Books reviewed in this issue:
Cines de Cuba by Carolina Sandretto
Take Me to the River by Michael Kolster
Kings and Queens in Their Castles by Tom Atwood
The Family Imprint: A Daughter’s Portrait of Love and Loss by Nancy Borowick
Elegy by Justin Kimball
Vietnam: 25 Years Documenting a Changing Country by Catherine Karnow
CINES DE CUBA
By Carolina Sandretto
Essays by Carlos Garaicoa, Grettel Jimenez-Singer and Carolina Sandretto
Carolina Sandretto’s first book, the elegantly designed Cines de Cuba from Skira, is a glorious behemoth of an art book. Three hundred and ninety three pages that visually chronicle Cuba’s 500+ plus movie theaters, both active and derelict, with classic square format, color film photography. Three enlightening essays by Sandretto, Carlos Garaicoa and Grettel Jiménez-Singer infuse the hundreds of pages of abandoned buildings with a dimension of longing and loss. These personal and emotive texts strike a balance between the scholarship inherent in such a specific theme, and the pleasure of seeing and remembering. There are more stories that could, and should, be told based on these contemporary pictures of Cuban culture in decay.
Sandretto’s candid approach to Cuba’s very diverse cinemas may be a challenge for non-cinephiles. The multiple pictures of Cuban theater exteriors are not like Hilla and Bernd Becher’s formal, typological views of once functional architecture. Sandretto’s photographs often include a slice of the street, with both people and automobiles. And they are created from whatever angle works best under Cuba’s searing sun. As for interiors, Sandretto is attracted to mostly disheveled views of empty rooms, sometimes with a dance class, performance, or rehearsal happening within. This is Cuba in transition and it is likely that these historic environments may soon disappear.
Sandretto has many praiseworthy projects in her portfolio, including expressive portraits on SDN of Vivir Con… the Cuban Habitat. These portraits are made inside old houses in which multiple families have settled in spite of government restrictions. In Cines de Cuba, Sandretto has deliberately stepped away from the visual intimacy of Vivir Con to illustrate how time and circumstance affects culture, politics, and the artist. Cines de Cuba is likely to become an important historical document. As Cubans embrace change and step into their future, this book is an evocative reminder to keep art alive.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
By Michael Kolster
With an introduction by Alison Nordström and an essay by Matthew Klingle
George F. Thompson Publishing
In his new work Take Me to the River, Michael Kolster explores the interplay between the natural and the man-made. Ironically, his black-and-white photographs of four major Atlantic rivers — the Androscoggin, Schuylkill, James, and Savannah — disrupt these traditional binaries that often divorce environment from industry, presenting these places as areas of human-nature interaction. But the project also dives headfirst into deeper theoretical questions about photography, photographers, and meaning-making. In the book’s introduction, Kolster asks us, “Is a photograph art or evidence?”
Borrowing the conceptualization of the photograph as both a window and a mirror from John Szarkowski, Kolster illuminates his medium as subjective and objective, simultaneously reflecting the concerns of the artist and revealing the objective reality of a single moment in time. By refusing dichotomy, Kolster brilliantly exposes the complicated relationships between photographers and their subjects, photographs and their onlookers, and these witnesses and the experiences that construct their perspectives.
When reading Take Me to the River, you will immediately notice that it is unlike other contemporary photography books. All of the photographs are ambrotypes, a wet-plate collodion process of making glass-plate positives that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. This antebellum technique requires great attention to detail and a keen understanding of what it takes to get lighting, chemical reactions, and timing just right. It is labor intensive and time consuming, with one plate taking about 20 minutes to create.
Because it is such a highly variable process, each plate is different. But this unpredictability, and the personality imparted onto each image, is the missing ingredient Kolster sought to depict in these rivers and the consequences of our interactions with them. “Remarkably,” he writes, “the collodion image, like invisible ink seen under a black light, reveals aspects of a scene not wholly perceptible to the human eye.” Kolster likens the chemicals washing over the glass plate to a river flowing over a riverbed and the silvery impurities left behind to sediments. Beautifully, through this process, the glass plate becomes both a window and a mirror.
Take Me to the River is structured so that the book itself becomes part of the artwork. Pages unfold to reveal panoramas of river-cityscapes, and the stories flow north to south, beginning in Maine at the source of the Androscoggin River and ending in Georgia along the banks of the Savannah River’s mouth. Backed on black paper, the images’ edges get their definition from the inevitable imperfections of the wet-plate process, an optical illusion that gives them a three-dimensional quality when digitized.
Kolster, who is a professor at Bowdoin College, presents the rivers in a historical, geographical, and social context. He takes an academic approach without sacrificing nuance and artistry. Flipping through Take Me to the River is a similar experience to walking through the halls of an art exhibit. Whether in a gallery or in print, this body of work stands out for its dynamic and sculptural qualities. The book accomplishes many things and belongs in the hands of curators and art students alike.
