Monday, June 22, 2015

Kassel Fotobookfestival - photobook heaven

For the past seven years, Kassel in Germany has been home to the most important annual forum on the world of photography books, the Fotobookfestival Kassel. The festival is a long weekend full of artist lectures, book exhibitions, booksellers and publishers showcasing their most recent offerings, portfolio reviews and awards for the best photobooks from the previous year.
For photographers hoping to find people interested in their yet-to-be-discovered book projects, the main attraction of the Fotobookfestival Kassel is its photobook dummy competition for the best unpublished photobook mock-up. The winner of the first prize receives a publishing contract with the German publisher k-books and a critique in the art magazine European Photography. In 2015 the two festival awards, the Photobook Award Kassel (experts nominate their favorite photo book of the last year) and the Dummy Award Kassel were continued.

It was a pleasure to be back in Kassel to take part in the 7th edition of FotoBookFestival. This festival is very intimate and personal and clearly a labour of love for Dieter Neubert and his team. What is so special is the friendly atmosphere and a reminder that the photoworld is so incredibly small. It was wonderful to meet old friends and  be introduced to new people all in an atmosphere with no politics or egos. As curator Krzysztof Candrowicz said to me we are all just one big family.

The clear difference between a festival like the Kassel FotoBook and a Photography Fair is the absence of dealer galleries. This takes away the pressure and hype of gallerists having to sell and what's left is simply the common factor of the love of photography and the photobook.

With a group of colleagues I spent a day reviewing portfolios. This is always enjoyable for me because it's a chance to share the not surprising (but mostly forgotten) truth that all of us find the business of making pictures difficult. Difficult because it seems so easy. We all are capable of making bad pictures. This usually provides a sense of relief to many as often photographers think it's only them with the problem.

Later I joined Prestel publisher Curt Holtz to help judge the dummy awards. We were in accord virtually 100% of the time and went for work that was simple, well presented, fresh and surprising. First place went to Jan McCullough's Home Instruction Manual. For this project she searched the internet for tips on how to build your perfect home. After collecting all the tips, Jan rented a house and followed all the instructions given to her. She photographed the end result; a home with a forced personality.

We didn't share the other judges view of the winning book but agreed with everybody that Kumiko Motokis’s White Fang was stunning. This book took second place.
Curt said this about the book: Kumiko Motokis’s White Fang was for me perhaps the most exciting book dummy submitted to this year’s Kassel Fotobookfestival. Based on an actual dog fight that took place in Aomori in Northern Japan in early 2014, this slim soft-cover publication moves cleverly between colour and black-and-white imagery: colour for the build-up before the event; black and white for the fight scenes; colour for the brutal outcome. Varying between formal, straight-up portraiture, and Antoine D’Agataesque blurred imagery, along with well-placed inserts on the history of dog fighting in Japan — which is only banned in some areas across the country — this book perfectly manages to walk the fine line between the gruesomeness of this ancient and brutal practice and the well-crafted aesthetic of a modern-day photo book.

Martin Parr was at Kassel in force. Among other things his huge and impressive output of photobooks were on display. Food was a Parr focus, both with the Martin Parr Kassel Menu an artist’s book assembled using Martin's food photographs. This takes the form of an menu book designed to hold 20 A4 sized photographs. Kassel Menu was released exclusively at this years festival. The Menu Book comes with 46 pictures which the buyer can mix and match as desired. Kassel Menu is limited to 350 copies, all numbered and signed by Martin Parr. The revenues from Kassel Menu go to support the not-for-profit Kassel Fotobookfestival. You can order a copy of Kassel Menu HERE.

And not least was the Martin Parr Say Cheese dinner. More about that later.
Martin Parr on the Big Wall
If you love photobooks and had remotely thought about going to Kassel, put it in your diary for next year you will not be disappointed.


jill hartley said...

I do hope to make it for next year.

Unknown said...

very beautiful man.