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Book Review: Between the Shell


Book Review Between the Shell By Paul Salveson Reviewed by Adam Bell Each generation must come to terms with its stuff. The refuse, litter and products that adorn our homes, call for our attention, make our lives easier, or simply amuse us and via for our money. They surround us and infiltrate our lives in strange ways we often don’t consider. Paul Salveson’s new book Between the Shell explores the mundane, weird and oddly exotic things that fill our homes.

Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson.  MACK, 2013.
 
Between the Shell
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Between the Shell
Photographs by Paul Salveson.
MACK, 2013. 72 pp., 34 color illustrations, 7¾x10½".

$60.00

Each generation must come to terms with its stuff. The refuse, litter and products that adorn our homes, call for our attention, make our lives easier, or simply amuse us and via for our money. They surround us and infiltrate our lives in strange ways we often don’t consider. Paul Salveson’s new book Between the Shell explores the mundane, weird and oddly exotic things that fill our homes. Concocting strange still-lifes and isolating the plastic wrapped oddities of a typical suburban home, Salveson has created a perplexing and amusing portrait of our modern material world.

Vacillating between evidentiary shots of food, synthetically encased stuff and absurdist assemblages of suburban junk, Salveson responds with a child-like sense of wonder to the world around him. Between the Shell is the kind of work Peter Fraser and Fischl & Weiss might create if they collaborated while trapped in a suburban wood-paneled basement. Salveson’s work combines a forensic-like attention to the surface and details of each object with a curious reimagining of the objects’ relation to their environment and intended purpose. Mundane objects like cheese puffs, plush carpets and dough are transformed into foreign objects that are simultaneously fascinating, hilarious and revolting. Foodstuff is twisted and contorted into new shapes. Carpets become alien geometric surfaces. A Jacuzzi light morphs into a menacing portal. A children’s wooden bead maze weaves through the frame and dances in front of a shelf covered with baskets and seashells – the lines and shapes merging and breaking apart.

 from Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson. MACK, 2013.

In some ways, the work is reminiscent of what oddly 3D modeled images might look like translated into real-life and photographed. Simply following the user’s command, programs, like the largely user-generated Second Life, allow for untenable juxtapositions that defy gravity, logic and real world context. Likewise, Salveson imaginatively reworks everyday objects and places then in strange new locations. In one image, a box is pristinely wrapped in a splotched purplish bath towel. In another, a bone shaped wedge of meat, or dough, bisects a diamond-shaped formation of perfectly baked bread rolls. In both images, the purpose is beside the point. Salveson’s himself notes the solitary nature of his work when he says they “unfolding like a private performance in an empty house.” While Salveson’s images have an internal logic we are not entirely privy to, it doesn’t mean they don’t delight and confuse in equal measure.

 from Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson. MACK, 2013.

 from Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson. MACK, 2013.

Brick-like and printed on thin cardboard, the design and look of the book are also striking and more closely resembles a children’s board book than a traditional photobook. This feels entirely appropriate given the whimsical nature of the work and recalls recent board books like Eirik Johnson’s Borderland and Takeshi Homma’s Tokyo Suburbia. The clean spare design also works wonderfully. The full-bleed images achieve a confrontational, yet cheeky, quality that might be lost on a more conventional layout.

 from Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson. MACK, 2013.

 from Between the Shell. By Paul Salveson. MACK, 2013.

It seems hopelessly anachronistic to insist that artists’ continually make it ‘new.’ Yet, this is what all artists must do. To have any significance and longevity, they must speak to the conditions of their time with the materials of their time. Whether it means revising something old and forgotten or embracing the next thing, it is unavoidable. With so many young artists reenacting well-trod photographic tropes and styles from the past, its refreshing to see work that is at once so purely traditional and photographic, yet also so seemingly new, ugly and strange. We may not like what we see, but we can’t deny that Salveson forces us to look at the world and all our stuff in new ways. —ADAM BELL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2013 by Christopher McCall

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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, Afterimage, 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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