humans. Indicative of her adventitious practice, Souders has shaped these artefacts through an arduous process, circumventing the algorithm’s asperities by painting over screenshots with watercolours. It’s an exercise rooted in late 19th century traditions of colouring, by hand or through printing, souvenir postcards presenting national parks in the West. They allowed Americans to see the utopias they could not visit; ‘aesthetic entrance[s]’ through the picture frame, as geographer Denis Cosgrove has noted,[i] which have only intensified in the intervening years.

The renaissance of image-manipulation – as well as collecting, reproducing and distributing online – has often turned images into degenerate imitations, orbiting miles away from their origins. Hito Steyerl posited: ‘The poor image is a copy in motion. […] As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed.’[ii] Such disassociations are especially manifest in our encounters with images of the earth, considering that as our assimilation into virtual space becomes more entrenched, our relationship to physical space becomes more estranged. Swooping down on oil fields and feedlots (2012–13) via Google Earth, Mishka Henner conveyed this most saliently. His beautifully abstract composites, enhanced and blown-up, belied the atrocities they depicted, consequently exposing the ways we are increasingly conditioned to witness the world at a surveillance camera’s remove.

Yet, can image-manipulation – digital or analogue – also be a means to bridge the gulf between the viewer, photographic original and place portrayed? Souders’ devoted brushworking of each nook and cranny transmits a venting of nostalgia and homesickness so fiercely felt that these locales – some of which have been reconfigured by fires and mudslides since their uploads – become either impossibly intimate or devastatingly remote. There are instances when Souders moves from pale, pastel hues to produce more retinally-dazzling displays akin to a sun-stroked trance, thereby subverting her predecessors’ primary logic for painting postcards: to make black-and-white more real. Stones swirl luminous yellow; shrubs glow neon green; and mountains ache with a melancholy blue, the same shade Rebecca Solnit called ‘the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.’[iii] Souders seeks to kindle a tactility with these faraway fragments; to commune with the longed-for original. After all, what is desire if not endless distances?

The spectacular mysticism of Souders’ visions invokes an inalienable subjectivity, yet one which is not only steeped in the drama of the self, but bound by a larger awareness of its passage through certain photographic traditions. For, virtually mediating, and appropriating images of, terrains initially imaged by men – Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan et al – the artist activates an agency historically withheld from women. Vistas thus becomes all the more disruptive by way of the fact many of its scenes relay female viewpoints; those of women trekking, documenting, mapping and populating. Their imprints recall those of Ana Mendieta’s Silhueta (1973–78), which saw her burn, carve and mould her form into the landscape to ‘return to the maternal source’.[iv] Whilst Mendieta’s interventions were inherently fleeting – the frames of her figure were filled with flowers, blood and candles, all unguarded against a gust of wind or incoming tide – the very act of their documentation ensured the performative pieces endured within an arc of photographic history. Similarly, what Souders has excavated on Photo Sphere are evasions of the ephemeral; traces of traces of the body, ‘stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask’.[v] But what if the Internet itself is not immune from decomposition? In weaving pixels and pigments, Souders secures the survival of each shadow self within imaginary, symbolic and ultimately material registers. Her literal layering of experiences – encounters with and yearnings for the sublime – amounts to an intricate yet epic articulation of the multivalent meanings we can ascribe to the land.

Overcoming loss by ‘fixing a shadow’, the ‘most transitory of things’, is tied up with the advent of photography.[vi] In The Pencil of Nature (1844), William Henry Fox Talbot of course recounted that it was through his fruitless attempts to trace Lake Como’s refracted image in the camera obscura with a pencil that the idea of the photogram occurred. Given human proclivities to orient the self within the world (the oldest known paintings comprise outlines of hands splayed across cave walls in northern Spain), it was only inevitable that the creator’s shadow would enter the frame via the “shadow selfie”. Lewis Hine’s ‘John Howell, an Indianapolis newsboy’ (1908) pictured as much of his figure and tripod as its “subject”, whilst Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘Shadows in Lake’ (1916) echoed Narcissus’ projective stare. With Vistas, however, it is impossible to discern, in the source images themselves, the strategic shadows from the inadvertent ones. Indeed, these photographers were not responsible for an imperfect algorithm that only partially-excised them, nor were they ever able to escape the West’s radiant rays. A less ambiguous consideration is perhaps of that which moved them to pull out their phones in the first place; the mantra of the Instagram era, “pics or it didn’t happen”, looming large.

