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Alexander S. (Paris, France)

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The Reluctant Father
The Reluctant Father
by Phillip Toledano
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Reluctant Father, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Reluctant Father (Hardcover)
At the age of forty, photographer Phillip Toledano became a father. But as Toledano discovered in the minutes after his daughter was born, "There's how you feel, and then there's how you think you should feel...Was I overwhelmed in a tsunami of love? Not really." Toledano's book, The Reluctant Father, follows one man's journey at the beginning of fatherhood. Over the course of his child's first eighteen months, Toledano goes through torment, dismay, and confusion. He loses sleep, finds his relationship with his wife radically altered, and gets to know the ins and outs of the "baby industrial complex". And throughout this process of self-doubt and guilt, we watch as he falls in love.

The book is personal, honest, and, most refreshingly, entertaining. The Reluctant Father is equally worthwhile for a serious photography lover and someone who's never picked up a photobook before. Some photobooks are justifiably difficult, the kinds of objects that painfully reveal glimpses of the irresolvable contradictions of the human predicament. This isn't one of those books and that's perfectly fine. In fact, its straightforward simplicity is what makes it such an uplifting joy to read.

--Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at[...]

Andreas Müller-Pohle Hong Kong Waters: Hong Kong Waters
Andreas Müller-Pohle Hong Kong Waters: Hong Kong Waters
by Oscar Ho
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: £28.21

4.0 out of 5 stars Hong Kong Waters, 22 Jan 2014
Lost in almost every 21st century photograph of Hong Kong is the importance of water. Although the modern city rises up and away from the sea, the city's history and culture will always be immersed in the ocean. Photographer Andreas Müller-Pohle, having finished his Danube River Project in his native Germany, came to Hong Kong and decided to look at the city from an original (and originary) perspective.

The result is Hong Kong Waters. Müller-Pohle photographs the city from its harbor, from its reefs, from under its bridges, from its lake and its rivers. The results are both simple and thought-provoking. The photographs not only evoke Hong Kong's history specifically, but a whole host of global questions: our treatment of the world's oceans, the prospect of rising sea levels, the future of our cities.

And yet, the most haunting images are not topical or political, they are contemplative. They split the frame in two, showing the brightness and hyper-reality of the surface world against the silence and peace of submersion. In a city (and world) defined by commerce, speed, and technology, these immersive photos feel especially valuable. A wonderful book, strongly recommended.

--Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at [...]

by Simon Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pierdom, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: Pierdom (Hardcover)
For his latest book, Pierdom, British photographer Simon Roberts has travelled the coastline of Britain to create a comprehensive and fascinating photographic record of the country's remaining pleasure piers, an homage to these monuments of Victorian engineering and eccentricity.

The book is, at once, a historical catalogue and a compilation of British seaside landscapes. Historically, the book shows how the pleasure pier reflects Britain's changing relationship to the seaside, from the early links with the Romantics, to the engineering feats and technical advancement of the Industrial Revolution. But the book is also a love letter to the British coast, capturing the landscape at its most romantic (sunset) and its most realistic (rain) with equal affection.

Fitting for a photographer whose last book was titled, We English, this book feels British, through and through. The subject matter of the book -- the piers and the seascapes -- combine with the careful exactitude of the book itself to capture a time, place, and cultural sensibility.

The book closes with a quote from a particularly British writer, the poet Sir John Betjeman: "Piers provide a walk on the sea without the disadvantage of being seasick and are havens of fresh air and freedom which we can ill afford to lose".

If you find yourself agreeing with Betjeman's words, this book is for you.

--Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at LensCulture

Viktoria Sorochinski - Anna and Eve
Viktoria Sorochinski - Anna and Eve
by Viktoria Sorochinski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £33.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Anna and Eve, 22 Jan 2014
"It is impossible to find out who you really are. Mirrors are always crooked or somehow otherwise blemished. Even if someone manages to find an absolutely pure mirror, his eyes will still play tricks on him. And it's not possible to simply peek inside. Alas, this is each person's mystery."

