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Book Review: Between Us

Book Review Between Us By Maarit Hohteri Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson “The family you come from isn't as important as the family you're going to have.” —Ring Lardner
This quotation used to trouble me; it seems somehow to be true and yet when you begin to question its meaning it pretty quickly unravels, raises questions and seems open to interpretation.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.
Between Us
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

Between Us
Photographs by Maarit Hohteri. Text by Ilkka Karisto.
Aalto University, Espoo, Finland, 2015. In English. 176 pp., color & black-and-white illustrations, 6¾x9".

“The family you come from isn't as important as the family you're going to have.” —Ring Lardner

This quotation used to trouble me; it seems somehow to be true and yet when you begin to question its meaning it pretty quickly unravels, raises questions and seems open to interpretation. Like a lot of quotations, I've taken years to think about its deeper meaning — or, better, what makes it seem true. Or, indeed, is it a true statement at all?

When I began to spend time with Between Us an answer to this question of mine started to form; the answer didn't begin with the word 'family,' but rather kin; a universal word which implies family and friends both, a word which has required growth — finding blood relations too shallow for its definition, because when we say ‘kinship’ we almost never mean family, but when we utter ‘kin,’ aside from the chuckles caused by the word's antiquation, we mean family and more often extended family such as cousins, uncles and aunts — those strangers who gather at family reunions and who are our friends by the structures of their faces, the thinness or thickness of their hair, their eye color; they are our friends ancestrally, and, so often, our friends beyond any valuation.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.

There is a point at which someone outside of our blood moves beyond acquaintance, beyond the ostensible, beyond any notion of formality or 'guardedness' and, finally, beyond valuation; it is the limit that is crossed between friendship as we commonly mean it and family as we define it.

It is this family built through friendship, this bloodless fraternity (though it often creates new blood, certainly) that Between Us elucidates. It shows us, in short, friends — yes — but more importantly the family that our friendships create.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.

In photographs ranging from the late 90s to the early 2010s, Maarit Hohteri introduces the viewer to her sphere of friends, and they are all unquestionably friends. Recurring motifs are her friends asleep, her friends bathing, her friends in various stages of dress, her friends while expecting, while with infants, while with young children — her friends branching through the years of their lives and her own, her friends deepening their roots, maturing and becoming more familiar.

The first page of the book is atypical of the collection; it is butterflies, her mother's childhood lepidopterist collection, but it is the perfect allegory by which to start the book. Beautiful creatures within a species, but diverse in their range, and all fixed to a point — perfect as the book is an inquiry into friendship by way of a visual thesis.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.

The images are arranged, for the most part, chronologically, which allows us to see some friends mature both physically and in their domestic environments and others friends fade from the pages; so beautifully does this express the passing of years. By wordless change and what is difficult to track, friends come and go from our lives and Between Us expresses this eloquently.

Also enhancing the idea of friendship is the vibrancy of color used by Hohteri — every photograph is crisp and rich in color and the effect is that her subjects exist in a state of heightened clarity. They aren't seen through a glass darkly, but in a soberness aside from the confusion, sexuality, politics, noise and duplicity of daily life.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.

The effect is that her friends feel known to her (and by extension, us). There is no coyness, no mysteriousness as between the fashion photographer and their model or the street photographer and the strangers whom they can only catch in such a state when their subjects are unaware or off-guard; Hohteri's subjects give a sense that their consent to be photographed came through an intimacy of knowing her and accepting her; they are less in the realm of having their photos taken than that of being friends with a photographer.

Between Us could seem like so many books or photographers' works — Ryan McGinley, Chad Moore, Ren Hang and so many others come to mind — but what sets it aside is that these aren't pictures of friends exploring exciting places, partaking of nightlife and having sex and using drugs — rather these are the moments aside from all that, the spaces between where we are alone or with family or with friends — but sequestered from the masses. Between Us isn't the society section of an arts magazine where people party, smile and drink champagne simply because this is not closely related to friendship; friendship has little regard for such things, but rather such subject matter is a default of the closeness of friends.

Between Us. By Maarit HohteriAalto University, 2015.

It is in homes, among our intimate settings, in our retreats to and emergence from sleep that we know our friendships; the nadir of shared vulnerabilities when we show our slug, our wounds, our dog, our drowsiness, our bodies and children, is, paradoxically, the height of friendship and what Hohteri shares with us.

Between Us is a book for those less interested in their own interests, those less driven by self-desire than the desire for community, people and a shared experience — even if that shared experience is loneliness itself. It is a book about the family we choose, not the family we come from.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

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CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where is manager of photo-eye Bookstore. Aside from this he is a writer for the Meow Wolf art collective and book critic for The CFile Foundation. His first book of poetry, &luckier, will be released by the University of Colorado in November 2016.

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