PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media


Book Review Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays By Robert Adams Reviewed by Karen Jenkins “Robert Adams’ timely new book, Art Can Help is an invigorating response to a waxing cultural despair over the state of the world and our dubious agency in it. Offered not as a mere balm, this collection of just over two dozen short essays is a quietly powerful argument for what art can and should mean in our lives."
Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays 
By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.
 
Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays.
Text by Robert Adams.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, United States, 2017. In English. 92 pp., 34 color illustrations, 5½x8¼x½".

Robert Adams’ timely new book, Art Can Help is an invigorating response to a waxing cultural despair over the state of the world and our dubious agency in it. Offered not as a mere balm, this collection of just over two dozen short essays is a quietly powerful argument for what art can and should mean in our lives. Two opening passages unpack the formative influence of Edward Hopper on Adams’ way of looking at and making art. The texts that follow delve into favorite and affecting photographs around which Adams champions a deeply personal experience with art, one which demands accountability and an intrinsic connection between art and life. The Introduction and Afterword bookend Adams’ lyrical unraveling of art that ‘helps’ with a bald critique of the failings of that art practice that he sees as facile or empty. He writes: “This atrophying away of the genuine article is a misfortune because, in an age of nuclear weapons and overpopulation and global warming, we need more than ever what art used to provide. Somehow we have to recommit to picture making that is serious.”

Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays. By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.
Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays. By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

A weighty directive to be sure, but these essays not only deliver; they elucidate and delight. I happily read all 88 pages in one sitting, my shared love of photography and belief in art’s centrality to life burnished anew. With graceful brevity, Adams offers narratives that are at once sharply focused on the contents within each frame and that send the reader off on trails of expansive analogy to literature, poetry and music. Many reflect his abiding commitment to the landscape and how art can challenge our incursions and insults, as well as sustain our experience of beauty and the sublime. The “wonderful gloom” of Wayne Gudmundson’s photograph of abandoned grain elevators is balanced for Adams by a flight of birds and a tree’s wing-like boughs, together “a melodic answer to the bass line of the deserted buildings with their static darkness.” In discussing Eric Paddock’s photograph of a distant railroad crossing in a vast Colorado plain, Adams speaks to emptiness and solitude, conjuring both the views once commemorated in “quietly local postcards” as well as poet William Stafford’s take on such landscapes conjuring “space, and the hurt of space after the others are gone.”

Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays. By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.
Art Can Help: New and Selected Essays. By Robert Adams. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

Most stirring for me were those passages that foreground art’s capacity to re-engage us in life, as active and accountable participants, as well as those that lauded a life devoted to its creation. He sees the empathy and culpability in Garry Winogrand’s photograph, shot through a windshield, of a calf stumbling between two opposing cars on a western road, arguing that his “photograph keeps us alive, overruling all assurances from behaviorists that we are never guilty.” In ten short paragraphs illustrated by two photographs from Judith Joy Ross’s Portraits of the Hazleton Public Schools, Adams folds us into his unforgettable relationship with these works, from the notion of a shared experience of pain to a hope for the future, crafted on both aesthetic rigor and visual and narrative delights. When he writes, “This is the sort of thing that is worth a life,” we are powerless to disagree. It is one of Adams’ many gifts that a lifetime of serious attention to looking at art and making photographs has yielded these captivating, important takes on what 35 odd pictures mean to him. Whether we share his wonder with these views, or have our own sacred fold, he wins the day not with heavy-handed insistence, but with an understated authority encompassing intelligence, wonderment and a devotion to looking carefully and owning what he sees. — Karen Jenkins

Purchase Book

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.


Read More Book Reviews

photo-eye Gallery NEW Portfolio: Rendezvous with Light – David H. Gibson & Chaco Terada photo-eye Gallery is excited to release a new portfolio Rendezvous with Light featuring work from represented artists David H. Gibson and Chaco Terada's two-person-show of the same name opening this Friday, November 17th.

photo-eye Gallery is excited to release a new portfolio, Rendezvous with Light, featuring work from represented artists David H. Gibson and Chaco Terada's two-person-show of the same name opening this Friday, November 17th. With over 35 works on view, the exhibition includes dual layer silk prints by Chaco Terada as well as silver gelatin prints, pigment ink prints, and handmade artist books by David H. Gibson. Rendezvous with Light juxtaposes Gibson and Terada's images and focuses on themes such as nature, time, origin, and of course – light. While the artists often work closely together they maintain separate practice and express their ideas uniquely.




photo-eye will be hosting an Artist Reception for Gibson and Terada on Friday, November 17th from 5–7pm, Rendezvous with Light will be on view through December 30th.

Chaco Terada - Light Banquet, 2017, Sumi Ink and Pigment Ink on Silk 10x7" Image, $1200 •

David H. Gibson – Lotus Stems and Cloud Reflections, Texas Gulf Coast, 1998,
Toned Gelatin-Silver Print, 9.5x13" Image, Edition of 45, $1200 


David H. Gibson – Backlighted Moss, Mill Pond, Caddo Lake Texas
Toned Gelatin-Silver Print 9.3x5.5" Image, Edition of 50, $400 


Chaco Terada - There, the Opening 3, 2017 Sumi Ink and Pigment Ink on Silk 10x7" Image, $1200 


Chaco Terada - Garden Without Spacetime F1, 2017 Sumi Ink and Pigment Ink on Silk 10x7" Image, $1200 


David H. Gibson - Cypress Island, Village Creek, Texas, 1987 Gelatin-Silver Print 6x6" Image, Edition of 50, $600 



Works by David H. Gibson are available in Limited Editions and prices may change as the edition sells. Works by Chaco Terada are UNIQUE due to her technique, please inquire as to their current availability. All works above were available at the listed price at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com.








Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André Laura M. André selects Photobook Phenomenon, by Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza, as Book of the Week.

Photobook Phenomenon.
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, 
Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi 
Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza 
Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.

Laura M. André selects Photobook Phenomenon, by Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza, from Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Foto Colectania, and RM as Book of the Week.

For all but those experts armed with extensive knowledge, experience, and access to rare collections, the photobook world can be a daunting place. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of books, artists, designers, and publishers that appear in any given year, not to mention the vast history of photography books, many of which are so rare that you and I will only ever know them through reproductions.

Like all areas of art history, as well as public and private collecting, the histories, criticisms, and theories about photography books are evolving and hardly fixed. After all, scholars, critics, collectors—and booksellers—can't even seem to agree on what the term photobook  includes, excludes, or means. 

Curious and perhaps daunted neophytes have a number of encyclopedic publications to help guide them as they begin to navigate the photobook world, but many of these books on books have themselves become collectible, expensive, and, some people might argue, a bit too influential in terms of the photobook marketplace.

Published to accompany a major photobook exhibition in Barcelona, Photobook Phenomenon is a collection of eight easily digestible, illustrated booklets, each of which addresses certain aspects of the photobook world. Beginning with an overview that provides a glimpse into what the "phenomenon" is all about, subsequent volumes address:

  • A case study of a canonical photobook, William Klein's Life Is Good & Good for You in New York;
  • A compendium of the best of the best photobooks according to photobook collector Martin Parr, one of the individuals most responsible for the recent photobook phenomenon; 
  • An essay that considers the personal libraries of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Gabriel Cualladó as singular photobook museums;
  • Ryuichi Kaneko's illuminating presentation of 5 distinct aspects unique to, or particularly important to Japanese photobooks;
  • A concise examination of the differences between politically oriented photobooks as propaganda and as protest;
  • Erik Kessels' iconoclastic, unique look at fascination and failure in photobooks, and;
  • A final round of case studies of contemporary artists working to expand the boundaries, capabilities, and forms of photobooks. 

I'm a big fan of this publication because it doesn't take itself too seriously. While certainly not an exhaustive study (itself an impossible task), it does lead by example insofar as it eschews a single narrative and includes a plurality of voices and perspectives.

As we enter the year-end cavalcade of book awards and best of lists, use the information to learn about books you might not have known otherwise, but above all, keep in mind why certain kinds of books interest you. Whether it's subject matter, particular artists, book design, contemporary relevance, historical context, a favorite publisher, or a combination of factors, figure out what you like, and why you like it. If you focus your collection based on these personal and intellectual guides, I can't promise you'll never be overwhelmed, but you will have a stronger sense of navigation through the photobook phenomenon.

 — Laura M. André

Purchase Book

Photobook Phenomenon
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, 
Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza. Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.

