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Book Review hide By Jason Vaughn Reviewed by George Slade Now, imagine you’re a deer. A buck, bearing antlers with ten or twelve prongs, which with care and insistence you have rubbed on trees and rocks, making them resemble nothing so much as weapons; you have used these a few times to engage and discourage other bucks in the struggles for dominance and the opportunity to mate with chosen does.

hideBy Jason Vaughn
Trema Förlag, 2015.
 
hide
Reviewed by George Slade

hide
Photographs and text by Jason Vaughn
Trema Förlag, Stockholm, 2015. 74 pp., 40 four-color illustrations, 8¼x9½".


Now, imagine you’re a deer. A buck, bearing antlers with ten or twelve prongs, which with care and insistence you have rubbed on trees and rocks, making them resemble nothing so much as weapons; you have used these a few times to engage and discourage other bucks in the struggles for dominance and the opportunity to mate with chosen does.

Picture foraging through your familiar arboreal landscape, then approaching a lightening glow ahead of you in the woods. The undergrowth gives way to an open field, a treeless expanse that has had its soil turned, disked, furrowed, and seeded. The harvest has come and gone. On this coldish, late fall day the first snow dusts the disturbed earth. It obscures but does not hide the corncobs, generously strewn on the ground, loaded with still-edible kernels. Nearby a block of salt also grabs your attention.

hideBy Jason VaughnTrema Förlag, 2015.

You have not seen Bambi. Experienced elders are not present to warn you that the odd structure looming fifty yards away, like a loitering, top-heavy alien, contains a human or two with long-barreled firearms or high-powered compound bows. They are waiting for you, these humans, waiting in their shelters for you and your prize rack to emerge from cover and browse the treats they’ve left for you, just in range. They train their telescopic sights at the area where your forelegs meet your torso, just back of the base of your neck, a dinner-plate-sized surface area under which your most vital organs lie.

You may be uninformed about blinds, but you know a threat once you hear it, or smell it. (The hunters, by the way, have cloaked their scent with that of your urine. I know — who laughs last?) One errant shot and you bolt, vanish back into the woods, the trophy that got away. They must work extra-hard to hide themselves from you.

hideBy Jason VaughnTrema Förlag, 2015.

Jason Vaughn is not after you, my cervine friend. For the sake of this project, his targets are those shelters. You may not know the term typologist, and are probably unaware of Bernd and Hilla Becher, but the concept and the work of this German husband-wife collaboration epitomize the collecting instinct driving Vaughn’s project. When he settled in Wisconsin, he became interested in deer stands. As he talked to hunters he realized the complex legacies reflected in the constructions. He realized, too, that while there may be triple-decker stands (plate one in the book) and commercially-built stands (about a third of the way through, a stand which at first glance seems to be supported by only two legs), there are also derelict stands, signaling a slow transition away from hunting as they fall, piece by piece, to the ground.

hideBy Jason VaughnTrema Förlag, 2015.

By nature and design, the progress of deer hunters is slower than that of typological photographers. Season after season the luckiest hunters add one trophy to their collection. They dream of downing one as fine as you; the older you get, the more elaborate and prize worthy are your annually renewing (“deciduous”) antlers. Vaughn’s quietly lyrical photographs — they veer from Becherian strictness in framing and distance, and use surrounding environment to add visual richness — prompt considerations about the hunting enterprise: how these “blinds” are built to improve sight and create favorable angles for humans (not so favorable for you, of course); how these typically handmade structures are simultaneously goofy and lethal, fluctuating symbolically between prison towers, visionary sculptures, and fictional monsters; and how local history has absorbed and accommodated the intentions of their makers. Those of us — yes, your narrator included — who have spent time in nature with loved ones and firearms will likely find Vaughn’s images useful as aids to memory, while those who are inclined to recoil from hunting will find their own provocations in them.

hideBy Jason VaughnTrema Förlag, 2015.

I’m not sure, deer, if any of this matters to you. Just be careful when entering clearings. Remember, too, that “hide” is something you do naturally, something that humans do when they are after you, something they use to conceal themselves (another word for blind, shelter, or deer stand is hide), and something that they may end up removing from your body, tanning, and hanging on a wall. Vaughn speaks of a change in his project when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease; “having to face mortality so unexpectedly” as he puts it. If only I could communicate this to you, that mortality may likewise visit you in surprising and abrupt ways.—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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