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Book Review In Plain Air Photographs by Irina Rozovsky Reviewed by Odette England "Few are more excessively, irrationally obsessed over, nitpicked, and misjudged than the teenage girl. Teenage girldom and all its visible (and invisible) terrors are the subject of Deanna Templeton’s What She Said (Mack), which exposes the perky and murky realities we lived with at that age..."

In Plain Air by Irina Rozovsky.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ613
In Plain Air
Photographs by Irina Rozovsky

Mack, London, UK, 2021. 96 pp., 9½x11¼".

Do you know That Light? That Light, the light we get two, three, four times a year if we’re lucky. Sometimes after a storm, often after 5pm. Not to be confused with golden hour light; rather, the light you need a Pantone book to describe because all attempts to explain it otherwise end in ‘ish’: Orange-ish, pink-ish, gold-ish, honey-ish, no-the-other-honey-ish. That Light, the light you try to photograph with your phone until you resolve you can’t capture it because your phone fails to render it realistically. That Light.

It’s That Light I notice from the get-go, beaming from the pages of Irina Rozovsky’s latest photobook In Plain Air (MACK, 2021), so much so that I want to Google what a ray of light is made of. Rozovsky herself shares with us the question she posed during her first visit to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where she spent almost a decade making these images: “Is it the light bouncing off the lake or a certain peace that glows on every face?”


Long-term projects, however we define long-term, often deliver the most satisfying visual rewards. When we discover a new place, and revisit it time and again with a camera, we become familiar but simultaneously surprised and delighted by what we find. We may even pull the camera away from our face to see if what we’re seeing really is ‘there’ or as good as we think it is. Each step we take adds to a collective knowing-our-way, yet we un-know it through the lens of movement and change. In Rozovsky’s case, the visual rewards are abundant: a frozen puddle hugged by tree roots and shimmering like a mirror, a man clutching a fish in a sandwich bag, a reassuring hand on a friend’s shoulder, all flanked by glorious images of nurturing, hanging, exercising, kissing, rehearsing, and breathing.

Every photograph belongs in this edit. I make this point because selecting and sequencing are their own mysterious processes that we artists (and publishers) angst over. I’ve heard photographers use phrases like “killers, not fillers” or “A-sides only” to justify or explain how and why they include the images they do. Some folks argue for the importance of images for the reader to rest on, or images that build up to the “winner-image”. I’ve heard many a metaphor for sequencing, that a ‘good’ photobook should be paced like your favorite song; that it shouldn’t bolt out of the gates like a racehorse; that you need carefully-chosen condiments to make the meal taste good. You’ve probably heard some of these too.


When I buy a best-of or greatest-hits album, that’s what I expect. With any photobook, one of the many questions I ask as I turn the pages is: Why is this image here, in this book, on this page, next to this other image, or text, or whatever its nearest neighbor is? In Plain Air is not a best-of-Rozovsky, but for me it depicts, with deceptively elegant ease, a best-of ten years of those big photographic W’s: Wandering, wondering, watching, waiting and weighing, none of which answer fully the who, what, where, when and all-important why of her images. And that’s a very, very good thing.

With too many images to love, I turn my attention to the recurrence of the mute swan, a character that like That Light, is all its own in this book. Its long s-curved neck echoes in the many images of Prospect Park’s trees. Its white feathers reverberate in other images with white details; snow, plastic bags, sneakers, a t-shirt, a bride’s dress, a young girl’s headdress, a cigarette or two, and a daisy-like weed stamping its authority atop a large rock. Rozovsky’s eye makes known that the devil is in the details but so are angels.


