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Book Review : Candy/A Good and Spacious Land


Book Review Candy/A Good and Spacious Land By Jim Goldberg and Donovan Wylie Reviewed by Blake Andrews Wylie's New Haven is an industrial nexus, its residents dwarfed by surrounding infrastructure. Goldberg's version of New Haven — his birthplace and childhood home — is a warren of interwoven lives and a metaphor for the human condition.
Candy/A Good and Spacious Land 
Photographs by Jim Goldberg and Donovan Wylie
Yale University Art Gallery, 2017. 
 
Candy/A Good and Spacious Land
Reviewed by Blake Andrews.

Candy/A Good and Spacious Land.
Photographs by Jim Goldberg and Donovan Wylie. Text by Christopher Klatell and Laura Wexler and Pamela Franks.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA, 2017. 300 pp., 150 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations, 13x11".

Yale's new photobook duet Candy/A Good And Spacious Land reminds me of the old Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. You've probably heard the tale. Six blind men attempt to determine what an elephant looks like by touching it. Each one touches the elephant in a different area, and each one comes away with a radically different impression based on his limited encounter. The man who feels the tusk thinks of an elephant as a smooth, sharp spear. The one touching the trunk assumes it's more like a snake. And so on. In the end, there is no general agreement.

Assign two photographers to shoot one American city and you might wind up in a similar predicament. You could hardly generate more disparate results than those produced by Donovan Wylie and Jim Goldberg, two veteran Magnum photographers who each documented New Haven, Connecticut during joint residencies at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2013. Wylie's New Haven is an industrial nexus, its residents dwarfed by surrounding infrastructure. Goldberg's version of New Haven — his birthplace and childhood home — is a warren of interwoven lives and a metaphor for the human condition.

A Good and Spacious Land Photographs by Donovan Wylie. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

That the two men could explore the same city and come away with such different impressions is a tribute not only to their strength as photographers, but to one of photography's paradoxical tenets: Less is more. Photographers often work effectively by pruning away visual information, choosing carefully what to reveal and what to hide. Wylie and Goldberg leverage this tenet to focus each on his own slice of New Haven. Although neither attempts to tell the city's whole story, together their two books describe a sizable chunk of it. If the entire elephant is beyond their scope, that's just fine. The restricted perspectives are still quite enlightening.

A Good and Spacious Land Photographs by Donovan Wylie. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

The Irish photographer Wylie's A Good And Spacious Land — the title taken from the biblical myth of the promised land — is the smaller volume and the more conventional. While exploring the area initially, he became enamored with the reconstruction of the I-95 / I-91 interchange, a massive highway project then underway in New Haven. Shot from ground level, Wylie's photographs are dominated by sweeping forms of concrete and steel. The urban landscape appears stressed, fraught, and transitional, an uninviting backdrop for residents. When people appear in Wylie's New Haven they're an industrial afterthought, an impression Wylie enhances by shooting them often at a distance, with backs turned or bodies slouching. New Haven's residents take a back seat here to Wylie's primary concern, the highway interchange. This he has engaged with precision, carefully plotting its spatial layering and formal interplay. The reader's eye bounces here and there around the frames, always entertained and occasionally astonished.

A Good and Spacious Land Photographs by Donovan Wylie. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

Goldberg's Candy takes a nearly inverse approach. Whereas Wylie's volume is cleanly sequenced, one photo per page, Candy is a sprawling jumble of collage, cutouts, Polaroids, handwriting, scrapbook, personal diary, and strong portraiture. Formal interplay be damned, these photos are a gut punch, and a messy one at that. If Wylie's vision is somewhat impersonal, Goldberg's is deeply intimate, rooted in his New Haven childhood. Candy is the name of a bygone store from his youth lost to "model city" urban redevelopment. A handwritten sequence early in the book encapsulates the generation gap of his early years: "My dad's dream was to go to become a singer, go to Yale, and become a successful businessman… Mine was to get out of New Haven as soon as I could."

Candy Photographs by Jim Goldberg. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

Get out he did, moving west to pursue his photo career. But not everyone escaped New Haven so easily. Goldberg returns to befriend two residents who never left, Germano Kimbro and Joe Taylor. He sketches out their life stories through their own photos and journals, supported by Goldberg's own sharp editing and photography. Kimbro and Taylor each faced adversity but were ultimately resilient. To their stories, Goldberg piles on reams of other material — Goldberg's childhood photos, New Haven portraits, homemade streetview photos, movie stills, etc. He puts the whole mix through an anything-goes editing blender — think Boris Mikhailov's Diary or Peter Beard's The End Of The Game. The resulting book is a densely layered tome which defies easy understanding, the sort of book that can be read straight through as narrative, or opened to any page for expressionist burst.

Candy Photographs by Jim Goldberg. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

Candy and A Good And Spacious Land may come packaged together but they are a million miles apart, two very different parts of the New Haven elephant. They're joined for a fleeting moment when Goldberg describes the candy store being torn down for I-91, and along the broad theme of rehabilitation. But essentially it's a union of opposites, an antipodal dynamic which is quite entertaining.

Candy Photographs by Jim Goldberg. Yale University Art Gallery, 2017.

Stacked together the books weigh 9 pounds and span 372 pages. The set is packaged handsomely in a sturdy blue slipcase with a thin explanatory placard. With this production, Yale has pulled out all the stops. Candy/A Good And Spacious Land exemplifies top-notch image reproductions and beautiful binding, with an eye toward collectibility. It's priced accordingly, but still a good value considering the contents.— Blake Andrews

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BLAKE ANDREWS is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

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