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Book Review: Invisible Maps


Book Review Invisible Maps By Andrzej Kramarz Reviewed by George Slade Now, there’s a title to whet a reader’s appetite. Or a reviewer’s. Or this reviewer, at least.
Kramarz’s book may contain all sorts of intriguing information. But like the maps of the title, it’s all invisible, hidden within a concatenation of images that just barely manage legibility.

Invisible MapsBy Andrzej Kramarz
Museum in Gliwice, 2014.
 
Invisible Maps
Reviewed by George Slade

Invisible Maps
Photographs by Andrzej Kramarz
Museum in Gliwice, 2014. 90 pp., 92 color illustrations, 10¼x8¼".


Now, there’s a title to whet a reader’s appetite. Or a reviewer’s. Or this reviewer, at least.

Kramarz’s book may contain all sorts of intriguing information. But like the maps of the title, it’s all invisible, hidden within a concatenation of images that just barely manage legibility. That is, if you feel sequence is important. Or if you insist upon knowing which end is up. There’s no horizon in these photographs. At moments the book seems to want to be read sideways. Or backwards. The book itself becomes the place it purports to map.

A cartographer would consider this terra incognita, the zone where one finds only dragons or goes off the known world’s edge. There is no scale, no compass rose to assign cardinal directions. For book readers, there is a comparable lack of signage. You will find no spine label, no non-pictorial text (words not included in images — these, in contrast, are abundant) within the book itself; the dust jacket bears the book’s title, but only if you remove it to discover it printed on the inside. Voila! There inside an end flap you will also find copyright notices, publication information, a note that this is one volume in “Czytelnia Sztuki,” what must be a very interesting series published by the Museum in Gliwice (Gliwice, Poland).

Invisible MapsBy Andrzej Kramarz. Museum in Gliwice, 2014.

You will also find a hand-drawn, quite visible map inside the dust jacket, though what it describes seems to be a landscape as psycho-emotional as it is physical. As you ponder this evocative rendering, realize that the creased paper in your hands may have been the one clue to the book’s proper orientation. Discovery has its costs, doesn’t it? Perhaps the photographer didn’t want you removing that cover. Glancing at its exterior surface you would be forgiven for thinking that green mold had accumulated; the printing is sublime, and suggests depth and texture. You can almost smell it.

Oh, well. Stieglitz and O’Keeffe used to say their works — his photographs, especially of clouds and Georgia’s hands, and her paintings, especially of flowers — had no “correct” orientation on the wall. Let’s not get too hung up on what’s “proper.”

Invisible MapsBy Andrzej KramarzMuseum in Gliwice, 2014.

In case you hadn’t noticed, photography loves decay. Andrzej Kramarz loves decaying photographs. If he had spent time in the United States during the 20-aughts, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these images resulted from visits to post-Osama Manhattan, post-Katrina New Orleans, post-Sandy New York, ravaged urban areas where abraded, soaked inkjet and drugstore color processor prints, freed from albums and all other housing, were strewn like dry leaves. Nature underlies it all; vibrant green scenes appear throughout the book. The message may be one of dusty, dank human vanities disappearing, inevitably subsumed in the glow of growth. In one especially lovely image a decrepit interior seems to be splitting at the seams, opening to the bright, photosynthetic emerald of the surrounding flora.

Invisible MapsBy Andrzej KramarzMuseum in Gliwice, 2014.

Kramarz is clearly not into helping us understand. His work in this compellingly odd artists book avails itself of Verfremdungseffekt, the “making strange” approach of extreme close-ups, very shallow depth of focus, confusing lighting and perspectives, largely illegible subject matter, and the aforementioned looseness about orientation. Also adding to the discomforting aspects is the appearance of text, bleeding through paper or seen recto/verso (a la Robert Heineken), sometimes in English and sometimes not, and often mirrored so as to amplify the inaccessibility.

This is a potent little book, and also slightly repulsive. You may want to update your immunizations before you enter its districts, as there is surely a host of bacterial agents in the material Kramarz photographed. Its very strangeness may be contagious.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/


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