photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Architects may come…

...and architects may go

in Book Reviews , Monday, October 10, 2022

Last night I finally finished reading the epic “Venice, the city and its architecture”, by Richard Goy (Phaedon Press, 1999). Let’s say that again, epic. And heavy too, both physically and intellectually. Although not having any architectural knowledge at all, some of the terminology made it quite hard going for me, it is actually a very readable and quite fascinating book. I wish I had read it years ago.

I’ve tended to turn my nose up at the more monumental structures of Venice. I’ve only been inside St Mark’s once, and the same goes for Doge’s Palace, although in both cases that is in large part due to my aversion to queuing for anything (including ice creams). Not all that long ago there were still times of the year where Venice was not in the slightest bit crowded.

However having read this book cover to cover (which requires some dedication) has given me a significant new perspective. Understanding the human context under the skin of all these epic piles puts them in a very different light than that shed by the usual by-numbers guidebook commentary.

“Venice, the city and its architecture” was actually published over 20 years ago, and is not all that easy to find these days. I noticed a copy in the window of a bookshop in Venice earlier this year, but decided it was too heavy to carry around with me. I did try to get the shop to send it to me, but they adhere to standard Venetian passive agressivity and refuse to have anything to do with any concept invented later than the 18th century (then they’ll be whining they had to to shut down and sell to a Chinese tat vendor, but that’s 21st Century Venetians for you). Anyway. The type setting in the book is pretty weird. Very, very small paragraph text, with titles even smaller. This makes it uncomfortable to read, not principally because of the small type, but also because this leads to line lengths which are painful to scan. No pain, no gain I guess.  Also most photographs and illustrations are bafflingly small for such a large book. The editors did not do a good service to the author, which for a publisher with the reputation of Phaidon is really quite baffling. Still, I guess it was a miracle it was published at all, I doubt that it would be in today’s TL;DR era.

The book goes beyond a description of architecture, which is just as well, as I’m totally out of my depth when it comes to any discussion of pediments, orders and a whole bunch of terms which just as well be Martian to me. Particularly interesting is the extensive section on the Ghetto and the Jewish history of Venice. It also describes just how it was possible to build the city and especially these massive structures on a semi-submerged collection of desolate mud flats. The invisible foundations of Venice must be at least on a par with the pyramids or the Great Wall of China in terms of unimaginable scope and (manual) effort. It puts everything in a historical and political context, right until the 20th Century. And the author extends to a discussion of everyday vernacular buildings from the earliest days onwards, although this is one section I’d like to be a bit more detailed. For me the near endless cataloguing of churches did verge on tedious, but then again, the city’s ridiculous number of churches are fundamental to its social fabric.

Probably to get the full benefit of this book, you need to be better versed in the history of art, and perhaps certain basics of architecture, than I am, but nevertheless, if you, like me, are irretrievably hooked on the charms and mysteries of La Serenissima, then “Venice, the city and its architecture” is a must have. Next time I visit I’ll be looking at the city with an enhanced perspective.


Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, October 10, 2022 at 11:24 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Luca Campigotto’s Venice

a belated discovery

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Venice is a recurring theme on this blog, and always will be. I’m hardly the first person to be fascinated by the place, but it can become a borderline obsession at times. It is of course a subject for photography, but for me it is much more than that. What fascinates me is the essential unreality of the place, and what it must mean to belong to and live in such an unlikely city. I can quite happily wander around the streets and canals without a camera, and even with a camera, by and large the photographs I come back with are not going to interest many people.

I also have a habit of acquiring vast numbers of books about Venice, photographic and other. Venice photobooks have a very strong tendency the feature the obvious: the Rialto bridge, the Grand Canal (and the Grand Canal from the Rialto bridge), the Piazza, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs. Toss in a few gondolas and carnival masks and you’re done. Not that the photography in these cases is necessarily bad, far from it. But it represents the monumental and symbolic Venice, and to me that’s really not so interesting.

