photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

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, www.lucacampigotto.com.

Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, August 03, 2022 at 04:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Another Place Press

happy birthday to you!

in Book Reviews , Monday, October 19, 2020

Time to confess to another addiction: Another Place Press photobooks.

APP is nearly 5 years old, and since its birth, has been a prodigiously frequent source of publications remarkable for their consistency of quality of both form and content. APP is run by Iain Sarjeant, himself a fascinating photographer, and has a focus is loosely aligned with Iain’s own work. I suppose I would describe this as an intersection between landscape, street and reportage, found also on the pages of the associated Another Place blog. The boundaries are clear, but with them there is vast room for a variety of voices, approaches, and styles.

APP follows certain guidelines: first, authors do not pay to get published. Second, costs and prices are kept under control by keeping formats small and fairly standard - although with plenty of scope for creative design. With some 40 books and short-form zines published, this seems to be a sustainable model. One can contrast with Triplekite Press, which sadly appeared to crash and burn under the weight of an unsustainable ambition (although I’m guessing, they never made any statement as far as I know).

While every APP book is different, they have certain things in common. Design and production standards are very high, layout and sequencing also. The cost of standard editions is usually well under £20, which is excellent value for money. If you want to get away from the Look At Me! world of Instagram, and the Look At My Gear! world of YouTube, reading and studying these photobooks is a path back to sanity and enjoying photography as art and personal expression.

I guess if one is looking for downsides, it could be said that the overall feel of the APP catalogue tends towards the melancholic. Being a miserable old git this strikes a chord with me, but perhaps limits the audience a little. Note however there are exceptions.

Personally while I enjoy and find inspiration in each book I buy, they do leave me with a certain sense of frustration that I cannot myself aspire to this level of coherent expression or quality of photography, but at least I can get some sense of residual satisfaction from supporting the authors and APP itself.

Generally I think the whole photo community owes a debt of gratitude to Iain Sarjeant for bringing the work of so many unsung talents to light, and for his dedication to this project. I’m sure it has been far from easy. Here’s to the next 5 years!

Postscript

I certainly haven’t bought every publication from the APP catalogue, but from those I have, here are 4 of my favourites:

photo of 4 books

 

Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, October 19, 2020 at 05:57 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

For your reading pleasure

elitist, moi?

in Book Reviews , Friday, October 09, 2020

Some two years back, news emerged on the intrawebs of a new online magazine called MediumFormat.  This appeared to be a collective effort, with at its core, a terrible trio of Ming Thein, Lloyd Chambers and Patrick LaRoque. My immediate thought ws “there’s no way I’m going to pay money to read the shallow ramblings of these three tedious egomaniacs”, which may be seen as a little harsh, but is pretty much a reflection of my prickly personality. So I ignored it.

Fast forward to lockdown hell, when I was rapidly running out of displacement activities, I saw a reduced price offer on the magazine, giving access to the whole archive. Since it appeared that the influence of the above trinity had dwindled, and under editor Olaf Sztaba there seemed to be some depth of content, I took the plunge.

October2020

It was a good move. MediumFormat has rapidly progressed to become a genuinely interesting and very well curated magazine, with insightful interviews and articles featuring both well and lesser known photographers. It has also moved away from being technology oriented - recent issues have practically no gear content. The latest issue has raised the bar further with an interview with Michael Kenna, and clearly the plan is to carry on at that level.  Early issues confirm my personal opinion of Ming Thein as terminally dull and didactic. Patrick LaRoque continues to come across as somebody creating a stylish echo chamber to provide confirmation bias to insecure owners of Fuji cameras. At best, just an enthusiastic gear head.  However my opinion of Lloyd Chambers was pretty much reversed.  His website remains dreadful, but under a good editor he actually comes across as as a thoughtful, engaging chap and a pretty good photographer.  His technical articles in MediumFormat are genuinely useful, and quite approachable.

In fact MediumFormat puts me in mind of another undeservedly maligned magazine, to which I’ve subscribed for quite some time, LFI (Leica Fotografie International). I do not own any Leica cameras, and have no desire to change this. I have no axe to grind against Leica, but they do not produce any cameras which would comfortably address any needs I have. And in fact, LFI keeps the gear side of things well isolated at the back of the magazine. This part is indeed to be taken with a grain of salt, consisting mainly of hagiographic articles on Leica gear written in complete isolation from the rest of the market. Still, they’re entertaining at some level.

Umschlag EN

The rest of the magazine is something else entirely and comprehensively lays waste to the idea that Leicas are bought only as bling by elderly doctors, dentists or “The Chinese”. The photography portfolios are widely varied but almost always excellent, and come from a wide range of photographers, from legendary to (so far) unknown. The reasons for using Leica seem to be mainly down to usability.

