Top 10

Photobooks of 2019

Selected by Tim Clark

An annual tribute to some of the exceptional photobook releases from 2019 – selected by Editor in Chief, Tim Clark.

1. Long story short
Fraenkel Gallery

Long story short sees San Francisco-based Fraenkel Gallery return to publishing. Coinciding with the current exhibition marking the gallery’s 40th anniversary, this book is an endlessly rich slice of 180 years of photographic history. It aims to convey “that visceral sense of experiencing a work of art for the first time, in ways that defy words.” With a taste for the eclectic, it certainly delivers. Enigmatic photographs, such as the anonymous Untitled [Dinosaur Balloon], November 25, 1969 cover image, ricochet against immediately recognisable images from some of the medium’s stalwarts – Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, Katy Grannan or Eadweard Muybridge to name but a few – all continuing to entrance, all brought together in a celebration; not only of Fraenkel’s anniversary year, but to also retune our attention on the pleasures and rewards of sustained looking. With its sumptuous printing and lavish production values, Long story short is a joy to behold. A door to the heart of a gallery that has done so much to contribute to the culture, study and appreciation of photography as an art form in the United States and beyond.

2. Salvatore Vitale, How To Secure A Country
Lars Müller Publishers

As a case study to consider critical global issues, such as borders and immigration, Salvatore Vitale’s How To Secure A Country promulgates a timely and deeply-layered look at 21st century statehood. Edited with Lars Willumeit, this long-term visual research project – as opposed to an investigation of a ‘closed’ topic – deals with the machinations and protocol of security systems in Switzerland, a country widely regarded as one of the world’s safest. The work is organised into visual clusters to reflect the collaborations with individuals from different disciplines and via access granted by various institutions, both public and private, including those relating to borders and customs, cybersecurity, data centres, armed forces and even weather forecast and supercomputering. How To Secure A Country offers a privileged perspective and multi-vantaged point of view on the fraught relationship between individuals, power and state control, yet never through images that are self-explanatory, nor without pronouncing judgement. In Vitale’s work there is always space for the viewer.

3. Lisa Barnard, The Canary and The Hammer
MACK

Another book of first-rate intelligence is Lisa Barnard’s Canary & The Hammer, spanning four years of photographic work shot across four continents. The artist’s third monograph takes gold as a subject – its complex history, relationship to wealth accumulation and symbolic representation – to demonstrate its myriad of uses and ubiquity in modern life. Deftly combining image, text and archival material within a structure of seven chapters, Barnard’s project embraces a fragmented narrative as a metaphor for our dissonant and uncertain times. Overlapping disparate yet related stories, ranging from the 1849 Gold Rush or activities by Peruvian mining organisations to jewellery manufacturing and high-tech industry, hers is a larger vision comprised of systems, contradictions and affects, ultimately cognisant of capitalism’s proclivity to both exploit and self-destruct. Throughout her career, Barnard has rigorously tested and questioned parameters within contemporary documentary practice, all the while reflecting on photography’s ability to render visible such vast and seemingly unimaginable themes.

4. Masahisa Fukase, Family
MACK

It’s a swell time for reprints of photobook masterpieces. And MACK has been leading the way in recent years. Amongst its latest have been Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home and Alec Soth’s Niagara, and now comes Family by giant of Japanese photography, Masahisa Fukase. First released in 1991, and the artist’s final book, the project centres on a series of group portraits showing Fukase and his relatives in the family’s professional studio that were shot over nearly two decades. Family utilises the ritual of the family portrait but subverts it by featuring various nude or partially dressed women, many of whom are young performers or student actors bearing no relation to the family. Melancholy is piled on melancholy in these photographic gestures of commemoration. Touching on issues of memory, empathy and dispersal, it reflects what Geoffrey Batchen has referred to as “the desire to remember, and to be remembered”. And as Tomo Kosuga notes chillingly in his parting words to one of the book’s essays, Archiving Death: The Family Portrait as a Site of Mourning: “As we meet their staring eyes, we may feel that the process of the mourning vigil, conducted around the Fukase family, is taking place within ourselves.” File under: ‘essential titles’.

5. Hassan Hajjaj, Hassan Hajjaj
RVB

As the eponymous title suggests, this is a book about the vibrant Anglo-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj – his creative universe, unique visual language and cultural remixing – that provides a noteworthy contribution to this year’s offerings. Remarkably this is Hajjaj’s first major monograph, produced to accompany the recent retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. It draws upon his signature colour work that so effortlessly and promiscuously straddles modes of documentary and fashion photography. It also reunites this with hitherto unseen black and white work. His is an approach to studio and street portraiture that harks back to the traditions of Malick Sidibé, but which is given a contemporary twist through the bricolage of high and low cultural references in order to shine a light on the louche of global consumerism. The book’s design perfectly augments the content of the imagery by drawing out the repeated motifs and all-over compositions in an explosion of patterns and visual textures. Pluralism and new signs of recognition are the order of the day.

6. Anastasia Samoylova, FloodZone
Steidl

Necessary images from the frontiers of climate emergency in the southern United States make up this brooding exploration of the people, spaces and surfaces existing in preparation of its onslaught. Rising sea levels and hurricanes threaten but it’s the absence of any drama or action that defines Anastasia Samoylova’s FloodZone. Instead, as individuals wait and look on, conjured is an atmosphere akin to a mood piece laden with suspense and foreboding. Through a skilful blend of luscious imagery, encompassing lyrical documentary photographs and black and white studies – by turns staged and spontaneous – along with epic aerial views, and touching upon issues of paradise, tourism, decay and renewal, FloodZone constitutes an inventive addition to the slew of recent approximate visions of the Anthropocene. As David Campany notes in the monograph’s essay, “Paradise is as photogenic as catastrophe.” And while “the seductive contradictions of a place drowning in its own mythical image” is indeed embodied, Samoylova’s is a fantastic double vision, proffering depictions that oscillate somewhere between the already seen and never seen.

7. Karla Hiraldo Voleau, Hola Mi Amol
Self Publish, Be Happy Editions and ECAL/University of Art and Design, Lausanne

Readers of 1000 Words will recall the recent magazine feature on this highly-original monograph. Within it, French-Dominican artist Karla Hiraldo Voleau has made it her business to take us on a journey through her personal history in Hola Mi Amol, one that burrows into her dual heritage, its influences and prejudices. As a child Voleau was often warned to treat Dominican men with suspicion, ergo the slightly leery title of this book project, and here she returns to the island of her youth to actively seek out those very individuals she was warned about. A cast of nude or partially-dressed men populate the photographs – seen at the beach, in homes and motels or riding on the back of motorbikes via selfies with the artist – in images that both resist the admonishments of her family and, by natural extension, play us as viewers on a meta-level. Combined with text extracts, Voleau’s intersections call into question ideas of authenticity and ambiguity in the narration of the artist’s various encounters. Hola Mi Amol speaks through the most personal and private experiences relating to eroticism, prowess and racial identities. Ultimately the male gaze has in effect been turned on itself to powerful, and at times beguiling, effect.

8. Sohrab Hura, The Coast
Ugly Dog

Blood splatters, smoke bellows, tattoos sore, rats cower, tears fall – the visual experience of leafing through Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura’s fourth monograph The Coast is akin to a feverish dream. Chosen by the jury of Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Book Awards as Photobook of the Year, there is something clearly so captivating about The Coast. And what’s interesting eventually winds up beautiful too. Opening with an absurd short story of a woman named Madhu, who has quite literally lost her head, the tone is set for an intense and unrelenting narrative that Sohrab relays in twelve varying iterations. It features photographs taken up and down the Indian coastline that work in service of what the artist refers to as “a metaphor for a ruptured piece of skin barely holding together a volatile state of being ready to explode.” Images are printed full bleed with only a narrow white gap creating a continuous visual flow – or assault – while their shifting contexts furnish our gaze onto a disorientating post-truth world, particularly in a country where disinformation and acts of violence are on the rise. Reality teeters between fact and construction in this fable for the times.

9. Amak Mahmoodian, Zanjir
RRB Books/IC Visual Lab

“This book is a conversation imagined between the artist Amak Mahmoodian (1980-present) and the Persian princess and memorist Taj Saltaneh (1883-1936).” So reads the preface to Zanjir, a riveting book hot off the press by Bristol-based, Iranian-born Amak Mahmoodian. What unfolds through sequences of quiet photographs – both authored and appropriated from the Golestan archives in Tehran – is a moving meditation on the actuality of having one’s family based there but no here and the hybrid experience of living between cultures, lands and languages, all bound up in sensations of love, loss and longing. From the subtle gaps between recording and not forgetting emerges this deeply poetic look at the vestiges of the past as they move into the present only then to become the past again. Time, memory, dreams and their inevitable decay approach something so powerful as it relates to the homeland. Mahmoodian, by her own admission, has created “a life of memories” swaying between presence and absence. With a stellar team of editors including Aaron Schuman and Alejandro Acin, Zanjir is a personal and rich foray into the imagination of an understated and poetic artist.

10. George Georgiou, Americans Parade
Self-published

This is the kind of photography that renews a feeling of wonder every time we gaze upon its imagery. Here, we are witnessing the theatre of life as seen through the parade of Americans during 2016, the year Donald Trump came into office and when the country had revealed its profound fractures. George Georgiou’s black and white photographs show one community after the next in a project spanning 24 cities across 14 states. Crowds of various sizes are captured via a simple but effective approach of photographing wide and from a distance to form tableaux-style images, their constancy bestowing a feeling of detachment but also one of acute observation. Revelling in the abundance and complexities of individuals who make up group identities, it is almost as if Georgiou is invisible – such is the candour. In these instances, people never stare down the camera, but instead focus on something beyond the frame. And they resonate with us, so pressingly that we look for ourselves in them. As we scrutinise the minutiae in such detail, images within images emerge, resolving into a kaleidoscope of mini portraits that are full of contemporary trappings. It thus offers up a valid document; in the same way the various locales reflect the socio-economic disparities of the United States to speak volumes of the environments in which the photographs were taken. Something must be said of the book’s quad-tone printing and its importance in revealing the sumptuous detail of the scenes, which, combined with lay-flat binding, allows viewers to really enter the imagery: exquisite.


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and since 2008 he has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words. 

Captions:

1-Eadweard Muybridge, Contortions on the Ground1887. (Long story short, Fraenkel Gallery)

2-Salvatore Vitale, A customised assault rifle transformed for sport purposes, from the series How To Secure a Country, 2014-18.

3-Lisa Barnard, Gold-miner Kimberly, at the Las Vegas Gold & Treasure Show, 2017, from the series The Canary and The Hammer.

4-Masahisa Fukase, from the series Family, 1971–89. Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, and Éditions Xavier Barral, Paris.

5-Hassan Hajjaj, Keziah Jones, 2011. Courtesy Vigo Gallery, London, and Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York.

6-Anastasia Samoylova, Park Avenue, 2018, from the series FloodZone. Courtesy Galerie Caroline O’Breen, Amsterdam.

7-Karla Hiraldo Voleau, from the series Hola Mi Amol.

8-Sohrab Hura, India, 2014, from the series The Coast. Courtesy Magnum Photos.

9-Amak Mahmoodian, from the series Where Time Stood Still.

10-George Georgiou, 4 July Parade, Ripley, West Virginia, 04/07/2016, from the series Americans Parade.

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019

Top five festival highlights

Selected by Tim Clark

The fiftieth edition of the highly-esteemed Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival is now underway. It’s a vast, sprawling affair set across the evocative Roman town in the south of France with something for all tastes, despite a lingering fascination with the traditional. Yet there is always much to praise. Below is a rundown of five standout exhibitions from the memorable golden anniversary year – selected by Editor in Chief, Tim Clark.

In association with Spectrum.