Somehow in all these years I’ve managed to miss the work of Luca Campigotto. Luca is both a high level professional photographer and a native Venetian, and has published a series of photobooks on Venice (amongst other themes). I happened to discover one of these, “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” in probably the last remaining genuine bookshop in Venice, Libreria Studium. Based on what I wrote above, the cover of Storie d’aqua, featuring a shot of the Bridge of Sighs, gave me reason to pause, but after a few seconds of flicking through the pages I was sold - big time. There is certainly a significant number of photos the standard scenes in the book, but these sit alongside some almost unbearably atmospheric shots of truly vernacular Venice, a lot from my favourite area of Castello. Throughout the photography is of an extremely high standard, both in composition and execution. This is without a doubt, for me, the best Venice photobook I have seen to date.

But wait - there’s more. This is not Luca Campigotti’s only Venice photobook, and of the others, one is an absolute must. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” takes us inside the largely inaccessible, forbidden zone of the Venice Arsenal. Even today the Arsenale is a military zone, and can at best be glimpsed and not visited. So apart from the high standard of photography in “L’Arsenale di Venezia”, it also reveals facets of Venice which are completely inaccessible to most. What does get revealed is a landscape of largely industrial decay. The book was published in June 2000, and if I understand correctly, access was in part possible due to a temporary opening of some areas to house Biennale installations. The photographic medium would appear to be medium and/or large format film, and it shows in some high contrast shots, although not to any detrimental effect. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” is more specialised than “Venezia, Storie d’acqua”, but it is equally beautiful, absolutely fascinating and I strongly recommend it to fellow Venice obsessives.

The third book I have is also the oldest (the price on the dustjacket is in in Lire!). “Venetia Obscura” was published in 1995, and is a book of nighttime black and white photography. Actually both black and white and nighttime are two more of the standard tropes around Venice photography, but “Venetia Obscura” again, rises above these. The content of the book soon shows that “obscura” can be interpreted in more than one way, dark, certainly, but also obscure, shadowy, hidden. At the extremes the photography verges on the eerie, but always atmospheric, and never forced. It’s another beautiful collection, and again if some better known locations are thrown into the mix, these are counterbalanced by some much less travelled areas, in this case including the Lido and even Marghera.

It seems to me that Luca Campigotti pretty much owns Venetian photography. I’m not sure why he doesn’t have a higher profile, especially in the city itself. Maybe he does, and I’ve been too blind to see. The depth and breadth, but most essentially the soul in his work goes way beyond the surface scratching that most accomplish. A lot of photographers use Venice as a means to show their skill. Luca Campigotti instead puts his skill at the service of Venice. For me his photography acts as some kind of validation - while my own accomplishments are way inferior, at least somehow I feel the direction I’ve been trying to go in is justified.

Unfortunately these books are not that easy to find. While I bought “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” from Libreria Studium (who are yet to discover the Internet), the other two I obtained directly from Luca. If you’re interested, the best place to start is his website,

Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, August 03, 2022 at 04:19 PM • PermalinkComments ()


“Vigilante” by Andrew Molitor

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, April 20, 2022

I’ve kind of stopped outward communication for quite a while. I’m having one of my periodic diversions into mediuming rather than messaging, and as usual I’ve been sucked into a maelstrom of indecision.

So funnily enough the subject of this return is quite on topic, as it is really does conflate medium and message to a remarkable degree.

The topic is a book, I think, although maybe I isn’t. It’s certainly art, and it indisputably takes the form of a book, and it is called “Vigilante” by Andrew Molitor. But I guess the book is just a record of a performance.

[Actually before I go on I should express my extreme guilt at taking so long to write this, but well at least I’m writing it before any of the other things in my mental backlog]

“Vigilante” tells a tale lasting a few months over the summer of 2021, during which Andrew posted a series of surrealist takes on the standard lo-fi local advert with tear of strips. A bit like this.

IMG 7985

I won’t bother describing the contents any more, since you can see much better for yourself in the Blurb preview. Go away and have a look, and I’ll grab a coffee and continue when you’re back.

I imagine that some clever Master of Fine Arts could write quite a treatise on this, using all sorts of clever erudite words like signify, zeitgeist, post-modem and stuff like that. I guess post-modem is wifi? Anyway I’m not really up to that.  What I get out of Vigilante is just a lot of fun, an offbeat sense of humour but also a sense of re-engaging with the world after the pandemic decade. Very unserious but very serious at the same time.

It’s also has a significant self-deprecation undercurrent, to the extent that one wonders if the author is actually British (I guess Bellingham WA is almost Canada, so close enough). Although I’m certainly no authority, my feeling is that “Vigilante” is actually a much stronger and sincere work than the average conceptual dross found in most galleries.

IMG 7986

And then ... the idea of seeing the book as a “just a record of a performance” is actually cleverly detonated on the last page, where the reader is invited to step through the looking glass.

Vigliante is low key in all respects, but also a wonderfully human work which should bring a warm glow and a smile to anybody lucky enough to read it.

You can and should follow Andrew Molitor here.





Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at 06:01 PM • PermalinkComments ()

Chasing Awe, with Gavin Hardcastle

Not your average photobook

in Book Reviews , Friday, October 08, 2021

I’m not a huge consumer of YouTube videos. At least, I wasn’t, until the universe flipped and I had more couch time than I knew what to do with. Initially YouTube was a rabbit hole of ancient music videos and British comedy shows, but gradually I became aware of photography channels. Now, any YouTuber who starts off with “Hey Everybody” is going to get cut off before he’s finished saying “..s’up???” (and it always, always he). And anybody droning on about gear has usually lost me before he (ditto) starts. But gradually I did discover a few photography channels worth watching, at least for a while. And thanks to YouTube’s algorithms, I eventually became aware of some apparently very strange videos. And so unwittingly I stumbled into the the weird world of Gavin Hardcastle, aka Fototripper.

You’ll have to see for yourself. It is impossible to describe the blend of comedy, pathos, romantic intrigue, bitter rivalry, catastrophe and arresting photography that blends into a Fototripper video. In the infinite world of the interwebs I suppose there must be something else like it, but I’ve certainly never seen it.

Gavin manages the balancing act of taking his photography very seriously, while not taking himself seriously at all. It wouldn’t work unless his photography was excellent, but it does, and it is. He makes hours of intricately plotted and beautifully produced entertainment on YouTube absolutely free, so I felt it only fair to give something back and buy his book (this idea of giving something back is, I know, weird, and will doubtless be the ruin of me, but so be it).

In keeping with everything else, this book, “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle” is like nothing else I have ever seen. I can imagine some of the more straight-laced landscape photography community (i.e 99% of them) spluttering their Theakston’s Old Peculier* all over their 4x5 field cameras at the first page, and the average photobook seller having a coronary. Let’s say Gavin doesn’t entirely follow the Rules of Photo Monographs.

Each photo is presented together with a narrative describing how it was arrived at, and by that I mean more how he arrived more or less one piece on the spot, rather than some dry technical process description. Of course this could also easily descend into Heroic Frozen Beard Nothing To Eat For 45 Days Except My Boot Leather Just To Get One Photo standard pattern, but…. no, it doesn’t do that either. It is warts and all, with various bodily functions thrown in. It’s often hilarious, and always compulsive reading.  And guess what, the irreverent style doesn’t in any way detract from the photographs.  There is actually a short description of capture and processing details with each photo, but these are comfortably banished to their own little section. I’m sure they’re important for some people, but I really couldn’t care less.

