Geoffroy de Boismenu BOISEMANIA

Contemporary narcissists get their ego-surf kicks by Googling their names. But photographer Geoffroy de Boismenu, harboring a fondness for paper and gifted with a sharp sense of self-parody, gives this old search a new twist. For years, he has saved letters, faxes, receipts and other bits and pieces bearing frightening misspellings of his moniker. The eponymous mishaps are legion – from “Geoffrou de Boismenue” to “Geoffrey de Boisemania” including “Geoffroi Breneu”! Amazingly, he has created an artist book from this orthographical mess. Boisemania, a generous tabloid format of 44 pages in an edition of 6,000, is available for free in Parisian spots from Colette to the Yvon Lambert gallery bookshop.Boisemania is a welcome diversion as we wait for Geoffroy de Boismeny’s (oops, Boismenu’s) new book Image System, published by RVB, expected this autumn.

RC

Geoffroy de Boismenu, Boisemania, 44 pages.

Beyond

Other images on the site Geoffroy de Boismenu.

Our article (in French) on his previous book F2.

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HOW TO MAKE A BOOK WITH STEIDL

Produced by the German TV channel ZDF, the film How to Make a Book with Steidl, generally shown at exhibitions and festivals, is now available on DVD. For an entire year, directors Gereon Wetzel and Jörg Adolph shadowed publisher Gerhard Steidl, supported here by an all-star cast: Martin Parr, Robert Frank, Robert Adams, Ed Ruscha and Jeff Wall. While the film travels the corners of the world (from Göttingen to Qatar via Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Mabou), the plot centers on the creation of Joel Sternfeld’s iDubai. The curtain is drawn on the entire creative process, from editing to printing, including format choice and even the “making of” a cover. Scenes of the white-smocked Steidl working in his Düstere Strasse space in Göttingen are both passionate and amusing. His maniacal attention invading every detail, he inquires about his authors, hauls a palette of paper, corrects a proof, spontaneously empties a garbage can, fires off an idea, solves a problem. Regrettably, aside from a brief scene with Robert Adams when the publisher evokes his father, Steidl resists revealing what truly motivates his unbridled activity. Nonetheless, How to Make a Book with Steidl is much more than a portrait of a major 21st century publisher – it is one of the first films to unveil the exact process of how photobooks come to life.

RC

English translation by Kevin Jones

The Printed Space exclusive excerpt: Sternfeld and Steidl choosing the cover for iDubai. Courtesy Steidl Publishers.

How to Make a Book with Steidl, 1 DVD, Steidl DocCollection, 88 minutes, English/German.

Beyond

The site of the film.

Our previous article on Joel Sternfeld’s iDubaï (in french).

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Aymeric Fouquez NORD

For years Aymeric Fouquez has photographed military cemeteries from World War I in the north of France and Belgium. His style – detached and cold – is documentary. His subject, however, is autobiographical: growing up in the north of France, Fouquez was often taken by his grandmother to play in a neighborhood cemetery. It was a closed space, peaceful and safe – even better than a park for keeping an eye a kid. This double reference to the past – to capital-H History and to a more intimate one – could be a potential snare to his photographic project. But Fouquez, far from being blandly nostalgic, focuses instead on the contemporary landscape. At the heart of this exploration is a group of 1,000 or so military cemeteries, impeccably groomed by British gardeners. They constitute a steady constant – a patch of memory around which everyday life evolves. He seems to be drawing a parallel with how we mentally file past grief, which cohabits in our minds alongside more mundane occupations.

The cemeteries are barely visible in some of Fouquez’s photos: you strain to find them in the image. In others, they are front and center. But they are systematically posited as a counterpoint to the banality of modern life, set off against a highway, a “frituur” (fries stand), workers’ gardens, a warehouse or a vacant lot. For Foquez, these innumerable cemeteries do not represent an end in and of themselves; they are the storyline of a region which is, at best, ignored, but frequently caricatured.

Mirroring Fouquez’s photographic finesse, the book itself transcends mere objecthood to become a piece of art. Fouquez’ practice could easily have led to a Becher-like “container” book – a hefty tome exhaustively and objectively cataloguing the images. Instead, Fouquez put his faith in the “artist’s book.” It all starts with paper choice. Nord is printed on both a blue-tinted matte stock, and on a sort of photographic paper, laminated on one side, matte on the other, and (surprisingly) printed on both.  This purely material twist is somewhat confusing for the reader. To make matters worse, the six blue-tinted sheets (with printed text) are actually inserts: they “interrupt” the otherwise smooth succession of three double-page spreads. Photos are thus reproduced twice: once on the white paper, then again on the verso of the blue-colored insert. There’s more: to make each book unique, Fouquez inserts in every copy a different photogram excerpted from a 1977 super 8 film, a home movie of the future photographer romping around the Marquion military cemetery, just a hop, skip and jump from his grandmother’s house.