KINGS AND QUEENS IN THEIR CASTLES
By Tom Atwood
American royalty may sound like an oxymoron, but for the subjects of Tom Atwood’s project Kings and Queens in Their Castles, the description could not be more fitting. Atwood spent 15 years photographing intimate portraits of hundreds of remarkable LGBTQ figures at their homes across 30 US states. In the book’s introduction, he says that the project’s purpose is to provide “a contemplative photo series” of the LGBTQ community. Atwood beautifully shows that together, the influence of these movers, shakers, and caretakers extends to every nook and cranny of US society. His photographs convince us that the contributions this community makes to the greater fabric of American life are as ubiquitous as a monarch’s rule.
Kings and Queens in Their Castles is a personal project. Atwood’s goal was to create a series designed to “highlight our manifold personalities and backgrounds.” To do so, he refused the restrictions of conventional portraiture by using wide-angle lenses that place equal emphasis on subject and environment, welcoming what he refers to as “idiosyncratic belongings, paraphernalia and detail” into his shots. The result of this artistic choice are vibrant, compelling, and honest depictions of his subjects and the homes and lives they have built.
From the first page to the last, Kings and Queens in Their Castles is an homage to both the diversity within the LGBTQ community and the “common LGBTQ sensibility” that Atwood acknowledges and celebrates. Many of the individuals photographed are artists or cultural figures, but there are also religious leaders, farmers, and nurses. Some of the homes are mansions that could be mistaken for museums, while others are humble, cluttered apartments. But thanks to his commitment to showcasing each individual as a whole, complex, and colorful person, no photograph — and no story — is less interesting than the next. And the stories, though representative of a broad spectrum of experiences, flow together seamlessly in a way that cannot adequately be described in words but can be felt while experiencing the photographs in the book.
The authenticity and intimacy necessary to create a body of work so powerful and unforgettable was made possible by Atwood’s nuanced approach and the dignity with which he chose to portray his subjects. Atwood writes that ultimately, his hope for the project is that his photographs will “arouse in you as much delight and curiosity as they do in me.” If you are someone who is moved and inspired by all things human, then they certainly will.
THE FAMILY IMPRINT: A Daughter’s Portrait of Love and Loss
By Nancy Borowick
Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2017
I first saw Nancy Borowick’s stunning black-and-white photographs of her parents, Howie and Laurel, and heard about their story — each dying almost a year apart from cancer — at Visa Pour L’image in Perpignan in 2015. This beautiful new collection in The Family Imprint fills in more of the details and delves deeper into the lives and love of the Borowick family, beyond the cancer. Reading it in one sitting from cover to cover, one finds this gut-wrenching and heartwarming elegy—which is part scrapbook and part family photo album—is a tribute to the enduring love of Howie and Laurel for each other and their family.
Gorgeous black-and-white spreads don’t lie about the daily struggles of living with cancer—the side by side chemotherapy chairs, the hair loss, the hospital beds, the overflowing medicine cabinet, the setbacks. Laurel says, after her mastectomy, “I didn’t feel like a feminine being. I didn’t feel like I was a sexual being. I kind of felt like an ‘it’.” However, what makes The Family Imprint transcendent are actual handwritten cards bound into the book—not photographs of cards—from Howie to Laurel on Valentine’s Day (“you are my hero”) and from Laurel to Howie on Father’s Day (“a uniquely wonderful father). Nancy gives a full page to Laurel’s handwritten to-do lists (“order a headstone,” “what happened to the Girl Scout cookies?”), the yellow legal pad of handwritten “Parental Advice” from Laurel to the kids, the worn out scrawled recipe for Mama’s Meatballs from Howie’s mother; a photo of the family’s hands eating fried chicken.
Amidst the hospital bed shots, there is a two-page spread of “I love you” handwritten on a Post-it note, collages of old color family snapshots from Howie and Laurel’s wedding, the ‘70s big hair and mustaches, and the kids hamming for the camera throughout their youth. Nothing is left unturned in this intimate soliloquy to family and to lives well lived.
The book opens with a photo of a key found in the family home that to Nancy represents the unknown future and closes with Howie’s cherished gold Star of David necklace. The book’s inside jacket is the detail of the tapestry of the family photo album. It’s hard to get through The Family Imprint without sobbing. You know this family like they are your own and you live through their fears, hopes, and dreams. It is a moving testament to mothers and fathers and daughters. You are rooting for them despite knowing how it is going to end. Howie wrote his own eulogy and requests that you “look for me in every sunset” and Laurel tells Nancy and her siblings to look to the night sky for them. It is a rare gift for a daughter to have this time to prepare for her parents’ death.