As Rozovsky’s photographs permeate and warm me from the inside out. I can’t help but think about what it means to quietly, tenderly interrogate space, especially that of a public park, a very specific type of space that is both mythical and real. The French philosopher Michel Foucault in 1967 described this space as a heterotopia: A ‘somewhere’ that is physical and mental, a space felt and seen, open and remote, universal and specific, collective and personalized. A space in which there is much more than that represented on the surface, like photographs. The more I look, the more Foucault’s explanation of heterotopias corresponds beautifully with In Plain Air. Prospect Park is a place with an impermeable boundary. Not to the actual park, but rather to Rozovsky’s mental state. I suspect the park is now so familiar to her that she could build it over and again in her mind, but the characters and nuances that comprise it would otherwise fade into the fabric of place (and time) without photography. Rozovsky instead weaves them into her life through experience and recording. In closing the book’s cover, I realize just how much time I’ve lost in its pages, that time being a type of heterotopia, too.


I never did Google what a ray of light is made of, instead falling foul of a deep dark hole of semi-related research more accurately known as clickbait. When I climb out, I do so with the knowledge that not only do light and magnetism have a special scientific bond, but that the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell — who helped to explain what light actually is via its electromagnetic properties — unveiled in 1861 the first durable color photograph, produced using a three-color filter system that still forms the basis of many forms of color photography today.

Of course, magnetism! That unexplainable factor or force that draws us in, towards the light like a bug on a dark summer night. When we find ourselves in the company of something or someone so compelling, strong yet vulnerable, transparent without pretense, if only for a moment. Something is exposed to us and vice-versa. And that is what Rozovsky’s images bring to light, That Light, that lusters from within.

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Odette England
is an artist and writer; an Assistant Professor and Artist-in-Residence at Amherst College in Massachusetts; and a resident artist of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program in New York. Her work has shown in more than 90 solo, two-person, and group exhibitions worldwide. England’s first edited volume Keeper of the Hearth was published by Schilt Publishing (2020), with a foreword by Charlotte Cotton. Radius Books will publish her second book Past Paper // Present Marks in collaboration with the artist Jennifer Garza-Cuen in spring 2021 including essays by Susan Bright, David Campany, and Nicholas Muellner.
photo-eye Gallery From the Flat Files: Places Near & Far photo-eye Gallery
Since photography's inception, travel has inspired artists to record the experience of wanderlust. Oftentimes, they document unfamiliar landscapes, capturing the social and cultural conditions they encounter.

Pentti Sammallahti, Przeworsk, Poland, 2005, gelatin-silver print, 6.5 x 6.5 inches, $1300

Since photography's inception, travel has inspired artists to record the experience of wanderlust. Oftentimes, they document unfamiliar landscapes, capturing the social and cultural conditions they encounter. In other instances, their images are not factual, but stage dreamy far-away places. Real or imaginary, their photographs explore why we travel and how each moment in a new destination gives us compelling stories to tell.

This week we were thrilled to explore this exciting genre by taking a look at our favorite travel photographs from our flat files and sharing them on our blog. Take a look below! 
 
 

RICHARD TUSCHMAN

 

MARK KLETT

Mark Klett, Entering a narrow cave, Salt Creek, Utah, 5/9/90, gelatin-silver print, 20 x 16 inches, price upon request
 
 
Reuben Wu, XT1876, archival pigment print, 15 x 20 inches, edition of 10, price upon request
 
 
 
 
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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
 
Book Review A Parallel Road Photographs by Amani Willett Reviewed by Blake Andrews “We live in a world in which we are bombarded by images. Thousands of them hit our eyeballs every day through various channels: TV, Internet, video games, print, vernacular reality, and good old-fashioned photographic prints. The deluge is so constant that it might be hard to remember a time when reality’s mediation was less pervasive..."

A Parallel Road. By Amani Willett.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ603
A Parallel Road
Photographs by Amani Willett

Overlapse, 2020. 112 pp., 5x7".

As I write this, my family is preparing for our annual spring break road trip. We have made such a journey almost every spring since the kids were small (the 2020 trip was cancelled by the pandemic). Each year we choose a new destination somewhere within driving distance, pack into the mini-van, and then spend a week making a slow loop there and back, exploring along the way.

