Trajectory: It’s Time to Look at Graduating Student Work!

Unsettled by Melissa Hooper

It’s Graduation time for photography students around the UK and it’s time for their work to be shown.  Here at Photobook Bristol we are developing strong connections to a range of educational institutions across the UK, so we are always looking to encourage student participation and highlight their achievements both here and on our partner sites.

With that in mind, we have linked up with Harry Rose at theprintspace to highlight their Trajectory programme. This is a free submission project where every graduating student in the UK can show their work on the Trajectory website..

You can see student work here. 

Continue reading “Trajectory: It’s Time to Look at Graduating Student Work!”

Photobook Bristol Dummy and First Book Table

We are delighted to announce the books we’ll be showing at Photobook Bristol’s Dummy and First Book Table. It was with great difficulty that we made this selection. There were fantastic books that weren’t selected, with great images, concepts and designs. Making a photobook really is difficult and the standard of books submitted is proof both of the skills needed to make a great book and also that peak photobook, in terms of quality, not been reached.

There are trade published, self-published, handmade artist’s books and rough dummies covering a range of subjects and approaches. From Matthieu Asselin’s large scale investigation into Monsanto to Mary Hamill’s direct floral renditions of used tampons and Martin Bollati’s ambitious book construction, we recommend you follow the links and discover the work of some of the best books that we have seen this year and beyond.

See all the books at  PHOTOBOOK BRISTOL 2016  and at GAZEBOOK SICILY and GIBELLINA PHOTOROAD

   Continue reading “Photobook Bristol Dummy and First Book Table”

Great Photobooks are Always Difficult

 

picture by Masahisa Fukase

In yesterday’s interview with Dragana Jurisic, she had these words to say about the redundancy of so many photobooks.

The Photobook World is a weird world. I’m not really sure what the game is. I find it very interesting that so many photobooks are so redundant. They’re about nothing, they’re just like having a really nice design, or like playing an instrument and finding a really nice tempo but there’s nothing there. What is the point of this exercise. I think that’s why so many of them fail. Or they start saying something but they never really finish it.

But you get books like Fukase’s Ravens book, it’s so beautiful and you don’t have to know anything about photography to understand it. As you leaf through it, you feel the heaviness, you know intuitively what this book is about. And so many people try to do this without text, without any real story. It’s like emulating something without any real story to tell.

Continue reading “Great Photobooks are Always Difficult”

Dragana Jurisic: Photobooks, Philosophy and Spaghetti Westerns

 

Dragana Jurisic is the author of Yu: The Lost Country. In Yu (one of the best books of 2015) Dragana traces the path taken by Rebecca West in her classic travelogue,  The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon, to return to the former-Yuguslovia and find the place that she once called home is home no more.

In addition to Yu, Dragana has also made 100 Muses, a series of 100 nudes made over a period of 5 weeks. 100 Muses will be part of a major show in 2018, and is also part of Dragana’s ongoing My Own Unknown project.

We caught up with Dragana to hear about still more projects (including a spy story, a spaghetti western and a graphic novel), to learn about her family, and to get a taste of the Charisma Express that attendees at Photobook Bristol 2016 will have the  pleasure to hear speak.

Without further ado, here are the aphorisms of Dragana Jurisic.

 

The Day Our House Burned Down

The day our house burned down in September 1991, that is when everything changed, when there was no return back. My parents now live in the same apartment but it is not the same apartment. We lived in a hotel for six months, I was sent to school and then I was sent somewhere else because the bombing was so bad, so I never actually went back to live in the old place. And since then my life has been very, I’ve been moving a lot since then. I didn’t have any other place that I considered home.

 

yu 4

I think there was a definite part of my life where I felt very unstable from not having a home and kind of trying to shoehorn myself into this idea of home including a failed marriage and a mortgage. And it was in Ireland during the boom time and the mortgage was like 30 years of slavery of paying two grand a month. It was a frightening exercise.

But now I’m quite settled. I find Ireland is sort of my home because I feel comfortable here. It’s the opposite of where I’m from; you’re relatively free to express your opinion without anyone threatening you, nobody really cares about it so much, there’s nothing dangerous happening like in Paris. It’s really comfortable to live, or to use as a base because I travel so much. It’s a good place to come back to and get some air and write.

Actually, with home, you find that people build these strange constructs around themselves to make them feel more comfortable, less scared of what’s out there. I was just thinking of this idea that we are just this jetsam and flotsam in the universe and that we are these specks of light existing in this infinite darkness, but we hold onto this idea of boundaries; this is my room, this is house, this is my country. But it’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it in the grand scheme of things.

Once something traumatic like happens that takes away your home, you become really aware of how everything is in flux all the time, and that things are not safe all the time – home, family, country.

