Photobook Bristol 2016: The Last Post!

Photobook Bristol 2016 is over and was simply wonderful. We are emotionally attached to the event, but it was a truly memorable festival for so many reasons with  great talks, great people and so many different perspectives given. And there were quite a few stand out moments!

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The weekend started with Amak Mahmoodian talking about her beautiful book, Shenasnameh. Her talk started with a clip of old Iranian movies which cut through the clichés of representation of the country. She went on to describe her working process, for all her projects and then the ways in which the identity photograph of the Iranian Shenasnameh (which is a kind of Iranian Birth Certificate/Domestic Passport) is used. The book is connected very closely to the different ways in which photography is used in formal settings and how those uses reflect politics, culture, violence and power. But above all, it is a book that is personal, autobiographical and filled with a passion and love that transcends the subject matter.

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Shenasnameh: An Interview with Amak Mahmoodian

Amak Mahmoodian’s new book, Shenasnameh will be launched at Photobook Bristol on Friday. Published jointly by IC Visual Labs and RRB Books, Shenasnameh tells the story of Iranian women throught their fingerprints and the identity photographs they must make for their Shenasnameh (a passport like book which is a birth certificate and identity document). It’s a beautifully made book that mixes an attention to the vernacular uses of the identity photography with love, compassion and feeling for her fellow women. It’s a book of personal identities that come through eyes and looks and the turn of the mouth, mixed with official identities of fingerprints and photographs rejected due to an ‘excess’ of make-up or hair.

The project started 6 years ago when Amak was having her Shenasnameh picture taken with her mother.  These are the heartfelt and very beautiful words that Amak says about the project.

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The idea came to me immediately. I saw the pictures of myself and my mother in the day and I went home and thought, I’m going to make a project about that. The same day I started asking my neighbours if I could borrow their birth certificate photographs.

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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

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


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


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.


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


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’).

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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


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.


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

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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

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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


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


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


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
Photo Eye

The Village Bookstore

Cafe Royal Books
L’Ascenseur Vegetal
Claire de Rouen

Le Bal

Lina Hashim: Warmth, Humour, and Suicide Bombers!

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It was a real pleasure to see Amak Mahmoodian in conversation with Lina Hashim at  Photobook Bristol’s partner organisation, IC Visual Labs last night. Amak’s beautiful first book, Shenasnameh will launch at Photobook Bristol, and Lina Hashim was flown over from Denmark to talk about her work with Amak. Lina Hashim has an Iraqi muslim background and works on projects that revolve around her complex cultural, religious and gender identity and how that can be negotiated through photography.

Except that Lina talks about it much better than that. The word identity is not even mentioned. Instead Lina frames her work around the everyday  application and misinterpretation of muslim rules in terms of her own life and that of other muslims living in Denmark and beyond. And she talks about her work with a warmth, humour and directness that is quite something to behold.

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In her talk, Lina focussed on three main projects; No Wind – with HijabUnlawful Meetings and Suicide Bombers

I’ve written about Lina before, both here and for the BJP, but I’ll write again because her work deserves an audience; she’s really good.

No Wind With Hijab is a series of portraits of hair. But it’s the way the process of negotiation that led to their making that is so interesting. First she asked women in hijab if they would take off their hijab and she could photograph their hair. She asked at Copenhagen’s Central Station and everybody she asked (and she asked a lot) said no. So she went to the local imam and started negotiating what she could photograph, what wasn’t haram. Anyway, she ended up bringing in a bunch of hair from a hairdresser, showing it to the imam, who decided it would be ok to photograph hair in that way. He wrote her a letter stating this. She approached more women, showed them the letter, and hey presto, the pictures happened, shot on the fly in a MacDonalds by the station.

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Unlawful Meetings came about from the belief of local community leaders that young muslims didn’t have sex before marriage, that this was only a western sin. Except it wasn’t. And so Lina sought out to provide proof  that it really was happening. Subterfuge, spying, surveillance, sex and religion is a heady mix. But it works and was published in a beautiful handmade book called Unlawful Meetings.


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Suicide Bombers is a project featuring suicide bombers. For this, Lina goes online to source pictures of suicide bombers that are being sold on the internet. They are sold to raise funds for the families of the dead suicide bombers. They are bought for a host of reasons, including as evidence that a woman can remarry; women whose husbands will not divorce them buy a picture of a dead suicide bomber, show it to an imam as proof he is dead, are then given permission to marry. Lina buys these pictures and then soaks them in blood as this provides evidence of the bombers martyrdom, before printing them.

It’s a heady mix of the personal, the religious, the communal, with questions of permission, evidence, authenticity and provenance all mixed up. It’s a bit too heady a mix for some. Big shows have been promised but somehow dematerialise because of the nature of the work, the Suicide Bombers (for which a book is being planned) in particular proving to be a latter day Piss Christ.

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There is possibly another problem. When Lina talks about her work, she talks about it with passion and with humour. She takes delight in it, and though there is undoubtedly a massive level of frustration and anger embedded within the work and its making, what one comes away with is a sense of enjoyment, pleasure and fun.

And I wonder if that sits happily with everybody. When a female artist makes work that features women, Islam and the Koran, it is almost  expected that the work must be very serious (because it’s a serious topic) and so must be spoken of in very serious terms, in the hushed voices of the White Cube.

Lina doesn’t do this. Instead she talks about it with a sense of the absurd. There is a sense of humour in there. And I wonder if everybody in the art world is quite ready for a muslim woman who talks about issues of religious orthodoxy, religious hypocrisy and religious belief as it is enacted on a daily basis in a manner that is both engaging and engaged with the multiple seats of that orthodoxy, hypocrisy and belief.