The Art and Maintenance of Found Photography in the Photobook Award Shortlist 2015

Of the 35 photobooks and catalogues nominated for the Photobook Award Shortlist 2015 a third is fitting into a genre on the march, definitely since the launch of OHIO Photomagazine in the mid 1990s: ‘Photobooks of Found Photographs’, but actually starting way before, in the 1960s. Some comments and comparisons.

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Good 70s by Mike Mandell, has not been released yet. A good old Afga-Geveart carton box for analogue photographic paper contains a set of facsimiles, of seminal publications and originally unpublished work. One early original book project is Seven never before published portraits of Edward Weston from 1974.

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This might well be the very first ‘exercise’ by Mandel in compiling an artist’s book on found photography: three years before his collaborative with Larry Sultan: Evidence was released. The booklet contains typewriter and handwritten letters to Mike Mandel by e.g. E.Stanley Weston, E.W. Garland, and Emma Weston based on a biography-oriented questionnaire. It’s a satire, and a form of ‘mail-art’, turning into a revelation of   personal lives of American citizens called ‘Edward Weston’. 35 letters went out, 7 of them responded in handwritten letters and personal snapshots. In terms of working method, the approach is equal to the artist’s strategy practiced by Sophie Calle.

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Another facsimile is Bottom of the Lake by Christian Patterson, which reminds me of 180o Laurence Aëgerter. Reproduced, re-worked and altered content of the ‘dictionnaire encyclopédique pour tous’ Petit Larousse en couleurs, Paris 1973. Including contemporary snapshots, documentary photographs, urban landscapes integrated in the Larouse lay-out. The pictures are taken in a 180-degree turn from the actual described object. The publication contains contributions from different photographers. Reproduction starts at page 993.

Illustrated people (2014) by Thomas Maileander is widely nominated.

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“Illustrated People” is the translation into book form of a performance by Thomas Mailaender. He applied to the skin of models 23 original negatives selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict’s collection before projecting a powerful UV lamp over them, thus revealing a fleeting image on the skin’s surface. Maileander then photographed each of his models before the sun made the image disappear. The book comprises the resulting shots combined with a series of photographic documents found in AMC’s collection.”

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Negatives by Xu Yong deals in yet another way with photographic negatives taken during the Tiananmen Square protests in Being China, in 1989. And (In Matters of) Karl by Dutch photographer Annette Behrens (one of two nominated book works published by Fw:Books) also deals with the progressive War of Terror during the twentieth century. Annette revealed in self-made and found photographs how collective memory and history creep into the seemingly bourgeois life of an SS officer Karl-Friedrich Höcker as depicted in his family album, which was anonymously donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C in 2007. Well documented.

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Greetings from Auschwitz is another way of dealing with the reminiscence of the Second World War. A collection of postcards sent by tourists to family, friends and beloved ones, after visiting the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Handwritten warm greetings on the backside of a macabre backdrop; ethically inappropriate is what the message is. All postcards are selected and edited by Pawel Szypulski.

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Deadline by Will Steacy is the first of two newsprint publications, I understand, deriving from the family archives, and is in line with Down these mean streets (2012). This first monograph and artist’s book by Will Steacy brings back in mind both the sketchbook of Hannah Hoch: Album (1933, 2004) and Pornografie (1971) by Klaus Staeck. Staecy is also a collage artist par excellence. In Down these mean streets self-made photographs on ‘fear and abandonment in America’s inner cities’ are juxtaposed to classy, banal, and propagandistic US newspaper clippings. Full page double spreads with headlines, cut out fragments of newspaper articles and handwritten notes on ‘financial crisis’, ‘zero jobs’, ‘bailing out’, ‘benefits and bargaining’ in American politics in the first decade of the 21st century as well as the historical events that got the country that far: post-World War II industrial growth, The Reagan years and 911. In short the ‘betrayal of the American Dream’. Excellent printing. It all has to do with ‘The Ink in His Blood’: His grandfather (I assume) wrote a college essay about his summer job at the York Dispatch in 1938.

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YouHaveSeenTheirFaces

The most provocative artist’s strategy towards found photography (blurry surveillance camera shots from Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in this shortlist is manifested in You Haven’t Seen Their Faces by Daniel Mayrit. A smart appropriation of surveillance technology to instigate photography as evidence in the current financial and economic crisis, targeting the 100 most powerful people in the City of London as criminals, assuming their guilt. The title is a wink to a survey about the desperately poor working-class people in rural America, the southern states, by Margaret Bourke-White, published in 1937: You Have Seen Their Faces. And once again, that title is partly reminiscent of a short story by Whittaker Chambers: ‘You have seen the Heads’ (1931).

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Actually, all shortlisted Photography Catalogues of the Year deal with found photography in one way or another; photography as evidence is the main target in 2015. And of all 4 catalogues Beastly/Tierisch contains a motley crew of animal life pictures, cutouts from glossy magazines and such, AMC2 Journal issue 11 is black and blue in a different way: displaying the disguise and untruth of heroism in war photography against a backdrop of what…? Cozy, vintage self-adhesive shelf liner paper, maybe?

I vote for You Haven’t Seen Their Faces.

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