Books, an important, increasingly popular medium for photographic series, enable artists’ projects to reach farther and last longer - often self-published and exceptionally well designed, they make solid reflections on their authors’ sensitivity and artistic maturity. Culture.pl presents the first part of a review of photo books released in the past year.
Karczeby – Adam Pańczuk
Adam Pańczuk, Karczeby, photo: courtesy of the artist
The word "karczeb" describes what remains after a tree is cut down – the stump of a trunk with roots that stuck fast in the ground. In one dialect in the east of Poland, the word also referred to people strongly attached to the soil they have been cultivating for generations. In his book Karczeby, Adam Pańczuk focuses on a rural community from the Polish-Belarussian border where inhabitants had to face forced resettlement in the Stalinist era. To this day, the people of the area cultivate their land the way as they have for decades – a state of affairs that is strikingly exceptional specifically in light of transformations following Poland's joining the European Union.
Pańczuk's project is as much a story about political circumstances in the region as a lyrical account of the Karczeb way of life. The black-and-white, large format photographs have been composed in the style of magical realism – the artist has taken a series of portraits of Karczebs he encountered, and cooperated with them to produce mutually imagined scenes. However, he avoided any inference with their everyday tasks and rhythm of work.
As early as 2004, Pańczuk commenced research and work for the project. The book is therefore a revival and a new frame for the series. The publication is also an example of mature, consistent graphic thinking. The portraits are laid out on full pages, each accompanied by a short text by Kazimierz Kusznierow, also one of the models in Pańczuk's project. The cover, made of grey fabric, has a photograph from the book printed over it in pale brown – subtly integrated into the fabric, it serves as a visual introduction to the theme.
80 pages, 23 photographs, 300x300 mm, hardcover
Text: Kazimierz Kusznierow
Design: Ania Nałęcka / Tapir Book Design
Publisher: self-published, 2013
Awards: nominated in the First Photobook of the Year category at the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards 2013
Negative Book – Aneta Grzeszykowska
Aneta Grzeszykowska, Negative Book, photo: courtesy of the artist
Negative Book was created to coincide with the artist’s solo show Death and the Maiden, organized at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in spring 2013. It includes a series of black-and-white photographs presented in a form of a book. Resembling a memoir or family album, the project attempts to deconstruct the medium of positive photography and ways of framing it as well in a methodology typical of Grzeszykowska: reworking personal history and issues of bodily representation in the context of self-portraiture, womanhood and family relations.
Contrary to her Album (2005), comprising classic photographs from the family collection from which the artist had deleted her own image, the artist is entirely visible throughout Negative Book. Grzeszykowska painted her own body in black prior to posing for the photographs, to transform the resulting images into negatives in the final stage. Thus the positive appearance of her body puzzles the viewer’s perception, especially when juxtaposed with other figures in the images. This formal experiment is the key to the book's concept. The simple manipulation prompts us to doubt the representative reliability and accuracy of positive photography.
The series also serves as an intimate diary. Besides investigating specificities of the medium, the artist points to the performative role of her own body, and the relativity of individual character and appearance.
68 pages, 29 photographs, 155x225 mm, hardcover
Text: Maria Brewińska
Design: Michał Kaczyński
Publisher: Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, 2013
The Living Archives (Żywe Archiwa) series – Archeology of Photography Foundation
The Archeology of Photography Foundation, Amerykanka, photo courtesy of the publisher
Living Archives is the book component of a project series of the same name. Together, they examine from a fresh perspective artist legacies and archival collections entrusted to the Archeology of Photography Foundation. The framework of the project aims to open these historical collections to contemporary artists in the context of their own practices.
The small-format publications present an exciting array of visual reinterpretations, each distinguished by its layout. Some of the notable series topics are:
The American Woman / Amerykanka is based on archival photographs by Zofia Chomętowska. Edited by Kuba Śwircz and Kuba Dąbrowski, the volume shows pre-war life in Poland in a way that stirs the imagination and opens the viewer's mind to thinking they are looking at a faraway land – as America has always seemed to be.
Et(h)er by Katarzyna Mirczak is takes up the subject of images of death. Mirczak, an artist with a degree in anthropology, presents a photo series of artifacts of death re-created in colour. Her book deals with the subject of documenting death - but also with ways of handling archival photography, especially in the context of "reviving" it.
Botanical Notes by Basia Sokołowska delves into the archive of botanical specimens created by Roman Kobendza for visual study of taxonomic photography. Sokołowska's visual interpretations of that visual record of the botanical garden's "collection" ask questions about the nature of scientific documentation. Does it pass beyond purely practical purposes? Is the photographer’s eye inherent in the images? What is the institutional contribution to this commissioned project?
