Since founding their publishing house in 2014, Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi and Vasantha Yogananthan have worked with global artists to produce carefully curated and designed “book-objects”. Here, they select their favourite photobooks of the year
“Assume the form of a golden deer and lure Rama away. Meanwhile I will run away with Sita,” commands Ravana, the ten-headed King of Lanka, to one of his demon slaves in the ancient Indian epic poem, the Ramayana. Ravana’s plan is to entice Sita, the beautiful goddess, and steal her away from Prince Rama. While the golden deer distracts the prince, Ravana disguises himself as a holy man begging for money; and when Sita reaches out to offer him food, he catches her and carries her away to his kingdom. This scene marks a pivotal point in the Ramayana, a story believed to have been written over 2000 years ago by Valmiki, a celebrated poet in Sanskrit literature. It is the narrative that Vasantha Yogananthan is following in his ambitious seven-part photographic project, A Myth of Two Souls, which is now on its fourth chapter, Dandaka. He’s found a different way to convey the story in each chapter, and for this one, wanted to push himself further out of his comfort zone. For previous books he …
“She hangs around with us after school even though we make it clear she bores us. We whisper nonsense and pretend to laugh at jokes so she laughs too, and we ask, ‘What’s so funny?’ to watch her squirm. She knows we are mean, and yet still she follows along behind. ‘Like a dog,’ we say, loud enough for her to hear.”
On athousandwordphotos.com this is the start of the text accompanying an image of Russian army cadets by Anastasia Taylor-Lind – but it’s not a direct quote from one of the young women depicted. Instead it’s a work of fiction by author Claire Fuller, inspired by the image but written without any knowledge of the circumstances in which it was shot.
It’s the same with the story that accompanies Karim Ben Khalifa’s photograph of a sofa, which was taken in war-torn Kosovo in 1999. In real life, the sofa had been looted and therefore set on fire by French peace-keepers to discourage further looting. But in author Dan Dalton’s hands, it’s set on fire by a 17 year old, who had spent happy hours with a slightly wayward group of friends hanging out on the abandoned couch. Meanwhile a photograph taken by Dungeness nuclear power station by Phil Fisk, inspired Lydia Ruffles to write a short story about a worker called Tomo who’s afraid of the sea.
Pairing documentary photography with fictional writing isn’t new – in fact it’s become quite a trend, with image-makers such as David Goldblatt, Vasantha Yogananthan, Max Pinckers, and Dayanita Singh – among many more – all playing with the combination in recent years. But the examples above come from quite a different project, set up to support Interact Stroke Support – a London-based charity that organises sessions in which actors read to recovering stroke patients.
Foam Talent returns to London, with an exhibition of forward-thinking photographers under the age of 35 including Alinka Echeverria (UK/Mexico), Weronika Gęsicka (Poland), Namsa Leuba (Switzerland/Guinea), Erik Madigan Heck (USA), Viacheslav Poliakov (Ukraine), Harit Srikhao (Thailand), and Vasantha Yogananthan (France). This year 1790 artists responded to Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam’s annual talent call, and the 20 selected photographers were picked out for their experimental approaches to the medium. The new generation of artists explore a variety of subjects, says Foam, including several photographers openly denouncing the totalitarian regimes of their countries.
“In Centralia, Poulomi Basu continues to focus her gaze on the interrelation between violence, state power, and gender,” says Monica Allende, member of the jury for the PHM grant. “By intertwining multilayered fictional narratives she aims to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality, as well as established neocolonialist histories. “In an era of post-truth and fake news, where we battle for control of “official” narratives, Basu’s work forces us to reflect on our own prejudices and educated preconceptions. Despite addressing such complex issues, the work is both illuminating and engaging – a testament to her innate ability as a documentarian. The result is a beautifully executed story which is thoroughly deserving of the winning grant.”
