The PhotoBook

August 29, 2009

Chris Jordan – In Katrina’s Wake

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Copyright Chris Jordan, 2006 courtesy Princeton Architectual Press

Artist’s have long realized that they could use their creative efforts in an attempt to influence public opinions and policies that are aligned with their environmental and social concerns. Jacob Riis photographically documented the New York slums in the 1880’s dates, Thomas Moran applied his paint in the late 19th century to inspire the United States National Park System, Picasso’s painting of Guerncia was created as a public outcry about the Spanish Civil War, the photographers of the FSA during the 1930’s documenting the effects of the depression and recently David Maisel’s landscape photographs of the environmental impact by industrial development.

The methods used by the artists to communicate their concerns have been diverse, such as to frame the situation in a beautiful and appealing manner to engage the public support, which was the approach of Moran and Adams. The alternative was to expose the horrors as a call to action, such as Riis, Hines and Maisel. Each artist is attempting to engage a public dialog in the hopes of changing opinions. The call to action still may not create the needed change, but realizing that if no action is taken, the circumstances will not change. The other take away is that when a person has an agenda, that agenda will influence them as to how they will frame their resulting images, what they include and what they will exclude, not unlike advertising or political propaganda.

As a result, we are forwarded by Chris Jordan in his book In Katrina’s Wake, Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, that something “unnatural” occurred in August 2005 with the arrival of the hurricane Katrina to the city and surrounding region of New Orleans. Jordan’s photographs capture the aftermath of this storm. The photographs concentrate on the artifacts of the damage, deftly framing the forlorn objects and creating poignant photographs that border on the beautiful. We do not see the people who are impacted, but indirectly we can sense their sorrowful presence. Many lives have been permanently altered as a result of this storm.

Homes, stores and entire communities were literally wiped away by this tremendous storm. The damaging effects of the wind and rain of the hurricane were compounded by the subsequent failure of the levees that had retained the surrounding water. The resulting floods contaminated entire sections of the city, making the houses that remain standing, uninhabitable.

One photograhy seems to capature a ghost ship sitting eerily in the mist amongst a housing tract and sailing on a sea of broken debris. Everything seems out of sorts, and we sadly note that the debris contains twisted bed frames, shredded clothing and a child’s lonely toy. A bath tube and toilet are now plainly in the open and a brick wall is tilting on its side.

In another photograph there is a missing house, all that remains is a concrete pad in the mid-ground and a lone gate standing in the foreground. The remaining fencing is gone as is any trace of the house or most of its contents. It is a hauntingly still photograph, made even more so by the sounding mist and the wrecked and damage trees barely discernable in the background horizon. It testifies to the brute force that hit this region and to the total devastation that has occurred to the family that once lived here.

A red door that stands in its frame, which now leads to nowhere, and the adjacent windows are gone as the retail store’s inventory is now a pile of trash. In another photography, there a store front that has been dashed, allowing the hanging clothes to take the full brunt of the wind and rain. The soiled and colorful clothes a mocking reminder of the previous vitality of this store.

There are the photographs of abandoned and soiled toys, clothes, furniture, books, and other items we take for granted in the sanctity of our homes. These broken and lonely objects are metaphors for the dreams and memories that have been changed by this hurricane. These are images of abandoned items that were once owned and treasured but left to decay and eventually parish from sight.

Jordan’s photographs are unable to provide the smell of the rotting waste that appears like a sea of mud. Unable to provide the spooky quietness of a housing tract deserted and devoid of the sounds of normal life.

I recall similar scene on the island of Culabra after hurricane Hugo in 1990, with vacant concrete pads where homes once stood and sailboats now marooned high on the hillside overlooking the bay. Later in Southern California, the massive fires that destroyed over 2,000 homes, which were reduced to piles of smoldering ashes. Thus these photographs are symbolic of the impact that natural disasters, such as tornados, mud slides, forest fires, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal waves, and floods can havoc on peoples lives.