On History

And history is something else I find I have no belief in because I saw how the history books (in Croatia ) were rewritten literally in the space of a few months. The whole language was reinvented in a couple of months. I remember I had friends who studied IT in the 1990s and after Croatia declared independence, most of the words for computers and their components were words adapted from English words.

But because there needed to be this assertion of nationalism there needed to your own (Croatian) word for ‘keyboard’ or something. So words were invented very quickly. I remember at college we would get drunk and we would take these notebooks for IT students with these new words in and we would laugh at how ridiculous it was. But within two or three months these words we had found so ridiculous were part of this new language and everyone was using them.

History has also been rewritten. I don’t even dare think about how history is taught now.  I remember when I was at school sometimes some really hardcore communist teacher would ask who went to the mass and then give them shit and joke about how stupid it is to believe in god.

After I finished university, I used to be a psychologist and I worked in a primary school. My office was next to the religion class, it was a Catholic school so it was a catechism class; I remember hearing  the catechism teacher punishing people who didn’t go to class which is a complete flip of the situation. You realise how scary and fascinating it is that people are so adaptable, that they forget how they can be so easily re-programmed.

On Recreating Rebecca West’s Journey

The Rebecca West journey was really quite a lonely journey. I didn’t really engage with so many people, or have in depth conversations with people because you really don’t know who you’re talking with there and nationalism is so rife and people are still so full of hatred that you really don’t talk about the war because it can cost you your head.

Just now in March I had an exhibition in Sarajevo. There are two daily newspapers in Bosnia. One is a right wing pro-islam one, the other is the liberal one. I said to a journalist from the liberal one that the Croatian government still has a big element of fascism in it as it did in the 90s, and then ( I received this email from my mum going crazy saying ‘are you fucking nuts! You don’t have to live in this country!’ You forget that people still live in fear. Now I can go around and say anything I want without any danger to my life while there the situation is different.

On the Yugoslav Utopia

Yugoslavia was a wonderful Utopia the way it was sold to us. We were programmed to think we were the best. It’s the opposite in Ireland where it’s ‘don’t think above your station’, there’s this false modesty.

But in Yugoslavia we were trained like narcissists; “You are the best! The Cleverest! The most beautiful people who ever lived on the planet.” It was a programming. We all had to train twice a day at some sport. It was kind of like living in a Utopian society.

yu 2

My parents lived very well. In the building where we lived next door there was a director of a big company, then across would be the cleaning lady from the company in the same-sized apartment. So as kids we grew up not really seeing these differences and that was also kind of beautiful about the ex-Yugoslavia. As a child. I don’t know what it was like to be a grown up in that kind of society.

My dad feels very nostalgic for it. That generation does because there was no unemployment, there was work found immediately for people, they got an apartment, they got married, they had kids. So it was a great culture for people who didn’t want to push too hard. I don’t know what it would be like for people who were really ambitious. It’s difficult to guess. It was an interesting experiment that lasted 50 years.

Ireland is definitely the opposite when it comes to how people are conditioned in childhood. Here it is almost like you are never good enough. There it is like you are the emperor of the universe. I think that’s the difference.

On the Book as a Map

For Yu, I needed a mark so I kept on going back to this book,  Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. It’s still one of the most important books written about the ex-Yugoslavia. It’s on the Nato list of recommended reading, it’s read by every writer, poet or journalist who spends a significant amount of time there. People are still using it as a guide.

yu 1

On each trip, I met half a dozen people each time I went who had this book under their arm. And I’d meet them by some kind of monument that she was describing. It might be very obscure folly that she’d played cards in. And I remember sitting in this folly and hearing this very posh English accent say and it was this gentleman with the book in his hand and he said “Are you here for Rebecca West?”

He turned out to be the classics teacher in Marlborough College and I kept meeting him. I kept meeting a few other people who were on the same journey. It wasn’t an original idea. It’s just that these people travelled and I was making work from it. It’s like a Lonely Planet that never goes out of date because all these places are still there.

On the Need for Constrictions in Work

I like to work with constrictions around me, otherwise I find it almost impossible. I’m writing a book at the moment and I find it so difficult. I know what I’m writing about but in the end it could go off at so many different tangents. The book is about my aunt who was a spy in Paris from the 1950s to the 1980s. She was allegedly poisoned with radium and there are some rumours that she ran three brothels as well. It’s more like a book than a photobook. That is my plan. There will photos inside but they will be more like illustrations.

It’s neither literature nor photography. I think it’s really nice to fall between the cracks. That way you are judged less harshly. That was the situation with my PhD actually, because in it I only talk about literature, and politics, and history. I hardly mention any visual arts at all. So it’s probably easier to pass. I like living in between.