Publisher: The Archeology of Photography Foundation, 2011
Awards: Hounourable Mention in the Polish Photographic Publication of the Year 2013 competition
Distant Place / Miejsce Odległe – Sputnik Photos
Sputnik Photos, Distant Place, photo courtesy of the artists
Distant Place is put together by members of the Sputnik Photos collective to coincide with an exhibition at the Copernicus Science Centre in 2012. Since then, it has earned some of the main photography-book awards in Poland and abroad, including the Polish Photographic Publication of the Year 2013, Best Art Catalog in ART BOOKS WANTED International Award 2013, and hounourable mentions at PhotoEspana 2013 and Photomonth in Bratislava 2012.
This is surely due to both the exquisite design and to photographic content focusing on the Vistula River and its Warsaw segment. In accordance with the collective's usual method, their project comprises mini-cycles by five photographers: Jan Brykczyński, Michał Łuczak, Rafał Milach, Adam Pańczuk, and Agnieszka Rayss. Each presents a different aspect of Vistula life, in their own photographic style. Brykczyński portrays the diminishing tendency to make use of the river's functional potential, and Milach focuses on objects that may be found underwater, often associated with dark stories. Rayss explores filtering machinery for the river's water, and Pańczuk set up a portrait studio by the riverbank, while Łuczak went to discover inhabitants of the wild area by the water.
The form of the book corresponds with this manner of cooperation. A cardboard box contains individual booklets tailored for each of the visual series and accompanying texts. Despite the fragmented form, page numbers continue through each section, binding them in a complete portrait of this distinct element of Warsaw's nature.
Text: various authors
Design: Ania Nałęcka / Tapir Book Design
Publisher: Copernicus Science Centre, 2012
Awards: honourable mention at the Month of Photography in Bratislava 2012; Grand Press Photo for Agnieszka Rayss for the story Closed Circuit (Environment category); Best Art Catalog in ART BOOKS WANTED International Award 2013; Polish Photographic Publication of the Year 2013; Rafał Milach’s story About the Man Who Jumped Off a Bridge shortlisted in first edition of The Cord Prize 2013; finalist in the Best Photography Book of the Year category at PhotoEspana 2013
Dobosz. Photography Book – Andrzej Dobosz and Ryszard Bienert
Dobosz. Photography Book, photo courtesy of the artist
Dobosz. Photography Book is a publication discussed as much as an outstanding work of design as a book of photography. In fact, it received the Project of the Year award in 2011 from the Polish Association of Applied Graphic Designers.
The fruit of patient cooperation between a photographer and a graphic designer - both are presented as equal authors - the book may endure accusations that layout has taken over the essence of the book, especially by Andrzej Dobosz's photographs. The choice of production makes a bold statement about the role of the designer's input into a publication. Dorota Łuczak, who wrote the introduction to the book, describes it for 2+3D magazine:
In his reportages and social photography series, Dobosz [...] predominantly exposes the phenomenons accompanying various manifestations in public space, or events attracting specific groups, such as the steam locomotive parade, Twins' Day, or Potato Fest. The thematic coherence of respective series has determined the general division of the material in the book, accentuated by pages fully occupied by the titles of the cycles – dominating and laid out differently each time. The order of individual photographs becomes significantly entangled in typography determining the rhythm of viewing the images themselves. Bienert doubles the stakes here, and intensifies Dobosz's strategy.
The book is thus an experiment with publication of photographic reportage, as formal solutions within the book try to speak the same language as the photographs. Captions are placed away from the images, emphasizing disoriented observations of everyday life, attention to detail and constant alertness found in the text. The subtitle, Photography Book, then refers to the oeuvre of the photographer as well as to the status of the medium and its reproduction in general.
480 pages, 165x225 mm, hardcover
Text: Dorota Łuczak
Design: Ryszard Bienert
Publisher: self-publish, 2011
Awards: First Prize at the European Design Festival, Helsinki, in the Artistic Catalogue category; Project of the Year 2011 Award from the Polish Association of Applied Graphic Designers
Open Ended. Works 2004-2012 – Nicolas Grospierre
Nicolas Grospierre, Open-Ended, photo courtesy of the BWA Warszawa Gallery
Open Ended contains Nicolas Grospierre's works and installation documentation from the last 10 years, with essays and interviews by writers including Adam Mazur and David Crowley and detailed descriptions of some works and series. The encyclopedic character of the book is of an exceptional relevance in the case of this artist. The Swiss-born, Warsaw-based photographer of Polish descent creates photographs that resemble archival and at times even taxonomical records of architecture. Elegant in composition, they tend to focus on both form and social context of the objects. Although people rarely appear in Grospierre’s images, his works are far from cold, neutral representations of structures. Rather, they are exercises in looking, in reflecting certain ideas and in the study of humanism.
