The recent trend in photobooks seems to lean towards minimalism; all photographs without supporting text or captions. Ken Schles recent book Oculus is a refreshing change and his supporting essays are as interesting and challenging as are his photographs. As Schles states, “Oculus started with a question – a question about images and the way they function.” This is his investigation into why he was making “documentary style” photographs that “often reflected images I already had in memory.”
Be forewarned, his essays will not be a lite read if in involves the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Nabokov. Nevertheless, Schles does provide a readable, perhaps a bit dense, narrative with questions and observations that I am sill pondering.
Due to economic and personal circumstances, Schles found himself “struck with the realization that images I held, the images in my head, had become separated from the reality that once portrayed. I was taken off guard that my images could be so defining – not only in reaction to who I was and how I saw the people that I loved, but also how those images colored my perceptions, swayed my judgments and influenced my actions. I have to take stock; my images no longer held up.”
The book is segmented into sections that investigate the nature of experience and images, the nature of memory in relation to existence (Somnambulism), nature of images and memory (Mnemosyne) and the nature of experience and memory.
I found Schles investigation into nature of memory in relation to existence in conjunction with his photographs of sleeping children to be the most intriguing. (Note: I can usually capture a reasonable likeness of the interior of a book, but the paper’s sheen was very vexing, so please do not judge this book’s contents solely on my accompanying illustrations, they do not do enough justice.) Schles inspiration was drawn from Vldimir Nabokov’s “Speak Memory”; “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”.
Oculus is a hardcover book that is smart, if not brilliant, and innovative and as I do not usually make many purchasing recommendations, I am making an exception for Schles book; highly recommended.