After interviewing the crew at Corners, Jimin and I took a cab over to The Book Society. During the brief taxi ride I tried to describe what made a book interesting to me. The essentials of my explanation was that I liked highly idiosyncratic personal photographic visions published in object like book form. At The Book Society, she pulled a small volume off of the small publishers and self-published shelf and, holding it out, said, “I think you’ll like this one.”
The book was a small dense paperback, sewn and glued but without a cover and with mixed paper stocks. Images were full bleed and mixed freely atop one another. Some images ran double truck, others shared pages or spreads. Images were captioned subtly with the photographer’s name (there are three who collaborated on the book) in a bottom corner in a tone just off from the image. The book was split into three sections: the first printed in green ink on rough paper stock, the second in full color on uncoated stock and the third in full color on a glossy coated stock. The printing in all sections was offset with a relatively rough line screen. Yes. Thank you. Looks perfect. Put it on the pile.
Back in New York, I gave the book several goings over. It ought to be right up my alley. It is definitely a puck of an object. It is absolutely idiosyncratic. It certainly is highly personal. But, always a but: it has no rudder. It isn’t about anything that I can suss out. It’s a dense idiosyncratic mess. There’s no there there, or, rather, there’s so much there there that there’s nothing there. That last sentence perfectly captures the essence of the book; read it again.
From the book’s English text:
we do photos, but it is not like photo photo, but more like photos that we like, and we do.
I don’t think that’s an off kilter translation. I think that’s probably right on. Like the image? Add it to the blender. To be fair: there is a Korean text that is much longer than the English text. This might provide the key to understanding the photographers’ intent(s). It might not.
The book was produced by three members of the Contemporary Image Archive, a collective of several photographers. Go Dae Gun, Yoo Byung Seo and Lee Yun Ho were the collective’s three members responsible for this book. None of their websites appear to still be active. (They are mentioned in a blog post from 2008 for a show at Space C in Sinsadong, also a dead website.) The collective’s members shortened the name to CIA. I imagine that the reference to the US spy agency was fully intentional. I imagine also that their use of the word archive was fully intentional. I don’t think that this intentionality was applied during the making of the book. There is little coherent observation–and no intelligence guiding it. If this is an archive, its bounds and guiding principles are amorphous. How can one mine this for information? How can one find a path through?
It could be that this book strikes me as premonition. Perhaps it suggests a failure in waiting in my own work. I’ve been working on an artists book very much in the same vein comprising photographs of Seoul. My goal is to create a mental picture of the city through an overwhelming visual cacophony, to create an experience akin to walking in the physical city. I want the book to be a jumble such that each time the viewer enters into the book he finds something striking, a new detail, an overlooked clue. My jumping off point is Smith’s Pittsburgh. I think his failure–and that is what it was, was in believing that he could define and encapsulate a city through photography. I don’t believe that. Any city changes moment to moment. A person takes a step; the visual field changes; personal relations change; the physical city is changing perceptibly and imperceptibly. How to create a book of photographs that encapsulates this view of the city rather than the city itself? And, how to do so while maintaining a point of view?
Go, Yoo and Lee’s untitled book (Annual Image Book?) lets the point of view fall apart. It lacks a guiding force.
The book is not without its charms. It is crazy and dizzying. Each time you open it it feels like a different book. When they published this book in 2009, Go, Yoo and Lee promised to publish another book each year until 2019. I didn’t see any follow up books on the shelves at The Book Society, and their websites all are gone. It would have been exciting to see these three grow into their efforts. Perhaps their later efforts were sold out. Perhaps I simply overlooked them. Perhaps I’ll be rewarded on my next visit with a new book from these three. In the meantime, this is a funky book that is something less than the sum of its parts. Right up my alley…
untitled (Annual Image Book?)
Go Dae Gun, Yoo Byung Seo, Lee Yun Ho