Category Archives: Site Notes

We’ll be off for two weeks

Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Summer stage; photo by Michael N. Meyer,

Hope summer is treating everyone well. Korean Photography Books will be quiet through the end of August as I enjoy the last few weeks of summer here in Brooklyn. Regular posting each Sunday will resume September 7th.

There is a stack of books ready for review–enough to keep me busy through the end of the year. Additionally, I plan to update most of the posts published to date with photographs of the books. And, as ever, I’m planning to arrange a couple of interviews, hopefully during NY Art Book Fair and a (possible) holiday trip to Korea. I’m also be working on a grant proposal for the Asian Cultural Council to produce a concerted series of interviews for this blog; last year’s proposal didn’t bear fruit, but hopefully this year’s will. All in all, there is much to come here on Korean Photo Books.

I look forward to seeing you back here at Korean Photography Books in September. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss new content once we’re cranking again in September.

Late Post; New Interview and New Content Page Coming

My social life beckoned this past weekend, and this week’s post was postponed. The review that was intended for this past Sunday will be up later this week.

Also, last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Jaeyu Lee for a conversation following up on my review of his Fragments in Scene. It was a wide ranging interview; he is fascinating and a lively conversationalist. I am in the midst of transcribing the interview (in between the commercial jobs that pay my rent…); it should be up in the next week or two.

As a follow up to a reader question, I will be updating a post from my daily_up blog and publishing it here as a top level page. This will be a listing of bookstores in Korea. At the moment it will be Seoul-centric as I’ve not found any bookstores outside of Seoul, though I know second hand of several in Busan and elsewhere.

So, there is new stuff coming soon. Once it’s all up this post will come down.

Site Note: Still Here

As regular readers may have noticed, the blog has been quiet the last two weeks. I’ve missed two consecutive Sundays. Professional life has been extremely busy and I’ve been under the gun to deliver on multiple projects for various clients. It’s been a little hectic, and posting here has had to take a back seat.

Regular posting should resume this coming Sunday and continue on from there.

Site Note: New Content

For 2014 one of my initiatives for this blog is to begin conducting and publishing interviews with photographers, publishers, book designers and book dealers working in Korea. On a recent trip I did the first of these interviews. I hope to have the interview transcribed, translated, edited and posted by the end of the month.

Thank you to Hyojoon, Eunhye and Daiwoong of Corners for generously sharing their time with me and kicking off this series of interviews. (There is no schedule or timeline for this “series,” but it will be a series.) Thank you also to Jimin Han for acting as my translator and helping me to conduct the interview.

I believe that this kind of content offers a worthwhile expansion while furthering my goals for the site.

Commentary: Context, Approach and Bias

A.D. Coleman’s observations on photography are always acutely astute. His blog, Photocritic International, is a must read.

In a recent post, Across the Great Divide (1), he recounts a misreading by Penny Coisneau-Levine of a review he wrote in 1974 about a Canadian photographer’s book. She uses the misreading to set him up as a straw man in order to criticize a “monolithic approach” in which “universal” terms serve to hide work that does not conform to this mode of criticism.

“The problem is, of course, that this monolithic approach almost guarantees that enormous chunks of the work under consideration will slip through the critical cracks, that whatever exists in the work that cannot be mediated through the ‘universal’ terms of discourse the critic employs risks being missed altogether. And if not much in the work does lend itself to being discussed in these critical terms, the work may be barely seen at all, with the conclusion that nothing exists in the work to be seen.”

Leaving aside the poor choice of straw man, Coisneau-Levine’s point is a valid one, and one that I am aware of here on Korean Photography Books. The locus of this blog is books from a culture that is not my own. I am not Korean, do not have any formal schooling on Korean history or culture and do not speak the language. The risk is ripe for falling back onto generalized universal terms that demean, distort or diminish the work under review.

My goal in writing these reviews is the opposite: to make the work in these books accessible to a Western audience while doing what little I can to promote the photographers behind the work. Two key role models for my approach to writing this blog have been Coleman and John Berger. In the introduction to Berger’s Understanding a Photograph, Geoff Dyer quotes D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Thought” to describes Berger’s approach: “Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.”

Their similar approaches of closely attending to the work under review seems to me a valid means of minimizing the risk of losing chunks or not truly seeing the work. Furthermore, there are rich veins of potential meaning where cultures come together. What is ordinary and obvious within a given context becomes strange and obscured when it runs up against a foreign work of art. A particular meaning might be lost, but new meanings are created. When any work of art is finished by the artist and comes in front of a viewer the viewer brings a new set of experiences and assumptions to the work and finds his own meaning within it.

While there is the risk in cross cultural criticism of applying a universal standard to all works regardless of cultural context, one must have a standard of some sort. I can only apply a personal standard through closely attending to the work itself, my reaction to it and the cross cultural connections these suggest.

Site Notes: Back to Regular Scheduling

The last review posted, I Am Going to the Barbershop was late. It was supposed to have been published the week before Christmas. Year end craziness and holiday travel threw the blog’s schedule out of whack (to say nothing of my own schedule). With the holidays behind us, I will be redoubling my efforts to maintain the weekly posting schedule.

New posts should appear each Sunday for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for reading!

First Post: About this Blog

Many photographers collect photography books. I am one.

I began collecting photography books soon after graduating from college. My purchases were few, though, and my curatorial eye was undefined. That creating a collection of books could be a serious sort of avocation had not yet occurred to me. When I was managing the studio of another photographer, an omnivorous collector of photography books, I began to find some direction in my collecting.

While I tended towards small presses (a sort of tautology with photography books), highly personal visions, photography drawn from the real world, and physically smaller books (storage is always at a premium in the City, even in Brooklyn), my collection was still all over the place.

My collecting grew very much in tandem with the boom in photography book production and collection in the first decade of the 21st century. While photography books have been made since the early days of photography, there has been a veritable surge of photography books since 2000. There are almost too many to keep track of.

That is the problem that my collecting began to run into: there are too many good books out there (and far more dross that one must wade through to get to the good stuff). I could afford neither the monetary nor time cost of trying to collect everything. Even if I only bought the books I saw in person and that fit my taste, I could still not afford to buy everything.

As a solution, I decided to place a limit on my collection. My wife is Korean, and we travel to visit her mother roughly every year. On my first visit I bought a stack of Korean photography books. On my second visit, I bought an entire suitcase full. And that is now the primary focus of my collection: Korean photography books. I do not place a strict definition on this, but my basic tenets are that the book has to have been made by a Korean individual or collective, it must be an object in and of itself (so generally no exhibit catalogs), preferably it will have been published in Korea by a small press Korean publisher and photography is at its core. Sometimes I will bend a rule. Sometimes I kick myself for not bending a rule…

This blog is a series of short reviews of the books in my collection. It is not definitive; even with this tighter focus, I couldn’t possibly purchase, see or review every Korean photography book published. I haven’t the time or fiscal resources to do so. With at best only an annual trip to Korea, I will miss many books that are published and go out of print quickly. While I am a working and exhibiting photographer with a degree in the field, I am not a critic.

My hope is that this blog offers a small insight for a Western audience into the ways in which Korean photographers are using the book form in conjunction with photography to tell stories, share ideas, describe the world and stake out our place in it.