Brief Photobook Reviews (Week 24, 2012)


Book Reviews, Photobooks

I’m going to start a new feature on this website, providing brief reviews of photobooks. I can’t possibly write long reviews for each and every photobook I receive in the mail. Writing shorter pieces will hopefully allow me to cover more books, while adding a bit of a flexibility to the whole endeavour. Find the first three brief reviews below. (more)


Life here is serious is the latest sketchbook produced by The Sochi Project. Just like the previous sketchbook, it is a modest, yet high-quality production, focusing on the role wrestling plays in the Caucasus. The connection to the grander scheme of things in the region is made through the birth years of the mostly very young wrestlers - for each year, you also get some brief information about political developments (elections, wars, etc.). Life here is serious is centered on portraiture, and the text establishes the cultural relevance of the sport. It’s a glimpse into a very competitive culture, where things aren’t forgotten easily - sport as a metaphor for the violence that has been haunting the region for so long now.


You can think of Patrick van Dam’s Playboy Behind the Scenes as the sort of insider equivalent of Larry Sultan’s The Valley. Behind the Scenes is centered on Playboy magazine (as opposed to hardcore pornography), and obviously there are very different photographers at work here (Van Dam was art director of the magazine for a few years). Also, Playboy Behind the Scenes really zeroes in on the ludicrous artificiality of the production itself, which you might or might not find funny. It certainly is absurd. But somehow, I’m left with a funny taste in my mouth. It’s not the book, which certainly makes no effort to pretend there is value where there isn’t. But I personally can’t escape the feeling that with our irony (or what we might mistaken for that) and our willingness to embrace everything (regardless of whether there is any merit) we’ve managed to turn the clock backwards quite the bit, as far as equal rights of and equal respect for the sexes are concerned. So maybe we need to look at books like The Valley or Playboy Behind the Scenes more with a sense of child-like wonder: Wait a minute, this is 2012, and the show is still being run as if these were the “good old days”?


Speaking of Names by Christopher Gianunzio and Jenny Tondera looks at photography and how it is (or was) being used to present, to document things (here mostly technical items). The source images maintain their traces of having been printed before - the dot patterns are clearly visible. Portraits of men (presumably from the 1950s or 60s) alternate with technical photographs, where often enough a finger is pointing at something, or a hand is holding whatever is supposed to be the center of attention. The presentations betray their ages - but one might ask: Has photography really moved that far beyond these tropes?