Friday, October 30, 2009

Better "What the Fuck" than "So What"

John Baldessari says he's interested in "fucking people up" when they look at his work. He also talks about "no more boring art". I like both these statements. It's one thing going along with these sentiments, and another making work that follows... It's a question of avoiding the predictable and the seen it all before. Easier said than done....

Here are some diptychs I made a couple of years ago, and have done nothing with. They are constructed from some late 60's found Kodachromes and some of my own pictures. Diptychs are dangerous territory as potentially one picture can cannibalize the other and the sum of the parts ends up less than the potency of the individual image. I hope I haven't fallen into that trap!

Working from the position that each picture contains a mini-narrative, I've combined images that seem on one level illogical together. What better way to "fuck people up" and and make the reader work harder. Better "What the fuck" than "So what".

Recreating the Berlin Wall

The idea is to create on the 9th November 2009, a line of people that will recreate the Berlin Wall with their physical presence, that would last for approximately 30 minutes.
The Berlin Wall project is about creating a " temporary monument of reflection". For the 20 year anniversary the Berlin Wall will be rebuilt, not from steel and concrete but with people.. to remember when Berlin became one again...

47,000 people are forming a human chain that will make its way on the 9th November (around 8.15pm) a chain exactly where the originally wall stood. This will create space for thinking together about separation and reunion... and show how a single person can move as part of a group.

Rather than being a twenty year memorial of the walls fall, its is much more about the scale of the human imagination, achievement and involvement, and it that could be used for the positive rather than the negative actions.. and is a project that can attract people from all different walks of life, age, profession, and class.

The wall when it was created was one of the clearest man-made divisions of people with different ideologies.
With mauer mob 09 project, the creation of the wall by people is more about saying that such divisions are no longer acceptable in todays society.. Its much more a rebellious statement of "borders were yesterday", than remembering the actual wall.

To join in this amazing event you can contact via facebook: Mauer Mob. 2009 - Recreating the Berlin Wall"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize - shortlist announced

The Photographers’ Gallery, London, has just named the four shortlisted photographers nominated for its annual Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (DBPP). Now in its thirteenth year, the annual award of £30,000 rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution, in exhibition or publication format, to the medium of photography in Europe between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009. The four shortlisted artists are Anna Fox, Zoe Leonard, Sophie Ristelhueber and Donovan Wylie. Anna Fox has been nominated for her exhibition, Cockroach Diaries & Other Stories at Ffotogallery, Cardiff; Zoe Leonard for her her retrospective exhibition, ZOE LEONARD: Photographs, at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Sophie Ristelhueber for her retrospective, Sophie Ristelhueber at the Jeu de Paume, Paris; while Donovan Wylie has been shortlisted for his exhibition MAZE 2007/8 at Belfast Exposed. The winner will be announced on Wednesday 17 March 2010.

Paul Graham won the DBPP in 2009 for his publication, A Shimmer of Possibility (steidlMACK, October 2007).
Paul will be in Auckland in January to present with Rineke Dijkstra the annual AUT St Paul Street Gallery photography master class.

The image above is from Zoe Leonard's series shop doors.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Auckland. Sunday afternoon...

... higher thoughts.

Auckland. Sunday morning....

....Takapuna beach, five minutes drive from my house.... clouds, horizon line and touch of sea with Rangitoto, dormant volcano sitting, waiting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Auckland - what I did today

First thing this morning photographed the magnificent pale yellow rose which has engulfed the branches of my big old Jacaranda tree. There must be thousands of blooms in that tree and it's what I see from the terrace of my studio. Later a watermelon, the first this summer. And then lying in the courtyard observing our now elderly cat, Back Door Fluffy.

Auckland.Yesterday. Seeing what is there....

Three photographs.

Friday, October 23, 2009

PURE BEAUTY - an interview with John Baldessari

Baldessari's PURE BEAUTY opened at Tate Modern last week and runs until January 10. Baldessari is also currently showing at Marion Goodman Paris until November 28. The stunning 330 page PURE BEAUTY catalogue arrived yesterday. Despite the fact that the book has been misbound with a section included twice, it's my favorite art book so far this year.

Here Aaron Schuman talks with John Baldessari, originally published in the Hotshoe International, Issue #162, Oct./Nov. 2009.

