Copyright Harvey Benge 2010 – courtesy Kehrer Publishing
My first impression of Harvey Benge’s photobook All of the Places I’ve ever Known was that this book is meant to be autobiographical. It is also a statement of the obvious: that you cannot take a photograph of a place unless you have been to that place. Cheeky.
Benge has self-published numerous photobooks and in his usually style he provides his readers with a minimum of textual information to help the reader relate to his photographs. He is a bit of the minimalist in terms of providing some potential insight. You can make of what you want from his titles which usually has a healthy amount of ambiguity. In this book, he provides an interesting quotation from Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1364); “Since everything is but an apparition, Perfect in being what it is, Having nothing to do with good or bad, Acceptance or rejection, You might as well burst out laughing!” My take-away from this and many of Benge’s proliferate photobooks is that his photographs are a joyful observation of what “is” as a result of the powers of seeing and observing random urban serendipity.
What primarily seems to catch Benge’s discerning eye is color, especially finding the interesting interplay of hues and tonalities that can be found as he walks through the urban environment. As such, this photobook is a kinetic pin-wheel of colors. Although color is the primary found subject of his photographs, he isolates and frames his subjects with the sensibilities of graphic design; taking into account and layering such elements of line, mass, and shape.
He isolates and frames his subjects such that he will establish a primary color object, then introduce a secondary color object, such as a blue pipe rising in the midst of a verdant field, below. The secondary color object(s) balance or complement the composition, sometimes creating a jarring dissonance, as the red on red with yet an adjacent red, below, other times appears to be a quiet and meditative harmony, as the cool blue-gray panel with the two blue rectangles centered at the base of his pictorial framing, also below.
Although attracted to color, he reframes from hyping the color up in his photographs by increasing saturation of the hues, rather attempting to allow the “natural” and found compositions speak for themselves; “Perfect in being what it is”. Nevertheless Benge’s photographs have an interesting energy that seems to be intensified as a collective whole with the design and layout of this book. For my tastes, the sequencing of the color photographs in this photobook creates more of a slightly psychotic experience.
Benge is about framing and isolating what he has found. He moves in close, usually providing a tight framing, so that he fills the picture with color. Benge has also stylistically created a niche for his vertical photographs, as this is his predominate choice in pictorial framing and on occasion a horizontal composition will make an interlude, perhaps to create a little tension or provide a slight change of pace. In this book, all of the photographs are presented as verticals, although one is a horizontal composition but due to the ambiguity of the subject, appears acceptable as a vertical layout. Nice.
The photographs are single image on the right page per spread, with a classic white margin bordering the photograph. On the facing page is a plate number and at the end of the book is an image index, providing the city location and year photographed for each plate. The book design and photographic presentation is very spare and minimalistic.
As a book object the dark red color of the spine extends over into the image wrap cover and is a complementary color to the cover photograph, echoing the contents within. This hardcover book and contents is beautifully printed in Germany consistent with the high standards I have grown to expect from Kehrer Verlag Heidlberg.