Jordan’s compositions are coolly balanced and beautiful, with the subject at hand usually centered within the frame with just a little open space of breathing room around it. Many of the objects are individual studies, floating in a sea of dried mud or within a devastated room. I am struck by the similarities in composition to a natural landscape study or an advertising still life. We are provided with images for contemplation, composed such that there are but few distractions, the static object almost entirely isolated.

The bright colors and compositions do not seem to correlate with the devastation and the effect that this storm is having on some many lives, which have probably been changed forever. Many of the personal and family heirlooms, and family photographs and furniture, are gone forever, left blowing in the wind.

One of the minor disappointing aspects of this photobook was the inability of the photographic content to provide direct evidence that this disaster was unnatural. The beautiful constructed images of the damage and sorrowful conditions are almost surreal, they don’t seem to fully resonate with the incredible destruction.

Perhaps we have seen too many gory images that deaden our senses and souls, while these photographs seem to allow us to become engaged. The compositions are so well balanced and the lighting so wonderful, we are so repulsed that we turn away. That may be the point of this beautifully illustrated and printed book, to provide less obtrusive content that could allow a more meaningful interaction. He weaves in a message without beating you over the head, such that you are enticed to read on and perhaps think deep about the events that occurred and what might be the cause. And hopeful wonder what is happening to the global environment.

Susan Sontag wrote in her book On Photography, that

“..almost opposite rules hold true for the use of the photograph to awaken desire and to awaken conscience. The images that mobilize conscience are always linked to a given historical situation. The more general they are, the less likely they are to be effective. A photograph that brings news of some unsuspected zone of misery cannot make a dent in public opinion unless there is an appropriate context of feeling and attitude.”

The essay by Bill McKibben does provide a rationale for why this hurricane, and probably the more to come, was unnatural. That what we have done as industrialized humans has changed the environment and subsequently the delicate ecologic balance. That a little environmental warming could have huge ramifications to the global weather systems of which we depend so much on.

An interesting and easy to read essay by Susan Zakin discusses the flip side of why this hurricane might be unnatural, subsequently creating much chaos when the damaged levees allowed the flooding. Her essay is not about the fact that city of New Orleans is located below sea level. It is about how changes to the landscape, such as how the engineers attempt to control the Mississippi River or removing the underground oil and gas deposits, can have a dramatic impact on the ecological systems, such as the natural order of the marsh land between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

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Missing_home

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Remains_of_a_business-St-Bernard-Parish

by Douglas Stockdale

August 16, 2009

Christopher Rauschenberg – Paris Changing

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ParisChanging: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris by Christopher Rauschenberg for Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

A photobook that is almost 50% composed of photographs by Eugene Atgetis going to be difficult for me to objectively review. I have to admit that I have a relatively strong bias about Atget, because I like his straight forward photographic content so much. Perhaps what I had not anticipated was that by studying Rauschenberg’s rephotographing of Atget’s work, besides studying Rasuchenberg’s work, what more I might understand about Atget’s photographs.

Christopher Rauschenberg’s Paris Changing, Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris is a photobook that I had been looking forward to reviewing. The concept behind this book was a chance photograph of an Eugene Atget composition made by Rauschenberg, which subsequently inspired him to return Paris to rephotograph as many of Atget’s earlier compositions that he could find.  He made three trips to Paris specifically to work on this rephotographing project in the late 1990’s.

The concept of re-photographing earlier photographic work is not a new concept, as explained in the essay by Alison Nordstrom. To varying degree’s, re-photographing has been completed to various degrees by Nichlas Nixon, Douglas Levere, Matthew Buckingham, Omar Khan and the Mark Klett projects. Of these, perhaps the Mark Klett projects are the most rigorous, bordering on a scientific methodology, when he is paying close attention to the time of day, the season, the atmospheric conditions and the lighting, all with an attempt to create an exact replication.

With the Atget matched photograph on the facing spread, you quickly understand that Rauschenberg was not as rigorous in his rephotographing concept. The seasons, time of day, the atmospheric conditions and lighting all vary between the two bodies of work. Eugene Atget had the luxury of understanding that he had on-going local project, that what was not completed in one season, would be continued the next.

