A collection of 9,200 polaroids reveals the female persona of a deceased Californian photographer. Curator Erin O’Toole discusses the complexities of unveiling them to the public
Think of a horror or thriller, and you may think of the happy first half hour or so when everything seems to be going just fine. The Stepford Wives’ town initially seems like it’s perfect; The Vanishing opens with a couple going on a holiday. It’s only later that the tone takes a turn for the worse, before descending into something more substantially scary. That shift is something the residents of Amherst, Massachusetts seemingly live in fear of, because – while on the face of it their small town is an idyll – they’re constantly on the alert.
“7.32pm – Residents at The Boulders complained about a man yelling out the window in a foreign language,” reads a police report published in the local paper, the Amherst Bulletin. “The man told police he was just stating his excitement for the dinner he was about to eat.” “5.53pm – A woman called police after being approach by a photographer in downtown who asked if he could take pictures of her feet,” another reads. “The photographer was not located.”
Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks – including the nominees from the 2019 Mack First Book Award and an interview with photobook collector extraordinaire Manfred Heiting
In 2016, Natascha Libbert was commissioned to photograph the sea locks of IJmuiden – large constructions which allow ships and boats access to the Dutch port, and which are therefore of tremendous importance to the economy of the Netherlands, and in particular the port of Amsterdam further downriver. But while they’re important, they’re not necessarily exciting photographic subjects, and some of what makes them significant is hard to pin down visually – as is shown by the phrases and thoughts that the Dutch photographer jotted down in her notebook while working on the project, such as “man-made landscape”, “90 per cent of all trade is transported by sea”, and “at sea, the brain receives 85 per cent less information than on land”.
“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes photographer and prolific writer on his craft, Luigi Ghirri in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale. Trained as a surveyor, the iconography of maps and atlases prevail Ghirri’s photography. “But what if you map his work?” asks curator James Lingwood. “He was, in a way, mapping the changing topography of modern life in Europe in the 1970s and also the change in the relationship between people and images.”
Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks, including American Winter by Gerry Johansson, Void’s Hunger project, and JA Mortram’s Small Town Inertia
“For me it is important not to create a story with the pictures,” says Gerry Johansson. “Normally when you edit you try to sequence the photographs. But for me it is important that each picture is considered as a single, individual image.”
Johansson’s photography is largely driven by intuition, but when it comes to making a book, logic and order triumph. Almost all of his 31 photobooks are defined by their geography, if not the subject matter, and their equally-sized photographs are generally organised either alphabetically or chronologically, a bid to encourage readers to interpret them individually.
Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks – featuring work by Peng Ke, Tom Wood, Paul Reas, Vivian Maier and the post-war PROVOKE group
In the yearly World Happiness Report, Denmark, along with its Nordic neighbours, continuously ranks in the top three spots. But what is it about the Danes that makes them so happy? “After three years, I still don’t really have an answer,” says Giulia Mangione, whose new book, Halfway Mountain, seeks to uncover this very question. Mangione started the project in 2014, as part of a photography course she was taking in at the prestigious Danish School of Media and Journalism. Her experience as assistant photo editor at Calvert Journal and interning at MACK Books had helped her “develop a taste for documentary photography” and photobooks, she says, and, after showing a dummy of her project to Corinne Noordenbos – a celebrated educator and former tutor of contemporary photographers such as Rob Hornstra and Viviane Sassen – she decided to expand on it.
Alec Soth’s first book, Sleeping in the Mississippi, was so sweeping in its epic statements, it seemed that Soth had nothing left to photograph. What could he do next? The answer is Niagara, a portrayal of the town that has traditionally been the romance capital of North America. In Niagara, Soth sets out to capture the grand passion of life, to do for love and marriage what Sleeping in the Mississippi does for the American Midwest.
“Niagara is part of American mythology. It’s a place of romance, where people go to get married,” says Soth. “But when I got there my view of the place totally changed. The American side is economically devastated. It’s bleak.” As Mack Books republishes Alec Soth’s classic book, BJP revisits our review first published in 2006