FOTODOK – Pass It On, Private Stories, Public Histories

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

This photobook is an interesting unbound catalog as a follow-up of the exhibition of the same name that occurred at FOTODOK, Utrecht, Netherlands, from November 2020 through February 2021. An exhibition that became more complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This publication also calls into question as to what is an exhibition catalog; a documentation of what occurred at a certain place and time or a potentially creative re-interpretation of what the exhibition was meant to be?

One of the critical aspects for me that create issues for the review of exhibition catalogs for PhotoBook Journal is that these frequently entail multiple artists, multiple points of view and diverse methodologies. In this magazine we are concerned about how a subject of a photobook relates to its physical object, not a review of an exhibition. In this case, the concept for this exhibition was to investigate the FOTODOK central theme for the year; collective memory and the question of what is the relationship between found photographs, a family archive and the role of the artist/curator? Included in this book is a theoretical mashup of the artists, their artwork and the writers who try to explain it to us. This results in ten points of view; five artist, five writers, a real gemisch and a pretty chaotic mess, although the content is interesting. Thus, I will defer to the design and printing of this catalog as to how it might achieve its intent, which I do find very interesting and of merit.

This collective book-work is unbound; thus, the interior pages and inserts can be left as-is, a stand-alone book-object (although a bit vexing to read as mash-up of disorienting and random pages), or deconstructed to create a self-curated private exhibition space. This also requires making personal curatorial choices since the pages are printed on both sides. Without deconstructing the book, the resulting book-work is awkward and can be difficult to understand or relate to. Once the book is taken apart and the individual page spreads allowed to unfold, then everything starts to make a little more visual sense. Thus, by design this photobook is meant to create a dynamic situation for the viewer with the books components, which is unique to this publication but may not necessarily coincide with interactions during the actual exhibition.

It leaves one to question as to the exactitude of this book’s design and how it correlates with the exhibition it is meant to catalog. This question is a publishing challenge for an exhibition catalog; does one directly reinterpret a static exhibition in a manner that seems to be true as to what occurred in a way that might be as, or possibly more, engaging, as a memory of that event? Or is a catalog an independent curatorial exercise that can also investigate the exhibitions intent?

To be clear, I did not have an opportunity to see the FOTODOK exhibition, nevertheless, in reading this catalog I have no clear idea of what it would have been like to experience this exhibition in the Netherlands. It appears that in this case, the exhibition and the catalog are two different artistic vehicles that follow similar paths. The exhibition and its catalog appear as disconnected and unique experiences that results in two different creative endeavors; the exhibition and a catalog that attempts to translate that exhibition’s intent into a stand-alone object.

I really find this publication very intriguing in how it pulls a viewer into interacting with its contents, both visual and written. The book’s design is made more interesting in that it was not until much later after I had removed and disposed of the silkscreen corrugated shipping box, did I find out that this shipping box is both the work’s ‘cover’ as well as its shipping package. An attempt for an environmental two-fer; form and function to reduce waste. Regretfully a subtly that was not self-evident upon receipt and was lost on me. Since this book’s creative shipping package/cover shell ended up in a recycle bin, it still remains a victory for the environment.


Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal


FOTODOK – Pass It On, Private Stories, Public Histories (various authors)

Photographer/Artist); Inge Meijers (NL), Lebohang Kganye (ZA), Marianne Ingleby (US/NL), Pablo Lerma (ES/NL), Yara Jimmink (NL)

Publisher: FOTODOK & Meteoro Editions, Netherlands, copyright 2021

Essays: Ernst van Alphen (NL), Mariama Attah (UK), Sadiah Boonstra (ID), Hilary Roberts (UK), Drew Sawyer (US)

Text: English

Stiff covers, un-bound, four-color, printed by NPN Drukkers, Netherlands, ISBN 9780997503845

Photobook Designer: Kummer & Herrman


Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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