There has been a tectonic shift in how we consume journalistic images in the last five years. As the smartphone camera market has emerged, its also made us question the position of photographers in stories and in the current visual culture. Personally believe, age of the mythical heroic photojournalist is over. And this critical thought has in fact been in discussion with many recent books which came out, one example being War Porn by Kehrer Verlag.
But today I’m going to discuss about the very poignant book Infidel by Tim Hetherington which abandons the traditional ideas of being a war photographer and takes a much more personal approach. For those who don’t know the project, Tim Hetherington and reporter Sebastian Junger spent 15 months living with a small unit of US Army deployed on a tiny outpost built in north-eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Considered the most active fighting grounds in Afghanistan, the outpost was built to support a nearby larger supply base which was constantly under fire.
Coming back to the book, small journal sized, the faux leather bound Infidel feels almost like a religious artefact in your hands. The images inside are partial gloss prints, with a thick white border. The pages are thick but unlike a fine art photobook, they bend making the entire book a little flexible and a little more personal. 240 pages thick, the book operates in sections, each divided by the style Tim follows.
“You can get bored of taking pictures of fighting,” he says. “I got more interested in the relationship between the soldiers. That’s where the shots of them sleeping came from. If you go to these places you can sometimes get all your media oxygen sucked up by the fighting; we were lucky to have time to explore other things.”
This is the very core of what Infidel is about. Unlike previously released books by war photographers, this work does not just deal with the act of war but acknowledges that most of it is just waiting. And in this waiting period, bonds are built between men who will possibly die for each other.
Tim also challenges the very nature of masculinity projected by the young soldiers, their bravado also unconsciously exhibiting tenderness and friendship in a way which is almost childlike.
The book moves in and out constantly, falling into tense moments and then releasing the reader into lighter spaces. As a reader you move into portraits of the young men, landscapes, illustrations of the men’s tattoos, dogs with bullet shells for collars and the soldiers wrestling playfully. But under all this is a constant stress of anticipation, waiting for sirens.
For me Infidel is not only about the brotherhood of the soldiers and their personal lives un-glorified but also about how we interpret war now as a sadistic entertainment, looking for it, hoping for specific images in a heroic war photographers story.
Tim also masters the rhythm in the book, the sequencing of the images is just brilliant. Its so wonderful to see the way it comes together, always being true to its subjects and the weight of the situation but also never betraying the photographers personal viewpoint.
Infidel is a great book to have and definitely worth your library. Its easily available on Amazon & Photo Eye. Also if you’re interested in looking at the images, Magnum Photos has a set available for the public to see!
The images from Sally Mann have always managed to evoke a emotional response from the audience, almost always strongly in one direction or the other.
Mann has been in news recently with NY Times publishing two articles about her first major work “Immediate Family” and about her experiences to follow after that body of work. Also with the release of her memoir “Hold Still”, she comes closer to helping the audience really understand the conflicts which exist inside of her not only as a mother and a artist but how she constantly deals with ideas of impermanence, despair and humanity.
I recently got my own copy of “Immediate Family” and looking through it raises the questions of how do we draw a line between a innocent gaze and perversion, also the question that should we really question the work produced on the basis of not what it aspires to emote but where it crosses the barriers of established fears.
Mann also has a documentary out discussing her latest work along with her journey as an artist which is available online, called “What Remains”.
There has been much developing here now that finally winter is over. Coming from India I imagined I would be the last person to get sick of the cold but wearing layers of clothes does get really frustrating real quick.
Other than that, winter has been photogenic and makes me appreciate the light of summer so much more. Also snow is a tricky thing to work with because it reflects light in a completely different way.
I’ve really started seeing light so very differently. Its amazing how much it can change from location to location and we don’t necessarily pay attention to it.
Lastly, I just got my hands on some amazing new books. Finally have an Alec Soth in my collection (From Here To There), Infidel by Tim Hetherington and the brilliant American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar by Taryn Simon. Reviews on all of them soon on Constellation Cafe.
Oh before I forget, Constellation Cafe has a instagram account now for your daily dose of inspiration from photography and other visual culture sources. Follow on @constellationcafe.
Nazraeli Press is definitely one of my most favourite publishers. And I wouldn’t have expected any lesser from them when it came to Todd Hido’s beautiful book “Between The Two”.
