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Paris Photo/Offprint etc.

I recently returned from Paris Photo, that enormous commercial fair for galleries from all over the world. While I was impressed by certain work such as from Silk Road Photo in Teheran (photographers living and working in Iran– thanks Abbas), I had the overall sense that imagery was growing larger and more about nothing. Somehow there seems to be an inverse relationship between meaning and the price of the print; when I ran into some Robert Doisneau images I felt overwrought at their humanity.

But the Offprint book fair near Place Voltaire was stunning. The range of small publishers, the risks they take, the cultures they represent, had a diversity and energy that Paris Photo’s main space lacked. It was rare to find the standard photo book with a white page and centered image, but rather books that were offbeat in layout and imagery with enormous energy. One book from Japan, it was explained to me, had a single photograph cut out by hand because the photographer no longer wanted to include it. Monica Haller’s exquisite collaboration with Riley Sharbonno (Riley and His Story) is a therapeutic apocalyptic rendition of what it meant for Riley to serve as a nurse in Abu Ghraib, to lose his memory and his “normalness,” and then to try and retrieve it by re-living the experience in what Haller calls, on the cover, not a book but a “container for unstable images, a model for further action.” Or, as she puts it, “Here is the formula: Riley and his story. Me and my outrage. You and us.” It is the book from our recent wars that explores the soldier’s life most ferociously, spreading nightmares, empathy and astonishment, playing with the form of the book to evoke her college classmate’s harrowing narrative as soldier/nurse. Are we surprised that it was published in Paris?

So the photographic book, reinvented, is very much alive. But based on my recent experience, photographs themselves are another matter.

3 Comments

  1. Camera5 wrote:

    Refreshingly honest feedback from Paris Photo!

    “…when I ran into some Robert Doisneau images I felt overwrought at their humanity.”

    Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  2. Ed wrote:

    Doisneau comment - I still think there will always be for every era singular voices that speak directly through the warmth and intelligence of their view. The issue now is one of being overwhelmed by the huge variety of creativity from, well, everyone - and all the transmedia dross it’s mixed up with, undiscerningly.

    So your comments on the Offprint book fair show there is hope! Thanks for that.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  3. Jordi wrote:

    Great to read about that Offprint book fair, thanks for review. Only thinking that maybe it’s time to find new ways, and probably stop naming it books will be a good way to go forward.

    Totally agree with late madness on size of prints. Tired of seeing big prints, and I really mean big ones, of images that will work much better just very little.

    Also agree with your last reference to photographs. We have new tools, new ways of presentation, but still searching the way forward.

    And thanks for your words!!

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

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