JOHN BALDESSARI was born in National City, California in 1931. He attended San Diego State University and did post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA from 1970 - 1988 and the University of California at Los Angeles from 1996 - 2007. His artwork has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in over 900 group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. His awards and honors include memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the Oscar Kokoschka Prize, the “Spectrum” Internationaler Preis für Fotografie, and the BACA International 2008. He has also received numerous honorary degrees. Upcoming exhibitions include a traveling retrospective that will begin at the Tate Modern in London in 2009 and travel to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, the Los Angles County Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from 2010-2011.

AS – Aaron Schuman
JB – John Baldessari

AS: When did photography first become an important part of your work, and why?

JB: I took photographs as a kid, but I wasn’t interested in photography any more than anybody else. Then in high school I had a chemistry class, and I found a book about mixing your own developers - for some reason that intrigued me. So I went out and got a camera, because I realized that I had to take some photographs in order to have something to develop. Also, I started going to the library to look at camera journals and photography books, and I began to notice that what I was reading about photography was very different from what I was reading about art; there seemed to be two separate histories, and the two were not commingled. I found that puzzling, but that’s about as far as I went with it at that point. Then when I began to study art, I started to have problems with the way that art was being taught to me. I was mainly taught traditional painting and sculpture, and I thought that art could be much more than that, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to go beyond just painting, and one of the results was that I picked my camera up again. But I primarily used it to take notes for my paintings. I would go out and look for things that sort of looked like my paintings, photograph them, make prints, put them up on my wall, and then feed the images back into my paintings. Then I‘d go out with my camera again and look for stuff that looked like the new paintings, which might have new information that I could channel back into my work, and so on. So it was a kind of looping process. Finally, I was looking at the photographs that kept looping back into my paintings up on the wall, and it hit me: ‘Why do I have to translate this stuff into painting? Why can’t these photographs just exist as art?’ So that’s when I made the break. Also, when I started teaching art myself, one of the projects that I gave my students came out of that. I figured that all of the students had cameras, so I said, ‘Find the most puzzling kind of art you can think of, and then go out and try to approximate it with your camera. Take a photograph that corresponds to it.’

AS: In your early photo-based work, you took your own photographs and applied them to a canvas. Then you had someone else take pictures of you; then you asked others to take photographs for you; and finally you started to use found imagery, such as film-stills, photos from newspapers, and so on. Why did you gradually take yourself out of the pictures, so to speak?

JB: It was mainly about trying to escape my own good taste, or good taste in general. I think that each time you do some art you get better at it, so I was trying to figure out a way to work against that. Anytime that I could not take a photograph – where I could just give instructions to somebody else to take a photograph – I would do it; if I needed a photograph of a house, I would just tell one of my assistants, ‘Go out and photograph a house.’ Then I would be honor-bound to accept it, because that’s all that I’d asked for. I didn’t say to them what kind of house, or what kind of architecture I wanted – it was just a picture of whatever they thought a house was. I had other ploys too. I’d sit a camera in front of a TV on a tripod, and put an intervalometer on it so that every five minutes it would take a picture, and I would use those photographs. Another thing that I’d do was compose a photograph perfectly using a tripod, and then pick the tripod up, move it a foot, and take the picture. It was all about getting away from good taste.

AS: Why were you intent on avoiding good taste?

JB: Back then, I said that I was trying to work against my own good taste because I figured that good taste is going to come out anyway, no matter what you do, so there’s no reason to work at it.

AS: Were you trying to get away from the craftsmanship aspect of it all as well?

JB: The craft part of it didn’t interest me at all. Getting the perfect gradation of tone, or making a beautiful print, wasn’t an issue. Of course, I had gone through all of that in my own darkroom, so I knew what it was to make a fine print, but it didn’t interest me; I was just interested in the imagery – in the ideas that the photographs represented.

AS: It seems like many artists of your generation incorporated photography into their work in order to rebel against traditional notions of art – in a sense, the medium itself represented the antithesis of ‘high art’ or ‘fine art’, at least in the conventional sense. Today, photography plays a much more central role within fine art practice – do you feel that using photographs, and what that represents, has changed since you began to do it yourself?

JB: Now all of those battles have been won, so it’s no longer an issue. Within art connoisseurship and curatorial practice, photography used to be ghettoized; paintings were at the front, photographs were at the back – they would be always be separated. And as I said earlier, back then there was a huge gap between the history of photography and the history of painting. And even at MoMA today, you still have a Photography Department and a Painting and Sculpture Department. What I love about MoMA is that, according to the Photography Department what I do is not photography, and according to the Painting Department what I do is not painting. So that just points out the ridiculousness of the situation. When I was teaching in the late 1960s and 70s, I would say to the students, ‘Just use a camera, because I can teach you everything with a camera that I could teach you with paint.’ And actually, one of my first students at the University of California, San Diego was Allen Sekula – he was always taking photographs in class, and it seemed like he could do everything he needed to do with a camera.