Well, that’s not entirely true: I am slightly astonished at the complex processing Gavin goes through with most photos, with multiple exposures of multiple focus points and intricate layering and masking to arrive at an end result. I’ve tried to get into this myself, half-heartedly, after all, I know the tools pretty well, but almost always I find I can get to where I want to with a few minutes work on a single frame. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m stuck in a rut, maybe I’m just a crap photographer… maybe it’s just fine that we all have our own ways of doing things.  Then again, Gavin is famous and I’m not…

I buy photo books because I’m interested in them, not to reinforce some kind of confirmation bias, which is another way of saying that I’m not only interested in photography which drives in the same lane as my own. I’m pretty sure that if I visited the same locations at the same time as Gavin has, I would end up with quite different photos. So as a reader and viewer, I enjoy and appreciated the photos in “Chasing Awe”, but as a photographer, generally I’m looking for something else. I can also freely admit that any photos I did take at the same time and place would almost certainly be of interest to few people except me!

There are a few light criticisms I could make of the book. First of all, the layout and design - frankly it could be a bit better. In particular the typeface is strangely large. Personally I’ve found that when creating any kind of print publication digitally (say in InDesign or whatever), font sizes that look perfectly fine on screen always look too large in print.  This in turn tends to set the photos in a slightly reduced light. They deserve better. There are a few minor typos too, but, well, who am I to criticise? Personally I can’t write a single sentence without needing about 5 corrections.

This is all minor stuff, but nevertheless, possibly a consultation with a book designer could be a good idea for the hopefully forthcoming followup.

Also, this is not a criticism per se, but the book really is closely linked to the YouTube channel, both frequently cross-referencing each other, and I’m not sure it would be particularly attractive to a reader unfamiliar with the channel. Indeed, I’m not sure such a prospective reader would be willing to pay the quite high price. It would be nice to see some kind of follow-up in a more classic form, similar perhaps to “Quiet Light” by Gavin’s frequent YouTube collaborator, Adam Gibbs (who also contributes an in-theme foreword here).  But then again…

I ordered “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle”, and it took its time to cross the Atlantic by (sea)snail mail. But I devoured it from end to end within 6 hours of it being delivered. It’s a fun read, showcases great photography, has a real feelgood atmosphere, and all in all is breath of fresh air. Obviously, highly recomended.

*I’ve been gone a long time. Is that still a thing?

Posted in Book Reviews on Friday, October 08, 2021 at 11:35 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Sebastian Copeland - A Global Warning

is “autohagiography” a word?

in Book Reviews , Monday, March 29, 2021

I’m not quite sure how to approach this book review. Mainly because I’m not quite sure what drove its publication. Sebastian Copeland has been publishing eco-activist photography books about polar regions for a while now: “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev, “Antarctica, a Call To Action”, foreword by Orlando Bloom, “Arctica, The Vanishing North”, foreword by Sir Richard Branson, and now “Antarctica, The Waking Giant”, foreword by Leonardo di Caprio. Do you see a pattern emerging there?

Copeland cover

Let’s be clear, we need as much clear, informed, balanced and accessible information on the impact of climate change as we can get. But when this drifts towards self-glorification, I’m not sure it helps. For example, the various inventive ways which “explorers” find to establish firsts in Antarctica is getting a bit wearisome. Fine, it’s quite an accomplishment to be the first non-gender specific person to hop single-footed without airborne support (but with all kinds of emergency beacon…) from the Pole of Inaccessibility to Mawson’s Crack, but wrapping this up as some kind of environmental action is just mistaken - at best.

Sebastian Copeland is at least partly in that community. Apparently a fairly wealthy chap, he gets up to all sorts of escapades In The Name Of The Earth, roping in his famous buddies, and every now and then persuading a publisher (never the same one) to publish his latest selection of snapshots.