Many other American families engage in something similar. The U.S. is a huge contiguous canvas. Cars are endemic and the highway system penetrates into every corner. Road trips have embedded themselves deep into the national fabric, almost as a rite of passage. This is especially true of photographers, many of whom have used driving expeditions to scaffold important projects. Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Justine Kurland, Alec Soth, Bernard Plossu… the list goes on. There are enough examples to fill an entire book, as David Campany ably demonstrated with his compilation The Open Road.

All of the examples listed above (including myself) are white. But for Black Americans, road trips can present a more foreboding prospect. “Driving While Black” has long been a health risk, as Black people have been disproportionately subjected to traffic stops, harassment, profiling, and sometimes worse. Although the situation has improved since the Jim Crow era, it still holds true today. If you are white, you may have only a hazy realization of the hazards. But for Black American travelers, the threats are concrete and ever-present. Coming from a mixed-race heritage, the photographer Amani Willett has a view into each world, and he found the disconnect striking. The title of his recent book A Parallel Road is an explicit reference to the divergent experiences of Black and white road trippers, who may start out pursuing a similar goal but encounter different circumstances along the way.

The book opens, as all road trips do, with a tantalizing sense of possibility. An old roadmap depicts a web of highways crisscrossing the Eastern U.S. Against this backdrop, Willett uses the first few pages to lay out a spread of archival road trip photos. They show Black families and white ones (many comically caricatured) hanging out near their cars, filling the tank, or peeking at the map ahead.


All is fine and dandy for a few dozen pages, until two dark spreads mark an ominous turn. It’s here that we first encounter The Negro Motorist Green Book, in the form of a 1940 facsimile cover and its opening pages. A crowd-sourced compilation edited by Victor H. Green, The Green Book was a popular travel guide for Black motorists, listing various businesses, inns, and restaurants along the highways which were known to be friendly to Black people away from home. Listings were organized by state and city, soliciting input from readers, and revised annually to maintain currency.


Pages from The Green Book (tinted appropriately in faint green) form the backdrops for A Parallel Road’s middle passage. This is the book’s primary and largest section. In fact the physical form of the entire book is modeled after The Green Book. Both are smallish paperbacks, easily transportable, and saddle stitched by hand, with a measure of healthy defiance baked into the structure. “If you put the book down you will notice that it won’t stay closed,” comments Willett. “The book literally won’t let the viewer put these issues aside any longer.”

Against the backdrop of reproductions from The Green Book, Willett scatters photographs. Most are archival, some are shot by him. If the business listings provide a glimmer of promise, it is quickly quashed by the photographs. Pictures of proudly segregationist signs set the initial tone. Then we see auto accidents, Klansmen, police shootings, and headlines describing racial profiling. A picture of Sandra Bland is followed by nasty footage of a Freedom Rider bus under attack, more Klansmen (from Charlottesville, 2017), a cop beating a motorist, and worse. The U.S. has a long and appalling history of racial disparity. Willett recontextualizes its imagery to great effect, rubbing the nation’s brutality right in the reader’s face. If the book stirs conversation and reassessment, which it surely will, the shock value is justified.

This middle passage is emotionally charged. For many it will be hard to stomach. Thankfully A Parallel Road’s coda offers a glimpse of reconciliation. The Green Book facsimiles end, and are replaced with a few spare pages of color, a short poem, and a wall of names reminiscent of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. There is some breathing room here, where the reader can let the previous photos sink in and meditate on their meaning.


The final image is improbably upbeat. A dirt road receding into bright trees seems to offer a ray of hope, portending a more positive future for those who do the hard work of internal reflection. “I hope this work encourages engagement and dialogue,” writes Willett in the afterword, “surrounding the ubiquity of violence toward Black Americans on roadways that has persisted alongside the romantic depictions of what, historically, the road has purported to offer.”