AS: Do you think that it’s important for artist to have battles to fight?

JB: The way that I’ve always put it is, ‘If I saw the art around me that I liked I wouldn’t do art.’ So really it’s about trying to satisfy yourself - you think of something that you’d like to happen, and of course you never get there, but you can work at it.

AS: Your upcoming exhibition at Tate Modern is entitled, ‘Pure Beauty’. Is beauty something that is important to your work, and is your work beautiful?

JB: I’ll leave that to others. The title is taken from a 1967 work of mine, where I just painted the words, ‘PURE BEAUTY’ on a canvas. At the time I was making a point: ‘Why make a painting? Why not just say it’s beautiful and if people believe it, fine. If they don’t, then they don’t have to.’

AS: You have been quoted as saying, ‘I tend to think of words as substitutes for images. I can never seem to figure out what one does that the other doesn’t do.’ Could you elaborate on this a bit more, and how it relates to your own work?

JB: I’m very interested in both language and imagery; I don’t really know why, but I find word and image equally important. So if I go back to my example of taking a photograph of a house: I can use the word ‘house’ and an image of a house interchangeably. A lot of my early work was simply that. With the images that I was getting off of the TV, I would have an assistant write on the back of the photograph a surrogate for the image. So if it were an image of a house, she might write ‘house’ on the back of it, and I’d work out different strategies and games where sometimes I’d use the word and sometimes I’d use the image. I tend to use imagery kind of like a writer. Of course, even though English is now fairly universal, in a lot of countries somebody might still see the word ‘house’ and not know what it means, because it wouldn’t be their word for a house. But if they saw an image of a house, they would say, ‘Yeah, that’s some kind of shelter’. They would get it. So it really depends on how you apply it – language is pretty arbitrary, whereas imagery is not arbitrary.

AS: So what makes you choose to use an arbitrary medium rather than an unarbitrary one, or vice versa – why use a photograph of a house in one instance, and the word in another?

JB: Really, I’m just interested in fucking people up when they’re looking at my work. I think the artist should make things difficult for the viewer.

AS: Your work is often categorized within ‘Conceptual Art’ – is that a title that you accept?

JB: That’s somebody else’s title. When I emerged, there was a group of artists who were all thinking in a similar way – all trying to get away from painting – and somebody decided to call it ‘Conceptual Art’. But categories are really just useful for writers; if you asked any of those artists today if they were conceptual artists, they would deny it - except maybe Joseph Kosuth.

AS: But is the ‘concept’ of a work, or the ideas that lie behind your work, something that you consider to be of central importance to your art?

JB: I guess so, in the sense that it would be very easy for me to just come up with ideas and never do anything physical – really, anybody could make the work itself. But I think that’s true with any art; an artist always has some kind of idea as their starting point, so all art is conceptual.

AS: You’ve mentioned teaching several times – is teaching something that’s been particularly important to your practice?

JB: I think that everything is important. I never chose teaching as a vocation – art is my vocation, and I taught just to be able to make a living. But I did learn a lot about communication through teaching. As a teacher, you’re always looking for a light to turn on in students’ eyes, so that you know that they understand – you keep trying until, finally, you communicate successfully and see them light up, and I think that art has to do the same thing. You can’t just say, ‘Fuck the bourgeoisie’, or whatever. There are people out there who you somehow have to communicate with, so you try to find the best way to do that.

AS: You’ve often talked about how people such as Marcel Duchamp were deeply influential to you as a young artist, and now you yourself have become an incredibly influential figure in your own right. What’s it like to play such an important role in the lives of other artists?

JB: I think that it’s incredibly flattering to have an effect on other artists. I’ve always seen art as a conversation between artists – I do something that is trying to speak to other artists, and if they’re listening, they do something that tries to speak back to me. It’s kind of like a cocktail party full of artists, but their not talking; they’re making art. I don’t work at trying to influence other artists, but I’m happy that I do, because it means that I’m doing something that’s worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PARRWORLD - social commentary or sneering criticism?