1. The Saga Of Inventions
From The Gas Mask To The Washing Machine, CNRS Archives

Crosière

One of a number of exhibitions from the festival section brought together under the title The Other Photography – “a tribune to hoarders and obsessive people” – The Saga Of Inventions exemplifies the guest-curated shows centred on archival photographic practices that Les Rencontres d’Arles does so well. Under the expert supervision of historian Luce Lebart, images from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) have been assembled from a collection of thousands that were produced in France between 1915 and 1938 as part of the governmental initiative to foster scientific and industrial research. A cogent portrait of innovation, visitors can revel in the visual rigour of numerous brilliant inventions, moving from those born out of war and national defence efforts to others designed for the domestic and civil realm, a duality reflected in the exhibition’s two-fold structure. Administrative images of trench trumpets, flame protection masks and hoods, artificial clouds, myriaphones, washing machines and ‘life-saving’ taxis are but a few from the cornucopia in which the inanimate is awakened.

At the heart of The Saga Of Inventions a poster enlargement of the studio set-up offers a rare backstage image to actively insert self-reflexivity within the exhibition, providing a behind-the-scenes view into the photographic theatre where countless images from the archive were made. We are privy to both the object, in this case part of a machine gun, and the cameraman contextualising it, whose dramatic pose and extravagant costume add an air of what Lebart has imaginatively dubbed “a poetic-military-burlesque aesthetic.” It embodies the spirit of The Saga Of Inventions; a compelling and at times absurd exhibition that bristles with insight into the institution and archival gems, treated with great flourishes of offbeat humour.

2. Mohamed Bourouissa
Free Trade

Monoprix

Upstairs from the Monoprix supermarket near the train station is a vast space that aptly plays host to Free Trade, a survey showcasing fifteen years of creative output from Algerian-born artist Mohamed Bourouissa. His work examines the value and visibility of marginalised and economically bereft members of society, as well as productions of knowledge, exchange and structures of power. Video, painting, sculpture, installation and, of course, photography are all put to powerful use. So too is an impressive range of imagery that encompasses staged scenes, surveillance footage and even stolen smartphones. Though perhaps counter to this experimental vision Bourouissa is still best known for his breakthrough series Périphérique (2005-09), reflecting on the discrepancies through re-enactment and narrative tableaux between the lives of Parisian youth and their limited depiction by right-wing mainstream press and politicians.

Curated by festival director Sam Stourdzé, it’s a challenging and disparate exhibition, staged in an open-plan format to create a complex visual and aural environment. Ideas come into focus and vibrate against one another, laying bare some of the terrible realities and injustices of late capitalism, all the while questioning the means of an image and politics of representing the other. There’s also an exhibition within the exhibition involving a collaboration with Monoprix employees and photographer Jacques Windenberger, in what became democratic practices where subjects were actors in information-participation photographic projects – “a kind of community visual memory.” Bourouissa’s originality as a conceptually-driven documentary photographer consists not just in what he represents but how he represents it. As such Free Trade feels sharp, sobering, confounding, mysterious, critical and intelligible on its own political terms.

3. Libuše Jarcovjáková
Evokativ

L’église Saint-Étienne

In the My Body Is A Weapon constellation of exhibitions veteran Czech photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková turns it up a notch with Evokativ in collaboration with curator Lucie Černá. Raw, emotive and visceral, her photographs are far from picture-perfect but that’s not the point. Taken between 1970 and 1989 in communist Czechoslovakia they are vessels of pain and poetry from a dark period of totalitarian rule, a diaristic record of life, love, work, drink, sex and depression splayed out before the camera. Hers is an unflinching and brutally honest account of the immediate world around her, from the confines of the bedroom to the theatre of the street, resolving into a compelling portrait of the artist as a young woman. What emerges from these monochromatic worlds is a mood piece positing reckless abandon and hedonism as an act of resistance.

Evokativ flows freely around its impressive church setting, with a partially-enclosed area in the centre of the space. It functions almost as a confessional zone, perhaps delivering the exhibition’s most revealing and affecting moment: “Abortion. I arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night with a high fever. I was bleeding and longed for it to end. I had no desire for a baby whatsoever,” the artist recalls by way of an extended handwritten caption to images of luminous jugs full of liquid. “The doctors were of a different opinion and instructed me to lie quietly in bed. I crept silently to the toilet. Jugs full of the urine of pregnant women gleamed on the windowsill. They were wonderful. I took photos of them and did some squats. In the end I miscarried. All that remained were the jugs.”

4. Home Sweet Home
1970-2018: The British Home, A Political History
Maisone des Peintres

Within the intimate confines of Maisone des Peintres lies Home Sweet Home, 1970-2018: The British Home, A Political History. Meandering through the rooms and set across two floors, this exhibition explores what curator Isabelle Bonnet refers to as “the link between the well-being of soul and body and the domestic interior.” Taking its cues and logic from the English language invention of words such as ‘comfort’ and ‘comfortable’ the focus is on anatomising everyday life in Britain from the 1970s to the present day. Via a multi-generational artist axis it features key works by Anna Fox, David Moore, Martin Parr and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen alongside artists such as Andy Sewell, Natasha Caruana and Juno Calypso. Collectively, their vignettes collectively reveal the dynamics and complexities of family life allied to the pleasures, comforts and even terrors of domesticity. Indeed, one curious variant on theme points to issues of seclusion and confinement courtesy of an installation by Edmund Clark’s Control Order House (2011) comprised of interior snapshots of a place where an individual under house arrest lived, having been suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Clare Strand and Eva Stenram follow in the next room in The Poetics of Space section with strong contributions via their narrative constructions and staged photographs.

As is the case with any show with the level of ambition to survey constructions of national identity, omissions seem as striking as what’s included. Bodies of work from the canon by Richard Billingham, Nigel Shafran and Nick Waplington are notably absent. Still, Home Sweet Home is a well-articulated, buoyant show drawing out shared histories and dialogues, if slightly tethered to an overall vision of the British as eccentric and unable to break out of their old insularity. Nonetheless it remains a valid document along a timeline of how people look and behave in their places of refuge.

5. Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman and Susan Meisalas
Unretouched Woman

Espace Van Gogh

There was in part a retroactive feminist turn to Les Rencontres d’Arles this year and nowhere does this come more to the fore than in Unretouched Woman. Shining a spotlight on Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman and Susan Meiselas, three American photographers working and fighting to create certain degrees of freedom for themselves, and who all produced pioneering books to lend tangible form to their fundamental experiences of being embodied, the exhibition has been instigated by Clara Bouveresse through Les Rencontres d’Arles’ curatorial research fellowship.

Susan Meiselas’ masterpiece Carnival Strippers (1976) prevails for its frank portrayal of dancers both on and off-stage at small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina though photographs and interviews. Still-to-be-better-appreciated is the utterly magical Abigail Heyman, the first woman to be invited into the Magnum collective, whose book Growing Up Female (1974) subverted traditional codes and assumptions about what it means – or can mean – to be female, distilled through a unique combination of photo-reportage and personal urgency. Privacy is continually turned inside out.

Evidently the festival organisers have taken heed of the feedback and pressure that was applied in protest of the gender imbalance from 2018 – as voiced in an open letter published in the Libération newspaper last year. As such, they have taken steps to redress this by bringing those traditionally underrepresented from the periphery to the centre, and, clearly, without compensating on quality or talent. For the famed Susan Meisalas alone, it’s yet another accolade to an already impressive year, in which she has won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, Kraszna-Krausz Fellowship and now the Women in Motion Award, a newly-established prize from Les Rencontres d’Arles granted to female photographers recognised for their contribution to the field. Hopefully it paves the way for the celebration and recognition of the many other hugely-deserving artists to follow, without the need to play catch-up through resurrectionist narratives.

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019 runs until September 22nd.


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and lecturer. Since 2008, has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words. 

Captions:

1-National Scientific and Industrial Research and Inventions Office, Georges Mabboux’s acoustic horns to locate aircraft, May 31, 1935. CNRS collection, A_3264. (The Saga of Inventions exhibition)

2-National Scientific and Industrial Research and Inventions Office, Louis Lapicque’s visual field shutter goggles, December 1926. CNRS collection, B_6127. (The Saga of Inventions exhibition)

3-Mohamed Bourouissa, L’impasse, from the Périphérique series, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and galerie kamel mennour, Paris/London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. ADAGP (Paris) 2019.

4-Mohamed Bourouissa, Bracelet électronique, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and galerie kamel mennour, Paris/London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. ADAGP (Paris) 2019.

5-Libuše Jarcovjáková, David, Prague, 1984. Courtesy of the artist.

6-Libuše Jarcovjáková, From the T-club series, Prague, 1980s. Courtesy of the artist.

7-Andy Sewell, Untitled, from the series Something like a Nest, 2014 (Home Sweet Home exhibition).

8-Ken Grant, Lisa and Tracy’s sister, Birkenhead, 1990 (Home Sweet Home exhibition).

9-Susan Meiselas, Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, USA, 1972. Courtesy of Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos.

10-Abigail Heyman, Supermarket, 1971.

Top 10

Photobooks of 2018

Selected by Tim Clark

An annual tribute to the most exceptional photo book releases from 2018 – selected by our Editor in Chief, Tim Clark.

In association with Spectrum.

1. Carmen Winant, My Birth
Self Publish, Be Happy Editions

My Birth by Carmen Winant is perhaps this year’s standout title from Bruno Ceschel’s famed Self Publish, Be Happy enterprise. Yet it is also utterly unlike any other. Deftly fusing image and text, the book – a facsimile of the artist’s own journal – combines photographs of Winant’s mother giving birth to her three children alongside found imagery of other, anonymous women undergoing the same experience. This visual strategy aims at “the flattening of cross-generational time and feeling”, while the title is a nod to Frida Kahlo’s 1932 painting of the same name. Immediate, precarious and utterly vulnerable, Winant’s project, which coincided with an on-site installation at MoMA’s Being: New Photography 2018, is also bold and fearless. Sensitive to the world, and to the world of images, My Birth asks probing questions that move beyond transgression to open up a space for considering childbirth and its representation as a political act.

2. Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness
Aperture Foundation

What really matters now are the needs that art answers, and visual activist Zanele Muholi always delivers with great rigour. Having first emerged as a photographic spokesperson of members of the black queer community in South Africa and beyond, her long-awaited monograph sees Muholi turn the camera on herself to powerful effect. This arresting collection of more than 90 theatrical self-portraits first reclaim and then reimagine the black subject again in ways that resist, confront and challenge complacency to racism – both historic and contemporary. During these times when violence, misogyny and even white supremacy are rife, the photographs’ accumulative presence flies in the face of stereotypes and oppressive standards of beauty.

3. Raymond Meeks, Halfstory Halflife
Chose Commune

This is the kind of pleasurable photography that approaches something so eloquent yet understated but which we cannot altogether grasp. Master of the quiet photograph, Raymond Meeks is also a prolific photo book maker. Meeks’ current collaboration with Chose Commune bears all the hallmarks of his lyrical explorations; strong narrative and occasional riffs off poetry and short fiction, all the while concentrating on the symbiotic relationship between family, memory and a sense of place. Here, black and white photographs of young men, making their way through openings in hedgerow to access prime spots for river-jumping in the Catskill mountain region of New York, are both visceral and spontaneous. Their pale bodies fling themselves into the dark void, frozen as if mid-flight, pivoting from the point of view of an adult seemingly remembering a moment of fledgling sexuality and uncertain future.