Back to this book by Rebecca West. It was incredible because it really gives you an itinerary from the moment you wake up so you don’t have to think about what you are going to do with your day. It’s listed. I thought it would also be interesting to get the frustrations of getting somewhere and having a very short amount of time to capture this place, because she was there for like five minutes. And you want to stay longer.

Or she goes to Skopje and she stays for three weeks and oh my god, you’re like what am I going to do here for three weeks. It’s crazy. After three days, I was done there.

Everything about Kosovo was Awful

Everything about Kosovo was awful. I was with Michal (Iwanowski) for that part of the journey and that was a good move because otherwise they wouldn’t have let me into the country. I had a Croatian passport and a Serbian name, so they said they didn’t want to let me in because of security but then they realised that Mikhail was with me so they said, ok she’s travelling with a European Union Passport Holder.

But we were constantly followed, I think once there were 12 policemen with machine guns waiting for us when we stepped out of the bus. Usually I wouldn’t be scared of these things but war was so recent there in a way and people were totally paranoid. It was horrible. And then you see this country that is not spectacular like Macedonia or parts of Bosnia. It’s kind of like a dustbowl and there’s this horrendous fighting between Serbs and Albanians. And you’re just travelling and you think, why, why are they fighting?

But it was very funny because I never forget Mikhail was constantly saying “Isn’t it wonderful that we’re here.” And I was like, “What the fuck is wrong with you! It’s an awful place!” But he was just trying to keep our spirits up. So when we arrived in Montenegro, we arrived in this small mountain town just across the border from Albania and we had a beer. And he just looked at me and said, “I lied all the fucking time.” When we crossed the Montenegro border, I felt like Whitney Houston when she arrived in Israel. I wanted to lift my hands to the sky and say “Hallelujah, we are home!”

It was crazy. Even trying to locate where we were when we were travelling around Kosovo, there was a black hole. Google Maps would not tell you where you were. It was strange. It was a terrible shock as well. After we’d got to the place where the soldiers were waiting for us we decided to go to the monastery where my grand uncle started his career and they kicked us out of there. He was the patriarch of the Orthodox Church. He’s dead now and apparently he’s going to be canonised. I’ll have a saint for a Grand Uncle. He’s from my mother’s side, the Serbian side. Dragana is a Serbian name, Jurisic is a Croatian name. So I have a confused name.

On Keeping Busy

All I want to do is lie in bed and watch TV. I’m really lazy and I’m always kind of surprised how much I have squeezed into a year considering I have a total propensity to push everything to the next day. But Muses are finished and they are going to be shown in 2018. There’s going to be a big exhibition in Dublin. My plan is to finish this book about my aunt by next year and then I want to be clear for 2018 because I want to make a spaghetti western. In Bosnia. With local people playing cowboys and Indians.

That’s my plan. Fuck photography. I’m going to become a spaghetti western maker. I have already spoken to some producers and they want to take the project on so that’s one possibility. The other is there is a really good grant in Ireland called Real Arts and the problem with this grant is it’s only 80,000 but with this 80,000 you can’t look for external funding. It’s a noble idea but it’s not easy to make a movie with just 80 grand – not a proper film. We will try at first to get proper funding, and if we can’t we’ll go for the grant. Because it’s a great story. I can’t tell you, but it’s a great one. I can’t tell you because my producer told me not to talk about this. Well, I can tell you, but you can’t tell anyone.

On Making a Living

I’m a part time lecturer so I only get paid during the academic year so I’m kind of on the loose for the next five months, but I’ve been very lucky in the last four or five years with funding and awards. It’s been incredible actually. With the book, that was a huge cost of time, but I broke even or even made a little bit of money, a very little bit. I do sell some work. It’s a combination of many things. I don’t do any commercial work and I’m very happy to refuse it as well. Even if I’m broke I don’t like to. I don’t like to work basically. The less work the better.  I work on stuff that makes me happy.

I used to do some jobs for the Independent in the UK when they needed some artist’s photographs in Ireland. But I’d always try and get out of it and recommend someone else or say I’m busy. But they would say, “But we like you.” I mean, why would they ask me to photograph people. I don’t even like photographing people.

That’s probably one of the reasons I did 100 Muses to force myself to photograph 100 women, 100 naked women. I think that’s going to be a good exhibition.

dragana muses 2

100 Muses is also part of  this project My Own Unknown which is made up of different chapters. It’s like I’m not working on one project, but I’m working on four different projects that are all connected. This deals with life and past fears. It’s difficult to say. It’s evolving, maybe bringing some of my psychology background into it. I also have a strange family history of women who are healers or witches so it’s also to deal with that part of the history. You have the grand uncle who was the patriarch, then you have my grandmother who was a wise woman, and then you have her other brother who basically lived in a tree house and wrote prophecies. So they were all interesting characters.