In retrospect, we know that Atget only photographed during a certain time of year, something that Bernd & Hiller Beacher realized and applied to their typological photographs in the 1980’s. The other stylistic trait of Atget’s was to photograph early in the morning, when the streets were usually empty of carts and people. That enabled him to concentrate his focus on the line and mass of the building facades and structures. Again, this practice of photographing without the presence of people is another stylistic practice of the new topograhics of the Beachers and Lewis Baltz and currently John Fitts among others.

Perhaps recognizing his time constraint, Rauschenberg did not strive to achieve the exact environmental appearance of Atget photographs, nor the exact composition. It appears that he was striving to create an equivalence in the feeling and mood of Atget’s compositions. To see what Atget saw, but to see it anew today. As a result, we find ourselves looking at the same scene standing further back, or closer or more to one side or another, just not exactly the same. A key compositional aspect that Atget had captured may have been moved, or a new structure is now in place of where he had once stood.

Like other rephotographing projects, when you place two photographs side by side, but with a lapse of 100 years between the two, you immediately notice the changes. Much like the picture game that kids play, with two almost identical images side by side, where you have to circle the differences. In this case, the changes can be immense, with entire blocks of building now missing or perhaps new complexes standing where a park once lay.

Equally fascinating is comparing a pair of facing photographs and realize that there are only a few perceptible changes that have occurred in the last 100 years. Such as the cover photograph (and below) of Jardin du Luxembourg that Atget photographed in 1906. The seated man is now missing, but the same bench remains in the same location, as does the statuary and most of the trees. The trees, like us, have become a little stouter with the passing years, as well as now missing a limb or two. But otherwise, the content appears relatively unchanged and you could possibly mistake the Rauschenberg for the Atget photograph, if it were not for the usual softness of the Atget photographs.

The changes are obvious when entire buildings are missing or new ones have been erected. The subtle differences are the spray paint graffiti replacing the paste-up posters, both placed on the walls late at night and considered an eye-sore in their respective era. The horses and hand carts have been replace by cars and moped scooters. Interesting to see in a photograph that a bricked road has been replaced with cobblestone, probably to provide the impression that the cobblestone street is old and ancient. Perhaps not. Some of the old structures now have a modern facade, with large plate glass windows replacing old wooden doors.

Also interesting in the content of the paired photographs that some locations are still serving similar functions; a nursery selling flowers and plants, a restaurant, a clothing store, although with much newer mannequins, but not that much difference in how the clothes are displayed.

Rauschenberg did find an “Atget” fountain at Saint Cloud about the same time of year, the trees relatively barren, with a small sea of steps in the background moving in the misty background. There are some noticeable change, the fencing around the fountain has been updated and in the background, a new bushy tree has appeared. Although Rauschenberg has not created the same soft image as Atget did, he has provided a modern adaptation that still is still moody and mysterious, which I find equally esthetically delightful to that of Atget’s. Similar but uniquely different.

During Rauschenberg’s rephotographing of 500 of Atget’s scenes, he came across some non-Atget locations that were Atget-ish, and there are 10 of these photographs in a section title “In Atget’s Shoes”,  for which Rauschenberg writes

“As I traveled through Paris rephotographing Atget’s images, I kept seeing places that he had not photographed but that seemed to me to be also rich with the feeling of his work. I photographed hundreds of those places I felt Atget’s spirit. I was simply walking around Paris “in Atget’s shoes”, and this is where they took me.”

It is the compare and contrast of Atget’s and Rauschenberg’s photographs that you gain insight on how both of these photographers “see”, what one left in or left out compared to the other. I knew that Atget’s photographs were soft and atmospheric, created by a number of reasons, but I did not realize how much. Likewise, it is more apparent to me of how careful Atget had been on ensuring his composition was balanced and what details he kept with in the edges of his frame. And from a technical aspect, his tripod might have been shorter than I would have thought, as his perspective is usually from about mid-waist looking across or upward, versus at eye level and downward.

