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.