Category Archives: Snapshots

New posts coming

I am obviously behind on this blog. And now I’m more behind: I brought back a pile of books from my trip to Seoul back in November of last year (1, 2, 3). So there’ll be new content here soon.

In particular, I plan to write about Listen to the City’s Protest as I think it presents a number of useful things to think about in the current political climate. A number of the things I wanted to write about have already come to pass–major protests here in the US and considerations of how to maintain political action in order to effectively affect change rather than simply channel anger or disappointment.

And there are some fluffier books that are more fun to talk about.

And a new conversation about considerations when building a library for an academic institution. It’s been conducted, I’ve just got to find time to transcribe it…

Something for everyone.

Good stuff.

Memento One & Two, Seung Woo Back

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Other peoples’ photographs are strange. This couple embracing on the bed: why does he still wear his shoes while she is barefoot? How tame must a reindeer be to accept food from a human’s outstretched hand? Who’s bicycle is that on top of those two humps of hay on the road? Why is it humorous when an old lady looks through a howitzer of a telescope but oddly unsettling when a man in dark sunglasses looks over a ship’s rail with a pair of binoculars? Who are all of these people? And who took these photographs?

What is going on here?

IMG_20150601_104237Photographs are rich in physical facts: what someone wore, where someone stood, who they stood beside, what they were doing. Snapshots serve to jog our memories of why the physical world was in this state and how we felt about the experience of being in that place at that time. Unmoor snapshots from the personal memories that give them specific meaning and they become mysteries open to interpretation and invention.

IMG_20150601_104413This is a conceptual performance of sorts. Back poses a question and allows his chosen editors and then we, the readers, to work out the answer to it. Back collected over ten thousand vintage personal snapshots from across the US and selected 2,700 to print. These prints were then presented to eight people (one being Back himself) who were asked to select a set of eight images. These people were invited to add text to photographs if they wished. Memento One and Two are each a cardboard box containing half of the selected photographs. The “prints” are snapshot sized offset reproductions, but their varying paper base colors and surface textures mimics the feeling of flipping through a stack of old photographs. Some photographs are annotated with dates or captions in English or Korean while others are unadorned with text. Several images repeat–often with different text on them. One image of two men skeet shooting towards the ocean appears three times. As readers, we are free to rearrange and mix and match our own sets of images.

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This design choice, of loose unbound prints, mirrors the premise. What do these photographs mean? To whoever took them? To ourselves? In some absolute way? Loose prints place the onus on the reader who becomes an active participant in the performance: a kind of detective. The reader must interrogate the stack of prints seeking clues in small fragments of meaning. Who knows if she will find the true meaning through this process of close looking, but she must come to her own conclusions as to what is going on here.

IMG_20150601_104150Memento One & Two
Seung Woo Back
Essay by Hyeyoung Shin
Designed by Yeoun Joo Park
Courtesy of Gana Art
Published by IANNBOOKS
(no year of publication listed)
Selection One: edition of 400
Selection Two: edition of 400

Shattered, Pyokisik

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Writing about Sogyumo Acacia Band on SeoulBeats, Ambika describes Song Eun Ji’s vocals as “breathy but clear,” and concludes that “their songs are great for sitting back and enjoying the interplay of sounds.” These descriptions could be applied equally well to Pyokisik’s first book of photographs, Shattered–and the comparison is apt as Song writes the introductory essay for the book and the musical duo appears in several of the photographs.

Photography is a record of light on surface–but not simply the light reflected off surfaces before the camera. At its core, photography is the record of light passing through a lens’s optical surfaces and falling on the surface of the recording medium. (Ignore for the moment lensless and experimental photography.) Light is distorted at each link in the imaging chain. Pyokisik’s photographs show the world through surfaces that distort it or reflected in imperfect mirrors. The optical and chemical systems through which they are recorded cause their own distortions. There is a loose and casual snapshot quality to them. This is a personal narrative being subjectively delivered.