The Times reports (April 2008) :

In the world of photography, if you want to start an argument, just mention the 55-year-old English photo-documentarist Martin Parr. Parr’s passion for recording everyday frailties and humdrum tawdriness – a larkily colourful social panorama, taking in the unappealing scrum of mass consumerism, the curious rituals of the middle class and the messy indulgences of the super-rich – elicits a very traditional English reaction: it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Parr is a tremendous polariser. He’s either a pin-sharp satirical genius who tells uncomfortable truths with comedic flair – a view enthusiastically endorsed by subscribers to the trendy online photography site Flickr, which carries a message board dedicated to him entitled Martin Parr We Love You. Or he’s that heartlessly cynical smartarse whose pictures were once condemned by the late great Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism, as coming “from another planet”.

The argument has gone global. Parr’s fame abroad has reached an all-time high. He now does 80% of his commissioned work in foreign parts such as Dubai, South Africa, Australia and South America. In May, the largest exhibition to date of his work, Parrworld, will open at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Germany, in particular, loves Martin Parr. But international acclaim has not quietened his critics at home. Despite the public popularity of his retrospective show at London’s Barbican in 2002, the reviews were brief and lukewarm. No big British gallery has so far agreed to take Parrworld, the Hayward on the South Bank being one of the first to decline. And the sniping carries on. Before meeting Parr, I spoke to a longtime associate and fellow photographer, who unhesitatingly called him “totally fearless… the greatest observer of people this country has ever produced”. I also heard from a newspaper picture editor who dismissed him as “a gratuitously cruel social critic who sneers at foibles and pretensions”. The most widely voiced objection to Parr’s work complains that it adopts a stance of condescension towards its subject matter. It was this view that obstructed his election to membership of the elite photographic co-operative Magnum. Described by its co-founder, Cartier-Bresson, as “a community of thought” reflecting “a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”, Magnum argued for six years over the admission of Parr to its ranks. The late Philip Jones Griffiths, whose 1971 book, Vietnam Inc, was influential in the anti-war movement, led the charge against Parr, who has always avoided big news stories. In 1994 he finally scraped in, reputedly achieving the necessary two-thirds majority by the narrowest margin ever: one vote.

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Gateshead (where PARRWORLD opened October 16) proclaims:

Parr is known for his satirical documentation of British contemporary life; capturing a range of social demographics he offers a colourful social panorama of Britain today unmasking the banal and the offbeat with his wry look at class and wealth. Many of his images appear exaggerated and yet they are inventive and often humorous using colour and motif to great effect. For more than 30 years, Parr has been documenting society and everyday culture initially in Britian and Ireland but later across the world, taking in global phenomena such as mass tourism, consumerism, social and cultural events.

For his new series Luxury, Parr shows the different ways in which people display their wealth. Choosing various locations across the world, and a range of situations including art fairs and race courses, including Newcastle’s premier horse racing event The Northumbrian Plate, he has selected scenarios in which people are comfortable showing off their wealth. Designer clothes, champagne and parties are all part of this repertoire. As well as the more established wealth hot spots in Europe and America, there are photographs from the emerging world, for example showing the Millionaires’ Fair in Moscow, the Dubai Art Fair and the Motor Show in Beijing. At such events the international jet-set can be observed as they proudly present the regalia of new money and opulence The notion of collecting is fundamental to Parrworld as we are presented with not only Parr’s own photography but also a remarkable selection of photographic works from internationally recognised artists, books taken from his several-thousand strong library and a collection of personal items collected from his international and UK travels.

An extraordinary collection of photographs has been brought together for the exhibition, exemplifying Parr’s respect and admiration for his peers. Presented here are works by UK photographers Jill Constantine, Paul Graham and Richard Billingham. There are several with North East associations; Chris Killip whose 1980s images of Tyneside endure, the photographer Graham Smith with his images of Teeside as well as current Newcastle based artist, Mark Neville. These are shown alongside works from highly respected international photographers such as the South African, David Goldblatt, William Eggleston, (US) Frank Breuer (Germany) Gary Winogrand, (US) Bernd and Hilla Becher (Germany).

Alongside the photography Parr shows, through his often quirky collections of postcards and personally collected objects, his real individual flair as an inveterate collector whose fascination for the peculiar and the curious are displayed. This assortment of commercial design and memorabilia documents key historical and political moments with original posters and leaflets from the 1984 UK miners strike, a collection of commemorative china from Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister, examples of prayer mats featuring the New York Twin Towers, a bizarre range of Saddam Hussein watches and his most recent collection of Barack Obama ephemera.

