SIGNALED at UNSEEN 2014

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The most impressive photobook presented at the UNSEEN fair/festival last weekend was not at the Book Market per se, but at East Wing gallery [stand 39, gas silo]: a three volumes publication Vienna MMix 10008/7000 in a sleeve published by Scheidegger & Spiess, a numbered limited edition of 600 copies. Jules Spinatsch made 10.008 images, as part of what he called Surveillance Panorama Project at the Vienna Opera Ball. The Vienna State Opera was not amused with the end result, but did give permission for the project.

Volume I, entitled Every Three Seconds, is bulky and dark green. It contains the integral sequence of the ten thousand pictures chronologically arranged in grids of 36 pictures on a spread.The images were made during an opera performance with two camera’s that moved every three seconds in a vertical line six positions downward along a rail, and up again after six shots. In this manner neither image selection nor editing took place. Volume III is a cahier containing two essays. One by neuroscientist Wolf Singer, who is exploring the transition of human perception in this age of (social and big) media and surveillance technology. Volume II entitled 71 photographs contains this exact amount of selected images, grainy and faded in colours: purplish, reddish, and yellowish, making them appear voyeuristic in nature.

All pictures are zooming in on textures, objects and people. Most are strangely cropped and remind me of portraits by Craigie Horsfield. We look at a curtain cord, a lampshade, and man in tuxedo biting his nails in the loge. Women are wearing pearls and evening dresses with décolleté and are cramped in a balcony behind tall glasses with champagne or water. A royal couple is mingling among guests. Hairdo’s, camera flashes, peculiar facial expressions, arms and fingers gesticulating mysteriously. All are spreads, each framed by a white vertical bar on the far out left page and printed on thin, matte, wood pulp paper. The sequences are interleaved with sheer white pages. I bought number 504, selling price: 120.00 EUR.

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 The funniest documentary photobook, I already spotted it online, is published by Journal in Sweden. This is a publishing house that makes exquisite photobooks (such as Trying to dance by JH Engstrom), but maintains low profile; e.g. Journal doesn’t attempt to increase its exposure through a website. I was thrilled to find they had a stand at the UNSEEN Book Market. One of the titles from Journal is Southbound by Knut Egil Wang, a Los Angeles based Norwegian photographer with a surname that sounds Chinese. His documentary style has both a Martin Parr and Alec Soth edge to it. The narrative in this publication is related to local culture, warmer climate and simple amusement during ‘long dark winters’ in the Northern hemisphere. A small cute illustration of an aeroplane landing on the French title page and the bright yellow flyleaves introduce you to sunny destinations. We see elderly Western people in groups with Christmas hats on, poles in their hands, small backpacks on passing through a white wooden porch that looks like a misplaced prop in a movie like Paris Texas. They enter a desolate dry, stony and greyish landscape. Another page shows a girl in a bikini and her boyfriend in swimming trunks posing awkwardly on a tile floor. His left arm bandaged, daggling in a sling, face and left knee bruised. Both are holding arms around each other’s lower backs. On the opposite left page is a detail of two cacti stems with a branch that looks like it’s embracing the other plant.

You may find more of these kinds of dialogues in juxtapositions of images. Peculiar forms of amusement are documented: muscular boys dressed in nothing but a black, or yellew, crutch holder on suspenders and doing shopping, another boy in such costume sitting wide legged in front of the camera, greasy curly hair, wearing sun glasses, smoking a cigarette and drinking beer from cans. The following pages depict a snake show, a gay parade, an elderly woman milking a goat, people bowling on a parking lot, three boys posing in naked torsos at night drenched in soap bubbles. All images are framed in a sober, neutral and restrained, almost puritan, layout. The print run of Southbound is 800 copies.

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My first encounter in the gas silo was with a large size children’s photobook, both conceptual and documentary in nature by the Slovakian female photographer Lucia Nimcova (1977). Animal Imago is containing pictures of abused, stuffed, encased, and misplaced animals in eastern and central Europe. We see a stuffed Nile crocodile in a shabby (what look likes a natural history) museum presentation next to a stuffed monkey on the back of a scooter. Another double page shows a gracious grey cow’s head popping up behind a tree, opposite a sticky dead duck attacked by horseflies and dumped on a garbage can along a park lane. As is done with children’s book the publication opens and ends with empty coloured pages, to make a drawing or take notes. There are no captions, and no other text. The publication Animal Imago is an ode to the photographer’s deaf-born son.

