Thursday, 25 February 2016

Who Buys their Books at a Supermarket?

Love on the Left Bank: Would you buy this book at a supermarket?

We ran this post a week or so back wondering if there might be some ways of expanding the photobook market, namely 

1. Deepen the reach of photobooks, so everybody can buy them, and wants to buy them, so they appear on the shelves of supermarkets, not just at bijou photobook stores.

2.  Open up the definition of photobooks. There are plenty of books with photographs in them that sell in the tens of thousands. Maybe we shouldn't be so picky.

3. Make more interesting books. There are plenty of books with pictures that sell in the millions. There are probably about 40-50 in my home, children's books, manga, graphic novels, all of which were bought to read.

4, Make cheaper books

5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. Go to places where there is not a culture of photobooks.

Then the other day, we got this response to Hansgert Lambers of Expose Verlag, which rather confirms our suspicions that the photobook market is small for a reason. (But we still think number 2 - opening up the definition of what a photobook is - is a great idea).

'Here are some thoughts of a small and ailing photobook-publisher in reply to advice given on photobookbristol blogspot:

ad 1.   I don‘t believe in selling photobooks in supermarkets. They do have books on offer: DIY-manuals, detective stories and other fiction. Have you ever considered buying your literature there?

ad 2.   New ideas? Fine, so I published a book containing 50% words and 50% pictures, closely linked to each other. Well, the words are poems from a not so known author, also poetry is perhaps worse to sell than photography. Oh, and the poems were in German – who offers to translate them into English to make the book desireable in a wider market? So this didn't work. But if you get Salmon Rushdie to cooperate, things might turn out better.

Also mind: a garish outfit is not modern design!

ad 3.   A narrative is no silver bullet. Except for »Love on the West Bank« how many books with a narrative (in the sense of stories, novels) do you know? Neither Frank‘s »The Americans« nor Avedon's »Observations« have it although they certainly have wonderful sequencing and thus a good rhythm and convincing melodies which most of those books that ”are disconnected to the world“ lack. (I am very much for banning books which only display the ego of the author – but would that enlarge the market for proper photobooks?)

ad 4.   Cheap photobooks are no general solution. Craig Atkinson with his Café Royal Books found a niche, and I admire him for that. These “books” suit perfectly his subject matters. Also Anders Petersen once told me that he prefers his »Café Lehmitz«  in the pocket book version as that is appropriate for the theme. On the other hand I found that people who buy a book for € 20 would also have paid € 30, whereas those who term € 20 as too expensive would not have bought it for € 10 either.

ad 5.   Let‘s wait for the outcome of Dieter Neubert‘s venture to China. I wish him luck but have my doubts whether this will have any lasting effect on photobook distribution.

Aside: The popstar Blondie had in her carreer an interlude as jazz singer Deborah Harry. Do you think the money she earned during that jazz-period amounted to much compared to her pop-income? Poetry, jazz and photography – these genres will never generate big money.

but I have a suggestion:  We need to give photobook-connoisseurs of the world a notice board, a web portal where all relevant photobooks will be listed with brief descriptions and links to further information including outlets. There should be editors to first of all exclude irrelevant contributions (censorship? of course!) and then write short (!) evaluations. Existing blogs are mostly too elaborated or in German only or just hidden somewhere.
There would have to be a PR-task to begin with, making this site natural and even obligatory reading for photobook devotees in Auckland, Osaka, Montevideo, Bielefeld or Sheffield. Or is there any other way to make someone in Belfast or Montreal aware of a new and unusual photobook published in Berlin?'

››› Hansgert Lambers

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Words and Pictures are not Competitive. They are Complementary

all pictures by Kazuma Obara

We're big fans of Kazuma Obara here at Photobook Bristol. We bought one of the 45 original copies of his brilliant Silent Histories (more of which in an upcoming post), and we were delighted to have him as a guest at Photobook Bristol 2015.

Kazuma is one of the hardest working photographers we know with an attention to detail that is incomparable (he made a total of 16 dummies before finally coming up with something he was happy with for Silent Histories). He is also supremely modest, charming and generous. And he wears a hat far better than any photographer we know. We truly love Kazuma Obara!