Published a few months back, Nord has gone relatively unnoticed, with the exception of the excellent magazine Foam. Slowly, however, this exacting work is on the path to becoming one of the most noteworthy photobooks of 2010.

RC

English translation by Kevin Jones

Aymeric Fouquez, Nord, Kodoji Press, stapled, 48 pages. 700 numbered and signed copies. Each copy has a different digital c-print insert.

Beyond

Nord at theVan Kranendonk gallery.

Kodoji Press temporary site.

Foam magazine

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Pieter Hugo PERMANENT ERROR

Pieter Hugo’s latest book takes for its backdrop the nearly unpronounceable Agbogbloshie, a vast junkyard in Ghana. Hardly a run-of-the-mill dump, Agbogbloshie is the final resting place of the world’s electronic waste. The locals mine the piled-high machines, burning them to recover the metal, eking out a living while intoxicating themselves, not to mention the soil and the water table. Clearly the mere existence of such an e-dump raises questions about the flow of waste from the First to the Third Worlds, and challenges such contemporary convictions as “eco-tax,” carbon offset and other economical-ecological extravagances, all supported by neat economic/environmental cost ratios hammered out by star financial analysts.

Yet beyond the ethic or moral concerns it may rouse, Permanent Error reveals much about Hugo’s photography. Like The Hyena and Other Men and Nollywood, this new opus showcases the extreme theatricality of the South African photographer’s practice, visible in his sense of framing, composition and the depiction of how “actors” and “set” interact. It is also clear in his signature use of drained, anti-realist color. Yet the essential source of the work’s theatrical strength stems from its respect of the three Aristotelian unities of classic drama: the unities of place, time and action. Here, for example, he lays out the life and the work of the denizens of the Agbogloshie junkyard. This new work concretizes the very construction of this theatricality, which we spied slightly more fleetingly in his previous books. In The Hyena and Other Men, as in Nollywood, it was part and parcel of the subject itself. In the former, Hugo stunned with portraits of hyena wranglers living on the fringes of Nigerian towns. Much like old-fashioned carnival bear trainers, these wandering minstrels organized shows with their animals. In the latter, he drew the curtain on bit-part actors in make-up and costume within the walls of Lagos film studios. With Permanent Error, the construction in compliance with the three unites becomes evident. The subject screams “concerned photographer.” Yet Hugo avoids falling into the trap of a sterile genre by abandoning staging to sculpt a tangible distance. Yes, he shows us this deplorable reality, but he spares us the pathos. Instead he employs a protocol that may take its cues from theatre, but nevertheless remains eminently photographic.

RC  & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones.

Pieter Hugo, Permanent Error, Prestel, bound, 112 pages.

Beyond

Other photos on the Pieter Hugo site.

Galleries Michael Stevenson and Yossi Milo.

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Yto Barrada A GUIDE TO TREES…

As revolution brews in the Arab world, Yto Barrada brandishes the flag of irony in the face of uneasy tyrannies. A Guide to Trees for Governors and Gardeners, published as part of the Deutsche Guggenheim’s retrospective of the Tangiers artist, is exactly what its title proclaims: a manual for rulers and those who tend their greenery. The book builds on an idea from Barrada’s 2003 installation, Gran Royal Turismo. In this piece, a model of a shabby Arab city is the backdrop for a cortege of toy limousines. As the cars advance, palm trees magically sprout from the ground. Barrada hones in on the fictional prosperity conjured up during official visits through “admiring” towns – a fiction that masks the reality of the Arab street. A Guide to Trees… toys with this gap, its earnestly instructive tone spelling out the optimal conditions for welcoming the potent ruler. The book begins: “How can you, as a Governor, give an impression of order and good management from the Visitor’s perspective? How can you optimize your visual assets, manage risks and be sure that the Visitor leaves your town impressed? This little book will tell you how.” Barrada cultivates this sardonic stance throughout the book via texts, photos, graphics, calculations, botanical lists, collages, etc. Within this consciously cynical program, Barrada’s photos pack a sting they don’t necessarily have when viewed elsewhere. We see half-painted houses, slip-shod constructions; the sleepers in the “Public Park” series resemble the outcasts of a despotic system in which carefully crafted national narratives conceal reality. Indeed, one of the book’s strengths is precisely how it illustrates fiction wielded as a tool by authoritarian regimes.