Running since 2013, the PHM Grant has a reputation for finding interesting new photographers such as Max Pinckers, Tomas van Houtryve, and Salvatore Vitale. Now the 35-strong shortlist for the 2018 has been announced, with the winners due to be announced on 08 May and four prizes up for grabs – a first, second and third in the main award, plus a New Generation Prize. Each winner gets a cash prize plus a publication on World Press Photo’s Witness, a projection at Cortona On The Move and at Just Another Photo Festival, and promotion via PHmuseum. The jury handing out the awards is made up of photography specialists – Genevieve Fussell, senior photo editor at The New Yorker; Roger Ballen, photographer and artist; Emilia Van Lynden, artistic director of Unseen; and Monica Allende, independent photo editor and cultural producer. The jury is able to give Honourable Mentions, up to six in the main prize, and up to three in the New Generation Prize.
The last time we spoke to Vasantha Yogananthan he was preparing to release chapter one of his hugely ambitious seven-part project A Myth of Two Souls. A project that he started in 2013 with his first trip to India, the collection is a photographic re-imagining of one of the most significant Hindu texts, the epic poem Ramayana. Dating back to the 4th century, the Ramayana still holds tremendous significance in India, with its allegorical, mythical stories helping convey concepts such as love, duty, violence, loyalty and divinity. Yogananthan had always been familiar with the Ramayana growing up – his Sri Lankan father told him stories from it during his youth in Grenoble, France, and he picked up comic book adaptations of it as a teenager. But it was only when he visited India that he realised just how interwoven the analogies presented in Ramayana are with the experience of everyday life on the subcontinent, and just how thin the line can be between mythology and reality.
Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017, is the first exhibition to document the history of photography in India, and includes both archive and contemporary work. It includes images by India’s first known photographer Ahmad Ali Khan, pioneering art photographer Marahaja Ram Singh II, the country’s first female photojournalist, Homai Vyarawalla; and award-winning contemporary photographers such Magnum’s Sohrab Hura. It also includes images of India taken by non-Indians, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Werner Bischof, Margaret Bourke White, Lucien Hervé, Mitch Epstein, Vasantha Yogananthan, and Olivia Arthur.
The Promise is book two in Vasantha Yogananthan’s ambitious seven-book project, A Myth of Two Souls. Inspired by the epic story The Ramayana, which was written by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki in around 300 BC, The Myth will retrace The Ramayana’s route from North to South India, and show scenes from everyday life that evoke its imagery. Yogananthan is producing one book for each chapter of the original story; he started the project with a book called Early Times, which helped him win the ICP Infinity Award Emerging Photographer of the Year. Book two, The Promise, has been nominated for the 2017 Author Book Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles (along with image-makers such as Antoine Agata, JH Engstrom, and Roe Ethridge). Throughout The Myth, Yogananthan is working with three different types of image – landscapes, hand-painted staged portraits, and illustrated black-and-white photographs. The hand-painting is done on large-format black-and-white photographs by Indian artist Jaykumar Shankar. In the illustrated photographs, he has been working with two artists specialising in the tradition of Madhubani painting. “In Yogananthan’s hands, The Ramayana story becomes a …
When Vasantha Yogananthan was a child growing up in France his Sri Lankan father would tell him stories from the Hindu epic poem the Ramayana. Tales of heroism, filial duty and love full of magic, allegory and divinity, these stories were at the time just that – stories. But when Yogananthan first visited India in 2013, he came face-to-face with the pervasiveness of myth and legend on the subcontinent. In a land steeped in ancient history, folklore and veracity are deeply intertwined, and attempting to disentangle the two can be futile. Eventually, Yogananthan decided to stop trying. Historians and archaeologists estimate the composition of the Ramayana to the 4th century, and it is at once a foundation stone of Indian literature, one of Hinduism’s key texts, and a model for familial relationships. It follows the journey of Prince Rama, who travels the length of the country to get his wife, Sita, back when she is abducted by the demon Ravana. It’s a complex story, and its characters have become embodiments of virtue and honour in Indian society, but the story touches …