Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Keith Smith, Ladies First, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, 2013

the box the book comes in

This book was a complete surprise to me as I had only previously seen two books by Smith, Text in the Book Format (1989/1995) and Structure of the Visual Book (1985/1995) that are fascinating but rather dry manuals about the role of text and structure in the making of artists' books. Smith has also made a huge number of books with this one coming in at number 288!

This beautifully printed accordion book has none of the dryness of the two mentioned above, indeed it's totally sexy by comparison. I'm going to let the very informative press release from the Visual Studies Workshop serve as the introduction to this work:

"VSW Press is honored to have reproduced a rare “trade” edition of Keith Smith’s one of a kind book Ladies First, his 288th title, from 2013 . Ladies First is a playful exploration of art history and gender.

Keith A. Smith has been creating books as artworks since 1967 following an instinct to bind together a series of his photo-etchings. An extraordinarily productive artist having created over 300 books to date, his life’s work includes many recurring themes, images, and portraits of people close to him.

One of Smith’s great subjects over the years has been the male form rendered in a perfectly fine and sinuous drawn line. Frequently bringing together drawing with photography in his work, his photographs, often made of family and dear friends, are affectionate, intimate, and longing.

Another of Smith’s tropes early on, and throughout his first few creative decades, is the use of transparent material, film positives, as pages. Hand cutting various shapes directly out of the page created yet another form of window to reveal parts of other pages as one read. Whatever is seen through the page becomes part of the composition. In these and many other ways, Smith has made clear that a book artwork is not simply a collection of images. Each page is part of a whole that is the book itself as well the experience of its reading.

Breaking somewhat with the above themes of figuring males, people close to him, and using analog innovations, the subjects of Ladies First are anonymous to Smith and any see-through parts are the work of digital tools, yet he uses similar image combination techniques as in his oeuvre’s analog counterparts. Always readily adaptive to current imaging technology, Smith works here with images found online that he virtually draws on, paints, and sculpts rendering them his, originally.

In Ladies First, Smith is in dialog with the history of art, although in his own distinctive way. The female subjects of formal 18th and 19th Century portraits take younger, wax chested male lovers or transition into men. This references both the practice of exclusively using male models for female subjects until the 19th C as well as our more recent recognition of those of us who are transgender."

32 single-sided pages, individually 13" x 8.5", and when unfolded 22ft 4inches.

first page of the accordion

last page of accordion

Ben Brody, 300m, Mass Books, 2022

front cover with plastic holding strip

This is a fascinating and powerful book of panoramic photographs taken in Afghanistan with its title recording the distance between Brody's Afghani collaborator & interpreter and his family's unsuccessful attempt to reach a plane in order to fly out of Kabul immediately after the Taliban takeover.

The photographs were taken with a toy panoramic camera and Brody has included all the technical mishaps that accompany such a camera, and as he writes in the book's introduction "The panoramics weren't meant for any clear purpose, so I developed them sloppily and lots of little air bubbles got trapped against the film. Lots of bright little holes through the people and through the sky. Streaks of light peeking through the cheap plastic camera blowing people out indiscriminately. It was just a toy." Somehow all these imperfections lend a real time feeling of being there as Brody accompanies these American soldiers on their patrols through the Afghani landscape.

The publishers blurb for this book states: "Ben Brody’s latest photobook 300m is a panoramic journey through the height of the American war in Afghanistan, framed in the context of the fall of Kabul and the ties that remain with friends and colleagues who currently live under Taliban rule.

Designed by Kummer & Herrman, 300m is an innovative, tactile accordion book that invites multiple readings and interactions. The accordion can be paged through like a traditional photobook, viewed as a shifting tableau of 360-degree panoramics made with a toy camera, where the reader can create their own compositions. Laid out end-to-end, the accordion is nearly 16 feet long and is printed on both sides Opening the poppy-red cover reveals a WhatsApp chat with the author’s longtime interpreter in Afghanistan detailing his harrowing journey with his family to the gates of Kabul’s airport. Brody and a group of military veterans attempted to navigate them through the desperate crowds in what came to be known as the ‘Digital Dunkirk.’ Drawing a line from photographs of the 2011 opium harvest in Kandahar to the fall of the Afghan government ten years later, 300m also serves as an epilogue to Brody’s critically acclaimed 2019 photobook Attention Servicemember."

The decision to use the accordion format to reproduce these panoramic photographs was a wise one and the two formats complement each other perfectly with the accordion revealing an almost amateur photographer's aesthetic combined with the intimacy of a family photo album.

The book of Brody's, Attention Servicemember, that is referred to in the publisher's text was his first attempt to depict his experiences as a war photographer in Afghanistan and it really experiments with combining all sorts of different visual and textual materials in order to present a more rounded depiction of war and its effects on the soldiers and civilians alike. Three photographs of this book are included at the end of this entry.

There's a lot more I could say about this powerful book and for those interested I'm posting here a link to a wikipedia page about Brody and his books: Ben Brody - Wikipedia

58 double-sided pages, individually 7" x 6", and when unfolded 14ft 6".

accordion with cover

reverse side

back cover

Ben Brody, Attention Servicemember, Mass Book, 2nd expanded edition, 2020

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Nico Fremz, Kama Foutraque, Le Dernier Cri, Marseille, 2022, ed. 150

Another wild accordion both technically and creatively from Le Dernier Cri. This book is comprised of two accordions each of them attached to either the right or left sides of the cover, so that when you open up the book in its middle you have two separate accordions that can be unfolded independently of each other. When fully unfolded these two black and white screen printed accordions measure a combined total of 15.5 feet (4.7 metres). 

Once both accordions are opened up the work reveals itself to be one long pornographic frieze that takes the Kama Sutra as its model, but detourns it to create a very different message — one that is populated by numerous men, women and animals engaged in a huge range of sadistic, onanistic and butt & pussy penetrations to name just a few of the things that are going down. Despite all of this, one has to admire Fremz's lively illustration & comics style and the huge number of actors & activities he's been able to cram into these pages!  

The reverse side of the accordion is one long drawing of a brick wall, suggesting that this twisted psychotic orgy is taking place in some kind of walled off and private space.

Each accordion is 6 double-sided pages, with individual pages 11" x 15.5", and when one is unfolded it is 7' 9", and with both of them the length is 15' 6".

the reverse side of the accordion with its brick wall

when opened in the middle you can see the two separate accordions on the left & right

accordion on the left

accordion on the left

the last page of the accordion on the left and first page of the accordion on the right

both accordions with two pages open

the accordion on the right with 2 pages open and the left with one page

back cover

Every Ocean Hughes (formerly Emily Roysdon) & Alvin Baltrop (photography), West Street, Printed Matter, New York, 2010, ed. 400

Hughes who moved to New York City in 1999 became fascinated with the crumbling remnants of the piers along the city's waterfront. This series of photographs by Baltrop accompanied with some texts by Hughes document the Christopher Street Pier on the Hudson River waterfront and specifically Pier 45 opposite West 10 Street. For Hughes these remaining piers were "unmarked memorials, found monuments, to the lives that needed that unregulated place. To those who died living queerly. Those who died from neglect, AIDS, violence and politics. And to those seeking life crossing West Street."

12 double-sided pages, individually 6" x 8" and when unfolded 8ft.

reverse side

back cover