Actually something really weird happened yesterday. My aunt in Belgrade is a little bit like this and my mum was visiting her in Belgrade because it was the Serbian Easter yesterday and I rang my mum to say, Happy Easter, How are you and she said “Great, How are you? Do you want to talk to your aunt?” I said yes, and then my aunt asked me “When are you coming to Belgrade to visit?” and I said September and she said, “Oh, I’ll probably be dead by then,” and I started laughing. And then the conversation repeated again from the beginning. My ma came on and said hi. Second time around I thought maybe they just forgot that we just had this conversation with me. But the third time it was just too weird so I put the phone down and I rang them again and said, “Did you not hear that the conversation just kept repeating?” And they said no. It was like some weird déjà vu.

But every time I would laugh at my aunt saying she’s going to die, the conversation would start again. Maybe I should listen to an 80 year old woman who says she’s going to die. But she’s the best friend of the woman I’m writing a book about. The two of them were supposed to run away to Paris together but then she fell in love and stayed behind and the other went on.

On the Photobook World

The Photobook World is a weird world. I’m not really sure what the game is. I find it very interesting that so many photobooks are so redundant. They’re about nothing, they’re just like having a really nice design, or like playing an instrument and finding a really nice tempo but there’s nothing there. What is the point of this exercise. I think that’s why so many of them fail. Or they start saying something but they never really finish it.

But you get books like Fukase’s Ravens book, it’s so beautiful and you don’t have to know anything about photography to understand it. As you leaf through it, you feel the heaviness, you know intuitively what this book is about. And so many people try to do this without text, without any real story. It’s like emulating something without any real story to tell.

On Being a Real Artist

It’s very difficult to expose yourself. I really try not to censor myself because although many things happen to people, I find shame is a toxic thing. You have to own things. I had an interview recently with a magazine recently and I mentioned something about having a miscarriage between two trips and Rebecca West had one as well while travelling in ex-Yugoslavia and I said how it was strange overlap of a really traumatic  event and people said, Oh my God you’re so brave to talk about having a miscarriage and I thought well this happened to me, why would I be ashamed? Because it made me feel less of a woman, I don’t know. I think if you want to be a good artist you need to be ready to fucking expose yourself.

Photobooks can be Affordable!

One of the things we love about photobooks is they are so open. They do not discriminate against any particular kind of photography, they are not blinkered.

The trick is making the book design match the content, making the text flow, choosing the right papers, using visual, graphic and tactile strategies to get you looking at the work on the page, to get you to open the page in the first place.

So here are some of our favourite photobooks from recent photobooks. There’s  fashion, the historical, the personal, conflict and much more in there.

Of course some of them aren’t available. Some sold out in their thousands, some were made in tiny editions so are even more expensive and difficult to find.

So we’ve mentioned a few alternative great books, some of which are cheap and easy to buy. Starting from just over £1.50.

Photobooks are accessible. You just have to look to the past a bit and choose right! And take your eyes off all the ones that you didn’t buy.

 

The Student Book

christoph soeder book 3

 

Christoph Soeder’s Clear Cut is sold out and he only made 35 copies of them in the first place.

skinhead-406745-kb.1200x0

But go deeper into the fashion scene and go for the ultimate student book, the ultimate skinhead book. It’s by Nick Knight and it’s called Skinhead. Made in the second year of his course in Bournemouth. Unbelievable!

 

The Historical

TheMap05

Ok so it’s going to be expensive to buy Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu, his narrative of Japan’s post-nuclear trauma. Even the facsimile’s cost a fortune.

algerie

But don’t complain. For less than £10, you can get the incredible Algerie by Dirk Alvermann. This is The Battle of Algiers in book form, but harder hitting, with added paranoia. One of the great photobooks of our time for less than a tenner!

The Personal

lamoureuse_03

So you missed out on Anne de Gelas’ L’Amoureuse, a supremely sad French-language account of her struggle for self after the death of her husband (‘There is a never a right way to tell a child about the death of his father’).

amak 2

amak shenasnameh

But then there’s Amak Mahmoodian’s Shenasnameh. This is a very personal account of the different uses and functions of passport photos. It’s personal, political and will be launched at Photobook Bristol. It’s not that cheap, but it’s beautifully made.

The Storybook

Love-on-the-Left-Bank

So you can’t get the original Love on the Left Bank by Ed van der Elsken. But you can still get it here for £24 – or you can get it for less than £20 on Amazon and play a part in shutting down the high street and putting independent book sellers out of business.

Early-Works_28

And for the same price you can get a more contemporary tale of life in bohemian Latvia, Only here the Left Bank comes courtesy of Ivars Gravlejs and his brilliant Early Works, with depressed looking Maths teachers in place of Parisian cafe-dwellers.

