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Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André


Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André Laura M. André selects Reading Raymond Carver by Mary Frey as Book of the Week.
Reading Raymond Carver. Photographs by Mary Frey.
Peperoni Books, 2017.

Laura M. André picks Reading Raymond Carver, by Mary Frey, as Book of the Week.

The cover image for Mary Frey's new book, Reading Raymond Carver, exemplifies the strangeness that characterizes the images within. Rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, the photograph immediately creates a sense of vertigo and imbalance. Yet the scene is easily read: a teen-aged girl hunches over an 8-track player, probably straining to hear a backmasked message on her Led Zeppelin tape, while other cartridges and a disco album rest on the bed she's sitting on—a typical scene from a middle-class, white adolescent of the period. Except it's not.

The images in this book hail from Frey's first cohesive body of work, Domestic Rituals (1979-1983), for which she won a Guggenheim Fellowship. Although they were inspired by Frey's own family snapshots and mass media imagery, they are instead carefully—and slowly constructed—tableaux vivants shot with a cumbersome, large-format camera and diffuse flashbulb lighting.

This combination of technique and subject matter allows Frey to capitalize on the tension between the often overlooked, banal moments of domestic life, and the invitation to scrutinize every detail of her images, scanning them for clues to their elusive meaning. Although Frey, a 1979 Yale MFA graduate, lists William Eggleston and Stephen Shore as influences (and there is certainly a flavor of Egglestonian weirdness in many of these photographs), it is tempting to read these images as being closer to Cindy Sherman's nearly contemporaneous Untitled Film Stills.

Like Raymond Carver's short stories and poems, Frey imbues her images with a palpable sense of what is familiar and unpretentious, yet rife with heightened narrative possibility and drama. Just when you think nothing of consequence is happening, the crucial and important things are happening. You'll realize it—if you pay attention.

In an introductory text, Frey states that she began the work fresh out of graduate school, when she had just taken on a full-time teaching job and was pregnant. That hectic period is a distant memory now, and she confesses that many of the intended meanings for images in the series have faded: "I can't recall exactly what I was feeling at the time, but I do remember that I was reading Raymond Carver."

Reading Raymond Carver. Photographs by Mary Frey. Peperoni Books, 2017.

Reading Raymond Carver. Photographs by Mary Frey. Peperoni Books, 2017.

Reading Raymond Carver. Photographs by Mary Frey. Peperoni Books, 2017.

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Laura M. André received her PhD in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at the University of New Mexico before leaving academia to work with photography books.

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