Thursday, 7 December 2017

...and neither side gives an inch

This piece of rather nondescript countryside one hundred and fifty-four miles long and two and half wide manages to produce some fascinating photos of two worlds facing each other. The DMZ is a relic of the Korean War which ended with a truce in 1953 (so North and South Korea are still legally at war) and created this no man's land strip between the countries. Photographer Park Jongwoo was commissioned by a South Korean newspaper to capture the DMZ at its sixtieth anniversary of the start of the war. He mentions in his intro that to take the photos he had to get permission from every military jobsworth involved in the running of the DMZ.

The photos certainly reveal an unusual mix of the natural landscape with miles of barbed wire, sometimes three rolls wide, concrete walls, small square guard posts and huge command posts surrounded by more barbed wire, metal posts and painted in arbitrary colors. They look very temporary but have probably been there for years. One chapter covers Panmunjom (where endless peace talks are held) and it's the only place in the DMZ where both sides actually face each other, mere yards apart, military police control this area with the South Koreans wearing bullet proof helmets and sun glasses while on duty.

Jongwoo spent three years on this commission photographing everything through the changing seasons (and Korea has a significant amount of snow) following regular patrols on land and rivers and as the place has an undisturbed middle there are several photos of wild life free from man but not landmines.

The book is divided into nine chapters, each has a brief essay followed by pages of photos which are mostly spreads, I thought it was a bit unfortunate that single page photos actually butt together in the book's middle. There are no captions because all the photos bleed of the page. The final chapter: The North, has twelve photos of North Korea showing a rather forlorn collection of houses and other buildings plus a shot of their flag flying from the world's tallest flagpole. I was surprised that there was no mention of the roads that cross the border, the Kaesong industrial area has factories paid for by South Korean companies and use North Korean labour to make goods (mostly for China) but South Korean managers regularly travel between the two countries though at the moment travel is banned.

Overall an intriguing book of photos revealing in detail a unique man-made place.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Come home with a cable car

A worthwhile souvenir of your children's visit to San Francisco. Open the string bound folder to find an upright book and two punch out models to make, one color printed and the other waiting to be colorized. The models are 6.5 inches long by 2.5 high and these can be placed on the inside of the folder which is printed with a street surface and a turntable that can be rotated. The model is car 52, maybe you travelled on this when you visited.

The twenty page book has an illustrated route map of the three lines (and oddly includes the F Market and Wharves tramline) how the system pulls the forty cars around their routes with a top speed 9.5mph and other bits of history and facts and figures including a cutaway illustration of a car. Did you know the underground cable is only 1.25 inches thick!

The complete pack is a handsome design job by Kit Hinrichs and written Delphine Hirasuna.

Wire man

Anyone familiar with Friedlander's work knows that he can't resist a chain link fence, they keep people out (or in) but they're useless in stopping photography. He's been looking through them for over fifty years with the biggest selection, up till now, in his 2004 book Sticks and stones: architecture in America.

This new title has ninety-seven wonderful shots of chain links dividing the background into hundreds of little diamonds, of course, the best fences are partially broken ones where the diamonds get stretched into unrecognisable shapes and when Friedlander finds one of these he playfully likes to include his shadow in the shot.  The chain link doesn't always cover the whole image, lots of the photos have the fence only half-way up the frame or maybe a corner post with the fence occupying just an upright half of the picture.

The photos cover fifty-four years with the first one from New York in 1963 (taken when Friedlander was only twenty-nine) a beauty of a double fence with what looks like a two foot gap so extra uprights and horizontal sections are added into the mix. The latest shot is from Santa Barbara in 2016.  The last image in the book is Freidlander's face close behind some broken chain link and looking at the camera.

Long time Friedlander collaborator Katy Homans did her usual immaculate book design and Steidl printed it with a 175 screen, no jacket instead a photo tipped onto the front and back covers.

Surely it's only Friedlander who can use an incredibly mundane product like a chain link fence and deliver page after page of photos full of fascinating detail of what is behind the wire.  

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Reveals yesterday and probably today as well

Tria Giovan visited Cuba several times in the 1990s and the 120 photos in the book have been selected from the thousands she took during these visits. The photos, now some years old, have assumed a slight green and ochre cast which gives them extra credence as historical evidence.

Giovan went out of her way to capture the everyday, interiors of houses, doorways, a kitchen and bathroom, lounges, bedrooms, queues outside an ice cream kiosk, inside a hairdressers, getting on a bus, kids playing in a park, relaxing on a beach and lots of street shots showing the crumbling infrastructure, years old paint, broken windows with tape over the cracks (several of these).

I thought this was an excellent selection of Cuban photos from the recent past though I wonder how much of this has changed since the photos were originally taken, Cuba imports between 70% and 80% of its food (amazing for what is essentially an agricultural economy) the US prevents the country from joining the IMF or the World Bank so cheap loans to the state aren't available, rationing persists with some food essentials costing virtually nothing though expensive when bought in a local farmer's market. The difference between Cuba and other central American countries is the absence of huge wealth for some and poverty for the majority.

My only criticism is that none of the photos are captioned, were the street scenes taken in Havana, Santiago de Cuba or maybe Camaguey, where was the cinema on page 40 or the train going to on page 159. Despite this minor point I found it an interesting photobook. The presentation is straight forward with one photo a page and well printed by Damiani on matt art paper with a 300 screen.

This book of photos is a worthwhile look back at one countrie's attempt at equality for all and despite the odds still struggling on.