There are several occasions when Photo Sphere’s algorithm comes, via chance, perilously close to eliminating the human trace in its totality, leaving behind only the shadows of dismembered hands holding onto phones. Maintained in monochrome, four are arranged in a grid layout, constituting the series’ cynosure. They are the eeriest of the images, but equally evocative. For herein lies the alleged democratic virtue essential to photography, as discovered by Talbot at Lacock Abbey: all is illustrated by reversible patches of light and dark. What, then, is the difference between bodies and shadows? I was here, imparts each vista. Gazing into the iridescent blacks of these silhouettes, it is possible to meet ourselves – wanderers, cowboys, pioneers, goddesses, custodians – stood on a cliff-edge somewhere with a wildness in our bones, the sun soaring above and phones pointed ahead, ready to make history and impart back: We were there, too.♦

All images courtesy the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York © Brea Souders

Installation views of Vistas at Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York until 20 August 2021. Photographs by Olympia Shannon

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. His writings have appeared in Elephant, Artsy, Burlington Contemporary and the Brooklyn Rail, amongst others. He served as Curatorial Assistant for The Horizon is Moving Nearer at the Portuguese Center of Photography, Porto as part of Ci.CLO Bienal 2021. 

References:

[i] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 10, no. 1 (1985), p. 55.

[ii] Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image” in e-flux #10 (2009), available at e-flux.com/journal/10/61362/in-defense-of-the-poor-image, accessed 22 July 2021.

[iii] Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Viking, 2005), p. 29.

[iv] Ana Mendieta, quoted in Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, eds. Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perreault (New York: New Museum, 1988), p. 10.

[v] Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 154.

[vi] William Henry Fox Talbot, “Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by which Natural Objects may be Made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil” (1839), p. 6, available at blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/foxtalbot/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/somecccount-booklet.pdf, accessed 22 July 2021.

Heba Y. Amin

When I see the future, I close my eyes

Exhibition review by Alex Merola

Alex Merola examines Heba Y. Amin’s investigation into the ubiquitous shadow of surveillance that prevails over the Middle East, giving rise to the fear of the skies above.


In 2013, an Egyptian fisherman spotted a stork with an electrical device, resembling a camera, strapped to its leg. Fearing Israeli tampering, he reported the bird to police officials and it was detained on suspicion of espionage. It later transpired that the “camera” was, in fact, a tracking instrument used by Hungarian zoologists researching the stork’s migratory habits. Foreign media outlets quickly reduced the episode into an absurdist spectacle, but there was something more profound at play; for no paranoia is borne out of thin air. From where, then, did such a paranoia – so consuming to trigger the conspiring against a “spy stork” – arise?

Almost one hundred years earlier, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George ordered Lord Allenby, Commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, to seize control of Jerusalem. Supposedly turning to God for guidance, Allenby found inspiration in Isaiah 31:5: “As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.” He launched planes over the city, instructing pilots to drop flyers demanding in Arabic: ‘Surrender the city today! Allenby.’ Yet unbeknown to the Commander, ‘Allenby’ can only be translated in one way: ‘Prophet’. The Turks, who were believers in the prophecy that their Holy City would not be lost until a man of Allah came to deliver it, surrendered without firing a shot. The campaign put an end to 400 years of Ottoman rule in Jerusalem, setting the foundations for modern Israel. Triumphant in his fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, Allenby returned to his villa in Cairo, eager to pose for the local press. However, he was not alone. By his side, he had a new companion: a “pet” marabou stork.