Photobook Phenomenon
By Moritz Neumüller, Lesley A. Martin, Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi, Martin Parr, Horacio Fernández, 
Ryuichi Kaneko, Gerry Badger, Erik Kessels, and Irene de Mendoza.  Barcelona: CCCB, Foto Colectania, and RM, 2017.







Laura M. André earned a PhD in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at the University of New Mexico before leaving academia to work with photography books. She is the manager of photo-eye's book division.


photo-eye Gallery OPENING Friday November 17th, 2017 – Rendezvous with Light by David H. Gibson & Chaco Terada photo-eye Gallery is honored to announce Rendezvous with Light an exhibition of photographs by represented artists David H. Gibson and Chaco Terada.


David H. Gibson & Chaco Terada
Rendezvous with Light

Opening & Artist Reception
Friday, November 17, 5–7pm
On View: Nov. 17 – December, 2017

photo-eye Gallery is honored to announce Rendezvous with Light an exhibition of photographs by represented artists David H. Gibson and Chaco Terada. The two-person-show will feature over 35 works including dual layer silk prints by Chaco Terada as well as silver gelatin prints, pigment ink prints, and handmade artist books by David H. Gibson.


Book Review Bystander: A History of Street Photography By Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz Reviewed by Blake Andrews Bystander is required reading for all street photographers. If you're relatively new to the street game and/or you do not own an earlier edition, this book should be in your library, period. If you're an armchair street shooter exploring the genre or searching for historical context, or just a photo buff looking for an entertaining narrative, this book is for you too.
Bystander: A History of Street Photography 
Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz.
Laurence King Publishing, 2017. 
 
Bystander:
A History of Street Photography

Reviewed by Blake Andrews.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography.
Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz.
Laurence King Publishing, London, England, 2017. In English. 400 pp
 

Street photography is the red-headed stepchild of the photo world, often maligned or dismissed by reputable galleries and museums. Even within the street photography community, there is discord. Territories are staked out. Arguments and cliques abound. The very term street photography is rejected by many of its practitioners, including Garry Winogrand himself. If the whole enterprise seems rather uninviting, that's fitting. Anyone who has wandered an urban sidewalk peering in on private scenes quickly realizes that alienation is integral to the art.

But despite its outsider status — or maybe because of it? — street photography's popularity has exploded in recent decades. Its simplicity attracts all comers — no props, assistants, studio, or planning necessary; just walk out the door and you're ready. In fact, one can hardly walk three blocks in Manhattan without bumping into another Leica-toting flaneur. In other cities, they cluster even thicker. The digital revolution has poured fuel on the fire. Topnotch cameras and an online support network are now widely accessible, along with a small cottage industry of street photography workshops, festivals, clubs, and guides. If you'll pardon the expression, street photography is in the midst of a decisive moment.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

The movement has grown so quickly it threatens to outstrip its own foundation. The last major tome to tackle street photography from a historical perspective was published in 1994, just on the cusp of the digital revolution. I'm referring to Bystander, the magnum opus by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. This is the book that put street photography — defined therein as "candid pictures of everyday life in the street"— on the map, and also on countless bookshelves. Its second edition in 2001 was a slight revision of the first. Together they came to be known as "the Bible" of street. As a historical text Bystander has never had any real competition. Oh sure, there's been a rush of street photography surveys published this millennium: Street & Studio, Street Photography Now, World Atlas of Street Photography, The Street Photographer's Manual, and so on. But these have been primarily concerned with the contemporary. None have given street photography the historical framework and academic study that Bystander did.

The third edition of Bystander, fully revised and just published by Laurence King in London, comes not a moment too soon. Twenty-three years is an eternity in the digital age. I'm guessing there were fewer street shooters back in 1994, but it's hard to know precisely. Social media did not exist and records are thin. Let's just assume a lot has changed. The chore of catching us up to speed on interim events while affirming the chronicle of past ones, all amid the frantic momentum of a quickly evolving scene, is probably beyond the scope of any book. But Bystander takes a shot, for better or for worse.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

Let me cover the better part first. The main core of Bystander — a roughly chronological survey of European/American street photography featuring its key innovators, styles, and trends — remains largely intact. Here and there passages have been altered (notably on Frank's The Americans), and the original photo selection slightly re-edited. This is about 80% of the book. Throughout the entire book, the reproductions have been given a thorough scrubbing. The contrast and tonality of the monochromes are greatly improved from earlier editions, as are the saturation and fidelity of the color photos. With these rough edges newly burnished and the entire thing given a fresh layout by Atlas Design, the book feels lively and inviting.

