Book Review Good Dog By Yusef Sevincli Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson The only significant text found in Good Dog comes from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It begins, “Life is an experimental journey that we make involuntarily. It is a journey of the mind through matter, and since it is the mind that journeys, that is where we live.” It is a successful use of the quotation, particularly relevant to Sevincli’s photographs.
Good Dog. By Yusuf Sevincli.
Espas and Filigranes Editions, 2015.
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson
Photographs by Yusuf Sevincli
Espas (Istanbul) and Filigranes Editions (Paris). In English and Turkish. 64 pp., 45 duotone illustrations, 8¼x10¾x½".
The only significant text found in Good Dog comes from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It begins, “Life is an experimental journey that we make involuntarily. It is a journey of the mind through matter, and since it is the mind that journeys, that is where we live.” It is a successful use of the quotation, particularly relevant to Sevincli’s photographs.
Good Dog, as title, is a nod to Daido Moriyama famous Stray Dog image. The parallels between these two photographers are obvious: every picture a mixture of what is dirty, irreverent and dreamlike with that which is crystal clear; the overwhelming darkness that brings to mind coolness, and for book collectors — the smell of ink; the mundane, the erotic, and the charged coexisting; the sense of a world that is all movement without sound. Both concrete and abstract, these are themes in Moriyama’s work that have found Sevincli and impressed, impressively even, his photography.
But an homage to Moriyama would be selling Good Dog under a very small portion of its worth - at which point I interject, this photobook is one of the best, most haunting and powerful that I have encountered since undertaking a discourse on the subject; rarely is a photobook as immediate as this without utilizing some brutality of fact. Good Dog is melancholic, eccentric and, perhaps, a bit eerie, but it is not brutal nor does it evoke dream. Good Dog has the impression of a memory.
The Book of Disquiet, the source of Pessoa’s quotation, is a compendium of the intellectual quandaries of an ordinary man who lives a mundane existence; the most interesting thing about the protagonist are his thoughts. There is no plot. There are hardly any characters and though the setting is Lisbon, it is a Lisbon in a blank state — one of cafés, city streets, empty apartments and desks. The effect of all this mediocrity is a strange sort of surrealism; the book resembles not the story of things and people through time, but the story of a mind. The book reads like a memory. It reads like a brain.
Good Dog, though narrowed in, is similar in this respect and it is a journey. The effect is of traveling; you are the wanderer in these pages and see from the stray dog/good dog’s eyes as they scavenge through the night. We see the faces, bodies, walls and light fixtures that the wanderer has seen, because the wanderer is actually re-journeying. The images are worn with remembering, faces take on an intensity and drown out the settings, the erotically charged is in clear focus while the mundane is submerged and harder to grasp. The effect of it is like memory; that which is common is more broken, more malleable, while that which leaves a greater impression is in sharp focus.
This photobook resembles many nights I have lived, not because I’ve lived any extraordinary kind of life, but, rather, because my life has been ordinary. Good Dog taps into something that defies definition because it is true and deep and larger than any one person. It is, I think, about the animals we are — the creatures beneath the thoughts. Good Dog is about ancestral habits - and I do not mean those that are Polish or Japanese or Greek — but the underlying animal that any person from anywhere is.
Good Dog is about the night. It’s about the decomposition of the rational in darkness. It is a “journey through matter” in its coldest, most pinioned truth. Good Dog is about our tailbones, it’s about everything we can’t shake off and (I hope) never will.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON
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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