Field Report: Unseen 2014

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Every location that puts a claim on being one of the centers of contemporary photography needs to have a serious, high-quality photography festival/fair. This bar is being crossed easily by the Netherlands, host to more than one festival, Unseen in Amsterdam being merely the latest addition. I had the opportunity to visit Unseen last year and again this year, being part of and exposed to its programming.

Unseen combines a photography festival with a fair (or, if you’re approaching this from the commercial angle, it’s a photo fair with added festival programming). Fairs obviously are centered on the idea of selling photography, an aspect of the photography world I essentially have zero interest in. But they do provide a good opportunity to see what is going on in the world of galleries.

I think people sometimes forget (or maybe ignore?) that while galleries are an important part of the world of photography, one needs to be careful with making a link between what is selling and what has artistic merit. Galleries aren’t run by photo critics, they’re run by business people. Fairs are great places to see what’s currently “hot” on the market. The case of Unseen is slightly different, given here the focus is mostly on “emerging” artists, artists that might break into the market.

Consequently, if you go to Unseen, you’re unlikely to see large numbers of the usual suspects, which I personally find satisfactory on many different levels. This year, the overall quality of the work on display in what used to be an old gas tank was quite a bit higher than last year’s. Given the fair is now three years old, it appears to have found a rather solid footing now. I agree with Sean O’Hagan that Augustin Rebetez stole the show with his work and install (see Sean’s piece here). Another artist I discovered is Matt Wilson, whose rather small and initially unassuming prints I overlooked more than once before I discovered them. Word is there is a book in the making, which I’m looking forward to.

Speaking of books, part of Unseen is a dummy award (I was a juror last year) and a book market. The latter usually is bad news for my wallet and back. This year, I managed to avoid breaking my suitcase (I was less successful as far as the bank is concerned). I will review various of my finds over the coming weeks. Given its connection to Unseen, Heikki Kaski‘s Tranquility deserves special mention, though. Winner of last year’s Unseen Dummy Award, the book was officially released at the occasion of this year’s fair. It’s easily one of the best photobooks to have come out this year. Speaking of very good books, Fw: released Awoiska van der Molen‘s Sequester, which I think we’ll also see on many “best of” lists this year.

In addition, the festival featured a string of events, panels, and presentations, centering on various hot or interesting topics in the world of photography, too many to list them here. In a sense, Unseen really shows how a photography festival can be done in a way that keeps things fresh. The world of photography is notoriously conservative and orthodox, so rumblings about Unseen being “too hip” probably need to be taken with a grain of salt. I personally would rather see a selection of less well known artists, with some bigger names mixed in – instead of the often tedious format of a few big events centered on the usual big names, with some crumbs for the younger crowd thrown in halfheartedly.

The Netherlands truly have incorporated art and photography into their culture to an extent that I don’t see much anywhere else, certainly not in the United States. Along with four other curators, I had been invited by the Mondriaan Fund to come to the Netherlands, in part to see and participate in Unseen, in part to meet artists and/or visit major museums. The country’s public commitment to supporting the arts has truly created a deep and meaningful atmosphere for the arts, and this very clearly includes photography. As a consequence of the 2008 financial crisis, funding has been cut back, but the still existing levels are impressive. This matters greatly, especially once one becomes aware of the tremendous breadth of photography coming out of what is a relatively small country.

Seen this way, Unseen is not just some fair/festival. It is also a gateway into a world where a commitment to the arts, combined with considerable public and private funding, have resulted in a vibrant culture around the medium photography.

Finding vs. Found

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The photograph at the top of this article is one out of 18 included in a set of slides I found (and bought) on Ebay. The slides came without any information – there is no writing on the frames. Thus, all I know about them is what I inferred from looking at their content. There are two main protagonists, a woman and a man, who might or might not be on vacation and who are very clearly enjoying each other’s company. In 14 of the photographs, they can be seen posing next to signs such as the one above, making fun of themselves in all kinds of ways. It is a very endearing set of photographs.

And yet, I wish it hadn’t been me who found it. I have been looking on Ebay for photographs for a long time, very slowly collecting all kinds of imagery. Looking for photographs on Ebay isn’t nearly as exciting as rummaging through a box of prints at a flea market. For those occasions where flea markets are inaccessible – which happens to be most of the time – it’ll do. It’ll have to do. Since its earlier days, when you could find a lot of good material on Ebay, often for very little money, the site has morphed into a poor man’s Amazon, which, however, often is way overpriced. I’m very picky and cheap, so finding something I want happens rarely.

