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Art Photobook Reviews

Offprint 2019

Well the dust has settled on the fifth annual Offprint London, so I thought I would take a few minutes to share my thoughts.

Firstly I should say right off the bat, that this year definitely felt a little quieter than previous years. Although last year I did have the force of nature that is Pawel Jaszczuk to inject an entire festival’s worth of fun into a fondly remembered hour or so.

Having said that, there was as always a strong line up of publishers, artists and dealers on hand to promote their work.

My favourite British independents were all in residence. The holy trinity of Mack, Gost and Stanley Barker.Mack has been consistently producing amazing photo books for years, so a strong collection and a smattering of cool new releases is now virtually to be expected. In this respect they have kind of made a rod for their own backs. My notable personal favourites were Alec Soth’s latest collection, I know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, which is already likely to be on the shelves of many fans and collectors, but is most definitely, still worth noting for purchasers looking for a recommendation. The other title from Mack that I would thoroughly endorse is the quirky, inventive and highly entertaining Slant by Aaron Shuman (expect this to feature on a few lists at the end of the year).

The second publisher on the Brit list is Gost, another relatively young company that is having a tremendous year thus far. I could virtually list anything from their recent releases, but certainly standout titles come from Mark Power (Good Morning America), Alys Tomlinson (Ex Voto) and the wonderful The Parallel State by Guy Martin, which deserves all the attention it will hopefully get. A dark intertwining of fictional TV drama and documentary footage shot by Martin during the recent turbulent years in Turkey.

Finally for the flag waving, is the little powerhouse that is Stanley Barker. In my opinion (and let’s face it, mine will not the only one) these guys rarely put a foot wrong. They hit the ground running with Tod Papageorge’s Studio 54 and haven’t stopped since. Quality printing, excellent design and consistently stimulating and varied subject matter make these guys a force to be reckoned with. I’ve reviewed a couple of their books, and own many more. The standout new release from them being Matthew Finn’s School of Art. A wonderful monochrome portrait series taken at a short lived but by all accounts frenetic Art College. Signed copies were available to those who made it to Matthew’s personal appearance on Saturday. This is most definitely where the cool kids are. There is a sense of fun, energy and enthusiasm that emanates from these guys. and long may it continue. That enthusiasm bleeds into the books and practically crackles into the hands of the viewer, and that is an envious circuit that should never be broken . Oh and to Rachel at Stanley Barker, sorry about your pizza. I hope you got the chance to finish it before it went stone cold.

With regard to international visitors. Australian publisher and retailer Perimeter were in attendance, and artist Sarah Pannell was on hand to sign her new book From Tabriz to Shiraz. As always they had a slew of interesting and varied titles to choose from – a quick mention to Felix Wilson whom I met in the store whilst visiting friends in Melbourne earlier this year. His Nocturnal Ecologies is a lovely little book which looks at the night time habits of the wildlife of Melbourne and the surrounding countryside.

From Japan, Super Labo and Akio Nagasawa (both Offprint regulars) had also once again made the journey half way round the globe. Bringing their usual selection of impossibly beautiful Japanese publications. It is fair to say that many of the new books were dominated by the one man Japanese photo book industry that is Daido Moriyama, although I had to go to Komiyama’s rare book dealer stand to find that most elusive of things – insert longstanding Daido joke – a copy he hadn’t signed ! It is however always worth bearing in mind that for those interested in publications from the other side of the world, and I include myself in this group, Offprint is a wonderful opportunity to pick up some truly stunning books, without incurring the sometimes prohibitively high shipping charges (admittedly not their fault) that these trans global purchases can attract.

A personal Offprint highlight every year, is getting a chance to say hello to one of my favourite people at the fair, Tiane Doan Na Champassak. I have been following Tiane since the release of his first self published zine, King of Photography back in 2011. I am always amazed at the imagination, innovation and effort that goes into each of his projects. For some time he was producing books at a rate that would have made Araki’s head spin (well, kinda), but now his time and efforts are being channelled in to some of the most beautiful hand made artist books that I have seen. Over the next seven years he intends to produce a sequence of books called the Veils of Maya. Each produced in a tiny edition of 35 copies to be released on an annual basis, these hand made wonders will stand alone in both design and content. Throughout his career appropriation, image manipulation and sexual politics have always been constant factors in his work. To quote Tiane ““The Veil of Maya” serial project deals with the duality enchantment-disenchantment from 7 different perspectives”. Couldn’t have said it better myself….let’s face it I couldn’t have said it full stop. This year sees the second in the series, and features both original and appropriated work, pages that have been silkscreened by hand, a bespoke wooden slipcase that doubles as a frame, and a custom made tote bag with a screened image. Certainly a considered purchase, but this truly should be considered more as an art object or even a piece of sculpture.

Every year I hope to find something new that screams originality. Enter, Palm* Studio. It isn’t that I was unaware of Palm* who have already been around for a few years, but seeing their work gathered together in one place and with the creative forces behind the brand in attendance, once again the honest passion and enthusiasm just washes over you. These guys are not reinventing the wheel, but the duo of Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul, are between them presenting a broad spectrum of work. Between them, Polish born Lola, and Australian Pani bring both an abstract aesthetic and a more laid back (dare I say commercial) style to the brand. As Palm* Studios they also promote and publish work from artists around the world. Photographer Molly Matalon was on hand with a stunning double sided poster which had been printed in an edition of 200 for the exhibition. The inscrutable Molly was kind enough to sign them for me (I’m waiting for the book Molly).

Delightful people to whom I wish every success.Away from the dealers, there were signings, celebrities and a programme of interviews and talks open to all. Martin Parr, Ed Templeton, Mitch Epstein, Alys Tomlinson, Mark Power, were just a few of the names that were either spotted milling around, or on hand to do official appearances, and of course let us not forget Nathalie Emmanuelle who plays Missandei in Game of Thrones. There to be interviewed by photographer Simon Alexander, she must have thought that she was going to get away with it, but the question sailed across the hall anyway. “Who sits on the Iron Throne?“ But the secret (by the time of reading already distant memory) could not be prised from the angelic visage. Just a perfect smile from a perfect face.

And there you have it, a brief flit though one of my favourite weekends of the year. The preceding paragraphs list only a handful of the literally hundreds of participants, but they were all there, from the biggest publishers to the smallest of cottage industries. Each dedicated and passionate about their own contributions.

No doubt, another person would choose a different selection of books, artists and publishers to champion, and the wonderful thing is that their selection would present a view just as valid, heartfelt and honest. But that’s art, no right or wrong, just differences in taste and opinion. The ultimate in subjectivity. My advice, just get in there enjoy yourself, and buy what you like. After all there is no such thing as bad taste, just louder people that make you feel that way if you disagree with them.

So in summary was this the best most buzzy Offprint? For me the answer has to be no. However when I asked them, many of the vendors were certainly reporting less people, but more purchases. Phew, so then onwards and upwards, and let’s do it all again next year

….Pawel, are you listening!

Pictures by me and my groovy crew.

Collage and image tidying up by Martin Amis at PBS

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