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Buy All Quiet on the Home Front from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderful  Tipi Bookshop in Belgium. And soon at ...

Friday, 24 November 2017

Auschwitz Before and After by Charlotte Delbo

In non-fiction, two of the most moving books I've read since the blog started (or in my whole life), which I'm ashamed to say I hadn't read before, are Primo Levi's If this is a Man/The Truce and Charlotte Delbo's Auschwitz Before and After.

This is what I wrote about Auschwitz Before and After. If you haven't read this (or Primo Levi's strangely horrifying and human book), you should. It's an amazing story.

I read Auschwitz Before  and After by Charlotte Delbo after I was sent it by Deborah Parkin. It was a battered old copy complete with annotations from when Deborah was doing Holocaust Studies. And it didn't exactly seem like cheery reading so I never quite got round to it.

But Deborah badgered me and so I started reading it. I've never read anything quite like it. As the title suggests, the book follows Delbo through different layers of suffering. At Auschwitz, Delbo (who was in the French Resistance) describes how survival is not something that happens but something you choose; and the longer time goes by and the more you suffer, the harder it is to choose - death is the easy choice, death is the human choice, the choice where comfort, release and all the soft emotions lie.

As Delbo says...

'They expect the worse, not the unthinkable.'

The more Delbo suffers, the more she becomes one with her surroundings; the land, the water, the mud, the cold, the sun. Her whole being seeps into the mud that she struggles to walk through when it's wet. Cold cuts through to the depths of her being in Winter, and when she gets a chance to wash herself in a stream, her feet and nails have merged with the socks she has not taken off for so many months. Even the salvation of spring sunshine comes at a cost with the realisation that it's much harder to die when it's hot. The Summer means a longer death with more suffering.

At the same time, Delbo also becomes one with those around her. She is both an individual who must reach into the deepest recesses of her mind to survive, but also part of an organic community identity. When the cold, fatigue, hunger, thirst, pain or despair get too much, it is the other women in the group that will save her, if save is the right word because the depersonalisation and pain ran so deep, the cruelty so all-encompassing as exemplified in this quote from the book.

"I was standing amid my comrades and I think to myself that if I ever return and will want to explain the inexplainable, I shall say: “I was saying to myself: you must stay standing through roll call. You must get through one more day. It is because you got through today that you will return one day, if you ever return.” This is not so. Actually I did not say anything to myself. I thought of nothing. The will to resist was doubtlessly buried in some deep, hidden spring which is now broken, I will never know. And if the women who died had required those who returned to account for what had taken place, they would be unable to do so. I thought of nothing. I felt nothing. I was a skeleton of cold, with cold blowing through all the crevices in between a skeleton’s ribs."

And then there is After Auschwitz when Delbo returns home to France and the suffering continues in psychological form. With the constant battle for survival gone, nothing is real anymore. The suffering she has experienced distances Delbo and her fellow concentration camp survivors from the remainder of society. Delbo visits her old comrades and they describe how they are surviving; in a half-life where questions are constantly asked of everyone they meet - what would this person have done in Auschwitz, how can this person possibly understand what I have been through, how can I laugh with my children when...

Strangely enough, the book wasn't depressing at all. It was horrific, compelling and illuminating but had overtones of life in it while still being brutally visceral. Anyway, if you are remotely interested in history, the holocaust, survival or landscape, or humanity in its broadest sense, Auschwitz Before and After is essential reading.

Read the whole post here. 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Dreck of Photographic Music: The post I could repeat every day

This is the most visited page on the blog over the last 10 years? It's a picture of dogs playing poker, by Cassius Coolidge!

But follow the links and you'll also find an obituary of Tom Lubbock who was a wonderful arts writer for the Independent, the sadly missed daily that closed only last year. And there's a great Caravaggio painting of a card cheat, which you can read about here in one of Lubbock's fine pieces of writing.

