The PhotoBook

December 12, 2012

Brian Finke – Construction

Photographs copyright 2012 Brian Finke published by Decode Books

While curating my photobook exhibition for Fotografia di Roma last Fall, while exploring the theme of Work, one of my disappointments was the late arrival (at least too late for me to include in the exhibition) of Brian Finke’s photobook Construction. Finke explores, as he has done with his previous project, both sides of work; as a verb, to work, and the concept of work as a noun, as the work (you do).

While writing my earlier review for Florian van Roekel’s photobook “How Terry Likes his Coffee; A Photo Odyssey into Office Life”, I was struck by the contrast between van Roekel’s photobook investigating “office work” as compared to Finke’s photobook investigating “construction” (work);

In thinking about office “life”, much of the work, which is to say “effort” that occurs is ambiguous to the casual observer, as are the myriad tasks and unfathomable results that are achieved. In contrast to the work of construction, the effort of the workers will eventually reveal a solid structure. For most industrial trades, effort transforms materials from one state to another, which can then be readily identified that something happened. The new object looks different than the parts and components that existed before.

Subsequently deviling deeper into Finke’s photobook, I realized that even though the photographs are sublime, the subjects, both the men and women, are rendered as grand statuary. Part of this effect is due to the use of the off-camera fill-in flash in conjunction with the medium format camera that creates a larger than life presence on the page.

Capturing his subjects’ mid-stride in a place of work, the viewer still does not know who the “workers” are nor provided much about the content of the “working” effort. Nevertheless, Finke tangibly facilitates the viewer into relating to the individuals in this book, either having been themselves involved in a construction project or know somebody who is in this line of work.

Reading Finke’s narrative, I might suspect that even in construction as a type of work, but not all construction work is the same, as a great variety of tasks are documented.  For some workers, it appears to be very strenuous and physical labor, while concurrently on the same job, there also may be someone sitting in the comfortable cab of his equipment that hardly appears to extend any physical labor, but yet is still “working”.

Finke continues his own investigations in exploring the identity of the working “man” (and women) and to a less degree, as with his previous projects, investigating an ambiguous place where a type of work occurs. For me, this resulting body of work is greater than a documentary of a group of individuals who have a shared profession, with a sly wink at August Sander in the central framing of his subjects who are now revealed in Finke’s contemporary time.

The photobook object is case-bound with a dust cover, with a nice cadence and subtle change-up in the sequencing and sizing of the color photographs; some full bleed, one per page, or a pair of facing photographs of different size, or groups of photographs. The pace of the book in conjunction with the beautiful printing and moderate size make this photobook a pleasure to read. The afterword essay was provided by Whitney Johnson.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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