Mind you, I do enjoy the hunt involved in collecting great images to have. But the immediate immateriality of what can be seen online, whether it’s vernacular photographs or even photobooks, doesn’t quite feel right.

There is a second-hand bookshop (of sorts) in Berlin, open three or four days a week, from around four or five in the afternoon until nine later in the evening. If they feel like it, that is, and I haven’t been able to figure out whether the “they” in question, the people who take my money, are the owners, or what their deal might be. The shop appeals to me, in part because of that. They’re clearly not in it for the money, they’re in it for something else, parts of which I am tempted to think I share.

Outside, on the curb, the shop usually has an assortment of material, in the form of old books and magazines, postcards, photo albums, and photographs, presented in the most half-hazard fashion. It’s usually quite a bit of a mess, and that makes it fun.

Rummaging through those albums or boxes filled to the brim with old photographs is a very different experience than scrolling through Ebay listings. It’s not even that I like to get my hands dirty – dirty they’ll inevitably get, given the nature of the presentation alone. But picking up an old photograph, however briefly, to look at it, to then decide on the spot whether it’s going to get bought or not – that’s very different than clicking on some link.

(Those who can’t enjoy articles about photography without references to the usual subjects can mentally add their obligatory Walter Benjamin quote here, about the aura and all.)

Finding something online is really not the same as finding the same thing in real life. Even where the end result is exactly the same – let’s say, a photobook is finally in one’s possession, coming across the book in a second-hand shop is just so much more exciting than seeing a listing, doing some clicking, maybe doing some “bidding”… It’s almost as if the internet has reduced the process of hunting for photography to its mere, literal essence, while, at the same time, removing all of its soul.

It’s all very functional, which shouldn’t surprise us, given the internet – and by that I mean the machinery and tools that operate behind the scenes – is mostly produced by very young people who are very bright in a very, very limited way: those people know all about software, but often shockingly little about, well, life. I can’t even blame them. When I was a lot younger, I didn’t know any of the stuff, either. I hadn’t lived the life I can now look back onto, a life filled with all kinds of pleasant and unpleasant surprises, thankfully none of which I could have foreseen. (full disclosure: I worked at such a company years ago, during the first internet bubble.)

How did we end up in this spot, where as a society we decided it would just be fine to have our lives be dominated by tools made by people who know a lot about software, but often so little about all those things said software touches? How did we get to the point where we decided it was fine if we had to change our behaviour, instead of demanding better tools that were able to adapt better to us?

In the world of photography, over the past decade large parts of the – let’s call it – scene have been busy chasing after the latest gizmos and programs and sites, having those determine what photography is – instead of seeing what these gizmos and programs and sites can contribute to photography.

Are we so desperate about photography that we need to embrace each and every new development in the tech world as if it were the manifestation of the saviour, here in the form of bits and bytes, the saviour that will finally allow us to make sense of photography again?

Did photography actually stop making sense before we started worrying that it did?

Back to what matters to me here, those objects: books and photographs. Back to finding them, or rather to coming across them. There is the immateriality of the whole process online that has drained my excitement out of the hunt.

But it’s not the internet alone. At least as far as photographs are concerned, there also is the fact that while I do enjoy finding gems like the slides made by the couple, I actually enjoy such imagery much more when it was found by other people. I have no idea what’s going on here: I have tried compiling books made with some of my own found photographs, but I rarely ever look at them. But I will spend quite a bit of time with other people’s books, whether it’s Erik Kessels‘, Joachim Schmid‘s, Melissa Catanese‘s, …

Earlier this year, I went to that Berlin second-hand bookshop twice, each time resulting in a little collection of photographs. After the first time, I bought a blank notebook and photo corners, and I made a little album. Based on the reactions of people I showed the album to, it’s quite enjoyable. For me, however, it’s now one of those many books in a pile somewhere. I collected the pictures, I made the album, I haven’t looked at it again since I came back home. I’d rather look at what other people found.