In fact, on this blog all the most popular posts revolve around sex, dogs and crime. If you can get two together, that's a bonus. I've never managed to get three together. That's the holy grail and I'm not there yet.

But of the highly-visited posts, there are some that  have substance. The Dreck of Photographic Music  is one of them in a ranty sort of way, basically because I could and do repeat it in some shape or form every year. So it wins the best rant of the blog.

So I'll repeat it again here. It's all about looking at the photography on a walk into town. Read the full post here.

I walked into town yesterday and looked at the photographs on view. I didn't see any for the first half mile or so, then got up the hill to Camden (in Bath, not London) and they were everywhere. It started with pictures of pot noodle and beer at Best One, bad food and bad drink, went on to images of a lost cat,  a bottle of Moroccan Oil and houses for sale and rent, The cat poster was the highlight. It didn't get better than that.

It was like a photo-festival with images in-situ on posters, on walls, in windows, on lamposts, cars, T-shirts, packaging, everywhere. It's a photo-festival that is happening in every economically developed town in the world. You can't escape this shit. It is everywhere.

It was a street-show that had an ideology of conformity at its heart; to consumerism, commodified emotion and a shared experience of pre-chewed sentimentalised joylessness disguised with a perfect-toothed smile.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Best Photobooks in the Last 10 years

The 10th anniversary of this blog is coming up. Yesterday I featured my best post, today, as I write, my favourite photobooks, in the last 10 years that have featured on the blog are:

Anne de Gelas: L'Amoureuse

L'Amoureuse by Anne De Gelas and published by Le Caillou Bleu is a book about loss. It's moving and heartfelt but also has a determination and hardness about it; the determination to confront unexpected and tragic loss, to be angry about it, to hate it, to accept it, to build it into one's life story and be able to move on to a place where the pain and anger is tinged with affection and love.

This is the basic story (rough translation from text above):

There is a never a right way to tell a child about the death of his father.

T., my lover and father of my son, died on April 5, 2010 of a brain stroke. He fell beside us on a beach at the North Sea. The violence of his death put me in front of a big void…a silence that echoed in my head only equal to the brightness of the blue sky which no planes crossed because of the ashes of a volcano in anger, my anger.

To face that loss, I plunged myself into the work that I had started more than 10 years ago consisting in writing a personal diary, now focussing on telling about my suffering but also about that surplus energy that burst within me.

Read more in A book that made me cry

Amak Mahmoodian: Shenasnameh

"I didn’t know it could be a book at first. I believe all good books start with some personal stories. It doesn’t matter if they are going to be successful or not, but each person must have a personal reason to create a book.

I started to collect the pictures with my friends and family and then friends of friends, in Tehran and then in other cities. At first I didn’t ask other women because I didn’t know if I had the right to ask other women.

As I collected them, I started to notice how different they were, especially in their look. It was really emotional for me, because in many cases I had their photograph but I had never met the woman. I would imagine her voice and her smile, her eyes, her life.  And then I would go and meet the woman and when I knocked at the door, it was like I was going to meet a photograph.

Sometimes I was really shocked because the woman was so different from the portrait I had imagined from the photograph. So each woman was different from another and then each woman was different from her photograph."

Read more about it here.

Ivars Gravlejs: Early works

"I'm from Latvia. It is normal there when you are in a strange place to ask if you can stay the night. So I am in Vienna. It's a strange place, yes, and I asked this Lithuanian guy if I can stay the night. And he says yes. So I get to his place and then he picks up my tablet. It's an Asus, just a cheap one. And he throws it against the wall. Look, it's smashed. And then he gets me by the neck and he's killing me. But I am lucky and I can get out. So I get out and go somewhere else. Then I see him today and he remembers nothing. I hope he will pay for a new tablet."

That's what Ivars Gravlejs said when I met him in Vienna. I was at a table with Michael Mack who called him over to show his new book, Early Works. And then I saw Early Works and the world has never been quite the same since. 