It also has become more apparent to me that Atget’s aesthetics result from the seasons he chose when he photographed. We do not see any signs of snow, but he did forge into late Fall and early Spring. Perhaps to take advantage of the clear sight that resulted by the leave-less trees. And the weather had to be nice in order to entice the restaurants to bring their chairs out in the open or the retailers to display their wares on the sidewalks.

For Rauschenberg’s rephotographing of Atget’s work, especially since he was not trying to create an exact duplication, it is informative as to what is included and excluded in the side by side comparisons. Such that the content of Rauschenberg’s photographs are sharply deliniated and seem to have a longer tonal scale than Atget’s.

The hardbound book is very nicely printed and bound, and includes an informative essay by Alison Nordstrom as well as essays by Clark Worswick and Rosamond Bernier.

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Saint-Cloud

by Douglas Stockdale

August 11, 2009

Debbie Fleming Caffery – The Spirit & The Flesh

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Copyright Debbie Fleming Caffery 2009, courtesy Radius Books

The dark and shadowy lead-in photograph for Debbie Flemming Caffery’s photobook, The Spirit & The Flesh, provides adequate notice that this is not going to be a straight forward documentary.  Caffery creates mysterious photographs about the life and economic survival in a small Mexican village. As a subtext, there is also the intersection of two very old practices, prostitution and religion. These two subjects have been bumping and colliding with each other for thousands of years. Although the focus of this book is on the women and men who live here, it is mostly from the point of view of the women.

When the photographs become focused on the women who are involved in selling their bodies in the bordello, it taps into the more universal emotions of feeling trapped when performing distasteful jobs and tasks. The people in the photographs are sometimes difficult to determine as to who is exactly doing what, thus adding more mystery as a result of this ambuguity.

The men in the photographs are usually obscure and concealed, their shapes are shadows and blurs within the late night-time landscape. Many of the photographs of the men are gritty and high contrast, lacking a full tonality. It does not seem that the men of the village have much substance.

Their appearance within the photographs is that of someone who is only fleetingly present, making a quick transition and leaving no lasting impression. The men are very much like gray shadows that briefly touch the bare skin of the women, but leaving no lasting (emotional) impression. They are but brief faceless actors on this dark stage.

A second aspect is the reference to the spirit within Caffery’s photographs. There are night time photographs of the church as seen from the outside, perhaps even from the window of the neighboring bordello. The chuch’s structure is solid and massive, but within Caffery’s photographs, the sturcture appears indistinct and vague. In her photographs we can discern the profile of a familiar type of building that is associated with a church’s chapel or steeple.

Thus the church’s structure is present, but appears to be lingering in the background. Although a church is a spiritual place, it is not necessarily the spirit that Caffery is referring to in her book’s title, as the spirit could also be a reference to one’s soul.

The women are photographed differently. Caffery stated that she had asked for the participation of the women in the development of their photographs. Thus a dance developed between the photographer and the women, which adds a different dimension to these portraits. Caffery has allowed the women to create new persona’s, one of their own choosing. As portraits go, perhaps we are no closer to the inner truth about an individual, but the resulting photographs may be more telling. And I think we do get to know who they are a little better.

The women are attempting to create a personal story about their situation and who they are as individuals, to go beyond a stereotype, such as who a prostitute may be. The women will also disguise themselves, sometimes just a simple mask, other times with elaborate costumes. The women appear shrouded, wrapped, strategically covered, almost concealed, reluctant and attempting to cover the truth. Yet they still want to make their intent obvious. They hide behind a thin veil in an attempt to remain discreet, protect their identity, and likewise hide their soul. All the while living within a small community in which there are probably few secrets.

They select their attire to hint at the possibilities, create a fantasy and stir the lurid imagination. They are available in body (flesh) to provide a service, but perhaps not there in mind and soul (spirit). They don’t want any of these men to come mentally close to them, to keep them at as respectful distance as possible.

