The PhotoBook Journal

February 28, 2011

Laurent Chardon – Tangente

Copyright Laurent Chardon 2010 Courtesy Les éditions Poursuite

Laurent Chardon stated that as young man he was fascinated by the photographs of Mongolia and in the winter of 2002, he had an opportunity to investigate the memories of his youth, as well as the current culture. It may not have been the experience that he had anticipated.

Like many of those who travel and immerse themselves into a foreign culture, he was a stranger in a strange land, and further disoriented by the current conditions he found. He quickly altered his photographic frame of reference, employing tools that might provide him with photographs that were more in line with his observations and experience.

His black and white photographs are grainy and have a high amount of contrast, which combine to create a darker narrative. The details within the photographs are not sharply delineated, abstracting both the individuals and the landscape. Who the people of this region are remain elusive to the reader, as they are usually rendered as black featureless silhouettes. They do not appear as people, but abstract symbols that inhabit a barren landscape.

Without providing a sense of their individuality, Chardon indicates the presence of people, but not as individuals, but more as temporary and elusive inhabitants. People are usually visible with their heads bowed down, whether as a result of the weather, to ensure their footing on an icy and tricky terrain or representative of their mood in general.

The dark corner frame vignettes create a claustrophobic feeling that the landscape, perhaps similar to the picture frame, is collapsing and closing in.  I have a sense of restriction and that space is limited. Something dark and menacing is lurking in this place. I do not perceive feelings of joy or an uplifted spirit, but of a gloomy melancholy that is foreboding and sobering.

A high-rise structure seems lonely and repressive and not a place that you would find in a travel brochure. Perhaps this feeling is due to the overcast skies of the winter season and the gray and dirty snow, nevertheless, it seems to be a place without trees, bushes and other vegetation. The structures appear cold, both in environmental conditions and in spirit. In another similar photograph, small individual structures are situated in the foreground at the base of a rising multi unit building, probably creating a future vision for those living independently. This is not inviting location, but a place only suited for survival.

One urban landscape photograph documents a mash-up of tents and permanent structures, with the inter-structural spaces between them now being occupied by thin fences. These fences are borders and boundaries, which I find to be odd for a nomadic people who had previously experienced unlimited space as they had previously moved freely about.

The concluding photograph is a sea of thin trees, with a backlit sun casting long radiating shadows. The trees appear very lonely in the otherwise desolate snow-covered terrain. I sense that this stand of trees represents the thin and dwindling spirits of the once nomadic individuals who now endure living in this region.

The text for the essays is printed in French, with an English translation insert available on request when purchasing the book

by Douglas Stockdale

February 25, 2011

Le Bal – Editions Poursuite

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 1:05 pm

Benjamin Diguerher copyright 2011 Douglas Stockdale

Yesterday evening was the Editions Poursuite book signing event at Le Bal (Paris), part of a weekly book signing event that Sebastian Arthur Hau, Director of Le Bal Books, is hosting at his bookshop and exhibition gallery. It was a nice occasion and I had the opportunity to meet two of the featured photographers, Laurent Chardon (Tangente) and Gregory Valton (Dans la Neige and Le pic entre Deux Ports), as well as Camille Hervouet, whose book Geographie Intime was previously published by Editions Poursuite. I think that Benjamin Diguerher, the co-publisher of Editions Poursuite, was very happy with the occasion, as he had a wonderful smile for the entire evening. BTW, when Benjamin and I met last month in Paris, he was not thrilled with the idea of a portrait to accompany my post, but later I came up with an idea that he might like, which he now readily agreed, above.

I also had a chance to spend some time with friends Laurence Vecten and Remi Coigent, as well as walk the exhibitions. I was really impressed with the wonderful body of early photographs of Emmet Gowin, which I have not see in exhibition for a considerable amount of time. It was similar to a reunion with old friends. As I do not have an original Emmet Gowin Photographs, I was more than happy to purchase the 2009 edition by Steidl and I can attest that the photographs in the book are a very close match to the prints.