This is the third monograph so far by Willett, and it builds on the tradition of his previous titles Disquiet and The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer. In both earlier books, Willett used family photographs and relationships to explore social issues with universal resonance. A Parallel Road follows a similar track, using a mix of material, including photo contributions from family members, archival news footage, and Willett’s personal images, to create a thought-provoking study. The scrapbook style helps the pictures flow into a cohesive work. None are captioned in the main body, but a handy list at the end helps to sort everything out. It is a marvelous book that fits easily in a glove box. I think it will accompany my family on our upcoming road trip.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.
photo-eye Gallery Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980 - 2018 photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is excited to announce Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980 - 2018, an online solo exhibition by renowned photographer Steve Fitch. This exhibition corresponds with Fitch's recent photobook American Motel Signs II 1980 - 2018, published by The Velvet Cell.

Steve Fitch, Gallup, New Mexico, March, 2002, archival pigment print, 15 x 15 inches, $650

photo-eye Gallery is excited to announce Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980 - 2018, an online solo exhibition by renowned photographer Steve Fitch. This exhibition corresponds with Fitch's recent photobook American Motel Signs II 1980 - 2018, published by The Velvet Cell.

In American Motel Signs, Steve Fitch documents the changing landscape, capturing the bright neon motel signs littered across long highway expanses throughout the West.

The delightful photographs in this series, map out Fitch’s extensive journey to seek out a typology of visual relics that are quickly fading into the American collective memory. For Fitch, these motel signs carry an unquestionable enchantment in their folk originality — the blocky fonts and garish designs. His work is a road trip to the past, down lonesome highways where these emblems of roadside American culture, despite their declining numbers, still remain.

Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980 - 2018 uses photo-eye’s new VisualServer X website builder and is the fifth in photo-eye's series of online exhibitions.
 
 

I am attracted to photographing motel signs because they are like trail markers for my highway explorations.

"The signs I photographed are all one-of-a-kind, designed and fabricated by local sign shops that employed skilled craftsmen such as metal workers, neon benders and painters. They were signs found mostly along our country's two-lane highways before the onslaught of motel franchises with the exact same sign at dozens or hundreds of locations throughout the country. All Motel 6 signs, for example, are identical, whereas the signs that I discover and like to photograph are each unique — there is only one.  In some ways, they are like folk art to me.

It also doesn't particularly matter that they are motel signs. What does matter is the idea of theme and variation, how a collection can be interesting because of the variety of specimens. A collection of butterflies illustrates this idea, for example, and photography is such a great medium for "collecting and comparing," which is what my motel sign project is ultimately all about. I can make photographs of signs that exist in different locations and display them together in a manner that allows the viewer to make his or her own comparisons. The contemporary word for this is 'typology,'  I believe."
 
— Steve Fitch


 
Steve Fitch, Albuquerque, New Mexico, March 1980, archival pigment print, 15 x 15 inches, $650
 
 



Steve Fitch at work

 
 
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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
 
Book Review Process – People – Product Photographs by Henry Leutwyler, Timm Rautert and Juergen Teller Reviewed by Brian Arnold "The company photobook is a genre in and of itself, given an entire chapter in the great history of photobooks by Gerry Badger and Martin Parr. There are many legendary examples by photographers as diverse as Lee Friedlander, Andrea Modica, Man Ray, Lewis Hine, and O. Winston Link..."

By Henry Leutwyler, Timm Rautert & Juergen Teller.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DU082
Process People Product
Photographs by Henry Leutwyler, Timm Rautert and Juergen Teller

Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2021. 272 pp., 11¾x8¾".

“The subject of the company photobook is interesting because it is so rarely discussed. Photographers would rather talk about their political commitment, their social awareness or their artistic integrity than about their links with raw commerce and filthy lucre.”

— Gerry Badger and Martin Parr, 


“The natural sciences provide the most solid foundations available to us for such fundamental doubts in a world full of semblance and opinionating.” 