4. Michael Schmelling, Your Blues
Skinnerboox and The Ice Plant

Taken between 2013 and 2014, and shot while on commission for the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Colombia College Chicago, Michael Schmelling’s photographs in Your Blues are our guide through the city’s vibrant and eclectic music scene, where “the dominant form is hybridity”. Musicians and revellers, parties and recording studios, lovers and strangers all collide, depicted through casual views and with feelings of familiarity. This then forms a ripe photographic account of the varying degrees of individualism within this community. Blues, punk, hip hop, psychedelic jazz, emo, hardcore and house music are all part of Chicago’s cultural inheritance and encompassed here via Schmelling’s vignettes and reflections on niche and local performers in unconventional venues. Akin to a novel of images, Your Blues provides a noteworthy contribution to this year’s offerings.

5. Max Pinckers, Margins of Excess
Self-Published

A response to the ‘post-truth’ era, Max Pinckers’ speculative documentary work revolves around the narratives of six protagonists who all momentarily achieved infamy in the US only to be ousted as fakes or frauds by the media. Such highly-idiosyncratic stories range from a self-invented love story set in a Nazi concentration camp to a man compulsively hijacking trains. With fever-dream urgency, Margins of Excess brings together fragments of these lives through staged photography, archival material, interviews and press clippings: the explicit folding of imagination into imaging “in which truths, half-truths, lies, fiction or entertainment are easily interchanged.” Pinckers’ take on embracing reality in all its complexity via this particular strand of storytelling offers an interesting reminder: that contemporary documentary practice might be more productively considered as small arguments, gestures or even critical methods.

6. Michelle Dizon and Việt Lê, White Gaze
Sming Sming Books

Readers of 1000 Words will recall the recent magazine feature on this gem of a photo book from collaborative duo Michelle Dizon and Việt Lê, which deserves much wider recognition in light of its poetry, playfulness, acuity and, most crucially, decolonising strategies. Intellectually energetic, White Gaze repurposes imagery from National Geographic to confront notions of white privilege and Western-centrism by reworking and negating image and text from the publication’s original pages. Countless uncomfortable truths hidden at the bottom of every lie, every act of denial or white complicity, come to bear through the interplay of the two languages, critiquing how meaning is constructed to administer imperialist narratives and racist histories.

7. Mimi Plumb, Landfall
TBW Books

As far as great discoveries go, the case of Mimi Plumb’s resurfaced archive has been a fairly recent but major breakthrough. Having taught photography throughout much of her career at San Jose State University and San Francisco Art Institute in the US, it has only been during the past five years that her work has really come to light following the 2014 exhibition of her Pictures from the Valley series. Now, a collection of images taken throughout the 1980s have been published by TBW Books under the title, Landfall, containing black and white photographs full of foreboding and unease, yet always delicate and beautiful in register. They appear to encapsulate a time when the world at large seemed out of kilter – with obvious parallels to our present moment. Stylistically, too, there’s a whiff of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and Henry Wessel to these images that certainly will not fade quickly.

8. Chloe Dewe Mathews, Caspian: The Elements
Aperture Foundation and Peabody Museum Press

It’s heartening to observe this renewed period for Aperture Foundation’s photo book publishing arm, albeit still very traditional in format. One of its many great, recent titles comes courtesy of British photographer and filmmaker Chloe Dewe Mathews who spent five years roaming the borderlands of the Caspian Sea, where Asia seamlessly merges into Europe, to come away with a compelling record of the region’s complex geopolitical trevails. Much of this of course is largely bound up in the singular importance of gas and oil reserves and the disparate economies of bordering countries – Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – but it’s Mathews’ receptiveness and examination of the ties between people and the landscape, as well as the religious, artistic and therapeutic aspects of daily life, that are so intriguing.

9. Thomas Demand, The Complete Papers
MACK

While there is obviously no equivalent experience to viewing a Thomas Demand artwork at its intended size and scale, this new volume on the oeuvre of the acclaimed German artist more than makes up for it in scope, depth and scholarship. Edited by Christy Lange, and with texts from voices as diverse as the novelist Jeff Euginedes to curator Francesco Bonami, The Complete Papers provides a hugely comprehensive view of Demand’s past three decades of artistic production. Known for using pre-existing images culled from the media, routinely with political undertones, which he then recreates from cardboard and paper at 1:1 scale before photographing the assembled scene, admirers of the work will no doubt appreciate hitherto unseen pieces from the early 1990s when he first started making paper constructions for this sole purpose of photographing them. With the customary bibliography and full exhibitions listing, this is a researcher’s dream. A catalogue raisonné of the highest order.

10. Sunil Gupta, Christopher Street, 1976
Stanley/Barker

Sunil Gupta’s Christopher Street, 1976 performs an act of personal remembrance by bringing together photographs shot in in New York when the artist spent a year studying photography with Lisette Model in between cruising the city’s streets with his camera; part of a burgeoning, proud and public gay scene prior to ensuing AIDS epidemic that subsequently sent it underground. The photo book is minimally designed, presenting one black and white photograph on each right-hand page in a spiral-bound volume, marking the latest release in Stanley/Barker’s small but judicious selection of titles. It celebrates both a key moment in Gupta’s identity and the political value embedded in the struggle for LGBT liberation, the consequences of which were far-reaching.


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and since 2008, has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words. 

1000 Words

10 Year anniversary print edition

*Sold out*

*The 10 year anniversary edition of 1000 Words is now sold out*

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Book launch/event
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Flowers Gallery, London
Details here

Since 2008 we’ve commissioned and published more than 1000 exhibition and photo book reviews, essays and interviews. Contributors include an extensive network of over 90 critics and writers such as David Campany, Susan Bright, Urs Stahel and Charlotte Cotton; as well as respected artists Wolfgang Tillmans, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Vanessa Winship and Taryn Simon.

We’ve grown our audience to readers in over 120 countries and attracted approximately 140,000 unique visitors to the site every month. We have made more than 55,000 Twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends, and we’ve seen nearly 20,000 followers sign up to our newsletter.

We’ve organised exhibitions and workshops, offered awards, and conducted countless talks and portfolio reviews. In 2014 and 2016 we were nominated for a prestigious Lucie Award in the ‘Photography Magazine of the Year’ category.

Now we are launching our first print magazine.

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of 1000 Words, and what better way to celebrate than to publish a special print annual?

Designed by Sarah Boris, and printed at Musumeci S.p.A, Italy, the publication takes the form of a beautiful 200-page bookish magazine featuring a host of newly-commissioned content. At its core lies the high-quality reproductions of 10 portfolios from artists who, we believe, have built significant bodies of work and emerged as increasingly influential practitioners in the past decade. Those individuals include José Pedro Cortes, Laia Abril, Edmund Clark, Esther Teichmann and Zanele Muholi to name but a few.

Other highlights include a series of highly-anticipated city guides. From New York to Milan, London to Shanghai, we focus on some of the most engaging gallery spaces showing photography today. The magazine also contains long-read profiles on curators, opinion pieces on the representation of women photographers at leading photo festivals, reflections on British developments in critical race thinking, as well as insights into a decade’s changes in photography among other features. Finally, we delve into our archives and present a selection of memorable and talked-about articles from the 1000 Words back catalogue.

The production of the 10 year anniversary print edition of 1000 Words has been made possible thanks to 572 backers of a Kickstarter campaign.

Special thanks to Gerry Badger, Norman Clark, Frédérique Destribats, David Solo and Duncan Wooldridge for their generous support.

1000 Words Photography Ltd is registered in the UK as a private company no. 6957640.

ISSN 2631-486X


Table of Contents

Features

9  Editorial
• Tim Clark

10  Photography in Flux
• Lucy Soutter

16 Rewind, Repeat, Repeat with Stuart Hall
• Yasmin Gunaratnam

18 Les Rencontres d’Arles 2018
• Caroline Molloy

20 Multitude of Counterviews
• Taco Hidde Bakker

22 Trapping Time
• Tim Clark and David Campany in conversation


Portfolios

32 Max Pinckers Margins of Excess
• Lisa Stein

42 Laia Abril On Abortion
• Sara Knelman

52 José Pedro Cortes Planta Espelho/Mirror Plant
• Francesco Zanot

62 Daniel Shea 43–35 10th Street
• Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa

74 Edmund Clark My Shadow’s Reflection
• Max Houghton

84 Esther Teichmann On Sleeping and Drowning
• Daniel C Blight

94 Zanele Muholi Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness
• Renée Mussai

104 Yusuf Sevinçli Oculus
• Natasha Christia

114 Paul Mpagi Sepuya Mirror Studies
• Duncan Wooldridge

124 Carmen Winant My Birth
• Susan Bright


City Guides

136 San Francisco
• Roula Seikaly

137 New York
• Jon Feinstein

138 London
• Gemma Padley

139 Paris
• Laurence Cornet

140 Brussels
• Stefan Vanthuyne

141 Amsterdam
• Erik Vroons

142 Berlin
• Julia Schiller

143 Milan
• Ilaria Speri

144 Shanghai
• Yining He

145 Tokyo
• Ihiro Hayami


Archives

148 Richard Mosse Incoming
• Duncan Wooldridge

152 Dominic Hawgood Under the Influence
• Lucy Soutter

154 Edgar Martins Siloquies and Sililoquies
on Death, Life and Other Interludes
• Daniel C. Blight

156 Arpita Shah Nalini
• Emilia Terracciano

158 Christian Patterson Bottom of the Lake
• Lisa Sutcliffe

160 Alexandra Lethbridge Other Ways of Knowing
• Lisa Stein

162 Matthew Connors Fire in Cairo
• Max Houghton

164 Peter J. Cohen Snapshots of Dangerous Women
• Susan Bright

166 Matt Lipps Library
• Chris Littlewood

168 Sara Davidmann Ken. To be destroyed
• Greg Hobson

170 Valeria Cherchi Some of you killed Luisa
• Emma Lewis

172 Salvatore Vitale How To Secure A Country
• Max Houghton

174 Leigh Ledare Double Bind
• Simon Baker

176 T.J Prouchel ADAM
• Sara Knelman

178 Francesca Catastani The Modern Spirit is Vivisective
• Gerry Badger

180 Lisa Barnard The Canary & The Hammer
• Lisa Stein

182 Matthew Finn Mother
• Elizabeth Edwards

184 Peter Fraser Mathematics
• Jeremy Millar

186 Eva O’Leary Concealer
• Urs Stahel

188 Bryan Schutmaat Good Goddamn
• Gerry Badger

190 Federico Ciamei Travel Without Moving
• Duncan Wooldridge

192 Vittorio Mortarotti The First Day of Good Weather
• Natasha Christa

194 Luke Willis Thompson Autoportrait
• Duncan Wooldridge

196 Laura El-Tantawy In The Shadow of the Pyramids
• Gerry Badger

198 Mimi Mollica Terra Nostra
• Gerry Badger


Distribution:

1000 Words is distributed by Public Knowledge Books through a wide selection of bookshops and specialist retailers across the UK and Europe. If you would like to know more about stocking 1000 Words in your store, or if you cannot find it in your country, please contact: info@1000wordsmag.com.

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advertising@1000wordsmag.com
Tel +44 (0)20 8985 5778 / +44 (0)7805 022950

Press:

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Creative Review
Humble Arts Foundation
Redeye

Erik Kessels

One Image

Essay by Tim Clark

We see you, Susan. We see you adorning the side of a building. We see you on posters and at the bus shelter. We see you fly-posted to the wall. We see you stuck at the lamppost. We see you hanging in the gallery. We even see you in the local newspaper, without warning. We see you here, there and everywhere. Your image hurtles through our consciousness in this exploding and boundless visual world; half-registered but ever present. You are a constellation of small appearances and grand gestures. But it is silence that ultimately binds us, for this is your last photograph.

