FORM, FUCTION. FUNCTION, FORM

I’m pretty sure Paul, who is designing After the Fact, is going to send me the first final PDF today.

But it’s not like seeing this first final PDF will shed a whole new light on the thing. After all, the design of After the Fact is very minimal, pared down. So what I’ll be seeing today will be nuance and refinement, not revolution.

You see, the layout, the way the photos are displayed on the pages, the spreads and the turns has already been figured out and dummied-up, shown to all sorts of people and reconfigured and revised again and again. That conclusion was reached weeks ago. The design Paul is attaching to the book is in the type treatment. And there’s not much type to treat.

Anyway . . . for the last few weeks I’ve been questioning those layout and look-and-feel decisions. You see, there is no fancy binding here, no crazy layout, no fold-out pages or complicated architecture to the book, no clamshell case or slipcover. No, the layout and design are simple and straightforward.

There seems to be a trend these days in the photobook world to gussy your book up, to add some deluxe and/or complicated scheme. Sometimes that works really well, the complications do enhance to book. On the other hand, sometimes the flair constructed into photobooks seems superfluous. Not to mention that with some of them it looks like you’d need, like, four hands and a big table to lay the thing on just in order to look at it.

So where (and when) should form outrank function? Should you add complication just because you can? What’s the difference between being trendy and having style? Does the design trickery add to the books’ thesis, or subtract from it?

All these thoughts and questions are rattling through my brain as I get set to finalize After the Fact and put it on the press. And after all that agonizing, wondering if its form is too plain, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that what this work needs and wants is simplicity. The content of the photos, their look and feel, the order they are in and the story they tell should do the heavy lifting.

You can order a copy of After the Fact here.

BALLEN AT SPAO

I haven’t always been conflicted about the photographs of Roger Ballen.

Ten or so years ago, when  I ran across his book, Platteland, I thought it was great. The images there were mostly reality-based portraits shot in the South African countryside. You could see a direct line from Disfarmer, through Arbus and Avedon, to what Ballen was showing us, and how he was showing it.

Then time went on and Ballen’s work progressed. The imagery became more and more melodramatic, and overstatement and repetition became a kind of modus operandi. Along with this he developed some kind of overarching philosophy about what his work was about and how it might be interpreted (and doesn’t seem shy about telling you about it).  I began to have my doubts.

You see, my own biases are towards reality-based imagery. I try to like and appreciate constructed imagery, but often my heart’s not in it. I think, too, that I am (rightly or wrongly) kind of turned off when an artists’ pronouncements and legend-building move too far forward in their scheme of things.

Having said all that I also have to say that I’m intrigued by what he does and am still in thrall of that early work. So it was with great interest that I went to have a look at THERE IS NO OUTSIDE, a show of Roger Ballen prints at SPAO.

The show is modest . . . we see 9 Ballen prints. There is also a video monitor showing 2 documentary-type things and a music video.

It is impossible to assess the scope and progress of Ballen’s work with such a small sampling, though there is also a copy of Ballen’s latest book, Ballenesque, on view . . . a compendium his work along with enough writing for you to see where he’s coming from.

It is a pleasure to be able to approach and study the prints. I was struck by the grit, and the sheer old-school photographic-ness of them. Too, there is something to be said for being alone in a gallery with this imagery, being able to walk up to and away from it, to see the actual artifact.

Kudos to SPAO for bringing this exhibition to Kapital City. It is the first in SPAO’s new series of annual exhibitions that feature an international artist. I look forward to seeing where they go from here with this program.

Roger Ballen
SPAO
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drool. will be taking a summer vacation.

Regular programming will resume September 2nd.

Of course, that’s not to say there won’t be some kind os special, one-off episodes appearing between now and then. There might be. I don’t know.

Best way to make sure you don’t miss an episode? Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, where I’ll post about new drool. episodes (and other stuff too).

Enjoy the summer.