Not just your face honey
The American band LCD Soundsystem often sound a lot like Joy Division, or David Bowie, or The Fall, or innumerable other bands. But they also sound great, and unmistakably like themselves. Current C/O Berlin Talent awardee Stefanie Moshammer’s photo book Not just your face honey is also a lot like many other things. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it starts with a letter, which may or may not be ‘epistolary fiction’. It matters not, because in either case the letter serves as an intriguing set up.
The rest of the book – a series of photographs which echo the text of the letter or symbolise related themes – is an edgy study of attraction and obsession, studded with strong sexual metaphors (such as a suggestively female kiwi fruit, an equally erotic orange, a cock-and-balls cactus and a giant cock rock). It is also – like the latest LCD Soundsystem album – about the death of the celebrity-obsessed American dream. This is subtly inferred throughout, but most memorably by a ripped tyre fragment in the dirt, its colour and shape mirroring a subsequent dead bald eagle, nailed to a mast. Figuration, direct reference, allusion, subtext, metaphor – this book has all the layered depth of a good novel, never mind a good photo book.
There’s something of Sophie Calle in all the surveillance and the stalking tendency. One or two cinematic pictures have a touch of the Gregory Crewdson aesthetic too. And in many ways – with its letter and a map introducing a warped love story told in both colour and monochrome, its road trip, telephones and tyre tracks, its mash-up of photographic styles, and its sprinkling with studio set pieces – it is more than a little like Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood.
Smart and millennial, Moshammer’s mix-and-match art is deft in its lightness of execution. However, as it occasionally wears its influences a tad heavily, maybe it misses greatness with little lapses in idiosyncrasy. But this is a picky criticism: Not just your face honey is a deeply ambitious and generally very successful work by an early-career artist. If she continues with this much imagination, sophistication and skill, many more awards should follow. Talent indeed. ♦
All images courtesy of the artist and Spector Books. © Stefanie Moshammer
The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe
In the fall 2016 issue of Aperture’s The PhotoBook Review, editor Denise Wolff considers what she calls accidental photobooks, ‘other types of books that use photography, but are not considered photobooks qua photobooks.’ Although their impact relies heavily on photography, Wolff argues, they are free from an artist’s agenda and the conventional earmarks of an artist book.
Ever since Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan published their Evidence in 1977, it has become a familiar trope amongst artists to work with found or archive material, to re-contextualise the images and to create a new narrative with them. This practice makes for photobooks that are photobooks by intent; the artist’s agenda usually is unmistakably present.
With this in mind The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji – Photographed and Filmed by Masanao Abe by Helmut Völter is a peculiar book. It tells the fascinating story of the Japanese physicist Masanao Abe, who from 1926 until 1941 photographed, filmed and studied the clouds and their activity around Mount Fuji. If the book is peculiar, it is because it has the feel of such an unintended photobook.
‘… one must revisit the question about how to strike a balance between different interests – the historical, the scientific, the aesthetic, the poetic’, Völter writes near the end of the book. Responsible for concept, text and graphic design, Völter manages to rotate as smoothly around the centre of these interests as the cloud around the axis of a stationary vortex of air in Abe’s very first photograph in 1926. All book elements echo the elegant straightforwardness of old scientific publications; the hand of the artist never predominates. Völter generously gives the floor to Abe.
The Movement of Clouds around Mount Fuji is a comprehensive and tender homage to a gentleman scientist who also happened to be a great photographer. A book that is both multilayered and multifaceted; somewhat like the air currents and the clouds in the sky. It is, in a most intriguing way, an accidental photobook by Masanao Abe, brought to you by Helmut Völter with sincere and respectful artistic intentions. Also, the cloud images are breathtakingly beautiful. ♦
– Stefan Vanthuyne
All images courtesy of Spector Books. © Masanao Abe/Helmut Völter