--Eve, age 10. Translated from Russian.

Over the course of seven years, Russian photographer Viktoria Sorochinski photographed a mother (Anna) and her daugher (Eve) as they both grew up as Russian immigrants in Montreal. Sorochinski was drawn to the pair as she saw how Anna, in her early 20s at the beginning of the project, was more like a sister than a mother to the precocious Eve. Through a mix of fantasy and documentary, Sorochinkski shows how the two grew together and came to understand the world around them.

The book's often whimsical photos are counterbalanced by the book's text: the flinty yet simultaneously naive series of observations written by Eve when she was just 10 years old. The text, as the quote above indicates, is a pleasure, combining child-like innocence with piercing perceptions. The book seems to grow along with its subjects, getting beyond its fairy-tale beginnings. But while Anna and Eve grow up and appear ever more adult in our eyes, Eve and the book maintain the importance of fantasy to the last page: "Adults just think they don't need fairy tales".

Like the best childhood stories, Anna & Eve creates a fantasy world that also sheds light on the real one. By looking through Eve's bright blue eyes, we are reminded of the world's beauty, its sad realities, and, lest we forget, its moments of magic.

-- Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at LensCulture

SImon Menner: Top Secret: Pictures from the Archives of the East German STASI: Bilder aus den Archiven der Staatssicherheit
SImon Menner: Top Secret: Pictures from the Archives of the East German STASI: Bilder aus den Archiven der Staatssicherheit
by Simon Menner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking series, 22 Jan 2014
Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives plumbs the immense collection of intelligence and photographs once gathered by the Stasi, East Germany's secret police. Menner spent two years with the Stasi's archives, which contain some 1.4 million photographs. During his research, Menner realized how "the public has very limited access to pictures showing the act of surveillance from the perspective of the surveillant. We rarely get to see what Big Brother sees".

East Germany's Big Brother was big indeed. Almost 300,000 people worked for the East German secret police, per capita far more than were employed by agencies such as the CIA or the KGB. For decades, these agents worked hard at documenting their fellow countrymen, hoping to detect any trace of disloyalty.

Almost anything could be considered an act of rebellion -- from displaying posters of Elvis, to owning West German coffee-makers, to passing by the U.S. embassy. These formerly secret, highly official photographs show agents and employees putting on professional uniforms, gluing on fake beards, and staging arrests.

Top Secret, like the agents it depicts, is many things at once. It is a visual processing of German history, an examination of contemporary surveillance issues, and also a darkly funny photobook. But at any point when the photographs appear to be tipping over into the realm of the absurd, of the completely unbelievable, we are reminded that these are real photos of real people who systematically spied and reported on their neighbors and family members.

It is also interesting to note that Menner was completely denied access to the equivalent dated archives of pictures from British and American archives.

These photos might seem farcical when they are safely out in the open and referring to a time and place that feels far away. But they also remind us that there are millions and millions more photographs just like these that aren't nearly so funny at the moment. Today's equivalents reside in Big Data storage centers or in a Cloud somewhere in cyberspace, no fake mustache required.

Menner's book is smart, well-researched, amusing, historically grounded and contemporarily relevant. To get in the mood, we suggest you sit down with the book while sipping a martini, dry, shaken not stirred.

-- Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at LensCulture

Here, Far Away
Here, Far Away
by Pentti Sammallahti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £37.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A glowing review of this great work, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: Here, Far Away (Hardcover)
Here far away is the first major retrospective book of the leading international photographer Pentti Sammallahti. It covers more than forty years of work and unfolds in almost as many countries. The book was released in 2013 simultaneously by a group of European photography publishers in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Sammallahti's native language, Finnish. It deserves even wider global attention.

