Out of Focus Wins Award

I’ve held off writing a follow-up post on Peter Olpe’s Out of Focus: Pinhole Cameras and Their Pictures until my copy of the book arrived from the publisher. This ended up taking three long months, as the first copy either got lost in the mail from Switzerland or was pocketed by a knowing postal worker. But the book finally arrived — just in time for Christmas — and I’ve been pouring over it ever since. It’s terrific!

The exciting news to share at the outset is that Out of Focus, which includes six of my own photos, won a “Silver” prize at the esteemed German Photo Book Awards in November. The Awards honor photographers, graphic designers, writers, and publishers for their presentation and production of photography books. The jury awarded “Gold” and “Silver” distinctions to 22 books, and recognized another 173 titles with the “Nominated 2013” designation. An exhibition that includes the award-winning and nominated titles will travel across Germany and on to Bucharest and Rio de Janeiro during 2013.

It’s no wonder Out of Focus won this award. Designed by the author, who studied with Armin Hoffman and taught for over 35 years with Wolfgang Weingart at the famed Basel School of Design, the book is impressive from cover to cover. With 432 pages and 850 illustrations, the tri-lingual volume (German, French, and English) includes essays on Olpe’s life-long work with pinhole photography, wonderful images by Olpe and 30 international photographers, and photos of his many self-made cameras. And the production quality is spectacular. This is what happens when you get an author like Olpe, a Swiss art publisher like Niggli Verlag, and generous funding from various Swiss cultural institutions.

Out of Focus includes work by such illustrious photographers as Jim Goldberg, Olivero Toscani, Georg Aerni, Herlinde Koelbl, and Alec Soth. They, along with all the contributing artists, were invited to participate in a barter trade with Olpe whereby they would use one of his cameras in exchange for contributing images to the book. The resulting collection of photos is terrific. And although Alec Soth only submitted one image to the book, I was particularly excited to find him among the contributors  — I’m a big fan of his work.

I think this book could have a noticeable and positive impact on the world of pinhole photography, and hope the award will give it some help in this regard. In the DIY movement pinhole and other lo-fi cameras like the Diana, Lomo, and Holga are hugely popular. But aside from the work of artists like Ann Hamilton, Abelardo Morell, and Vera Lutter, the fine art world (at least here in the US) seems to have a rather suspect opinion of the medium. More than one person I spoke with at a recent portfolio review advised me point blank that pinhole photography is not taken seriously by curators and critics. Hopefully this beautiful and compelling book will go some ways towards rehabilitating that reputation.

Out of Focus will be available for sale in the US at Amazon on February 27, 2013, or you can buy it now on Amazon UK or Amazon Germany.

The images below show the book cover and spreads of photos by Stefan Killen, Thomas Bachler, Tobias Madörin, Oliviero Toscani, Christian Vogt, and Peter Olpe. The last photo shows some of the many pinhole cameras Olpe made.

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