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 Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle, recent graduate Mae Holland joins a highly successful social media corporation in California. The Circle, as the company is named, demands 24/7 loyalty from its staff but, seduced by its power and glamour, Holland is quickly drawn in and starts sleeping at the on-site dormitory and almost exclusively hanging out with its employees. By the end of the book things have taken a dystopian turn, and The Circle has morphed into a totalitarian regime, governed by slogans such as ‘Privacy is Theft’ and ‘Secrets are Lies’, poised to take over the world.
It’s a compulsive read, and is currently being turned into a film starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, so you’d think it would be required reading for young entrepreneurs relocating to San Francisco to set up their own tech businesses. Photographer Laura Morton agrees, but says most of them have never heard of the book. “You have to understand, most of them are completely dedicated to their work,” she says. “They have to launch faster than the next guy, quickly scale up their business… They’re not looking outward a lot.”
American photographer Laura Morton has won the 2018 Canon Female Photojournalist Award. The award gives her €8000 funding towards a new project, which will be exhibited at the 2019 Visa Pour l’Image festival.
Originally trained in Political Science and Journalism, Morton has previously shot projects on FARC guerrillas in Colombia, the segregation and oppression of Pashtun women in Pakistan, and military sexual assault survivors in the US, and her project on young tech entrepreneurs in San Francisco, Wild West Tech, was funded by the Magnum Foundation and published in BJP’s April 2016 relaunch issue. But she won the award with a pitch for a new project titled University Avenue, named after a road which runs through two very different districts of her home town, San Francisco.
“You should get into the habit of looking above eye-level while walking,” says American photographer Brian Kanagaki. “It’s much more beautiful than looking down at the dirty street and trash.” Golden Persimmons, shot over a period of six years, captures geometric subjects in ambiguous environments; spanning over eight countries (though predominantly New York), the brutally black and white images take inspiration from the graphic, organic shapes found in cities globally.
The project began when the design director got lost while taking a shortcut in his hometown, San Francisco. “It was funny to get lost in a city that I thought I knew so well,” he says. “I ended up driving around and finding so many new things that got my mind working.” One of which was decorative trees in people’s front gardens, the original basis for the series. But after moving to New York and spending time travelling, the idea quickly evolved to focus on tying the world together by capturing its mundane similarities.
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.
The medium of photography is inherently entwined with memory and nostalgia, especially when it relates to family history. For Christopher Bethell, the recollections of his American grandfather, Joseph ‘Joey’ O’Donnell, were shaped by the few photographs he saw of his relative while growing up in the seemingly unglamorous northern town of Stockport, England. Joey passed away when Bethell was a baby, and the photographer developed a fiction around him – that of a jazz musician who had left his family for a doomed second shot at his career, before falling for the temptations of Las Vegas and ending up in an early grave. Yet when he eventually sat down with his grandmother to find out what she remembered of Joey and their life together in the US, he uncovered “a story that was far more complex and much less cinematic”. In an attempt to deconstruct his own romanticised timeline of his grandfather and – as a dual citizen of the UK and the US – to discover America for himself, Bethell took a six-week road trip taking in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno and Seattle in 2015, ending the journey in Clarkston, Washington, where his grandfather had settled at the end of his life. The subsequent series is affectionately titled The Duke of Earl, a reference to the song by Gene Chandler, which Joey had sung to his future wife the first time they met. Divided into four chapters, Bethell’s images are prefaced with a family photograph of Joey, each followed by its inscription on the back, penned by Joey.
“I hope the project can make the audience feel like they walking through a cloud of mist.” Zhao Qian, a Chinese photographer living in San Francisco, has recently been announced as a runner-up in this year’s BJP Breakthrough Awards. His series, Offcut, the edge, is inspired in part by the feeling of jetlag, which he describes as creating a fog on his surroundings.
From the title of his photographic blog, Ugly Moments Strung Together, you sense that Robin Maddock is prone to critical self-analysis and distrust of aesthetic purity. Despite having two well-received photobooks already published by Trolley (or maybe because of it), Maddock says that he felt disoriented and perplexed when it came to finding inspiration for a new project or approach to work towards. His third book, III, also published by Trolley and shot largely in the harshly-lit urban topography of Los Angeles and San Francisco, is the culmination of this period of introspection and points to a future direction of enquiry that seems at odds with his documentary roots. His first book, Our Kids Are Going To Hell (2009), resulted from his work following police on raids in Hackney. The second, God Forgotten Face (2011), shot in his home town of Plymouth, was already more introspective, even if it remained recognisable as a documentary project, capturing the city as a kind of microcosm of Little England. Or so Maddock thought when he started, thinking of it as a kind of …
At first glance, the spaces in Elizabeth Moran’s The Armoury resemble theatre stages. They are in fact empty sets once used by porn production company Kink.com. Interested in the conflict between private emotion and public persona in places of work (previous series have included a genetics lab and the architecture of corporate culture), Moran contacted the company asking if she could photograph their backdrops and props. “I moved to San Francisco in 2011 and wanted to continue the series I had been working on about work spaces,” she says. “I began researching companies and the type of industries that reflected San Francisco’s personality. I approached several companies and Kink.com was very interested in the idea. I found myself drawn to an industry where private and public collide, but one that also mirrors its customers’ lives. “What is produced on these sets is a reflection of what is watched privately.” And although people may be absent from the images, there is a sense that something is about to happen, or has recently taken place. In one …