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The photographs in Shattered have a deep atmospheric quality that plays on these distortions. The opening image is of a bush with the sky behind. It is distorted here and there by water droplets on a surface through which the photographer pointed his camera. A softness pervades the image. (This image appears on the cover as well.) The atmospheric show continues: Light through a wooded scene; flare turns the left hand side of the image to orange flame. A couple sits on a rock outcropping looking across a bay towards a city lit up in the twilight; a long exposure has blurred the scene and the point light sources bleed into the evening haze enveloping them. A woman’s hand holds a half-smoked cigarette; the middle of the frame is lost to lens flare while the top of the frame is out of focus foliage.

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Song’s essay is nearly as abstract as the photographs to which it provides context. It can be summed up thusly:

…I have gained clarity in this such as: what am I able to do and what I am not able to do, or between what I think I know and what I do not know, or what I am interested in and what I am not interested in and lastly between what I like and what I do not like. Perhaps, I have come to know how to best reduce the energy of anxiety in my mind.

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Clarity is not something that is in ample supply in Shattered. Song closes her essay with this line: “It will all be alright because nothing is stranger than the fact that something is missing in the world.” If we are to take Pyokisik’s photographs as the world, then there is much missing in or elided from them. They present a beautiful view of the world, however much it might be distorted. I am left, however, with questions: Given Sogyumo Acacia Band’s appearance in a handful of the book’s photographs, I wonder if Shattered is about them or if they are merely part of Pyokisik’s social circle? Is there an underlying psychological meaning? Is the anxiety and the hint of depression that Song writes about what ties these photographs together? Are they about being unmoored from the world, a pane of distortion separating the world and the self?

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In the end, I am left with beautiful breathy images that toy with the interplay of light on and through surfaces. Many of these images would find a happy home on someone’s wall. Myself, I find an image of smoke in front of a window set in a concrete wall and reflecting a blue sky to be endlessly fascinating. The world is shown as layers of distortion, reflection and hazy elision.

The photographs in Shattered are beautiful, and the book itself is a lovely object beautifully printed on alternating signatures of coated and uncoated paper stocks and a stitched binding without boards. However beautiful, I do not know, quite, what it all means.

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Shattered
Pyokisik
Edit: Jeong Eun Kim
Design: RAAH
Assistants: Hyunjung Son, Sina Kim
Printed in Korea: HeeWoo.com
IANNBOOKS
2011

Franticham’s Polaroid Correspondence

Printed Matter’s annual NY Art Book Fair was held at PS1 a couple of weekends ago. It was crowded and noisy. And there were a lot of people there too.

Several weeks before the fair, I noticed on the list of exhibitors one exhibitor from Korea: Antic-ham. I clicked over to the artist’s site–a mix of drawing, collage, printmaking and photography. It is by turns playful, sexy, political and personal. Weaving all of this together is bookmaking. I ordered half a dozen books on the spot, which I enjoyed opening immensely.

At the NYABF, I made a beeline to the Red Fox Press table, which Antic-ham shared with Francis van Meale of Red Fox Press. Together, Francis and Antic-ham are Franticham. They make art as individuals and as a couple. I purchased a couple of their joint books at the fair, of which Franticham’s Polaroid Correspondence was one. It seems like the perfect encapsulation of their relationship and bookmaking. Distance, cross-cultural dialogue, collage, mail art, and Polaroid photography mix with heady emotion.

On the title page of the wire bound volume, the book explains its genesis:

During 6 weeks Francis in Achill Island and Antic-Ham in Seoul exchanged by mail their experiences and feelings with A5 postcards with collage and using Polaroid pictures made with SX-70 cameras and color Silver Shade PX films from the Impossible Project.

