Interview with Judith Steneken, author of Last Call

Grand Prize Winner, Photography Book Now 2010

Last Call

How did you get involved in this project?

I knew there were discussions about the [Tempelhof] airport to be closed down in the near future. I did not want to miss the chance to have a look at this historical building while still in progress. When I stood in the huge main entrance hall of the building the atmosphere there immediately affected me. It felt more like being in a museum then in an airport – "silence" was the first impression going through my mind. You would not expect an airport in the 21st century in Berlin and in the middle of the city to have a calm attitude. I was totally affected by that. By chance I had my camera with me and started shooting. I only brought two rolls of film with me, but looking at the few negatives later on, I knew I had a project.

Why was this work important to you?

People say it hurts when you’re growing. I guess that’s not only right for the physical state of your body when you’re young, but also every time you’re going through changes, which force you to grow emotionally and mentally – besides the joy it could bring.

I went through such changes, when I was shooting the project and I felt the airport was too, as it was suppose to lose its original purpose of being an airport without knowing what to become afterwards. I felt connected to it and wanted to show both the beauty and the melancholy of leaving something behind.

What’s the back-story on your book?

When it came to my final exhibition at the Ostkreuzschule in November 2009, I realized that I did not only want to show the 12 big prints I had made for the exhibition, but also a wider selection of the huge amount of images I had. Therefore I decided to do a book. As this was my first book project, it was a real challenge working on it, but it was fun too, so I kept going even after the exhibition and did more versions of the book, before finally deciding to do a modified version with some extras, which I then sent to the Photography Book Now competition.

What was your reaction when you heard you won?

I was excited and flattered. To be honest, right after the phone call and after realizing what happened, I screamed and cried and laughed and then listened to music – very loud – and sang all my favorite songs. It was pure happiness I felt that day, and I truly enjoyed it, because I knew it won’t feel the same the next day...

Interview with Anton Kusters, author of 893 Magazine – The Yakuza in Tokyo

Category Winner, Editorial — Photography Book Now 2010

893 Magazine -
  The Yakuza in Tokyo

Can you give us a little background on the work in your winning book?

The work in 893 Magazine is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo. Through months of delicate preparations and negotiations by my brother Malik and our fixer Taka-san, we got to be the only westerners ever to be granted access to this closed world.

With a mix of photography, film, writing and graphic design, I try to share not only their extremely complex relationship to Japanese society, but also to show the personal struggle that each family member faces: being forced to live in two different worlds at the same time; worlds that often have conflicting morals and values. It turns out not to be a simple “black” versus “white" relationship, but most definitely one with many shades of grey...

Preparations started in 2008, and access was granted early in 2009, for two years. The project is now at full speed, with all elements of the story being produced as we speak. in 2011 and 2012, hopefully a photo book, a documentary feature film, and an encompassing exhibition, will become reality. For each of these we are actively seeking production funding.

As long as the project is running, 2 issues of 893 Magazine will be published every year. 893 Magazine is fully photographed, written and designed by Anton.

What’s the back-story on your book?

Starting as an excuse to be able to visit each other more often, living halfway across the world, my brother and I were both subconsciously looking for a photographic project in which we could both put our hearts in, and complement each other with our skills (Anton, photographer/designer and Malik, producer/marketeer) at the same time.

We came across this particular subject while talking to Taka-san, bar-owner and a great friend, who subsequently became our fixer to guarantee our safety. Negotiations lasted for more than a year, and access was granted in early 2009.

I guess we both have a genuine human interest in the mystery of exploring a subculture we do not, and probably never will understand... but our approach is with an open mind and a willingness to learn. The duo of one brother photographing and the other producing, seems to give us wings to accomplish things we otherwise could only dream of.

Specifically with the Yakuza, the thing that piqued our interest was the fact that they seemingly do not “hide” outside of Japanese society, but are very much (and openly) part of it in many ways. We wondered why it wasn’t a simple “black vs. white” story, as one would be tempted to imagine.

And, of course, we’re hoping to gain enough visibility with the magazine, to get funding to produce the actual book, the documentary feature film, and the exhibition.

As a photographer, how do you usually work?

I usually work long term documentary style (lots of ground work, trust building, etc)... and, in addition to that, the aspect of story telling, for me, is by far the most important part of any of my projects; everything I do is geared towards the story I want to tell, in the way that I want to tell it.

I simply want to show my vision shaped by my experiences; I want to show reality in the way that I see and feel it, and in the most personal way I can... and hopefully people are interested in that.

Obviously, in these kind of long term projects, a huge amount of work goes into preparation, negotiation, access, and maintaining access, all of which my brother Malik specializes in; we complement each other perfectly in that way.

How long have you been in photography?

Not very long... I started seriously in 2005 after seeing Roger Ballen’s “Shadow Chamber”. It had a profound effect on me, and what I thought “photography” was and should be.

I believe that my upbringing, my having a university degree, and at the same time my being self-employed and starting up/running a company, have given me the tenacity to follow things through and get the job done... “walk the walk” so to speak.

