PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Horizon Avenue


Book Review Horizon Avenue By Aaron Stern Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson The lyrical photobook, by which I mean those photobooks whose main content is something elucidated through sequence and not necessarily something immediate, is a difficult subject to address. Staples of the lyrically sequenced photobook are: A.) a lack of adroit, in-your-face single images that contain individualized meaning, B.) no or minimalized text, and C.) a progression of story, idea or thought presented through the sequence of the images.

Horizon AvenueBy Aaron Stern205-A, 2016.
 
Horizon Avenue
Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson

Horizon Avenue: San Francisco and other places
Photographs by Aaron Stern. Poetry by Aaron Stern and David Wagoner.
205-A, New York, USA, 2016. 66 pp., 39 four-color illustrations, 5½x8½".

The lyrical photobook, by which I mean those photobooks whose main content is something elucidated through sequence and not necessarily something immediate, is a difficult subject to address. Staples of the lyrically sequenced photobook are: A.) a lack of adroit, in-your-face single images that contain individualized meaning, B.) no or minimalized text, and C.) a progression of story, idea or thought presented through the sequence of the images. Outside of these three central ideas we see a wide range of subject matter and, of course, effectiveness of the methods used.

Now, all this being said, there haven’t been a whole lot of books like this that I have seen and it is essential to keep in mind that this does not pertain to documentary photobooks nor anthological collections, nor books like The Americans or Every Building On the Sunset Strip; those books are subject based while a lyrically based photobook is story based (see article C). However the photobook lends itself to this method of storytelling and as the photobook becomes more known and more utilized, lyrically sequenced photobooks are more numerous.

Horizon AvenueBy Aaron Stern205-A, 2016.

One artist who has taken up this exceedingly difficult (or perhaps it is just new, implying difficulty simply on account of its newness?) is Aaron Stern. Stern has presented a handful of books that focus on a lyrical sequencing to convey his story; his latest publication is no different in this regard. Horizon Avenue presents the story of a couple travelling to San Francisco, perhaps to move there, perhaps to just visit, but it is the story of a trip taken by a man and a woman and presented from the man’s point of view. Its minimal text, two poems and a fragmented sentence, amplifies this reality, grounds us in the idea of the trip.

Horizon Avenue feels like Hitchcock’s Vertigo or Polanski’s Chinatown without their plot, without the talk and background story, but very much with their West Coast setting. Which is to say, I think, that this book seems like a work of sheer cinematography. Why such books remind me so of movies might be grounded in the idea of images progressing in order to move a story forward and Horizon Avenue achieves this.

Horizon AvenueBy Aaron Stern205-A, 2016.

The greater part of Horizon Avenue is street views, beach views and views from a car, its secondary matter (or subplot) is the two people who undertook the trip. However the story sinks in slowly, and due to that slowness it arises in our experience more like a memory than a work of photographic art. The images lodge somewhere in the back of the brain and become inseparable from familiar images in similar territory. It ‘reads’ like the recollection of a trip undertaken by anyone.

Horizon AvenueBy Aaron Stern205-A, 2016.

So far every book that I’ve encountered that takes up this lyrically sequenced form does have one of two effects: that of a dream or that a memory; which is intriguing and brings a lot of credit to the idea of the power of images. Dreams and memories defy language; they arise from a place in us that precedes it and then, when we try to use language to define these things, they lose something or fall apart or are robbed of their essence. I don’t mean to move into the philosophic realm, but it is a difficult subject to relate in words and that difficulty only enhances the sense of the work’s influence.

Horizon AvenueBy Aaron Stern205-A, 2016.

Horizon Avenue is enormously successful because it transcends language, it arises from a realm more commonly associated with poetry than with prose and expresses something more fundamental than language can express, shared cultural experience. The work is exciting not solely in what it contains, but how it interacts with us and how it finds a place within us.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

Purchase Book

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.

Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment