Review on Fabrik

  By John Veldhoen

Some time ago, longer ago than I think, I was doing a stint working a sequence of industrial jobs. Rough carpentry, pipefitting, assisting oil and gas engineering, driving heavy machines, and roadwork; all of which might fall under the category of “the irritation of plot” inasmuch as during the same time I would take photographs, starting with a little Leica CL, that I bought from The Camera Store. I was living with a friend who worked in a steel foundry, all we did was work, eat, sleep, and do the hurtin’ Albertan sort of deal… But I started to shoot film, bit by bit. All of this came as a surprise to me. I wanted to work hard, and be in silence a lot, and to not think too much. Then, one day, during this period, during some time off, I was taking photographs on the street, and was approached by a young man who asked me if I “knew how to use that thing”… I still haven’t really found a way to answer the question, although I am not using that camera anymore. In fact, I don’t make pictures much at all. Nowadays I mostly just read and write about them…

At the time, I felt like I needed to do something with the roughness of the environment I found myself in, and control the optical unconsciousness of being in a certain place in time, even using photography as a therapy for trauma, and to deal with city life, in general. I still think a camera is a good tool for therapy. Small camera photography, or street photography, has often been about this kind of thing. People more articulate and knowledgeable have written spools on this subject, and I don’t want to write too much about it here, but in the last few years, I have engaged with a number of people who’ve been working in this mode. Few have been more interesting to me than Shane Arsenault, who has a new show opening at Herringer Kiss gallery this week, dealing in a somewhat Atget-like way with the transition that Alberta has undergone from brutalist, or one might say, late-modernist backgrounds, to having post-modernist, “tout-autre, very”, khôra… That is, being built of space that is “neither present nor absent, active or passive, good nor evil, living nor nonliving – but rather atheological and nonhuman.”

But listen, I’m reminded of a book by Jakob Tuggener called “Fabrik”. I think it is the greatest photobook that almost nobody knows, and it pertains to a different way of seeing than what is implied by what is becoming the new Alberta. Tuggener expresses a world of work, of speed, of industry, and industriousness, and of peace too, and purity. Robert Frank knew of Tuggener’s work, and recommended it to Edward Steichen to include it in the “Family of Man” exhibit. I love the full-page bleeds of the book, and love it as the “Bildepos” (picture-epic) it advertises itself as being. It was hailed, once, as a pictorial “spiritual defense”. It is key to understanding the sequencing strategies of the photobooks that have followed. The disavowal of the full bled page in favor of muséal, bordered images, like in Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, does not convince me that the best photobooks do not have exactly the expressionistic qualities of “Fabrik”. I think the book was appropriates the techniques of cinema (it is hard looking through “Fabrik” not to think of the haunted screen of German expressionist movies). Great books of photos are more like motion pictures than one might assume. The Camera Store even has a facsimile edition of the book! If you are interested in making a photobook yourself, or interested in making anything (with an emphasis on “thing”) at all, then I think you should buy it. 

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.