So we were delighted when he won The World Press Photo First Prize in the People section. Delighted and a little bit surprised because the project does not look entirely like your typical World Press Photo stories.

But at the same time we were not surprised because the project continues Kazuma's investigations into the material and the way in which they can carry the narrative thread of the story he is photographing.

And in that sense they are perfect pictures for the World Press Photo. This is a photo-essay in the sense in which Harold Evans describes it in his excellent Pictures on A Page (this post by Graham Harrison gives a great overview of Pictures on a Page).

'Further to his call for clear terminology in Pictures on a Page, Harold Evans complains that ‘essay’ and ‘story’, are used interchangeably by newspapers and magazines. A picture story is essentially narrative, the record of a single event. Whereas the essay, unconfined by either time or event, “Will argue and analyse rather than narrate; it will make points,” writes Evans.

We are all very much in favour of World Press Photo here at Photobook Bristol. It still has photojournalism at its heart; heavyweight photography that really matters and that very directly attaches to the world in which we live in. It also actively seeks out and addresses the many, many criticisms it has faced over the years; it has a transparency and an openness to adaptation and change, qualities that are very rare in photography.

In Pictures on a Page (which is still one of the very best books on the concrete function and ethics of photography -  Evans was the Sunday Times editor who employed Don McCullin and helped define photojournalism at its very best - and most campaigning) Evans talks about different uses of the photograph, how it can be used to complement a story, how an editor can see a picture in a text, and how the photograph can can take a story beyond the image.

Kazuma's essay (and it is an essay) does argue and does analyze and does take the story beyond the surface of the image, and he does it in a very low-key and charming manner in which the material nature of the chemistry combines with history, text and indeed the trails of Kazuma's own practice.

It's a story that is told in multiple layers in other words - through images that reference a kind of idealised dream-like life, through the distance created by this radiation-infused film, and through the text that accompanies each image. And that is what is being recognised by World Press Photo, that the telling of a story can take place in multiple ways that create eddies and counter-currents of understanding. The story lies beyond the image in other words.

This idea of the photograph not being a unique and self contained thing is another element addressed by Evans, who questions the Cartier-Bresson notion...

 'that if a photograph is really evocative it carries its own message. The only information required is the when and the where'

“That,” Evans counters, is “a piece of intellectual debris from the early idea that photography was an art or it was nothing”

Words and photography are not competitive, they are complementary, says the newspaperman. “They explain relationships. They fix the time. They may elaborate on what is happening. They can point to an elusive detail. They can attempt to counter our irritating perversity in each drawing different, even contradictory, meanings from the same image. They can confirm mood. And with a single photograph only words can explain how the event occurred or what its effect might be.” He also points out that “photography is limited in its power of analysis”.'

Anyway, in celebration of Kazuma Obara, here are some images from his World Press Photo Prize Winning Entry.

See the full entry here. 

Read Graham Morrison on Harold Evans' Pictures on a Page here. 

'The world’s worst nuclear accident happened on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Just 5 months after the disaster, a girl was born in Kiev just 100 km south from Chernobyl. The wind included a great amount of radioactive elements, and the girl became one of the victims of the tragedy. This series of pictures represent the last 30 years of the life of that invisible girl. All pictures taken on old Ukrainian color negative films, which were found in the city of Pripyat, located 5 km from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.'

"My mother said that it was a typically quiet day, warm and windy. She and my father opened the window and they felt completely safe on the day of the explosion, the 26th of April 1986."

"I was born just five months after the day of the explosion. I was a very sickly child and I remember feeling like something was wrong, not growing like a normal child. When I was born I was quickly admitted into the intensive care unit. I had cramps and I was very weak. Half of my childhood, I spent in hospital without receiving a diagnosis. I was treated for bronchitis, then pneumonia, and then neuroses."

"You might think there should be nothing from Chernobyl in my identity because I was not born at the time of the explosion. I was in my mother's belly and I did not yet exist in the outside world."