Ignacio Navas: Yolanda

Yolanda by Ignacio Navas is a modest book (Navas calls it a fanzine). It's about a woman called Yolanda, and it tells her story and that of her boyfriend, Gabriel. This is how the story ends:

She died December 6th, 1995. 

I already didn't like Christmas much, so from that year on, I haven't been able to stand it. 

It was hard, very hard. I was 25, very young. It was a mess.


Read more about Yolanda here

Vincent Ferrané: Milky Way

This hasn't featured on the blog but it's marvellous!

You can read about it here.

This is just a small selection of favourites based on what resonates with me at the moment, the books that popped into my mind when I thought about what I remembered, what went deep into my core in some way. There could be so many, many more books in here because everything that has featured on the blog has value, has a story, shows people expressing themselves through words, images and the book form in all its glory.

Thank you to everybody who I have spoken to about books, who has made books, who is working on books, who publishes books, who sells books. Thank you for all the books and thank you for your work and thank you for talking to  me about your work. It is a marvellous form of visual storytelling. There have been so many brilliant books in the last 10 years and there are still brilliant books now. Long may the book form continue.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

10 Years of the Blog: The Best Post!

E* from sohrab hura on Vimeo.

On 14th December, this blog will have been going for 10 years. There have been over 1,600 posts, 2 million pageviews and thousands of pictures and words, some of which really mean a lot.

So to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the blog, in the run up to the 14th December, I'm going to celebrate by regurgitating some of the old posts.

And I'll do it in list form. So:

  • Best post
  • Most read post
  • Most nonsensical post
  • Best books
  • Best photography event
  • Best exhibition
  • Best project
  • Best talk
and so on.

Lots of bests. It doesn't mean they are the best, it simply means they are called the best. Which is almost the same!

Anyway, the best post?

That's really easy. It's this interview from 2015 (I know the pictures won't load) with Sohrab Hura. It starts

'I've always wondered about what new photography is happening in India but never really knew quite how dynamic Indian photography is until I asked Sohrab Hura (Magnum member and author of the truly fantastic Life is Elsewhere) about it. Sohrab is helping to run the Delhi Photo-Festival - which takes place at the beginning of November and doubles up with Photo Kathmandu if you're thinking of an India/Nepal Photo-Festival double-header. 

I asked Sohrab a few questions about the festivals and Indian photography and this is what he said. It's long but it's worth it - especially for the links and the searches that take you into new and undiscovered places (by me at least).'

.... and continues like this.

What are the difficulties Indian photography faces?

I think in the last few years the internet has given many of the photographers a certain independence that had not really existed before, But despite the proliferation of this new found freedom, the photo scene in India remains quite scattered unlike say for example in Bangladesh where a lot of the current photography is specific to the students and alumni of two institutions i.e. Pathshala and Counterfoto. Personally speaking, this is not a problem for me but it does make a difference if someone from outside was to look for work in a specific country/region/space. 

There is also a certain degree of expectation, from outside, of what Indian Photography should be or should not be and I’m sure the same exists across other mediums and other similar non-occidental regions as well.
As in every field and every place, it is a little more difficult for women here too.  There is a huge part of photography that may require one to be out and about quite a lot and given the lack of safety for women it is at times not easy for photographers who happen to be women.  

Add to it competing with male egos, trying to do what you want to do while dealing with other social pressures, dealing with unwanted and unsolicited advances by men, sometimes from within photography itself and finally there existing this underlying current that far from acknowledges any of these obstacles. It’s not the easiest world out there and kudos to the photographers who happen to be women and who’ve pulled through.

All of which was very innocent and understated, but which touched a major nerve and caused something of a shitstorm and led to this post on Sexual Harrassment in Photography, which led to direct complaints in India against somebody called Manik Katyal, which led to him launching a lawsuit against just about everybody (including me), which subsequently led to criminal charges being filed against Katyal. All of which is ongoing. And if somebody would like to tell me what is happening with it now, please do.

