Art, Architecture and Visual Culture
This chapter discusses Camden (NJ) – a documentary in thirty photographs about a small city in the suburbs of Philadelphia that has the reputation of having one of the highest rates of criminality in the United States. The originality of this online photobook is that it is entirely composed of screen shots from Google Street View.
For his project Temps mort [Dead Time] (2007–9, published in 2014), French-Algerian photographer Mohamed Bourouissa works secretly (because it is against the law in France) with his friend ‘Al’ who is in prison and taking photographs of the inside, which he sends to Bourouissa with his text messages alongside. The subsequent photobook version of this project, published by Kamel Mennour in 2014, represents an extraordinary transformation of the original exhibition of the photographs and videos (online and in the Kamel Mennour gallery in Paris). Put together with blank pages, selective quotations from Al’s elliptical text-messages and a highly stylised blurring of the images in the manner of Thomas Ruff, Bourouissa’s photobook Temps mort plays out the ‘dead time’ that being in prison represents. It shows the cryptic requests from Bourouissa to his friend, with the dates in bold, and selects images, instructions, hesitations and thoughts, from the 300 messages sent by Al. The suggestion is not only that Temps mort is a collectivist (rather than a simply collaborative) photo-text; but also, that, as part of a social and political commitment, it explores ways in which prisoners can remain in contact with the outside world, and can be mentally present while temporarily absent. Furthermore, Bourouissa’s (and Al’s?) photobook points to new options for today’s photobook design, in the era of social media and mobile phones.
The photobook Amazônia was published in São Paulo in 1978, in the midst of the Brazilian military dictatorship. Uniting the contributions of African American photographer George Love and Swiss photographer Claudia Andujar, the book has been recognised as a fundamental work in the history of photography in Latin America. What most comes to our attention is its semi-clandestine distribution, due to the intimate record of the Yanomami, a people who saw a considerable portion of their population exterminated as a consequence of a catastrophic policy of assimilation promoted by the Brazilian government. This chapter arises from an effort to better understand the context of production of the book. The basis of this chapter is the comparative study of other productions of the photographers along with the analysis of documents of the period. From 1970, at the height of the so-called ‘colonisation of the Amazon’ promoted by the military, until 1978, a year marked by indigenous militancy, we can see how the work of both photographers was used initially to accompany a discourse that defended the agricultural occupation of the forest, and finally to denounce the extermination of the indigenous population. By looking at this transition, it is possible to see how the photographers, especially Andujar, effectively appropriate their images and move towards greater experimentation in the production and editing processes, while entering a context of militancy and semi-clandestinity.
The introduction takes a vigorous stand against the dominant but narrow, art market definition of the photobook. It reviews the growth of the photobook market and the popularity of the word ‘photobook’, currently associated with photographer-driven, collectible, photographer’s books, and proposes instead to follow Howard Becker’s theoretical model of the ‘art world’. This shifts the focus away from the singular auteur and onto the collective nature of cultural production. The introduction argues that the photobook – whether art object or not – is a social object, and should be seen as the output of collectives, communities, networks or institutions. This perspective makes it possible to widen the definition, while still respecting the specificity that the photographic medium brings. The word ‘photobook’ is used in this volume as an umbrella term, embracing all photographically illustrated books and, most importantly, their texts. The introduction then explains how the individual chapters (which look both inside and outside the canon of anthologised photobooks) examine various notions of collective production, collective meaning and collective history. The case histories describe the fascinating origination contexts and processes, and so reveal the confluence of interests involved when photography is used as a mode of resistance to colonial exploitation and racial discrimination, or as a means to give visibility to feminist issues or vernacular culture.
This chapter questions the historiography of books by photographers, commonly known as photobooks. It discusses uses, methods and key players, while presenting the narrative surrounding photobooks as a story arising from an ecosystem inscribed in social and political history. More specifically, this chapter puts forward hypotheses to explain why there are so few photobooks by Black British photographers active in the 1970s and 1980s. Further to this, it addresses why the few books that did come into existence are not part of the historiography. Central to the discussion is photographer Armet Francis, an absentee in the historiography of photographic editions of the period. Finally, this chapter proposes to see the editorial action of Autograph ABP as a way of making up for this shortcoming.
This chapter discusses the work of photographers and book artist pioneers Elsa Dorfman, Bea Nettles Clarissa Sligh and Susan Meiselas. As women who work in a frankly autobiographical style, they fit neatly into a canon of feminist artists of the 1970s and 1980s; any re-examination of their work immediately calls these canonical habits into question. However, the primary aim of this chapter is to show how their mid-century bookwork challenged the existing idea of art-photography, and opened genuinely new aesthetic vistas at a crucial moment in the history of art photography and the art market. These photographers emerged at a time when art photography itself was beginning to rise in value and stature, while the conventions defining the genre (the fine print, the rare print, the high modernist move to abstraction and the reverence for a handful of masters) had grown stale. Autobiography, self portraiture, emphasis on children and family, mixing media and, in Sligh’s case, adding race to the range of subjects, entered photographic practice in this era through the work of these pioneers, among many others. This chapter does not aim to set up a cause-and-effect chain of influence, but to show how the open practice and welcoming marketplace that all art photographers now enjoy owes part of its freedom to a group of women book artists who broke existing conventions because there was no other way for them to work.