Aged nine, Erik Kessels’ sister, Susan was killed in a car accident while crossing the street. Following the tragedy, his parents frantically dug around for the most recent photograph of her, finding a typically banal snapshot that inhabited the family album. It was taken by a photographer at a small-town amusement park in The Netherlands, printed there and then and put on the gate for people to buy. They cropped the image in order to isolate Susan as the sole subject, freezing her into a moment of infinitude. This newly-fashioned portrait was then enlarged, printed in black and white and placed in a frame before being hung on the living room wall for posterity. In the process, it assumed an iconic status for these few, select people.

Though generic, the image is now an enigma multiplied, one whose meaning Kessels has rescued from oblivion by placing it in full view to the public across the Polish city of Wroclaw as part of his poetic and deeply-affecting meditation on love, loss and memory. He has done it as a commission for the Photography Never Dies project curated by Krzysztof Candrowicz, enabling this single, brief photograph to undergo a rapid journey from a personal document of grief to public spectacle, conjuring up an absence that perversely translates as momento mori. Because, of course, Kessels has reacted to trauma by behaving like himself – the trailblazing, Dutch artist-curator known for intervening with vernacular imagery and repositioning fragmented lives. In this case, it this life of his sibling, which passes into photography if it passes into anything. Eschewing the protective feelings one normally has towards family photographs, Kessels consequently stirs a curious cocktail of emotions in the viewer; intrigue turns to the guilt that we should not be looking. Even though we witness no drama, we are still gazing at a victim before she became so. She is pictured forever young yet is forever dead – existing outside of time.

As with much vernacular photography (or what John Szarkowski referred to as “oppositional photography”) the image has the appearance of a shabby, discarded picture-postcard that you might find at a flea market – artless, honest and without pretension. Often, disappointingly in visual culture, it is the distressed look that seduces when the old becomes new again. More importantly, beyond the material qualities, is the notion that even the most mundane kinds of imagery surrounding us can have emotional power and depth. The everyday can always become unique – as Kessels notes: “It’s a prescient thought in this digital age when the act of taking a photograph has, for the average person, been transformed from something done to mark an occasion or special moment to an almost daily habit. All of us walk around with thousands of images of our everyday lives locked away in our phones, collections of pixels that we seldom glance at, and on the whole they mean absolutely nothing to us. That is, until they do.”

The vernacular genre of photography is vital to our imagination not least because snapshot photographs can be and repurposed and interpreted variously; they can be recycled, clipped, cut, remixed and uploaded. Yet for transformation to occur they somehow always have to be demystified in order to remystify. That way images can be made to do anything, made into endlessly different narratives since they are ultimately ambiguous. They all have the potential for meaning in the hands of those with cultural or creative intelligence, and our relationship to them can change dramatically over time.

Kessels echoes this sense of a shifting relationship in his inaugural book from the legendary series, In Almost Every Picture: “And now we see the pictures in a way that was never intended. We have the chance to look inside a private collection of private memories. And, in so doing, our memories, or ideas for their memories, overlap, overwhelm and extend the existing memories in these images, these moments recorded on film …

What we photograph today can have continued meaning in a time and place somewhere else, to someone else. What we then find is that we are all involved in every moment. We are all somehow included in what happens to all of us. We are collectively having lives, memories and futures.”

Therein lies the feeling that we can enter the image, which is essential to the democratic virtues of vernacular or amateur photography. As it flies in the face of ideas of privacy and ownership, we suddenly find ourselves responsible for the passage of such images through culture and history, often undermining the concept of authorship as well as resisting the dominance of the market or reputation of the photographer as a result. Such practitioners, whose career is largely underwritten by print sales, are more or less part of a rigid commercial system that operates on the basis of name photographers, limited edition works, the importance of provenance and the vagaries of the gallery world. Politely existing outside of this elitist sphere is the empirical mass of photography, continually evolving as a dynamic and viable area of study, appreciation and even collecting, thus representing a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. Here, in Kessels’ image, is an indication of the medium renormalised within the everyday aesthetic of culture, since everything and everybody is touched by photography.

The assertion that photography has become utterly central to how we represent, construct meaning and communicate in the world around us presses harder when we consider the upshot of Kessels’ decision to site the image of Susan publicly. In this realm, the unselfconscious display of an intensely personal snapshot throughout the city relies upon an ethical contract between him and society. Such an intervention not only certifies the existence of an otherwise invisible stranger but one whose likeness is now shared by choice and in turn overshared as a consequence. The past maybe gone but we cannot never escape the presence of the dead completely since photography never dies. And at this meeting point between past, present and future, we see you, Susan. We see you. Living among us, you are after all what makes us human.

All images courtesy of the artist © Erik Kessels
This article was originally published in Photography Never Dies and has been reproduced with kind permission.


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and editor. Since 2008 he has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words Photography Magazine. Previously Associate Curator at Media Space, The Science Museum in London, exhibitions he worked on included Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy (2015) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth (2015-2018), a major, mid-career touring retrospective. He has also organised many exhibitions independently, most recently Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting at Webber Gallery (2017) and Rebecoming: The Other European Travellers at Flowers Gallery (2014), featuring works he commissioned by Tereza Zelenkova, Virgilio Ferreira, Lucy Levene and Henrik Malmstrom. Together with Greg Hobson he has curated Photo Oxford 2017, which featured numerous solo presentations by artists such as Edgar Martins, Mariken Wessels, Martin Parr and Sergei Vasiliev and Arkady Bronnikov from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive among others. His writing has appeared in FOAMTIME LightboxThe TelegraphThe Sunday TimesPhotoworks and The British Journal of Photography, as well as in exhibition catalogues and photobooks. He is also a visiting lecturer on the MA in Photography at NABA Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano.

David Campany

Writer and Curator of a Handful of Dust

London

1000 Words Editor in Chief, Tim Clark speaks with the writer and curator David Campany ahead of his forthcoming exhibition a Handful of Dust, which opens at the Whitechapel Gallery on June 7th. Having previously been presented at Le Bal, Paris and Pratt Institute, New York, this parallel exhibition and book project sets out to track the passage or ‘biography’ of a photograph made in 1920 by Man Ray (Or was it Duchamp? Or perhaps Man Ray and Duchamp?) as its meaning shifts in emphasis from context to context; and to look at how those meanings might suggest associations with other unlikely images from the last century.

Their conversation shares views on how the meaning of the photographic image lies in its destination; the idea that we are living in a visual culture that may have trained us not to look, or expect to look, at any one image for very long; as well as the argument that reading about politics, philosophy, anthropology, history and psychoanalysis is perhaps more important for students than reading about photography.

Tim Clark: I can only assume the Dust Breeding image must have been orbiting your imagination for some time before putting together the proposal for the Le Bal show. Where and when did you first encounter the work and to what extent has your relationship to it changed over time?

David Campany: It would have been 1989, when I was an undergrad student in London. It was the 150th anniversary of photography and the Royal Academy had its first ever show of photographs. So embarrassingly late! Anyway, in a section on modernism I saw this strange, almost abstract photograph from 1920. It was titled Dust Breeding and credited to Man Ray. A flat receding plane, without obvious scale, covered in a film of dust with clumps, and what looked like geometric lines. I remember feeling a little dismissive. It was ugly and it seemed pointless. But it stuck in my mind. A little later I came across it again, while reading about the artist Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray had photographed the dust gathering on a sheet of glass that would later become part of Duchamp’s great work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23). Duchamp wanted to keep parts of the dust by fixing it with varnish – a sort of visual way of trapping time. So it was an art photograph that took as its subject the dust of another artwork. That’s unusual. Sometimes this image is regarded as a work by Man Ray; sometimes it’s regarded as a document of an artwork by Marcel Duchamp.

Later I discovered that when it was first published it was titled A View from an Aeroplane, which really twists the possible meaning. This was shortly after the First World War, and aerial photography had become commonplace.

Much later still, I discovered the image had been important to many conceptual artists of the 1960s and 70s. Meanwhile the photo was cropping up in theoretical and philosophical texts about the nature of photography as trace or index. So my initial dislike turned to fascination.

TC: Thinking about how it’s been regarded and where the authorship might reside, how do you view Man Ray and Duchamp’s respective roles? Are we talking about a most unique form of collaboration?

DC: That photograph was in and out of various avant-garde journals and books for over four decades. Then in 1964 an edition of ten prints was made and both men signed them on the front. The respective roles of the image vary, depending on how the photo is used and where the emphasis falls. I guess in that sense it’s a photo that dramatises a tension that exists in all photographs, between art and document, intention and chance, fact and wish, between what’s in the photograph and what context the photograph is in. We’re interested in photography, and to that extent we’re somewhat invested in the idea of authorship. But maybe authorship isn’t the most significant thing about photography. It’s a medium haunted by the fact that only under very limited circumstances does the ‘author function’ (as Michel Foucault once called it) actually mean much. We see hundreds of photographs in our daily life and barely stop to think about the authorship of any of them. News photos, design photos, advertising imagery. I was looking at a book of teeth photos today, while waiting to see my dentist. No idea who took them, but no less fascinating for that.

TC: Indeed, the empirical mass of photography – that which doesn’t exist for the purposes of art – is a whole other universe, one that is endlessly fascinating but hardly explored, let alone collected by museums or galleries. Here, it is the language that speaks and not the author.

But it’s true that one of the many intriguing aspects of Dust Breeding is this manner in which it is symbolic of the promiscuous nature of photographs – the mobility of photography. Over its life, it has embarked on a journey through multiple contexts, as it appeared in many different ways and in numerous publications, shifting readings in the process as you say. The key then lies not the image’s origins but in its destination. Rightly or wrongly, Dust Breeding has also been co-opted by Surrealism, Abstraction, Conceptual Art and Land Art, to name but a few as well. As you obviously saw the possibility to acquire so much from one photograph, what other creative propositions does it speak to for you?

DC: The meaning of any image is in its destination. That itself is a rich creative proposition.

TC: Insofar as photographs are always somewhat tentative and destined to only give rise to further images?

DC: Images are essentially ambiguous. They can be made less so – by words and other images, for example – but the ambiguity remains. They may not give rise to further images, but they do give rise to further meanings. So my project was twofold: to track the career or ‘biography’ of Dust Breeding, as its meaning moves from context to context; and to look at how those meanings might suggest associations with other images.

TC: In terms of those other images that Dust Breeding gives rise to in your project, it’s telling that we encounter press and vernacular photography alongside the work of 20th century stalwarts including Brassaï and Walker Evans, as well as eminent contemporary artists such as Jeff Wall, Sophie Ristelhueber or Rut Blees Luxemburg, for example. How did you go about expanding the object list to include other conceptually-related material and give structure to the show?

DC: I don’t like the term ‘organic’ but it did just kind of grow. If you don’t follow the canon, and you don’t follow the official histories and you don’t follow the money… you naturally end up with a much more dispersed view of the medium. We all know that significant photography can be made pretty much anywhere in the culture, from postcards and magazines to fine art prints. Yes, I guess there’s always a little excitement if one sees an anonymous vernacular photo shown next to an Edward Weston, for example, but I suspect that even Weston knew that his own images were so often mannered versions of photographic types made by many kinds of photographer, most of them destined for obscurity. That’s a tremendous leveller. Indeed, this ‘dispersal’ was the ticket by which photography became a modern art proper, one that didn’t run away from the vernacular and the common document but came into a relation to them. Evans, Albin-Guillot, Krull, Brassaï, Man Ray and so many others faced this. Dust Breeding was made in 1920, at the onset of photography’s modern adventure and it heralds that sense of hybridity that won’t be contained by one discourse, let alone one conception of art.

Well, all that sounds very exciting but it can verge on the chaotic, as you might imagine. I wanted a put together a show, and a book, that explored the many implications of Dust Breeding, and did so on a tight-rope, so to speak. Walking a deliberately precarious line, where one doesn’t know exactly what is being suggested by placing one image in proximity to another. It’s the only project I’ve done where I genuinely didn’t know if the audience would think it profound or pointless. The French audience at Le Bal seemed to like it. And for a while a day didn’t go by without me getting an email from someone offering their interpretation of the show. That was very gratifying. I’m curious to see what London makes of it.