It was a major pain and expensive, but so nice to actually see women in India putting their money where their mouth is and standing up for their rights and fighting a minor-league shit!

That's why it's the best post.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Thanks for the Memories

Thank you to Diane Smythe for a lovely piece on All Quiet on the Home Front in BJP online

“Nothing that can prepare you for the shock of becoming a parent; you kind of lose yourself,” he says. “It drives you insane. But then you gain a new identity, only for that  to die too, when you realise they have their own lives to lead. Then you have to have another rebirth. I don’t think it’s always that comfortable. Sometimes you wish things were different. You wish your children away at times. You always wish them back.”
The book is part of a group of family-based works Pantall is working on, which include a German family album from the 1930s (Pantall’s mother is German), and Sofa Portraits, which pictures Isabel watching television on the same coffee-coloured settee, variously wide-eyed and somnolent.
In the piece it mentions the place I used to work at. Actually, it's officially my last day tomorrow, so I'll take this opportunity to thank everybody I worked with there, but in particular the students. I'll really miss you. You were an inspiration. Keep on making noise, get yours and others voices heard and keep on making great images. I'll look forward to seeing you in the outside world. And thank you for the summer leaving card. It makes a difference. 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Paris Photo

These are a  fair few things that I liked at Paris Photo. First of all, these sewn collages by Anne Magret. When I was walking by these, a kid saw them, gasped, ran to his mum and said "Mum, this is scary!"

And so it is!

The first thing I saw when I walked in the Grand Palais was a picture of Yukio Mishima by Eikoh Hosoe. This is from Ordeal by Roses and Mishima is looking well-hard, but there was a lot of Hosoe around the Grand Palais. And big. And I would have bought it if circumstances were three zeroes different.

Antonio Lopez's grids were stunning and fun.

Macron was there, but even better was accidentally running into Mathieu Asselin shaking hands with his friend The Minister of Culture and Minister of Work with Sam Stourdze in attendance. 

The most beautiful presentation award, by popular acclaim, goes to this shelf of Masao Yamamoto. Presented in glass, they were both delicate but also organic. The photograph as object really comes alive. Done wrong it could go a bit IKEA. And it will go a bit IKEA with some people, but here it was special. 

The mass of images and the apparent randomness of what is shown in some booths can be overwhelming at times. It was hard to settle at times. So it was really beautiful to see the East Wing Gallery showing just one set of prints: Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick. This was an almost meditative space amidst the madness and though I missed Sarker, it was really lovely to finally meet Katrin. 

Kazuma Obara's new book 30, published by Editorial RM (sorry I can't find the link). I've got the original handmade book which is a thing of beauty and what Editorial RM have done to reproduce it is quite amazing, as it was with Silent Histories.

The emphasis on the material of the image continued throughout the hall with pictures presented above mounts, with edges, and a certain roughness showing. There was supremely subtle framing of smaller images, and then you got those where the process was central to what was on display The photogravures by Susan Derges were very special with glorious greys and pages almost resting on the mount.

And lastly there was this by Boris Ignatov. Just fabulous.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

All Quiet on the Home Front Thank You!

All Quiet on the Home Front arrived a week ago and now it is out in the world so it’s time for a thank you to all the people who helped me make this work and publish this book.

First and foremost thank you to Alejandro Acin for your brilliance, vision and patience in editing, planning and producing this book. Thank you to Alessia Glaviano, Awoiska van der Molen, Susan Bright and Timothy Archibald for your beautiful words, your intelligence, your inspiration, and for your help with everything. 

Thank you also to Paul Gaffney, Dragana Jurisic, Jesse Alexander, Jon Tonks, Rocco Venezia, Laura El-Tantawy, Amak Mahmoodian, Lua Ribeira, Tom Groves, Emilie Lauwers, Andrea Copetti and Tito Mouraz for your advice and input on the work. To Lina Pallota, Melissa Carnemolla, Teresa Bellina and Simone Sapienza thank you for Gazebook Sicily, and for much more besides. And thank you to my parents for your help and support over the years.