February 23, 2011

Teller – A magazine of stories

Filed under: Photo Book NEWS — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 5:32 am

Copyright Teller 2010 courtesy of Trolley Ltd

I have the nice opportunity to review Issue #1 of the new magazine out of Great Britain published by Trolley Books, the editorial brainstorm of Katherine Hunt and Ruby Russel. This stiffcover magazine is a wonderful read. From the publisher is this overview: Teller, a magazine of stories. Stories told in pictures, in words, in both; short sharp stories, “so I once heard this story” stories, stories of pure invention and stories that might just be true.

In this first issue are the photographs of Flavie Guerrand culled from hundreds of all-nighters in Paris and Berlin, Charles Trotter, based in Nairobi in the 1950’s narrating the decadence of colonial rule in its dying days, and Nina Mangalanayagam using a documentary style to describe the gathering of her Tamil family in Europe. And of course, there are the wonderful stories.

The editors of Teller probably sum it up best: It’s a miscellany, a platter for your enjoyment. Like an old sea dog accosting you at a wedding, fugitives from the plague passing time around the campfire, or just the rambling oracle propping up the bar.

Yes, a wonderful mashup of short stories and photographic stories. recommended.

by Doug Stockdale

February 16, 2011

Andrej Krementschouk – No Direction Home

Copyright  Andrej Krementschouk 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag

In the Thomas Wolfe book, aptly titled You Can’t Go Home Again, in which the title comes from the finale of the novel when protagonist George Webber realizes, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” 

As explained in Wikipedia (becoming one of my favorite sources for meaningless trivia as you might deduce from previous reviews), “You can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that after you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life, and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.

Andrej Krementschouk was born in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Russia has since moved to Germany and is now residing in Leipzig, but has been returning to his homeland Russia to investigate what remains. What he has found is illustrated in his 2009 book No Direction Home.

The rural countryside of Russia is not similar to the conditions that are found in the rural countryside of Germany, where there is air-conditioned farm tractors in Germany, while in Russia it is the natural air providing any relief to the process of farming. It is the contradiction in Krementschouk’s German reality that clashes with his memories of his Russian home that appears to provide the fuel for his discovery and attempt in understanding the contrasts. He straddles the two geographic and cultural locations, with a foot now firmly entrenched in both regions. He has the sophisticated and trained eye of a German photographer, but the soul and cultural heritage of a Russian artist. It seems that Kremenshouk is almost helpless in his the desire to be drawn back time and time again to his homeland; looking, seeing and investigating.

In the case of Krementschouk, returning home is also realizing that the reality of his youth is far different from what he perceived at the time, that he now experiences events and situations in a much different frame of reference and perhaps realizes the dire economic and social situations more acutely.

A personal journey by a man who is returning to his homeland after an absence and now experiences it with new eyes. The many things that might have been taken for granted are now questioned and examined, open to new investigation. The landscape, the villages, the culture, the society and family are not as familiar, they now seem different, probably much as KrementschoukKrementschouk now appears different to those friends, families, acquaintances and even the strangers of these villages, he acts different, seems different, perhaps even sounds different, and has become a stranger in strange land.

Some of us may not have ventured far from home and may have some difficulty comprehending Krementschouk’s perceptual shift. Personally, my family relocated back and forth across the United States while I was a youth, and at the time, I did not fully realize the cultural and social disorientation that were occurring. Today I understand it a little better now, such that this photobook resonates in a strange way with me, but looking back, as at the time I was taking it all for granted. I erroneously thought, this is just normally what families do. By the way, I think moving from the Western Pennsylvania to the Southwest of Phoenix and Yuma Arizona, and then back to the Midwest of SouthEastern edge of Michigan is a fairly decent cultural shift even within America, encompassing some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers). I have not really provided this cultural shifts much voice, but I now realize that it has altered the way I perceive things, many times in a different way than others who have not had similar experiences.