TC: Dust Breeding is such a wonderful title. What do you interpret to be its significance? Given the socio-historical context, is this an allusion to post World War 1 trauma and anxiety? Or are we dealing with religious connotations, namely in the Christian lexicon (eg. ashes to ashes, dust to dust)? Or perhaps we are witnessing a channelling of the complex sexuality of Duchamp’s art? After all, he said that everyone understands eroticism, but no one talks about it, and that through eroticism one can approach important issues that usually remain hidden.

DC: All of the above! The title is thought to come from a sign Duchamp hung in his studio: Do not touch: Dust Breeding. As if his studio was a farm, or a laboratory. Dust, that inevitable intrusion is being harnessed, willed into existence and form. Duchamp spoke of devising various procedures to ‘can chance’. To trap it, preserve it. Allowing dust to gather, as a trace of time is a sort of canning of chance. Photography too can be a way of canning chance. The dust photograph is thus a trace of a trace.

The subtitle of my book is From the Cosmic to the Domestic. Dust unites those realms.

TC: And what about the book/exhibition’s title, a Handful of Dust. It’s a line taken from T.S Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land published in The Criterion in 1922 – the same year the dust image first graced the pages of Littérature, is it not? Do you see one as an analogy for the other?

DC: Not just the same year, it was the very same month. October 1922. Eliot’s great poem is modern in the same way as the dust photograph – a hybrid work of allusion and association that pictures the world in fragments if not ruin, but sees the world’s possible redemption in those fragments too. It’s a coincidence I couldn’t ignore.

TC: Dust is obviously the enemy of photography yet as a subject of a photograph it also represents something entropic, an affirmation of the real in all its imperfections and dirt, which in a way is the opposite of modernity and progress. It represents everything ‘out there’ in the universe but also all that is below our feet.

Could you talk a bit about the process of editing the accompanying book that has been published by MACK. What was your idea to best express the images and their associations in this format and how did it differ from the exhibition experience?

DC: The format of the book is unusual. It’s a sequence of about 160 images, uncaptioned. It’s roughly chronological, with a few deliberate leaps across history. In the middle of the sequence sits a separately bound long essay. So you’re free to cast aside the writing and give yourself up to the task, or pleasure, or pleasurable task of navigating images that are tethered tentatively to each other. That’s as close as I’ve come in book form to the experience of the gallery setting, which of course isn’t very close at all, since books and shows are very different experiences (for all the obvious reasons). It’s true that some shows, notably thematic shows, can end up being “books transferred to the wall”. Naturally I was keen to avoid that. All I’d say is that the two photo-related activities that make me happiest are the working out of multivalent sequences on the page and the working out of relations between images in a physical space. A book needs to be a good book, and an exhibition needs to be a good exhibition. With this project the material works well in both settings. I worked on both simultaneously.

TC: The fact that the images are uncaptioned is interesting since earlier in our discussion we touched upon how text can either compliment or contradict an image’s meaning, albeit with ambiguity intact. Do you see the way you have sequenced and arranged the images for the book as a kind of writing in itself anyway? Is it a way not so much to write about photography but with it?

DC: Well, I was at pains earlier to say that images can be shaped by other images as well as text! Is a sequence of photographs a form of literature? Maybe, and I suspect that in the past I’ve talked about it in that way. But I think we use analogies with literature because we don’t have an adequate vocabulary for describing what happens when our response to one photograph is informed by another and another. We just don’t. I’m always surprised by that. Back in the 1920s, when editing was really coming into its own, both on the page and in the cinema, there were filmmakers and film theorists developing really complex ways of talking about cinematic montage. Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Vertov. Revolutionary figures. But beyond a few texts on photomontage and collage there was no equivalent body of knowledge being assembled for photographic editing. This doesn’t mean photo editing wasn’t as advanced. In many ways it was, but we’re left with quite an impoverished way of talking about it. That’s not necessarily a disadvantage. Part of me finds it very freeing.

TC: Freeing? In what sense?

DC: I think it was Koestler who said that true creativity begins where language ends. That can be a very regressive idea, and has been used to defend all manner of clichés about artistic life. Nevertheless there are times when it can be freeing to not be able to give a name to what you’re doing.

TC: I think photography is all editing. We can never emphasis enough the pervasive and persuasive role of editing in determining meaning, via interstices between images, via movement between one photograph and the next, via the itinerary of the eye.

Speaking of which… Slowness and sustained looking versus quick, casual consumption of images is also something that I’m curious to hear your thoughts about. I’m recalling a passage from Victor Burgin’s essay Photography, Phantasy, Function (1980) that of course you know very well:

‘To look at a photograph beyond a certain period of time is to be frustrated: the images, which on first looking gave pleasure by degrees becomes a veil which we now desire to see. To remain too long with a single photograph is to lose the imaginary command of the look, to relinquish it to the absent other to whom it belongs by right: the camera. The image now no longer receives our look, reassuring us of our founding centrality, it rather, as it were, avoids our gaze. In photography one image does not succeed another in the manner of cinema. As alienations intrudes into our captation by the still image, we can only regain the imaginary, and reinvest our looking with authority, by averting our gaze, redirecting it to another image elsewhere. It is therefore not an arbitrary fact that photographs are deployed so that, almost invariably, another photograph is already in position to receive the displaced look.’

If you indulge me and imagine we ignore the date for a moment, Burgin could almost be describing our contemporary condition of waning attention spans, of photography in the age of distraction – an age in which the sheer volume of images we digest on a daily basis not just on the Internet but in the world around us is staggering. An age in which anybody with a smart phone is now a photographer but few have a sophisticated understanding of the uses and abuses of photography. At the moment of his writing, though, what do you think was his most pressing concern, given that psychoanalytic theories of photography such as the gaze, the imaginary and captation were only recently introduced? What precise aspects of visual culture was he writing in response to?

DC: You’d have to ask him that. That passage is fascinating for different reasons. Burgin’s argument is ontological, in that he feels there’s something built into the medium that makes photographs compelling to look at but only for a short while (“therefore”, as he put it, there’s always another image in place to take the displaced look). Against that ontological view we might say that we live in a visual culture that has trained us not to look, or expect to look, at any one image for very long… but we could. I’ve never quite made my mind up about that, and I guess there’ll never be a ‘court of appeal’ in which we have to make up our minds. But it is a question I think about, and it was on my mind a lot in this project, spiralling back to that one very singular image. Maybe images are like relationships. Some warrant a one-night stand, others demand a long-term commitment. And some you don’t see very often but they’re important to you nonetheless.

I was just reading a very suggestive essay by Hito Steyerl, titled Cut!, in which she suggests that each epoch of modernity has its own ways of editing (she’s concerned with movies but it applies to still photography too). The rhythms, the interstices change over time under different pressures. I think the Internet is generating a whole new set of rhythms and interstices on many fronts: in the online orchestration of images, in the online consumption of images, in the possibilities of retrieval and reconfiguration. I think you can see this in the number of books by photographers that have associative, elliptical edits. Such books seem to be influenced by, yet resistant to, online experience.

TC: This idea that we live in a visual culture that has trained us not to look is very interesting if not a little disconcerting. I guess I was not only thinking about the surfeit of imagery (via the Internet, billboard advertising, television, news photography etc.) that might avert our gaze but also about certain, self-conscious strategies present in art photography – namely typology and, more specifically, seriality as a means of creating the ‘displaced look’.

Someone whose work, given its nature, actively resists the idea of expecting viewers not to look at any one image too long is Jeff Wall, to name but one example. He doesn’t present groups or series of images as way of imagining photography, a practice of photography, he has described, as ‘so established it is almost unnoticed’. He has said, and as you included in your article for Source magazine, Quotations for an Essay about Editing (2009): ‘I notice it because I really cannot do it that way. I want each picture to stand on its own, with no sequential or thematic relationship to any other. At least, not any specific or organised relationship.’

What made you write about Jeff Wall’s Picture For Women (1979), a book again centred on one singular image, for which you received the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Writing in 2012? Was this image initially a one-night stand that surprisingly developed into a long-term relationship?

DC: Published books are strange things. They seem to say: “This was all very intentional. It was written by someone who knew what they wanted to do, and they did it.” But nearly all my books have come about by chance, and never turn out the way they start. The one on the Jeff Wall image had a strange genesis. When Wall had a big retrospective at Tate Modern, in 2005, there was a day-long symposium where a bunch of people were each invited to choose and talk about just one of his photographs. Steve Edwards, Briony Fer, Michael Fried, Michael Newman, and others. I chose Woman with a Covered Tray, a very understated image that I loved, and still do. Then the organisers called me to say that nobody had chosen a work from the 1970s or 80s, and could I reconsider? I’d recently published a survey book for Phaidon, Art and Photography, in which I included Wall’s Picture for Women. That photograph had already attracted a lot of discussion but I doubted one thing that almost every critic seemed to assume, that the photograph was shot facing a mirror. We’re always making presumptions when we look at photographs. That fascinates me. Anyway, I gave my talk at Tate, and a few years later the artist Mark Lewis, who instigated the One Work series of books for Afterall/MIT asked if I’d push my thinking and turn it into a whole book on Picture for Women. There was more than enough to discuss, not just about that image but why so few art photographers set out to make singular photographs, belonging to no set, suite, series, typology, archive or other ‘body of work’. Making just one, to stand alone, is still very rare.

Intellectually, I’m rather allergic to books about ‘photography in general’. There’s so little you can meaningfully say about it in general. When I was an undergraduate I spent an afternoon talking with Susan Sontag (a long story) and she and I ended up discussing this issue. I was a great admirer of her essays but never liked her book On Photography. When she asked if I’d read it I was brave enough to tell her this. I didn’t like the sweeping tone, and the absence of reproductions in the book gave her an unearned license to sail over an entire field making sweeping generalisations. She said that was certainly a weakness of the book, and that at the time she’d found it difficult to talk about specific images. Many writers on photography do find that difficult – they relate to photography as a technical/social phenomenon. I was struck by her honesty. Then she said, very genuinely, that maybe one day I might write a book titled On Photographs, or even On a Photograph. I never forgot that conversation.

TC: That’s a great story and On a Photograph would be a fabulous title. You’ve referred to Wall’s Picture for Women before as ‘perverse’. Could you elaborate on that?

DC: It doesn’t picture any thing perverse, but it does picture perversely.

TC: Perverse, in terms of confounding us as viewers through the deliberately disorientating sense that we are looking through the reflection of a mirror? Perverse in terms of presenting us with several spectacles going on at once – like in Édouard Manet’s painting Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, on which Wall modelled Picture for Women? I imagine these are just some of the work’s many obstinacies in giving up its meaning readily that intrigued you?

DC: Yes. It took me a whole book to explore the obstinacies and I still came to few conclusions. In general I find photographs ‘modelled’ on paintings insufferable. We can all think of endless corny and over-lit photographic remakes of Vermeer, Hopper, Chardin and so on. But Wall’s Picture for Women does address itself to the specific differences between the mediums. Manet’s painting really cannot be recreated photographically. It’s a painting. And Wall’s photograph is a photograph. That’s not a call for purity – all the mediums are free to mix and explore each other – but there’s a kind of dialogue that also clarifies differences.