— Sibylle Anderl, Process People Products

The company photobook is a genre in and of itself, given an entire chapter in the great history of photobooks by Gerry Badger and Martin Parr. There are many legendary examples by photographers as diverse as Lee Friedlander, Andrea Modica, Man Ray, Lewis Hine, and O. Winston Link. Many of these books were developed to highlight the technical and scientific achievements of the companies behind them, but also serve as markers of our cultural development. Think of the great book by Lee Friedlander, Cray at Chippewa Falls, which documents a specific hi-teach company in Minneapolis, but also shines a light on the emerging computer and technology industries that reshaped American culture during the end of the 20th century.


The new book by Steidl, Process People Product, seems timely in a similar way, as it documents the 150th anniversary of Sartorius, an international pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment supplier based in Göttingen. Despite this publication being about Sartorius, it also offers a look at the medical supply industry while the world is still trying to grasp the impact and magnitude of the COVID pandemic. Process People Product was developed collaboratively and includes photographs by Henry Leutwyler, Juergen Teller, and Timm Rautert, with text by Sibylle Anderl, a science writer, editor and philosopher based in Germany.

The design and production of the book are superlative (no surprise coming from Steidl). It comes housed a white box with a small handle, which could easily be mistaken as a first-aid kit or a box for collecting specimens. The book is actually a collection of three books and a saddle-stitched paper pamphlet, all bound together in a linen slipcase. Each photographer has his own book, with Rautert photographs illustrating Process, Teller’s People, and Leutwyler’s Product. Like the slipcase, each book is bound in high-quality linen, wonderful to the touch. Anderl’s text pamphlet is similarly luxurious, printed on a rich, tactile paper. Each of these is also produced to anticipate the content of the books and the mission of Sartorius; the linen, while soft to the touch, is a humble, institutional grey, presented cleanly and efficiently, much like a laboratory. The text pamphlet is illustrated with microscopic imagery of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and non-small cell lung cancer, printed in light, ghostly tones. Bound together in the gray slipcase, Process People Product appears like a solid grey block, and could be mistaken for an industrial building block.


Process
, the book photographed by Timm Rautert, documents the facilities and resources at Sartorius. The photographs in this section show the labs and equipment used for producing medical and pharmaceutical products. Trained as a photojournalist, and with a particular interest in how people work, Rautert opted to work entirely in analog processes for this project. In his statement, he suggests that the steps necessary for producing chemical photographs reflect the processes illustrated in his pictures, equal parts science and magic. The pictures are all black and white, and presented with cool objectivity, as though the photographer wanted to distance himself from the pictures and allow the objects and facilities he photographed to speak for themselves. This is quite effective, as the equipment used in manufacturing medical devices and materials is complex and fascinating. The pictures in Process are presented in a consistent and predictable manner; printed in one size and with one photograph per page, they mirror the systemic rigor of the environments depicted.


Juergen Teller’s contribution, People, offers a much more playful and spontaneous approach. Rather than making formal portraits of the people working at Sartorius, Teller gives a broader perspective of life on campus, complete with people, flowers, cafés and ice cream. It’s easy to imagine a medical research and manufacturing facility as being only stoical and sterile, but instead, Teller shows an environment full of color, laughter and friendship. The pictures in People are arranged in a fast-paced, syncopated manner, reproduced in a variety of sizes and arrangements across the page spreads. By juxtaposing pictures of the labs, campus grounds, snacks and researchers, Teller portrays a collegial and celebratory environment behind the scientific rigor.

The third book of this publication, Product, is photographed by Swiss photographer Henry Leutwyler, who is most well known for his portraits of luminary figures such as Michelle Obama, Iggy Pop, and Tom Wolfe. For this publication Leutwyler presents a series of still lives showcasing the goods produced by Sartorius. In many ways, I find these the most beautiful pictures of the group, presented simply and clearly with beautiful lighting (provided only by a ring flash) and minimal backgrounds. Much of the beauty comes from Leutwyler allowing the objects to present their own formal elegance, inventiveness, and utility. I’d be hard-pressed to identify any of the objects or their functions — though a list of all the items photographed is included in the back of the book — nevertheless, they are presented with great curiosity, and like the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, their utility also creates wonderful and unexpected shapes and configurations. Leutwyler was given access to the Sartorius archives, and photographs the products and innovations they developed over several decades. In the book, they are presented in reverse chronological order, with the newest products. This book closes with photographs of early patents by Sartorius, dating back to 1875 and 1890, which adds a remarkable perspective to all of the books in this set, suggesting that the history and importance of the work presented here goes well beyond the here and now, and that all of it is part of a much larger process of discovery, understanding and invention.