Krementschouk utilizes very saturated color in his documentary style photographs and the resulting images are usually crisp and clear. The excellent printing of this book really works to Krementschouk’s advantage. What I have found to be especially intriguing is the paring of photographs across the spread of this photobook.

In one of the early paring, first below, there is an older woman appearing to be asleep or resting comfortably on a single bed, the background wall is bare and the pillow, bedstead and her clothing appear simple and uncomplicated. On the facing page is a photograph of a sunlight window and a television on which appears to be two younger men in the military. This facing page is in color, while the television screen is in a surreal black and white, representing a dream like state for the older woman, that this is her dreams and fantasies of the young men in her past life.

In the second pared photographs below, on one side is an older woman who stands outside a log cabin building, but concealing her face and more importantly, her eyes. On the facing page is another dream like surreal photograph, this time a layer of grim or other layer of debris, a larger building is faintly seen, with a bright region in the upper quadrant. The two facing photographs create an interesting dialog and speculative narrative surrounding this older woman and this mysterious dream like state.

Then the next pair of photographs below are another strange narrative, the nature and condition of the reclining and potentially sleeping man is in similar disrepair and condition as the ratty and dirty snowman. Krementschouk appears to be asking us, how are these two similar or are they really that different? More questions and less obvious any answers.

In the following pair of photographs, we can observe what appears to be in one photograph, a broken home, literally with the roof caving in. This damaged house borders a primitive dirt road, with two ruts that were probably worn down by a horse-drawn wagon, and the ominous sky lurking overhead. It has a sense of mystery as well foreboding, a dying house perhaps in a dying rural village. The facing photograph is four men who have religious symbols, as though there to watch over and give last rites to this house and maybe the village itself. One man steadfastly holds the lantern, but is slightly bowed and has turned his head and eyes down, perhaps has difficulty with the emotional weight of what he is observing on the facing page. Another younger man stands upright, but is not looking upwards, yet grasping his throat, perhaps feeling a choking feeling. The man holding the orthodox cross barely has his eyes open, more closed than open, as the sight of what he is looking at is too difficult to comprehend. Finally the fourth man is holding a decorated staff, but he too is looking up and away from the scene on the opposing page, perhaps too difficult to look at directly.

I really enjoy the way the facing photographs play off each other, although at times I am not always sure of the narrative, as though I am not privy to a secret language. I am guessing that to be the case, that there is an odd mix of the German and Russian cultures relating to the ancient stories that have been handed down in this surreal smash-up, in the complex set of experiences that Krementschouk is attempting to sort out, both for himself and the viewer.

The text in this hardcover book is provided in English, German and Russian

by Douglas Stockdale

February 15, 2011

Vicki Topaz – Silent Nests

Coyright Vicki Topaz 2009 courtesy Kehrer Verlag

In his foreword to William Wylie’s photobook Route 36, the poet and essayist Merrill Gilfillan states, “It seems continually necessary to reassert that landscape study and its reflective arts are anything but passive disciplines, that civilization in a sustaining, daily sense emerges most surely from good relations with one’s surroundings (the perfect word) and the inner landscape of possibility held in the head and heart.” This is aptly applicable to the photographs of Vicki Topaz of her rural French landscape photographs that encompass her photobook Silent Nests.

Topaz is investigating the old dovecote dwellings, also called colombier or pigeonries, of Northern France, specifically in the regions of Normandy and Brittany. She experiences the presence of these decaying structures from the perspective of an American, without a French heritage, thus she is not emotionally tied to the fading memory of these symbolic French structure. Her outsider’s perspective enables her to place these structures into a different cultural context, to observe the structures as they exist today and attempt to create a dialog with their past.