In her exhibition, When I see the future, I close my eyes at The Mosaic Rooms, London, Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin has drawn on this disquieting chain of events – bound by the avian augury – to trace the ubiquitous shadow of surveillance that prevailed over the Middle East thereafter, lending its skies an air of menace. On an upward-facing screen in the centre of the floor, Amin presents As Birds Flying (2016), a film splicing contemporary drone footage scanning contested territories with reconstructed audio sequences from Adel Emam’s political satire, Birds of Darkness (1995): “Is it your first time on top?” Towering on the opposite wall are the first aerial photographs taken of the Jordan Valley, Palestine (1900–20). Strategically framed as “untouched” landscapes by American Colony members, these images were subsequently sold to the British government and used to justify the very Galilean settlements as spied on in As Birds Flying. The dialogue between these various works reveals the ways in which such panoptic views from above – whether from a bird, plane, drone or God – can be deployed, beyond evidence, to push forward an ideological agenda. The language of imperialism is inscribed within the technology itself.

However, what is most unsettling perhaps about this collusion between bird biology and human machinery is its elision of the corporeal eye. Charting the osmosis between military and cinematic technologies within the context of aerial photography, philosopher Paul Virilo writes of the quite literal ‘deadly harmony’ that emerges when bombs and missiles are fitted with cameras and ‘open their eyes’.[i] These algorithmically-wired imaging machines, as Anthony Downey posits in the exhibition’s accompanying book, Heba Y. Amin: The General’s Stork (2020), have ushered in their own techno-aesthetic; a regime of viewing that topographically quarters the Middle East only ever as a site of ‘atavistic threat’, thus playing into a self-serving, neo-colonialist aspiration of unending war on terror.[ii] For this reconfiguration, and further securing, of the coloniser’s ‘imaginative command’[iii] over the colonised is a legacy of Orientalism in the digital age; a means of sustaining the West’s own vision of itself. Amin considers whether we can look down on these same landscapes today and extract the Oriental gaze embedded deep within.

In a bunker-like room downstairs, Amin redirects her focus from the sky to the sea. Across a table of lightboxes, archival documents – including engineering plans, maps and newspaper cut-outs – have been repurposed to plot the evolution of Atlantropa, a scheme devised by German architect Herman Sörgel to drain the Mediterranean Sea in order to suture Europe to Africa and construct a new ‘supercontinent’. Although dating back to the mid-19th century, when French officer François Roudaire proposed the diversion of the waters to push Arabs and Berbers south and open up trade with North Africa, Sörgel’s fantasy was embraced long after: Benito Mussolini declared he would ‘make the desert bloom’ by flooding the region, whilst Dwight D. Eisenhower, as leaked by a declassified CIA note, claimed the development of the Qattara Depression’s hydro-electrical potential would be ‘spectacular and peaceful’. Though Atlantropa was never realised, consistent were the ways in which this mercenary colonial project was redrafted, over and over, as an omnibenevolent unification of continents.

“Who were these megalomaniacal men who felt that [the Mediterranean] was theirs to control? Where does that entitlement come from, and what does it feel like?” These questions formed the basis of Amin’s Operation Sunken Sea (2018), which is projected onto the room’s rear wall. Stitching together broadcasted speeches by autocrats, from Nikita Khrushchev to Gamal Abdel Nasser, Amin unnervingly inserts herself in the centre as a quasi-dictator. She hijacks the grandiloquent rhetoric, gesturing and aesthetics employed by her predecessors, in turn satirising the staged elements of such modes of public address. However, pledging to feed the hungry, provide employment, end the migration crisis and pay reparations to Africa and the Middle East, Amin’s Mediterranean-draining proposal beckons a parallel era of human progress. Her blue-sky-thinking borders on the bizarre, but, upon learning her speech is mashed-up from actual quotes by fascists past and present, we are confronted by our own immunities to such masteries of the mechanics of propaganda.

Given that land-altering visions, as exemplified by China’s “New Silk Road”, Turkey’s Istanbul Canal and Saudi Arabia’s cross-border city Neom, have become alarmingly commonplace, Operation Sunken Sea scrutinises not only the continuation of techno-utopian – or indeed dystopian – imaginings, but also their normalisation through systems we are unable to think beyond. After all, stood at the podium, Amin finds herself complicit within a necropolitical logic – as internalised via the broadcasting apparatus – whilst asking: what happens when narratives are flipped by an African-Arab woman? One lightbox displays Sörgel’s portrait from Time alongside Amin’s own restaging of it (the latter now appearing after an Internet search of the German’s name), whilst another shows a map of the Mediterranean by the 10th century Persian geographer, Al-Istakhri. The water is rendered as positive space, and the surrounding land negative; a radical reversal of contemporary Euro-centric conceptions of the Mediterranean as a border impeding the movement of migrants from Africa.

