Collections of portfolios that broadly center on Western Europe/The United States and Eastern Europe (with a bit of China in the mix), West and East, each edited/curated by Regina Maria Anzenberger, present broad views of what “West” and “East” might stand for. While East appears to contain only photographers from the Anzenberger Agency, West includes some non-agency members. I’ve had both books on my pile of books to review for a while, simply because I just did not and do not know what to make of them.
Collections of work by different photographers with vastly different styles are not new. Handling mere collections is straight-forward, because if there are no connections between the individual portfolios other than the fact that the photographers all work for the same agency, say, one can appreciate the individual voices by themselves. Where it gets iffy is when there is a theme. I personally cannot look at the different bodies of work as separate entities, since, after all, they are presented as part of a larger whole. For me, that makes looking at such collections harder, because with some work falling way short of other work, the collection as a whole becomes patchy; and more often than not I’m left wondering what this all is supposed to tell me. “These all are different views of some broadly defined topic” just isn’t enough for me. There is no challenge for me in such an approach. Picking some work that I like better than some other work I do all the time (that’s a large part of this blog here) - maybe that’s my problem. I suppose this has a little bit to do with how I view curating - I discussed this elsewhere on this blog.
That said, I find both West and East very patchy. The occasional exception notwithstanding, the photography for the most part conforms to what one could have come to expect (Russia: run down, US: cowboy hats). Make no mistake, for the most part the photography is quite good, even though some of the photojournalistic work suffers from it sticking way too much to the kind of cliched visual language that I discussed elsewhere on this blog.
As objects I find West and East a bit weird: I suppose both books technically are softcovers. I’m sure there’s a name for the kind of book which is a hardcover, with the actual hard cover missing and the spine exposed. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach, except that in this case, both books are a tad too big and too heavy, so they don’t handle very well. And they come in a slip case, one of which semi-disintegrated on me already (I just taped it up).
If you’re interested in West and/or East, make sure to have a look at the books first. You might like them more than I do, your approach to photo books might be different; but regardless you might want to flip through them anyway before you think about whether or not to buy them.