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Book of the Week: A Pick by Diane Smyth

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Diane Smyth Diane Smyth selects the self-titled 2041 as Book of the Week.
2041 by 2041.
Here Press, 2014.

This week's Book of the Week pick comes from Diane Smyth who has selected the self-titled 2041 from Here Press.

"The first time I looked at this book, I had no information other than the book itself. No press release, no sales blurb, nothing. And although I've since found out much more, for me that remains the best way to encounter it. Modestly-sized and soft-back, it packs a considerable punch on its own terms, via simply the images, the title and the text it includes. Anything more almost spoils it.

The front cover features a figure completely concealed beneath a burqa and a face veil; the first two images are head and shoulders portraits, in which the head and shoulders are covered by first a sky blue, and second a black, hijab. In the second image the eyes are covered by a further black scarf, worn underneath the outer layer; it's a minor detail, and one that might escape you at first. Turning the pages, though, more details emerge — an extravagantly pointed cloak, a half-seen face, a mannish pair of shoes and, eventually, a mannish pair of hands and a beer belly. What you're seeing, you gradually realize, is not what you first thought. These images do not show a Muslim woman observing purdah.

The photographs are shot in perfectly ordinary domestic surroundings — the clutter of a typically English house, the leaves of a well-kept shrub — but this realization gives them a creepy, subversive edge. There's something unsettling, somehow sexual going on. The accompanying text, presented in a slim booklet, only furthers this perception, a passage titled 'The English Burqa' giving a how-to guide to achieving 'perfect coverage,' and noting the near disappearance of 'the black clerical cloaks, the lovely but lamented nurse's capes and the rather close-fitting and restricted creations of the 1980s.' A 'catalogue of my collection,' meanwhile, lists the coverings' country of origin, material and color but also more esoteric observations; item 6 is 'Pakistani, type 2, black with pepper-pot eye holes,' for example. 'Descends to the floor all round (I drool at the thought of wearing it).'

The title, meanwhile, hints a possible near-future, or — like 1984, written in 1948 — an alternative reading of the present. In our current era, surveillance, or Big Brother, is everywhere; what these images suggest are some of the limitations of what can be shown."—Diane Smyth

Purchase Book

2041 by 2041. Here Press, 2014.
2041 by 2041. Here Press, 2014.

Diane Smyth is the deputy editor of the British Journal of Photography and the editor of Image Magazine, she has also written for publications such as Photomonitor, Creative Review, Aperture, Foam, The Telegraph and The Guardian. She has curated exhibitions for the Flash Forward Festival and the Lianzhou International Photo Festival and is currently curating a show for The Photographers' Gallery, London.

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