While the linking attribute is the photographers use Leica cameras, this is not pushed at all in the text. Clearly pretty much all of the photography shown could have been taken with devices from other companies, here Leica is essentially used as a filter.  The playing field is also pretty level - certainly the cameras do not have to be current models, nor are more lowly models excluded. Forum trolls who constantly rag on Leica and Leica users could do worse than glance at a few copies of LFI.

I actually had the pleasure to meet some of the LFI editorial team a few years back, all shockingly young and enthusiastic. I mentioned to one that I could never afford a Leica, and the reply was “neither can I, but I love to see the work done by those that can”.

So, there you go. If either of these two magazines are mentioned online, most of the response will in the form of insults hurled at Leica, Hasselblad, etc and (especially) their owners. But if you are more interested in excellent, varied photography than silly partisan fanboy wars, you might like to give these a try.

Posted in Book Reviews on Friday, October 09, 2020 at 12:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Undertow, by Frances Scott

tracing the landscape

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Undertow, by Frances Scott, is one of the most recent publications from Iain Sarjeant’s innovative and energetic Another Place Press. Like all of Another Place’s output, “Undertow” is small, beautifully designed and excellent value for money.

Undertow2

It’s quite difficult to pin a genre on “Undertow”. The closest I can get to is landscape reportage, but that could make it sound superficial, which most certainly is not. On the surface, Undertow is a travelogue of sorts, recording Frances Scott’s tracing of the coastline of her home, Orkney Mainland, an island off the north coast of Scotland.

The sequence of black and white photographs is complemented by spidery traces of GPS tracks of the various coastal walks which join together to circumnavigate the whole island. Along with some of these come captions joining the factual (time spent) with the highly impressionistic, for example “Forty-eight minutes - Wintry waves, small black cat”.

The photography will not win over the classic Wild & Wonderful Landscape Photographer. It surely isn’t meant to. There are some pure landscape scenes, but they share space with whatever else populates the coastline, be it random junk, disused military installations or fragments of wrecks. Personally in a way I wish the photos were colour, not monochrome, but I can also understand why colour would detract from the overall effect.

Undertow3

I don’t really have the erudition required to place Frances Scott’s work in artistic context, but two fairly random reference points for me which Undertow stands up well against would be Fay Godwin (especially, and obviously “Islands”), and Marco Paoluzzo (for example “Føroyar”).

In the introduction the author concludes with the thought “By walking these coastlines ... I’ve found a new sense of belonging”, which is a feeling I can identify very strongly with.  Personally, having no real roots, I’ve often found meaning in wandering around areas local to where I work and live, gathering together photos and thoughts, building up a narrative for myself. I’ve also at times started to attempt to put these collections into some form of publication, but I’ve never really achieved anything.

“Undertow” is quite charmingly successful at nailing down such a sense of place.

Posted in Book Reviews on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 06:16 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

“Norway Texas” by Gianni Galassi

troll-free zone

in Book Reviews , Monday, February 06, 2017

I’ve been an admirer of Gianni Galassi’s photography for quite some time. His cool, stark abstracts drawn largely from Italian architecture manage to combine precision and emotion in a way this kind of photography rarely does. I was ever more impressed after seeing his exhibition of large scale prints, Elogio Della Luce, in Venice a few years ago.

He has produced a series of books, mainly I think self-published through Blurb, and recently announced a new one which was a bit of a departure from his usual work. “Norway Texas” is a collection of photography of vernacular architecture from coastal towns along the Norwegian coast, from Bergen to the Russian border. The title draws not only attention to the parallels of the depicted scenes with the constructed landscape of the Mid West and Great Plains of the USA, but also explicitly to the cinematic atmospheres created by Wim Wenders.

norwaytexas1

Gianni Galassi works more frequently in black and white, but this book features exclusively colour photography, which I think is an appropriate choice. The perspectives are generally a touch wider than much of the work published on his web site. These two aspects combine to remind me a little of the more romantic side of New Topographics school, with perhaps a little more warmth and saturation to the colour palette.

The streets and buildings of “Paris, Norway” are devoid of people. Now and then a vehicle or a lit window might hint at habitation, but otherwise it’s an abandoned world. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but to me this gives the collection a slightly unsettling feel.

norwaytexas2

It would seem that a Norwegian coastal cruise threw Galassi into a rather unfamiliar context, photographically speaking, and he responded by putting together a rich and remarkably coherent body of work which is significantly different to his usual style. Physically, the book design is nicely done within the confines of what Blurb allows, and the medium size softback format gives enough space for the images to breathe while keeping the price at a manageable level.

“Norway Texas” is a subtle work, which keeps pulling me back in. You’re not going to find any fjords, trolls or waterfalls within its pages, but you will find a compelling vision of parallels in frontier communities, expressed through very fine photography.

Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, February 06, 2017 at 05:57 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

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