Welcome to the Castle
Photobooks of the Year 2020

Julião Sarmento, Café Bissau, Pierre von Kleist

[Excerpt via American Suburb X]

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing. ‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Judith Black Pleasant Street (Stanley/Barker). Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. Hans-Christian Schink Hinterland (Hartmann Books). What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism.

 

Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and The Illusion of an Everlasting Summer, Mack

Adrian Samson, Mother (Rollo Press). The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. Guido Guidi’s Lunario (Mack). The bullies were in another part of the playground. Julião Sarmento, Café Bissau (Pierre von Kleist). I didn’t want to attract their attention to me. Thomas Manneke, Mutatio (Van Zoetendaal). The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. Gerry Johansson’s Ehime (T&M Projects). If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Justine Kurland Girl Pictures (Aperture). Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality? André Cepeda Ballad of Today (Pierre von Kleist). One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live.

 

Debi Cornwall, Necessary Fictions, Radius Books

The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. Ron Jude 12hz (Mack). This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandizing themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. Bertrand Cavalier Concrete Doesn’t Burn (FW Books). The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. Raymond Meeks Ciprian Honey Cathedral (Mack). But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. Nicolas Polli When Strawberries Grow on Trees, I will Kiss you (Ciao Press).

 

Peter Mitchell, Early Sunday Morning, RRB Books

The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog. Ward Long Summer Sublet (Deadbeat Club Press). Then there was Russell Brand. Katherine Longly Hernie & Plume (The Eriskay Connection). Julião Sarmento Café Bissau (Pierre von Kleist) I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Peter Mitchell’s Early Sunday Morning (RRB Books). Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. Aikaterini Gegisian’s Handbook of the Spontaneous Other (Mack).

 

Jörg M. Colberg, Photography’s Neoliberal Realism, Mack

The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e., nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralizers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Stephen Shore, Transparencies Small Camera Works 1971-1979 (Mack) Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon. Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza PSALM (Witty Kiwi). The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. Sam Contis, Day Sleeper (Mack). This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes.

 

Paul Graham, A1 – The Great North Road, Mack

Mimi Plumb The White Sky (Stanley/Barker). Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humor was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism.’ Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralizing left specializes in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing. Paul Graham’s A1 – The Great North Road (Mack). The moralizing left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me.’) For the moralizers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. Loïc Seguin’s Half-Light (VOID). In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralizing left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Wendy Ewald’s Portraits and Dreams.

 

Juergen Teller and Harmony Korine, William Eggleston 414, Steidl

Cut and dried, finished, condemned. It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behavior and the language that he uses. Stephen Shore’s Transparencies: Small Camera Works 1971-1979 (Mack). But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good humored humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. Damian Heinisch 45 (Mack). I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird,’ so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.” Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Harmony Korine & Juergen Teller William Eggleston 414 (Steidl).

 

Charlie Engman, Mom, Edition Patrick Frey

Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the Posh Left moralizers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. Teju Cole’s Fernweh (Mack). The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class. Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. Tatum Shaw’s Plusgood (Aint-Bad). The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and preemptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. Dafna Talmor Constructed Landscapes (FW Books).

 

Chris Killip, The Station, Steidl, 2020

I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public. Roger Eberhard Human Territoriality (Edition Patrick Frey). But, once class had reappeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. Gerry Johansson Meloni Meloni (Johansson & Jansson AB). It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’. Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook.

 

Christopher Anderson, Pia, Stanley/Barker

Matteo Di Giovanni’s Blue Bar (I wrote the text for full transparency) (Artphilein Editions). I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. Odette England Keeper of the Hearth (Schilt Publishing). The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand],’ it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronizing faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the autodidact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! Christopher Anderson’s Pia (Stanley/Barker).

 

John Divola, Chroma, Skinnerboox

John Divola, Chroma, Skinnerboox. This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralizing pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorized by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. Massimo Leardini’s Elv (Stanley/Barker). I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. Nick Waplington, Anaglypta 1980–2020 (Jesus Blue).

 

Trent Parke, Crimson Line, Stanley/Barker

Gordon Parks, The Atmosphere of Crime, Steidl

[…] The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots. Gordon Parks, The Atmosphere of Crime (Steidl). But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group. Tom Wood 101 Pictures (RRB Books).

 

Paul Graham, A1 – The Great North Road, Mack

…These are books that I have held in my hands in 2020. I do not work from pdfs and I could not attend any fairs apart from Festival Images Vevey. This list is long. It was a good year, great if you take in consideration the plague. I have no favorites, but I will say that I believe that Stanley/Barker and Mack probably held the year with their overall work and flow. Through the pandemic, they both crushed it. I will also mention Loose Joints made one of the most important books of the year as did Chose Commune even if they could not publish as much as usual.

 

Photobooks of the Year 2020 / Welcome to the Castle
Excerpt via American Suburb X
Brad Feuerhelm / American Suburb X
See original article >

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