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Book Review: Almost

Almost. Photographs by Guy Archard.
Published by Bemojake, 2012.
 
Almost
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Almost
Photographs by Guy Archard.
Bemojake, 2012. Hardbound. 48 pp., 40 color illustrations, 8x10".


It's hard to know what the last refuge of the photographer-scoundrel is. Could it be Street View screenshots? Perhaps it's apples, either fresh and shiny, hanging from the limbs of overburdened trees or rotting windfalls scattered on the grass beneath the boughs from which they fell. Or could it be decaying window frames, with a dying flower in the foreground or a blurry background just visible through raindrop-spattered grass.

If the answer is the last of those choices, then Guy Archard is a scoundrel of the highest order. Window frames and dying flowers punctuate his book, Almost, like an interior designer's worst nightmare. Twigs, weeds, flowers, a tree and a dead butterfly run through Almost against sash window frames that have been subjected to a dozen coats of badly applied cheap emulsion and are lined with cracks and the black house-mould that breeds in the dampness of rainy, under-heated British summers and springs. These are window frames that rattle in houses that rattle in a book that rattles.

Almost, by Guy Archard. Published by Bemojake, 2012.

It rattles with sentiments of nostalgia and, fairly obviously, decay. Almost is a book of an Almost-Narrative, and Almost-Life, an Almost-Relationship, an Almost-Whatever it is that we can make up and imagine. It's a book of the rephotographed and distressed, of shabby chic, faux aging and a few dead ends.

The book starts off with a picture of an Asian-faced girl in a blue smock. The picture has been printed (is it a photographic screen print) onto some kind of handmade paper or fabric, it has white blotches across its surface where the ink hasn't stuck, it's unsaturated or faded or both. It resonates with the Cambodian portraits of prisoners condemned by the Khmer Rouge in Tuol Sleng Prison. So there's a start…

Almost, by Guy Archard. Published by Bemojake, 2012.
Almost, by Guy Archard. Published by Bemojake, 2012.

Another print, a screen/cyanotype of a flower on a window ledge is followed by the girl again – if it is the same girl. She's lying on a bed, her head tilted back, her mouth open. Which brings the Almost idea round to the relationship. Is that what the book's about?

Possibly, but Archard's going to keep us guessing. More rephotographed pictures follow (the book is about the image as object, as rephotographed object). Some look like they've been buried a-la-Stephen Gill, or soaked as with the Japanese tsunami pictures that rolled out then back in from the Sea of Japan.

A young man appears (first in one of the washed up prints, then in what looks like a fax – a blast from the past). And there is a Japanese connection with the unsaturated colours and the pale blue palette. Everything is still and calm, at or near death. If there is a relationship, it is one that is in the past.

Almost, by Guy Archard. Published by Bemojake, 2012.

But then the relationship changes. Interior becomes exterior and the faded flora become an avenue of trees with a bob-haired girl sitting on the edge of an open meadow. Is it the same girl? And who is the pregnant girl who appears at the end of the book, standing at the end of a jetty overlooking a sun dappled lake? Is it Archard's girlfriend, his wife, his mother (pictures from his father's 'archive' appear in Almost – that's the dead end) or something completely different?

Almost, by Guy Archard. Published by Bemojake, 2012.

Do we know? No, we don't because there is no information to go with the book beyond the most basic. Do we care? Well, yes we do for some reason I can't quite fathom. And because of this, Almost goes beyond the poetic meanderings of the 'make-up-your-own-narrative' genre. It is not a playful book, but it does play with the archive image and our ideas of the photographic form. It has a narrative, one that is very consciously built up, and then dismantled. And despite its appearance and apparent lightness of touch, it is a more knowing book than it seems to be. There's something going on in there that is not quite clear. Almost.—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport.http://colinpantall.blogspot.com.

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