Newspaper clippings, packaging, stamps, address labels, drawings and Polaroid prints are collaged together. The Polaroids are captioned with personal notes and dated. These were posted back and forth. They appear to be further collaged in the book making process. They make references to shared experiences in Seoul, hint at a future together in Achill Island and riff on the longing and quotidian realities of the six weeks that lay between the before and the ever after time periods.

Correspondance is a kind of oppositional companion to Oksun Kim’s Happy Together. Kim’s book of photographs of inter-racial Korean/Non-Korean couples is informed by her own inter-racial marriage but maintains a cool detachment through an anthropological process. It examines these relationships. Franticham’s book, in contrast, is entirely personal. It is messy, raw and emotional. Dada and Fluxus sensibilities are at play throughout. Happy Together feels clinical (or, perhaps, too close to home). Correspondence feels exciting, honest, alive.

The physical book furthers this sensibility. Like Franticham’s and Anticham’s other books, Correspondence doesn’t take itself too seriously. The wire binding, handmade collage front cover and roughly printed pages (color copier?) are loose, loving and playful.

[To be clear, their dedication to their art making and book making is entirely serious. While I would consider their art making to be more termite than white elephant, their large screen printed publications are amazing and beautiful, though unfortunately too rich for my budget. I highly recommend checking out these other books, which include London Palm Trees, Grand Bazaar and New York New York, if the opportunity presents itself.]

Franticham’s Polaroid Correspondence is delightfully earnest and heartfelt. Neither making grand claims nor engaging cosmic truths, it takes the reader on a voyeuristic romp through the couple’s long distance creative embrace. This author, for one, wishes them many productive years together.

Franticham’s Polaroid Correspondence
Franticham (Francis van Meale & Antic-Ham)
Red Fox Press
Edition of 69, numbered and signed
2012

Bonus: A package from Anticham

We’re on a break here at Korean Photography Books, but I have a quick bonus post for you.

The NY Art Book Fair is coming up. I took a quick look through the list of exhibitors on the off chance there might be a publisher I could reach out to regarding an interview, and lo and behold there is one from Korea. A small publisher. A self-publisher, really.

Antic-Ham is a Seoul based artist who makes wonderful artists books by hand. Her books meander through photography, illustration, collage, assemblage and poetry. I purchased a handful of photo centric books through her site. They arrived neatly wrapped–like gifts. I’ll definitely be writing about these books either individually or as a group this fall. In the meantime, everyone loves a good unboxing so below is the unwrapping of the books.

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I’m looking forward to visiting the NY Art Book Fair at PS1 in September and hopefully connecting with Antic-Ham–the person and the myth. Antic-Ham, if you’re reading this, I would love to conduct an interview if you can fit one into what I assume will be a very packed schedule.

Fragments in Scene, Jaeyulee

An Acela Express train is whisking me back to New York City, but I’m already there.

Jaeyulee’s Fragments in Scene is open on my lap. It is suffocating and cacophonous. Photograph after photograph bombards the reader. A compressed tonal scale and a rough half-tone accentuate the visual density of the individual photographs, which run helter-skelter across the gutter. The pace is relentless. There is nowhere for the eye to rest. New York City screams from each page.
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Casual Pieces 1, Hasisi Park

A friend wrote an essay for the Carl Andre catalog that accompanies his retrospective at the Dia:Beacon. We accompanied she and her fiance, another friend, to a preview of the exhibit before it opened to the public.

During a brief welcome talk, Yasmil Raymond noted that artists make both “Art” with a capital “A” and “art” with a lower-case “a”. A number of Andre’s lower-case “a” artworks were presented as a means of showing his artistic process. There was also a video piece that she took pains to note showed him “conceiving” a work of art. He wasn’t making a work; he was conceiving a work.

A selection of photographs taken by Andre (lower case “a” art pieces) could be read as a visual keystone to understanding his conceptual process. The photographs were of steel plates on roadways, paving stones piled on curbs and heavy wooden support beams: the observational raw materials that became his structured conceptual works.