"I did not have the opportunity to be active. Children who were born in the year of Chernobyl were the most adversely affected. I was lying in the hospital, without my mother all the time. That is, perhaps, reflected in my character today."

"My grandmother became disabled in a very early stage of life. It had nothing to do with the accident, but it was also an autoimmune processes. Then my aunt became disabled. And for me, the word ‘disabled’ is really terrible, full of stigma. That’s what I faced every day, and my family saw it. It's still, for me, a great discomfort, very frightening. It’s significant that the word is placed next to my name. It really bothers me, and caused me to reject having a disabled certificate for a time. I thought, if the word was written next to my name, then I could go no further. I know it's weird, but I had a sort of feeling that the world would bury me."

"Recently, I just realized that I was not guilty. This is nobody's fault. I'm working on it, and everything is much better. I understand that all the worst is over, and now I'm trying to reestablish contact with my parents. They thought that I grew up very strong and independent. But it is not so. Now it’s like I just came back to life and I'm a child again. It’s interesting for me to touch, feel, play, go on a picnic. I just learned how to ride a bike this year."

Read a review of Silent Histories  here.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Five Ways to Make More People Buy Photobooks: Some of them might work?

There is the idea that the photobook market is small and that it should grow, that the current market is just the tip of the pyramid, and that beneath that tip, where books sell in their hundreds, their is this vast body of untapped potential where photobooks will gain a mass audiencee of the tens of thousands.

We at Photobook Bristol don't really share that view. That's why we have such a small festival with only 200 people or so attending.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.

But we do understand the sentiment. It would be great if tens of thousands of people bought great photobooks like Chris Killip's In Flagrante Two for example. In the past people used to buy photobooks in their tens of thousand - why can't it happen again?

Maybe it can. There are various ways of expanding the market.

1. Deepen the reach of photobooks, so everybody can buy them, and wants to buy them, so they appear on the shelves of supermarkets, not just at bijou photobook stores.

2.  Open up the definition of photobooks. There are plenty of books with photographs in them that sell in the tens of thousands. Maybe we shouldn't be so picky.

3. Make more interesting books. There are plenty of books with pictures that sell in the millions. There are probably about 40-50 in my home, children's books, manga, graphic novels, all of which were bought to read.

4, Make cheaper books

5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. Go to places where there is not a culture of photobooks.

Of these four options, we remain unconvinced by the Option 1. In Flagrante Two by Chris Killip is a brilliant, brilliant photobook, probably the best photobook that will be published this year, but we see no reason whatsoever why anybody who is not interested in both photography and photobooks would be expected to spend 65 euros on it. Why would you? It's great, but it's a bit grim. There are funner ways to spend your money.

Buy the Errata Editions Books on Books version of In Flagrante here.

Option 2 is a good one. Here at Photobook Bristol we'd love to have Kim Kardashian, Sebastiao Salgado or Ransom Riggs talk. They all sell large numbers of books of differing kinds which, though they have pictures in, are not necessarily counted as photobooks - often for reasons that are both arbitrary, selective and self-serving (in the sense that there are many people out there who really enjoy being a medium-sized fish in a tiny pond, as opposed to a tiny fish in a larger pond).

Option 3 is a great one, but very difficult. Photographers verge towards opaqueness in their dealings with narrative. That's why books like Love on the Left Bank still stand out to this day - because it does have a real narrative. It's a visual story backed up by a pretty sharp complementary text. Most photobooks tend to verge on irrelevance, and are disconnected to the world they are part of. Sometimes that is a good thing, it can be poetic and beautiful, and quiet and contemplative. There's a place for that, but it's a small place. Far, far too many books are wilfully disconnected and deliberately obtuse. And even when they do connect to what is happening in the world, it is often with an excessively earnest voice that runs counter to the immediacy of the visual medium.


The fourth option of making books cheap is all well and good and we love books like the Cafe Royal series and MC Hotel Tokyo (the smartest real budget book of recent years), but we remain sceptical that they are capable of getting a much larger audience. But if more photographers choose to make cheaper books that go beyond the traditional publishing model - we're all in favour of that; small books, zines, newspapers. It's not good for the booksellers among us, but so it goes.

