The PhotoBook

April 14, 2009

Amy Stein – Domesticated

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Books — Tags: , , , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:49 am

stein-domesticated-cover

Photographs are copyright of Amy Stein

A couple purchase a beautiful cactus in the desert at a roadside stand. The cactus is budding and about to bloom. They hurry home and perch it on a decorative counter in their living room. And they watch with anticipation, but something wrong seems to be happening. The cactus is starting to bulge in odd places. And suddenly it explodes in a shower of black widow spiders. Or was that scorpions? Oh yes, one of many famous Urban Legends, folk stories that have just an ounce of credibility. And taps into your primal fear.

Likewise, Amy Stein re-creates suburban stories for us, that ring true, for have we not had a chance encounter of something similar? I live off a golf course (we call the coyote freeway) adjacent to a National Forest and discovered a bobcat on our back patio, who almost seemed domesticated. It calmly sat there one early morning watching us as we drank our coffee watching it though the glass sliding doors. Then it sauntered off almost indifferently as it gently squeezed itself through our wrought iron fence and back into the “wild”. An Amy Stein moment.

There is a heighten tension in many of Stein’s photographs, as she connects us with that chance wild encounter, the one that we secretly fear and not even talk about, because that alone could make it happen.  The small girl stands at a open gate to unexpectantly confront a wild coyote, which pauses to stare back. What could happen next, and we become afraid for the girls safety.  Have we also not heard the many stories of the mayhem caused by wild animals to small children. Her photographs tap into a primal fear we have of “what if”, that anxiety we experience and dread when watching our children stray further from our protective reach. What if?

There is also another theme concurrently running through her photographs, that of the cause and effect of our presence and subsequet displacement of nature. The natural environmental footprint is dimensioned as a result of mankind’s encroachment. To survive, wildlife adapt, and to perhaps Stein’s point, to a state of near domestication. To protect our new domain, we erect fencing to control nature, to hopefully exclude wild nature from treading on our artificial domesticated nature.  We purchase token wild animals, or in this case, killer parakeets, and hold them captive for our occasional enjoyment, while just outside the window, paradoxically, is the real nature.

The balance of nature is shifting, for predictors and prey alike. And we who created the shift are caught somewhere in between. Perhaps we all have stories of an uncle or cousin who just can not help themselves, but who take full advantage of the changes, much the skilled outdoors-man who bags his quota shooting over the backyard fence. Humorous but yet like many suburban tales, with enough of a bit of truth to be taken as a true “real” story.

And last, but not least, we have changed the order of nature. That a coyote no longer recognizes the moon, but howls at the artificial light that it has now become accustomed to. Perhaps because of the ambient street lights, smog, smoke and haze, the moon no longer has a viable presence, but the wild still prevails, and a sad wail still pierces the dark.

I can relate to Stein photographs and stories, because I think that they just might be really true….maybe.

The softcover book was printed in Hong Kong, has a trim size of 10″ x 8 1/2″, with 64 pages and 25 color photographs, and published at the end of 2008 by Photolucida. The Introduction was provided by Alison Nordstrom. The book’s design was developed by Anthony de Franco, while Andy Gutrie and Mathilde Simian assisted with the editing and sequencing of the photographs, and together they have created a wonderful classical and readable presentation of Stein’s photographs, single photograph per spread, with a nice margin framing each photograph. Amy Stein was a Photolucida 2006 Critical Mass winner.

stein-backyard

stein-nursey

stein-grasp

stein-window

stein-howl

By Douglas Stockdale

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7 Comments »

  1. Thanks for your insightful review Douglas. I really appreciate your thoughts on the book.

    Great blog! I’ll be checking back.

    Comment by Amy — April 16, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

  2. Douglas
    An excellent take on Ms Stein’s photos. Some of your comments have made me look anew at the work (unfortunately only online because, as far as I can tell, Domesticated is not yet available in the UK).
    Adrian
    http://whitenoiseofeverydaylife.wordpress.com/

    Comment by whitenoiseofeverydaylife — April 22, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  3. Apart from the photographs themselves, what did you think of the book’s production? For me, the halftone screening was unacceptably large. It distracted from the work. I think Photolucida lost control of their production somehow in the last round of books. Their first series was printed much better, IMO. Curious to hear your take.

    Comment by blake — April 28, 2009 @ 1:50 am

  4. Blake, I noticed it as well. A friend of mine is on the Photolucida board and I brought it to her attention, but this was just before their big photo-review last week so they were a tiny bit distracted. So I’m waiting to follow up until after things in Portland calm down.

    For the previous year, both of mine books are black & white projects and now this year, all three are in color, but same issue with half-tone gain for all three recent books.

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — April 28, 2009 @ 2:13 am

  5. If you noticed the production problems, why didn’t you mention them in the review? I think this sort of information might be helpful for people and it’s definitely not getting airplay anywhere else. Don’t pull your punches. Lay it all out there.

    Comment by blake — April 29, 2009 @ 12:24 am

  6. Regretfully, I had not figured it out until after I had published the review. And I think it now warrents a seperate article about it, hopefully posted tomorrow.

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — April 29, 2009 @ 5:08 am

  7. [...] Another photobook by Amy Stein reviewed on The PhotoBook: Domesticated [...]

    Pingback by Amy Stein & Stacy Arezou Mehrfar – Tall Poppy Syndrome | The PhotoBook — May 8, 2013 @ 6:01 pm


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