PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Tranquillity


Book Review Tranquillity By Heikki Kaski Reviewed by Adam Bell The American landscape is dotted with towns whose names boldly and unapologetically declares their aspirations. In California alone one can find Nice, Paradise, Angel’s Camp, of course, Los Angeles, but also Mecca, Arcadia, and many others. One such small town, Tranquillity, CA, is located in the San Joaquin Valley, just west of Fresno.


Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski.
Lecturis, 2014.
 
Tranquillity
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Tranquillity
By Heikki Kaski
Lecturis, New York, 2014. 118 pp., numerous color illustrations, 7½x10½x½".

The American landscape is dotted with towns whose names boldly and unapologetically declares their aspirations. In California alone one can find Nice, Paradise, Angel’s Camp, of course, Los Angeles, but also Mecca, Arcadia, and many others. One such small town, Tranquillity, CA, is located in the San Joaquin Valley, just west of Fresno. Ostensibly the subject of Heikki Kaski’s Tranquillity, the town and its inhabitants are the subject of Kaski’s photographs, but the book is far from a straight portrait of this ramshackle, forgettable town. At first, it’s easy to dismiss Tranquillity as an ironic portrait of town that falls short of its name, but that’s not the case. More fever dream than faithful document, Kaski’s highly subjective work offers an oblique and strangely unsettling portrait of a transitory and provisional landscape. Despite its chaotic images, Tranquillity places itself comfortably in the eye of a storm. Surrounded by geysers, unearthed trees, and blinding light, but safely below the birds that circle above, Kaski’s work creates a space of unnerving calm amidst the chaos, heat and blinding light.

Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.

We begin the book with a violent eruption — a geyser of hot water and steam. Spewing forth from a desolate landscape, the column of pressurized vapor is a warning that we’re about to enter unstable territory. After this abrupt start, the book quickly settles into a quiet rhythm. There are a number of subjects that continually pop-up: desiccated trees and roots, marks on the wall or in the dirt, obscured faces, geysers, fog or smoke shrouded landscapes, repurposed and worn tools or objects, and partially obscured portraits. Moving through the book, there is a sense we’ve entered a restless, unsettled country, where the truth, or some hidden reality, lies beneath the surface, out of reach, or behind a veil. Odd and off-balanced, Kaski’s vision accentuates his position as an outsider, while also amplifying the oddities of the small town.

Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.
Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.

The book is also full of repeated, doubled or similar images, taken moments, or hours apart. In one pair, we see a shrouded tree shot at light and illuminated by flash paired with the same tree during the day. There are also studio portraits of a young man in profile, taken moments apart, photographs of a white house, and slightly different, but similarly posed shots of young men whose upper torsos have been obliterated either by camera flare or more destructive printing on the part of Kaski. These paired images reveal and acknowledge Kaski’s subjective approach, but also toy with the shifting truths of the lens. Yes this, no this, look here, no over here. Look again. The distortions and repetitions are meant to be unsettling, but also further the psychological illusion Kaski weaves in the book.

Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.

In the middle of the book, we encounter a strange interlude. Sandwiched between orange sheets of paper are images, looking up, of flocks of circling birds. An abrupt departure from the flash-blasted and cloistered images that bookend them, the images offer a brief respite. There is a similar moment in John Gossage’s classic photobook, The Pond, where, after stumbling through the undergrowth of the mangy woodlands, Gossage directs our attention up to see the clear sky and birds overhead. It’s a marvelous moment in the book, but only occurs for a single spread. Kaski extends this break, and intersperses it with text, before plunging us back into his world. This moment seems the best evidence of the calm Kaski builds in the work. Surrounded by doubled images, obscured faces, fogged landscapes, and bubbling geysers, it is a moment of clarity before reentering the fray.

Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.
Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.

Tranquillity is simply, but elegantly, designed by Kaski and the increasingly influential Hans Gremmen (Sequester, Entre Entree, Ametsuchi), who worked on the typography. The 2013 winner of the Unseen Photography Dummy Prize, the book has fortunately been officially published and is now more readily available. Upon first appraisal, I was reminded of another recent photobook, Nicholas Albrecht’s One, No One and One Hundred Thousand. Like Kaski, Albrecht is a foreigner, who looks at a small California desert town (in his case, one near the Salton Sea), but also eschews a documentary approach for a more subjective, psychological portrait. Both artists were drawn to peripheral landscapes and towns within the American western landscape, and use a now familiar combination of photographic troupes to create the work — landscapes, portraits, doubled images, the occasional appropriated image, and still-lifes. Whereas Kaski’s vision feels more tightly wrought and ready to burst, both works are compelling and engaging.

Tranquillity. By Heikki Kaski. Lecturis, 2014.

Naming has always possessed a special transformative power — both as an assertion of control by the one naming, but also as a potential and promise to the named. Sometimes one name is just as good as the next. Named after a place over there. Somewhere nearby, or perhaps after the people that decided to stay, because it reminded them of where they came from, or it didn’t. Out on the outskirts of the desert, in the San Joaquin Valley, the town of Tranquillity seems to have never grown much beyond its humble roots. Its very name suggests a sense of solace, a place to rest and escape, or a place to stop because the journey was so long to get there. Kaski came a long way to the town of Tranquillity. In his strange unsettling pictures he seems to capture the town’s unwinding, or perhaps it’s his own. Caught in a dirt devil, or spun around in a sudden geyser, Kaski seeks peace, but can only find it by acknowledging the collapsing, endless gyre, spinning in circles so fast it also seems to stand still.—Adam Bell

Purchase Book

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Mark Power
Roger Willems

ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including AfterimageThe Art Book ReviewThe Brooklyn RailfototazoFoam MagazineLay Flatphoto-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and the forthcoming Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. (www.adambbell.com and blog.adambbell.com)


Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment