Book Review An Island in the Moon By Jordan Sullivan Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson An Island in the Moon by Jordan Sullivan is an ambitious work and one that seems to reach beyond the concept of photography as a series, giving us instead as a set of images to convey a constructed message, in this case a poetic one.
An Island in the Moon. By Jordan Sullivan.
Ampersand Editions, 2015.
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson
An Island in the Moon
Photographs by Jordan Sullivan
Ampersand Editions, 2015. 196 pp., 279 plates, 6x9".
An Island in the Moon by Jordan Sullivan is an ambitious work and one that seems to reach beyond the concept of photography as a series, giving us instead as a set of images to convey a constructed message, in this case a poetic one.
Just as a volume of poetry has a lot of blank space around the poems, so do the images in An Island In the Moon. Some appear full page, but many are smaller, causing the viewer to examine them more closely. Often two or three smaller images share the same page, an invitation for one to consider their relation to one another or their similarities. Like poetry, An Island in the Moon is a craft of contrasts, metaphors and the unexpected.
The range of alternative processes used by Sullivan throughout the book heightens the sense of something poetically turned; a spectrum of sepias and blues double to convey a theme of the lunar. An Island in the Moon, obviously, is no place in the sun and the work as a whole is a melancholic one. It isn’t imbued with madness, as lunacy and poetry might imply, but with the sullenness of the solitary night thinker. It’s the night of a dreamer.
An Island in the Moon also has a precocious volume of images that, at first, can feel too profuse. Repeated viewing of the book lightens this, ultimately giving it the sense of an almanac for phases of the moon, but also desire, the body, life and light. Repeated engagement is also necessary to catch the repetition of the images and note how even those that are the same are different, like metaphors hinging on the same word, but with wholly different meanings in each utterance.
I enjoy this book and its photographer’s dedication to theme and narrative. In Sullivan’s own words, “I was raised in stories first and foremost and that naturally lead to writing so writing is sort of my first creative love and i think everything else has kind of stemmed from that. of course as you delve deeper into any medium you may feel inclined to explore it in other ways and photography allows me to explore storytelling from different angles… the reading of [An Island In the Moon] has much more to do with poetry.”
And towards that poetry he goes on to say, “I do believe in the interconnectedness of things, and I look for juxtapositions that express this — a body and a leaf, a convergence of birds and two faces… I have always thought that art — literature or visual - brings out some sort of poetic mystery or invisibility.”
Among the most significant of these juxtapositions is the body as landscape/the landscape as body. This theme has taken center stage recently with photobooks like Mona Kuhn’s Private and June Yung Lee’s Skin; the idea in these works has been to view the body as something that is naturally occurring, and that to abstract it into knees, lips, hands eyes etc., is to make it a horrific thing — something dismembered. Offering the body as natural landscape, Sullivan’s An Island in the Moon offsets it from something strictly human through correlation with nature. It’s a primordial turn away from the socio-emotional and man-made, restoring the human form to a realm more of awe than of beauty as aesthetics.
Sullivan’s thoughts, as diverse, perhaps, as the images in the book, are a good groundwork for An Island In the Moon. It is profuse, but visually melodic and extraordinarily poetic throughout. Like a poem, it takes root; its deeper meaning may not arrest you until later, perhaps when it is night and you are alone, your thoughts converging with the softening moonlight and the beginning of dream.—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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