In the portraits of the women, many of them wear religious crosses. Perhaps these serve as spiritual protection, a reminder to those who use them that they are not just a tool or perhaps to ground them to their faith even in the mist of the work that they perform. There is a sense of the duality to their lives, a profession that is not condoned by the church, but stills accepts the women as members of the congregation. The two moral extremes meeting somewhere in the middle that is not well defined, a gritty gray zone much like the photographs themselves.

One of the women (below) because of her movement during the extended exposure, appears as a transparent person standing on a staircase. A wonderfully metaphoric image about someone who is not fully there, just particularly present in both body and spirit. She is but a ghost to both to the outside world and perhaps to herself. She is standing on a sea of stairs that lead up and out of the photograph, to where we don’t know. If she were a prostitute, we might be able to guess.

In the ending photograph of the book (below) there is the sharply delineated and glowing crucifixion cross adjacent to a building, that we can assume is a church. Adjacent to the cross is an open arch, that appears to lead to the street and the real world versus the religious place. The air has a thin fog and we can see the faint image of two people, one that appears to be a women, apparently walking with a dog. We don’t know who they are, if they are arriving or departing from the structure and cross, but they do appear like ghostly appreciations. A fitting and mysterious final photograph that can represent a spritual presence in the lives of those who live and work in this village.

I think that this book is also relates to the feelings of anyone who is performing a job that they do not like. You can be involved and completing the necessary tasks, but not fully committed to it. To be there in body, just not there in spirit, a shadow of real selves.

The hardbound book is beautifully printed in duotone and is case bound with a slip cover. The Foreword is a haunting poem from Ghost Sicknessby Luis Alberto Urrea and the essay by Carrie Springer adds background to the history of Caffery’s project. There is a limited edition that comes in a clamshell box with 2 signed gelatin silver prints, one each of the front and back cover images of the book.

 

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By Douglas Stockdale

Paul Kopeikin – Gallery exhibition catalogs

Filed under: Book Publications — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:04 am

Industrial_Landscaping-cover   No_Lifeguard_on_Duty-cover

Photographs copyright J Bennett Fitts courtesy Kopeikin Gallery

Recently I acquired the two latest exhibition catalogs for J. Bennett Fitts from his exhibitions at the Kopeikin Gallery.  The earlier catalog was “no lifeguard on duty”, exhibited/published in 2006 and “Industrial Landscap[ing]” which was exhibited and concurrently published earlier this year (2009).  Fitts landscape photographs seem to have a special appeal to me, and it is evident that he has been influenced by the earlier work of Lewis Baltz, especially with his Industrial Landscape[ing] series.

Both of these are nice catalogs, printed with softcovers in a size of 8″ x 10″, with off set printing printed and bound in Asia and reasonably priced. It seems that these gallery catalogs are evloving in a similar pattern as to the self-publishing fine art sector of Blurb, Apple and the twenty some other print on demand publishers. Big museums are know for their lavish hardcover exhibition catalogs, but it seems that the smaller galleries are creating a niche for their “self-published” catalogs as well.

With that in mind, I sent Paul a series of questions about his gallery exhibition catalogs.

DS Paul, first, about how long have you been publishing these exhibition catalogs?

PK I’m not exactly sure, but probably in the last five or six years

 

DS Typically, what is the decision process to determine if a catalog will be produced? Is this entirely your decision, the photographers request, or an outcome of a discussion. Does the photographer help fund the catalog?

PK Really it’s a financial one. If the artist has some resources and/or is willing to split the cost with me I will consider it.

 

DS At this time, how many different artists catalogs have you published?

PK A half dozen or so. We usually print about 1,500 copies of each exhibition catalog.

 

DS How involved is the photographer in designing and creating the catalogs?

PK As involved as they want to be, but usually very involved.

 

DS What life do you see for these catalogs? Do they then become a part of the photographers published body of work, morph into a larger mainstream published book?

PK Yes, I think they are a great way to present the work before, during and after it has come off the walls.

 

DS I note that you have these for sale on your web site, what has been the response?

PK The sales do trickle in.

 

DS There is a recent trend in collecting photobooks with some big price appreciations and increased traction in the secondary market, e.g. auctions. What do you think and see as the potential collectibility of these catalogs?