The colombier structures are relics of a past grandiose period, symbolizing power, prestige, status, wealth, privilege and essentially the French aristocracy. In France, the size of the building, number of nests (boulins, literally pigeon holes) and even their presence was regulated by law, known as the droit de colombier. For the aristocracy, these were important economic resources during medieval and later times as they provided sustainable supplies of meat, eggs, feathers, and manure. As such, the pigeons were also protected by law, and these same birds prayed on the commoner’s crops, threatening their livelihood, even their existence. Immediately after the French revolution, the colombeir structures, which were such a threat and so despised that they were subsequently destroyed in mass. Now the animosity for these structures has mellowed with time and as Topaz has found, can be seen in a calmer light.

Most of these buildings are no longer in active use, the spaces once reserved for the pigeons are empty and bare, many of which have been abandoned, crumbling under their own weight from disrepair and a lack of maintenance. Similar to other structures that are left to its demise, these are gradually disappearing from the landscape. They are fading memories of another time, which is bittersweet and in front of Topaz’s lens, now provide a sense of silent brooding, empty and elicit a sense of melancholy.

Topaz has elected to eliminate the direct presence of the people who reside near these forlorn structures, which may be due in part as to where these buildings reside, on grand estates or in fallow fields. Nevertheless, these intricately built structures reflect the hand of mankind in their intricate design and construction. As symbols of power and status, they were very carefully built with enduring materials, unlike the nearby villages and homes of the commoners. But even so, when left to the elements, they slowly deteriorate as nature gradually reclaims the stones and timber.

In the flat lighting, overcast skies and barren trees, these structures appear like silent soldiers on a melancholy watch, standing guard over ghostly memories.

Topaz’s black and white photographs are composed with a square format that is static and lends to a sense of formality, perhaps in keeping with their aristocratic past. The narrow focus that abstracts the foreground and blurs the background has a shared impressionistic quality with the photographic work of Keith Carter, Maruro Florese, and Susan Burnstein. Likewise, photographing French structural relics that are quickly fading from the present in a documentary style is reminiscent of Eugene Atget’s turn of the century Parisian photographic work. Only on a few occasions do Topaz’s photographs tip the scale towards sentimentality, such as the cliché of a colombier framed with blossoms from the branches of a tree in Spring bloom. On the other hand, she creates moody, introspective and poetic narratives, with slightly dark undertones that are both mysterious and delightful.

The book is printed and bound in a hardcover with dust jacket edition, and the accompanying text is provided in both English and French.

By Douglas Stockdale

February 12, 2011

Lucy Hilmer – My Valentines

Copyright Lucy Hilmer 2010 courtesy of the artist

Over a period of twenty one years, Lucy Hilmer in partnership with her husband, daughter and many long stem roses, created a series of black and white photographs. These photographs were subsequently printed as postcards and mailed to family and friends to celebrate Valentines Day, an American holiday of love and romance.

Each year, Hilmer created their annual photograph within a constant motif, daughter in white, her husband in black and of course the long stem rose. The photographs vary in composition in conjunction with the steady aging of both her daughter and husband. Hilmer’s daughter is the principal subject in each photograph, with the flower and her husband providing a foil and counterbalance. In most of the photographs, the young girl gazes directly at the lens, engaging the photographer and subsequently the viewer.

Each valentine’s card is endearing and when viewed in a series, it is wonderful to see the young child develop into adolescence and eventual adulthood. We can perceive the changes, from a young, playful girl who is being directed, to one who is now understanding what the photographic process may create to finally becoming a willing model and partner in the creation of the body of work. The body of work is a sweet visual narrative about change, evolution, memory and the steady passing of time.

The photobook leads into the twenty one valentines and then follows with the background story for each photograph, with the contact sheet for the shoot and the cropping of each photograph. It is enlightening to see the raw shoot the development of the final photograph, but in the case of this photobook, more space is spent on the proofs and the background story than on the project itself.

The book ends with a series of self portraits in conjunction with her family. The subtle narrative of the book is around the creativity and transparency of an artist. For photographers, this is also a story about being out of sight as most artists are, yet having a desire to be seen, known and not forgotten. By reinserting herself into the epilog of the book, Hilmer is attempting to not be forgotten.

