I had the opportunity to acquire an advance copy of Bertrand Fleuret’s soon to be published photographic book, Landmassess and Railways at photo la earlier this month. This was a limited edition (100 each) of a schaden.com imprint of the J&L 2009 Edition, which has a unique hardcover binding.
I find that this book very fascinating on many levels. It is very much out of the norm for what we come to expect within the US for a published photographic book. Perhaps to better call it a photographic story book, sans text. I mean that there literally is almost any text whatsoever. I think that the publisher rescinded and will include a small insert to provide some context for the buyer;
It seems to be the record of a trip. You left the countryside and entered a city. Lost in the layers of construction and decay, you eventually found yourself in an overgrown garden. You remember Sebastian’s jungle, the chaos of creation. You remember Solaris and the island in Le Voyeur. It’s all very clear, like photographs slipped under your door in a manila envelope. Were you there? What happened? As William Gedney wrote in his notebook, “All facts lead eventually to mysteries.”
As to Fleuret’s story, it is very much mysterious and abiguous. There are clues that he provides, but Fleuret very much wants you to construct your own story. Whether this is a fictional story, a travel log or something in between, you have to decide. Which also means, do I review this as photographic novel or a photographic monograph?
As a story, once you get your initial orientation, I found it relatively easy and delightful to move through the first two chapters. As such, my own story that I was constructing was proceeding enjoyably well. It was providing some inspirational thoughts of my own.
Towards the end of the second chapter, the discord started to build. I had trouble with the dissident, odd images and flow to be able to maintain a coherent line internal dialog. Which may not have been so bad, but the ending was seemingly flat. As a story, there did not seem to be as clearly defined ending to this story of a trip, as there had been in creating the introduction and setting the stage for the ensuing story.
While reading this book, I was also struck by the similarities between the pace and flow of the book’s images and how they reminded me of some recent movie trailers on TV. There is a backgound dialog about the movie, but the image are a series of very brief, not at all sequential, but random stills from the movie, that are trying to create an interest by their juxtaposition. I believe that there is a similarity in the photographic editing and the ensuing effect that Fleuret is attempting to create.
A brief glimpse here, a memory recalled, a long mindless gaze and quickly distracted by another vision by something over there. Life as a series of endless visual vignettes and memories.
Perhaps that is where the mystery increases and the ambiguity mounts and grows. Maybe it is my lack of imagination with constructing an interesting story with the remaining clues that are provided? In some ways, this is similar to a novel that you pick up and as you get into it, you find that you lose interest. For some reason, my bookmark at the first half never seems to progress to it’s conclusion. And when you talk with some else, they just can’t put it down until the get to the end, and they are fascinated with all of the parts.
The book publishing, in addition to its binding, is also printed in a way that reminds you of a written novel, not a photographic series. Many of the photographs are high contrast images, but printed in a low contrast, flat and almost less than newsprint quality. There are also paintings and other photographs that have been rephotographed, the half tone dot matrix almost concealing the images, again, contribution to the ambguity.
Landmassess and Railways is slated for availability by J&L this Spring, 2009, with 208 pages, duotone printed, 7″ x 9 3/4″ hardcover, with the first edition of 1,000 copies.
Best regards, Douglas Stockdale
Update: I did a major mistake and provided the wrong name to Bertrand’s book, my since apologies.