PK None, I make too many of them. Although Jill Greenberg’s first catalog has become a sort of collectable.

 

DS What additional changes and trends do you see in gallery published photobook catalogs?

PK Now that one can do much smaller runs locally I think you’ll see a lot more cataloges. Then people are bound to want to set them apart by making them special in some way, so they are more collectable. So they willl have the collectability in mind from the begining.

 

DS Paul, thank you for your time and consideration.

inlandempire-grass-pool   victorville-almost-empty-pool

“no lifeguard on duty” copyright 2006

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“Industrial Landscap[ing]” copyright 2009

by Douglas Stockdale

August 4, 2009

Eugene Richards – The Blue Room

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Copyright Eugene Richards, 2008, courtesy PHAIDON Press

After reading Eugene Richards recent photobook The Blue Room, I found myself thinking about the book’s title, perhaps more so than other books that I have recently reviewed. I think that I have two interpretations of his title, which are complementary and indicative of this body of work. My first thought about the book’s title was a free association to both Picasso’s Blue Period and to Blues music. Both Picasso in his Blue Period, as well as the music of the Blues are descriptive and symbolic for depressed feelings, melancholy and a state of sadness. Second thoughts were relating the title to the rural term for large, open sky, a.k.a. Montana’s Big Sky country.

Combining those two general line of thoughts, I arrive at this book book’s intent as a melancholy documentation of the large, open spaces of rural United States.  Thus you could say that Richards photographs are the visual equivalence to the musical Blue notes.

For Richards, this photobook has been particularly noted as probably his first all color project. If that is the case, well done, because his use of color is beautiful, as he pulls out the tonality, intensity and emotionality of the colors of his subjects, without the photographs appearing to be a bad Photoshop lesson on color over-saturation.

His color photographs are of abandoned and decaying rural structures, most of which at one time were classified as houses. Some time ago, these structures were vibrant with those who lived and were functioning in these houses, just as they were intended. At which point these structures would be have been called a home by those living there. But the time that these were called a home has now elapsed, and alls that remains is some decaying evidence that someone had been there at some time.

As I slowly make my way through the collapsing rooms and begin sifting through what’s been left behind”,  Richard writes, “the old places spawn what can only be called memories that come and go in the fragments of broken glass, in the convergence of shadows and light in the dust rising up from the floors.”

Richard’s has created a documentation of timeworn heirlooms sitting out in the rural landscape. He has captured places that are in a downward spiral, transitioning back to the dust that they were created from. It is also a visual essay about the state of rural America, the tough farm economics and the flight away from the middle America. His photographs are directly about things and places, capturing without the presence of people, only their remains. Even so, this is a photographic project about humanity, just indirectly focused.

The places Richard’s photographed are really easy to locate. Last summer, we made a road trip, including a stretch of I-70 between Denver and Kansas City, crossing the rolling plains of Kansas. I recall seeing many abandoned and forlorn looking structures that could easily have been any one of Richards locations. These gray structures were easy to spot, sitting on ridges and out in the middle of grassy fields. They did not look inviting, but appeared like dying remains.

Richard’s opening photograph is at a place that is some unnamed rural dirt cross-roads, with the photograph’s framing slightly off kilter, the mood set by the dark looming clouds. On one side is an ominous bolt of lightning corkscrewing into the far darken sky, while on the other side facing the camera is a slightly bent STOP sign, itself pockmarked with random bullet holes.  The photograph serves as a warning, do not proceed, do not go any further, turnaround, as there is nothing for you here. Go back and forget that you were every here. Proceed at your own risk, because you have been warned.

Richard’s photographs contain empty structures, and these structures appear to be mere shells. What is left standing has the the paint peeling off and the doors remain open as there is no real reason to close them anymore. The wood floor boards have become so rotten that they are collapsing under their own weight. The wall paper is yellowing, if there at all. Sometimes even the wall boards are gone, revealing the stucture’s skeletal timbers, like flesh that has come off the bone. There are decaying carpets and stair cases leading to nowhere.