Collectively, the three books that compose Process People Product portray an innovative clinical environment that produces cutting-edge medical technologies — and is run by ordinary people. With a history spanning 150 years, Sartorius has been involved in the medical and pharmaceutical industries for most of the modern era, and has both witnessed and aided in many of our most difficult medical issues and advancements. Throughout Process People Product, I was reminded of a wonderful quote by the iconic American scientist — a fan favorite during the pandemic — Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I consider myself a perpetual student. You seek and learn every day: from an experiment in the lab, from reading a scientific journal, from taking care of a patient. Because of this, I rarely get bored.” While still reeling from an unprecedented year of life under a global pandemic and medical crisis, I found it refreshing and educational to look through these books, to get a fuller grasp of the magnitude of medical research, discovery and invention behind the scenes of so many of the issues at the forefront of our current dilemmas.

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Brian Arnold
is a photographer and writer based in Ithaca, NY, where he works as an Indonesian language translator for the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University. He has published two books on photography, Alternate Processes in Photography: Technique, History, and Creative Potential (Oxford University Press, 2017) and Identity Crisis: Reflections on Public and Private and Life in Contemporary Javanese Photography (Afterhours Books/Johnson Museum of Art, 2017). Brian has two more books due for release in 2021, A History of Photography in Indonesia: Essays on Photography from the Colonial Era to the Digital Age (Afterhours Books) and From Out of Darkness (Catfish Books).
Book Review Cherry Hill + The Boys Photographs by Jona Frank and Rick Schatzberg Reviewed by Kim Beil "I can’t help but imagine the photographers Jona Frank and Rick Schatzberg as neighbors. Frank grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Schatzberg on Long Island. Both were bedroom communities of major cities, Philadelphia and New York respectively. Both were suburbs built in the postwar boom. Both promised success and security, but enforced social conformity. Both Frank and Schatzberg found an emptiness there, yet a plenitude in memory. They weren’t neighbors then, but they are now, on my bookshelf. Reading their photo memoirs, I felt as if I was triangulating between them. I could see my own suburban hometown hovering just north of them on the map..."

Cherry Hill. By Jona Frank.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=RH106
Cherry Hill + The Boys
Photographs by Jona Frank and Rick Schatzberg

I can’t help but imagine the photographers Jona Frank and Rick Schatzberg as neighbors. Frank grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Schatzberg on Long Island. Both were bedroom communities of major cities, Philadelphia and New York respectively. Both were suburbs built in the postwar boom. Both promised success and security, but enforced social conformity. Both Frank and Schatzberg found an emptiness there, yet a plenitude in memory. They weren’t neighbors then, but they are now, on my bookshelf. Reading their photo memoirs, I felt as if I was triangulating between them. I could see my own suburban hometown hovering just north of them on the map.

The best memoirs encourage this kind of identification and creative geography. Reading about someone else’s life inspires reflection on one’s own, no matter how distant they might be in time or space. In some ways, photographs are more emphatically first-person than any written text. We see through the photographer’s eyes, without the reframing or obfuscation of memory. Frank’s Cherry Hill: A Childhood Reimagined and Schatzberg’s The Boys combine text and image, playing on the rich associations of photography with truth and memory to tell personal histories.