For this exhibition Parr will act as a photographer, collector and curator as Parrworld offers an entertaining yet serious analysis of photography as a contemporary medium.
This exhibition is organized by Haus der Kunst, Munich in association with the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

The photographs: Martin Parr, Moscow and Dubai

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I've just come across New York based photographer Kevin Sisemore's blog SITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Here are are a couple of his pictures. I really like to see work where my immediate response is, "wow, I wish I'd made that". Enjoy! And what's more Kevin is also a fan of Alex Soth....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brassai's Paris in New York

Brassai's show, Paris in the 30's, is in it's last week at the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Brassaï (1899 – 1984) was born Gyula Halász a century ago in the Transylvanian town of Brasso (hence Brassaï, meaning "of Brasso"). After attending art school in Berlin, Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. He was immediately caught up by the city’s effervescent bohemian life. Supporting himself as a journalist, Brassaï took up photography in 1930, initially to illustrate his articles. His fascination for the hidden face of the city of light as it unfolds in the dark culminated in 1932 with the publication of his first book, the classic Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night).

Brassaï’s subject matter was often candid. His approach however was at an opposite pole from the then emerging genre of photojournalism. The key to his art was patience and long exposures. Using makeshift and cumbersome tools - a wobbly tripod, a piece of string to measure the distance of object to camera, and the noisy, smelly bang of magnesium at a time when faster film had outdated it - Brassaï carefully composed each picture, turning his subjects into archetypes.

Like his Surrealist friends, Brassaï was intent on disclosing the fantastic nature inherent in modern urban life. Brassaï never adhered to Surrealism as a dogmatic movement, but he contributed important works to the influential Surrealist publication Minotaure. His strikingly abstract pictures of graffiti were first published in Minotaure, as were his photographs of Picasso's sculptures. Closely associated with the artistic world of his time, Brassaï produced iconic portraits of Picasso, Giacometti and Henry Miller, among others. Miller, who discovered the secret side of Paris with Brassaï, dubbed the photographer "The Eye of Paris".

Auckland - Northcote Sunday

This afternoon I visited the Northcote Town Centre, a pleasant, multicultural shopping and eating centre 5 minutes drive from my house, north over Auckland's Harbour Bridge. I've always liked it here with its several Asian Supermarkets, $2 and thrift shops plus the lively NorthArt community galleries. In many ways it's all a bit low-rent, but that's part of the charm and a complete and welcome contrast from my scissors shopping expedition yesterday. Here are three pictures.

Auckland - at THE MALL

Yesterday I went to The Mall to buy some scissors and came back with a picture of the car park in the rain full of SUV's. It struck me that this could be anywhere, Boise, Idaho; Sleepy Hollow, New York; Basildon, London; Montreuil, Paris.

The packaging on the scissors (branded Tangotools, perhaps there is an Argentinian connection?) proclaimed they were made in PRC, this must be a PC way of saying China. At twenty bucks the scissors (sort of surgeons scissors, with the look and feel that you could operate on anything) could only have been made in China.

Later in the day I made a picture of a woman in a green sari. I'm trying to work out how these chance encounters might be connected.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Auckland - Friday afternoon walking....

... three pictures.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cologne - a feast of books

Currently on the featured publisher is Walther König. They have this to say. "One of the most respected art book publishers in the world, Walther König is also the proprietor of Germany's leading art bookstores, notably the flagship shop in Cologne. Key historical publications include Wolfgang Tillmans: Manual and the ongoing Hans Ulrich Obrist Conversation Series, while many of the imprint's most seminal books, which originated with König, have been co-published in America by D.A.P. These include Gerhard Richter: Atlas, Gerhard Richter: Writings, Raymond Pettibon: The Books, Donald Judd: The Early Works, 1956-1968 and How You Look at It".
Other published authors include, Christian Boltanski, Richard Prince, Hans Peter Feldmann, Boris Mikhailov, Jonas Mekas, Candida Hofer, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, to name just a few.

Of course Europe's best photography book shop is right across the street from Walther König. at Number 4, Albertusstr. Markus Schaden's shop is an Alladins Cave for the photobook collector. And if you can't make it to Cologne you can always shop on line -
And there is the option of visiting at PARIS PHOTO, November 19 - 22nd.