The Social

billy monk 1

billy monk 2

One of the very best set of images in photobooks in the last few years. People dancing in night clubs! It’s like the late, great Malick Sidibe, but with apartheid added for extra dysfunction. It’s Billy Monk by Billy Monk and it’s freely available to anyone who wants to buy a copy. We think it is one of the great underappreciated books of the last few years.

 

The Internet-book

7W3A0674 7W3A0665

We like Jan McCullough’s Home Instruction Manual. It’s a fun mix of bad advice on interior design from chat forums and McCullough’s gonzo home snapshots, and it’s one of the most engaging photobooks of the year so far.

The Propaganda Book

stalin

Few people will be able to afford the absurdly intricate Ten Years of Uzebeckistan with its Stalin cut-out looming at you throughout.

Zhensheng-500-H-1

But for a look into a totalitarian past, there is the great Red Color News Soldier. Not only is it full of incredible images, the story of how it was made is also amazing. And it costs £25. Which is still alot, so…

 

The Budget

McHotel-Thumb

Still too much. Well for only 2 euros you can get Mc Hotel by Olivier van Breugel en Simone Mudde. This is how you do budget!

More shopping for books at

 

RRB Books
Photobook Store
Tipi
Photo Eye

The Village Bookstore

Cafe Royal Books
L’Ascenseur Vegetal
Claire de Rouen

Le Bal
Dalpine

Photography: It’s a Cloistered World?

There was a great article by Anastasia Taylor-Lind on the lack of diversity in photography, including at festivals. This year’s Photobook Bristol has speakers from 5 continents, with half the speakers women.

There’s still more to be done, but we hope this year Photobook Bristol is beginning to represent a diversity of voices with stories that deserve and need to be told.

Alana Barton identifies one of the difficulties:

“Everyone thinks it is someone else’s problem, or that the problem will correct itself, or if you talk about it, the numbers will somehow magically change,” says Alana Barton of the International Women’s Media Foundation. “But solutions are not impossible to identify. We have to decide that diversity is valuable enough for us to address the root causes and find the collective will to treat the problem.”

This diversity is not just in terms of gender or nationality or age. It is about a diversity of approaches and voices. If everybody is speaking with the same voice, the same perspective, then it doesn’t matter how many different genders, races, religions or bodies you have. There is no diversity.

It’s a difficulty in photography where there is a tendency for a particular voice to dominate. So you get events focussed on photojournalism where everybody is pretending to be concerned by all things ethical, or the commercial, where everybody is speaking with a commercial voice, or an event that is focussed on the academic where everybody is speaking with an academic voice (and the audience are struggling to stay awake), or events focussed on the market where the bottom line is the selling of the product and lickspittling the extremely wealthy is the order of the day by both dealers and, let us not forget, photographers and artists. Ethics only go so far, but even here, there is a pretence at diversity.

One of the strengths of this year’s Photobook Bristol is that there is no one voice. We have a range of voices, ranging from the anarchic, to the aristocratic, to the historic and the downright odd. We’re not quite sure what we’ll be getting to be honest, but we think it will be entertaining.

There are of course major structural problems in the photobook world. It is massively unbalanced economically. In the article, Sarah Leen of National Geographic writes:

Change usually takes time. So, it’s the responsibility of the gatekeepers of photojournalism—from media companies to picture editors and agency owners—to commit to addressing this imbalance with top-down leadership. “You want to find the best person for the job,” says Leen. “But we need to look more carefully for diversity in this decision-making process.”

I’m not sure that is really evident in the photobook world. It is, to a large extent, a self-selecting world. It is still the case that most photobook publishers have at least an element of the vanity press about them. Photographers pay to get their books published. So, basically, the market is massively slanted towards the excessively wealthy. There are some exceptions to this. MACK and our very own RRB Photobooks and Cafe Royal to name a few in the UK, but most publishers have a business model that relies on funding from photographers.

Even when funding models such as Kickstarter look to establish a little bit of egalitarianism, there is a sense that the platform is taken advantage of. So you see publishers such as Aperture Kickstarting their photobooks, so undermining the original intent of the platform.

And so they should. The democratising possibilities of crowdfunding platforms are much exaggerated. There is a sense that successful crowdfunding in photobooks is dependent more on the wealth of the friends you have rather than the worthiness of the photobook project. We have seen brilliantly promoted and advertised books fall short of funding despite a huge global interest and it is a mystery as to why it wasn’t funded. Except it’s not. Your friends aren’t rich enough.

Photobooks are a bit of a luxury anyway. And though we think the photobook world is far more egalitarian and open than the art, academic, commercial or fashion worlds (mostly because it is much smaller than those worlds), it is still a relatively elitist world.