And that leaves Option 5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. That's what Dieter Neubert is doing by moving the Kassel Festival to Beijing this year. As Pierre Bessard said, 'it will be not 2500 visitors like in Kassel but 35.000...'

That's a big jump and something that might in the long term translate into a larger market. Surpisingly, Neubert's initiative met with some hostility, some of it perhaps not grasping the point that Kassel needed to do something different this year.

He also got accused of using PR. But maybe that's a good thing. We all need a little PR sometimes, a bit of smart thinking and hype that actually does communicate to people.

There are problems with moving to Beijing though. It's something that publishers like Aperture have experienced when the Self Publish Be Happy DIY Manifesto was censored by the printers in China. The printers effectively had the final say on what went into the book, and more particularly, what didn't (the more erotic pictures got cut).

Making books that are written for the Chinese market is one thing, but having your terms dictated to by a printer in Shenzhen is another. Really? That is definitely a price that is not worth paying.

So there are dangers in going to where the market is, to saving money by offshoring your printing costs, by taking money from sponsors who, whatever they might say, always have an agenda that has some kind of an affect on those who take their money. Some of the usual legal, banking, and corporate suspects are mentioned by Lewis Bush here, and there's a few more geographic photography brokers that could be added to the list. Wherever money is thrown at photography, there is a little whiff of soft power.

Which is the real danger of moving to Beijing. But then if you want to grow the audience, why not? Perhaps you have to make compromises to stay in business? The problem is how to combine that pragmatism with a refusal to self-censor and to keep on bringing truth to power. It's a tricky equation and one that photography, in all its forms, has never managed to negotiate successfully.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Gazebook Sicily: On Creating Your Own Art Space!

Last month Amelia Jones wrote this in an article on the lack of representation of people except wealthy white males in the regular art world.

She ended with this quote:

For artists, she believes that we have to work at creating our own art spaces and our own art worlds. She suggests that artists open up their own pop up galleries, if for only a few months. "Blitz the media. Create your own art space. Don't wait for all the conventional art world people to figure out what you are doing. Create your own networks."

It's an idea that we should all take to heart, that rather than (or as well as maybe) moaning about the lack of representation, why don't we actually get together and use our charm, our energy, our dynamism to create something. This is both true of those who are less represented in the art world, but also true for those who want to start up an event that goes beyond the traditional. That's the thinking behind Gazebook Sicily, the first beachfront festival that had its first edition in 2015. Started by three young Sicilian photographers, Teresa Belina, Melissa Carnemolla, and Simone Sapienza, Perhaps 1,000 people attended the first festival. Despite being funded on a shoestring, and relying on the goodwill of bemused locals in the resort town of Punta Secca, the festival was a greatly enjoyed success and attracted speakers including Tony Gentile, Lina Pallotta, Mark Power and Max Pinckers, showed work by #DYSTURB, Guy Martin, and Lua Ribeira as well as running a series of workshops by Mark Power, Alex Bocchetto and Tiziana Faraoni..

This is how Teresa Belina tells the story of Gazebook Sicily.

I went through various stages in my love for photography; I started with a solitary love that was consumed by obsessive photograph of whatever met my eye, and then I discovered the different genres of photography and that's when I chose the documentary photography as the genre I was most interested in.  
Then I began to attend festivals and met the people who make them; from these trips I came home full of energy and new ideas to share with friends with the same passion and these passions gave birth to new collective ideas. What could we do to show work, how could we make a festival happen?
Sicily is a singular and complex place, but very special I think. The food is unique, it has an infinitely rich history that takes in a multitude of great civilisations, and the people are passionate and filled with a life you do not find elsewhere. 

But it didn't have a photobook festival. It was on the wave of these thoughts and following the exciting experience of working together with Simone Sapienza and Melissa Carnemolla organizing another festival (Ragusa Photo Festival), that the idea of Gazebook was born.

I had the idea and it was like the uncorking of a bottle of champagne. There was an explosion of energy and ideas from Simone and Melissa. the idea of Gazebook was born. The next thing was to harness this energy and actually make it happen.