A few items have been added. First of all, there are many new photos added to the folios throughout the book. These folios, a facet of all Bystander editions going back to the first, are regularly spaced sections of twenty-plus pages with only photographs, no text. They are curated by Meyerowitz, and his choices are smart and enlightening. The historical selections are mostly monochrome and show a keen eye for B-Sides. Many of these images are obscure enough to jolt even the most jaded street connoisseur, making the book a treat to browse as well as read. Throughout the book, but particularly toward the later chapters, the folios have been expanded to incorporate contemporary shooters, especially those working in color. It's nice to see standard-bearers like Leiter, Mermelstein, Webb, Parr, and Gruyeart get their due here. Vivian Maier makes an appearance, as do monochrome stalwarts like Trent Parke, Jeff Ladd, and Peter Kayafas. That none were included in the canon twenty years ago tells how much has changed. 

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

While Meyerowitz is responsible for the photos, Westerbeck tackles the writing, and he comes out swinging. His excellent lead essay, “Now and Then: In Defense of Traditional Street Photography,” places the genre in a contemporary context of post-modernism. As the chapter title implies, Westerbeck is not a post-modern fan, at least as it relates to street shooting. DiCorcia and Wall? Pretenders to the throne. He lambasts Doug Rickard and Michael Wolf as "practitioners of Googledy Gawk."  Poor Doug Rickard, so lost he suffers from "an inability to distinguish between what he does and real street photography." Paul Graham's "inherently uninteresting" street photos suffer from "utter blandness." By the time he gets to Beat Streuli —"generic"— and Baldessari —"a detached analysis of photography itself"— it's open season on the so-called post-modernists. For Westerbeck, they represent "the dullness of life theorized about rather than experienced."

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

Westerbeck contrasts this approach with that of the traditional street photographer enmeshed in boots-on-the-ground observation. His description "at once joyous and jaundiced… a state of heightened consciousness" roots street photography in the experiential. Photographers of this type are probably the primary audience for this book, and they'll want to pull up a seat with some popcorn as Westerbeck repels the post-modern invaders. The subtext to Westerbeck's thesis is that many of the facets driving street photography's current popularity — its simplicity, accessibility, honesty, and open-ended motivations — run counter to prevailing art world trends. But street photographers don't need a book to know that. Alienation comes with the territory.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

The other new writing is the end piece, “The Conversation Continues,” a transcribed dialogue about street photography between Meyerowitz and Westerbeck. This is an extension of a conversation that appeared in the original editions. The discussion ranges naturally from topic to topic the way conversations do, touching on new photographers of interest, old ones like Maier and Arbus, and where all this street photography business might be headed. I suppose it's meant to bring readers up to date. But the scope of any such conversation is necessarily limited, and one is left wondering as much about all the things that weren't covered as those that were.

It's here that Bystander runs into difficulty, for a lot is left uncovered. Indeed, wide swaths are missing completely. Where to begin? There is no flash photography shown after Weegee. Nary a mention of Instagram, Facebook, or Flickr. The Japanese, who've pioneered enough street photography to fill several history books, are nowhere to be found. There's scarcely a peep from Greece, Thailand, Israel, India, Poland, or any other street shooting hotspot. There are no photographers from South America or Africa, and just a single photographer (the wonderful Raghubir Singh) from Asia, a continent that a majority of humans currently call home. Roy DeCarava gets a brief mention in the text, and a handful of women manage to place photos in the book. But beyond that Bystander is essentially a Eurocentric, white male survey of available light. If the book were subtitled A History of Street Photography in Europe and the U.S. it would be no problem. But the actual subtitle, A History of Street Photography, promises more — too much, as it turns out.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

I don't want to get bogged down in identity politics. Let it take a backseat to Meyerowitz and Westerbeck’s unquestionable expertise. Westerbeck is "the acknowledged foremost expert on street photography," if you believe the jacket blurb. But their blind spots are glaring. I think the authors would freely admit they don't have their finger on the pulse of this increasingly global phenomenon. Street photography has become accessible to all and practiced by all, and that is its huge potential strength. That the book's recent update does not reflect this fact feels like a missed opportunity.