His exquisite black-and-white photographs are quiet, but overflowing with affection, humor, joy and delight at what he discovers in nature -- ranging from vast landscapes and urban settings populated by animals, to people out in nature, part of it, engulfed by it. There are interludes that seem like scenes from a movie or an opera, and still life studies that are just perfect.

The "characters" in his images often appear like whimsical cosmic winks -- magical unlikely juxtapositions and interactions, such as two pigeons who seem to mimic in unison the exact stride of a statue of Charles de Gaulle that towers above them, or hundreds of white swans surrounded by even more dark-feathered ducks at a crowded pond in the middle of a field. His sense of photographic composition is poetic and musical, and the images he makes require foresight, planning, a bit of luck, and a lot of patience.

Sammallahti is recognized as a master craftsman both in terms of his photographic eye and his expertise in photographic and mechanical printing methods. He has designed and printed many small photobooks throughout his career, each a work of art in itself. His innovative printing techniques and his reintroduction of the portfolio form have been a major influence on published photographic art. And as far as we know, he does not subscribe to the art-world concept of limited edition prints that increase in price as the remaining prints get scarce -- he wants to share his joy and his work with as many people as possible, so he keeps his prices amazingly low for an artist of his stature.

Sammallahti is a master and this retrospective book is a masterpiece. But despite its superb quality and artistry, the book, like the artist, is exceedingly unassuming. The title, Here far away, represents this duality. Many of the pictures appear simple enough: a man walking down a path, a flock of birds in flight, a loyal dog in pursuit of its master. These all appear in the "here", the now, the concrete present.

The book doesn't rely on captions or titles (although the locations and dates are shown in the back pages). It's not important where, when, or what exactly is being depicted. The longer we spend with these photographs, the more they subtly, wordlessly, begin to point to something larger, something "far away". The "far away" can't be definitely determined and it's likely that each viewer's "far away" will take its own form and personal association. But that is the power of Sammallahti's work, starting with something simple and immediate and bringing the viewer to a wholly unforeseeable place.

As Finn Thrane writes in the introduction:

"Sammallahti's work is ensured a long life, because with his photographic images he steps outside time and instead grapples with the great mysteries that existence offers the curious: love, death, spirituality, nature -- key existential concepts that he would hardly allow to pass his own lips, but would instead be all the more willing to show."

This work enriches its viewer each time and is worth returning to over and over again. Highly recommended.

-- Alexander Strecker, assistant editor at LensCulture

The Itinerant Languages of Photography (Princeton University Art Museum)
The Itinerant Languages of Photography (Princeton University Art Museum)
by Eduardo Cadava
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £27.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile for any serious photography enthusiast, 22 Jan 2014
From its inception, photography has been about the incessant circulation and exchange of images. The meaning and cultural relevance of a photographic image thus changes constantly. Through 85 photographs from public and private collections in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United States, The Itinerant Languages of Photography explores the movement of photographs across time and place, offering a transnational history of photography that draws new attention to the work of both well-known masters and more emerging figures.

The project takes its point of departure from the idea that photography, as a set of different practices and technologies, resists being fixed in place--that the photograph assumes its full meaning only after it has been reproduced and displaced. Tracing historical forms of traffic and displacement in photography over time, the project focuses on four different manifestations of itinerancy--photographs, revolutions, subjects, and archives--each of which considers a different aspect of photographic movement.

The scope of the undertaking is mind-boggling, bringing together artists, intellectuals, and archives from three continents and as many centuries. Given its academic pedigree, the book is densely intellectual. The accompanying essays presuppose familiarity with the writings of Roland Barthes, Italo Calvino, Walter Benjamin et al. And yet, the overarching theme of photography's reproducibility and constant re-dissemination feels immediately relevant in our digitally-dominated, image-saturated era.

The Itinerant Languages of Photography is certainly not for the faint of heart or short of attention, but it is a timely and important effort, worthwhile for anyone seriously interested in the intellectual questions of the medium.