We decided to create a scientific committee of experts to help us choose guests and run workshops. This was fundamental to the success of the festival and also very educational in terms of organizing an event. 

The main obstacle of course was to find funding, and initially this was very limited. But I think one of our strengths is the optimism and positivity that drives us and so we asked help from all of our friends and acquaintances, and were a little bit surprised when we were able to find two main sponsors and got other practical help from everyone we asked
The intent from the first day was to try to do something new, as free as possible from any form of payment and rules to catch up with other European festivals that we followed from a distance but with great interest. This was the main reason that the choice fell to the photobook.
Gazebook festival was a dynamic and never boring festival. We had open-air talks underneath the lighthouse in the main square of Punta Secca, we had a range of paid workshops with people like Lina Pallota, Mark Power and Alex Bocchetto, and we had free portfolio reviews that are probably the most relaxed portfolio reviews you'll find anywhere in the photographic world.

There was some great work shown at these reviews and they cut across different levels, from enthusiasts to professionals. Whatt was nice is that everyone was able to perfect their knowledge by finding new ideas for their work and making important new connections. More than anything, Gazebook is a great place to meet people, to relax with people and to enjoy the food and drink of Punta Secca while also enjoying great company and great photography. 

Initially, the reaction of local people and tourists was sceptical, but as the festival went on the scepticism changed to curiosity and then to great enthusiasm. People were getting involved in activities and discussions they never would have thought to follow. It was incredibly satisfying to have created something new and interesting for Sicily, and to have it appreciated not just by people in the photography world, but also by the non-photography world of Punta Secca and Sicily.

We are the first event in Italy to dedicate an entire festival to the photobook and bring a large number of both Italian and foreign visitors to Sicily. We can't wait for the next festival in September.

The next Gazebook Sicily will take place from 9th - 11th September 2016.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Europe's Biggest Photobook Festival: Vienna Photobook Festival

Why make a photobook? by Ania Nalecka

If Kassel is the oldest Photobook Festival, and Bristol is the smallest (and cosiest - and, er, most expensive) then Vienna Photobook Festival is the biggest. Here the different book rooms take centre stage in a festival that covers the whole range of photobookery - from the zines and  handmade to the valuable vintage, with a perspective that takes in Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe and beyond.

Regina Anzenberger began Vienna Photobook Festival in 2013 and very kindly answered a few questions on how and why the festival began.

Read a review of Vienna Photobook 2015 here.

Ivars Gravlejs: Auteur of Early Works

How and why did you start Vienna Photobook Festival?

When AnzenbergerGallery moved to the former bread factory, we became neighbours with OstLicht gallery, the biggest photography gallery in Vienna. They have a photobook library with about 25000 books. One day the photobook curator Michael Kollmann asked me if I want to start a photobook festival with him. A week before I had denied an offer of another gallery owner here to make a photo festival but a photobook festival seemed ok and I felt I could overview it beside my other activities here. So we started very modestly with the goal to sell 20 tables to booksellers and finally had 50 for the first festival. Michael Kollmann and me, we had always collected photobooks our own and we felt Vienna was a good city for a festival.

How is it funded?

Mainly by Ostlicht and AnzenbergerGallery, the exhibitors' table fees, private sponsors and some state subsidies.

Introduction to the Stalker Book of 2015: A Work on Jealousy by Jenny Rova

How many people come?

About 6000 in two days.

Who is it for?

Photobook lovers, photographers, booksellers.

Does it cost anything to get in?

No, it is free entry.

Rebecca Reuter 

Vienna Photobook Festival also has a Photobook Review which is of a very high standard and was won last year by Mark Duffy and his excellent Vote no. 1. See pictures below, and buy the book here.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The First Chinese Photobook Festival; By Kassel, the First European Photobook Festival

The first Photobook Bristol took place in 2014, but of course it's not the only Photobook Festival in Europe. As well as Bristol (the smallest), there are dedicated Photobook festivals in Kassel, Vienna (the best-attended) and in Sicily (the beachiest), not too mention photobook-related events like Offprint, the wonderful Polycopies Boat and much, much more which is equally fabulous and wonderful.

