Strange Cities, the recent photobook collaboration between the every wandering John Ryan Brubaker and Ampersand Galley and Fine Books (Portland,OR) is a recasting of the “stranger in a strange land” genre, set in Vietnam. We experience the journey of a photographer-flaneur, who, utilizing a documentary style, investigates in black & white the urban landscape of an unfamiliar place.
Brubaker captures a glimpse of the din raised by of a sea of scooters, the tangled chaos of the electrical and communications infrastructure, aging and detoriating built landscape that many call home, and a sense of the tenacity of the people to adapt and survive. He provides vignettes of his subjects, an indirect portrait of the social fabric granting us the freedom to add to his narrative.
The book provides a contrast of horizontal photographs printed across a two page spread with two vertical photographs on facing pages, the later creating jarring juxtapositions as the full-page bleed photographs butte into each other. The visual rationale for the pairings is not readily apparent, thus challenge you to dig a little deeper. One read I obtain from these mash-ups is the potential disorientation and unease that a strange environment can create.
As a photographer, I found the image of the table top camera repair vendor intriguing, the contrast of working hands diligent working on an old twin lens reflex, while near the photographic border are a perhaps the waiting hands. On the work top is a sea of camera parts, assembled much like an abstract collage, with a relatively new digital camera body adjacent to what appears to a very aging and dilapidated 35mm camera body.
For photographic-flaneur photobooks, I am particularly partial to an ending photograph that is symbolic of the potential journey that still lies ahead, bottom photograph, where this is a strong graphic element, in this case the silvery train tracks, that leads your eye out into the hazy distance. This photograph creates a nice narrative almost of itself and implies that although you are at the end of this book, the journey, symbolic of the narrative, really continues.
The book object; a small stiff cover book and hand sewn binding, which makes for a very enjoyable read, as the pages open nicely to provide a nice lay flat design. The photographs are printed full bleed on a slightly warm stock, without page numbering, captions or an accompanying essay. Printed in an edition size of 100.