In the play Hair, one of the main characters expresses late in the performance that he wants to become invisible, but yet at the end of the performance, when he is no longer perceived to exist amongst his friends, he finds that it is not the result he desired. Likewise, photographers and artist, in creating a body of work, become invisible to the work that they have created. We may become familiar with the images of a photographer, but if that photographer who created these photographs was to walk by us; we would not as much as blink. That just may not be what the photographer has intended to happen, to become invisible.

This self-published hardcover book is beautifully printed and bound in Vancouver, Canada. The photographs are also accompanied by poems written by Hilmer.

by Douglas Stockdale

Henry Horenstein – Show

Copyright Henry Horenstein 2010 – courtesy Pond Press

Henry Horenstein is investigating the many small clubs and theaters that recently have become known as places for the performance of neo-burlesque for his latest photobook titled Show. In the United States the neo-burlesque’ roots dates back to the period of vaudeville, when the multi-act format performances were considered “polite” entertainment. In turn, this form of entertainment with the sexual innuendos, has roots back to the days of William Shakespeare’s bawdy plays in Ole England theaters, with the cheap jokes appealing to the rowdy knowledge of the working crowd.

As described by Wikipedia, burlesque is a humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody and sometimes grotesque exaggeration. In Horestein’s Show, we have the double entrant characteristic of the neo-burlesque, everything that can be seen is on show and plainly visible, while the performance itself is defiantly a show to watch.

As evident in Horenstein’s photographs, the current neo-burlesque presents a much coarser material in a very thin veneer of respectability, but usually catering to a variety of bawdry and risqué performances. For the women performers, it usually means incorporating versions of the strip tease as clothing is progressively removed.. Performers attempt to illicit sexual fantasy, with sexually suggestive clothing and performances.

Horenstein does not appear that he is necessarily arguing that male and female entertainers who are engaging in burlesque are continuing a practice that objectifies men and women. His documentary style appears to reveal that many of those involved in burlesque are hard-working performers who are attempting to economically make ends meet. Evident is a raw energy, and not a Broadway production, even if you include the Off, Off, Off Broadway theater. Horenstein photographs the working class burlesque joints, which appear seedy, small, cramped, not high glamour or even equivalent to a B film.

His black and white photographs are high contrast and gritty images, part and parcel the result of the late night environmental and stage lighting conditions. The black and white of the photographs represent the abstract lifestyle of those persons involved in burlesque as compared to those who have a day job. His subjects are the performers and there are only the barest of hints about the audience (yes, pun intended) that keep these establishments and entertainers working. As performers, they know they are being observed and provide direct eye contact with the lens and thus the viewer. They invite close scrutiny; knowing that they are playing to the voyeurism of the audience.

One issue with this photobook is although Horenstein does an admirable job of showing these performers at work, at the end of the day, we still know little to nothing about them as individuals. It is probably obvious that these entertainers are not shy, but rather over the top, nothing that they do provides much to hide. His subjects seem to directly deal with what life has dealt them, such as the poignant photograph of the pregnant burlesque performer., who was photographed in 2008. Her child is now about two years old and you wonder, what is her story, is she still performing, is her child in the back wings of some small theater or is someone at home watching over the child, waiting for her return sometime that night?

With these photographs, we do not become very close to his subjects. We are provided with mostly the public performance, makeup, costume jewelry and outfits, with excerpts from the daily bump and grind. The book is more of a documentary of the performance of the burlesque performers. We are not introduced to them as individuals, sans makeup, and routine clothing. They remain symbols of our fantasy, dreams and maybe even our nightmares. We are provided the performers façade, the surface features of who they would like you to think who they are, versus revealing their true identity. His subjects hide themselves in their surface persona, thinking that if you can see all that you can see, you might not probe deeper into their concerns, fears, delights and worries. These performers remain a mystery, essentially their portraits revealing little about their inner selves as any portrait does. We become fascinated and distracted by their surface contours, which are usually fully revealed and thus distract the viewer from asking probing questions about them, a visual sleight of hand which most of them have probably become very adapt at.