The artifacts of people’s lives have been left behind, for what ever the reason. There are dilapidated beds, broken dolls, a lone women’s red dress shoe, rusted metal chair, clothes is disarray and uncared for, a couch infested with a hornets nest, Christmas lights still hanging, cooking utensils, photographs in picture frames, a toaster sitting lonely on an abandoned counter, loose black and white photographs of people, pairs and groups, young and old, worn and old piles of shoes, a faded face of a wall clock, broken dishes on a table, dirty flatware in a sink with a photograph of women still in its frame looking forlornly back at you, eyes making direct contact, and lastly a child’s rocking horse.

Richards’s viewpoint is usually within the structures, looking at the contents of the structure and on occasion a glimpse of the exterior landsape. He catches the window reflections to created multi-layered and complex images. Many times, the windows are broken and cracked, offering a fractured view, much like the contents in the photographs. These photographs are also symbolic of the multude of families who have lived there. Only the traces of the families are all that remain, left behind, no longer of value, abandoned to their own fate. Even these traces are fragile and may soon be gone, becoming dust in the wind. No one appears to be left to remember and it feels like nothing may survive in these places.

Richard’s photographs are also dark, capturing gloomy, depressing interiors, with an occasional ray of light that illuminates a spot here and there. There are no people directly present in these photographs, occasionally a dog or horse or some dead and decaying animal, such as the group of dead birds in a child’s room.

One photograph revels what appears to be the bottom half of a yellow and torn calander, slightly out of focus, and in the foreground a cematery. The cematery appreas to be not in the best of condition but still seems be tended by someone who still remains.

Another photograph is a haunting reminder of what was, a wall that now contains the outlines of past hanging frames. The now rusted nails were probably holding the family photographs, which are now gone. Left behind are the ghostly outlines and creating a dark abstract cubist image with the light and dark stained wallpaper.

Richards has found and photographed a wedding dress that has been left hanging on a upstairs doorway. Who would leave such an important dress behind, to hang loose and forgotten? Why was it left behind? Is it a symbolic of a marriage gone astray or broken and now this remnant is no longer important?

There is evidence of green grass in the fringes of Richard’s photographs, representing greener pastures, better opportunities. The green landscape can be seen in the edges of the photographs, or in the reflection of broken window glass, or beyond a torn porch screen.  Symbolically, just out of reach, tantalizingly close, symbolic of the hope that was desired in these places but the ability to sustain was just beyond reach.  Perhaps the reason for a family to pick up and move somewhere else.

Like wise we see dead insects on the window’s edge, the screen preventing their escape to the green pastures which were just beyond their reach, tantalizingly close, but dying with the potential freedom just beyond. Representative of the lives of those who had lived here, located in this place, economically dying, with the tantalizing green pastures just beyond.

They should be able to survive here, to live off the land and not have to abandon this place. But that was not the case. There where those who died here on this land, but there seemed to be no one willing to take their place, the next generation moving on to better opportunities, elsewhere. These are small farms in isolated places, the nearest small towns without the infrastructure or opportunities that play themselves out in the commercials on tv.

The chief concern for this photobook is what does Richards provide that is a new insight to an old theme? Although documenting a decaying rural community is not a new concept, I think that he has found a haunting way to capture the Blue notes of rural America. His pictorial framing is usually tight and pushes our noses into the middle of the content. He captures odd juxtapositions and creates complex multi-layered images, part reflected exteriors landscapes that are intermingled with interior spaces. To say that what is happening in rural America is sad and poignant, but it is not a simple story.

I think these photographs are metaphors, maybe something easier for us to relate to for the current economic realities. To help us understand what people are going through today when they realize their homes are worth much less than what they owe, and the current payments are more than they make. The despair that that they must feel when they just pack their bags and drive away and leave everything else behind.

The book has a single photograph printed per page, one photograph per page spread, each photograph with a small white border. The book’s design does allow the photograph to float on the page without interference by a facing page, allowing you to isolate your attention on just a single image.

 

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Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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