Now for those who don’t know much about Todd’s work, he’s a brilliant photographer based in San Francisco and when I first saw his work it just completely shook me up. If I wanted to describe it, I would say he lies somewhere in between fiction and documentary, his images creating intensely speculative ideas which lead your imagination into the most powerful spaces.
I just recently got my hands on his book “Between The Two”. Hardbound and huge, the design is highly experiential. Published after his hugely successful “House Hunting”, “Outskirts” & “Nymph Daughters” this book tries to combine all of them in one singular flow with multiple voices.
Printed on semi gloss paper, the book presents images in a hypnotic rhythm. Hido admits that a lot of his work is inspired by his ever growing archive and the cultural background he comes from. Needless to say his work has a very intimate emotional quality.
As you flip through the pages, you see abandoned empty houses, nude women and unknown buildings standing silently at night. On their own the images are beautiful but together they form something really astounding.
What is really engaging about Hido’s vision is the way he leads you to believe that all these images are really saying something very specific when in fact all they do is let you translate them in any way you like. As you page through, you start building ideas, your mind fills up the silence and blanks which are left open by the artist.
Coming back to the book, a brand new copy is somewhere about 75$ but you can find it a little cheaper on Amazon.
This is a great book to have and its really inspiring to see how Todd uses images to communicate with each other. If I could change something, I would have added more landscapes, interiours and house pictures and reduced the nudes. Other than that, if you do have a opportunity to add this to your library, I would definitely recommend it.
For those who are interested, there is a beautiful interview by him on ahorn magazine’s website. He also recently spoke at SVA and the video is open for public.
“I don’t have the impression that I photographed you a great deal. I certainly photographed you less than I wanted to. Besides, I don’t know why I photograph you. Maybe because I can’t caress you, but I never even asked to caress you.”
“The idea makes me shudder.”
“You see, its easier to ask to take your picture than to ask to caress you. I photograph you as if I were stocking up on you, in anticipation of your absence. These pictures are like pledges, or bonds, for my desire: I don’t even know if I’ll ever print them, but if one day, because I am in love, your absence becomes unbearable to me, I know that I’ll be able to turn to this little roll of film and develop your image, and caress you, but without making you shudder, or casting a spell on you. They say that if you want to make someone who is stubborn fall in love with you, all you have to do is surreptitiously put an apple stuck with clover under their bed and let it rot there. A photograph works the same way, like a spell I might cast on you. By taking your photograph, I can attach myself to you, make you a part of my life, assimilate you. And you can’t do anything about it.”
Translated from French, Ghost Image by Hervé Guibert
Happy New Year!! 2014 has been a brilliant last year and so much yet to come. This post is mostly going to be a recap of the last year and a hint on the amazing things to come soon this year.
Firstly this has been a great year in terms of just getting to understand how to see photography. I spent the last three months moving through the idea of straight documentary to how to seek abstraction in the same space to make it so much more than I could possibly explain.
Its also been a great technical learning experience both with how to manage film and digital. I have to say I have new found respect for what digital can do and am looking to shoot a lot more with my Canon DSLR.
I also got the chance to mingle with Large Format 4×5 cameras and see 8×10 in action and it just amazes me how much you can get out of a negative.
So keep checking up on the blog. Subscribe (if you haven’t already) and you can follow Constellation Cafe on Facebook too! Also because we’re starting a new year, let me know if you have any requests for specific topics of interest.
2014 has been a really interesting year for photography with some great work coming out. I’ve been specially busy watching and reading some great content online, so sharing it here for your Xmas / New Year free time.
First is a panel discussion with Michael Mack, Dewi Lewis, Thijs groot Wassink and Stephen Gil moderated by Martin Parr as part of Photobook Bristol 2014. A great talk, must watch specially for photographers looking to publish soon.
Secondly if you haven’t been reading writings related to photography, here is a documentary to jump start your interest. John Berger is the author of the highly influential writings titled “Ways of Seeing” which was also adapted by BBC for a four part documentary.
Lastly, SVA on Youtube is sharing some brilliant talks, I’m linking you guys to a talk on Instagram and social media’s influence on today’s photography but almost all of their talks are worth listening to.