I hope that my experience, which is not always related to photography, will turn out to be an asset for me to be able to continue within photography and carry it further.

How do you feel about being selected a winner of the PBN Competition?

I feel incredibly honored of course!

Ever since last year’s competition I’ve been saying “next year I’ll compete too, with whatever project I’m involved in”. I’ve looked up to this competition as a benchmark for combining photographic and design skills. Let’s face it, all of us photographers eventually want that one finite thing, that thing that makes it all tangible... that book.

I feel being selected as a winner is a huge opportunity, a starting point for my photography to grow. I’ve only been into photography for a (relatively) short time, coming from graphic and web design, and this is my chance to step up my game... to tell more stories... and who knows what this will all lead up to...

What was your reaction when you heard you won?

At the time I got the call from Eileen from Blurb, I was in Japan for the 893 project, right in the middle of photographing a covert training camp for young recruits. When I explained my “slightly precarious” situation, she understood why I wasn’t able to jump up and scream “Yeah!”....

...but we had a great whispery conversation after that :-)

Interview with Arthur Tress, author of Barcelona Unfolds

Category Winner, Fine Art — Photography Book Now 2010

Barcelona Unfolds

Can you give us a little background on the work in your winning book?

These are photos I took in Barcelona in November 2008 during a weeklong stay there. It was late in the tourist season and the city was quiet and the light bright and clear. The last time I had been there was in 1962 when it was a poor rough port city with an American naval base suffering under the last days of the Franco dictatorship but with a rich history of Catalan culture. I was surprised to find it greatly changed – full of luxury shops and new museums and a prosperity brought about by a socialist government, I wanted to record the shifting contrasts of old and new as I drifted about this vibrating city.

How did you get started?

I was invited to stay in Barcelona by a very young talented Spanish photographer and writer who admired my work and contacted me through my website. He took me to parts of the city not normally seen by tourists such as the nude beach in the shadow of an abandoned nuclear plant or the 1920s amusement park high on a hill above the sprawling metropolis.

Why was this project important to you?

This project was important to me as it acted like a springboard to some the interesting new ideas that I am exploring further. When one orders "Barcelona Unfolds" through the blurb bookstore it would not come folded. It would be something the reader would have to do on his own.

This gave me the inspiration to do other kinds of "interactive" activity books that could be inexpensively bought online and worked on later by the book buyer. In the 1960s there were conceptual artists such as Sol Le Witt who sold a plan for a wall drawing that the museum would do themselves on their own gallery walls. They cost $25,000. Through the Internet you could now instead buy a Blurb book "multiple" at an affordable price and this appealed to my sense of democratically available works of art for a general public. The second book that I made in this series is called "Crop Circles" of a group of irrigation wheels on a local farm that comes with "instructions" on how to fold the pages in half with a ruler and mat knife to create many new possible visual combinations.

How do you feel about being selected a winner of the Photography Book Now Competition?

I am pleased being selected as a winner in the contest as it will give me chance to share my enthusiasm for creative online book projects that are able to be shared inexpensively with a larger audience outside the commercial publishing world that bestows its favor on a very lucky few.

Interview with WassinkLundgren, author of Portfolio

Category Winner, Portfolio — Photography Book Now 2010


What is your brief biography?

WassinkLundgren is a collaboration between Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren.

We met at the Utrecht School of Arts where we graduated in 2005. We have been working together since; making work we sometimes describe as conceptual documentary photography. In our work we focus on the metropolitan areas and the people who live there, including ourselves. At the same time we play with, and question the rules of our own medium.

Wassink lives in London where he recently finished an MA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, while Lundgren resides in Beijing where he is about to finish his MA Photography at the Central Academy of Fine Art.

How do you feel about being selected a winner of the PBN Competition?

It put a big smile on my face. I’m always happy to receive a phone call with someone saying that they really enjoyed looking at our work!

By sending in this portfolio we had two possible scenarios in mind. The first scenario would be that we’d receive a lawsuit from Blurb saying that we illegally used their design and that we should immediately stop doing that. The ideal scenario however, would be that on seeing our portfolio, the jury would laugh out loud and really like it!

What’s the back-story on your book?

When we recently joined with our agent in London, David Birkitt, he asked us for a portfolio that he could show around. Something that we didn’t have at the time. Up till that moment, when we would meet with an art director or magazine editor, we would only show a selection of our publications and installation shots of exhibitions. But we realized that this didn’t really work for somebody who would show work on our behalf.

So we were looking to make something that would combine our chunky pile of books into one neat presentation, but at the same time something that would reflect our way of working and thinking. And on top of that it needed to be something that we could easily update.

We felt that the flexibility of Blurb, being able to print of small sets of books every time we’ve added some new work to a portfolio, could come in handy here. We played a little bit with the Blurb software and suddenly got all excited about the idea to use the guidelines for assembling a Blurb book, as the actual design. Rather than trying to make it look like a Steidl book, which it isn’t, we’ve tried to expose the structure and simply followed the workings of it.