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photo-eye Book Reviews: Hide & Seek

Hide & Seek. Photographs by Beata Szparagowska.
Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
Hide & Seek
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Hide & Seek
Photographs by Beata Szparagowska
Le Caillou Bleu, 2012. Hardbound. 64 pp., color illustraitons throughout, 9x10-1/2".


Hide & Seek is the product of two years photographing creators of performing art at L’L in Brussels. The book should be the normal mix of theatre photography; the onstage-offstage mix that centers on the personality of the performers and their pre-performance rituals.

With Hide & Seek, Beata Szparagowska goes beyond this theatrical literality and produces something quite different. She mixes the staged with the preparatory and the theatrical, adding elements of the macabre to create her own photographic performance piece.

The book opens with a woman sitting in a kitchen, a pillowcase over her head. Next there’s a room with a bed, a swivel chair and a TV. The room is bare and cell-like, a holding place for the kind of person who wears pillow cases over his head. On we go and an empty van (with a man braced over its floor) is followed by a cluster of trees tied together with incident tape. Then comes a taped up roll of plastic and the morbidity deepens.

Hide & Seek, by Beata Szparagowska. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
Hide & Seek, by Beata Szparagowska. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
A performance element comes to the surface at various points; one bare-chested figure grabs the cheeks and nose of another in subdued light. He grimaces as his face is distorted in the half-light. This is followed by an atmospheric but grubby hallway, orange-tinged windows echoing the tones of the preceding performance. An actress (perhaps) holds a crow mask, a tree stump rises from gravel-covered earth and the woman with the pillowcase over her head has folded it back and is smoking a cigarette.

Hide & Seek, by Beata Szparagowska. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
Hide & Seek, by Beata Szparagowska. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2012.
Interiors mix with exteriors, a noirish forensic tinge deepens the scene and then we’re into characters sporting Pussy Riot style knitted balaclavas. There’s a story going on, one of concealment and mystery, where we create our own reality out of imagined images. The figurative meets with the abstract, the literal with the poetic. There is a narrative going on but it is one that we have to create from the fragments we are given. Szparagowska is not entirely consistent or successful in her creation of this reality, but the ambition is to be appreciated in a book that is another Le Caillou Bleu attempt to extend the photographic narrative form.—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer, photographer and teacher - he is currently a visiting lecturer in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales. His work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Manchester and Rome and his Sofa Portraits will be published as a handmade book early next year. Further thoughts of Colin Pantall can be found on his blog, which was listed as one of Wired.com’s favourites earlier this year.

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