Maybe it’s because I just know so much about that little album. Given there were so many photographs to look through, I decided I’d pick a little “strategy” to make my browsing more interesting. I picked the best pictures I could find, but I also assembled a group of pictures I called “Other People’s Party Pictures” (the second time, I looked for “Indifferent Women”). Those ended up in my album. Maybe it’s because the hunt was such an integral part of the album that with it now being done, a lot of the excitement is gone as well.

When I look at a book made by Melissa Catanese, say, I have none of the hunt. I have no access to the thinking that resulted in Dive Dark Dream Slow. I only have the pictures, and they’ll do something with my mind that is not weighed down by knowing what’s going on, what the plan is, how things were put together. So there’s that difference.

I’m not going to stop looking for photographs, including on Ebay. There just is too much good photography still to be found, online and in the real world. But with time I’ve become much more aware of the real promise of “found” photography, part of which lies in the finding, the true finding that is – not the simulated one online.


Daisuke Yokota

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Daisuke Yokota

Over the course of the past year, I’ve probably spent more time looking at Daisuke Yokota‘s photography than at any other artist’s. Of his most recent books, I own three – the one that is part of the Nocturnes box, Linger (the regular edition), and Vertigo, the most recent release (which I yet have to review). There is one other book that’s still relatively easy to get, Site/Cloud. I did see the book at a book fair last year. It had just been released, but I ended up not buying it, given I wasn’t very excited about the production itself. Not that there’s anything with the production per se. It’s a wonderful hardcover book, with (as far as I remember) nice printing and all. But it didn’t seem to do the photographs much justice.

Yokota’s photographs are heavily process based. They’re not entirely about process, but there’s no way around at least acknowledging the role process plays for this photographer. If you look at the online preview of FOAM Magazine‘s 2013 Talent issue, available here (you really want to look at the actual magazine, but the electronic version might entice you to buy it), you can see some of Yokota’s work plus a brief interview I conducted with him (it’s on p. 48).

Yokota’s process is quite convoluted. Imagine you take a digital file, and you save it using jpeg compression at a low quality setting (resulting in a smaller file). As a consequence you’ll get compression artifacts: the resulting image will contain all kinds of digital patterns produced by the algorithm that writes the file. If you reload this file, and repeat the process, the compression artifacts will be amplified. The image gets more and more degraded with each iteration. You can think of Yokota’s process as a much more complex version of this process, with various analog parts. Photographs are being printed, rephotographed, the film is developed in ways usually not recommended (the temperature might be too high), prints are being made from that, etc.

This process gives Yokota’s work its own look and feel. Or rather, it contributes a notable component to this look and feel. After all, the choice of subject matter, the framing, the use of artificial light (flash)… All of these choices, many of which appear to be random at first (but which are not), contribute to photographs that are unlike much of what we see in contemporary photography today. Where today’s popular New Formalism produces imagery that for the most part seems intent on outdoing itself in terms of its detached clinicality, of being devoid of much – if any – sensual passion, Yokota’s photographs live in the somber shadows, where all kinds of other, possibly unpleasant, surprises might linger.

In the FOAM interview, the artist spoke of the importance of dreams. The work does indeed have a dreamlike quality. But it’s not necessarily an entirely pleasant dream.

Linger might offer the most obvious story line of any of the publications. The photographs very clearly allude to a sexual encounter between a woman and a man (who resembles the photographer – as far as that can be made out, given the process). While this might bring artists like Nobuyoshi Araki to mind, or Antoine D’Agata, Yokota’s approach and work transcends them both. In the case of Araki, what used to be merely an obvious and very good part of a honeymoon trip (in Sentimental Journey), over the years morphed into something where it has become hard to see much beyond what looks like a photographic shtick. The same can pretty much be said for D’Agata’s work. Linger, in contrast, doesn’t feel as calculated for effect as most of Araki’s recent and all of D’Agata’s work. Instead, it is infused with a sensuality that, in part, derives from its aesthetic (process) and in part from how form and content are made to work with each other. A better reference would in fact be Dirk Braeckman, a kindred spirit in terms of both form and content.

The form, to a large part driven by the process, also if not dictates then at least very strongly suggests specific choices for books made around Yokota’s work. The reason why I liked Site/Cloud so much less than the other ones is because it just didn’t feel right. The paper used for the book lacks character, thus depriving the images of a lot of their power. Combined with the way of printing, Site/Cloud felt lifeless to me, a mere simulation of the photographs, not a reproduction. Linger, in contrast, uses a heavy paper stock that responds to the touch. It almost looks as if the pages were in fact the original photographs. These kinds of details matter, especially in a case like Yokota’s work.