Faults aside, Bystander is required reading for all street photographers. If you're relatively new to the street game and/or you do not own an earlier edition, this book should be in your library, period. If you're an armchair street shooter exploring the genre or searching for historical context, or just a photo buff looking for an entertaining narrative, this book is for you too. Heck, the photographs alone are spectacular enough to justify a purchase.

Bystander: A History of Street Photography Text by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. Laurence King Publishing, 2017.

For street shooters who already own an earlier edition, the equation is murkier. The fact is, assuming you can find your tattered copy amid the clutter of your old film binders, you already possess most of what's in this third edition. What you're getting extra is two nice essays and a new portfolio of recent street photos, all in a slicker package. The latest edition presents a familiar modern dilemma, the one you face every day on your smartphone. Do you upgrade or do you stay put? Do you join the fray? Or do you wander alone as you were, happily alienated? 
— Blake Andrews

Purchase Book

BLAKE ANDREWS is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

Read more book reviews

photo-eye Gallery NEW WORK – Maggie Taylor: Through the Looking-Glass photo-eye Gallery is delighted to debut six new works by Maggie Taylor completing her series, Through the Looking-Glass.

Through the looking-glass, 2017, 15x15", Archival Pigment Print, $2,800 – © Maggie Taylor
8x8" edition only available in the Limited Edition Through the Looking-Glass monograph - expected March, 2018 
photo-eye Gallery is delighted to debut six new images by represented artist Maggie Taylor. Known for her whimsical and intuitive style, Taylor uses digital technology to build evocative photomontages of what she terms "dreamlike worlds inhabited by everyday objects." Inspired in part by Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland, the images released today serve to complete the artist's multi-year poetic-narrative project Through the Looking Glass. Prints from Through the Looking Glass, as well as other series by Taylor, are available in limited editions at various sizes.

Maggie Taylor:
Though the Looking-Glass

8 x 8 inches, Edition of 15 – $1,500

15 x 15 inches, Edition of 15 – $2,800

22 x 22 inches, Edition of 10 – $4,500

36 x 36 inches, Edition of 5 – $8,000

» Inquire about Prints

• Prints are available in limited editions and price is subject to change as the edition sells.
Prices listed are current at the time this post was published.

 For more information and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 
505-988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com.

Soup, 2017, 8x8", Archival Pigment Print, $1,500 – © Maggie Taylor

Strange Things, 2017, 8x8", Archival Pigment Print, $1,500 – © Maggie Taylor

Without my knowing it, 2017, 8x8", Archival Pigment Print, $1,500 – © Maggie Taylor

The feast, 2017, 8x8", Archival Pigment Print, $1,500 – © Maggie Taylor

And what Alice found there, 2017, 8x8", Archival Pigment Print, $1,500 – © Maggie Taylor

A monograph for Through the Looking Glass is currently in production with an expected publication date in March 2018. A Limited Edition version of the book will include an 8x8" archival pigment print of the image Through the looking-glass (see top) made and signed by Maggie Taylor –100 copies of the limited edition will be available, and it will be the only way to purchase the 8x8" edition of the image. Full details regarding the monograph and limited edition will be released in the coming weeks. 

Preview Image for Through the Looking-Glass monograph
by Maggie Taylor – expected March, 2018.





For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 505-988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com.

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Forrest Soper Forrest Soper selects The Transverse Path (or Nature's Little Secret) by Mike Slack as Book of the Week.
The Transverse Path: (or Nature's Little Secret)
By Mike Slack The Ice Plant, 2017.
Forrest Soper selects The Transverse Path: (or Nature's Little Secret)  by Mike Slack from The Ice Plant as Book of the Week.

"Mike Slack is no stranger to the photobook world. In addition to his many acclaimed monographs, Slack also co-runs The Ice Plant, a publisher responsible for some of the best photobooks made in the past decade. Based in Los Angeles, Slack has quickly become a major player in the world of contemporary photography after taking up photography in his late twenties. The Transverse Path (or Nature’s Little Secret) is his latest monograph, and in my sincere opinion, his best work to date.

