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photo-eye Book Reivews: Redwood Saw

Redwood Saw, By Richard Rothman.
Published by Nazraeli Press, 2011.
Redwood Saw
Reviewed by Adam Bell
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Richard Rothman Redwood Saw
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD ROTHMAN
Nazraeli Press, Portland, 2011. Hardbound. 136 pp., 81 duotone illustrations, 12x13".

As sentient animals, we arrogantly pride ourselves on our dominion over the land and its creatures. Entering the 21st century, the demands we have placed on the earth are reaching their limits. In the long view, after we are gone, the forest and animals will reclaim the Earth, and humans will likely become a footnote in Earth's long history. Richard Rothman's first monograph, Redwood Saw, tackles the thorny problem of our relationship to the planet. Rather than show often clichéd images of environmental destruction, as powerful and real as they are, Rothman focuses on a dying timber town, Crescent City, CA. Beginning in the forest and weaving his way through the town, Rothman leads us through the landscape and the inhabitant's lives, and offers an affecting portrait of America struggling in the face of depletion and worn-down dreams.

Redwood Saw, by Richard Rothman. Published by Nazraeli Press, 2011.
As Rothman discusses in the accompanying interview, he began the work five years ago and was primarily interested in the old growth forest that surrounds Crescent City. Seduced by the baroque chaos of the forest, Rothman spent a long time documenting the area, but was eventually drawn to the town and its inhabitants. Evolving from a more traditional landscape project, the work is given metaphoric weight and depth as the project expands and we move out of the woods. Rothman's own journey serves as the editorial guide and path through the book and work. Beginning in the forest, we slowly approach the outskirts of the town, the clear-cut forest and the ramshackle houses and shops on the edge of town. Along the way, we encounter the town's residents, at times clothed or unclothed, modest homes and stores. The tension between the gnarled splendor of the woods and the threadbare existence of the town and the people that live there creates a mournful evocation of consumption, depletion and lost dreams. Ending at the sea, we are brought full circle and offered a vision of beauty, albeit tinged with sadness, as well as proof of the ultimate power of nature.

Redwood Saw, by Richard Rothman. Published by Nazraeli Press, 2011.
Redwood Saw, by Richard Rothman. Published by Nazraeli Press, 2011.
Measuring 12"x13", Redwood Saw is a large and sumptuous book. The printing and B&W reproductions are gorgeous. Although the book might be a bit too long, the slight lack of editorial restraint can be forgiven because the images are all so beautiful. A classic monograph with single or double image spreads, fussy design does not interfere with the images and they are each given ample space to breathe. Accompanying the book, which is otherwise free of text, is a pamphlet with numerous photographs and an extended interview with Rothman. Emerging from a chance encounter on a plane, Alex Stein's interview with Rothman provides insight into the work, as well as Rothman and the town's history.

Redwood Saw, by Richard Rothman. Published by Nazraeli Press, 2011.
In 1893, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote a seminal essay – "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." Although the American frontier was long gone, Frederick wrote about how it offered a perfect transformative foil that shaped and defined America as a unique nation. However problematic this assertion and belief, the myth of the American West and our frontier has always offered the promise of redefinition, plenty and transformation. Crescent City, like so many resource rich western towns, once embodied this possibility. From mineral resources to timber to fish, Crescent City drew from the land and sea to sustain itself, but has reached an impasse and exhausted its riches. Rothman's powerful work leads us through these exhausted hopes and dreams, and offers us glimpses of restoration and renewal – not only for towns like Crescent City, but for us all.—ADAM BELL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by:
Raymond Meeks
Antone Dolezal
Adam Bell
Todd Hido

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ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are adambbell.com and adambellphoto.blogspot.com.

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