|Pangnirtung, Photographs by Robert Frank. |
Published by Steidl, 2011.
Reviewed by Ellen Rennard
Robert Frank Pangnirtung
Photographs by Robert Frank
Steidl, 2011. Hardbound. 40 pp., 27 black & white illustrations, 9x12".
I agreed to review Robert Frank's Pangnirtung with not a little trepidation. Where is Pangnirtung, anyway? The last page of the book has a map. One way of knowing. Northwest Territories. Cold. Isolated. Gray, like the photographs. Unrelenting gray on perfect, heavy, matte paper with plenty of white space. Overcast. The cover: "stones - maybe the balance of a big sky above..." The texture of the boards, rough. Simple, but not. Frank's text: sparse. The land: sparser.
Frank tells us he flew in from Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay, in a four-passenger plane. Stayed with friends. A quiet time. Five days in 1992, 27 images in a book published by Steidl almost 20 years later. A book that sounds like silence, a journey that feels like stillness.
Sad? Maybe. Or just hermetic. So what can I tell you to think about this book? You'll feel as you feel. It's a little journey. It starts in the harbor. The airplane lands at the community airport. A pile of rocks behind a chain link fence: "way in, way out," the caption reads.
I keep returning to this book. Then to The Americans. I see Frank's early work differently now, all those cars, the motorcycles, and Jack Kerouac's introductory description of "the mad road, lonely, leading around the bend into the openings of space . . ." And continuing, here, in Pangnirtung: the main road, desolate, leading past the small village into the end of something.—Ellen Rennard
Ellen Rennard is a writer, photographer, and teacher of writing and literature at Groton School in Groton, MA. She graduated from Princeton, where she wrote her thesis on images of Native Americans; she also holds an MA in English from Middlebury. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Fraction Magazine and Photovision; her photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including Black and White and Orion. Images from Rennard’s book project on The Downs at Albuquerque were nominated for a New York Photo Festival Book Award in 2009 and won first place in the 2010 Px3 People’s Choice Awards for Book Proposal and Documentary Photography. www.ellenrennard.com