If you’ve been following Constellation Cafe, you know I’ve been pretty excited about sharing notes on Toni Amengual’s new book “Pain”. Toni has usually been shy about his exposure to the online world and the work promotion, specially in the English speaking world. So here is some more on his book along with his comments on how we perceive and engage with it.
Before we continue, Toni already has a brilliant in depth interview online which I recommend reading. (Its in Spanish but Google Translator does a good job)
I spoke to Toni about the process on how he created these images and he spoke about not initially having a clear intention but experiencing it more like a game where he was documenting his surroundings.
I also spoke to him about the design of the book and how it engages the emotion in a more physical form. This is what he had to say :
As I told you, as it started as an exercise it wasn’t meant to be a serious project which is what I have on my website. The book format allows me to do other things. About the design, it was done by Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martin from Atlas Studio. I present them my work, my ideas and intentions and they understood it perfectly. They made the perfect container for such a work. They have a great responsibility on the success of the book. I have been asked about the problem that it is more a design book than a photobook. I don’t like the photobook definition. It´ s a book, and as all books it is designed. With the peculiarity that working with visual codes (that´s how I do understand photography) I can also use design to express the message. And that´ s what we did. At the end of the book in the credits there are the special thanks to many people, that are the persons that helped me to develop the piece. I couldn’t have done it alone, despite I sign the book because I coordinate all the work. I think that we, photographers and everybody, should start thinking more as teams than individuals. That´ s also a change that I am feeling politically in my country. So that’s also another layer that there is in the book.
One of the most interesting books to come out this year has been Pain by Toni Amengual. Curiously enough there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it so I decided to talk to Toni about the work and the book.
So I’m going to start with a few notes on the book and in the next post I’ll bring in Toni to speak more about it from his point of view.
Pain is Toni’s first book and if I can say he’s nailed it. The book is not very big, about 8 x 5 inches and unexpectedly very light for its thickness. Softbound in a bright red jacket, the design calls out for you as soon as you see it. The title “PAIN” is printed in bold black letters on the cover, loud as it can be like a accident on the side of the road you’re compelled to look at.
Pain is a quiet book until it explodes like a visual secret hidden in plain sight. Brilliantly designed, the book follows Japanese two fold design but encourages the viewer to physically cut through the pages to reveal the images inside.
What I love about the book is its politically charged statement and the way it engages you to act physically before it reveals anything. The act of cutting open a book is poetic and harsh at the same time and it couldn’t have been conceptualized better.
I am a little hesitant in terms of the final emotion of the book. When all the pages are open and you go thought them, the realization of a perennial state of hardship lingers. The book in all its beauty and engagement has a very strong opinion which at times hinders the viewer imagination.
In the interview with Toni I shall speak more about the images inside and how he looks at the society and existence in the work.
Pain is a beautiful book which is more than just a book. Its a installation which engages you to move and take action, to cut open something precious to be able to see its core. I’ve already added one copy to my library and you should definitely pick one up from his website before the limited edition of 500 is sold out.
I was introduced to Ara’s work in a workshop at ICP and to say I was impressed would be a understatement. His work has character and intimacy which is rarely seen in photojournalism. And so I requested him to spend some time with me in a interview to discuss his book “Father Land”.
For those who haven’t seen the slide show from Burn Magazine from the last blogpost, Father Land is Ara’s first book. Exploring the small region of Karabagh next to Armenia, this book documents the photographers presence in this homeland he’s never visited before, the residual conflict in the lives of its citizens and the search for his own identity. Coming from a family of poets, Ara effortlessly constructs complex narratives built on exile, loss, being an outsider and yet being intimately involved with the space.
The publishers, Powerhousebooks have made a video and a detailed synopsis of the book, I do recommend looking at it before you read the interview as I would be skipping to the more pressing queries at hand.
Q. Fatherland was created over ten years of photography, with you travelling between Armenia and California. And a very important part of this work has been the fact that you never had been to this location prior to the book. I’m curious how the place was in your imagination vs the reality of it? And if it was different how did that change your viewpoint about it.