A Guide to Trees… is a superb object, formally speaking. Presented in a corrugated iron box, the book is made of four or five papers of varying stock, color and finish, corresponding to the “manual’s” diverse sections. Under the guise of what might be construed as a simple “how to” book, Barrada’s A Guide to Trees… has all the bite of a philosophical tale inspired by Jonathan Swift.

RC  & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones

Yto Barrada, A Guide to Trees for Governors and Gardeners, Deutsche Guggenheim, 124 pages. Clothbound, handworked, including signed artist’s print (frequency modulated offset) on India paper, in clothbound slipcase.

Limited, numbered, and signed edition of 350 copies.

Beyond

Yto Barrada, official site, the Deutsche Guggenheim site.

Galerie Polaris and Sfeir Semler Gallery who represent Yto Barrada.

A review of the Deutsche Guggenheim show by Kevin Jones here.

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WassinkLundgren TOKYO TOKYO

A concatenation of their family names, WassinkLundgren is the pseudonym chosen by artistic duo Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren. WassinkLundgren erupted on the photography scene in 2007 when its Empty Bottles won the Best Contemporary Photobook of the Year award in Arles. At the time, the WassinkLundgren components were 24 and 26. Empty Bottles, shot in Beijing, showcased Chinese people gathering empty bottles (planted by the photographers) in the street. Far from simply recording reality, the photographic practice of WassinkLundgren, with its nudging intervention, is more akin to performance with a slightly surrealist twist. Tokyo Tokyo, their eleventh book to date, proves that their performance/photo approach is still alive and well…and heading in new directions.

We all share the feeling of  “knowing” cities like Paris, New York or Tokyo, without actually having been there. Born of this sensation, Tokyo Tokyo confronts WassinkLundgren’s mental image of the city with its reality, which led to a neighborhood-by-neighborhood exploration of the megalopolis. In the book, different urban zones sprawl out over successive chapters, with cream-colored rectangles signaling the passage from one to the next. Almost like placeholders for absent photos, these rectangular “blanks,” according to Thijs groot Wassink, “are like the path of a metro that brings us from one point of town to another.”

Tokyo Tokyo allows artists Wassink and Lundgren to delve into a reflection on their common photographic practice. Photography, they observe, is a largely solitary pursuit, yielding most often a single point of view on its subjects. Cinema, however, with basic grammatical trappings such as shot/reverse shot, is different. What would it look like, they wondered, if they photographed a single street scene, but together, from different angles? The result was Tokyo Tokyo.

Beyond this underlying thinking and despite the delight-inspiring images, Tokyo Tokyo never trivializes nor caricatures. No Provoke-era imagery, no hordes of commuters crammed into trains, not even dozing metro riders. The artists flatly refuse to take “good” photos, sidestepping the stereotypical imagery that generally trickles down to us. Ultimately, this refusal draws the curtain on a society very much like our own. In this teeming streetlife, everyone rubs shoulders: policemen, housewives, workers, executives, retirees, etc. WassinkLundgren’s street photography is peppered not only with nods to the history of the genre, but also with humor. If they spot a schoolgirl, she is merely an ersatz fantasy. If cherry blossoms flower, a telephone-wielding Japanese is standing by snapping photos. A conscious duality is at work on every page of Tokyo Tokyo, even in its title. As if that were not enough, the book boasts a double colophon – one on the cover page, the other on the final page – indicating the work can be read in the Western left-to-right, or inversely, as do the Japanese. Tokyo Tokyo is consistently, and coherently, double.

RC & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones

WassinkLundgren, Tokyo Tokyo, Kodoji Press/Archive of Modern Conflict, softcover with dust jacket and bellyband, 192 pages, 1200 copies.

Beyond

Other photos on the WassinkLundgren site.

The sites of Kodoji Press and Archive of Modern Conflict.

Our recent article (in French) on Stephen Gill and his photos of Japan. 

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MIROSLAV TICHY

On 12 April 2011, Miroslav Tichy died at the age of 85. Below is re-post of our May 2010 text on him. An homage.