Amin’s interest in tactics of subversion extends into the exhibition’s third body of work, Project Speak2Tweet (2011–ongoing). On 27 January 2011, three days after the Egyptian revolution began, the government put the Internet to sleep. In reaction, Google programmers developed @speak2tweet, an online rallying point in which citizens could dial in and post voicemails to Twitter through SMS. Amin has delved into this aural archive (no longer publicly accessible), juxtaposing the voicemails with video footage of Cairo’s failed architectural projects. The result is an elegiac and near-hallucinatory conjuring of the collective psyche of a people who were unplugged, yet not silenced. Here, their digital footprints are grounded within the urban realm, echoed by the room’s arresting steel bars on which the screens hang. “Please keep the flag flying for me when I’m gone,” records one protestor as he enters Tahir Square, not knowing if he would ever return. Amin’s ever-growing archive seeks to honour this wish; to ensure this slice of history does not disappear into the depths of cyberspace. What does it mean to listen to these voices ten years on? In light of the Egyptian state’s escalation of mass-surveillance and crackdowns on digital dissent during the pandemic leading to egregious spates of incarcerations, the symbolism of the bars is not lost.

In another voicemail, a woman addresses President Hosni Mubarak: “What would have happened if you gave up your greed? If you hadn’t listened to the voice of your devil? If you had invested in your children?” This speculative what if is at the heart of Amin’s When I see the future, I close my eyes (the exhibition title is a lyric taken from the song Excellent Birds which was co-written by Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel, first performed in 1984 as part of Nam June Paik’s international satellite “installation”, entitled Good Morning, Mr Orwell). With an eye towards our post-digital future, Amin asks: what if new technologies could, contra to Orwell’s 1984 (1949), indeed live up to their democratic potential? As one of her stork protagonists declares: “From now on, there is a new world.” What might this new world look like from above? Perhaps, Al-Istakhri’s rendition of the Mediterranean Sea, emblazoned on a flag that hangs outside the gallery front, speaks not only of what could have been, but also what could still be.♦

All images courtesy the artist and The Mosaic Rooms, London © Heba Y. Amin

Installation views of When I see the future, I close my eyes at The Mosaic Rooms, London from 1 October 2020 – TBC 2021. Photographs by Andy Stagg

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. His writings have appeared in Elephant, Artsy and Photomonitor, and he is currently working as Curatorial Assistant for an exhibition at the Portuguese Centre of Photography, Porto during the Ci.CLO Bienal 2021.

References:

[i] Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (New York: Verso, 2009), p. 83.

[ii] Anthony Downey, “There’s Always Someone Looking at You: Performative Research and the Techno-Aesthetics of Drone Surveillance” in Heba Y. Amin: The General’s Stork, ed. Anthony Downey (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2020), p. 11.

[iii] Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 94.

Top 10

Photobooks of 2020

Selected by Alex Merola and Tim Clark

An annual tribute to some of the exceptional photobook releases from the tumultuous year that was 2020 – selected by Editor in Chief, Tim Clark, with words from Assistant Editor, Alex Merola.

1. Andy Sewell, Known and Strange Things Pass
Skinnerboox

Readers of 1000 Words will recall last year’s feature on Known and Strange Things Pass. Now published in book form by Skinnerboox, Andy Sewell’s meditation on the complex entanglement between technology and contemporary life seems more apposite than ever given the socially-distanced times in which we exist – not to mention the illusory propinquity of screen-based connection. Within a kinetic, non-linear sequence of images that aptly push and pull, ebb and flow, cables – carries of immeasurable quantities of data – weave across the Atlantic Ocean’s bed, and resurface on either side in alien concrete facilities; so rarely seen, these are the material infrastructures that both literally and metaphorically underpin our hyper-connected world. Ambitious, understated and fleeting, Known and Strange Things Pass explores the ways in which the ocean and the Internet speak to each other and speak to us, whilst probing photography’s ability to render visible such unknowable entities, infinitely vaster than we are.

