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Book Review: Possession


Book Review Possession By Jason Langer Reviewed by Blake Andrews Those who've followed Jason Langer's earlier work will find themselves in familiar territory with his recent book Possession. Many of the tropes in his first monograph Secret Cities surface here. Prone figures, dark alleys, mannequins, disguises, urban streetscapes, moon shots.

Possession. By Jason Langer.
Nazraeli Press, 2013.
 
Possession
Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Possession
By Jason Langer

$75.00
Nazraeli Press, Portland, 2013. 52 pp., 42 duotone illustrations, 11x14".


Those who've followed Jason Langer's earlier work will find themselves in familiar territory with his recent book Possession. Many of the tropes in his first monograph Secret City surface here. Prone figures, dark alleys, mannequins, disguises, urban streetscapes, moon shots. Everything is in monochrome, then given a good shove toward the shadows to enhance the mood of foreboding and anonymity. Never mind the frontispiece with neon beer ad. The photos here are generally steeped in nostalgia and noir. Even the ones shot in daylight resemble nightscapes. Think Casablanca or Paris de Nuit.

Like his mentor Michael Kenna, Langer's photos will always favor expression over description. But with this book the direction has been honed. Secret City whirled through a wide gamut of techniques —blurred, dark, long exposures, views up, down, and sideways, near and far. The effect was hazy. Dreamy even. With Possession, the photos have settled within a narrower spectrum, circling again and again around the female form and scenes of emptiness. Possession and dispossession. Whether this represents a fine tuning of ideas or an exhaustion is hard to say. But if the photos feel less adventurous they have at least gained some cohesion.

Possession. By Jason LangerNazraeli Press, 2013.

The dedication hints toward the title: "For my loving wife Lucy, who always has and always will possess me." Maybe she appears in the book? Many of the figure studies seem to be of the same woman, although the captions don't identify her. So we can't tell if it's her or someone else, or multiple models. Nor do the captions give much concrete information generally, except to inform us the photos were made over a long period of time, roughly 1998 - 2013, and in a variety of cities. This is expression over description, remember, and literally, as the book offers no text beyond dedication and end captions.

Possession. By Jason LangerNazraeli Press, 2013.

Possession. By Jason LangerNazraeli Press, 2013.

One of the particularities of Langer's work is that he uses the vertical format almost exclusively. This is in a contemporary photo world that strongly favors horizontal format. That may be part of the equation for Langer. Using vertical format is yet another method of distinguishing his work from other photographers. Not that his work really needs it. There are few others shooting his style of photo noir these days. But it is an unusual choice, and one worth noting. Langer also likes to align vertical elements in his photos with the frame edge, lending his photos a somewhat classical, proper feel. You won't find his photos slouched with a cigarette on the front porch. No, it's the candlelit lounge. And in a smoking jacket.

Possession. By Jason LangerNazraeli Press, 2013.

Indeed, that's how the book presents itself. The red satin cover and Victorian patterned end-pages put the reader on elegant footing immediately. They do resemble a 1950s style smoking jacket. Beyond the cover, the interior is just as classy. The photos on lustre paper show a full range of tonality. At 11 x 14 inches apiece, these are about as close as a book can come to a bound sheaf of silver gelatin prints. Altogether Possession is an imposing physical specimen, and an homage to earlier eras.—BLAKE ANDREWS

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

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