TONK win Foam Paul Huf Award

Spins 04 2012

I don't normally post about awards, competitions, book launches, etc. (despite the best efforts of all the PR people who have got their hands on my email address) but I wanted to congratulate Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs for their recent win of this year's Foam Paul Huf Award. I was asked to nominate for the award and they were one of my picks so I'm extra happy for them. Their work is always surprising and visually exciting, but what I love the most is that it is also fun, something that is all too rare in contemporary photography. I also heard that they will be exhibiting at Le Bal in Paris from May through summer, so 2013 just might be the year of TONK!

Marzahn 2009

Notes on 2010

Some self- or independently published photobooks from 2010 As the year draws to an end and more top-10 lists (and non-lists) than you can wave a stick at make their annual appearance, I thought I would take a broader look back at the past year in photography. This time last year I focused on the chronic over-use of the word curating, a trend which shows no signs of abating. As for 2010, the major development in the world of photography has to be the exponential rise of the self-published and independent photobook.

This year has seen the launch of Alec Soth's Little Brown Mushroom (LBM actually launched in December 2009, Soth once again proving that he is ahead of the curve), the online listings database The Independent Photobook, the Indie Photobook Library, the Off Print photobook festival in Paris, a big online discussion on the future of photobooks and (perhaps another sign of Soth's prescience) the growth of countless independent publishers like so many little brown mushrooms. This frenzy of activity wasn't only limited to the periphery either: the (deserving) winner of this year's book prize at the Rencontres d'Arles was an independent publisher from Berlin, Only Photography, for Yutaka Takanashi: Photography 1965-74. If there were any doubts remaining as to the importance of this trend in 2010, while writing this paragraph I received an email from yet another freshly-launched website devoted to the self- and independently-published photobook. I think this explosion in 'indie' publishing is a great thing, particularly given what was being said about the future of photobook publishing a couple of years ago. However, although we have learned that publishing it yourself can make you happy, it can also make you very confused, even overwhelmed. It is truly amazing how many photobooks are being made now, far too many for one poor blogger to even begin to get his head around and (surely?) far too many to sell to a very limited pool of buyers. The problem is that only a very small percentage of them are any good. By good I don't mean "containing good photography" but rather good as a stand-alone artwork where the design and production matches, or even enhances the content rather than a brochure for a series of photographs. Not every series of photographs deserves (or is suited) to becoming a book. Hopefully the publishing effervescence of 2010 will give way to a 'more quality less quantity' scenario in 2011.

Another phenomenon that has accompanied this rise in self- or indie publishing is the rise in luxury, super exclusive, VIP, signed, numbered and sealed-with-a-kiss editions. Despite the rise in the number of photobooks being published, only an infinitesimal number of these make any money and publishers are still searching for the winning formula. Rather than the 'limited' print runs of the past (700 to 1,000) it seems that a number of publishers are moving towards deluxe extra-limited editions (100 to 500). To mention just a few examples Germany's Only Photography and White Press are both producing books which will generally set you back at least 80 euros ($100), and in the US Nazraeli Press has completed ten years of its One Picture Book series where (for $150) you get a small original print thrown in with the eight or nine plates in the book itself. One final publishing trend worth noting is the growing number of re-editions of classic photobooks. In addition to Errata Editions' full series of books on books, this year we were treated to a range of re-editions from Takuma Nakahira's A Language To Come to John Gossage's The Pond. Given how much the originals are sell for at auction these days, I'm grateful to be able to get my hands on some classics without having to sell all the other books I own in the process.

Press opening of the Larry Clark's Kiss the Past Hello exhibition

And what of photography itself in 2010? Looking beyond the book, this year feels far less exciting. As with the rest of the art world, photography galleries are still gently and nervously probing the market with little space given to new or 'difficult' work, while museums are staying well away from anything risky with big-name blockbuster retrospectives, shows assembled from their own collections (which is not necessarily a bad thing), or shows lasting from 4-5 months instead of 2 or 3. Just as with books we're also seeing the reedition of landmark exhibitions, with the New Topographics show touring the US this year. In terms of museum shows a special mention has to go to two examples of ludicrous censorship: the recent removal of a video by the artist David Wojnarowicz from the exhibition "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington after the Catholic League and members of Congress complained that the piece was sacrilegious due to a sequence showing ants crawling on a crucifix, and the Paris Museum of Modern Art's Larry Clark exhibition which got itself an X-rating from the government and therefore a shed-load of media attention.

On a positive note, a more interesting trend has been the use of Google Street View by several artists as a new photographic tool. Michael Wolf (see the grid below), Doug Rickard and Jon Rafman have produced exhibitionsbooks and tumblrs of images taken from Google Street View's online tool. This is clearly not everyone's cup of tea and, particularly in street photography circles, there tends to be a "that is not photography" response to this kind of work. Whether you like it or not, it raises a number of interesting and important questions about the way the practice of photography and the hypocritical rules governing it are evolving .