Here is a photograph I made of König and one he made of me for my book I LOOK AT YOU, YOU LOOK AT ME.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Auckland - 1969 revisited

Following an invitation to take part in a group show in Genoa, TAKING STOCK OF WOODSTOCK, a sort of celebration and remembrance of those heady days forty years ago, I went back through my stack of orange AGFA boxes full of black and white prints, photographs I'd made in Auckland in 1969 and 1970. Many of the pictures were made in Queen Street, Auckland's main street and were close-ups of people and now show evidence of buildings demolished long ago like the Rex Milkbar opposite the old Central Post Office and the Regent Cinema.

Today, I photograph quite differently both from the point of view of what I'm looking at and how I see it. And in digital color. I wonder now, how digital cameras, the internet and issues of privacy affect the making of photographs in public places like those I made then. Here are five of the images from the forty five I've edited out for the show.

It was great to make friends with these photographs again, I can feel a little book of the pictures coming on!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The photobook - its rise and rise

Worth a shot
The market for fine photographic prints has exploded over the past decade, yet the photobook (as it has come to be known) was, until recently, relegated to the sidelines by dealers and collectors alike. But as photography has become more valued and collected, photobooks have slowly come to be recognised as desirable (and collectable) in their own right and the market is burgeoning, according to Laura Noble, director of the Diemar Noble Photography Gallery. “In the mid-1990s one could have picked up a first edition of Bill Brandt’s A Night in London for £20”, remembers her co-director Michael Diemar. “A copy of the same book sold recently at Christie’s for £4,800.”

So what has prompted this once-forgotten art form to be brought back into view? As vintage prints have become scarce and contemporary photography prohibitively expensive, photobooks may seem a more accessible and affordable way of collecting photography. The publication of The Photobook: A History by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger and Andrew Roth’s 101 Books (itself now rare and worth around £1,000) helped to ignite the current interest in the genre. For Parr, an obsessive collector who admits to owning tens of thousands of titles, the shift in the market was inevitable. “Photobooks were previously unrecognised and therefore undervalued,” he says.

The history of photography is rooted in books. Until the mid-20th century, photographers were far more likely to see their work between covers than on a gallery wall. Indeed, the first great artistic statement in the medium was grandly presented in book form. Published in 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature, made up of 24 original prints, heralded the invention of the calotype – the first negative-positive photography. Many of the 19th-century prints for which collectors and museums are now paying hefty sums come from such albums, which have been broken up.

For many photographers the photobook is a source for photographic ideas – who’s doing what, what’s new – and trends spread rapidly from the US and Europe to Japan and back again.

“For contemporary photographers the photobook is still an important influence,” agrees curator Nina Poppe. When I met her earlier this year at Amsterdam’s Foam photography gallery, she was hanging Marks of Honour, a show of work by 13 photographers who pay homage to a photobook they found inspiring. Among the most compelling in the collection – which will be auctioned in Paris next month – are American photographer Michael Light’s tribute to Ansel Adams’ Yosemite and the Range of Light, in which Light has made precise cutouts following the lines of Adams’ monumental landscapes and inserted his own prints of LA night scenes into the spaces, and Japanese Onaka Koji’s thoughtfully constructed celebration of Daido Moriyama’s Tales of Tohno, which includes five prints and a contact sheet housed in a box handmade by Koji from wood of the forests where Moriyama shot his original 1976 work.

Japanese photobooks distinguish themselves by their attention to detail. The layout, binding, paper, printing, dustwrapper, obi (the bellyband) and the outer case (the so-called soto-bako or okuribako) are all meticulously crafted. After 1960, the photography scene in Japan changed dramatically and the photobook – with its ability to help create a narrative and rhythm – overtook the print as the most popular mode of artistic statement for the Japanese photographer.

This important and prolific period is examined in Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s published by the Aperture Foundation next month.

There has been a strong rise in demand for Japanese photobooks, and prices have doubled or tripled in the past three to four years. “Curiously, the Japanese photobook market really didn’t exist until western collectors started to show interest,” says Titus Boeder of Maggs Books. “When I started buying them in Japan eight years ago, prices were lower than the original retail cost. They weren’t collected in Japan.”

Elsewhere, in the US and Europe, the market for good quality photobooks shows little sign of slowing down, with demand particularly high for those inscribed by the artist or an important previous owner. Sven Becker, book specialist at Christie’s, recently auctioned a copy of William Klein’s Tokyo that once belonged to William Eggleston, for a lofty £2750. Signed by Klein, and with Eggleston’s ownership signature dated January 1969, it’s a perfect example of the type of books that are attracting the attention of collectors with discerning tastes and deep pockets.