Laurel overcame breast cancer in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and died in 2014; Howie had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2012 and died in 2013. But to Laurel, “my life had some meaning, I helped produce three remarkable human beings.” “I never felt like it was a battle—I always felt like I was living and then just trying to manage the cancer.” Lessons from Howie: “Don’t waste time. You only have one life. Don’t sit on your ass and watch TV. Go out and do things. Be with people and make good friends. Have experiences.”
We can’t escape cancer, it is one of the deadliest killers worldwide, but we can take the wisest advice from the Borowicks and this moving book—to live out loud.
By Justin Kimball
Radius Books, 2016
87 plates /$55.00
Elegy, by Justin Kimball, is an extraordinary body of work captured in small towns of New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that have fallen on hard times during the last recession and were passed over by the recovery as the centers of economic activity became grossly over-concentrated in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and other global urban centers. In its wake is left the texture of human and material decay that Kimball records with both impeccable technical precision and the empathy, wit, and the framing of an artist steeped in the history of photography, literature, the arts, and social awareness.
While decrepit old buildings in rural America is a common theme among photographers, Kimball reminds us how meaningful and rich these images can be when created by someone with his talent, training, and vision.
For instance, “Cliff Street” (plate 27, pictured above), shows a barefoot man on his front step looking downward, forlorn and contemplative (of what, we are only left to guess). The chipped paint, rusty mailbox, debris (possibly spent bags of heroin), stuffed beneath the stoop, all indicate that this is a neighborhood not on the upswing. The entire left side of the frame is a large window with shabby drapes, an American flag hanging from above, and a cat sitting on the window sill, also looking downward and as forlorn and contemplative as the man. The man and the cat are each residents of what is now flyover country with diminishing prospects of prosperity.
Looking through Elegy in 2017, one is painfully aware of how prescient this work is, created earlier in the decade and certainly before Donald Trump was elected president by the residents of the communities photographed by Kimball. While the urban, educated, and tech-savvy residents of more affluent areas cannot fathom why the dispossessed would support a party and a man that will only make their lot worse, looking at these photographs makes us aware, and perhaps shameful, of the desperation that would allow for this, and perhaps our own complicity.
“Federal and Washington Street” (Plate 78), is one of many images layered in meaning. Crossing street signs for Federal St. and Washington St. are in the foreground. What is being commented on here is our federal system of government, gridlock in Washington, our inability to solve the most important national problems of poverty and the lack of opportunity. Behind these signs is a small nondescript building covered in mildew, grime, weeds, and graffiti. Affixed to the building is a pristine Re/Max “For Sale” real estate sign with the picture of a glowing and suited real estate agent forever optimistic about the future. One walks away feeling that much more is needed than the over-the-top showmanship of a man intent on making a deal.
While a more traditional documentary photographer may show us in greater and bolder detail the decay and lost hopes, Kimball does it more subtly and leaves us with a lingering, if not tactile sense of the existential problems. And while many documentary photographers may also be activists, working on issues of policy and politics as well as on their photography, Kimball is an educator returning to his students at Amherst College, who we hope will learn a moral lesson about their place of privilege and their role in the future of their country, from the work of their brilliant and talented teacher of photography.
VIETNAM: 25 YEARS DOCUMENTING A CHANGING COUNTRY/
Việt Nam 25 năm của một đất nước đang thay đổi
By Catherine Karnow
Thanh Niên Publishing House
Vietnam 25 Years Documenting a Changing Country, captures some of these eclectic and dynamic stories with intimate familiarity. Since the wake of Vietnam’s economic reform during the early 1990s, Karnow—daughter of renowned journalist Stanley Karnow, who had written extensively on war-time Vietnam—has continued to bring to the world new perspectives on a country that continually remakes itself in all aspects of life.
Vietnam at the turn of the twenty-first century comprises all at once stories of dizzying changes, progress, contradictions, ingenuity, and an entwined sense of restlessness and timelessness. Catherine Karnow’s photobook,
Vietnam 25 Years is a culmination of two and a half decades of Karnow’s photographic adventures in Vietnam between 1990 and the first two decades of the new millennium. Organized thematically and chronologically, the 236-page book catalogs Karnow’s retrospective photography exhibition at Viet Art Space in Hanoi in 2015. While some of the published images were taken while Karnow was on various assignments for National Geographic, others came from more personal trips that Karnow had undertaken.
Introduced by insightful essays by journalist Andrew Lam and art director Suzanne Lecht as well as Karnow’s own words, Vietnam 25 Years is especially striking on several levels. This beautiful book is bilingual, making it accessible to both Vietnamese and English speakers. At the heart of the book are the rich and animated images along with Karnow’s vivid descriptions of the events that took place. Together, these elements are testaments to the photographer’s keen eyes and genuine appreciation of Vietnamese history and people. They invite the readers to linger on every page and experience Vietnam through Karnow’s lens. Karnow, who grew up in East and Southeast Asia in the 1960s, sees the Vietnam that she photographs more as a home place and moves within it with comfort, familiarity and enthusiasm. As such, her photographs and stories strive to simultaneously document what has changed and what has remained the same in postwar Vietnam over the course of several years.