--Alexander Strecker, LensCulture assistant editor

by Nina Poppe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £33.26

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ama-San, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: Ama (Hardcover)
In Japan, they are known as Ama-San, a title that conveys a great deal of affection and admiration. And yet, hardly anyone is aware of what these courageous and independent women actually do.

So, who are the Ama? These legendary fisherwomen of the Japanese island of Ise-Shima dive for abalone, using no equipment, in water that is up to 30 meters deep. Abalone is a type of sea snail that is considered a delicacy and that commands high prices. For over two thousand years, this Amazon-like community has persisted, through technological, social, and environmental change.

Why are the Ama only women? A traditional Ise-Shima saying, quoted at the beginning of the book, gives one idea: "A woman who cannot feed a man is worthless." Since time immemorial, the image of man as hunter has been the epitome of masculinity. But Japanese lore dictates that men become chilled faster when in water, so the hunt for abalone has traditionally been a woman's domain in Japan.

The uniqueness of this story drew German photographer Nina Poppe to this isolated place in Japan. After spending some time with the Ama, Poppe chose to document the everyday life of the divers. Poppe has the eye of an anthropologist. She shows how their way of dress is simple but effective: they wear white scarves to scare sharks and to make themselves visible from their boats. They give a piercing whistle before they dive into the water to maximize their lung capacity. They live by the beach, drying their equipment out in the sun while waiting for their next chance to dive.

Poppe never shows us what's happening underwater though. The only images we see are reproduced from an older photographer's book on the subject, titled "The Island of the Fisher Women". Poppe also chooses to not depict any men. We do see children though, a welcome presence that softens the toughness of the hunter women.

Yet even the ageless Ama are not wholly immune to change. Over-fishing, pollution, and cheap imports have reduced the viability of their profession, leading the younger generation to move away in search of easier jobs and better money.

This is a community that is both timeless and irrevocably changing. Poppe captures this transitory moment effortlessly, showing us a window into the past which may soon be shut forever.

--Alexander Strecker, LensCulture assistant editor

Alexander Gronsky: Pastoral / Moscow Suburbs
Alexander Gronsky: Pastoral / Moscow Suburbs
by Alexander Gronsky
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Masterpiece, 22 Jan 2014
In his photographic project Pastoral, Alexander Gronsky portrays the outskirts of Moscow. Here, he finds places where humanity tries to find a refuge far from the city, only to collide with the endless nature of urban expansion.

As Mikhail Iampolski writes in the introduction, "The title of the cycle is ironic. A pastoral always depicts a rural idyll, in contrast to the life of city dwellers, to whom it is addressed. In Gronsky's cycle, the cardinal difference between the rural, the natural and the urban is lifted. This particular pastoral is not about a contrast, but about an indefinite transition. "

The space explored lives "in between", suspended between the known city and the other side, a quickly receding, fragmented idea of nature. Gronsky is a landscape photographer at heart. His skillful use of perspective and talent for composition lead the observer's eye deeply into the landscape, generating a sense of astonishment for every place portrayed in photo. But simple astonishment deepens into something more complex as we take in the layered images: glimpses of skyscrapers and industrial parks can be seen in the distance between the trees, open beaches lie surprisingly close to the confines of the city.

And of course, these pictures are not only natural landscapes, as human presence is a constant. But what kind of human presence is it? Seemingly insignificant. At times, the human being become almost indistinguishable from the waste in which they frolic. As Iampolski writes, "If life spreads here, outwardly from the city, why are the new constructions so empty, as if the population had already abandoned them? Is this an end time or a beginning time?"

Yet these are not lifeless, unemotional photographs. Although the perspective can appear objectifying, faceless, and absolutely, coldly precise, there is an even deeper feeling below. The photographs relate with their environment in such a direct and immediate way that Gronsky's revelation of the world resonates deeply within us, the viewers. While we don't feel the presence of Alexander Gronsky himself, his images convey his vision as purely as anything could.

--Alexander Strecker, LensCulture assistant editor

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