This is reflected in the prices of photobooks. And though there are many cheap photobooks available, including classic photobooks as well as Cafe Royal publications and fanzines, it is still an expensive business. It’s expensive to make the work, to design, to print, and to market. And then, with some exceptions, it is expensive to buy.

There is always the question of how can we extend the market, the audience, but we have a feeling that the audience we have will grow but not too quickly. It’s not a mass market. Photobooks are expensive and, as James Barnor said in his interview, “…who can buy a book that cost £30 in Africa ? It’s too expensive for Ghanaian people. Only people from upper class can afford books, so this is a real problem for Ghanaians. The cost of acquiring book is a problem.”

And it’s not just the cost of buying a book. The cost of attending an event like Photobook Bristol is a problem. It’s expensive to put on, and with no funding except from ticket sales and a very small three-figure sponsorship, costs need to be covered by tickets (though we would like to point out that not only is Photobook Bristol (speakers from 5 continents, anarchists) far more diverse than Photobook London  (exhibitors from 4 continents), it is also far cheaper when you consider the number of speakers, food and music you get.).

Of course the problem with sponsorship is that it doesn’t come free. If you are sponsored by a legal firm that deals in tax avoidance, there’s a cost, if you deal with the German stock exchange, there’s a cost, if you deal with an international oil company there’s a cost. Lewis Bush deals with this nicely in a series of articles including this one.

So what to do? Go back to the article in question, which says that ultimately ‘…responsibility doesn’t reside just with these gatekeepers: We are all accountable for the lack of diversity in photojournalism, and photographers should also take action. Media artist Kyle McDonald, for example, sends a diversity rider to all potential collaborators. It reads:

“There’s one problem I’ve seen too many times: events dominated by men. That might mean having mostly men on stage, either during a panel or as speakers, or exhibiting work mostly made by men, or even hosting a workshop attended mostly by men. I’m guessing that the above will not describe your event, and that organizing an inclusive event is a clear priority. But with this note I want to be proactive about encouraging diversity. I want to make it clear I feel strongly about this, and must refuse to participate if you do not. If you are aware of this issue and plan on doing your best to address it, I’m happy to know you’re giving it some thought. But if this still results in a significant majority of men, I will cancel.”

Leeds, Peter Mitchell, and the Quarry Hill Flats

 

Tonight, the great Memento Mori by Peter Mitchell is launched ( in  its  second  coming ) at the Village Bookstore in Leeds, from 6pm.

Memento Mori tells the story of the destruction of the Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds. It is, quite simply, one of the great architectural documentations of our times, telling the story of urban planning, housing and destruction.

Built in the 1930s, the flats were supposedly modelled on Karl Marx Hof flats in Vienna and were hugely advanced for their time. The balconies, crittall windows and monolithic modernism give it the mittel-Europa aesthetic that (northern rumour/humour has it) inspired Hitler to earmark the flats as the headquarters for the SS had the Nazis invaded Britain. Supposedly that’s why Leeds wasn’t bombed much in the Second World.

And you can hear all about it tonight, and meet the supremely lovely and talented Peter Mitchell in person.

Peter Mitchell will also be signing copies of Memento Mori at Photobook Bristol this summer.

Buy the book here.

 

 

Mark Power interview by Jessa Fairbrother

 

 

Mark Power (UK) is a Magnum photographer and Professor of Photography at the University of Brighton. In the run up to his second appearance at Photobook Bristol he talks to Jessa Fairbrother about how he defines success in a photobook…and having the best job in the world.

Over your career you have made several photobooks. Lets start with the easy questions….Can you tell us what led you to make your first?

 

mark power shipping forecast

from The Shipping Forecast

My first book was The Shipping Forecast, published in 1996. Along with the exhibition the book was the culmination of a four-year trek around the coast of Western Europe. Its story is an interesting one… About three-quarters of the way through the project I approached a major publisher, based in London, to show them the pictures and a proposed book design. Their reaction was almost entirely negative: they weren’t interested in publishing because the work was (in their words) too parochial and, it continued, they wouldn’t dream of making a book with a black-and-white photograph of the sea on the cover. If they were to publish it (which they weren’t) they would ask me to go out and photograph, er, let’s see… a man in a yellow souwester taking a weather reading. In colour, of course.