If Linger is relatively clear in terms of what might be going on, Vertigo is anything but. Where it isn’t somber it is outright dark, as if to convey a delirious fever dream. The photographs in both books aren’t necessarily that different. But there is less of a focus on the human form in Vertigo, certainly less of a focus on two people having a sexual encounter. Instead, moody landscapes or what look like abandoned, deserted rooms in utopian settings set the scene for an almost distressing experience for the viewer.  If Linger presents a setting one probably wouldn’t mind finding oneself in, Vertigo does the complete opposite.

Given the relative uniformity of the process, I spent quite a bit of time wondering about how Yokota would possibly be able to maintain the viewer’s interest, without falling into the D’Agata trap, where the aesthetic becomes a tiresome shtick. That was before I saw both Linger and Vertigo. But now it is clear to me that there are considerable opportunities present in this artist’s mind that result in these very different books.

This is a most impressive achievement, given that the form of the photographs itself at least initially seems so overpowering. But their content manages to sustain its own role and importance. And that matters greatly, especially since we live in a world where flashy form and content are valued so highly: as long as it generates clicks or usually short-lived excitement, it’s gold. Daisuke Yokota offers deeply inspiring form and content in a way that is almost old-fashioned (given his insistence on the process) and that asserts a non-fleeting presence. This photographer is in it for the long haul.

Photobook Reviews (Week 37/2014)

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There is this idea that self-publishing your photobook is more commendable or cooler or more daring than working with a publisher. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. As far as I am concerned, while there are self-published and published books, and there are self publishers, independent publishers (whatever that might mean), and mainstream publishers, the only thing that matters to me is that there are good photobooks and bad ones. Your idea of which book is good or bad might be different, of course.

But the aspect of self-publishing usually has very little to do with the quality of the resulting book. Actually, the idea of self-publishing appears to be part of a life style more than anything else (much like photography itself has become a life style more than a form of art for some photographers). You get instant credibility with some people if you self-publish. Well, good for you. Time will tell whether that’s worth anything once the current craze around photobook making has subsided a bit.

I needed to get this little preface out of my system simply because occasionally, I will get an email from someone claiming that I don’t review self-published books (which isn’t true), or that I don’t value self-published books as highly as I should. Well, I do. If they’re done well. I’d like to think that I treat all photobooks the same way: I receive the package or envelope in the mail, I open it, I throw whatever mass-produced PR materials come along with it into the recycling bin while keeping material that is addressed personally to me, I remove the shrink wrap (where applicable), I have a quick peek at the book, and then I put it onto my pile of books to look at again and again, and to, at some stage, review (or not).

Some books I spend a lot of time with right away. Those tend to be rare. Most books I come back to regularly – provided they manage to sustain my interest in them. It’s a process not unlike pickling vegetables. It will take time, you have to maintain the whole process regularly, and eventually, you’ll get your finished pickles – the pickles, of course, being not the books themselves, but rather the words I can form around my way of taking them in this way. So here are this week’s.

Birgit Krause‘s Plánētes is self-published, and one could take this book as a prime example of what self-publishing can do when it’s done well. Having said that, the book is done with (by?) a place called Raum für Publikation. It’s not entirely obvious to me from their website whether they consider themselves to be a publisher or a workshop helping photographers.

As its name indicates, the book deal with our idea of space and its exploration, an idea that for 99.99% of the population is based on being exposed to pictures or popular-science documentaries (that usually rely heavily on pictures). With the stars (seemingly) being fixed at their positions in the sky, the planets – objects that to the naked eye look like very bright stars – are the odd ones out, given their movements across the night sky.

The word planet is the remnant of this very concept. In the original, longer, form, the Ancient Greeks called them “wandering stars.” They’re all named after Greek/Roman gods/goddesses whose names mostly mean very little to us now, with the exception of Venus and Mars. That they are called planets because they wander across the firmament few people would know. The idea of wandering itself has become strange to us as well. We don’t wander, we hike – everything we do these days needs to have a strict, functional purpose.

