China in Print: Kassel Fotobook Award (LOOK/15) at Central Library, Liverpool

An impromptu visit to Liverpool a couple of weekends ago took me the city’s Central Library for the Kassel Fotobook Award archival display as part of the LOOK/15 International Photography Festival. Another chance to hunt out “China in Print” as when I visited the Offprint London 2015 art publishing fair.

On show for the first time in the UK, the Kassel Fotobook Awards are internationally recognised by publishers and self-publishers as on of the “go to” competitions to have your books profiled. Minimally displayed on quite lo-fi metal shelving, organised in a sense of unappreciative disarray and not particularly well positioned or marked in the corridor leading to the very beautiful and renowned Picton Reading Room (as shown below where I think I fell in love with books a little more), it felt lost and not given the focus it deserved…although, I delved into its chaos, opening my eyes to more inventive formats of bookbinding and book-making, and to more book works representing contexts of China.

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Isn’t the Picton Reading Room simply amazing?!

Approximately thirty artists are represented in the Fotobook category, where I got lost in the words, images, materials, bindings and books of:

  • ‘The Bearable: Works 2007-12’ by Zhe Chen – a new publication acting as a confessional photo-documentation of Zhe Chen’s self-harm history spanning half a decade. I already own one of Chen Zhe’s books called ‘Bees’ that I’ve discovered is sold out. I feel lucky to have a copy of this book that documents self-mortification among a community of disaffected Chinese. Chen uses a lyrical approach to ‘identify the physical self-destruction of her subjects as an act of spiritual cleansing’. Her words and images are literally and figuratively cutting…where the poetic wordplay resonates within me, touching my thoughts and making me feel safe;
  • ‘The Dwarf Empire’ by Sanne De Wilde – The World Eco Garden of Butterflies and the Dwarf Empire, also known as the Kingdom of the Little People, is a fantasy theme park in Yunnan province, created in 2009, where 100 little people live and work, entertaining tourists with song and dance routines. Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde spent two weeks in the kingdom, and the book shows what she saw. A video preview of the book is shown below.

The Kassel Fotobook Award presentation at Central Library provided a brief snapshot of how international photographers re-present and re-frame their practice through the format of the photobook…a complex construction where each design decision from layout, format, print style, colouring, material, typeface, words, narratives and more, potentially impact, and can change, the understanding and translation of an initial photograph.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about another photography project I saw that day as part of the LOOK/15 International Photography Festival – ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ by Tabitha Jussa on show at The Bluecoat. Tabitha works with photography and has a particular interest in the relationship between people and place here between the twinned cities of Liverpool and Shanghai, where some images were so familiar to me from both cultures.

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