Michael Wolf, FY (forthcoming 2011)

Another technology-related trend has to be the massive growth of online social networking in the photo community. Of course this is a phenomenon that is by no means limited to photography, but it is astounding how quickly Facebook has gone from an interactive high-school yearbook to a major marketing tool (alongside its younger cousin Twitter). Some have even used it as a tool through which to publish a series of photographs steadily over time. I'm not sure how this is going to affect photography (if at all) and others have thought about this harder than I have, but it will be interesting to see where this goes in 2011.

Finally, I get the feeling that there is a bit of a reemergence of street photography going on. With in-public's 10 (review here) and Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren's Street Photography Now. This may be because we're all photographers now and the most obvious place to start is the street, or perhaps because people are growing tired of the cold, detached formalism that has dominated recent contemporary photography, or maybe even the fact that the abuse of anti-terrorism and privacy laws is making it more and more difficult to photograph in many of our cities and that street photographer's tend to like a challenge.

To wrap up this look back at 2010 (despite last year's rant) seeing as we all love lists (because we don't want to die), here are a few highlights from the past year in no particular order:

Marion Poussier

Marion Poussier, The Free Movement of Desire Marion Poussier has just been awarded the Joy of Giving Something's first artist award (they throw in $15,000 with the award which is nice). I've written about JGS before and I'm glad to be reminded of their great virtual exhibition space. Poussier is a young French photographer, who already has a few interesting series under her belt. JGS are showing work from two of these, One Summer and The Free Movement of Desire. I preferred the latter, which focuses on Israel, Lebanon and Iran. As the title of the series suggests, these images show how love and desire exist in the context of the Middle East. I found it refreshing to see a photographic portrayal of this region where war is not the central focus and where passion and even joy are brought to the fore. Some of these images even have a certain sense of insouciance and normalcy. Poussier's website is a little underdeveloped but you can see more of her work there.

Update (28 April 2010): Poussier just sent me a link to her new website which is much better than the old one!

A Pictet puzzle

© Sammy Baloji Apologies readers, but this is going to be another Arles-related post, although with more of a global flavour. One of the night-time projections at the Théâtre Antique this year was the announcement of the 2009 Prix Pictet shortlist. If you haven't come across it before (the prize is only in its second year), it is "the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability" with a different theme for each year: the 2008 theme was 'Water', for 2009 it's 'Earth'. When I first heard about the prize I wondered if they would be able to avoid lining up a bunch of apocalyptic, catastrophist photojournalism series that would end up looking like a global tour of the world ending. Happily, I think Pictet have avoided that trap pretty well and have managed to include a broad range of subjects and visual and conceptual approaches.

The projection of the 2009 shortlist in Arles was stunning and there is a lot of very strong work in this year's group. It is great to see the diversity of Hatakeyama's work on the contemporary landscape; Ed Kashi's documentation of Nigeria's 'Curse of the black gold' bristles with a dark, visceral energy; and Sammy Baloji's series is a compelling meditation on the relationship of land and history (although not visually my cup of tea). Edgar Martins was also nominated, just a few days after he had that little episode with the New York Times.

Despite the quality of the shortlist, it did make me wonder about the purpose of the prize. I wouldn't question most of the work on show here, even when it does stray a little from the sustainability agenda, as I think that breadth makes the prize more interesting. However, I did have to wonder about a couple of names on the shortlist. Burtynsky's work on quarries is characteristically jaw-dropping, but does he really need the additional exposure? The real shock for me was Andreas Gursky. It would be difficult to argue that the 'Earth' theme has been a significant driving force in Gursky's work, but, more importantly, how ridiculous would it be if he were awarded the CHF100,000 prize!? I can't help thinking that Pictet nominated Gursky in order to raise the profile of the prize rather than the other way around. I hope that that desire for publicity doesn't overshadow the need to reveal new talent.

To end on a positive note, it's worth noting that in addition to the prize itself, one of the shortlisted photographers is invited to complete a commission by Pictet linked to the theme, something which is increasingly rare and still very worthwhile judging by Munem Wasif's 2008 Salt Water Tears project.

(Thanks to Jörg, who was one of this year's nominators, for his thoughts)

Is this really the future of photography?

Sam Irons The Creative Review blog has a post about LPA Futures, a competition designed to "find the next generation of commercial photographers." The prize: five young photographers get to have their careers "nurtured" by the Lisa Pritchard Agency. There are lots of these awards around these days for young photographers and god knows that they need it as it is certainly not getting any easier to earn a living from photography.

However, I have to say I find the prize-winning images on show here depressing. Individually they are technically proficient, and a couple I even found arresting, but what depresses me is that they could all easily have been taken by the same person (or maybe 1.5 people). I don't see any diversity in this group: they all have the same cold, detached approach to their subject, whether landscapes or portraits, and convey the requisite "contemporary" emptiness, which has become so omniscient. I even find the treatment of colour remarkably similar by four out of the five photographers here. If this prize really identifies the "next generation," then the clones are soon going to have their day. I am not aiming my criticims at any of these young photographers, and hope that they will all be nurtured by LPA to great success, but it would be pretty tragic if the future of photography was as homogenous as this.