The subjects of Karnow’s photography range from chance encounters on the streets and on long-distance trains to special profiles of well-known people like General Võ Nguyên Giáp, writer Bảo Ninh, and Hồ Chí Minh’s personal sculptor to the evolving landscapes of the everchanging Vietnamese society. Her back-to-back photos and poignant stories of Agent Orange victims, of Amerasians, and of American veterans returning to Vietnam serve as reminders of the legacies of war and the ongoing work of reparation. The behind-the-scene stories accompanying the images are simply fascinating. For example, in the section on General Võ Nguyên Giáp, Karnow chronicles several meetings and her special friendship with the revered Vietnamese leader who had masterminded the Việt Minh’s famous victory in Điên Biên Phủ in 1954. Through her captivating narrative, readers gain insights into how Karnow’s intuition and tenacity enabled her to not only produce an iconic portrait of the “Snow -Covered Volcano” General, but also gain his trust and friendship overtime. Ending the section with her photographs of General Giáp’s funeral in 2013, Karnow conveys a deep sense of loss experienced by the General’s family, by her, and by the Vietnamese people.
In its entirety Vietnam 25 Years embraces the fluidity and complexity of Vietnam. It shows the Vietnamese photographed as individuals defined and redefined by their diverse experiences, hope, and aspirations. It engages the Vietnamese society fully. The stunning quality of the images, the varied and unconventional compositions, the honest expressions on the faces of Karnow’s subjects draw readers into the time and place where each photograph took place. The fact that Karnow even managed to track down, follow up, and re-photograph some of the people whom she had met and photographed in her earlier trips to Vietnam—the woman on the train, the family leaving Vietnam to the resettle in the US, the flower seller in Hanoi—further create a wonderful sense of continuity and intimacy. This photobook is a treat not only for those who are interested in postwar Vietnam, but also for those who appreciate photography.
ZEKE is published by Social Documentary Network (SDN), an organization promoting visual storytelling about global themes. Started as a website in 2008, today SDN works with thousands of photographers around the world to tell important stories through the visual medium of photography and multimedia. Since 2008, SDN has featured more than 2,800 exhibits on its website and has had gallery exhibitions in major cities around the world. All the work featured in ZEKE first appeared on the SDN website,www.socialdocumentary.net.
Fall 2017 Vol. 3/No. 2
Executive Editor: Glenn Ruga
Editor: Barbara Ayotte
Social Documentary Network Advisory Committee
Barbara Ayotte, Medford, MA
Senior Director of Strategic
Management Sciences for Health
Lori Grinker, New York, NY
Independent Photographer and Educator
Catherine Karnow, San Francisco, CA
Independent Photographer and Educator
Ed Kashi, Montclair, NJ
Member of VII photo agency
Photographer, Filmmaker, Educator
Reza, Paris, France
Photographer and Humanist
Molly Roberts, Washington, DC
Senior Photography Editor, National Geographic
Jeffrey D. Smith, New York NY
Director, Contact Press Images
Jamey Stillings, Sante Fe, NM
Steve Walker, Danbury, CT
Consultant and Educator
Frank Ward, Williamsburg, MA
Photographer and Educator
Amy Yenkin, New York, NY
Independent Producer and Editor
ZEKE is published twice a year by Social Documentary Network
Copyright © 2017
Social Documentary Network
Print ISSN 2381-1390
Digital ISSN: Forthcoming
ZEKE does not accept unsolicited submissions. To be considered for publication in ZEKE, submit your work to the SDN website either as a standard exhibit or a submission to a Call for Entries. Contributing photographers can choose to pay a fee for their work to be exhibited on SDN for a year or they can choose a free trial. Free trials have the same opportunity to be published in ZEKE as paid exhibits.
Photographers and writers featured in this issue of ZEKE
Barbara Ayotte, U.S.
Emma Brown, U.S.
Caterina Clerici, U.S. and Italy
Catherine Karnow, U.S.
Monia Lippi, U.S.
Younes Mohammad, Iraq
John Rae, U.S.
Sascha Richter, Germany
Gabriel Romero, U.S.
Anne Sahler, Germany and Japan
Astrid Schulz, England
Mick Stetson, Japan
William Thatcher Dowell, U.S.
Quan Tran, U.S.
Frank Ward, U.S.
Cover photo by Gabriel Romero from Liberation and Longing: The Battle for Mosul. A Peshmerga soldier in the Yazidi town of Bashiqa, Iraq.