There is a similarity in photographic style on this project as compared to his earlier photobooks, such as Anaimilia, reviewed here. Horenstein moves in close to his subject, to the point of abstraction, to pull out graphic details and abstract a subject that we have thought we were already too familiar with. Rarely do we see the entire person, the framing is relatively tight, leaving most subjects truncated, revealing details that imply something about the individual. 

Perhaps as the consummate photographic instructor, Horenstein offers a lesson for those developing a photographic project (and not necessarily with a photobook as an end result). He admits in his end notes that as this project evolved, it has had photographic twists and turns. His project began with environmental photographs using fast 35mm film, fast camera lens in conjunction with push development of the film. This evolved into the next phase utilizing studio set-ups photographing in conjunction with digital photographic equipment. Finally he made the decision to return to the theater environment with film, this time a medium format with flash. While Horenstein was shooting digital, there was also an opportunity to introduce color into the project, but after some consideration, he passed on that idea in order to maintain the consistency of the project in black and white. The project was completed and was held together by a consistent intent and an implied careful post editing.

 This photobook is available in a stiff cover edition, a hardcover with slip cover and a limited edition book with print.

by Douglas Stockdale

February 7, 2011

Hellen van Meene – Tout va Disparaitre

Copyright Hellen van Meene 2009, courtesy Schirmer/Mosel

Dazed and Confused may be an apt subtitle to Hellen van Meene’s 2009 Tout va Disparitre. The usual blank look of most of her young subjects seems to underlie their lack of understanding of why they are being staged as they are and subsequently photographed. The ensuing editing and sequencing of the book does little to provide many clues, thus we are left to depend on some direction from the book’s title (French to English translation “Everything will Disappear”) and the three regional cryptically titled sections; Pool of Tears (The Netherlands), America, Going my own way Home and St. Petersburg, Russia.

The book’s title stating that everything will disappear applies to the age of adolescence, that this period of personal development is transitional and in retrospect, briefer than it seems while enduring it, but is a statement that is applicable about the transitional aspects of life. With the perspective of looking back, time does fly between youth, adolescence, young adult, middle age and into the senior years. Van Meene has chosen to focus her lens on the troublesome period between youth and young adult.

But then again, perhaps dazed and confused is also the theme for those in the chaos of the age of adolescence, that terribly awkward place between youth and adulthood. Their bodies changing in unexpected ways, new emotions popping up in weird ways, desiring the perceived freedoms of adulthood, but still clinging to those safe places afforded the youth.

Only most those of this age do not usually need much coaxing to appear in that awkward state, but perhaps with a little patience, the awkwardness would naturally manifest itself. Thus, there is a more forced appearance to van Meene subjects, an underlying tension, that they appear manipulated in a manner that they are not comfortable with or understand.

The statement provide by the publisher, that of van Meene “showing her models between melancholy and a readiness to break out, between self-abandonment and reinvention” regretfully is lacking and not readily evident in but maybe a few of the photographs.

I do find her panoramic environment portraits of keen interest, with the ambiance, lighting and almost surrealist setting recalling the staged and hyper-real photographs of Jeff Walls. There a number of singular images that exsist independently of the attempted internal context of this book. As an example, the first photograph below of the young Russian girl in what appears to be a disheveled kitchen space. It is not known if she is taking us on a tour of her home, or a place that was found, as she looks at us (the camera lens) from the corner of her eyes, with her arms dropping to her sides and a relatively blank expression. She stands to one side, allowing the interior space to be revealed and her location within the frame acts a fulcrum and counterbalance to the disorder and clutter.