What makes Plánētes interesting is that it does not merely contain photographs that look like planets. That would probably be only mildly interesting (keep in mind, though, that I gave up being an astronomer for this, the pickles, so my idea of what’s interesting in astronomy might be very different than yours). Instead, there is a wide range of imagery, all of it clearly connecting our minds to space and its exploration. In addition, there are faint images of the gods that gave the planets their names. Those are easy to miss – the book is subdivided into many section through the use of black pages, some of which have images printed on top, using a very thin layer of varnish.

An initially unassuming book, Plánētes really is the perfect vehicle for this body of work. The edition size is very small (there now is a second edition, equally small), you might want to hurry if you want to get a copy.

Plánētes; photographs by Birgit Krause; short essay by Florian Scheibe; self/Raum für Publikation; 2013/14

Rating: Photography 4, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 4 – Overall 3.9

I was going to write something smart about Hollywood, as an intro of sorts, to then talk about Seth Lower‘s The Sun Shone Glaringly. But earlier today, I read Alex Ross’ wonderful New Yorker piece about Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture, and now I feel a little self-conscious (just as an aside, given how often people quote Walter Benjamin in photoland, you might want to read the piece). So then…

Whatever you want to make of Hollywood, the industry certainly succeeded in creating its own reality, which, to a large extent, has become ours now. Books are being validated if they’re turned into movies, and Hollywood neatly reflects back what we want to think about ourselves, the occasional brushing against the grain notwithstanding. The Sun Shone Glaringly takes Hollywood movies as starting points, to create its own story, combining text and photography.

Ignoring the text while looking through the book is not going to work. The text is too much of an integral part of the whole experience. It would be like watching a movie with the sound turned off. (I will admit, though, that on flights I often do just that – it’s strangely entertaining; at the same time you learn a lot about how movies operate). The photographs show locations in Los Angeles that have been used in a movie. In addition, there are photographs of aspiring actors (I’m assuming the term “aspiring actor” is the Hollywood equivalent of photoland’s “emerging photographer”). The text is a collage of material that’s either taken from movies, it’s anecdotal, or it’s just made up. You’re not being told which one is which, but there is a list of the movies some of the text is based on.

Because the text and the photographs essentially are made to operate the same way – both create a sort of mental image in the viewer’s head, The Sun Shone Glaringly is the kind of book you certainly want to look at if you’re interested in how text and photographs can be made to work with each other. A script of sorts is being created, or maybe more something like a woefully incomplete story board, the incompleteness being the real purpose: this is how the story is being triggered in the viewer’s head. I’m certainly not a movie buff, so whatever obvious references there might be in the book I am certain to miss. But still, even with this background I find the book to be surprisingly engaging.

The Sun Shone Glaringly; photographs and text by Seth Lower; 80 pages; The Ice Plant; 2014

Rating: Photography 3, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 4 – Overall 3.5

It’s a strange coincidence that while I was reading Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld, Crystal Love Starlight by Mayumi Hosokura arrived in the mail. The book is titled after a restaurant of the same name that was shut down in 1992, because the police suspected the owners were providing tables to two prostitutes knowing those would then solicit customers, sharing the proceeds in return. Unless you are able to read Japanese, you wouldn’t know this from looking through the book, at least until the very end, where there is a small piece of text in English (plus, underneath, in Japanese), which links back to the very first picture in the book, a reproduction of a page in a Japanese newspaper that features the original article.

You also wouldn’t necessarily know about this particular story from the remaining photographs, even though clearly something is going on, given that the majority of the photographs either show night scenes, with neon-lit signs being very prominent, or nudes: young women and men. The restrained eroticism of these nudes is very clearly being amplified by the interplay with the night scenes, to the point of the book becoming very sensual.

You thus can, Hosokura shows us, create a photobook that is very erotic, a book that alludes to the promises of the night (and their fulfillment), while working with photographs that, while explicit, are not pornographic. The nude has a long – and incredibly problematic – tradition in the history of photography, but this artist navigates the terrain with ease.

In particular, given there are nude men and women it’s not quite clear who is playing which role. Thus, the common theme of men as active protagonists and women as the passive, submissive objects of their desire is neatly subverted. Here, the desire is shared; and it elevates the, let’s face it, rather stale and often surprisingly anemic photographic nude to a good position: the nude as a democratic ideal, where the flesh and human desire meet.