I was extremely depressed at the end of the meeting, but at the same time fervently believed the book-buying public weren’t that stupid. Surely they could appreciate, and understand, a book which demanded just a little more effort to ‘read’ properly. It dawned on me that the only way I could get the book I wanted was to put my own money into it, but I didn’t have much and the little I did have was being put towards making the photographs. I applied to the Arts Council but failed dismally to get a grant; black and white documentary work wasn’t very fashionable in 1995. As a last straw I applied to the Mosaic Foundation in Luxembourg and promptly forgot all about it, until one Monday morning I received a call telling me I’d been awarded a grant of US$25,000. Suddenly everything was possible: I was able to travel to some of the more far-flung places I had yet to visit, produce a rather lavish exhibition and put a considerable amount into publishing a book. I approached Zelda Cheatle, who was representing me for print sales at the time, and she agreed to publish the book under her imprint.
It was made, primarily, as a catalogue for the exhibition, but when The Observer made it their ‘Book of the Week’ the entire first edition of 2,000 copies sold out within ten days. We went to a second printing and then a third, and they sold out as well – a total of 10,000 books altogether, quite remarkable for a first book by a largely unknown photographer. Cleary it had managed to wriggle out of the photo-ghetto to reach another audience altogether – Radio 4 listeners, sailors – and to this day I meet many who tell me they bought the book for their parents. Rarely do I meet anyone who bought it for themselves, but there are plenty of elderly mums and dads out there who must have a copy.
You have gone on to make many subsequent photobooks – can you tell us something about the process of working with a designer – how that helps your work breathe as a photobook? Can you tell us, for example, of any particularly stressful episodes – or things you wish you had done differently?
I’m very lucky in that each and every experience I’ve had working with a designer has been very positive. My latest book, Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment, a collaboration with the poet Daniel Cockrill and the designer Dominic Brookman, is enormously complicated, but was a joy to work on. I’ve made eight books now, with four designers. All are/were very different, but in each case I began the process fairly clear about the sort of book I wanted. There’s always a dialogue, and I like to think I remain open to new ideas, but I always start with a kind of picture in my head of what the book should be like.

The process of bringing a book out is time-consuming. Can you tell us about how you manage this?

Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s time I love to spend and in the end it’s well worth it. I’ve never shirked on this and I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve not made a book I’m (in retrospect) embarrassed by. Far be it for me to say, but I think they all stand up as pretty decent books, and I can’t wish for more than that. Managing my time is difficult, what with trying to pursue my own projects, doing the odd commissions, teaching, and everything else (not to mention my family) but somehow or other I manage to get everything done.

 

mark power mass covermark power mass 1

from Mass

Your photobook Mass (2013) is a very interactive high-production value book with fold-outs. How was making that book different in process to other, less physically complex works? Did it take significantly longer to do?
I’m very proud of Mass, although it’s been a difficult book to sell. I worked with Stuart Smith on that one, and from the outset I suggested I wanted a small book with large pictures inside… a tricky conundrum. As luck would have it Stu had a book from his shelf he’d been keeping for just the right moment. As I remember, it was an advertising brochure for a perfume company. Its design principle was the genesis of Mass.
The next problem was trying to find a printer able to make such a thing. Stuart soon realised it was almost impossible to describe what we wanted without sending out a tiny dummy as an example. He made several and posted them out. Most printers either ignored us or told us straight that it was impossible to do. There was one printer in Belgium who wanted an astronomical amount to make each copy by hand. And then, at the very last moment, Graphicom in Verona phoned to say they thought they could do it.
While it may be a complicated book design, it’s surprisingly simple in content; once the folding mechanism had been designed the pictures just slotted into place. We didn’t need to spend time agonising over sequencing or anything like that. There aren’t many pictures in it.
The Shipping Forecast (1996) is specifically allied to a well-known written text, spoken twice a day across the world, creating an underpinning narrative structure of the work. The London A-Z – which informed 26 Different Endings also relies on a pre-determined structure to make meaning, while Mass points to the presence of ‘a script’ in which we can project meaning onto the images. Could you maybe discuss your interest in the written / spoken text as a power structure?
Actually I would suggest instead that both The Shipping Forecast and 26 Different Endings take as their starting points (a) a map, and (b) a familiar British institution – a radio broadcast and a popular street atlas. The idea for Mass was born while making my previous book in Poland, The Sound of Two Songs, and has more to do with a reaction to the Catholic Church (I was raised a strict Catholic but have since wandered from the flock). Laboratory is the book which relies most on a spoken and written text because of the collaboration with Dan. The designer, Dom, played with all kinds of innovative ways of using image and text together. We gave him free rein to do whatever he wanted and most ideas he suggested were greeted by us with great excitement.

 

mark power mauer

from Die Mauer ist Weg

You described in a lecture I read that you didn’t know where ideas came from, that you didn’t know how to explain that – it was an intuitive approach. I was interested in reading that and wondered if the serendipity you encountered at the Berlin wall, which became your book Die Mauer ist Weg! was a metaphor for your approach to making work – a chance encounter, a followed path, a drift into form out of chaos.