Prices for similar books reached unprecedented levels earlier this year at New York’s Swann Galleries. A signed copy of Nobuyoshi Araki’s ABCD and a first edition of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, inscribed by Ruscha to Andy Warhol, achieved US$10,800 and US$15,600 respectively. This autumn Swann is offering a signed deluxe edition of Lucas Samaras’s Autointerview, Autobiography, Autopolaroid, issued with a Polaroid (estimate $2500-$3500), and a signed first edition of Helmut Newton’s gigantic Sumo, weighing in at nearly 70 pounds and supplied with its own Philippe Starck-designed chrome stand (estimate $5,000-$7,500).

Rare art book specialists Sims Reed recently showed some fine examples at the London Art Book Fair, including a first edition of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s exquisite Time Exposed (£12,000) and John Baldessari’s Fable: A Sentence of Thirteen Parts (£3,500). But it is not necessary to shell out vast sums of money to start building an impressive (and one day possibly quite valuable) library.

Ebay is a thriving market place for rare books and there are bargains to be had. The Photographers’ Gallery regularly promotes limited editions of new titles, often signed by the artist. Nazraeli Press offer very reasonably priced special editions and limited availability titles on their website. Gems include Masao Yamamoto’s A Box of Ku ($200) and Joseph Mills’ wonderfully surreal photomontages in The Loves of Poets ($250). Photography specialists Schaden offer recommendations, signed copies and a research service.

Parr’s advice is simple: “Buy what you like,” he says. And, if you buy books you genuinely like, it doesn’t matter if they increase in value or not. Good taste is rewarded, and a little knowledge can go a long way in identifying important books. “A few years ago a collector friend of mine went to a flea market in Paris and picked up Man Ray’s Electricité for €50,” says Noble. “The auction value? £20,000.” Who knows, you may just get that lucky.

By Claire Holland From the Financial Times, published: October 9 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The book is dead long live the photobook

Book trade seeks new models and a deal with Google

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The world's book trade meets in Frankfurt next week on the brink of a long-feared transformation of the industry for which few are well prepared.
Electronic reading devices like Amazon's Kindle are set to enter the mass market, starting with a surge in sales this Christmas holiday season, helped by lower prices, rising consumer confidence and better distribution outside the United States.
Like the music and newspaper industries before it, the book-publishing world now faces vanishing revenues as sales of physical discs, papers and books give way to far cheaper or free digital distribution.
"Meantime, publishers are distracting themselves by fretting over the price of eBooks, withholding eBook releases so as not to cannibalize hardcover book sales, and watching helplessly as their businesses erode in front of them," analyst Sarah Rotman Epps of technology research firm Forrester wrote this week.
Forrester estimates 3 million ereaders will be sold in the United States this year and double that number next year, taking the total sold to 10 million by the end of 2010 -- excluding other digital screens, such as phones and PCs.
There are exceptions in the book industry to the general lack of enthusiasm for all things digital.
Bookseller Barnes & Noble is expected soon to launch its own ereader, which would provide strong competition to the Kindle and Sony's reader in the market for book-sized screens that grab and display text from the Web.
The top U.S. bookstore chain -- America's first bookseller to advertise on television in the 1970s and also the first to discount books -- already has the world's largest online bookstore, which it launched in July. sells most of its new releases as ebooks for $9.99, the same as Amazon, and far cheaper than the physical versions in most cases. At launch it had over 700,000 titles readable on a variety of devices like Apple's iPhone.
The company has declined to comment on reports it will soon sell its own wireless touchscreen reading device. "We believe readers should have access to books in their digital library from any device, anywhere and any time," a spokeswoman said.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Auckland on a wet Friday afternoon

Here are three photographs I made late this afternoon in the suburb of Morningside, 5 minutes drive from my house. A cold, wet and miserable Friday to cap a week where all it has done is rain....

Auckland - some diverse pictures I made yesterday

The two doorways, which face each other in a side street, are from the country town of Helensville forty minutes north of Auckland. It's as if the owners collaborated on the green. The door with the steps has the feeling that Mondrian would feel right at home there. Seems too we are still loosing cats, although with this it's hard to see the wood for the trees. And there is always a place for the "little black dress".