Crystal Love Starlight; photographs by Mayumi Hosokura; 64 pages; Tycoon Books; 2014

Rating: Photography 5, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 3.5 – Overall 4.1

Laia Abril – The Epilogue

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Laia Abril

How can we talk about the lives of other people, using pictures and possibly words, in ways that does them justice and pays full attention to what matters? How do we even know what matters? How do we know that what matters for us matters for them? What if those are not entirely the same? The only position from which this can be approached is the one where you, the author, recognize that full certainty cannot be had, that full description (whatever we might mean by that) cannot be had, that a fully resolved picture (metaphorically speaking) cannot be had. There is going to be a degree of uncertainty, of not knowing, of not being able to resolve everything involved; and that’s perfectly fine.

On September 2, 2005, a young woman named Mary Cameron Robinson – her family and friends called her Cammy – died, aged 26. Young people’s hearts usually don’t just stop. This one didn’t, either. Cammy did not survive a long battle with eating disorders. From what little research I did online, the mortality rate of eating disorders is not yet fully established. The results from scientific studies vary. But you can find results like this one: “The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.” And: “20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems”.

Of course, by construction statistics provide a very detached view of things. As is well known, hidden behind such statistic lie the suffering and deaths of people too young to die, such as Cammy’s. Behind such statistics also lie what these deaths do to surviving family members and friends. And it’s not just the death. Even if your daughter or son does not die, the burden placed on families by eating disorders is immense. How do the families and friends deal with such a death? How did Cammy’s family and friends do it?

Laia Abril‘s The Epilogue attempts to find out. The book lays out Cammy’s life and death in utterly distressing detail. It’s all there, photographs of family members and friends, of houses, locations and countless objects. And there are the reproductions of documents, such as letters, diaries, agenda books, medical records, even the death certificate. In addition, Abril talked to many of the family members and friends, and you can read what they told her.

If the viewer of all of this at some stage might feel overwhelmed and literally distressed (this author did), it is important to realize that those feelings inevitably will pale in comparison to what Cammy and her family and friends went through. I want to think that it good to keep this in mind. That said, the moment you realize that you’re made to feel something, someone – the author – has done a good job.

Part of the reason why The Epilogue works so well is because it acknowledges the restrictions of the two media it intermixes – pictures and words. It has them work with each other, having them support each other. Pictures can show only so many things – they can’t get underneath the surface easily. Words, in contrast, can only express so many things – reading about someone’s feelings is not the same as seeing those feelings expressed in their face.

The book does work even if the viewer does not read the text. But obviously, reading the text opens up additional elements.

An editorial approach – so common for these kinds of topics – is entirely absent. Inevitably, the viewer will bring ideas and expectations to the table. But those are being disarmed smartly. The various cliches that make so much of editorial photography often hard to watch are absent, as are the various cliches (“redemption,” “hope,” etc.) that these kinds of stories appear to attract.

I’d like to think that the absence of those cliches does the story, and this means Cammy, justice. After all, the telling of the story is done for our benefit. But it shouldn’t necessarily be done to leave us feel good about ourselves and/or how we look at the world. Our cages should be thoroughly rattled, and the book does just that.

There are many different ways in which this is done, and I don’t want to talk about all of them. But when the book ended with Cammy’s death – of course, I knew from having seen a short notice in the local newspaper, reproduced early on – I was still incredibly shocked. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a powerful ending for a photobook.

The Epilogue achieves this by getting its readers emotionally invested. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to experience this. While the reader learns early on that the protagonist is going to die, s/he becomes more and more attached, she is going to made suffer along with the family and friends whose struggle trying to save Cammy is laid out in much detail. And then it all ends.

There is no shortage of photobooks now that employ the strategies used in The Epilogue. For example, a few years ago, Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood was all the rage, with its combination of various types of photographs and reproductions of ephemera. If that book set the bar for photobooks quite high, The Epilogue not only passes it easily, it lifts it even higher. As much as I enjoy Redheaded Peckerwood, the element of deliberate construction, of careful attention being paid to the right detail at the right time, is never that far. You can almost see it – along with what is in the book.

In contrast, Abril’s book, while constructed as carefully, never had me think of that. Maybe a good way to talk about this would be to say that in Redheaded Peckerwood, the story is told for effect; in The Epilogue, it is told for the sake of the story. And this matters greatly to me.