For several years, the work of Miroslav Tichý has galvanized the contemporary art world. He popped up on the radar at the 2004 Seville Biennial, when he was 78. The eminently authoritative Harald Szeemann curated the show, and his endorsement was all it took to convince the art market and institutions: over the following six years, Tichý’s photos appeared in no less than forty individual or group shows in Zurich, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Beijing, Paris and now New York, where a vast retrospective has just closed at the International Center of Photography (ICP). The image-rich catalogue boasts particularly stunning reproductions. A 2008 catalogue accompanying the show at Paris’ Pompidou Center pales by comparison, its brilliant texts unable to offset the lackluster printing.

Tichý’s work was discovered in the early1980s by Roman Buxbaum*, a psychiatrist and “outsider art” specialist who, although a Swiss resident, hailed from the same small Moravian town as Tichý. Buxbaum began collecting the works and including them in “outsider art” shows, where Szeemann, who harbored a deep interest in this field, ultimately discovered them. In the French magazine Etudes photographiques, Marc Lenot, author of the blog Lunettes Rouges, provides an excellent analysis of the “invention” of Miroslav Tichý and the intellectual strategies that hurtled him first into the field of “outsider art,” then more successfully into that of contemporary art. Clearly, Tichý has the stuff to seduce the market, art institutions and critics: a fine arts background, unique works, a coherent corpus built on an obsessive pursuit, and a resounding fit with other contemporary practices.

Tichý enrolled in Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1945. The communist takeover in 1948 dashed any hopes of an artistic career, and Tichý was sent off to military service. Deeply disturbed and visibly transformed by this episode, he returned to live with his parents. In the mid-1950s, between two bouts of depression, Tichý started experimenting with photography, all the while slipping deeper into personal disarray. His unruly beard and tattered clothes made him a walking slap-in-the-face to the communist ideal. Meanwhile, he concocted his own cameras from cardboard and jars, fashioning makeshift lenses to match. From the 1960s, he photographed obsessively (up to 100 images per day) a single subject – women. In the streets, in parks, at the pool – Tichý mercilessly stalked down the female residents of Kyjov.  He snapped the backside of a woman adjusting her shoe, a group of swimsuit-clad sunbathers, a woman getting dressed, a park bench conversation, a kiss. As if this were not enough, Tichý also re-shot pin-ups from “girly” magazines and actresses on his TV screen, vaguely resembling Marilyn Monroe or Elisabeth Taylor.

Then, in a darkroom as crudely DIY as his cameras, he selectively developed his catch. Occasionally he cut the photographic paper into triangles (a pubic stand-in?) and highlighted the dried-off prints with a pen, underscoring varying body parts.  He even devised hand-adorned frames out of cardboard. The photos were then abandoned in a courtyard or on the edge of a table, left to deteriorate under the elements or whatever domestic accidents might befall them.

Tichý’s work fascinates for the strength of its successive impulses.  Desire grows, set within a meticulous process (the hunt, the photographic development, appropriation by manually drawing on the image) and ultimately depletes (the images are discarded), only to return again the next day. The photos themselves attract — the infinite variation around a single theme, the eeriness due to the low-grade material, and their scarification by time. Yet they hold within them a treasure trove of other recognizable photos. In his flamboyant preface to the ICP catalogue Miroslav Tichý, Richard Prince unveils these photographic references, which were surely far from Tichý’s mind at work, but easily identifiable by contemporary viewers: Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Kohei Yoshiyuki’s sex scenes in The Park, Carlo Molino’s polaroids of women, the photographic work of Sigmar Polke or the collection of women’s knees by Hans Peter Feldmann. For the record, one could add Paul-Armand Gette, or the nurses and various girls next door of Richard Prince himself.

* His explanations feature in Miroslav Tichý: Tarzan Retired, a re-worked version of a text from the Pompidou Center catalogue.

RC  & MKB

English translation by Kevin Jones

Miroslav Tichý, ICP and Steidl, canvas binding, 328 pages.

Beyond

Site of the Tichy Foundation run by Roman Buxbaum.

ICP and Steidl sites.

The article by Marc Lenot, L’invention de Miroslav Tichý in Etudes photographiques. His review of the show at the Pompidou Center. (in French)

Some photos by Tichý here.

Two further links suggested by Marc Lenot : the official site of Tichý created by his neighbor and beneficiary, and a film highlighting a different point of view than Roman Buxbaum’s.

Karen Rosenberg’s New York Times review of the ICP show.

Review in AnOther Mag of the current Miroslav Tichý show at London’s Wilkinson Gallery (until 5 June 2011).

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