Photobook Review: 'Coalville Photographed' reviewed by Lucy Bentham

We're constantly thrilled and excited that Photograd has the ability to bring together creatives and form unique collaborations. Graduate and working photographer Chris Mear created Coalville Photographed last year and recently approached independent curator and photographer Lucy Bentham to review the publication.

Here are the results.


Coalville Photographed by Graham Ellis: A series of short films and photographs by Christopher Mear

Self published edition of 25

At first glance, the cover of this book gives little detail as to what might be found within the pages. A series of eight QR codes are neatly arranged above the title suggesting, perhaps, that this book contains a cold, technological study of something, well, cold and technology based. The reality is quite different. 

In fact, the book contains fifty images made by both the author and the photographer he has collaborated with to construct this narrative. Mear has followed a fellow photographer making photographs in his local area in order to become closer to the place and this has resulted in a deeper understanding of both the place and methodology. Initially, this method of documenting place becomes twice removed from the subject as Mear puts himself of the position of the documenter documenting the documenter. I am drawn to this notion in the way that if only we could document ourselves as we undertake a project, our methodologies would be in the spotlight, and what becomes of our chosen subjects?

It is clear, throughout the book, that Mear is continually questioning Ellis about his methods and position as a photographer and vice versa:

‘How much do you want to be an ‘excellent’ photographer? Is it something you want to do or is it something you’re going to do? But what’s the difference?’

Ellis asks this of Mear and Mear asks a number of questions pertaining to photography as an art with a series of interspersed quotations from famed photographers throughout. 

We pursue Mear following Ellis during the series of moving images (found on YouTube via the QR codes) and, if you can see around the few technical issues – like the increasingly maddening flatlining sound from the van, or the obstruction of road noise drowning Ellis’ voice – then these monochrome records deepen our connection with Ellis. In contrast to the sense gauged from the book, the moving image additionally distances Mear from his associations with the place, presenting mostly as the cameraperson with a few indications that he remains as the camera occasionally wanders off to the side to look at something he is interested in, not Ellis. Because of this apparent distinction, I question whether the book and the moving image are unified from the perspective of the viewer. The moving image existing without the book makes Mear invisible and puts him in the sole position of the cameraperson – yet his presence is palpably felt within the pages of the book. 

 
 

This book, and the project it contains, is achingly familiar as a documentary project of place. But it goes much further in positing a breadth of questions regarding the role of the photographer and the relationships held between practising photographers. Especially considering those making projects about the ‘same’ place or subject, it has to be noted that this book also defines the distinctions between how crucial the position of the photographer is, how our subjectivities are central to what we see, and the varieties of experience we bring to each enquiry or investigation.  

N.B. As ever, this is a subjective review of a piece of work I am considering through my lens as a photographer and curator as well as reader/viewer. 

Photobook Review: 'Hide That Can' Reviewed by Chris Mear

We're really pleased to say that the last photobook review on the blog has inspired a brand new one! Earlier this month, University of Plymouth graduate Lucy Bentham reviewed Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled by Carly Seller, and this time around Staffordshire University graduate Chris Mear has written his own review of an influential photobook.


Photographer & Title: Hide That Can by Deirdre O’Callaghan. Published by Trolley Books (2002).

Genre: Documentary photography  

Rating: 5/5

A lone, bearded, ginger man, chewing on the hair of his moustache. Avoiding eye contact by pulling his green, stained and faded hat over his eyes. A thick brown stain on the inside of the collar of his jacket. The blood red of the inside cover, followed by a dedication to Joe McGarry. Is this the stranger that greeted my so warm yet shy on the front cover? I don’t know. Another turn of a page confronts you with a handwritten sign; “We admitted we were powerless against alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” Four photographs of Arlington House, London. Men passing, entering, exiting and lingering outside, lead into a “rant” from the U2 frontman, Bono. He concludes with one of only two mentions of the photographs that follow; “These photographs have a dignity and humour that make them a true record of lives lived… Photography so often pitches the instant against the eternal, and so many beautiful faces are really not… these photographs are true, and the truth is always beautiful and disturbing.”

 
Hide That Can  front cover

Hide That Can front cover

 

Men dominate the pages. Some of them seem confident. Playing with me. Joking. Laughing. Others are quiet, looking on from the background. Peering over a shoulder. The combination of image and text allows me to hear their voices. I replace the photographer. I’m there. Intimate moments shared with men with bruises and stitches on their face. Stitches echoed by those that bind the book, sometimes running right through the battered faces of these kind and brutally quick witted men.

Men taking regular toilet breaks behind trees as they embark on a day trip to the seaside. Echoes of childhood by the sea, with Mojo sitting on a horse and cart amusement ride clutching a bottle of super strong lager. A glance down from the end of the pier reveals the violent tide raging towards a child lost in the excitement of chasing away the seagulls, before a moving series of portraits of men in their bedrooms, as they delve into their past and their relationship with alcohol.