2. Poulomi Basu, Centralia
Dewi Lewis

It has been quite the year for Poulomi Basu, whose docu-fictional book Centralia has earnt the artist the Rencontres d’Arles Louis Roederer Discovery Award Jury Prize, and a place on the shortlist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021. Beneath its blood-red, sandpaper-rough cover, Basu takes us through the dense jungles of central India, where a brutal war between the Indian state and Maoist insurgents over land and resources has waged for fifty years, in turn casting light on the woefully-underreported horrors of environmental degradation, indigenous and female rights violations and the state’s suppression of voices of resistance. Embracing a disorientating amalgam of staged photography, crime scenes, police records and first-person testimonies – all punctuated by horizontally-cut pages and loose documents – Centralia traces the contours of a conflict in which half-truths reign over facts. Though not for the faint-hearted, this open-ended account of an ongoing war affords us space to reflect on what we have seen, and to choose what we believe.

3. Buck Ellison, Living Trust
Loose Joints

A worthy winner in the First PhotoBook category for the 2020 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Awards, Buck Ellison’s Living Trust, published by Loose Joints, requires us to study the visual iconography of privilege as embodied by white, upper-middle class lives – or W.A.S.P. – in the United States. In these carefully constructed and performative photographs, insignia such as wooden cheeseboards, organic vegetables, acupuncture bruises, car stickers, lacrosse gear and even family Christmas card portraits examine how whiteness is exhibited and ultimately sustained through everyday structures, internalised logic and economic prowess. Deftly drawing on the language of advertising and commercial photography, Ellison conjures an uneasy world where the “whiteness project” manifests itself over and over again all the while perpetuating deadly inequality both in material and ideological terms.

4. Antoine d’Agata, VIRUS
Studio Vortex

As the title suggests, this book squares up to our present moment amidst the global health crisis with an unflinching intensity characteristic of the famed Magnum photographer. As soon as Paris entered a lock-down in March, Antoine d’Agata took to the emptied streets with his thermal camera. Here, civilians, medical workers and hospital patients are rendered as spectral, flame-tinged figures that flash across the pages. With temperature the only marker differentiating each pulsating body from the next, d’Agata proffers a haunting yet visceral mood piece laden with an existential dread that is befitting of our times. Beyond the limits of reportage, VIRUS is ultimately borne out of an impulse to get to the heart of things, to make sense of the incomprehensible and to visualise what the naked eye cannot: an invisible enemy, at once everywhere and nowhere. A dystopian masterpiece, these images refuse to be shaken off quickly.

5. Lina Iris Viktor, Some Are Born To Endless Night – Dark Matter
Autograph


Although there is no equivalent experience to witnessing the allure and intricacy of Lina Iris Viktor’s paintings up close, her debut monograph more than makes up for it through its fittingly-regal design. Published to accompany her solo show at Autograph in London earlier in 2020, it takes us into the British-Liberian artist’s singular world, embellished with luminescent golds, ultramarine blues and the deepest of blacks. Drawing from a plethora of representational tropes that range from classical mythology to European portraiture and beyond, Viktor’s practice playfully and provocatively employs her solitary body as a vehicle through which the politics of refusal are staged, and the multivalent notions of blackness – blackness as colour, as material, as socio-political awareness – come to the fore. Some Are Born To Endless Night – Dark Matter is a spelling-binding survey of an artist who is paving the way for new and unruly re-imaginings of black beauty and brilliance.

6. Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth, Tree and Soil
Hartmann Books

The intrinsic splendour of the natural world takes centre stage in Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth’s first book since their highly-acclaimed Poppy: Trails of Afghan Heroin (2012). Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the Dutch duo set out on a five-year-long project to examine the devastation wrought on the region’s biosphere. Expertly edited by curator Iris Sikking, Tree and Soil combines photographs depicting nature’s reclaiming of the deserted spaces with repurposed material from the archive of German explorer, Philipp Franz von Siebold, which includes a collection of botanical illustrations, animal specimens and woodblock prints amassed during his trips to Dejima, a Dutch trading post, in the early 19th century. The result is an enigmatic yet radical dialogue between two distinct histories – the post-colonial and the post-nuclear, respectively – which speaks of the hubris of humankind and the value of nature, in the process ruminating on the disturbed relationship between the two.