These got my mind working to categorize photographers between observational and conceptual. The last several books reviewed here have been very much conceptual in nature: photographs created to fulfill a central concept. While these can be incisive, they can also be too clean or become illustrative and repetitive. I thought it would be good to change pace and segue to something a little more observational, a little more raw.

One of the first SSE-P zines I acquired was Hasisi Park’s [jjim jil bang] Korea. It came up in the review of the SSE-P project. Park’s straightforward photographs always held something back obscuring as much as they revealed. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for her name.
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untitled (Annual Image Book), Go Dae Gun, Yoo Byung Seo & Lee Yun Ho

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After interviewing the crew at Corners, Jimin and I took a cab over to The Book Society. During the brief taxi ride I tried to describe what made a book interesting to me. The essentials of my explanation was that I liked highly idiosyncratic personal photographic visions published in object like book form. At The Book Society, she pulled a small volume off of the small publishers and self-published shelf and, holding it out, said, “I think you’ll like this one.”
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In Between, Taeyoung Kang

As usual, I returned from Seoul with a suitcase full of books. Because of my limited time for browsing for books during my brief trips, I generally err on the side of caution and buy a book if I see some detail that I think bodes well: a design flourish, a single image that catches my eye, a weight or density. This generally works well for me. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Taeyoung Kang’s In Between is full of promise. The simple and distinctive Aprilsnow Press’ cover design with a photo tipped into the bright red linen is an opening salvo. It calls out from the book shelf. On a cursory glance through, there are numerous wonderfully composed and engaging photographs.

A WB Yeats quote from “Sailing to Byzantium” sets the book’s tone: “Whatever is begotten, born and dies.” The first several pictures take this cue and run with it. The first picture is two empty shell sitting beside several small plants in loose soil; the caption tells us this is in a cemetery. It is followed by a pair of landscapes of the tombs in Gyung-ju; in the first, two boys wearing white back to back stepping away from one another as though dueling; in the second, picture there is only one boy, crouching. The next picture is a boy playing in a ruin; he appears to levitate off the ground, his head poking into a window in the ruin. From this strange and slightly unsettling opening, the book begins to wander.

The wandering is literal and figurative. We are brought to France, back to Korea, then on to Mauritius, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the US, Turkey, Jordan, Italy, Germany, Syria and England. All are revisited throughout the book. It is a whirlwind world tour of the everyday: street scenes, still life vignettes, grand landscapes and portraits.

Though we may travel the world, we are not among a family of man. This is not some grand statement of unity. Instead we are in a space of “between-ness”. In our shifting location we are never “here”; we are always moving between. The photographs hover between light and dark: a young girl on the edge of a pool of light steps out into the dark surround; a boy hides behind a lamp post’s silhouette before a luminous background of dirt; a man directly under a light in a restaurant covers his face; a young woman at a bar sits in a pool of light looking out at the crowd surrounding her recede into darkness. We are often divided from the subjects we view: they are half hidden by other objects in the scene; they are partly erased by reflections in glass; or they are covered by shadow. Or the we catch a moment between moments: a pair of people in mid-step, their weight neither still on the top step or yet on the bottom step; a man leaning over to lift a brazier of coals, his hand pulling on its handle but not yet taking its weight.

This is a book that I wanted to like it and expected to. There are many lovely images and as an object the book is nicely designed, printed and put together. It looks great on my book shelf. Any number of the photographs would look wonderful framed on the wall. However, the wandering is too great. We cover too much territory. A third of the images could have been left on the editing table. Flipping through the book too many images pull me from the rhythm and disrupt the flow. I can’t find reason for transitions between images; I’m not sure what I am meant to come to understand through reading this book.

In Between
Taeyoung Kang
with text by Kay Jun
Edited and Designed by Kay Jun, Jeong Jae-wan
Proofread by Kang Young-gyu
Translated by Angelina Gieun Lee
Printed by Munsung Printing
Published by Aprilsnow Press
First edition January 2013