Thursday 11 April 2024

Two weeks in Kimland

An interesting selection of photos revealing the closed country of North Korea. Photographer Zaidi was no doubt accompanied by a minder during his two-week visit but during that time and minder permitting, he managed to take enough that capture the feel of the country and its ramshackle economy. With just over a hundred photos of the countryside, cities and especially the capitol Pyongyang. It's worth saying that the quality of life in the capitol is far better than in other cities and vastly superior to those who live in the countryside.

I thought one of the strengths of the book are the many pictures of people going about their daily lives, going to work (walking, cycling, or on a bus) fishing, teaching children in a classroom, having a picnic, looking at official statues and more. It's well known that traffic cops, in the cities,  are girls just past their teens and the caption for one photo says the job is a really prestigious one, rather ironic because traffic is nearly non-existent and I doubt they would be able to handle a traffic jam.

Worthwhile though the contents are I think the book has a couple of flaws. The paper (a good matt art for the 200 screen printing) is too thick for the book's size so it can't really be opened nearly flat, all the pages curve from the center spine. The other problem is that the captions are all on the last two pages. The reader has to keep flipping backwards and forwards to find out about a particular photo. Rather annoying because a slight adjustment to the layout would allow all the captions to be with their pictures.

Incidentally, Bing maps has some excellent aerial images of the country, good enough to see the occasional vehicle on a city street,

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Burtynsky's world view

This remarkable book of Burtynsky's photos is published in conjunction with his major exhibition at the Saachi Gallery in London. It's a celebration of his forty-five years of capturing the work of man on the world's surface and below it. The 107 whole-page photos (in the Plates pages) have five chapters: Abstraction; Agriculture; Extraction; Manufacturing and Infrastructure; Waste. These capture, mostly with aerial shots, the unusual beauty of industry and food production.

Burtynsky's somehow finds and takes eye-catching shots, for example, looking down on the abstraction of dry farming in Arago, Spain, and perhaps the ultimate abstraction in the book is the photo from above of the Thjorsa River in Iceland, a mix of blues, greys and blacks (it's hard to believe it isn't an abstract painting). In Yunnan Province, China, a sea of canola stretches to the horizon but is punctured by small hills. 

The Manufacturing pages equally provide dramatic photos, a spread wide shot from the Boeing fuselage assembly plant shows seven of their 373 jets under construction and the BMW assembly plant in Pretoria, South Africa, in one picture, shows a few dozen orange-painted robots putting parts together. The caption makes an interesting point that the country has more than thirty percent unemployment.

A really nice feature about the book are the extensive captions for everything in the Plate pages. The back of the book has several photos of Burtynsky and staff on location in several countries and bang up to date he's shown working with a camera fixed to a drone. Mixed in with these photos there's an interesting timeline of his career using large thumbnails and text for the twenty-four commissions, starting in 1978 through to 2023. Steild has published some of these and this latest book of Burtynsky's work shows what a world-class photographer he is.