In all these various ways, The Epilogue thus is a masterpiece of a photobook, which brings together the best of various aspects one could hope to see more of in photography: compassion and empathy, a deep passion for an important subject matter, and a strong desire to tell a story in the best possible way.

The Epilogue; photographs and text by Laia Abril; 172 pages; Dewi Lewis; 2014

Rating: Photography 4, Book Concept 5, Edit 4, Production 5 – Overall 4.5

Conscientious Portfolio Competition 2014

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Josh Quigley

The Conscientious Portfolio Competition is now in its sixth year. I’m very excited to announce this year’s incarnation. The winner(s) will have their work featured on this site, in the form of an extended conversation.

The Conscientious Portfolio Competition (CPC) is free to enter. It always has been, it always will be. There are no costs involved for you other than the time it takes to decide about and send in your work.

CPC is aimed at emerging photographers. Photographers not represented by a gallery will get preferential treatment. Needless to say, the quality of the work itself plays the most important role.

There are two guest judges joining me this year to determine the winner(s), Arianna Rinaldo and Thomas Weski:

Arianna Rinaldo is a freelance professional working with photography at a wide range. She is the director of OjodePez magazine, the documentary photography quarterly published by LaFabrica, Madrid. Arianna’s relationship with photography started in 1998 in New York, as Archive Director at Magnum Photos. Back in Italy in 2001, as picture editor for Colors magazine she commissioned international photographers to produce documentary and research projects around the world. Based in Milan from 2004 to 2011, Arianna has been a freelance curator for exhibits and book projects, and photo consultant for D, the weekend supplement of one of Italy’s main daily, La Repubblica. She collaborates with major publishing houses for special projects, and has been on several portfolio review panels worldwide. She was part of the World Press Photo jury in 2009, and Fotopres in 2012. Based in Barcelona since 2012, Arianna continues to develop photography projects at an international level, as well as teach photo editing. She is also the artistic director of Cortona On The Move, an international photo festival in Tuscany, Italy, with a special focus on photography and the Journey. This year she was appointed guest artistic director for DOCfield, a new documentary photography festival in Barcelona.

Thomas Weski was born in Hannover, Germany and worked in various positions at the Sprengel Museum Hannover, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and Haus der Kunst, Munich. He is a professor of “Cultures of the Curatorial” at the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig, since 2009. Specialising in photography he has curated numerous exhibitions including: Robert Adams “What We Bought – The New World” (1995), Martin Parr “Parrworld” (2008), Michael Schmidt “Grau als Farbe” (2010) and co-curated “How you look at it” (2000), “Cruel & Tender” (2003), William Eggleston “Democratic Camera” (2008) and “Photography Calling” (2011) among others.

CPC happens in two stages. The first stage – where we are now – is the submission stage. Photographers are asked to send in their application via email in the following form:
email address
website URL (a proper website; no blogs, no Flickr/Tumblr/Instagram accounts)
name of the portfolio/body of work (please do not forget this part – surprisingly often, photographers forget to mention which project they’re submitting)
Send your email to review at (you’ll have to replace the “at” with @ and remove the spaces for this to work, of course), subject line “CPC 2014”. One submission per photographer. Please do not submit images or pdfs directly by appending them to the email.

The deadline in 31 October 2014, 11:59pm ET.

If you need a statement for your work, it should be on the website. Your website should have a bio/CV, of course. If you don’t have a website, you will not be able to enter the competition. This might strike you as unfair, but every serious photographer should have her/his own dedicated website.

From the pool of submissions, 25 candidates will be picked for the second round. The photographers in this pool will receive an email, and they will have to send in ten jpeg images, in a uniform format (size etc.).

This is where Arianna and Thomas will come in. They will each pick their personal favourite from the pool of 25. I will pick one, too. Here’s the twist: There will be three or two winners, or maybe just one, if a photographer is picked more than once.

Having a second round is based on the idea of making everything as equal as possible. With uniform file sizes, fancy websites won’t be able to beat out simple ones. With a special naming convention for the jpegs (which will hide the full names), the winner(s) will be solely chosen based on the quality of the work.

The winner(s) of the competition will have their work featured on this website, in the form of an extended conversation.

Good luck!