Hide That Can  photobook

Hide That Can photobook

The book ends with a series of pictures of the residents on a trip back to Ireland, where many of the men who reside at Arlington House migrated from during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, in search of work. “Some people in life, if they lose out they throw in the towel. You never throw in the towel ‘cause tomorrow is another day.” John explains as we stand at the edge of a beach and look out to sea, watching a lone man float away.

Hide That Can  photobook

Hide That Can photobook

Empathy, compassion, humour and a generous ear. Hide That Can, for me, effortlessly applies the best qualities of both human nature and photography. The photographer is invisible. The medium of photography irrelevant. For me, it offers an outstretched hand, an invitation, to anybody who needs or wants to accept it. Photographer or not, it’s work like this that recognises our common humanity and vulnerability. It not only educates me, but it makes me feel less alone. The ultimate, rather extraordinary, accomplishment for a book, in my opinion.

Photobook Review: 'Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled' reviewed by Lucy Bentham

We're always on the look out for creative involvement to the Photograd blog and we instantly knew we wanted Lucy Bentham to come on board when she suggested writing some words about a favourite photobook. Lucy is an independent curator and photographer who graduated from the MA Photography and the book course at the University of Plymouth last year.

We hope for Lucy's review to inspire others to create their own. Contact us for more info: photogradsub@gmail.com


Photographer and Title: Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled, Carly Seller

Genre: Landscape, handmade artist book

Rating: 4/5

Website: www.carlyseller.com

8 images, monochrome

9 pages, concertina, wrap-around cover with obi band

Edition of 24

Horizontal lines, steps into the unknown, and a steady pace of one foot in front of the other are visual and physiological elements of the photographs in this series. The viewer embarks on their own journey as they are placed in the position of the maker, treading carefully through the landscape with a clear message to gently roam onwards and upwards. The horizontal panoramic orientation of Seller’s prints primarily provide a lofty transcendental lift as the visuals combine with the philosophical, softly encouraging the gaze and the mind towards an elevated state of being. 

At the same time, Seller’s visual approach represents an ordinary way of seeing; that which is in front of us, the length of our bodies, and as far as the eye can see. Through a vertical, almost standardised way of contemporary seeing, we remain to consider what is ahead, around the corner, up the hill. We don’t look back, and we rarely alter our position to consider the other surrounding us as we amble into the beyond. 

From the series  Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled

From the series Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled

On occasion we find relief in the downward pathways, providing a pause in our forward movement. Downhill, we can presume we have already reached the summit and can break to take stock of our journey thus far. However, as in the triptych shown above, Seller reminds us that there is only one way forward as prickly walls furnishing the landscape claustrophobically surround us. The way forward is no longer a gentle roam; it becomes a need to continue along the path as it promises a steady downhill start, before once again elevating us into the undiscovered. 

Ultimately, these paths are never-ending; we are not provided with a conclusion to the series that brings our continual motion to a finite halt. Throughout this journey into the land, we are surrounded by fears and threats we only intermittently pay attention to. When we do catch a glimpse of these foes, they only spur us on, keeping pace along the endless way. 

Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled  photobook

Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled photobook

As a photographer working with the book I am often, if not always, interested to see photographic work represented as a book work, especially when the work is translated from original concept through a number of different gallery installations and into a book work. I like to engage with what I consider to be the thought process of the artist as they choose to disseminate their work in book form and I tend to favour the self-published or hand-made dummies because of their closeness to original, organic ideas of the maker. 

The book for Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled is an accompaniment to, rather than a culmination of, this body of work. The project itself conveys a particularly deep connection between the photographer and the natural landscape, echoed in the delicate, handmade qualities of this book. 

The joy of a concertina book is that the reader is given some sense of ability to rearrange the sequencing of the images, although any new sequence will always remain confined to the space and time set by the photographer. The excellent quality of printing is on a matte finish paper stock that deepens the blacks on this set of monochrome prints. The forest green cover acts as a visual prompt for the content as the reader opens the book for the first time and later returns to it. The book is held together with an obi band slipped over its entirety, upon which the title is repeatedly printed in a simple typeface. 

This is a project accompaniment book, not a final dummy for publication. If this book was to be taken to the next step and become a dummy for self or other publication I would like to see more image content. The small size of the book in terms of width and height is surprisingly effective considering the grander scale of the subject matter and aspect ratio of the framing. The addition of pages, making the book deeper, would not impact on the sizing. The benefit of the images used in this book is that they could be presented at a much larger scale, as seen in the installation of the original work and this would be interesting to see translated into book form.