Paris Photo – Lab East

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was thanks to Teresa from Blurb that I was invited to the book launch of ‘Far East‘ at the Lumen Gallery stand in Paris Photo. Far East, a roughly seven inch square slab of 260 or so pages, “printed with the friendly support of blurb, the creative publishing platform” is I think an important work in several respects. Edited by Horst Kloever of photeur.net, it presents “30 photographic positions fron Central and Eastern Europe“, work by young photographers – all born in the 1970s and 80s – few of whom will be known outside their own countries, although there were one or two photographs I recognised, and a number of those included have worked or studied in the west.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One of those included is Bevis Fusha from Albania, who I got to know when we both showed work at the first FotoArt Festival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland in 2005, and whose work I’ve written briefly about on several occasions, and it was good to see his black and white images exploring the antagonistic aspects of the ‘Supermodel of the World’ annual competition in Tirana. Although there were half a dozen of the photographers there for the book signing, unfortunately he wasn’t among them.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I don’t entirely agree with the forward by Walter Keller, the organiser of the Labor Ost show in Zurich in May 2010 and was an important advisor for this book (the show included many of the same images.) Perhaps there are countries where “a dense net of art schools, supporting foundations, photo museums, commercial galleries and curators all merge into a promotional engine of high energy, making it almost impossible for a young photographer not to be discovered“, but I certainly don’t live in one. It seems to me that most photography of interest in the UK arises outside of any such system and probably only a small proportion is actually devoured by it. But the UK has a particular inbred cultural aversion to photography, or rather photography as art, and things are perhaps different in Switzerland.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But what is obvious is that although most of these photographers were still in school or kindergarten when the Berlin Wall fell 31 years ago, photography still has to seriously address its own Iron Curtain. This book, like this year’s Paris Photo, is one small step in that direction.

However the very richness of the work on display in this book – and to be found elsewhere across the former Soviet empire – surely owes something to the importance placed on culture and cultural organisations during those years – and which in turn stimulated vital dissident work. These artists grew up in more fertile soil than that provided by McDonalds and MTV.

Reading through the short biographies traces of this still exist – for example I learn that Pawel Bownikreceived a scholarship from the polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2008.” Here our governments give money to people who can run, jump, swim, throw, row or sail instead.

Latvian photographer Arnis Balcus, who took his MA in photography in London after after studying communications in Riga, addresses the Soviet past, or rather the ‘Collective Amnesia’ around it in his pictures which, by fortuitous alphabetism, start the book. His image of a young man in military uniform sitting on a rough bench outside a dreary and run-down block of flats, another identical in the distance, grass overlong and pushing up through the cracks in the pavement seems to me truly an archetypal post-Soviet image.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

To go through all 30 of the photographers in this book would take me until Christmas, and I’ve other things to do. You can order it from Blurb and it will cost you £31.47 plus postage; not cheap, but perhaps someone will give it you for a Chrismas present? You can see 69 pages on the preview there, including some of the work I found most interesting, for example by Krisztina Erdei from Hungary, whose work was on display at the Lumen stand (she is a founder and curator of that gallery and foundation.)

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This is a book I intend to return to from time to time, and perhaps write a little about some of the others included in it. I can’t say that I like every work in it, but certainly a much higher proportion than on the walls of Paris Photo hold some interest for me.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But this book is also important in that it is a part of the new photographic publishing, through Blurb (and perhaps also other print on demand services, though at the moment Blurb seems clearly to be in the lead.)  Although print on demand will still remain as a cheap way for anyone to produce personal books for themselves, friends and family, increasingly it is becoming the way that serious photographic books – such as this – will reach their audience. The Blurb London Pop-Up – in which I took part in, and it also had a ‘Magnum‘ day – and their ‘Photography Book Now‘ contest and even my own Blurb books are all a part of this (and might solve those Xmas present problems too:-))

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

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