That’s very true; I was born in a diaspora in the Middle East, into a nationalistic family, which was very much connected to Armenia. We were descendants of the Armenian genocide, very conscious of retaining our language and culture after this attempt to exterminate our language, culture & identity. My father and my grandfather both wrote in Armenian, so there is this whole continuity there. I grew up with an imaginary idea of what Armenia was. We were taught in school about the beautiful mountains and streams and the heroes of the Armenian past, almost propaganda of what motherland should look like. But we know the reality is very different.
So when the project happened, I went with a very open mind. I didn’t want to go back to Armenia without a purpose, but now I was working in this region, it all changed. As a photographer you just go into places and you try to connect, without judging or thinking of things should or should not be. Just tried to be there without preconceptions.
Q. Before going to Armenia, you were already documenting your family and this diaspora you exist in back in LA. Why was it necessary to go to Karabagh and not just work with your family to create a metaphysical space in California?
I was doing both and I really feel it’s very important to work in your own backyard. But going to Armenia, mostly comes out of influences of literature. Like most writers write about themselves, their people, the places where they live in. It’s expected to come from there; no body goes to a country and writes fiction about that country. And my approach was to write about myself, to photograph about myself. So I started photographing in LA but there is a symbiotic relationship between Armenia and the diaspora. My father would say, “You have two lungs, one is Armenia and the other is diaspora. And they both need to be working for the person to be alive”. It was clear to me, if I was going to look at Armenia and the Armenian experience between the 20th and the 21st century; I had to go to Armenia at some point and work on a project that connected to the diaspora.
Q. Reading your father and grandfather’s work, they both wrote passionately about Armenia while in exile. I wish to understand how your viewpoint changed being an outsider in the most basic physical sense yet always being intimately involved with the idea of home?
I think it meant I had a different perspective. I don’t think it helped me, as I didn’t really have a well-defined direction, like I’m going to start here and end here. I just started exploring and that’s the beautiful thing about documentary photography as there is no particular endpoint. The process becomes as much a purpose as the actual purpose.
A lot of the work really comes together in the editing process. Like Nan Goldin the other day said “photography is editing” and everything is very much instinctual. But yes it did give me this ambiguity that we were earlier talking about. You go to this homeland but you’ve never been there before. So I found myself in this strange ambiguity of knowing the place but never having been there. I spoke the language, but a different dialect from the locals in that region. Their culture was my culture but not quite. It was home but also at times completely foreign. So it also became about identity.
Infact the title, which my father gave the book, was “The Spirit of Karabagh” in the sense that it was going to be about the spirit of this place and how they were able to survive. In the introductory text, my father lists twelve to fifteen races that used to be in this region that no longer exist. So his question was why is Armenia still there. But as I was working, it became more about me, my identity and the connection to my father.
Q. Do you consider yourself in exile?
Through and through, in a sense, yes. An outsider. I don’t think of it as exile because that would mean I’ve been thrown out of someplace. But I’m in a state of constant diaspora; even if I go back to Armenia it would be a diaspora for me. So I believe this is my state of being, between multiple cultures, languages that influence all of my work.
Q. As we look deeply into the image construction, the classic style of photojournalistic documentary comes into play and invokes a deep sense of conflict intertwined with poignant awareness of normality. How did you start exploring layering and working through this contrasting stability and residual conflict in your images?
Yes, the aftermath of war is obviously a important part of that region. The book for me was about the place, the issues as well as about my identity. There is a image in the book which is very much about the duality of war with some kids who are playing with these rusted old military vehicles. War and life are definitely one of things which I explored in the book.
Q. Your father’s work has always been about the loss and struggles of Armenians yet always a hope for the future. As we look at fatherland there is a deep sense of loss, the lost land, your own history, losing your father, as you became a father. Do you think somewhere this work becomes a family album more than the exploration of a society?
In a sense it is a family album. Everytime I went, I had one more addition to my family. My sons were born and at the same time I lost my father. So there is a cycle which is repeated. Yes, you could look at it as a family album, a very very strange (laughs) family album. And I do feel that for the work to be relevant it has to have multiple layers. Its a dark book but in it there is this idea of becoming, which looks at the future of myself and this place.
Thank you Ara for taking the time to talk to me for this interview. If you are interested in more information about the book or Ara’s work, please visit his website. Father Land is available at the ICP Book Store (Signed Copies, I think) or it can be ordered on Amazon or via the Publishers directly.