Photobook Reviews (W10/2015)

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Things are a bit hectic at this end right now, leaving me with less time to work on this site than I would prefer. But it is what it is. I started writing a book, which I am tremendously excited about, but which probably will also keep me this busy until the end of the year (when the manuscript is due). If you want to keep up with what I might be up to besides what’s published here, there’s my Twitter feed, I occasionally write about things that pop up using my Ello account (those are all things that I’ve either covered here already or that simply have no place here), and those interested in silly pictures can check out my Instagram feed.

I don’t know whether I received Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine‘s A Perpetual Season before Federico Clavarino‘s Italia O Italia (which I reviewed here). They’re different books, different bodies of work, even somewhat different photographic sensibilities. Yet these two books overlap in many ways, which has made it hard for me to see one without the other, or more accurately to look at Season without having Italia in mind.

Both books combine photographs of parts of the mostly urban landscape with those of people, pictured for the most part in a state of almost befuddlement. As might be obvious from its title already, Italia is location specific in the sense that the photographs look like they were taken in Italy. But that’s about as specific as it gets. If the location is visible in the photographs in Season, I lack the knowledge to identify markers.

In both books, providing a simple (maybe documentary style) description of a (the) location doesn’t really appear to be the point. Instead, their makers allude to feelings of alienation, and here is where the two books differ most strongly. Italia concerns itself with the almost grotesque state the country finds itself in. In contrast, Season speaks more of the urban human condition after years of modernism (and other isms).

Here and there, A Perpetual Season has strong of some of Michael Schmidt’s Berlin work, if you can make the mental leap from Schmidt’s infinity of grey tones to the somewhat muted colour palette Pujade-Lauraine employs. This is not to say that as a whole Season is Schmidtesque. Thankfully, it is not. But it hits some of the side notes Schmidt made use of so well.

However, as convincing as Season is it maybe is too convincing. The book feels too calculated. Everything is just perfect. It’s a very well-designed book and production, and there clearly is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the photographs and the way they are put together feel very calculated, which had me wonder whether the artist actually discovered something he didn’t expect to find beforehand. I am not sure he did (even though I have no way of knowing – all I have are the pictures).

And this is the biggest difference between Season and Italia. Part of what makes Italia so good is exactly this slight dissonance conveyed through the photographs, where you realize that the photographer doesn’t really want to give you any answers. A Perpetual Season, in contrast, feels more like a very specific answer. It still is a wonderful book with a large number of fantastic photographs. But still… If it only were a little bit less perfect, a little bit less eager to push all the right buttons and the right time, a little less cerebral…

A Perpetual Season; photographs by Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine; 80 pages; MACK; 2014

Rating: Photography 4, Book Concept 3, Edit 3, Production 4.5 – Overall 3.7

Life is like a big game, the only complication being that you’re not even asked whether you want to play. You simply get to play. You’re also not told about the rules beforehand. Instead, life just throws things at you, and you better figure out how it all works. Good luck!

Much like many of the various activities we engage with, photography is nothing other than an attempt to make sense of the world, of this game. We make selections and decisions, we photograph this piece of the world and not that one, we preserve those pieces frozen them in time, and we then infer things, or maybe create new ones. Given photography itself has its own rules, it isn’t that clear which parts of what we produce tell us something about the world, which parts speak of ourselves, and which parts are simply just caused by the technology we employ.

This seemingly so complex mixture is a real recipe for disaster if you’re after some sort of truth (just ask the World Press Photo folks). But boy, it’s so much fun, especially if you don’t take it too seriously (which is, of course, bad news for the art types, who usually tend to take things way too seriously). I had to think of this all when looking through Guilherme GeraisIntergalático. I honestly have no idea what the hell I’m looking at here, but it sure is fun.

Intergalático is filled with all kinds of images and symbolism. I don’t think it would really work without any of the symbolism. Even though I’m convinced most of it is utter nonsense, it is exactly what is needed to hold everything together. After all, we’re used to seeing symbols as, well, just that, as markers that help us understand what’s going on. So those symbols here have certainly got to mean something, don’t they?

Often times, it doesn’t really matter whether the rules you give people for your game make fun, as long as you have rules. That appears to be the underpinning of this book. We see photographs and symbols, and they’re clearly put together in a way that doesn’t look completely random. Obviously, there has to be some meaning then. “Obviously.”

Honestly, I don’t know what the hell this book is telling me. What I do know, though, is that the fun, at least for me, is to find myself trying to figure it out every time I look at it. I still haven’t got anywhere, and I doubt I ever will. But unlike all those books that tell me stories I already know, this one has me coming back to it.

Intergalático; photographs by Guilherme Gerais; 184 pages; self-published; 2014

Rating: Photography 3, Book Concept 4, Edit 3, Production 3 – Overall 3.3

Ratings explained here.