Fans of Slack's oeuvre will notice familiar motifs in this new body of work. Geometric peculiarities and abandoned detritus alike are bathed in golden light. The poetic landscape is so familiar that you easily become engrossed in the work, yet just alien enough to keep you captivated after multiple readings. While primarily shot in the American West, Slack weaves in photographs from Peru, France, and Hawaii with seamless transitions. The end result is a fictitious dreamscape that feels like home and an unfamiliar land all at once.

Romantic and witty, serene and disorganized, simplistic and complex, it becomes hard to pin down exactly why this book is so powerful. The Transverse Path is such a tactile book, that when reading it you are instantly transported into Slack’s fantastical world. This book holds its own alongside publications like ZZYZX and Lago, but more importantly, it adds to the photographic conversation.

The mark of a good photobook is the impact that it leaves on the viewer, and The Transverse Path certainly accomplishes this goal. In the past week, I have picked up this book almost incessantly. Whether I spend an hour reading the book, or a few minutes glancing through the images, this book always astonishes me with the amount of skill, thought, and beauty that permeates the pages. Ultimately, this book serves as a wonderful entry point into one of the rising stars of the photographic world, and a stunning example of the masterful artistry that can be found in a successful photobook." — Forrest Soper

Purchase Book

The Transverse Path: (or Nature's Little Secret) By Mike Slack The Ice Plant, 2017.

The Transverse Path: (or Nature's Little Secret) By Mike Slack The Ice Plant, 2017.



Forrest Soper is a photographer and artist based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. A graduate of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, he also has previously worked at Bostick & Sullivan. Forrest is the Editor of photo-eye Blog.
http://forrestsoper.com/


Books Interview: Amani Willett Blending archival and authored images, moving backwards and forwards in time, The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer not only seeks to understand a mysterious man who chose to live alone in the woods of New Hampshire, but also explores the ways we seek meaning in the lives of others — to explain our own choices and impulses, and to offer guidance in times of trouble.
The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer 
Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017. 
 
The desire to escape, run away, or disappear has deep roots in American culture. Reinvention is often at the heart of such a desire. Other times it is simply a wish to stand apart and be alone; to leave behind something or someone. It’s a radical gesture often met with a mix of fascination, admiration, and scorn. Amani Willet’s new book The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer examines the mystery surrounding one such man’s choice. Blending archival and authored images, moving backwards and forwards in time, the work not only seeks to understand a mysterious man who chose to live alone in the woods of New Hampshire, but also explores the ways we seek meaning in the lives of others — to explain our own choices and impulses, and to offer guidance in times of trouble. The commitment to live one’s life as a hermit may seem unthinkable to most, but the impulse to find solace away from the demands of life is understandable to all. A dark and affecting book, The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer draws us into the inscrutable secrets of a centuries-old story, ultimately leaving us in the woods to find our own way out. How long we stay remains a personal choice.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer invites us into a mystery. Not to dispel that mystery, but can you talk about who Joseph Plummer was, what we know and don’t know about him, and what led you to this project?

Amani Willett: In 1979 my dad purchased land in the area where the hermit lived and he built a small cabin for himself. The land he bought is on a lake called Hermit Lake and it’s just off a road called Hermit Woods Road. Around 2010 I became curious if these names referenced a real person. After doing a little research, I learned that the names did indeed refer to a local legend named Joseph Plummer. From that moment, I was hooked and started learning as much as I could about him. I leaned heavily on the local historical society for information and also spoke with local residents about the stories they had heard throughout their lives.

I discovered Joseph Plummer was born in the late 1700s in a small town in central New Hampshire. He was one of 10 or 11 children from a poor family. Around his 20th birthday, he decided to take the radical step of leaving his family and town to head to the wilderness that surrounded his small village. He spent the rest of his days alone in the woods and was completely self-sufficient. It’s said that he was very wary of any sort of modernity or progress. The sparse information that exists about him comes from first-hand accounts and newspaper articles. In the 1860s he was discovered dead in his cabin. Honestly, it’s hard to know how accurate this information is because there is so little of it and some sources offer conflicting accounts. But that’s also precisely why I find his story so compelling.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: You open the book with a quote, which in part reads, “Joseph Plummer is remembered because he wished to be alone.” As social animals, we often find it hard to believe someone wants to be completely alone or remove themselves from society. The irony is that Plummer’s retreat and desire for isolation brought him a modicum of fame during his life. That fascination continues with your book and marks the landscape around where he lived (e.g., Hermit Lake, etc..). How do you see Plummer as fitting in a lineage and mythology of particularly American men that might include figures such as Thoreau, who is mythologized as a hermit, but was actually not one at all, but also more ominous figures like the Unabomber?

