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One of the features of the Photobook Bristol is the number of great books that have been launched there. This year this feature will continue with book launches and signings include:
LOTUS / MAX PINCKERS
SHENASNAMEH / AMAK MAHMOODIAN
MEMENTO MORI / PETER MITCHELL
END / EAMMON DOYLE
POST-SCRIPT / LAURA EL TANTAWY
TOPICAL TIMES FOR OUR TIMES / KEN GRANT
Lotus by Max Pinckers is a documentary record of transgender people – it features people at different stages of transition, living in a range of circumstances, including those working in the sex industry. It was made before Max’s Indian works, The Fourth Wall and Will they Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty.
The book shows tourists and sex workers at work and play in Thailand. And then it shows transsexuals undergoing gender reassignment, and it goes into a medical mode. They wait for clients in bars and hotels, they pose for each other, or have modelling pictures made, and a different kind of image comes into play.
So at the heart of the book is the idea of how the images were made, the negotiations that took place in their making, and the ways in which Pinkers and his collaborator, Quinten de Bruyn, construct the perspective that we are given.
It’s a book of great pictures that questions the ways in which photography, and specifically documentary photography, is constructed. This is what he says in his preamble;
The documentary photographer that captures reality as ‘a fly on the wall’ can’t deny his or her directive and manipulative role any longer. The anonymity, the seeming absence, is merely a pose. The tableaux that the photographer captures are not lies, but enfold themselves within the studio that he or she creates from reality.
The focus is on the frameworks that surround photography. In Lotus, it is the frameworks of the actual making of the image. It is a demystification then, a going behind the scenes to look at the bare bones of image making, the role that the photographer, the assistant, the subject has in the making of the image.
It’s a hugely important subject and one that is often ignored. The reason, or one of the reasons at least, why everybody in The Americans looks so pissed off and paranoid and there is a subliminal mist of violence in the book is because it’s Robert Frank taking the pictures. And people don’t like him. That the pictures match the spirit of the times is not accidental, and actually the role Frank takes in the making of the pictures gives the book even more poignancy and depth. Not that it needs it because it’s one of the great, great, great photobooks.
Another great, great, great photobook is Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home, the whole point of which is to question the way that images are made, and how meaning is pre-loaded into them depending on the way they are made and the context in which they will be read. That’s not the whole point actually. The whole point is to tell the story of his family; his father’s work, his parents’ relationship and how it all tied in with the social and environmental changes that took place in post-war America. But in telling that story, he tells the story of photography and the ways it is used to represent the family.
So that is what Pinckers is looking at, the idea that the making of the photograph is a complex and value-laden part of the making and the understanding of the image. It’s a theme he continued to explore in The Fourth Wall (which has the idea of getting behind the stage embedded in the title, and looks at how cinematic representations of the world overlap, and can be made to overlap, with the reality of that world.
Will they Sing like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty continues that investigation, but takes it further by looking at how that overlap has extended in the world of romance to the extent that the cinematic world has become the real world. It does that and then looks at the different ways in which love manifests itself in life, images, and a diverse range of media. There are a multiplicity of voices at play here.
This examination of the multiple ways in which images and ideas are shown, read and understood, and the ways in which it is the framework of representation rather than the image itself which matters most, is at the heart of the most interesting photography of the last forty year – Pinckers, Fontcuberta, Sultan, Arthur, Broomberg and Chanarin to name but a few.
And though these photographers are working with the frameworks, they also strangely enough make beautiful images that tell a story that has depth and meaning. They are interesting in looking at the way pictures tell stories, because they are interested in the real world. And they use their investigations of frameworks to tell stories, because ultimately what’s the point in looking at the dynamics of telling a story unless you’re doing it to tell a story. They connect to the real world.
Which is a good thing because there are a lot of stories to be told, that need to be told.