Likewise, in the second photograph below, this time in a run down section of America, a group of girls strike a pose on and around the front hood of a parked car. Unlike her other adolescent models, this group pose appears to be more fluid and a pose of their own making. The group of subjects in the center of the frame is very aware that their photograph is being made, but the young boy on the edge is unaware of the panoramic capabilities of the equipment being utilized. Thus his disinterred pose is unintentionally creating a counterbalancing discord and tension within the internal structure of the photograph.

The last photograph in the book, fourth below, reveals a panoramic expanse of a brown couch and adjacent chair on the green patterned carpet with the striped pattern wallpaper. The side lighting provides hints of the furnture’s textures as it fades into the darkness, with no evidence of van Meere’s adoledencent subjects, they are now gone and have disappeared from sight.

The essay by Dr. Colberg is provided in both English and German (Deutsch) text. The large book is beautifully printed in Italy with a hardcover and dust jacket.

by Douglas Stockdale

February 3, 2011

Danielle Mericle – Seneca Ghosts

Copyright Danielle Mericle, 2008 courtesy A-Jump Books

Mericle’s narrative of the white herd of deer in the Seneca Army Depot of Central New York State presents an ecological paradox; a story about restoration and hope. As part of the back story, the Seneca Army Depot is a major environmental pollution site resulting from the disposal of weapons and military waste over the many years of the Depots existence. As a result of the limited public access to areas within this site, it now provides a sanctuary for one of the largest herds of a rare white deer. This paradox is investigated by her photobook Seneca Ghosts.

Mercile provides hints, indications and fleeting glimpses of these weary animals as they transverse this rugged landscape. Similar to the photographic practice of Bernd and Hilla Becher, she has chosen the early winter period to conduct her investigation, where the heavy foliage from the trees has dropped, but yet the winter snow has not blanked the ground.  This is a time in which you can peek further into the landscape with the contrast of the white deer against the gray foliage and brown terrain has the largest amount of contrast.

Perhaps ghost like, the presence of something amongst the trees and brush is almost palpable. The clues provide the necessary hints; there beaten down deer runs, tree bark chewed away and grassy areas showing signs of grazing. When observed, it appears that the white deer’s presence is fleeting, usually of something blurring into the distance.

Where I grew up in Southern Michigan and Western Pennsylvania there are many wooden regions similar in appearance to the Seneca Army Depot of Central New York state. These three regions are “similar in appearance” by the commonality of the relatively flat terrain, variety of trees, brush, and weeds and it would be very difficult to differentiate between them. Nevertheless, Mericle’s photographic style that interprets many of the places within the Seneca Army Depot only faintly resembles my memories of these places.

In part Mericle’s landscapes photographs create an abstraction of nature, which lies within the prowess of the photographic medium, in which a long lens compresses and flattens space and a wide open aperture provides a thin slice of a precisely focused subject. I could not visually experience this place and have similar impressions without the benefit of a camera or other visual aid. Her landscape photographs create a lacy haze of delicate branches and limbs that overlap each other in a slightly crazy and complex kaleidoscope of lines and texture, which are exotically beautiful. Her photographs remind me of the dripped action paintings of Jackson Pollock, the Abstract Expressionist painter whose own studio was in a similar region of New York State.

Lurking in the edges of her photographs, occasionally as a backdrop, are the historical artifacts of this mysterious and abandoned place; artificial mounds grassed over, topped with rusting ventilation towers. The manmade structures are gradually becoming overrun by nature, with the steady encroachment of trees, brush and weeds. The steady reclamation of nature then provides the necessary food and shelter for the animals, birds and other wildlife of this region, especially for this herd of white deer. The concern is that the natural restoration is a very artificial condition and due to the nature of the environmental pollution present. This is also a narrative about adaptation and endurance of nature, that if provided an opportunity, a rebirth is possible, thus a narrative about hope.

The book has stiff covers and is perfect bound, illustrated with color plates. The full bleed photographs imply that we are glimpsing but a small part of this region that the space is more expansive than the photographs on the small pages portray.

By Douglas Stockdale

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