Amani Willett: Growing up I was actually very wary of solitude and being alone. And I despised ideas of rugged American Individualism. I felt it was a fallacy. I believed that everyone was a product of their culture, community, and environment and to claim otherwise felt disingenuous. So I rejected the “every man/woman for himself” mentality that is pervasive in certain corners of American culture. That being said, as I've aged I've come to welcome and embrace sporadic solitude as an essential and important part of my own life experience.

With The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer, I wasn’t looking to make the project a generalized commentary about men like Joseph Plummer or Thoreau who choose to leave society. Instead, its genesis was in my curiosity about a specific person who lived in a specific place that related to my father’s and my experiences with the same specific area.

While working on the project and thinking more about the origin of myths and legendary figures, I’ve come to believe a mythological figure's status does not say as much about them as it does about how we as a society project our beliefs and desires onto mythologized figures. Many people who have been mythologized for their outsider status are people we know little about or are people who have chosen a life path that creates a disconnect in our minds. We individually can’t fathom the leap these figures make and our minds desperately need to create a narrative for what must have inspired their decision-making process.

While researching the reasons people have tended to leave contemporary society, I was struck by the fact that in more or less every historical time period people feel they have less time, that progress brings increased stress, that society becomes more crowded and that finding time to be alone becomes increasingly difficult. However, most humans have elected to accept those changes for various reasons, including some undeniably positive tradeoffs. But, there is always a small group who decides to sever ties to mainstream life. And for the rest of us, I think that decision will always be intriguing.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.
The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: The book is full of images of erasure, occlusion, and darkness — historical photographs are literally erased, defaced and burned; layered images of wilderness become impenetrable veils; and solitary figures hover in the darkness. In some cases, they point to the continued mystery of Plummer or perhaps your failure to find out, while others seem to protect his privacy or refuse to disclose what is known. Most interestingly, they seem to allow a space to step in and perhaps fulfill our own desire to run away or escape. How do you see these various strategies working?

Amani Willett: In the short statement that appears at the back of the book I wrote, “ . . . his life and the landscape he inhabited exude the mystery of the unknowable.” That belief drove most of the creative decisions I made in the book. I really did try to tell the story of an essentially unknowable man. There simply wasn’t enough information about him to flesh out a narrative packed with facts and information. But that is what I found so interesting about his story and it’s what compelled me to keep coming back to the project. The narrative became about searching for his identity. I loved that idea — and played with that idea — of a man who was in many ways not fully knowable.

Earlier we were discussing mythology and how a lack of information about a person can help fuel their mythological status. Because we never really see Joseph’s face (except as a boy and as an old man) it enables the viewer to experience Joseph as a mythological figure while at the same time allowing for them to create the character in their own imagination. My hope is that everyone’s sense of Joseph is a little different and is partly drawn from their own life experiences. On a practical level that meant playing with images to obscure his identity. I should point out that there are not any known pictures of Joseph. All the historical images in the book are from an archive in the village where Joseph’s cabin was located.

Hermit Woods is a quiet place filled with lots of dense forest — it has a real sense of mystery to it. As I made images in the forest I felt the best way to convey the quiet and sense of solitude was often by employing a dark, sparse palette. Not to get too cosmic, but after spending so much time in Hermit Woods photographing and looking for clues I couldn’t help but feel that Joseph’s presence really could be felt. The images of the ghostly figures in the shadows reference that belief.

It’s funny you mention “respecting his privacy,” because as silly as it sounds I often found myself thinking about that when choosing not to show his face. Keeping his anonymity seemed the least I could do.

One of the two images in the book that shows Joseph’s face is a picture of him as an old man, looking very much the way you’d expect a hermit to look. The image is not as much a picture of Joseph as it is what society expected he had become.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: In addition to the altered archival imagery and your own authored images, the book includes a number of facsimile inserts or pages, including pages from John Greenleaf Whittier’s early-20th century book of poems, Snowbound and Other Poems, and a copy of the land title from when your father purchased a small plot of land near where Plummer lived. In both cases you’ve redacted the text, one for obvious reasons of privacy, but in the other to form your own poetry, which becomes a new message or clue about Plummer. Why did you include these texts and how you see them functioning in the book?

