The founder of publisher MACK shares his favourite projects from 2019
Themes of cultural identity and political conflict prevail in this year’s shortlist for the MACK First Book Award, which includes dummy photobooks that explore interracial marriage in Zimbabwe, the UK’s June 2016 referendum on EU membership, and young Turkish immigrants living in Europe, plus others addressing universal themes of family, time, and space. The prestigious award is now in its eighth year, having been set up in 2012 to support emerging and unpublished photographers. The First Book Award has helped launch the careers of image-makers like Paul Salveson and Joanna Piotrowska, via shortlists nominated by a panel of international experts – until now. This year, for first time, the shortlist has been drawn from an open call. “One of the things we are attempting to remove is the notion that unless you’re connected, unless you’re in the know and have contacts in that sphere, you can’t go forward,” said Michael Mack, founder of MACK, to bjp-online in December 2018. “We want to discourage that idea.” The shortlist was compiled by five industry experts, including Michael Mack, founder …
BJP-online Loves Maria Sturm’s You don’t look Native to me, Jean-Vincent Simonet’s psychedelic images of Tokyo, Roger Melis’ photographs of East Germany, Dawoud Bey’s exhibition Places in History, and the fact that MACK’s First Book Award is now open-entry
It’s free to enter, anyone from anywhere can enter, it’s helped launch photographers such as Paul Salveson, Joanna Piotrowska, and Emmanuelle Andrianjafy, and its winner is announced at Photo London and publishes a book with the prestigious MACK. It is the First Book Award, and in just eight years it’s become a firm fixture on the photobook calendar – and yet so far it’s only received 300 or so submissions per year. How come?
Well, until now MACK has organised it with the help of an international panel of nominators, meaning that only those photographers recommended by this group of curators, editors, and educators could get involved. But now all that’s changed, with the first-ever open-entry First Book Award accepting dummies from anyone who wants to submit. “One of the things we are attempting to remove is the notion that unless you’re connected, unless you’re in the know and have contacts in that sphere, you can’t go forward,” says Michael Mack, founder of MACK. “We want to discourage that idea.”
“It’s hard to know when to stop,” says Gregory Halpern. “I remember putting my camera away on a trip home and being relieved it was out of sight. I never feel that way, so that was clearly a sign. I haven’t kept track, but I shot maybe 700 to 1000 rolls of film.”
He’s talking about ZZYZX, which he’s worked on for five years, partly supported by a Guggenheim fellowship. Shot in Southern California, starting out on the eastern fringes of the state then moving slowly westwards towards Los Angeles and the Pacific, it’s named after an ‘unincorporated community’ in the Mojave desert, and has a similar sense of the outsider. The opening picture shows a gnarled hand, with a callus on the thumb and dirt in the fingernails, outstretched to show seven stars tattooed on the palm. The next shows stark black trees in the desert in the wake of a fire.
It’s a prestigious prize, which earns the winner an exhibition at Photo London plus a photobook published by the well-regraded specialist MACK Books. This year it’s gone to Hayahisa Tomiyasu for his book dummy TTP. Shot from the window of his eighth-floor student flat in Leipzig, Germany, TTP shows a park with a ping pong table, shot at various times of day and in various seasons, and showing different protagonists each time. The table is used as a tischtennisplatte (table tennis table, as a sun lounger, as a climbing frame, as a skate obstacle, and as much more, and, states MACK Books “thanks to Tomiyasu’s sustained curiosity, we observe the habits, humour, and idiosyncrasies of human behaviour”.
Phoebe Kiely was 14 years old when she first picked up a camera. It was terrible, though: a four megapixel digital device from Aldi. But despite the poor quality, Kiely became obsessed with taking pictures. One of the earliest photographs she remembers was of her best friend, Amanda, captured in the garden of Kiely’s family home in Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire. “It’s a picture of her on a small trampoline,” she says. “I’m above her and she’s curled up, looking up at me.” The Aldi camera was replaced with a film camera when Kiely hit her late teens and the “buzz” of shooting, developing and seeing the final results of her pictures became stronger. It was what helped her get through three years of working in retail after finishing her A-levels in 2009. “I remember running into town during my 15-minute morning break to drop my film off,” she says. “I would walk back during my lunch hour to pick up the pictures. It was the most exciting part of the day.” Kiely graduated in 2015 with …
She stands on a San Francisco rooftop looking out over the South of Market neighbourhood – the area that was the subject and title of her sumptuous 2013 book, published by MACK Books, which led to her solo show at the city’s prestigious De Young Museum. Thousands have now seen the series, but Janet Delaney shot it in the early 1980s, just as the district was being primed for redevelopment and gentrification. Now middle-aged, as a young woman Delaney was fiercely committed to the idea that photography could and should change the world. Thinking of herself as a “cultural worker”, she hoped her project would advocate for the working class people and businesses who had helped make the area so vibrant, and help stop them from being displaced.
Interviewing Nigel Shafran is a circuitous, informal affair. Meeting him at his North London home, I immediately recognise Ruth, his partner and the subject of many of his photographs. I also meet his son Lev, who, though somewhat older, is also still easily discernible from his father’s pictures. The interview takes place in the kitchen familiar from Flowers for ____. Every now and then a friend calls round or phones, with plans made to throw a boomerang around in the park that afternoon, or play ping pong in the evening. Lev occasionally interjects from the living room with his take on the interview process, or on “nattering on about photography” as he puts it. “Sorry. Oh my God!” says Shafran, as the phone rings for the second time. “No worries,” I say. “You’re a busy man.” “A busy family man!” he replies. It doesn’t always make for an easy interview, but it feels appropriate for a photographer who focuses on the everyday, the domestic and the personal.
From mass shootings to a family hotel – the shortlist for the 2018 First Book Award is nothing if not eclectic. Set up in 2012 to support emerging talent, the First Book Award is open to previously unpublished photographers who have been nominated by an international panel of experts, and previous winners include Irish photographer Ciarán Óg Arnold, Polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska, and Malagasy photographer Emmanuelle Andrianjafy. The ten shortlisted photographers this year come from all over the world, including Indian photographer Tenzing Dapka, Japanese photographer Hayahisa Tomiyasu, and Australian photographer Lionel Kiernan.