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 (0)

OK | CANCEL

“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.

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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.

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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 (0)

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 (0)

Set in stone. By Me.

self-promotion at its finest

in Book Reviews , Monday, May 11, 2020

It’s been quite a struggle, but finally a few fruits of creativity under lockdown are beginning to emerge. The first, completed a few weeks ago, had to wait for the physical evidence to be announced, and this arrived today.  My “proof” copy of a small Blurb-produced book, which I’ve called “Set In Stone: glimpses of Valle Verzasca” was delivered this morning by UPS, and I’m pleased to say it looks pretty good.

Set in Stone front cover

According to my self-penned, er, blurb:

“South of the Rhone Valley and the Gotthard massif lies the Italian-speaking Swiss Canton of Ticino. And while Ticino certainly has it’s fair share of tall peaks, the highlights, geographically speaking, are to be found in and around a series of glacial valleys descending from the high snowfields, with tumbling rivers feeding into the Maggiore Lake. Any one of these valleys, including the Maggia, Calanca, and the Centovalli, would keep most landscape photographers busy for years, but the jewel in the crown is the Valle Verzasca, through which the river of the same name runs. The Verzasca valley is around 25km long, stretching due south down from the village of Sonogno, through an endless sequence of cascades, rapids and gullies until it reaches the artificial Lake Vogorno. The bedrock of the Verzasca river is mainly gneiss, and over the millennia this has been eroded by the current to reveal fantastic banding and layering patterns in the rock, which in turn has been sculpted into spectacular forms. The transparent dark green and emerald waters and the scattering reflected light from the surrounding forests come together to create countless surreal and unexpected scenes, both wide and intimate. I am fortunate enough to live close enough to the valley to visit pretty much on a whim. The photographs in this small book are gathered from nearly 20 years of such visits. Yet on each visit I discover something new.”

It feels good to have this done. Nobody will buy it of course, but that’s not the point. What matters is that it draws a line under years upon years of seemingly aimless and unstructured photography and ties into a coherent project which I feel pretty satisfied with. Although this location is getting more or more well known, both by general tourists and photographers, to the extent that now (well at least up until current events) it has ended up being a no-go area from May to October, I haven’t seen much in the way of physically published photography from the area.

I have tried to select a format which keeps the price at least manageable. And it actually looks nicer than I expected. For my previous foray into Blurb self-publishing, I chose a what is practically a deluxe hardback format, which really does look nice, but ends up with an absurd price tag.

It would be tempting fate to say that this is the first of a series, but I do have some ideas…

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Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, May 11, 2020 at 01:56 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Primavere Toscane

publishing empire launches today!

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I have an announcement to make: I’ve finally managed to complete a project, and have self-published my first book, on Blurb.

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Still in the plastic wrapper

To be honest, “Primavere Toscane” is a very personal project, and was partly a kind of dry run, in advance of several other ideas I have in mind. It is a slim volume, weighing in at a mere 40 pages. Here’s what I have to say about it:

For over a decade, every springtime has been marked for me by a short visit to an area of Tuscany, just south of the city of Siena. This book is a distillation of hundreds of photos taken over these years, in the same places, and the same time of year.

Hundreds, if not thousands of photo books celebrating Tuscany have been published. The landscape, the towns and cities, the people, the culture, the food, even are richly visual and deeply attractive to photographers. Many of these are strongly biased towards the misty, early morning light, to the classic vistas across the Val d’Orcia, and the golden light illuminating the farmhouses and rolling hills. Certainly I’ve been drawn to these too, and this book does contain a few examples of such scenes. But more and more I’ve been attracted to the stronger, even harsh full daylight, which we landscape photographers are told to avoid. The problem with the morning light, apart from the fact that early morning in Tuscany is usually painfully early in late springtime, is that it ends up showing a very romanticised view, representing only one aspect of the complex character of the region.

I’m certainly not going to claim to do any better at representing all facets of Tuscany, or even the small area within which these photographs are taken, but I do hope to show a personal interpretation rather than replicating the work of celebrated authors.

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I decided to go the full DIY route, creating the layout in InDesign, and preparing the photos myself. For creating the layout, I used JPG proxy images, and then created exact size CMYK versions, sharpened at the output size. It was a lot of work, but the results are good. I chose a hardback format, and heavier Proline paper. Two things came out of that: 40 pages is barely enough to fill out a hardback format, and the Proline paper is nice, but has a degree of print-through, which surprises me. Only a little,but still. For subsequent printing I think I’d select Proline coated. The selection of paper stock is a bit of a pain with Blurb, and they could make it easier. For example, I have a couple of Blurb books by other authors, but I have no way of telling which stock they are printed on. But generally, the Blurb experience is great, apart from one eye-watering detail: the prices. They’re just way too high.

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The photography in the book is a mixture of “normal” and panoramic frames, and was edited down from about 700 shots. It is roughly divided into thematic sections, but these are not labelled. I’ve set it so you can flick through the whole thing on the Blurb site, using their preview tool.

If you get a chance to have a look at the preview, I’d love to hear what you think. I may create a PDF version for download sometime, but that will require a completely revised layout. Blurb’s “auto PDF” generator produces truly abysmal results.

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Wow. I’m a (self) published author now!

Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, May 06, 2015 at 10:47 PM • PermalinkComments (5)

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