He may be on message, but he doesn’t put a lot of effort into broadcasting it. I recently watched a webinar he gave on “how can polar photography help bring about change?” under the umbrella of the Antarctica Now series run by the Shackleton clothing company. His presentation was shambolic. Even accepting that maybe some technical issues were out of his control, it was blatantly clear that he done zero preparation and was just winging it. He certainly did not address the topic of the presentation. He appeared to think it was enough that he had turned up. He’s a famous photographer, you see. The contrast with the effort put in by all other presenters in the week’s other presentations was stark.

So, ok, let’s ignore all that and look at the photography.  For a start, if you already happen to own “Antarctica, A Call To Action, Foreword By Orlando Bloom” (pub. 2009), then you may want to skip “Leonardo Di Caprio, The Waking Giant, Foreword By Antarctica” (pub. 2020), as it includes pretty much all the photos of the first book (itself a retread of “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev.”). Since Copeland is one of the few photographers to have ventured well into the East Antarctic plateau, it would have been interesting to see what a photographer could make of that unique landscape. Unfortunately we get very few photos of this area. Admittedly it is not obviously photogenic, but is certainly open to interpretation and imagination, and presents a challenge one might expect a truly talented photographer to rise to. Instead what we get are largely tourist-level snaps of the Antarctic Peninsula (and, to emphasise, a large number of these previously published), clumsily over processed to make things seem darker and gloomier than they really are, to fit in with a political message (and I’m saying this as somebody who is 200% onboard with the political message). I don’t want to sound arrogant, but frankly I’ve got better photos of Antarctica than most of these in my rejects pile.

This is then all interspersed with various diatribes on eco-disaster and confused popular science. Sebastian Copeland presents himself as a “climate analyst” but his Wikipedia entry states “Copeland began his career in New York City directing music videos before moving on to commercial directing as well as professional photography with credits including fashion and advertising, album covers, and celebrities”. Whatever, his explanation in “Antarctica, The Waking Giant” of why ice is blue is the most convoluted I’ve ever seen. Here’s a snippet: “unlike air, which contains all three colours, water holds only green and blue hues”.

Of course, I’m just an opinionated bad tempered old git with a vastly exaggerated idea of my own knowledge and skills, but you might want to consider what Michael Reichmann had to say about “Antarctica, The Global Warning”, foreword by Mikhail Gorbachev.  And by the way, Gorby was pretty good at destroying the Soviet Union and abandoning its people with no backup plan, but I’m not sure of his credentials either as a photographer or a climate specialist. Finally, the list of testimonials on Copeland’s own website rather speaks for itself.

Copeland sos

The SOS image to my mind is particularly contrived as well as rather pointless. It puts me in mind of Spinal Tap’s stonehenge stage prop. The people involved in creating this montage were clearly somewhat at risk, needlessly so, and the fact that the whole contrivance is dwarfed by even this limited view of the landscape kind of negates the message. Reading Copeland’s account of how it was created, it’s difficult to understand given the complete failures of planning and logistics why he even discusses it. Of course, the same photo is repeated in all his books.

Don’t buy this book. It is not about Antarctica. It is not about climate change, It is about Sebastian Copeland’s need for acclaim. Probably he doesn’t get enough likes on Instagram.

To answer the question “how can polar photography help bring about change?”, I would rather refer you to the brilliant, softly spoken but hard hitting work of Olaf Otto Becker.  His beautiful photography - for example, “Above Zero”, from the Greenland Ice Sheet, is largely allowed to speak for itself. There was also real risk and danger involved in getting these photos, but Becker isn’t into self-glorification. Another commendable alternative would be Melting Away by Camille Seaman, to which the same criticism of over-darkened imagery could be applied, but at least is free of the whiff of hypocrisy and the self-glorification.

Persuading the world of the perils of climate change is a necessary and commendable activity. Grandstanding, attention grabbing and name dropping in order to build up a personal mythology, less so. That the photography all this is constructed around is at best unexceptional is neither here nor there in the wider scheme of things, but it certainly doesn’t help.



Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, March 29, 2021 at 11:18 AM • PermalinkComments ()
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