April 03, 2015

Friday Round Up - 3 April, 2015

This week on Friday Round Up it's all about books. Book Review Part One features an in depth interview with Ken Schles (Invisible City & Night Walk), DDR: Remembering East Germany, Photo Compendium Australia II, The Best of Doisneau: Paris, and Architecture, Photography and the Contemporary Past.



Ken Schles – Invisible City & Night Walk

American photographer Ken Schles’ seminal work, Invisible City, was re-released in 2014 by Steidl, 26 years after its first edition. There is also a new companion book, Night Walk.

The work in both books was shot in the eighties when Schles was living in the East Village in New York City. At that time New York City was in a state of decay and facing bankruptcy. On the Lower East Side. crime rates were out of control and law enforcement had abandoned the streets. In the late seventies Schles, then a student, moved into a rundown tenement on 12th Street in the heart of the East Village.

(C) Ken Schles Invisible City

(C) Ken Schles Invisible City

(C) Ken Schles Invisible City

(C) Ken Schles Invisible City

During his tenure the East Village was alive with musicians, artists, designers, writers and poets. The underground music scene was exploding and clubs were pulsating to the new wave punk sound, the most famous CBGB’s, a proving ground for acts like Patti Smith, The Ramones and Blondie.

Here rent was cheap, but life even cheaper and frequently the air rang with gunshots. Heroin was the drug of choice and dealers claimed the neighbourhood. Junkies took their last hit in putrid alleyways and apartments became extemporized shooting galleries. Buildings reeked of detritus, reefer, vomit and alcohol. Getting mugged was commonplace.

(C) Ken Schles Night Walk

(C) Ken Schles Night Walk

(C) Ken Schles Night Walk

Living the life of a struggling artist only carries cachet for those who haven’t walked the walk says Schles. “It was not fun, it was scary and dangerous. You felt like you were taking your life in your hands walking down the streets. It was a pretty nasty place....” (to read the full interview and see more images please click on the Feature Articles tab at the top of the blog)

DDR: Remembering East Germany
Augusto Bordato

Publisher: Contrasto 

For 28 years the Berlin Wall divided a city, a country and its people. On 9th November, 1989 the Wall ‘came down’. In the days that ensued tens of thousands of Berliners from both sides celebrated. Some climbed on top of the Wall, others clamboured through new openings. Less than three months later, on 10th March, 1990 Berlin celebrated its first day of unification.

Italian photographer Augusto Bordato worked in East Berlin for ten years as an interpreter at the Italian Embassy. In the years leading up to the fall of the wall, Bordato walked the streets with his Leica capturing moments of everyday life, amassing a collection that has become a unique contribution to this moment in history.

Bordato’s black and white images speak to the times, the deprivation, the oppression, the surveillance, the protests, the celebration of freedom and reunification – visual symbols we are familiar with. If his images stopped there then this book would be little more than a collection of news photographs. But in DDR: Remembering East Germany Bordato allows an insight into the lives of the East German people that gives a new perspective.

Here East Germans, young and old alike, those who have never known life outside the Wall, and those who lost their liberty, come together in simple acts that are quotidian - nude sunbathing on windswept beaches, art gallery gatherings, young punks out on the town, parades, fireworks, couples walking in the summer heat, friends drinking coffee at a street cafe. Bordato also takes us to the country with his hauntingly beautiful images of fishing villages and rural vistas where mist cloaks the landscape.

Yet there is no romanticising of the subject matter. These photographs depict a country that is stuck in time. With the majority of images shot in the late 1980s it is evident in the fashions, décor and cityscapes that are still marred by bullet holes and crumbling structures, that modernisation has not been a focus of the Regime. This is also apparent in the patina of resignation, or exhaustion from the struggle to survive, seen on the faces of many East Germans, particularly those who knew a life before the Wall. But there is also beauty, joy and hope and Bordato has captured these symbols that signify the strength of the human spirit with dignity and compassion.

Photo Compendium, Australia II
Bob Kersey & Mary Meyer

Publisher: Black Mountain

I reviewed the first compendium of Australian Photography in 2011, which was a mix of artist portfolios and gallery listings. The new Photo Compendium II bypasses the galleries to focus on the artists with more than 50 featured and is a much more satisfying publication.

It is important to note that this book is not purporting to be an encyclopaedia, or an exhaustive collection. If it were then the pages would number in the thousands rather than hundreds. The artists featured are dedicated to their craft, many are established, others emerging. This is not a genre specific collection either. Here you will find representation across a number of disciplines from abstract and nudes, to documentary, portraiture, landscape and manipulated imagery. Black and white photographs sit side by side with colour – muted, vibrant, garish. There is work from those who consider themselves film purists. Others explore with equal devotion the depths of digital artistry.

Ultimately what this compendium showcases is the great diversity, and talent, that exists in Australian photography. As editor Bob Kersey says, artists need promotion, and audiences need to find new artists. If this book is used as intended then galleries, festivals and scribes like myself have a valuable resource through which to discover artists that are new to us. And the artists themselves have a wonderful opportunity to see what others are creating and to perhaps begin a dialogue that leads to exciting collaborations.

A final word: This book is beautifully produced. The image reproduction is superb, the stock befitting a fine art book and it is gratifying to see an Australian publisher actually printing in Australia. Bravo to all concerned on a really wonderful contribution to Australian photography.

The Best of Doisneau: Paris
Publisher: Flammarion

Born in 1912, photographer Robert Doisneau photographed the city of his birth throughout his life. This compact publication features his black and white photographs taken when he was in his early twenties right up until 1991, three years before his death at the age of 81. 

Along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau is considered a father of street photography and photojournalism. This book is filled with wonderful images taken on the streets of Paris and in its classrooms, parlours, theatres and cafes. 

Doisneau wrote: “A glance in the rear-view mirror tells me that I’ve covered a lot of ground – first on the sidewalks, then on the road. There was nothing systematic in my wanderings: I would move along vacantly, banking on a stroke of luck, using equipment so cheap there was no risk of virtuosity. Thus drifting along, I discovered features of the city that are not to be found in guidebooks”. 

This is a glorious collection for those who love Paris, black and white photography, and the eye of a master. 

Architecture, Photography and the Contemporary Past
Edited by Claes Caldenby, Julia Tedroff, Andrej Slávik and Martin Farran-Lee

Publisher: Art and Theory

The modern city and photography have evolved together, the latter documenting our material culture, but also contributing to it through visual artefacts that give rise to the opportunity for insights into what has gone before, what exists now, and to theorise on what may come. 

The publication of Architecture, Photography and the Contemporary Past was inspired by the workshop of the same name held in 2013 at the Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg, in Sweden. This book approaches the topic of cultural heritage ‘at the intersection between research in humanities and the fine arts’ and features essays by both scholars and artists.

The premise of this book is to discuss ‘what contribution can architecture and photography make to the exploration…of what scholars call…the contemporary past – that is, to modernity considered as an open problem rather than a closed historical period…This anthology can be read as an answer to that question’.

Art and Theory is a new publishing house based in Sweden, dedicated to contemporary art, photography and aesthetics. This is an erudite volume that adds to the conversation of the photograph as evidence, its cultural significance and is a valuable addition to material cultures literature.

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