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Book Review: Until Death Do Us Part


Book Review Until Death Do Us Part By Thomas Sauvin Reviewed by Colin Pantall I still have a certain nostalgia for the days when I smoked. In England, it was the ritual of rolling up Golden Virginia in English pubs with ceilings glowing yellow with the accumulated deposits of nicotine and tar. It was beautiful, atmospheric and, strangely enough, did not smell smoky. In Indonesia, the attraction was the sweet clouds of clove-flavored kreteks.

Until Death Do Us Part. By Thomas Sauvin.
Jiazazhi Press, 2015.
 
Until Death Do Us Part
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Until Death Do Us Part 
By Thomas Sauvin
Jiazazhi Press, China, 2015. 108 pp., 2x3¼".


I still have a certain nostalgia for the days when I smoked. In England, it was the ritual of rolling up Golden Virginia in English pubs with ceilings glowing yellow with the accumulated deposits of nicotine and tar. It was beautiful, atmospheric and, strangely enough, did not smell smoky. In Indonesia, the attraction was the sweet clouds of clove-flavored kreteks. Gudang Garams were my favorite, best taken with dark coffee and a volcano in the background. And if there wasn’t a volcano, well the traffic jams of downtown Jakarta were a pretty good substitute. Head to the States and smoking made you feel like a man. Cowboys smoked and so did the characters in Robert Frank’s The Americans or William Klein’s New York. And if you weren’t a man, cigarettes were torches of freedom. You’ve come a long way baby, who could say no.

Until Death Do Us Part. By Thomas Sauvin. Jiazazhi Press, 2015.

But go to China! Ah, there’s the thing. Go to China and to smoke was to hack and to cough and to barrel out lung-loads of phlegm. I smoked a brand called Hong Mei there and the cigarettes tasted of traffic and the traffic tasted of cigarettes. You glimpsed left and right for those tics that made smoking such a glamor in Barcelona, so chic in Paris and so cool in Rome, but there was nothing of that in the Middle Kingdom. Smoke in China and you’re on a one-way ticket to the cancer ward with a face that looks like an angry bus driver and a chest torn apart by the most acrid tobacco you could ever imagine.

It’s that China that is featured in Thomas Sauvin’s new book Until Death Do Us Part. This is a book about smoking, in particular the custom of smoking at Chinese weddings, and it features hundreds of pictures of smoking culled from Sauvin’s archive of recovered negatives.

Until Death Do Us Part. By Thomas Sauvin. Jiazazhi Press, 2015.

This is what the book blurb says; "As a token of appreciation, it is customary for the bride to light a cigarette for each and every man invited. The bride and the groom are then invited to play some cigarette-smoking games of an unprecedented ingenuousness."

The games are ingenuous, but that’s not the first thing that grabs you about the book. The first thing is the packaging. ‘Don’t ignore the obvious’ is one of the basics of design, and Sauvin has definitely not ignored the obvious; the book comes in the form of a cigarette packet. It’s a card flip-top, with the bottom cellophane still attached. Flip the lid and you see the tops of cigarettes illustrated on the cover of the actual book. Take the book out of the pack and a faint whiff of tobacco hits your nose.

The spine of the book is red and the edges are painted in gold. It sits nicely in the hand. Like all of Sauvin’s books it’s a great object.

Until Death Do Us Part. By Thomas Sauvin. Jiazazhi Press, 2015.

Open the book and you’re into the pictures, pictures of Chinese people smoking. It starts off with the splendid symbolism of brides lighting cigarettes for their new husbands, but it soon moves on from the basic tobacco foreplay. There are cigarettes mixing with kisses, tongues ensnarl, a man reaches down a dress to grab his bride’s breast, and a woman awkwardly bites on a proffered banana. Will the romance never end?

It won’t because next we’re onto the bottle bongs; bridegrooms sucking on giant soda bottles with multiple cigarettes stuck in their sides, the idea being that this is what you do if you really love your husband.

Until Death Do Us Part. By Thomas Sauvin. Jiazazhi Press, 2015.

There’s some great symbolism in Until Death Do Us Part but the real attraction is as a book object. It’s funny and it’s cool and it’s the ideal gift for someone who loves cigarettes. Who knows, it might make them give up. And that’s worth $40 of anyone’s money!—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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