7. Amani Willett, A Parallel Road
Overlapse

Another book of first-rate investment in narrative forms of photography comes from artist Amani Willett. Chronicling the oft-overlooked history of black Americans road-tripping, A Parallel Road deconstructs the time-worn myth of the ‘American road’ as a site in which freedom, self-discovery and, ultimately, whiteness manifests. The book’s direct point of reference is Victor Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book (1936), a guide which provided newly-roving black road-trippers tips on safe spots to eat, sleep and re-fuel at a time when Jim Crow laws subjected them to heightened oppression, hostility and fear of death. Whilst maintaining the original’s scrapbook details – from hand-held dimensions to sewn binding – Willett has adroitly juxtaposed archival material with photography, media reproductions and Internet screenshots from the present day to lay bare the ongoing realities of systemic racism in the United States. A harrowing yet urgent title in a year in which the dangers posed to black people when out-and-about have been undeniable.

8. Diana Markosian, Santa Barbara
Aperture

In yet another dazzling year for Aperture’s publishing arm, with Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures and Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph amongst notable releases, perhaps the standout is Diana Markosian’s Santa Barbara. Here, the Armenian-American photographer reimagines her mother’s leap of faith as she abandoned her husband in post-Soviet Russia to start a new life in the United States with her children. Family snapshots, film stills and re-enactments by actors play out alongside a script written by the original screenwriter of the 1980s soap opera Santa Barbara, which, for a generation of regime-weary Russians tuning in through their television sets, embodied the promises of the American dream. For all its experimental edge – rigorously merging fact and fiction – this book retains its deeply intimate take on the themes of migration, memory and personal sacrifice. With the project slated to show at the SFMOMA in early 2021, Markosian’s work continues to enthral audiences.

9. Yukari Chikura, Zaido
Steidl

Also excavating personal histories is Yukari Chikura in this strong contribution to the year’s offerings. Shortly after his sudden passing, Chikura’s father appeared to her from the afterlife, imparting the words: “Go to the village hidden deep in the snow where I lived a long time ago.” Committed to honouring this wish, Chikura embarked on a voyage to the remote, winter-white terrains of north-eastern Japan. The resulting publication documents what she found: Zaido, a good fortune festival dating back to the 8th century. Printed across an exquisite array of papers under the direction of Gerhard Steidl, images imbued with magical realism reveal costumed villagers gathering before shrines and performing sacred dances. Whilst the accompanying ancient map and folkloric parables lend this book an ethnographic feel, there is something more incisive at work too. Intertwining the villagers’ spiritual quests with Chikura’s own journey through the darkness that pervades mourning, Zaido is a tale of collective soul-searching that seamlessly traverses cultures as well as centuries.

10. Raymond Meeks, ciprian honey cathedral
MACK

No annual ‘best of’ book list seems complete without a monograph from skilled book-maker, Raymond Meeks. Characteristically poetic and perceptive, his new release with MACK invites readers into the domestic world shared between he and his wife, Adrianna, during a period in which they were packing up their home. Opening with a flurry of photographs which depict Adrianna asleep, bathing in the soft, early morning light, both the tone of imagery and its rhythms sets forth an experience that is akin to a waking dream. What follows is an intercourse of image and verse that pairs the quiet, quotidian rituals that populate each passing day with topographical observations of a house laid bare: mounted stacks of dishes, cracked walls and overgrown tendrils. Herein lies the melancholic undercurrent which vibrates throughout ciprian honey cathedral, a bittersweet evocation of the things memories cling to, and the things we leave in our wake. ♦

Alex Merola is Assistant Editor at 1000 Words. 

Tim Clark is Editor in Chief at 1000 Words, and a writer, curator and lecturer at The Institute of Photography, Falmouth UniversityHe lives and works in London.