Thank you to all the subscribers who pre-ordered this book and made its publication possible. Paul Fox, Gabriela Cendoya, Brian Steptoe, Eva-Maria Kunz, Barry Miller, Rania Matar, Adrian Campbell-Howard, Kazuhiko Sato, Jesse Alexander, Geneva Brinton, Martin Amis (PhotobookStore), Alberto Martinez, Melissa Carnemolla, and Harry Rose.

And a big thank you to Sam Hardie for making the brilliant films!

Finally thank you so much to my beloved wife, Katherine, without whom I couldn’t have made this work and be the father I am. And of course Isabel, thank you for those shared times spent outside and for simply being the person you are.

In Paris thank you to everybody for the conversation, the photography, the moments, and for buying the book. Thank you Tipi Bookshop and Polycopies for hosting the launch, for drinks, chats and loveliness, thank you Sian Davey, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Bruno Bayley, Mimi Mollica, Catherine Balet, Ethna Rose, Lewis Bush, Simon Bainbridge, Giuseppe Iannello, Asya Zhetvina, Seba Bruno, Clementine Schneidermann, Natasha, Mathieu Asselin, Katrin Koening, Armand Quetsch, Stephanie Wynne, Laurent Chardon, Jon Tonks, Derek Man, Rob Hoesel, Natasha Christia, Nicolo de Giorgis, Kazuma Obara, Sebastian Hau, Chiara Oggioni Tieppelo, Sam Harris, Priscilla Stanley, Vincent Sassu, Madina, Vanessa, and Claude Lemaire. And if I've forgotten anyone, thank you too.

Finally thank you Eamonn Doyle and Flora for a great last evening complete with the history of Ireland, Zinedine Zidane, and a bunch of French kids jumping around to Champagne Supernova. Thank you to the guy with the harmonica. I’m so sorry for getting angry with you but I don’t care how good the eggs are, I’m not walking three miles across Paris in the pissing 7am rain. 

Thank you to the guy in the wheelchair for the Fox Terrier picture and the performance of his sidecar years, and thank you Anita and Jessica for Chez Denise and a night spent re-enacting the Seventh Seal on the streets of Paris. Just shows you can have fun without the Black Death! It was fabulous!  

And thank you Paris! 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

All Quiet on the Home Front: On the Way to Paris!

All Quiet on the Home Front arrived at the offices of ICVL on Tuesday so it's been a busy time of unpacking, signing and packing in preparation for the launch in Paris on Saturday (at 6pm on the Polycopies boat.

Alex and I are delighted with the book. It looks and feels and smells great, the culmination of a long, long process, and the beginning of another. All Quiet is the first part in a quartet of works that look at domestic life and the family space from  domestic (12 Grosvenor Place) , physcial (Sofa Portraits), environmental (All Quiet on the Home Front)l and historical (My German Family Album) points of view.

All Quiet on the Home Front is the environmental point of view. It's also my point of view, the story of how I became a father, how I developed my relationship with Isabel through the landscape. I've been telling the story of the ideas behind the book both on the BJP instagram account (@bjp1854) and on this blog.

So you can read about paternal ambivalencethe gendering of the landscape and representation of girls in the landscape, space, place and landscape, fatherhood, narrative, domestic spaces, and more besides.

We are driving down to Paris tomorrow and will be launching the book at the Tipi stand on the Polycopies boat at 6pm on Saturday 11th November. I'll sign your book for you and draw a picture too if you like!  I'm really looking forward to saying hello to people and getting the book out into the big, wide world at last.

If you're not going to Paris, you can buy a copy here. There are still a few special editions left, which come complete with the handmade, lino-printed boxes and a limited edition print. They are gorgeous.

See you in Paris!