|cover of Sicarios by Javier Arcenillas|
|cover of Interrogations by Donald Weber|
Although a single image and a series of images are a totally different animal, I believe Linfield’s aesthetic argument applies to the photobook as well. Two recent books that exemplify this point are Javier Arcenillas’ Sicarios: Latin American Assassins and Donald Weber’s Interrogations. Both are lushly printed, thoughtfully edited, and provide visual and textual insight to the photographer’s motivation and intent. In Sicarios, the conditions of the lives of assassins and those living in Guatemala make up more of the story than just the killings. Many images are violent and disturbing, partially because often the victims have committed a minor injustice, if any at all, and the assassins are often young men who see no future for themselves, men for whom killing becomes a job motivated by simply a need to make a living, and often a meager one at that. Sicarios is a vehicle for Javier Arcenillas, with the help of his friends at El Periodico de Guatemala, to tell a very real story. Included is an introduction by the director of El Periodico, Juan Luis Font, and an interview with Arcenillas, and complete plate listing with detailed captions. Each plate is equally as engaging as the next showing fleeting moments of movement in intense situations or scenes in crisp sharp fine details. The printing, at Ofset Yapimevi in Istanbul, resulting in crisp whites and lush blacks, are quite seductive, leading me to want to look and discover what is in each frame.
Arcenillas chooses black & white as his medium to dramatic effect. Plate 55 shows a single corpse lying on a gurney on the way to the morgue at San Juan de Dios Hospital. The corpse is shrouded in black material while white medical tape holds the wrapping around the deceased. The photo’s bottom edge is cropped below the gurney pad filling, the frame the whitish painted wall. But almost perfectly centered on the wall is the emergency fire pull station. It is a portrait of an object, the composition reminiscent of the Lisa Kereszi’s Water Fountain, PS 26, Governor's Island, NY 2003, and centered below this banal device in a vignette of light rests the lifeless body resulting from the everyday conflict that faces this region. Throughout the book Arcenillas consistently contrasts death and life. A young girl stands in an alley and stares into the camera. The two walls that form the alley lead back in linear perspective and end approximately where the girl’s eyes look right into the lens. Her face is unsmiling and concerned and her hands are held near her body in a closed unwelcoming gesture. The darkness of the deep rich soil is countered by equal amounts of the overcast sky. These photos display what Linfield calls "craft, care, structure, and visual power," the descriptors of art. Both Arcenillas and Weber use their mediums and subjects not just for the message. The content of these images is equally weighted between artistic composition and social commentary.
Both books were selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Melanie McWhorter
Purchase a copy of Sicarios here
Purchase a copy of Interrogations here