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Book Review: Hold the Line


Book Review Hold the Line By Siegfried Hansen Reviewed by Adam Bell If the city provides endlessly human drama, it also offers an equally fertile stage. Concrete, metal, stone, wood, and paint form the foundations of this built environment and shape our lives and interactions. They coalesce in purposeful and temporal ways creating beauty for those attentive enough to look. Lines intersect or break the city apart, while shadows, people and the occasional animal extend or cut off forms in unexpected ways.
Hold the LineBy Siegfried Hansen
Verlag Kettler, 2015.
 
Hold the Line
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Hold the Line
By Siegfried Hansen
Verlag Kettler, Dortmond, Germany, 2015. In English. 56 pp., 7¾x10x½".


Selected as one of the Best Books of 2015 by Colin Pantall

If the city provides endlessly human drama, it also offers an equally fertile stage. Concrete, metal, stone, wood, and paint form the foundations of this built environment and shape our lives and interactions. They coalesce in purposeful and temporal ways creating beauty for those attentive enough to look. Lines intersect or break the city apart, while shadows, people and the occasional animal extend or cut off forms in unexpected ways. Riffing off classic street photography and Modernist photography, Siegfried Hansen’s Hold the Line is a playful examination of the city as a graphic playground of color, line, and form. Filled with bold geometric images and brightly colored pages, Hansen transforms the city into a maze of graphic delights and asks us to see the city and the built world with fresh eyes.

Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.

The book opens with three short sequences centered on different shapes — a line, circle, and arc — that form the basis for the compositions throughout the book. Painted traffic lines echo lines created by a taut string that then play off lines of chalk on a ball field. Dots on a window repeat in both the lid of an industrial barrel and in the white hats of sailors in the following pages. The arc of a hose mirrors the outstretched arms of a man carrying a sheet of plexiglass and the red curve of a car taillight. Within individual images, circles repeat, lines are extended, and curves connect. While the images themselves feel familiar and somewhat old fashioned, Hansen has brought them together in a compelling whole — a testament to a simple idea executed well. While Hansen’s work is clearly about the geometric delights that can be found in any planned urban space, it is also about those we create when looking through the lens of a camera.

Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.
Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.

Although somewhat conservative, what distinguishes this work is its bold and smart design. The book’s key design elements (exposed board cover, solid color pages, thick matte paper, and full-bleed images) echo the graphic content of the images and give it rhythmic presence. Color pages are interspersed throughout, accentuating the bold colors that dot the city and contrasting the city’s monochromatic stone. There is no text save the colophon in the rear of the book, but no explanation is needed. The city itself is never identified because it is not important. After all, this is not about a particular city, but the graphic presence of the city. Through his attentive eye and smart design, Hansen has created a mini city symphony of line, shape and color.

Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.
Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.

The book’s press material draws comparisons to the tradition of street photography, but that seems slightly misleading. While people are present, this work is not entirely about the dynamism of the street and its inhabitants in a way that typifies classic street photography. Instead, it is about the city as a graphic force and how it not only shapes the way we move, but also frames what we see — both characteristics given by design and chance. Yellow lines tell us to stop, white lines demarcate a field of play, and bold primaries enliven the otherwise drab concrete of a home or business. At the same time, fugitive lines and forms — shadows, cracks, and human gestures — enter, disrupt and animate the urban stage. Seams in concrete lead to the upright poles of a lamppost, collapsing space and creating a formal continuity that can only exists in camera. When people or animals do appear, they are on the move and either enter or exit the frame, moving in and out of the geometric forms of the city. Other times, the camera captures them standing still, framed by a window, a line, or arch, their curved limbs or figures offsetting the otherwise sterile geometry of the space.

Hold the LineBy Siegfried HansenVerlag Kettler, 2015.

Lines tell us where to go or when to stop, but they also touch and extend forms in unexpected ways. From municipal markings to personal flourishes, colors code our environment in obvious and subtle ways. Hansen asks us to hold the line, but it is easy to miss the ways things connect. Lines may want us to go one way, but the camera often reveals a different truth and allows us to see another. In the end, holding the line means extending a way of seeing that links and joins our world in beautiful and graphically surprising ways.—Adam Bell


ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including AfterimageThe Art Book ReviewThe Brooklyn RailfototazoFoam MagazineLay Flatphoto-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. (www.adambbell.com and blog.adambbell.com)


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