While the written word, in book form at least, seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse, the art-book can’t, and won’t go the same way. What the many great art-book publishers are doing can’t be translated over to a more modern medium. It may sound naive of me but I’m convinced that this is the case. I simply can’t imagine a piece of technology that could deliver artistic content in the same way as a book with high-quality printing (apart from the original artworks and prints, of course). One of the reasons for my belief is the stunning quality of Zero+ Publishing’s catalogue so far. I’ve been fortunate enough to have reviewed a few books from Zero+ over the last year or so and each and every time I am amazed at the craftsmanship. And that’s just the standard versions of the books; Zero+ offer special edition versions of some of their titles that are simply stunning. These books are true collaborations between Zero+ and the artists they support. The man at the top of Zero+ is Kirk Pedersen and I recently learnt that Zero+ was actually set up to self-publish his own book, one of a future (at the time) diptych, called Urban Asia, which was published in 2009. Two years after that, the second half of the diptych was published, Tradeoffs, completing the set.
It was while on vacation in Thailand and Cambodia back in 2004 that Kirk – who was a photo-realistic painter at the time – had an a revelation; he would create a pair of photo-books called Urban Asia. This sparked a string of visits but this time Kirk was there as an photographer and not simply as a tourist. The photos from four years, over the course of twelve trips, are shown in the first volume, Urban Asia. The second volume, Tradeoffs spans the much shooter period of less than a year, over the course of what appears to be six expeditions.
Kirk often aims his camera parallel to the wall and captures the details that most people don’t even realise are there – or choose to ignore. They are missing out, because the colours, textures, layers, ripped, hand painted signage, rusted, dripping, peeling concrete and wooden canvases are masterpieces though his lens. Maybe they aren’t missing a thing – maybe they only come alive through the attention of the photographer but I feel that they are there for us all, if only we took the time to look. Anyway, luckily, Kirk looked and brought the atmosphere back with him. These images remind me of Aaron Siskind (who is cited in the introductory text by Jeff Brouws), although Kirk has taken a step back and given us more in the frame. In doing so, the resulting images look less abstract, which will please most viewers I would think. The best photos in Urban Asia are these in my opinion. There are other shots taken with a wider field though and these depict larger buildings and urban vistas. Another one of my favourites is a floating house with a detailed look at the walls, which are made up from stacked cooking-oil cans. Again, the details are exquisite!
While Urban Asia gains its heartbeat primarily from living walls and other such objects, Tradeoffs beats very much with a human heart. I don’t know about the geography in real terms but it seems that Tradeoffs seems to take us closer to the centre of the cities. There’s more action and more… is there more colour? I don’t know. Maybe it’s more intense. Everything comes alive in a different way; a faster pulse, perhaps. Tradeoffs often presents a a different side of Asia. The hand-painted signage turns to back-lit and neon. The focus here seems to be the more modern Asia, the one of commerce and advertising and the inner city lifestyle. The sights, sounds and smells seem to accompany the images naturally. The advertising here is so in-your-face. Is this how it is in other cities around the world? I guess it is. It’s fascinating to see though and it’s made me change the way that I look at how we are bombarded with images that are made to encourage us to buy, buy, buy. I get sick and tired of seeing this visual noise in my home town and when I visit other towns and cities in the UK. So why is it different when I see it in images from Asia? Kirk has made it captivating in a way. Is there’s a cultural aspect to advertising in other countries or are they simply using the same rules all over the world? I don’t know but it wasn’t something I was prepared for being confronted by.
The second photographer that came to mind when flicking though the second book was Michael Wolf (also cited in the intro text). Quite often, Kirk stands way back and we see the density of the architecture. The details are so tightly packed that at times it becomes claustrophobic. Tradeoffs still also has foundations of the close-up textures that are found in Urban Asia though with lots of these wonderful images. In both books, there are also those beautiful hints are the omnipresent Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal. Nothing major but small and subtle enough to make me smile whenever I see any of it, and it’s another layer of detail that becomes part of the whole. The second book also made me realise what a great street-photograher Kirk is too in the way that he captures the life in people as well as the walls and buildings.
The work is at critical state where the two books couldn’t exist in any other form. You certainly couldn’t remove any photos from either to make a single title. Everything that’s included needs – and deserves – to be there. I wouldn’t recommend buying one or the other; it has to be both. I envy Kirk for the same reasons that I envy Above; Kirks taken me places that I probably won’t have the opportunity to visit myself – like a posh version of a Google Holiday, if you will! He looks in all the same directions I like to but thankfully he’s looking through the lens at the same time.
You can see more photos from within each title over at the books’ individual pages and Urban Asia and Tradeoffs are both available direct from Zero+ Publishing. Get them while you can because that’s one of the beauties of these books; they are limited pieces in their own right.