So this week, the Photobook Bristol Blog will travel Europe finding out the how Kassel, Vienna and Gazebook Sicily began their Photobook Festivals. (And if you want to see Rudi Thoemmes's answers to the how Photobook Bristol began, look here).

We'll start with Dieter Neubert, director of Kassel, Europe's first dedicated Photobook Festival - which this year is taking place in Beijing.

How and why did you start Kassel Festival?

We (a small group of photo ethusiasts) have had a small photofestival in Kassel since 2005. In 2008 we found the time right to make a festival with the theme of the 'photobook'. We invited Martin Parr, John Gossage, Pablo Monasterio, Cuny Jansen, WassinkLundgren and some more to let them present their work with books. The response was so fantastic, that we decided to make a specialised festival on photobooks in the future instead of continuing with the usual photofestival with new themes every year.

And that's how the first photobook festival was born.

How is it funded?

By sponsors, by entrance fees, by the City of Kassel, by market place fees, by selling drinks etc., by selling special edited books like ON DAIDO (Daido Moriyama Anthology) or KASSEL MENU (Martin Parr) .

How many people come?

During the long weekend around 2.500 people.

Who is it for?

Photographers, publishers, booksellers, designers

Does it cost anything to get in?

Yes, between 9 and 18 Euro (one day or all 3 days)

Why are you going to Beijing this year? 

Because all the circumstances are perfect! It is like taking a breath and having a look on how the photobook is handled on the other side of our world. And the Beijing festival is a very practical one: we’re looking on book developing processes by having Guy Tillim (Photographer), Sybren Kuiper (Designer) and Pierre Bessard (Publisher) as guests. Guy will continue his long term cities project in Beijing in May and this work will go directly into a book designed by SYB and published by Pierre Bessard. The festival will feature this processes very detailed. And hopefully we will see a lot of Chinese and far east dummy books in our Dummy Award selection.

Another reason to go to Beijing is because I feel we cannot go on and on with always the same procedures, talks, panels, presentations, book shows etc.. There is something wrong in photobook production. On the one hand you can see more and more books all over, on the other you can see small publishers fighting very hard to survive, booksellers cannot pay their bills, publishers take money from photographers to produce their books (even more than the production costs!), prizes for best books at big events like Paris Photo are not valuable enough to cover a book's costs and at the end the book prices are really high. For many people it's not possible to buy all these fantastic books.

So I thought, let's hold on and have a look on all this. The festival in Beijing is also not really working on these questions in talks. and of course we also have no quick answers. But the main question is how to break through the borders of our nearly hermetically closed niche community of photobook enthusiasts and how is it possible to reach many more people behind theb order. Let's speak about this issue!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Amak Mahmoodian: Hanging Over Hell by a Hair Strand

BOOK Dummy356

Shenasnameh by Amak Mahmoodian

“ When you die Amak you will go to hell and you will be hanged with your hair strand over a very big fire for all eternity because you didn't hide it from the eyes of strangers in your lifetime.”

That's what Amak Mahmoodian's religious teacher told her when she came to school with a strand of her hair showing from beneath her head scarf. 

It was a comment that stuck, a comment that encapsulated the concrete changes in how you should dress and behave in the years following Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979. 

This is what Amak says in her introduction to the book.

'I am Iranian. I was born in 1980, the same year as the Islamic Revolution. I learned how to wear my  scarf when I was seven years old. I still remember putting it on for the first time, getting ready for my first day at school. It was me, my mother and a mirror. Two years later my Religious teacher stopped me in the corridor for letting my hair show. She told me to cover my hair completely.  She said “When you die, Amak, you will go to hell and you will be hanged with your hair strand over a very big fire for all eternity because you didn’t hide it from the eyes of strangers in your lifetime”

Six years ago, I was waiting in a reception room, holding the birth certificates of my mother and me. We looked similar in our ID photographs. That same day my fingerprint was fixed next to my image, and my mother’s fingerprint next to her image. Despite the outward similarity of the images the fingerprints were different; the scar I had on my finger became part of my identity next to my photograph. I decided this meant something, that our identities were entwined with these official identities, with these prints and these papers. In the following three years, I collected similar images and fingerprints from different women in Iran. Each was different from the other, and had a story to tell.,

It's a very personal take on how politics and ideology affect one's identity at the most basic level and we are delighted that Amak will be speaking about this, and other work at Photobook Bristol 2016.

