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Book Review: Block


Book Review Block By Aapo Huhta Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot There is a certain light in New York City — especially in winter, and in the late afternoon — that blinds. The sun sinks from up high in the sky and becomes intrusive. It makes one feel side-swiped, or as if walking into the strongest wind.
Block. By Aapo Huhta. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.
Block
Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot

Block
Photographs by Aapo Huhta
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany, 2015. 94 + pp., 39 color illustrations, 6½x9¼x1".


There is a certain light in New York City — especially in winter, and in the late afternoon — that blinds. The sun sinks from up high in the sky and becomes intrusive. It makes one feel side-swiped, or as if walking into the strongest wind. In SoHo, for instance, I’ve seen it cut and glint up off cobblestones, bounce off of parked cars, and slice through dusty windows that wrap around the corners of buildings. This late afternoon light is solid gold and thick, but cold (just once in awhile warming one’s face — after all, it is coming from nearly 100 million miles away). It stares daggers and reminds one of our planetary status. It makes one’s eyes fail. Sunglasses make it worse. Everything becomes chiaroscuro.

Block. By Aapo Huhta. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.

Aapo Huhto knows this light. His book, Block, is a collection of photographs of New York that chisel away at space — in the way that removing material can be so pleasing. These photos of harshly-lit city streets, walls, and other structures look like they were taken by someone who was dropped from the sky into a world half missing.

Geometry and thresholds are Huhta’s driving force in these images. Most of the color is consumed in the contrast between light and shadow. People walking, dressed in suits, mostly all male, most all with faces obscured in one way or another, are sad excuses for the muse. From behind, these creatures make their benign ways in and out of extreme darkness, caught just on the cusp. Huhta infects this benignity with small strange details: a gold cap that edges a tooth in a close-up of an unshaven face; pink insulation that oozes through cracks in plywood construction doors; a discarded mattress on the sidewalk that leans into a large window nook.

Block. By Aapo Huhta. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.
Block. By Aapo Huhta. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.

One’s eyes have to adjust to these pictures to accept the black voids that swallow up concrete. This is a book of empty spaces, empty minds, and empty hearts — a vacuum for all else to rush in — which sets a stage for Jenny Hollowell’s “A History of Everything, Including You,” her 2004 short story (of just what the title promises) tucked into the end of Block. “A History of Everything” is printed in large text on one long double-width page folded four times. On the back of this long page is a rough black-and-white image of rocks, which is also very attractively printed in grey and black, full-bleed, across the cover boards of Block. These rocks are the most living form to be found in the book — natural and heavy granite bodies yet to be shaped it into the building blocks of cities.

Block. By Aapo Huhta. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.

Holloway’s story begins with the Big Bang and ends with the death of a lover. Looking back on Huhta’s lonely photographs in Block, one might ask the same question the lover asks towards the end of the story: “Can you believe it?” How did we get here, in this emptiness, from that light and those rocks?—SARAH BAY GACHOT


SARAH BAY GACHOT  is a writer, educator, and artist who lives in Los Angeles, California. She is the editor and author of Robert Cumming: The Difficulties of Nonsense (Aperture, 2016) and will be curating a show of Cumming’s photographs at the George Eastman Museum in 2017. Lylesfur.tumblr.com

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