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Book Review: Cairo Diary


Book Review Cairo Diary By Peter Bialobrzeski Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson “Red, green, blue, yellow/ Red, green, blue, yellow,” begins the CocoRosie song Joseph City; as if entering a city by car or walking through it on foot what we see, people aside, is a style defined by a repetition of architectural taste, regional allegiances and color. Color can define a city in unexpected ways, we often know when we’re looking at a humid, temperate, or arid place based on the colors present.

Cairo Diary. By Peter Bialobrzeski.
The Velvet Cell, 2014.
 
Cairo Diary
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

Cairo Diary
By Peter Bialobrzeski
The Velvet Cell, 2014. 104 pp., 50 color illustrations, 5¼x8".

“Red, green, blue, yellow/ Red, green, blue, yellow,” begins the CocoRosie song Joseph City; as if entering a city by car or walking through it on foot what we see, people aside, is a style defined by a repetition of architectural taste, regional allegiances and color. Color can define a city in unexpected ways, we often know when we’re looking at a humid, temperate, or arid place based on the colors present. Duller hues in the desert, richer hues on a tropical island; it is likely sun and water that lead to these variables; fabrics that have absorbed more water are deeper and darker, while those which retain none are more subtle and often sun-faded; to this add the fact that a city’s face is always exposed. Ever more than the people that it shelters, a city bolsters the days and nights, the extremes of cold and hot and the sun.

Cairo Diary. By Peter Bialobrzeski. The Velvet Cell, 2014.

Peter Bialobrzeski has captured city after city and shown their true colors in the process. Cairo Diary is no different, yet it is. In Nail Houses, another recent monograph by Bialobrzeski, the differences are less subtle. Nail Houses looks at portions of Shanghai that have been scheduled for demolition in order to erect more urban (contemporary) structures; they are the homes of the poor and the soon to be displaced. What sets the series aside from the common view of a city is obvious. Cairo Diary is more difficult to pin. What it documents is a city held in fear, one whose people are many things: restless, fretful, oppressed and pent/fed-up.

Cairo DiaryBy Peter Bialobrzeski. The Velvet Cell, 2014.

The series contains something of a bound energy. The streets and buildings that Bialobrzeski captures seem, rather than relaxed, about to rupture into activity. It is a strange sense, something akin to the Western gunfighter in a movie who stands in the dark, his ears perked up as nothing seems to happen, but all is about to occur; that strange “sixth sense” of the impending.

Cairo DiaryBy Peter Bialobrzeski. The Velvet Cell, 2014.

Throughout Bialobrzeski leaves us markers, indicators of this repressed energy, political graffiti, an abundance of satellite dishes and a stack of morning newspapers waiting to be dispersed. Cairo Diary seems to be not only about what has happened, but what will happen – though what will happen remains unknown. These are the real-life sets of a play, ready when the curtain goes up, but the actors have yet to take the stage. And what actors there stand a talk to one another. They seem to whisper.

Cairo DiaryBy Peter Bialobrzeski. The Velvet Cell, 2014.

The Velvet Cell, the publisher of Cairo Diary, has presented the photographs in the perfect way. The pictures are breathlessly represented with all their subtle color and sharpness, the still clarity of the desert. With no white board to contain them in an abstract space Bialobrzeski’s streets are allowed to roll off the page and into the potential for action – that slumbering something as yet only a spectral question that underlines the work.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

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CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is an artist, radio host, and poet living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His reviews, interviews, and essays on poetry can be read in the Philadelphia Review of Books. Johnson also hosts the radio program Collected Words on 101.5 KVSF, where he interviews authors, poets and artists.

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1 comment:

  1. Bought this when it came out. Thrilling and vital. Thanks for the appreciation, Mr. Johnson.
    John Elmslie

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