Adam Mazur writes in the book:
For Grospierre, paradoxically, today the library once again, not the gallery or the museum, provides the most inspiring context, or, rather—to refer to the famous essay by Rosalind Krauss—a discursive space in which technical images function.
It is only in the library, in the book—by way of the text—that the images come to life and enliven the imagination. By the same token, the images generated systematically by the artist and his camera are endowed with a conceptual framework: Grospierre’s art becomes an archive.
The book manifests a systematic style in the same vein as Grospierre's oeuvre - as a deliberate portrayal of a very conscious, political narrative about history and contemporary society.
164 pages, 210x265 mm, hardcover
Text: David Crowley, Adam Mazur, Tomasz Plata
Publisher: Jovis, 2013
Poland. In Search of Diamonds / Polska. W Poszukiwaniu Diamentów – Tomasz Wiech
Tomasz Wiech, Poland. In Search of Diamonds, photo courtesy of the artist
Michał Olszewski, author of the text that complements Tomasz Wiech's book-length series, writes:
Polish sadness hasn't been lying on a pile of withered leaves for ages, nor does it spend its time picking its nose. It races along at breakneck speed, in a pretty good car, along ever better roads, it races away from a small one-family house in the suburbs, pushing in between the lorries to catch up with a dream world that's only an arm's length away, but always impossible to catch.
Wiech's series is a documentation of a road trip around Poland, reflecting the awe and the dullness bred by the Polish landscape. In his digitally produced colour images, Wiech presents Poland with both affection and honestly, managing to escape idealization. Recipient of the Third Prize in the 2009 edition of World Press Photo, he records the country in the style of reportage and a personal diary at the same time.
The same seems to go for the text written by Olszewski, which reads like both a description to a stranger and a piece of poetry. The two aim to portray the “greyness” of Polish reality with straightforward, understated images. Each image’s exceptional composition appears to be an effect of a spontaneous observation, a fresh look at an ordinary scene caught in a snapshot.
The book’s nearly pocket-sized format may be said to work as a guide: a guide to Polish sensitivity, the country’s mundane reality, and the different ways of looking at it.
120 pages, 41 photographs, 180x220 mm, hardcover
Text: Michał Olszewski
Design: Wojciech Kwiecień – Janikowski
Publisher: self-published, 2012
Awards: Selected as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Sputnik Photos, Nomination in the Photo-Eye Best Book 2012 Competition
Brutal – Michał Łuczak
Michał Łuczak, Brutal, photo courtesy of the artist
In Brutal, Michał Łuczak portrays the Katowice railway station, a modernist building that underwent radical renovation in 2012 to be turned into a contemporary business and communication complex. Łuczak, a Katowice-based photographer, presents an image of a place embedded in the local history due to both its architectural quality and the homeless, wanderers and temporary visitors who took it up as a site of residence.
Łuczak realized this project between July 2010 and January 2011, coinciding with increasing voices of public disagreement with the radical changes to be made to the 1972 brutalist building - the last significant example of this architectural style. Łuczak, however, occupied a drastically different perspective from that of most media. He is of the opinion that when the building acquires a new use, the people who contributed to its spirit will inevitably disappear and a certain era of its life will vanish. A new, shiny space provides no room for underground life, which Łuczak implies is an authentic and intimate one. Although not a participant in public debate, he strives to convince that the mis-use of public space may also contribute to its value.
The title refers to the architectural model of the now nonexistent building, but also points to the brutal progress of events and the roughness of a disintegrating structure.
The form of the book echoes this roughness. A grey cardboard cover enclosing matte paper pages emphasizes the thick grain in the black-and-white images, making the book feel brutal to our eyes and hands. Its extremely large format (344×434 mm) enables the viewer to immerse in the world of the Katowice station and its inner life - and turns the book into an object too uncomfortable to carry.
64 pages, 31 photographs, 345x434 mm, hardcover
Text: Maciej Malicki
Design: Ania Nałęcka / Tapir Book Design
Publisher: self-published, 2012
Awards: Selected as one of the Best Photo Books of 2012 on photo-eye.com, Polish Photographic Publication of the Year 2013 Award in the Self-Publish category
See also: Photo Books AD 2013 Part II
Author: Anna Micińska, September 2013
Special thanks to Krzysztof Kowalski of Super Salon for sharing his expertise.