TC: Yes, endless. When confronted with examples of photographers pursuing this line or gallerists and publishers embracing such practice, I immediately think to myself, ‘What a shame! What a shame that they still consider photography’s status as an art form to be a bit suspect.’ I think, ‘Are we really going to have this conversation again about the relationship between photography and painting?’ The same points seem to be rehearsed over and over again and comparisons are often facile. Yet, in the case of Wall’s Picture for Women I think it is clear we are dealing with something much more complex and sophisticated. Wall’s motives seem far from faithfully mimicking its source in photographic form but rather he deploys a large-scale tableau in order to force a reflection on spectatorship, to thrust us into a kind of cinematic space, to play with perspective, to muse on the ‘male gaze’ etc. Ultimately, this is done without lapsing into corny imitation – far from it.

However, if the picture plane is invisible in a photograph, how has Wall managed to make it visible? How do we ‘know’ whether this is a camera photographing itself in a mirror or one camera photographing another? What do you think Wall is trying to do, trying to break away from?

DC: I never think about what an artist might be “trying to do”. I’m more interested in what I am doing when I’m looking and thinking. The image provides the occasion for interpretation. It’s what John Cage called ‘response-ability’. I’m post-structural enough to know that meaning lies in its destination, not its origin. Maybe this is why I’m just as attracted to images by unknown photographers, and to the fields of photography where the author function plays little part. Film stills, snapshots, instrumental photos like press or police pictures.

Every few years I reread several of Roland Barthes’ books – his ‘autobiography’… S/ZThe Pleasure of the TextCamera Lucida… and the anthologies of essays. His circling around the relation between authorship and his own response is constantly fascinating. It’s curious how Camera Lucida is so beloved by photographers, when that book is certainly not beloved of them. For Barthes, the photographer’s authorship and intention are the obstacles that come between the image and his response. Yesterday I was with William Klein, whose images Barthes discusses, but only to say they are rich in socio-historical detail. He has no time for Klein’s powers of observation or quick-witted timing, or compositional brilliance. All Barthes sees are clothes and faces. Taking my copy of the book from my bag I asked Klein what he thought of Barthes’ approach, all these years later. He grabbed the book in mock anger and wrote on the image, “That was me – William Klein”! I guess authorship is always going to be a complicated issue for photographers.

Jeff Wall is certainly a ‘name’ in contemporary art photography and his manner of image construction means that many audiences and commentators feel that when they’re looking at his work they’re somehow in his artistic head. I don’t feel that at all. I don’t feel he has a ‘point of view’, certainly not an emphatic one that crowds me out. He simply offers me very rich occasions for response.

TC: Are you at liberty to say what you are working on with William Klein?

DC: Klein is a giant of documentary photography, fashion photography, and filmmaking in the 20th century (he’s also a brilliant writer and designer, who took care of every aspect of his landmark photographic books). He’s American but moved to Paris in 1948 and went back only intermittently. As a result he’s not had a retrospective in the US, and there’s no single book with an overview of his whole career. We’re looking into the possibilities of both.

TC: Sounds fascinating and a long time coming. Which great British photographers do you feel have been drastically overlooked by our photographic institutions here in the UK? Who hasn’t received their dues?

DC: There are so many! Hannah Collins, Victor Burgin, Chris Killip and Nick Waplington are four very different practitioners, who exhibit and publish all across Europe and America but deserve attention from major British institutions. From a slightly younger generation – Hannah Starkey and Esther Teichmann spring to mind. From the past – I’d like to see a comprehensive show of the work of Edith Tudor Hart. Britain has a habit of not quite valuing its photographers, while the contemporary art scene in the UK still has a problem with the medium. It used to exasperate me. But now I just get on with doing what I can, prodding here and there, championing when the occasion arises.

TC: Indeed! And all those you listed certainly merit major shows here in the UK. Even though we are in the photographic backwaters, I find it hard to believe that they haven’t been approached at certain points in their respective careers.

Obviously you’ve curated and organised many exhibitions on an independent basis – from a Handful of Dust at Le Bal (2015), as we’ve discussed, to Mark Neville: Deeds Not Words at The Photographers’ Gallery (2013) or Walker Evans: The Magazine Work, which started at MOCAK in Krakow (2014). Would you ever consider taking a permanent post in a public gallery or museum?

DC: It would depend on the institution. I’ve seen really dynamic curators swallowed by the bureaucracy and hampered by the slow pace of museums. That’s cause for concern. I kind of fell into curating, having never set out to do it. And to be honest I fall into most things, usually by being invited. It’s all very haphazard. I have my interests and somehow they find outlets. I was listening to a wonderful radio interview with the actor Tilda Swinton. “So Tilda,” said the host, “you’re enjoying a remarkable career…” Tilda interjected: “I’m not having ‘a career’: I’m having a life.” A life photographic, that’ll do me.

TC: ‘A life photographic’ – that’s a very nice way to put it. However, I find the term ‘photographic’ a curious, slippery one when used to describe an individual work or form of art ‘practice’ (another odd word). In your mind, how is something ‘photographic’ as opposed to just plain photography?

DC: I agree. I wouldn’t use the term to describe an individual work or form of art practice. I’ve ended up with a working life that moves between writing, curating, making images, editing, teaching, broadcasting, public speaking, and so on, but nearly always to do with photography in one way or another. A life that could be reasonably described as photographic.

How is a specific work or practice photographic without being photography? Interesting question. Perhaps when it partakes of an element of what makes up photography. For example, we might say photograms are photographic without being photography. Suntans are photographic without being photography. Signalling a Morse code message with a flashlight is photographic without being photography. I think the term ‘photographic’ has come about to designate a whole range of important partial practices.

TC: Just going back to the various photographic elements that make up your working life… Do you consider writing to be at its core? And I’m curious: who do you write for? Do you ever have a specific reader in mind?

DC: The image is at the core. That’s what I orbit around, in different ways. I had no intention of writing, and didn’t take it seriously until I was around 30. When I started to write – which was by invitation, on the basis of a couple of public talks I’d given about my own photography – I thought I should impress my academic peers. But once I’d done that, it wasn’t very rewarding. It felt needy and paranoid.

As a kid, I think I was smart, but not academically smart. That meant I had a lot of intellectual and creative energy that was going to waste, which can be an awful feeling. For whatever reason, photography caught me just in time, in my latter teens. It gave me a doorway to so many things. So in the back of my mind when I’m writing, I see me at the age of 19. I’m trying to catch him, scoop him up, offer him something to reach for. I’m not trying to tell him it will all be fine, but I am trying to tell him that the struggle to look and think can be worth it, even when it leads to more struggle. I think this approach chimes with something that’s dying these days, especially in academia, and that’s the drive for clarity of expression. My first drafts of my writing are over-wordy and contorted. Most of my efforts go into the re-writing. I’m trying to say things as simply as I can. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to simplify, or ‘dumb down’. I’m looking for the clearest way of expressing even the most complex ideas. They’ll still be complex, but I want to give myself and my reader (who is really my younger self) the best chance of grasping them. This isn’t a programme for all writers, but it is the one that interests me.

TC: I’m now imagining your writing as a sort of indirect letter to a 19 year old you. Are there any rules for writing that you either follow in the present or which you would set your younger self in retrospect?

DC: The points made by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language are valuable. Never use a phrase you’ve heard before. Think three times before you ever use an adjective (it always says more about you than about what you’re throwing it towards). Avoid euphemism and cliché (i.e., use language and try not to let it use you). Be suspicious of ‘popular wisdom’ and the consensual categories to which the mass media will default.

I recently listened to a lecture podcast by Susan Sontag, and before she got to her main subject she said this:

“My work is much more intelligent than I am, and for a very good reason. Everything I write goes through many, many drafts. I feel that I am my first draft but then I’m a very good rewriter. I’m extremely tenacious, extremely stubborn. And I know how to improve, radically improve, what I get first onto the page. But I’m actually not as smart as the end result.”

That’s valuable. Kurt Vonnegut also has some good things to say about writing. Adorno on the essay form is terrific. Lastly, I find it worth listening carefully to great public speakers (and I don’t read their speeches). Speakers who can present, discuss, expound and think on their feet without notes, without hesitation, deviation, repetition or ‘TED talk’ over-rehearsal are very, very rare. Writing is, for me, connected to speech. Again, that’s not for everyone but it’s how I go about things. It might be because I found myself with a lecturing job before I found myself writing.

TC: Yes. And, of course, it was Orwell who commented on turning to long words and exhausted idioms as ‘like a cuttlefish squirting out ink’. Martin Amis has written some good thoughts too about writing as a war against clichés, how overused or abused words can become ‘dead freight’. What cliché is, he has said, is ‘heard thinking and heard feeling’. Sontag’s admission is interesting too. I was recently listening to an interview with Zadie Smith in which she said writing offers you a person in their best form – that ‘a book is somebody’s best self’, which rings very true.

I would like to ask: who has been the most remarkable writer on photography for you, personally? Who has been fundamental to your thinking on the medium?

DC: That Zadie Smith remark is interesting. When my students ask me who they should be writing for, I say: “Your future self. Write the best gift you could give your future self.” There isn’t a particular writer for me, no single figure who has been fundamental. As a reader, my most pleasurable moments come when the ideas and phrases from one writer overlap with another, when I move from book to book, or essay to essay. Those transitions – when one feels the presence of two minds and one’s own in the middle – can be so delicate, so energising, so joyously destabilising (a feeling Barthes once called ‘jouissance’). Putting down Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature and picking up André Bazin’s essay on the photographic image. Reading Pierre Mac Orlan on Atget and then Molly Nesbitt on Atget. Reading Walter Benjamin and then Rosalind Krauss. Reading an interview with Roy deCarava, then reading Teju Cole on deCarava. Most recently it was putting down Siegfried Kracauer’s 1930s writings on the mass media and picking up Hito Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen. I guess that’s the editor in me, looking for the connections and the tensions.

TC: What makes a writer, David?

DC: I don’t know. The question feels too general. Perhaps a Writer (capital W) is a person whose words you want to reread. I read a lot of books and essays for information, and a lot for their intellectual ideas. But I tend to keep only the books I feel I shall want reread.

TC: Do you ever experience fear of writing? And are you a writer with any certain rituals?

DC: I’m one of those for whom writing is the way of testing not just what one thinks, but how one thinks, so there’s always a degree of fear involved. I have no rituals, although I do tend to follow Walter Benjamin’s advice, and try to write the end of a text in a location that’s different from where the rest was written. And wherever possible I’ll structure an essay or book visually, first sequencing the images that will become the spine of the writing.

TC: Are there any forms of writing on photography that you find unhelpful or repellent?

DC: I’m not fond of writing that presumes to speak for the reader or viewer; and there are many great thinkers that I find hard to appreciate as writers, but I wade through their texts anyway. I mention no names.

I do appreciate your reference to form. I feel good writing should be pursued in any mode, from the monographic essay and exhibition text, to the peer-reviewed academic essay, the interview, or the review. Academic writing is in a bad way at present, which is a shame. The whole peer-review process is limiting experimentation, and I see too many young academics feeling they need to conform to certain conventions for the sake of their career progression. It’s all become very risk-averse. I write for the academic journals only occasionally (who would want to live in a peer-reviewed culture? Sounds vaguely Stalinist to me).

In re-reading much of Roland Barthes’ work I’m struck by the radically experimental attitude he took to form: never presuming but always forging forms that were appropriate to his thought. Barthes could make even a list of his preferences zing with intellectual energy and startling honesty. It’s chilling to think he wouldn’t last a day in the present academic climate.

TC: It’s interesting that you mention Barthes’ list-making ability since I’m particularly fond of his J’aime, je n’aime pas (I like, I don’t like), amongst other works. I quote a few extracts from both directions:

‘I like: salad, cinnamon, cheese, pimento, marzipan, the smell of new-cut hay (why doesn’t someone with a “nose” make such a perfume), roses, peonies, lavender, champagne, loosely held political convictions, Glenn Gould, too-cold beer, flat pillows, toast, Havana cigars, Handel, slow walks…’

‘I don’t like: white Pomeranians, women in slacks, geraniums, strawberries, the harpsichord, Miró, tautologies, animated cartoons, Arthur Rubinstein, villas, the afternoon, Satie, Bartók, Vivaldi, telephoning, children’s choruses, Chopin’s concertos…’

What scope do you see for newer, more experimental forms of photography writing?