Amani Willett: The poems are one more way that I’ve chosen to connect Joseph’s story to my father’s. I actually found the book of poems lying around my dad's cabin and the subject matter of the poems had a similar aesthetic to the story I was constructing. They function much in the same way the photography in the book functions. Both partly reveal and conceal information — and for me, this is the very nature of how photography functions — photographs reveal or conceal light, include or exclude information from the frame, and sequences of images change the meaning of individual images. Just like photographs are sequenced to create new meaning, I was interested in how the same concept could be applied to the poems. So much of the project is about the play between concealing and revealing information so it seemed like a natural progression. I liked that the newly created phrases seemed to reference Joseph Plummer but they could also be about my dad as they came from a book of poems that belonged to him.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: You mention your dad’s cabin, which leads to another important part of the book. The final section jumps forward to a more contemporary moment with a young man building a cabin in the woods in the late-70s or early-80s. Is this where your family and father step in?

Amani Willett: That’s right. The first two-thirds of the book mainly focus on Joseph’s story and the last section brings my father more directly into the book. There are a couple images in the first section that include my dad because I wanted to have his story intersect with the hermit’s but his inclusion at that point is subtle.

The image of the young man you reference is indeed my father and, similar to the treatment of the original hermit, it’s the only image of him where you see him straight on. As the narrative progresses — and as he ages and spends more time alone in Hermit Woods — he also begins to fade into the landscape.

There is a crucial moment in the book sequence — just preceding the image of the young man you mention — where Joseph’s status as the hermit is superseded by my father. It's the moment where the baton is passed, so to speak. In the sequence, there is a spread where Joseph’s world and my father’s world share the same space for the first time. On the right-hand page is an archival image of a burning hut. On the left my father is pictured lighting a fire. The next page shows an archival portrait of the hermit’s family up in flames with only Joseph’s figure burning away. The final image in the sequence shows a bear emerging from the shadows of a pitch-black forest at night. For me, the bear becomes an allegory both for Joseph’s transformation into a spiritual force that permeates the area and a symbolic passing of the hermit identity to my father.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer Photographs by Amani Willett.  Overlapse, 2017.

Adam Bell: This work is markedly different from your previous book, Disquiet, yet the two are also similar in many ways. Both are deeply personal and speak about reconciling oneself to a chaotic, and often frightening world. Whereas Disquiet suggested a hesitant engagement, The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer seems to be a dark, escape hatch. How do you see the two relating, if at all?

Amani Willett: You are definitely right about my personal connections to my work . . . . With all my projects, whether I’m photographing my family, Underground Railroad sites, or traces of a hermit’s life in New Hampshire, they all begin with strong personal ties. My goal is to find stories that start with the personal and project outward to create more universal connections. I’m deeply interested in stories that examine the way societal forces shape the lives of individuals. I see both these projects as illuminating the stories of characters operating within the realities of their time.

Regarding the darkness of Joseph Plummer — you are definitely not the first person to mention this aspect of the work — but I found this response surprising. While I was trying to create a mysterious world with more questions than answers, my intention wasn’t necessarily to make a creepy world. I envisioned his world more in the tradition of the sublime. In fact, being deep in the woods of Joseph’s world is one of the most wonderful and peaceful places I can imagine.

With Disquiet, I was just beginning to think about working with images in book form. I was excited by the substantial narrative possibilities that books present: most notably sequencing, mixing media and materials, and design. I spent a lot of time focusing on various strategies for sequencing and I incorporated images from the news and some text as well.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer feels like a natural extension of that initial exploration, but one where I’ve been able to explore the same strategies for storytelling in a much more polished way. With this project, I’m still focusing on careful sequencing, but I’ve added historical images and more text to enhance the narrative aspects of the work. Both projects are fragmented narratives, but The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer engages that idea in a more conscious way because the idea of fragmentation is essential to the hermit’s life story. This time I’ve also invested more time and energy in the design to complement the ideas in the book.

Purchase The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer
View more publications from Amani Willett