Frank opens with a classic film sequence: a close-up of a telephone on olive green wallpaper, then a long shot of a young girl laying upside down on a teal couch. Then the surprise: an inverted photograph of a woman in a kitchen. This is a point-of-view shot, uncorrected. We are seeing through the little girl’s eyes. Cherry Hill is the story of Frank’s childhood told in written passages and elaborately staged photographs. Frank cast her friend Laura Dern as her mother and three different actors play Frank at different ages of her childhood.

Frank writes emphasis in all caps. Her narrative is colloquial, like a note passed to a friend: “Every night, and I mean EVERY night, we ate dinner at 5:30 pm.” The most resonant, familiar passages come early, before the drama of Frank’s inner life is replaced by the dramatic turn in her family’s life. She recalls her art teacher’s frustration when she preferred to dream images onto a blank sheet of paper, rather than draw. This early memory is beautifully mirrored by her later discovery of photography, that medium in which images do appear, dreamlike, on white paper.

Frank’s sequencing is often a story of its own. It continues past the end of the narration or it zooms in, leaving little Jona suddenly alone on a white page. Like a graphic novel, the story is told on multiple levels, the pacing controlled by page-turns and placement. The typographic choices also evoke the world of comics. Sometimes words float on their own, other times they caption images cheekily, as when Frank’s father tells her she could grow up to be either a nun (turn page) or a nurse (turn page). Both borrow costumes from central casting.


Even in memoir, the character of the self must be shaped. But, it’s by revealing one’s inconsistencies and failures that make readers trust the memoirist. Like watching a character in a horror movie enter a dark basement, I longed to cry out to Frank: Yes, you can go to college, no matter what your mother says! You must leave Cherry Hill!

The Boys. By Rick Schatzberg.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=PY375
Schatzberg also makes an art of revelation and reflection. The Boys tells the story of a group of 14 friends who met during childhood. They have now known each other for fifty years. Schatzberg started making the book after two of the group died. Two more passed away during the project. The book brings together vintage snapshots, enlarged and faded to the point of blurriness, and contemporary large-format portraits of the same men. Similarly, Schatzberg’s writing moves easily between a removed, poetic voice and a more colloquial one.

Joking around, partying, drinking and doing recreational drugs is nominally what brought them together. As one of the boys says: “We had some of our most meaningful early psychedelic experiences in the shade of those trees. There was a rope that hung down from one of the trees and we used to swing over one of the small streams. We were getting to know each other stripped down to the bare bones.”

And that is how they appear, literally stripped down in Schatzberg’s portraits. Several of the men appear shirtless. Surgical scars, sunspots, and sagging skin make their life histories visible. The book’s accordion-folded pages afford a comparison between the cool, objective light of the present portraits with the warm and grainy snapshots of the seventies. Often I struggled to see the similarities: a Casio watch, the shape of a nose or eyebrows. Difference is what Schatzberg sees in his friends, too. He writes: “Time’s unfolding is obvious: balder, grayer, folds and wrinkles, scars. There is an eternal present in a photograph, but I see past, present, and future all at once. Something recognizable, beyond resemblance. Brain scientists and Buddhists say there’s no essence or persisting self, only memories and character traits that infer continuity.”


Things left unsaid, petty grudges and annoyances, loom in Schatzberg’s memories. In recollecting conversations with his friends, he points to the things left out. These negative spaces in dialogue give shape to Schatzberg’s character. There are some things that are too hard to say, like details that are obscured in a photograph. For me, the punctum of the text lies in these absences. Schatzberg relays an encounter with his ailing father, who admitted to feeling as if he had lived a charmed life and that his cancer diagnosis seemed impossible. Schatzberg didn’t respond in the moment. But this book, which becomes increasingly a story of life and loss, is his response.

Memories acquire new shapes as we replay them in our minds. Even when aided by photographs, retelling these stories to ourselves changes them. Memory adapts with the changing sense of self. Both of these photographers’ books highlight such changes in perspective, which makes them more true to the experience of memory and, thus, more affecting than any objective picture would allow.

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Kim Beil is an art historian who teaches at Stanford University. She is the author of Good Pictures: A History of Popular Photography.