Thursday, 6 February 2020

Showcase city

Photobooks titled Inside Korea really mean Inside Pyongyang, for a photographers to wander around the rest of the country would be rather unusual. As the city was significantly destroyed during the Korean War it provided an ideal opportunity for the authoritarian leaders to create a showpiece city and this what the photos in the book reveal. The various photographers have minders suggesting what to photograph and the best angle (to avoid including anything in the shot that would look too negative). Of course the result of this interference means that the city looks very antiseptic and lifeless, devoid of any hustle and bustle of a typical city.

The six chapters: City views and housing; Monuments; Museums; Sport; Leisure; Pyongyang Metro offer a good exterior overview of the city and as with other books I've seen the Metro is usually the last chapter. The many high rise housing blocks look impressive from the outside but missing are any photos of what kitchens, sitting rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms actually look like. In the rest of the book there are some interiors but they look very lifeless and posed.

These photo of Pyongyang make the place look quite impressive and it provides living quarters for most of its citizens who are civil servants and the military, unlike the rest of the countrie's population who have to live and work in much less opulent surroundings.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

More laughs than a barrel of monkeys


 What could be better than two beautifully printed books with three thousand New Yorker cartoons, I'll tell you: two beautifully printed books with three thousand New Yorker cartoons and a 250 theme index. So now, depending on your mood, you can laugh at cartoons about desert islands or bananas or jargon or nerds or while you were out or thinking outside the box and dozens of others. 
I thought the theme idea lifted the books above the 2004 published 'Complete cartoons of the New Yorker' containing 2004 printed cartoons and two CDs with 68,647 since the weekly started, the only theme in that chunky book was the decades. As well as the themes, editor Bob Mankoff has written various sidebars about particular types of cartoon humor and each page has the name of the cartoonist and the publication date. A nice touch is the use of the New Yorker typeface for various headings throughout the two books (the type was originally designed by Rea Irvin, the weeklies' first Art Editor and then Linotype commissioned Gert Wiescher to create additional weights).

The two books, with 1516 pages in a smart slipcase, will provide plenty of insight on the meaning of life and when you are not looking through them they make a handy doorstop.


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Welcome to shabbyland

I've three other books of Andrew Moore's remarkable photos: 'Blue Alabama'; 'Dirt meridian'; 'Detroit disassembled' and on the strength of those I thought I would get 'Russia' too. I'm pleased to say it didn't disappoint because the 120 photos, at least to me, perfectly capture the feel of this huge country. Though it's called 'Russia' so much of what is revealed is actually left over from the Soviet Union. If you look closely at so many of these images the poor quality and general shabbiness of buildings, either inside or out, becomes apparent. Only prestige infrastructures, like the Moscow Metro for example, has a feel of quality about it.

Moore's photos capture people and their environment rather than the beauty of the countries natural landscape. There are several wonderful shots of homes rich in detail revealing that Russians love to fill their rooms with books, greenery and artistic bric-a-brac on walls and shelves. The photos are particularly varied, Plate two is the stern of an icebreaker in dry dock. Plate twenty an executive office of Izvestia, Plate sixty-seven huge empty waiting room of Solovki airport. Plate 114 the interior of the St Petersburg's Museum of the arctic and antarctic. Fortunately the back pages have thumbnails and captions about many photos that made me ask 'What's going on here'.

The book is pleasant production, printed on a matt art with a two hundred screen and published in 2005 so I doubt that what these photos reveal has changed much in the last few years.