The book (which is a Bristol production) is looking great, so Pre-order Shenasnameh here.

_MG_9073 copy

Confirmed speakers for Photobook Bristol 2016.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Mariela Sancari; Making the Difficult Look Easy

We are delighted to announce that Mariela Sancari will be speaking at Photobook Bristol 2016.

Mariela is best-known for her great book, Moises (which she launched at Photobook Bristol 2015 - we knew it was good from the start!),

Moises was certainly one of the most interesting books of 2015 both for its content and its form. It's a book with a story, a difficult story, but Mariela tells it beautifully.

In 1990, when Mariela was 14 years old, her father (the Moises of the title) killed himself in Argentina. It was a devastating loss, a loss made even harder by the fact that Mariela never got to see the body - the casket was closed, she wasn't allowed to see the body (which, according Jewish burial law is seen as 'contaminating'). He was buried without her ever seeing him. There was a double loss, the loss of a father, but also the loss of the possibility to grieve, to look at him for one last time, to finally know who he was.

So he died with Mariela never knowing who he was. His memory faded and there was no grieving process (and you can read about photography, grief and the importance of seeing the body here) to cling on to. In her young mind, her father was a mystery, a mystery that grew darker and more sorrowful as she grew into a young woman.

That's why she made the project, as an attempt at closure, as a way of re-knowing the father that she had lost, whose personhood had been stripped away by the act of not-seeing.

To start the project, Mariela put a small-ad in local newspapers in Buenos Aires. It showed a picture of her father and asked for volunteers to come forward who looked like him, who would be the same age as him if he had lived.

And so people came forward and Mariela photographed them; they are simple portraits, but show these men dressed in the clothes of Moises, clothes that somehow still remained due to this state of non-grieving. The faces of these men bear the marks of age, of defeat, of sadness, and resignation. The end picture shows one man combing Mariela's hair, the ghost of her father present in that action, the grieving somehow advanced through the very act of making the work, of making the book.

It's a very moving book, in a way that few other books are ( L'Amoureuse by Anne de Gelas is less well-known but equally moving). What marks it out is the way it has been made, as a gatefold where the pages merge into each other, where the matter-of-fact portraits of these sad-looking men merge one into another, where there's a beginning and an end, where the emotional complexity of the story is told through the apparent simplicity of the finished work.

She makes it look very easy. But it's not.

More on Mariela Sancari here
See L'Amoreuse by Anne de Gelas here.

Mariela is one of many photographers speaking at Photobook Bristol who have made books that focus on specific events or times in their lives, so there is a biographical thread to this year's event.

Laura El-Tantawy: Revolution, Return and the Spectre of Hope (In the Shadow of the Pyramids)
Dragana Jurisic: War, Exile and the Disappointment of Return (in Yu)
Ivars Gravlejs: School, Revolt and the Art of Photography (Early Works)
Amak Mahmoodiaan: State and Childhood (Shenanasmeh)

If you're interested in the biographical photobook, Blake Morrison's Guide to Confessional Tropes in Literature is a subject that is tangentially related and might be useful.

  • Spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings (Wordsworth) or free association (Freud)

  • Confession as an apologia or self-justification, a strategic bid for sympathy and admiration

  • Confession as a desire to shock – the memoir as a screaming tabloid headline

  • Confession as the desire to redefine what is shocking; to nail the hypocrisy and shallowness of polite society

  • The drama of the ego. Confession as performance and showmanship, its natural arena not a secret cloister but a soapbox or a stage

  • The confessional memoir as a piece of truth-telling – its primary impulse being to set the record straight, to bear witness

  • Confession as catharsis, cleansing, or purgation