DC: Ha-ha, Barthes’ lists do look odd when out of context like that. (What was his problem with white Pomeranians and women in slacks??? Funny.) There’s always scope for new forms of writing, but a new form is only ever pursued when a desire and a necessity is felt, that for what ever reason it must exist.

But I’m not sure how much we need to read about photography at all. I’m always encouraging my students to read about other things. Politics, philosophy, anthropology, history, psychoanalysis, and about the subject matter of what it is they are photographing, be it trees, buildings, fashion or political protests. The American photographer Andreas Feininger published a book titled Photographic Seeing. This was in 1973, when the ‘serious’ study of photography was getting established in universities. He wrote:

‘There is no doubt that, as long as a student of photography is strongly motivated, i.e. seriously interested in a specific type of subject matter, he or she will eventually become a great photographer […] On the other hand, I have found again and again that people interested only in “photography” get nowhere. They go from photo school to photo school, take courses in photography, work as assistants to well-known photographers, read all the proper books, have an encyclopaedic knowledge of things photographic, own the latest and finest equipment – and never produce a worthwhile photograph.’

Of course it’s not a clear-cut either/or. The better writings on photography are also writings on other things.

TC: Yes, we see so many photographs of things rather than photography about something, anything. Is photography criticism not a great good then? Do you not consider it a noble pursuit?

DC: Put it this way…if photography isn’t photography when it’s only photography, the same goes for the writing about it.

TC: There we have it! In your introduction to Intimate Distance, Todd Hido’s recently-published monograph with Aperture, there’s a particular passage that really seems to encapsulate so much of what we’ve been discussing: ‘Living in the mind, pictures can never really belong to anyone. The unconscious does not recognise authors, origins, or destinations. What matters for imagery is resonance and restlessness.’

I was also intrigued by your idea of us all beginning in the ‘middle’. You write: ‘Making photographs is so often an act of recognition, conscious of otherwise, that what is before you resonates with things that came before. Those things might be direct experiences. They might be movies, picture books, music, or novels. We can never know for sure. And when we look at the photographs of others we are doing something similar: responding now through an elusive then. We all begin in the middle.’

DC: Well, we do all enter in the middle. Things were going on before we arrived, and they’ll continue after we’ve left the party. We pick things up where we find them and try to put them into some kind of narrative, be it history, or artistic biography, or autobiography. But it’s never clear-cut. For example, when we respond deeply to a work from the past – an image, a film, a novel – we are responding now. There is no time travel, and yet we know that the work could only have been made when it was made. So it’s not just that we enter in the middle… we are living in different time zones simultaneously.

TC: Could you tell me your favourite film, photo book, album and novel – those you would ‘choose as a pillow and plate, alone on a desert island’ (as Jeanette Winterson wrote of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities)?

DC: Cinema was the first art form that really mattered to me, and it’s still the backdrop to much of my engagement with images, so I couldn’t choose one film. I could give you four. Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Powel & Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, and Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn. Tomorrow it might be another four. Photographic book? Walker Evans’s American Photographs. Album? Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Novel? Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

Image courtesy of David Campany. © Drew Sawyer

Top 10

Photobooks of 2016

Selected by Tim Clark

An annual tribute to the most exceptional photobook releases from the year that was – selected by our Editor in Chief.

1. Gregory Halpern: ZZYZX
MACK

Once the hype subsides, and you let Gregory Halpern’s images bathe you in glorious California sunlight, it’s clear to see why ZZYZX was named Photobook of the Year at The Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards. MACK’s production is sumptuous and as far as photography goes Halpern’s is of the highest order.

The book takes us on a journey, starting at the desert east of Los Angeles, across the city and up to the Pacific Ocean but seen through the filter of Halpern’s ineffable vision, it is in fact more akin to somnambulation. Images depict odd characters and quiet moments – things observed, rendered through description and suggestion – which on accumulation build up a picture of a sort of Babylon on the brink of collapse. With an untold narrative, contained but concealed, we slowly feel the burning desire for a place; a dreamed-of place since, as Italo Calvino one wrote, “desires are already memories”.

2. Edmund Clark and Crofton Black: Negative Publicity
Aperture/Magnum Foundation

Part research document, part exhibition catalogue and part dossier, Negative Publicity presents a complex and multi-layered reflection on the CIA’s programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’. Clark has turned his camera to spaces and surfaces that contain a hidden, violent tension, those which stand in for the countless people who have disappeared into a mysterious prison network – the vanishing point for the law. Yet no drama is pictured here, just the drama of a picture. Collaborating with counter-terrorism expert Crofton Black, he has paired images and redacted documents to interrogate the nature of contemporary warfare and invisible mechanisms of state control. A book that really matters.

3. Sara-Lena Maierhofer: Dear Clark; Portrait of a Con Man
Drittel Books

Sara-Lena Maierhofer has made it her business to tell the tale of a real-life imposter who went by the name of Clark Rockefeller, among other personas, having passed himself off as a scion of the wealthy family. Dear Clark pieces together remnants of his life, through material such as birth certificates, brain scans and family photographs alongside images that speak to key themes of multiplicity and transformation. The book’s material qualities are almost akin to installation with design touches like tipped-in images that perfectly heighten the searching quality of the project. Reality and fantasy, fact and fiction are masterfully at play here as Maierhofer makes tremendous art out of deception and the corrosive effects of lies.

4. Michael Hoppen Gallery: Evidence Case File
Guiding Light

This richly illustrated, cleverly designed book offers a small but brilliant insight into the collection of reknown photography dealer Michael Hoppen. In parallel to The Image as Question: An Exhibition of Evidential Photography, recently on display at the eponymous London gallery, it sets out to disturb the big claims of photography as ‘record’ or ‘proof’. A judicious selection of works harks back to the medium’s 19th century origins and also includes images from 20th century stalwarts as well as contemporary artists. The book empties images of their original evidential function and reconceptualises them in a new context and in a new time. Questioning what a ‘fact’ is a well-trodden area of investigation yet the presentation, editing, sequence and paper choices are very well-measured and all equally important to the publication as various parts separately. Rewards the curious.

5. Laia Abril: Lobismuller
Editorial RM/Images Vevey

Laia Abril is continually on the up and the photobook has always been an essential part of her output. Just recently-released, Lobismuller sees the Catalan artist produce a meditation in photography and text upon Spain’s first documented serial killer. The Werewolf of Allariz, known as Manuel Blanco Romasanta was originally named Manuela since it was initially believed he was a woman. This central figure was also dubbed the ‘Soapmaker’, owing to his habit of using the fat of victims to produce high-quality soap. Gender issues, psychology, landscape, mythology and folklore… the mesmerising story is wrapped upon layer of exquisite literary narrative. Between each image and each piece of text, a creepy affinity can be established, demonstrating Abril’s fluidity between medium and genre, which has come to characterise her practice.

6. Todd Hido: Intimate Distance
Aperture

This is a lavish monograph befitting one of the most influential US photographers. Todd Hido’s unique brand of cinematic spectatorship is surveyed en masse in Intimate Distance, bringing together twenty-five years of photographs full of substance and thickness of atmosphere. The book tracks the development of a career via Hido’s overlapping motifs and preoccupations: disarming nudes, smudged landscapes and interiors or housing lit up as if glowing chambers, inviting us to consider his world-as-image and rethink his oeuvre from a fresh perspective. The need to know oneself and the fear of self-knowing find their beautiful expression here. His is an art of longing.

7. Francesca Catastini: The Modern Spirit is Vivisective
AnzenbergerEDITION

“Knowledge is not made for understanding, it is made for cutting,” reads the Michel Foucault quote that appears in the postscript to Francesca Catastini’s The Modern Spirit is Vivisective. It serves as a useful coda for considering the work. True to its title, this handsome book is an investigation into the process of studying human anatomy, combining the artist’s own photographs with vernacular images of old anatomy lessons, illustrations from Renaissance manuals, complemented with scientific, literary, and philosophical texts. Using chapters as its organising system – On Looking, On Canon Lust, On Touching, On Cutting, On Discovering – the book reveals a great capacity for sequencing images, and the possibility to conceive of them as a form of literature.

8. David Fahti: Wolfgang
Skinnerboox

Gathered on the pages of David Fahti’s Wolfgang are black and white photographs sprinkled with quotations from Wolfgang Pauli, a pioneer of quantum physics also held responsible for a large number of unexplainable failures of equipment at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. Countless accidents, surprises and flashes of unlikely beauty and absurd humour work to conjure up Pauli’s omnipresence despite his absence in the images. Skinnerboox enlisted celebrated book designer Ramon Pez to step in and around the project and the production is all the better for it. A sum of its wonders; art, design, photography, science and history collide and fuse together to powerful effect.

9. Tito Mouraz: The House of The Seven Women
Dewi Lewis Publishing

Misty forests, bemused animals, brooding portraits and delipidated out-houses are just some of the gothic-infused imagery on display in Tito Mouraz’s The House of The Seven Women. They are visual elements invoked to give material form to a myth of the Beira-Alta region of Portugal, where the photographer was born and raised – that of a house believed to be haunted by the ghosts of seven sisters, including one witch. Strange happenings were said to occur on the occasion of a full moon, namely the women would fly from their balcony to a tree opposite and seduce passers by. An eerie and enigmatic mood piece, the work translates brilliantly to book form, classical and full of craft.

10. Adam Golfer: A House Without a Roof
Booklyn Press

The complicated histories of founding the state of Israel and the subsequent violence and displacement of Palestinians as a result of military occupation serve as the subject for this debut book from photographer Adam Golfer. A House Without a Roof draws on his own personal past and familial connections to the place to form an interesting, first person perspective while foregoing any conclusion about its troubled present. This is not easily reducible or categorisable work and Golfer deftly blends Internet-sourced imagery, archival material and extensive use of text with his photographs of the ongoing conflict, as seen at ground level. At least, it transmits the disorienting sense of an outsider locating oneself within a historic ‘home’, constructed through both real and imagined narratives. 


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and editor. Since 2008 he has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words Photography Magazine. Previously Associate Curator at Media Space, The Science Museum in London, exhibitions he worked on included Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy (2015) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth (2015-2018), a major, mid-career touring retrospective. He has also organised many exhibitions independently, most recently Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting at Webber Gallery (2017) and Rebecoming: The Other European Travellers at Flowers Gallery (2014), featuring works he commissioned by Tereza Zelenkova, Virgilio Ferreira, Lucy Levene and Henrik Malmstrom. Together with Greg Hobson he has curated Photo Oxford 2017, which featured numerous solo presentations by artists such as Edgar Martins, Mariken Wessels, Martin Parr and Sergei Vasiliev and Arkady Bronnikov from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive among others. His writing has appeared in FOAMTIME LightboxThe TelegraphThe Sunday TimesPhotoworks and The British Journal of Photography, as well as in exhibition catalogues and photobooks. He is also a visiting lecturer on the MA in Photography at NABA Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano.

Marton Perlaki

Bird, Bald, Book, Bubble, Brick, Potato

Interview by Tim Clark

A picture has the ability to mislead the mind, opening a door to alternative narratives that exist within the viewer’s subconscious. I wish to access these moments of subjectivity and navigate the viewer towards a game of associations.” So says Marton Perlaki, a Hungarian artist whose ongoing series Bird, Bald, Book, Bubble, Brick, Potato has now made the journey into book form entitled Elemer, published by Loose Joints.

