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Book Review: Be Happy!


Book Review Be Happy! By Igor Samolet Reviewed by Blake Andrews For artists of all stripes, adolescent rebellion is a rich vein of material. From Rebel Without a Cause to Easy Rider to Jackass to graffiti, punk, rap, or any number of creative pastimes, the tradition of restive youth connects, fascinates, and sustains. Subversion appeals. Or, put another way, subversion is easily subverted.

Be Happy! By Igor Samolet.
Peperoni Books, 2013.
 
Be Happy!
Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Photographs by Igor Samolet
$39.50
Peperoni Books, 2013. 104 pp., color illustrations throughout, 9½x6¾". 


For artists of all stripes, adolescent rebellion is a rich vein of material. From Rebel Without a Cause to Easy Rider to Jackass to graffiti, punk, rap, or any number of creative pastimes, the tradition of restive youth connects, fascinates, and sustains. Subversion appeals. Or, put another way, subversion is easily subverted. This is probably because from the comfortable perspective of older age, such behavior seems counter-intuitive and self-destructive. We can't imagine it. Yet even as it repels us, it draws us in. It's the campfire of the arts. Gather around — but don't touch.

Be Happy! By Igor SamoletPeperoni Books, 2013.

In photography the tradition is especially strong. Bruce Davidson, Larry Clark, Danny Lyon, Joe Szabo, Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin, Jessica Dimmock, and Corrine Day have all documented "misspent" youths of one type or another. More recently Mike Brodie and Paul Kwiatkowski have added their own books. These are just a few, and they won't be the last. It's well worn territory.

Be Happy! By Igor SamoletPeperoni Books, 2013.

Igor Samolet's Be Happy! follows the grand tradition, showing a small cadre of Russian youth engaged in (check all rebel boxes that apply) drinking, sex, group sex, stripping, smoking, fighting, fireworks, squatting, and various indeterminate stunts involving water and/or fire. The usual young hijinks in other words, although practiced here with unusual fervor and sometimes by older participants. At some point, youthful indiscretions lose their patina of experimental freedom and sag into middle-aged nihilism. Maybe it's when children come along? A photo later in the book of a toddler caught amid domestic chaos explores this theme, but just for a moment before returning to revelry.

Be Happy! By Igor SamoletPeperoni Books, 2013.

What drives these characters? Who knows? All we have to go on is the photos. The book contains no explanatory text, and the people in the book seem content to remain tight-lipped, unless specific activities demand otherwise. I had to read the publisher's notes to realize that the entire series was shot during just two days of activity. Wow. They covered a lot of ground in two days. Some of them might even remember the events with the help of this book.

What it all amounts to will probably depend on the reader. Young shooters might view these photos as fodder for the next two-day binge. The older set can read this on the lazy boy, clucking disapproval while vicariously relishing their yesteryears.

Be Happy! By Igor SamoletPeperoni Books, 2013.

Although the photos appear to be mostly candid, they exude a vibe of presentability, which leans almost, but not quite, into artifice. Most are cleanly seen and framed, not quite as casual as true snapshots. They wouldn't look out of place in a magazine article on troubled youth. I'm speculating that they were shot with a powerful digital camera of some type, one that can shoot in any light no matter how dim, and that stops down to get as much as possible in focus. The omniscient gestalt if you will, given an added boost here by participants unconcerned and open to being photographed.

Be Happy! By Igor SamoletPeperoni Books, 2013.

The book design deserves comment because it's a bit unusual. The pages are perfect bound but with no spine, just exposed glue and stitching. It won't be easy to identify shelved among other books. With no true cover or spine the body is a bit flimsy. Good thing it comes with cardboard slipcase for support. I'm not sure what the design reasoning was, but it gives the project an experimental and unusual feel. Subversive even.—BLAKE ANDREWS

Selected as a Best Book of 2013 by:
10x10 Photobooks


BLAKE ANDREWS is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

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