This chapter proposes that the photobook can be considered an event in two ways: first, as a durational experience or ‘dramatic event’, in which photographs are combined to create narrative, or a sense of time unfolding; and second, following Alain Badiou’s understanding of the event as a rupture that proposes a possibility for change, as a proposition that can be acted on, with a longer duration that unfolds over and across time. It analyses different models for how photographs, considered as a slices or fragments of time, can be pieced together to form narrative within Susan Meiselas’s photobook Nicaragua (1981). With the passing of time Nicaragua has become a fixed reference point, in particular playing a significant part in Meiselas’s return to Nicaragua and the creation of Pictures from a Revolution (1991) and Reframing History (2004), which explore the legacies of her photographs. This chapter also considers how the publication of Nicaragua can be seen as an event that has acted through and across time, to explore how the photobook as event may be the start of a process rather than the end result or conclusion.
This volume proposes that the photobook is best understood as a collective endeavour, a confluence of individuals, interests and events. By looking beyond canons and artistic definitions, by factoring in the public and by paying closer attention to the texts and the contexts, the aim of this book is to challenge and ultimately broaden the category of the ‘photobook’. While the market is geared today for photographer-driven books, and is buoyed by the theoretical framework proposed by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, this book casts a wider net, and pays particular attention to anonymous photographers, institutional publications, digital opportunities, unrealised projects, illegal practices, collectives, poets, and the reader. The chapters uncover forgotten social objects, and show how personal histories are bound to broader historical movements. Certain chapters deliberately engage with canonical authors (Claudia Andujar and George Love, Mohamed Bourouissa, Walker Evans, Roland Penrose, the Visual Studies Workshop, for example) to reveal the origination contexts and the ‘biographies’ of the photographs. Together, the chapters examine the North American, British or French photobook from 1900 to the present. The chapters address the ecosystem of the photobook art market; commitment and explicit political engagement; memory and the writing of history; materiality and how material form affects circulation. The contributors are specialists in the history of photography, book studies and visual studies, researchers in sociology, US history, anthropology, critical race theory, postcolonial studies, feminism, architecture and comparative literature, and there are contributions from practising photographers and curators.
This chapter discusses the importance of architectural photobooks for the vision of an eclectic Southern Californian architecture that emerged around 1900. From the late nineteenth century onward, architects, photographers, art historians, art dealers and connoisseurs authored lavishly illustrated photobooks that record historic and vernacular buildings, ornamental details, and arts and crafts objects as seen, for example, in England, France, Italy, Mexico, Persia and Spain. In addition, photobooks authored by architects aimed to contribute to contemporary architectural debates. While traveling in foreign countries, architects photographed towns, buildings and ornaments. Subsequently, they compiled photographic surveys of human settlements and farmsteads nestling in the landscape, civic and private buildings in urban settings, and close-up shots of street scenes, architectural and decorative details. Photobooks that were either published by Southern Californian architects or are preserved in their archives, supplied reference images for details of contemporary revival style designs. Yet when viewed from cover to cover, these photobooks also put forward visions of an architecturally ordered society inhabiting a regional landscape that was, in turn, developed in harmony with its topographical and natural features. In addition to California’s historic colonial architecture and the often fantastic set designs of the rapidly growing movie industry of the early twentieth century, architect-authored photobooks are another important source of the eclectic architectural identity of Southern California imagined as a distinct region.
This chapter analyses the documentary photographs published between the 1900s and the 1930s in annual reports of psychiatric hospitals in Louisiana. These annual reports were prepared by physicians and the superintendents of these institutions and were presented to the board of administrators to prove their proper functioning and the efficiency of the treatments. Photographs from two public institutions are analysed: the Louisiana Hospital for Insane of the State of Louisiana in Pineville, which was created in 1902 (later changed to the Central Louisiana State Hospital in 1924) and the East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson, Louisiana, which was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1847. The photographs depict the daily lives and activities that Black and white patients engaged in, at the time when segregation of all public institutions was the norm in the US South. The chapter shows that the central concern of the hospitals’ administrative personnel was to produce images of patients in relation to theories on labour, docility and race. It argues that moral therapy reproduced the hierarchy and division between Blacks and Whites in the Jim Crow era. Furthermore, patients’ testimonies and resistance are compelling evidence to reconsider the official images of the hospitals as visual fictions.