How exciting it was to be back in the church hall! 21 of us turned up, followed the one way system, wore masks, kept 1m apart, drank coffee out of paper cups, and otherwise had a wonderful time. We were joined by 11 members on Zoom. Paul and John explained how the mechanics would work, and how grateful we are to Caroline Kenyon, of the Pink Lady Food Competition, who waived her speaking fee which allowed us to buy the audio-visual equipment we needed.
Below left is how the hall looked from the hall's point of view with Paul reading out the notices, and below right is how it looked from the Zoom participants' point of view with John explaining how the evening would work:
Paul had many people to congratulate: Chris for his Identity project exhibition in Brighton; Natalie for her probable inclusion in the Totally Thames Festival in September and for agreeing with the Barbican Library that we could hold our exhibition in late 2022; John for his image in Amateur Photography Magazine; Ilya for having two photobooks acquired by the British Library; and Debbie for winning the architecture prize in the British Photographic Awards. Two members, Lisa and Terry, were welcomed to the church hall for the first time and we had a new member, Ed, who was welcomed to the Society. Finally we all congratulated Ian on his engagement and Richard led everyone in wishing Paul a Happy Birthday!
Gerard explained that for the next meeting on 17th August everyone who intends to come to the hall will be asked to bring one A4 print of their favourite lockdown photo for the Washing Line. We will need to enter a dpi into PhotoEntry in advance of the meeting so that the prints can be shared on Zoom. The "team" is still working out how Zoom members can participate and an email will go out one week before the meeting. Please remember to register for the meeting as hall numbers are limited by the church authorities to 25. On 7th September we have a competition on the theme of "Abandonment", on 21st September we have an external speaker, Mike Goldwater
, a prize-winning professional photographer, on 28th September we will have an extra meeting, a different walk around Canary Wharf using tripods, on 5th October we will be asking members to talk about their own photobooks, and on 19th October we will have a focus on "Reel" (i.e. analogue) photography.
The main subject for the evening was to explore whether we wished to adopt photobooks as our project for 2021/22, alongside the more "normal" meetings throughout the year. Richard kicked off by talking about Stephen Shore's photobook "Steel Town" (below left) based on towns with closing steel works in Ohio in the 1970s, which is inspiring him to create a body of work on his own local steel town as part of his preparation for his MA. He asked several questions about the enthusiasm for photobooks and discovered that most of the members present have made their own photobooks and several more had wanted to but had hesitated for a variety of reasons. Jean told us how an explanation from Chris Jepson had really opened her eyes to the potential for improved graphic design. Dennis queried whether photobooks had to be stories and we agreed that they might be but do not need to be. We also agreed that the definition of photobooks would be broad including many ways of printing and publishing and hand-making books. Margaret expressed an enthusiasm to see other people's photobooks, before our project as well as after. Natalie explained her understanding of the importance of editing and sequencing as similar to composing music and thought we should cover this topic early in the process. Janet worried that books with a lot of words might not be counted as photobooks, but we agreed that the word/image ratio was flexible. Richard said that one goal could be a Society photobook, equivalent to our Barbican Exhibition, not a competition but a joint effort.
After the break three members showed us some photobooks that had inspired them. Ian started by showing five books on his bookshelf that he looked at often: Matthew Beck's "Subway" (above right), Joel Sternfeld's "Stranger passing", Rob Hornstra's "Man next door", Gus Powell's "Family car trouble" and Txema Salvan's "Perfect day". What these books had in common was a fairly simple design and layout, nothing complicated, with a human, moving story, and deep engagement with the subject. In contrast, Ian owns several books which fail the simple but effective test, they are too big, or the images are too small relative to the paper size, or important parts of the images are lost in the gutter of a double-spread, and parts of images cut off. These books stay on the shelf.
Natalie has a large collection of photobooks and selected for us a compilation by Magnum Photographers called "Deserts", which inspired her own desert photographs, Daido Moriyama's "Nakaji" (below left), a tribute to the "father of Japanese photography", and two contrasting books about Mexico. The first, by Martin Parr is typical of Parr's ironic take on a subject as he tries to discover the soul of Mexico (below centre). The other, by Henri Cartier-Bresson is a homage to the idea of life and death. She wondered how real is its beautiful depiction. She told us that Gerry Badger's top two books of the 21st century are "Ravens" by Masahisa Fukase and Nan Goldin's "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency". Natalie has helpfully provided notes
on her talk.
Finally Alan talked about Venessa Winship's "She dances on Jackson" (above right). Alan came across her because she had a joint exhibition with Dorothea Lange at the Barbican and Alan thought her work was the better of the two. She is British, b.1960, and won the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award in 2011 which funded an American road trip for her and her husband, successful photographer George Georgiou. This book is a classic US road trip in the footsteps of Robert Frank's "The Americans" and Walker Evans' "American Photographs". It is a lyrical dialogue between the people and the landscapes. The landscapes seem vast, bleak and downbeat. In the face of the precarious nature of their lives, the people seem defiant and sensitive, and cling to one another.
It is intended that we will continue the dialogue about photobooks on the Forum, and we were all asked to contribute ideas on speakers and what aspects of the subject we want to cover.