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Vitamin PhReview - Vitamin Ph
New Perspectives in Photography
by Editors of Phaidon Press
Phaidon Press, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Apr 10th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 15)

Vitamin Ph has 352 pages, and includes 121 artists who use photography.  For each artist, the editors include a few sample works and a half-column of information about them.  The basic aim of the book is to showcase some of the most interesting and innovative current work being done in art photography.  It does not contain every significant artist working in photography, but it does have a wide selection.  It's a large book, and daunting to read systematically.  It lends itself far more to browsing, and it is worth sitting by a computer with a fast Internet connection while looking at it, so that if you find an artist whose work looks appealing, you can see if you can find more of their work online.  Many have their own home pages with much of their work available to see, and it is generally possible to find the some of the work of others online too.

To be honest, Vitamin Ph is overwhelming.  It has so many different styles, different images, with just a few pictures representing each artist, some of them rather small.  The text accompanying each artist's pages is in small print, and it often is not particularly informative, although sometimes it does provide very helpful information.  Often on returning to the book, I found myself not even reading about the artist, but just flipping the pages backwards and forwards, stopping at striking images.  Which ones grab your attention will depend as much on your own mood as anything else. 

The book's introduction by TJ Demos gives some guidance to the reader, although it too is written in the same small print that taxes the patience of the reader.  His style does not help either: consider the first sentence of the Conclusion: "The extremely diverse and provocative photography of Vitamin Ph invites us to contemplate forms of visual experience beyond the framework of a single truth, beyond the certainty of history's chronology and beyond the static definition of subjectivity."  It has a clear enough meaning, but it is tied up in academic jargon and theory.  Demos is correct that the works here challenge traditional conceptions of what art photography is, and they raise all sorts of questions.  His introduction does set these images in historical context and explain their relevance, but it is hard work. 

What's distinctive about Vitamin Ph aside from the bewildering assortment of international artists?  Well, unless you are already an expert in modern art photography, it is likely that many if not most of the artists included in the book will be unfamiliar to you.  Most of them are under the age of 40, and they come from 40 countries.  There are many exceptional artists included in the book.  I especially liked the work of Lalla Essaydi from Morocco titled Converging Territories, in which women wear cloth covered in Islamic calligraphy written in henna, and appear against backgrounds with similar calligraphy.  The work of Sarah Hobbs, showing rooms cluttered filled with crumpled paper or a floor full of white eggs, is amusing, beautiful and clever.  The photographs of Rinko Kawauchi showing still lives or objects from nature are stunning in their beauty.  The landscapes of Panos Kokkinias are eerie and lovely. 

This collection of recent work does show that photography is exploding with energy as an art form, and there are some very talented artists using the medium.  Browsing through Vitamin Ph is a good way to get some sense of what's going on in art photography, and will give you some names to look out for in the future.

 

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© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

 


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