His intriguing publication presents a rich array of seductive and sardonic imagery, drawing principally on two main photographic genres – still life and portraiture. Perlaki’s process involves carefully planning and creating unique arrangements, wherein he makes everyday objects and scenarios undergo an absurdist upheaval. Some images show a pale, macabre-looking man – Elemer – as he strikes equally unusual poses or exhibits various states of uneasiness. Some show stuffed birds wrapped in string, their eyes pierced with needles while others reveal constellations of bubbles delicately emerging from laboratory apparatus – these are but a few examples of the jarring mix of views and subjects that chafe on our mind. His work summons the idea that discontinuity and dislocation can be powerful strategies to defy viewer expectations and thus force a reflection on photography’s randomness and incessancy, as well as its ability to control the disorder of the natural world through repetition, juxtaposition and artifice.

“I was always drawn towards variety in a series and never really interested in linear story telling,” Perlaki says. “I find it important to make the viewer participate and invite him/her to make connections between seemingly unrelated images. Everyone can create their own personal narrative which seems like a fun process to me.”

Interspersed with his own photographs are a handful of pictograms of mundane items, both natural and man-made, including a balloon, a lock and key, a vice, a bucket, a garden hose, a potato, a worm and a brush. Deadpan yet also playful in tone, these functional illustrations serve as visual and symbolic equivalents to his imagery, often precipitating the appearance of certain motifs and manifold shapes that give rise to meaning – or at least short-lived thematic runs.

“The whole project started as a stream of ideas,” Perlaki explains. “The trigger was a series of cards that companies used to include in packs of cigarettes. They were actually called ‘cigarette cards’, in the first half of the century. The cards would display useful household tips. On first glance the images look silly and nonsensical but when you flip them over and read the corresponding text the pictograms suddenly make sense.”

Providing both senseless and factual situations, Perlaki conjures up visual poems or private performances, yet records only one remote moment, such is the nature of photographic capture. On the surface of things, his photographs are relatively simple and innocent – childish even. Perhaps photography, given that it is relatively naïve and young compared to the other visual arts, is really a childish medium after all. At least this is what Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa posits in his afterword to the book. The writer goes on to encourage us to consider photography as childish in its dogged determination to record nothing more than the instant on which its attentions are focused. Childish in its disgust and delight, clarity and uncertainty, or for swaying from the fleeting to the ineffable. He surmises: “Photography’s capacity to register anything to which it can be exposed is similar to a child’s capacity to treat dog shit and diamonds with an equal measure of fascination.”

Indeed, Perlaki’s results are equal parts capricious and witty, menacing and hallucinatory. But, above all, it is the human element that finds its way into the imagery via the portraits that is key to both heightening and further complicating the sense of disquiet. This obviously relates to Perlaki’s specific choice of model, who, despite his outward impression, is in fact a happy family man and a teacher living and working in Szolnok, Hungary. What is evinced here is the notion that the reflection of reality reveals nothing about reality. The photograph is at once a portrait of Elemer and not Elemer. It does not disclose anything about the individual. He is a person with an entire life, with dreams, desires, worries and fears – complexities that we will never know from the photograph.

If, as Bertolt Brecht famously remarked, “photography is the possibility of a reproduction that masks the context……So something must be built up, something artificial, something posed,” then Perlaki’s work shares a kinship with this sense of photography setting out to experiment and instruct, exemplified by his photographic constructions and flagrant theatricality. “My idea was to use one character throughout the series and I was struggling to find the right fit when I accidentally came across a photograph of him while I was browsing on Facebook,” he explains. “Elemer’s peculiar appearance in these staged moments adds a mystical quality to the series. He is simultaneously sculptural and enigmatic, which for me was a perfect combination for the series.”

As he moves and appears before the camera, Elemer’s gestures reveal nothing of his essence, but reveal to us the charm of a gesture – the type Milan Kundera obsessed over in his seven-part novel from 1968, Immortality. Establishing his characters, the writer states that a gesture cannot be regarded as the expression of an individual, as his creation (because no individual is capable of creating a fully original gesture, belonging to nobody else), nor can it be considered as that person’s instrument. On the contrary, it is “gestures that use us as their instruments, as their bearers and incarnations.”

Ultimately, Elemer and his gestures become just another one of the photographer’s props. He is part of Perlaki’s inventory of objects, collected and composed through photographic form – their particular sequencing and repetition across the series offering a focus that is restless and multiple. In accumulative effect, arrays of images either contradict or compliment one another in a critical or reflexive way – similar to Brecht’s insistence on the built up – all the while embodying a nominal relationship to the world. After all, a bird is to bald, as book is to bubble, as brick is to potato, is what Perlaki’s art suggests and provokes.

All images courtesy of the artist and Webber Represents. © Marton Perlaki
Excerpts of this interview were originally published in the FOAM Talent issue 2015 and have been reproduced with kind permission.


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and editor. Since 2008 he has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words Photography Magazine. Previously Associate Curator at Media Space, The Science Museum in London, exhibitions he worked on included Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy (2015) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth (2015-2018), a major, mid-career touring retrospective. He has also organised many exhibitions independently, most recently Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting at Webber Gallery (2017) and Rebecoming: The Other European Travellers at Flowers Gallery (2014), featuring works he commissioned by Tereza Zelenkova, Virgilio Ferreira, Lucy Levene and Henrik Malmstrom. Together with Greg Hobson he has curated Photo Oxford 2017, which featured numerous solo presentations by artists such as Edgar Martins, Mariken Wessels, Martin Parr and Sergei Vasiliev and Arkady Bronnikov from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive among others. His writing has appeared in FOAMTIME LightboxThe TelegraphThe Sunday TimesPhotoworks and The British Journal of Photography, as well as in exhibition catalogues and photobooks. He is also a visiting lecturer on the MA in Photography at NABA Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano.

Virgílio Ferreira

Being and Becoming

Essay by Tim Clark

Heraclitus, the somewhat contemptuous Greek philosopher who was active around 500BC, posited the idea that change is at once the most constant and essential element of life, when he ventured, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” More specifically, this aphorism has largely been interpreted, on the one hand, as comparing existence to the flow of a river – given that all things pass and nothing stays – but perhaps more importantly, on the other, as a rumination on the impossibility of coming into contact twice with a mortal being in the same condition.

The statement could also be a useful coda for discussing the new body of work by Portuguese photographer Virgílio Ferreira, entitled Being and Becoming. Couched in a symbolic, literary mode of photography, the series is a subjective and dreamy meditation on the lives and environments of several migrant workers from Portugal, who left their country of birth to start a new life in new lands, principally due to economic reasons.

Courage, upheaval, the promise of opportunity; unfreedom, self-respect and heroism, not withdrawing the possibility of exploitation and poverty – the ultimate capitalist ethic – are all defining features of the migrant experience. Yet rather than exploring material or socio-political circumstances, Ferreira attempts to evoke inner feelings, opening up a perceptual space for reflecting on the construction of “hybrid-identities and the polarity of living in-between cultures, languages, landscapes and borders” – subject matter that is encapsulated and triggered by his subjects. Similarly, the work does not fall into a neatly-defined story since the mood and locations are too ineffable to operate in the documentary vein. Instead, Ferreira sets forth the notion that his protagonists are in fact part of a much larger, collective phenomenon and thus his approach to the topic of immigration is to connect to broader issues of memory and belonging, mobility and boundary.

What Ferreira also offers encompasses concepts of the third space and the Old and New, as he explains: “According to some scholars, the third space is an interaction and articulation with two or more cultures and languages. The Old and the New are states of being; negotiations between social, national, geographic and linguistic spaces. Homi Bhabha claims that these negotiations are ‘the process of cultural hybridity’ which ‘gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation’.”

In his coolly analytic quest to establish meaning, one of the picture-making strategies Ferreira uses to conjure up something of this sense of duality is diptychs; scenarios where he is drawing out deep correlations between the spaces, surfaces and people he elects to photograph and juxtapose. Many comprise solitary men or women or sometimes pairs of people who appear dislocated from their surroundings, although repetitions of the same individual may be seen within a diptych. Let us consider an example of the latter, the diptych that presents two portraits – one in black and white, the other in colour – of a middle-aged woman lost in her own private world of thought. We can only imagine that she is nostalgic and homesick. After all, Ferreira typically locates, understands and describes the human predicament by tapping into feelings of isolation and longing and through piling melancholy on melancholy. But there is also something profoundly empathetic and life-affirming about this picture: her past exists as a free-standing memory, the future as hope and anticipation, and her aims and recollection are the building blocks between the two.

In parallel to this, as is the case elsewhere in the series, we can clearly witness the feeling of being uprooted in a foreign country or of seeing oneself through the filter of difference in an adopted city. With its unerringly psychological portrayal of the individual, this kind of photography specialises in silence and darkness, and unlocks even awakens a sensation of anonymity. As such, it might be argued that Ferreira converts this into his true thematic.

These thoughts press harder when we pause to reflect on the distinct atmosphere emanating from and within the images. Ferreira’s photography does not take its cue from the drama of events, rituals or spontaneous actions, but opts for a language of complexity that is alive with ambiguities to make visible a disquieting feeling of loneliness and alienation. Perhaps this is why a great deal of the photographs in Being and Becoming do not seem to be of anything much except people drifting away in moments of repose. As Ferreira, holding this in the balance, writes: “What I intent to depict is not only the human presence, but emotional aspects or inscriptions (on people’s faces or bodies) that may have an immaterial and vague quality, while symptomatic enough and able to reveal something.”

That certain something is indeed incredibly subtle and nuanced. Arriving in these quiet yet intense photographs, figures vie for prominence but are routinely blurred and shift in and out of focus amid expansive landscapes, while at other times their depiction gives way to shadows or simply teeters on the threshold of visibility altogether. Ferreira’s images appear fluid, unfixed and transitory, as are the subjects he portrays. They play with diffuse traces, obstructions and layers of dappled light to lock us in moments where elements of past and future coalesce with the present.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the occasions where Ferreira has produced works by means of multiple exposures (without resorting to digital manipulation), one half literally acting as a mirror image of the other, and in composition and lighting they fuse together perfectly. His aim, as he states, “is to create a notion of continuity between ‘there’ and ‘here’, where two points in time overlap in the same place.” The most affecting case in point is a close-up of water rushing over a stone in a river, which he has then moved and re-photographed. The resulting composite creates a simultaneously disorienting but powerful impression; now stalled and loading the photograph as a form of allegory and an expression of the dichotomy between presence and absence.

In a sense, the photographs seen in Being and Becoming are more like a collection of proverbs that speaks to certain universal truths. Something is happening here that heralds a unity of opposites, a flux doctrine that ultimately points to the way things are the same and not the same over time. Now is then: what came before comes after. Here is Virgílio Ferreira rallying at Heraclitus’ defence in 2014.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Virgílio Ferreira


Tim Clark is a curator, writer and editor. Since 2008 he has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words Photography Magazine. Previously Associate Curator at Media Space, The Science Museum in London, exhibitions he worked on included Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy (2015) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth (2015-2018), a major, mid-career touring retrospective. He has also organised many exhibitions independently, most recently Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting at Webber Gallery (2017) and Rebecoming: The Other European Travellers at Flowers Gallery (2014), featuring works he commissioned by Tereza Zelenkova, Virgilio Ferreira, Lucy Levene and Henrik Malmstrom. Together with Greg Hobson he has curated Photo Oxford 2017, which featured numerous solo presentations by artists such as Edgar Martins, Mariken Wessels, Martin Parr and Sergei Vasiliev and Arkady Bronnikov from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive among others. His writing has appeared in FOAMTIME LightboxThe TelegraphThe Sunday TimesPhotoworks and The British Journal of Photography, as well as in exhibition catalogues and photobooks. He is also a visiting lecturer on the MA in Photography at NABA Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano.