Praia by Erik van der Weijde
Bruno Ceschel receives 15 self-published photobooks per week, sent in by photographers who hope to be included on the Self Publish, Be Happy blog and in exhibitions and book fairs around the world. Ceschel believes these books are works of art in their own right, not catalogues for shows and definitely not dummies for bigger publishers. Photographers have got interested in the idea of the artist’s book, he says, long popular with practitioners in other media. But he adds that self-published photobooks also follow a wider trend for D.I.Y. production, in which artists take their fortunes into their own hands rather than kowtowing to existing hierarchies.
“It’s been kind of drunken in the art world over the last 10 years,” he says. “There was a lot of money and artists were expected to make it big and get into the galleries. Economically, things have changed, and people have revived the do-it-yourself spirit to get their work out there. It’s also a lot of fun. You can work very quickly, and because of that, I think for a lot of photographers there is a new sense of exploring and experimenting with the medium.”
We asked him to pick seven of his most recent favourites, before Self Publish, Be Happy hits the road to appear at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto, after which Ceschel returns to run a photobook workshop at Photofusion in south London.
Coming up for Air
The first, and probably best known, on Ceschel’s list is Stephen Gill’s latest publication, Coming up for Air. Large and sky-blue, with a hand-painted plastic cover, it’s extremely professionally done, as befits one of the most prolific photobook makers in the world. His 11th self-published title, it’s also one of his best to date, says Ceschel.
“He’s done some really remarkable books, but I was excited when I saw this one because it’s both his most mature and most immature work,” he says. “He has abandoned the strong conceptual framework that underpinned projects like Hackney Wick and Anonymous Origami, and created something much looser. It’s a book about the difficulties of documenting something outside your own experience.”
Gill went far from his own experience in literal as well as metaphorical terms, leaving his usual Hackney stamping ground to explore Japanese aquariums and their surroundings. This isn’t always evident from the photographs.
“Japan is quite an overwhelming experience for any Westerner who goes there; you recognise traces of Western culture but on the other hand it’s very different,” adds Ceschel. “I think he’s a bit lost in these pictures, there’s a sense of confusion, but that adds up to an exciting book. Do I know more about Japan after reading this book? I’m not sure. Do I know more about Stephen and his practice? I think I do.”
Coming up for Air by Stephen Gill costs £32 and is available from www.nobodybooks.com.
& Paul Mpagi Sepuya
The Accidental Egyptian and Occidental Arrangements
This slim, modest paperback is a collaboration between two New Yorkers – photographer Paul Mpagi Sepuya and artist Timothy Hull, who works with sculpture and collage. Originally brought together by a commission from Tokion magazine, they enjoyed working together so much they carried on, and this is the result. “It’s visually really beautiful and it’s also quite an interesting experiment,” says Ceschel.
“You can see this relationship growing and evolving through the images.”
The book takes deadpan portraits of a young man by Mpagi Sepuya and puts them through their paces, pairing them with landscape shots, Post-it notes and the backs of other photographs in gloriously intricate ways. The collages have been re-photographed for the publication but, says Ceschel, it retains the feeling of a scrapbook, and there’s a nice parallel between the paper collages and the paper pages of the book. As with Gill, Ceschel is also impressed with the sheer chutzpah involved in getting the book together in the first place – the authors raised the funds online, before they had a product to sell.
“It’s an interesting approach, I’ve seen it with a couple of books,” says Ceschel. “Money is drying up so people are finding new ways.”
The Accidental Egyptian and Occidental Arrangements costs $20 in the US and $40 abroad, and can be ordered at www.paulsepuya.com.
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
Lewis Chaplin is just 18 years old, and You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) is his first book, but it’s not his first time in the public realm. He curates the fourteen-nineteen site with co-founder Alex Webb, with the aim of “exploring and exposing young photographic ingenuity”.
“It’s basically youth taking pictures, but some of it is really good,” says Ceschel. “It’s about fun, being naughty and trying new things, and rightly so – you don’t have to do those things when you’re 19, but if you’re going to do it, that’s the time. It’s naïve, but not in the sense that they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re not stupid.”
You Make Me Feel has a similar youthful energy, says Ceschel, including colour photographs, black-and-white shots, rainbow-coloured backgrounds, infographics and a poem. “There’s a lot going on!” laughs Ceschel. “It’s kind of all over the place, but in a nice way – it’s that kind of youthful exploration of the medium, which is good to see. I don’t mean that in a patronising way, I mean it’s good – it’s bold and it works. I think Lewis will be someone to look out for.”
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) costs £15 and is available via www.fourteen-nineteen.com.
On the Game
“I didn’t know about this guy at all, he just sent us his book,” says Ceschel. “Every time you open a package, it’s like opening a new world.” In this case, it was a hidden world – ostensibly page after page of photographs of Dutch wallpaper, these spreads can be cut open to reveal darker photographs within of male prostitutes and their workplaces. “I don’t like gimmicky books, but this device really enhances the project,” says Ceschel. “There is literally something hidden under the wallpaper.”
The young men’s portraits are sensitively done, with shots of them on motorbikes or posing with their mothers giving a human face to an often stereotyped subject. The interior shots are deadpan and at times bewildering, showing, for example, an inflatable bed in a clinical shower room. It’s an interesting documentary project that shows you places you haven’t seen but, as Ceschel says, it’s the clever use of the book format that really impresses.
On the Game costs €19.50 and can be bought online via www.robphilip.com.
The Self Publish, Be Happy site allows photographers to recommend soundtracks for their books, and over the summer, it all went a bit Kerrang! “I was like, ‘What the hell is happening?’ I’ve never listened to heavy metal in my life,” laughs Ceschel. “Maybe the photographers who do it come from those subcultures, and are used to self-publishing because they’ve seen a lot of zines.”
Supreme Vice by Tereza Zelenkova had one such soundtrack and, although the beautiful shots of landscapes and animals don’t necessarily reference the occult, the portraits and eerie atmosphere throughout suggest a strong interest in symbolism. “The images are very strong, but they’re quite enigmatic, so they draw you in,” says Ceschel. “I’m increasingly drawn to photography that leaves you puzzled, pulling into a kind of open conversation with the photograph.”
Zelenkova’s book is pleasingly D.I.Y. – a set of prints joined together by metal bolts – but in this case, Ceschel is drawn to the images rather than the format of the publication.
“The pictures are really, really good and she has printed them very well in all these different tones of black and white and grey. It’s just a really beautiful project.”
Supreme Vice (artist’s edition) costs £26 and can be ordered at www.terezazelenkova.com.
Another book that was given the heavy metal treatment, both literally and figuratively. A look at heady 1980s metal concerts, Sacha Maric’s Thrashers is made up of images culled from Youtube videos, which are blown up to disconcerting, pixellated size. “There’s a general trend to do with zooming in on Google maps or isolating bits of video, but as always its success depends on how you do it, and Sacha does it very well,” says Ceschel. “In his book the images become abstract, and they become about fandom, but also about ecstasy of the concerts.
“There’s the crowd, the ecstasy, the horror and also the violence – one of the images looks like it comes from Psycho. He also plays with the symbolism of those concerts – the reversed cross, the fire, the moshing, the crowdsurfing. It’s a really clever, beautiful way to describe the excitement of listening to music, going to concerts, and the community feeling of doing those things. It’s also a kind of celebration of a time.”
A talented photographer in his own right, Maric has also created interesting, intriguing spreads, pulling together his own perspective on what must have been hundreds of hours of footage. “It’s beautifully designed,” says Ceschel. “He really stretches the pictures to become something else.”
Thrashers costs €25 and can be ordered at www.sachamaric.com.
Erik van der Weijde
Erik van der Weijde is attracting a cult following and, although he’s not as famous as Stephen Gill just yet, he is just as prolific and, like the Englishman, has made the format his primary medium. He specialises in typologies with a dark undertone; his 2006 book, Lanes, for example, recorded seemingly nondescript Belgian ice rinks frequented by a notorious paedophile.
Praia includes page after page of unremarkable monochrome shots of flip-flops, bottles and chairs, but sandwiched in between these series is a section of troubling colour photographs depicting half‑naked women shot from behind. “It comes to you unawares and it’s unsettling,” says Ceschel. “They are kind of exploitative – you never see the face, a lot of the time it’s about the boobs and the butt, many of the women are bending over,” says Ceschel. “You can’t say they are represented in a self-aware kind of way. It makes you think of sexual tourism, although I’m not saying these women are prostitutes, I have no idea.”
Ceschel says he also has no idea what the photographer’s motive is, whether he is simply recording the women like so many deckchairs, or enjoying their humiliating parade. “I don’t know what his view is, and that’s at the heart of power of this publication."
Praia costs $18 and can be ordered via www.erikvanderweijde.com.
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.