Francesca Catastini

Petrus

Kehrer Verlag

In 2016, Francesca Catastini was invited by a man named Albrecht to take photographs of his holiday residence in the outskirts of Lucca, Italy. He was soon to be leaving, and wanted images of his home to remember it by. Whilst browsing, she came across an old Italian liquor — ‘Petrus’, a dark bottle with a red cap. As Catastini recalls, the drink was advertised in the 1980s as ‘the perfect drink for the strong man’. She later discovered that Albrecht’s grandfather, nicknamed after his uncle Pietrino, was a central paternal figure in his life… Pietro comes from the Latin ‘Petrus’.

Associations drawn between the liquor bottle, its masculine expression and patriarchal overtones served as the catalyst for Catastini’s latest body of work Petrus, now published in book form by Kehrer Verlag. With Albrecht — ­his home, his possessions and his life — at its heart, Petrus unravels in a sweeping meditation on the symbolic capacities of objects, and particularly the engendered meanings one might ascribe to them. Manifesting itself as an encounter with a subject that is ultimately absent from view, the book exhibits objects belonging to Albrecht. Albrecht the schoolboy, the musician, the smoker, the footballer. Put together, these possessions reveal the human drive to sculpt (sometimes very literally) ourselves, our ideas and the world around us, knowingly or unknowingly.

Landscapes comprising man-made quarries that surround Albrecht’s village are blended deftly with a mixture of ephemera and still-lifes which, in their ambiguity, invite symbolic readings; a stuffed bear caught prowling within a diorama, a postcard illustrated by the posturing Apollo Belvedere are but two examples. And what for the image of the Cuban cigar, protruding from a gloved and tightly-gripped fist? Perhaps, as Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

Catastini plays with an array of visual references, constructing and deconstructing certain western masculine archetypes, those that hold a ‘powerful symbolic violence on us’ as the artist has said. By way of their decontextualisation and rearrangement, the images conjure an apparition of sorts, a projection of a man which is metonymic, arbitrary and, ultimately, subjective. As such, this book is a search for a definite form, albeit a static and finally anti-revelationary one. By the end, we feel we know no more about Albrecht, but also more of ourselves and our social and cultural conditioning. Petrus becomes not so much a study of how we can define masculinity, but if we can altogether.

—Alex Merola

All images courtesy of the artist and Kehrer Verlag. © Francesca Catastini

Ingvar Kenne

The Ball

Journal

Throughout the year, crowds of young people across Australia drive hundreds of miles to Outback fairgrounds known as Bachelor and Spinster Balls. Born out of traditional 19th century town dances, originally designed for isolated and loveless country people to find a life-partner, today the ceremonies have morphed into alcohol-fuelled binges and raucous raves.

With unflinching commitment, Ingvar Kenne, in his latest book The Ball, drags us into the very midst of these gatherings. By midnight, we find drunken party-goers, sporting boots and ballgowns, stumbling into clouds of dust and dye. Young men, sodden with beer, scuffle in the dirt whilst elsewhere a woman in a muddied wedding dress downs Victoria Bitter, a tin in each hand. Here is a world which is wild, chaotic and uninhibited – and unashamedly so.

Through such successive images which afford little respite from the inexhaustible antics of these Balls, Kenne’s book amounts to an overwhelming vision of decadence, presenting at once the continuation and upheaval of one of rural Australia’s most cherished ceremonies. It is this ambivalent relationship with the past that points towards the latent millennial angst which exists at the heart of The Ball. Whilst these celebrants’ seemingly proud castings of formalities serve as an expression of apathy towards tradition, their forging of something new, something theirs, is simultaneously infused with the apprehension of what the future holds. Are they coming-of-age rituals or mere hedonistic indulgences? With his characteristic humanist approach – most memorably displayed in his extensive portrait-series CITIZEN (1997–2012) – Kenne refrains from any judgement. Whether escapists, opportunists, or actually lonely singletons searching for the love of their lives, what brings these revellers together is their lust for the present.

In The Ball, Kenne has produced a documentation, neither glorified nor denouncing, of the modern state of an enduring Australian rite. Collectively, these scenes speak of an impulse that far transcends these Outback circuses. Ultimately these are places where strangers can arrive, connect and belong… even if only until the dust settles once the night is over. Yet, even this is not a given. Perhaps this is indeed the overarching spirit of these Balls: live like there’s no tomorrow.

Alex Merola

All images courtesy of the artist and Journal. © Ingvar Kenne