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PRINTED MATTERS

For the upcoming Cruel and Unusual exhibition, Hester Keijser and I opted for a newsprint catalogue. We did this for several reasons.

Firstly, the message behind the exhibition is one that calls for political thought and hopefully political change. Shifts in attitudes come about through public education; it made sense to distribute information as far and wide as was possible. Not everyone can afford a photobook/catalogue, but 4,000 free copies of a newspaper nullifies the issue. Some might call the newspaper medium democratic, but I just call the solution common sense.

Secondly, we had a lot of photographers to feature. 32 pages of a tabloid-sized newspaper is a sizable amount of column inches with which to fairly deal with the many issues in the photographers’ works.

And third, Hester and I wanted to bring attention to the fact that [photo]bloggers continue to shape, react to, and distort new media economies. As we say in our curatorial statement:

Cruel and Unusual looks at the utility of freelance online publishing. As bloggers with academic backgrounds, we happily invest time and intellectual capital in our research and writing. Our blogs and those of colleagues have become resources – almost contemporary libraries – that others utilize and perhaps even capitalise upon. For a host of reasons, printed journalism is in decline. Simultaneously, bloggers refine their messages unhindered. Related, but not necessarily causal, we want to acknowledge these two trends and the disruption at hand.”

We aren’t particularly worried about not knowing what the future holds, because for now we are propelled by opportunities to create things in the present.

SOME OTHER NEWSPRINT PHOTO PUBLICATIONS

Most people are probably aware of Alec Soth’s Last Days of W. President Bush was a constant source of partisan news stories, and Op-Ed’s on Bush were divided and divisive. Given that Bush was a leader who orbited world events without necessarily controlling them and given that he was a Commander-in-Chief whose war cabinet tried to warp media to its own message, Soth’s use of a newspaper is ironic and appropriate. Jeff Ladd noted that Soth’s subjects look worn out and exhausted as if reflecting the American psyche after eight years of Bush. A newspaper will soon yellow and show aging – perhaps Soth hoped his newspaper would be short lived like the memory of Bush and the reparations required following his presidency?

Recently, Harry Hardie at HERE has collaborated on two newsprint photo publications.

CAIRO DIVIDED (32 pages) sequences the photos of Jason Larkin with an authoritative essay (in both English and Arabic) by Jack Shenker about suburbanization around Egypt’s capital. Since January 25th of 2011, Egypt has not been out the news, and yet this project is not about revolution. It is however about poverty, wealth and class stratification and as such provides a good context for the revolution in Egypt. Excellent design with eye-opening photographs. Highly recommended. More info here.

Guy Martin’s The Missing is borne of a collaboration between Panos Pictures, HERE and Martin’s alma mater The University of Falmouth. Each of its 48 pages has a large image of a missing poster photographed by Guy Martin. The posters “adorned the walls of the courthouse and justice rooms on Benghazi’s seafront.” Martin estimates that in Libya, 30,000 men are missing after the 8 month conflict. As such, the quasi-legal vernacular documents he re-photographed in-situ were the making of “communal place of memory and mourning.” The newspaper acts as a bulletin existing somewhere between the makeshift and the permanent; between memory and knowing; and – as with those pictured – in ambiguous flux with time. More info here.

Shifting gears, Portrait Salon 11 is not about political events. It is, however, a political stand against institutional exclusion. In the tradition of the 1863 French Salon des Refuses, the London-based Portrait Salon is a curated showcase of photographs that were submitted but not selected for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The use of a newspaper is a mischievous challenge to the immobility of a gallery exhibition that chose 60 works from 6,000 submissions; the newspaper can move cheaply and in large quantities beyond gallery walls. Furthermore, the accompanying Portrait Salon exhibition projected portraits in order to include more photography and not be limited by physical space. The exhibition and newspaper were organised by Miranda Gavin, Wayne Ford and others. For purchase.

I’ve highlighted these projects and in each case tried to justify why the choice of newsprint was appropriate and theoretically consistent. I believe that the Cruel and Unusual newspaper is those things too.

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL: AVAILABLE ONLINE

A non-printable, non-downloadable, non-alterable screen-preview version is available online.

Starting February 18, the newspaper is also available for free in the Noorderlicht Photogallery and for sale in the webshop.

The exhibition is split into two sections: 1, a traditional presentation of 11 photographers, and 2, a heady mayhemic wall of work-prints, background material contact sheets from Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR).

Similarly, the newspaper is divided into two sections. A 20 page PPOTR pullout is enveloped in 12 pages of descriptions of the photographers in the main part of the exhibition.

Below are the opening page and the back page of the PPOTR pullout. The portrait on the opening page was made by Tim Matsui who documented my workshop at Sing Sing Prison.

The back page is a list of 32 of our favourite international photography blogs with QR codes linking to their websites. This was our cheeky riff on the classifieds section of newspapers!

And below are two pairings of PDF pages and Hester’s photographs of the actual printed object. The paper is really beautiful … so Hester tells me; I’ve not held one yet! I would like to thank the designer Pierre Derks who worked with Hester and I. He has expertise, patience and put in some hard graft.

Melanie McWhorter has really taken on the ongoing photobook discussion, archives, exposure, and championing and made it her own.

So far, she’s published three discussions about photography on newsprint. Wonderful stuff!

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook, Part 1: Alec Soth and Andrew Roth

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook, Part 2: Nicholas Gottlund and Grant Willing

Newsprint and the Contemporary Photobook: Part 3 : John Gossage, Michael Mazzeo and Erik van der Weijde

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