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 ‘The Indian Iron’ by the German female photographer Regine Petersen is an award winning documentary and well deserves this honor. Petersen is the recipient of the 2014 Outset | Unseen Exhibition Fund, which will result in a solo exhibition at FOAM in 2015. Petersen uses a kind of ‘retro-style’ in documentary photography: re-working and re-contextualizing found photography and collected documentation (newspaper clips) mixed with self-made images, traces and associations. Her topic is unusual: the moments in history that meteorites falling from the sky interrupt our daily practices, be it in Alabama, Rajasthan or Germany. Regine Petersen also made an unusual wall presentation at the stand of East Wing gallery, in which the narrative becomes part of the mural installation. So in one body of work ‘stars fell on Alabama’ you see a huge monumental image of a free standing meteorite against a black void, like a piece of gold ore, and underneath on the left side you see a much smaller image (a local photojournalistic record) of police officer and a woman, looking up at a huge hole in a ceiling of her living room in Alabama, next to an ever smaller photocopied and framed newspaper clipping describing the moment when a cosmic rock crash actually crashed through the atmosphere and appears to have hit somebody. So it seems. I like the fake history, the assemblage of photography, postcards and text, the humour, the cosmically aspect and the enticing narrative of this photowork. I dearly hope Regine Petersen will make an author/photographer book in the near future.

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TIERGARTEN photographed and ‘risographed’ by Johannes Schwartz, is a spiral bound. In terms of book production and size it is quite similar to A.M.G. Photographie (1933-1934), then published by Art et Métier Graphique in Paris. TIERGARTEN is a Japanese block in a soft carton sleeve, and is published by ROMA Publications. Experimental Jetset designed the book. Details are depicted of (rotten) food, fleshy meat chunks, and rows of slices of bread that happens to be served to animals at the Moscow Zoo. There certainly is a modernist flair to this book, in the way structures, fences, bread slices, potatoes and eggs and piles of leaks and crinkled newspapers are photographed. But the visceral quality of the food, the insects, the maggots, the packaging, the leaves, the fish, is all due to the offset printed and ‘risographed’ photographs made in the Charles Nypels Lab at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Don’t ask me how that works, but the technique reminds me of dye-transfers. And what a marvellous typographic opening: each letter of the book title is a capital template letter. Each is printed full page in black on red heavy weight textured paper.

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 Collage is definitely back: Julie Cockburn, at the stand of The Photographers’ Gallery [stand 27, gas silo] shows embroideries on found photographs, all of which are portraits (Hollywood actors, American high school pictures). Another example is a series of portraits with round mirrors (where you would expect a face), and is created by Trine Søndergaard and presented at Martin Asbaek Gallery from Copenhagen. And of course Ruth van Beek (following up her well-received publication the arrangement), is displaying some premieres at gallery Ton de Boer.

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And striking documentary by Jason Larkin, Tales From the City of Gold, was presented at Flowers Gallery. This is also a wonderful book, about open air religious practice, mutating urban landscape and environmental issues related to mining in South Africa. The images depict mine dumps, hand made homes and coloured people in the Johannesburg area, interleaved with reproductions of a few small black and white drawings.

After the festival I collected by e-mail some refelctions on the event from booksellers present at the UNSEEN Book Market, who probally are already on their way to the London Art Book Fair or the New York Art Book Fair.

HOW many books did you sell?

Johan Deumens Gallery

How many visitors have been looking at the better part of a book? And were attracted and encouraged to continue this acquaintance, or to stay at home? Or would like to offer it to a friend? And did so by paying a small amount? Finally 47 people paid for one or more books.

 

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I didn’t count yet, but certainly more than a 100.

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I offered the latest titles from my programme and some from the backlist.
Very well received were three little books about Hong Kong’s vernacular culture by Michael Wolf:
Hong Kong TrilogyHong Kong Flora; Hong Kong Informal Seating Arrangements 

Also well received were: Replies by Andreas Trogisch and Escape by Danila Tkachenko (Award winning at World Press Photo 2014)

 

What was the focal point for this fair/festival?

Johan Deumens Gallery

To present a program of conceptual and research-oriented artists, in this context focusing on photography-related artists’ books, to cultural institutions, publishers, private collectors and those unknown with these kind of approaches. To maintain and extend collaborations with colleagues and institutions. To sell works.

 

Finally, it was also valuable looking at the brand new black and white portrait series ‘Imperial Courts’ (one of the largest housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles) by Dana Lixenberg (1964) at Robert Morat Galerie. The project is a ‘come back’ to an earlier series, Dana started working on this poor community in 1993. There is an in-depth interview with Dana on pages 174-175 of UNSEEN MAGAZINE. Always impressive of course is new existential work by JH Engstrom at Grundemark Nilsson Gallery. And please don’t forget to read the essay by Taco Hidde Bakker: ‘Photography 3.0: The End of Photography as We Knew It’, starting on page 21 of UNSEEN MAGAZINE.

 

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