What I was trying to say was that ideas can come from anywhere and it’s just a matter of being able to recognise one when it’s staring you in the face. While some of my projects have been conceptually tight, like 26 Different Endings, I’m always happiest when I’m allowed to wander and photograph anything I like. I’m very careful to leave enough time at the end of the process to edit and sequence my ‘collection’ of pictures very carefully. Over the years I’ve realised this is at least as important as making the work in the first place. As for my Berlin work, that was just a lucky break. To paraphrase Withnail, I was in Berlin by mistake.

 

mark power 26

from 26 Different Endings

You incorporate your own soul-searching in your work with essays that reveal a lot about your life; then in one of your books – 26 Different Endings – David Chandler wrote an autobiographical essay. I wonder, then, how you see a ‘self’ as a character in the narratives of others? Does the book form help you do this or is it through the written word that this becomes explicit?

David’s essay in 26 Different Endings is the best autobiographical piece I’ve ever read in a photo book. I’m very fortunate it’s in there and because of it, really, the book is as much David’s as it is mine. We’ve been friends for many years (we lived together as students in the late 1970s) and I think we recognise kindred spirits in each other. Neither of us are afraid to open up emotionally, although in my case (and I think in David’s too) I find it easier to do so through my work than in spoken conversation.
You have previously said: “It took me a long time to get to this point. I still don’t have any money because I plough it into new projects, but that’s what I want to spend my money on. That’s the attitude you need to have. You either do it properly or not at all, because if you do it half-heartedly you won’t have success or at least it won’t last – you’ve got to want it right to the core of your bones.” Can you tell us something about this dilemma?
It’s true that for many years I led a hand-to-mouth existence and ploughed everything I had into various projects. But my work is also my pleasure; I can’t imagine not doing it, so it’s never an issue. In every case I’ve managed to get my money back eventually, through books sales, although some titles have taken longer to recoup the ‘investment’ than others. I consider myself extremely fortunate to do what I do. My daughter told me recently she thought I had the best job in the world and I think she might be right.
Success means different things to all of us…how do YOU define success of your photobooks?
A successful photobook does justice to the work inside it, and to the time and effort you put into it. It’s not necessarily about sales.

 

mark power mauer cover

From the outside it could seem that someone who has got to the point you have – part of Magnum, with a successful career in photography – that the financial issues around producing a photobook would be more manageable. Can you explain why this might not be the case?
I can assure you that being a member of Magnum doesn’t come hand-in-hand with great personal wealth! That said, with the exception of Superstructure and The Treasury Project I’ve put my own money into each and every one of my books because I want to maintain a level of control. When I work with publishers they are always small and I trust them implicitly (Zelda Cheatle, Photoworks and GOST) but my two most recent books, Die Mauer ist Weg! and Laboratory, were self-published. This meant I had to pay for everything myself, which wasn’t easy, but Die Mauer actually made a decent profit and it’s that, indirectly, which has gone into making Destroying the Laboratory. But be under no illusions, photobook publishing isn’t a sensible business model. While Die Mauer may have made a profit, the amount of time that goes into self-publishing, not to mention wrapping and posting every single copy myself (I freely admit I’m a control freak) shouldn’t be underestimated. You can forget the minimum wage.
You are launching your latest book Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment at Photobook Bristol. What can we expect from the launch – and the book? We hear it’s going to be quite an event!
The project is a collaboration between the poet Daniel Cockrill, designer Dominic Brookman, and myself. Between 2006 and 2010 Dan and I travelled together, whenever time allowed, to different parts of England. The themes of collaboration and experiment were (and still are) important factors. In effect we were two artists using different media sharing the same ‘landscapes’. It soon became clear that each of us had our own hierarchy of what we considered interesting and important, and that’s what the project became about.
In 2010 we had the small show of the work at the Atlas Gallery in London. It was an intentionally messy experiment, but quite successful in spite of the fact that we didn’t sell a single thing! At the same time we made a dummy book, printed on an Indigo Press, in an edition of just five copies. That forms the basis of the so-called ‘trade edition’, which will be launched at the Bristol Photobook Festival in June, although this later incarnation takes even more risks. It’s taken a while to get it published, I know, but the gestation period has been useful. Among other things we made the decision not to date or caption anything in the book because it really didn’t seem important.
The third member of our team is undoubtedly Dominic Brookman who, coincidently, lives in Bristol. He designed the book and created a number of ‘treatments’ of the poems, often integrating these with my photographs. These have, in turn, become images in themselves and form a key part of the book.
We go on press next week (May 2016), so I’m a little nervous about getting too excited until I’ve seen the final product. At the Bristol event the three of us will do a presentation which will of course include a poetry performance by Dan. And this will be the only time we’ll all be together to sign the books…