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photo-eye Book Reviews: The Pond (2010 Re-edition)

The Pond, Photographs by John Gossage. 
Published by Aperture, 2010.
The Pond

Reviewed by George Slade

John Gossage The Pond
Photographs by John Gossage. Text by Gerry Badger, Toby Jurovics.
Aperture, 2010. Hardbound. 108 pp., 52 duotone illustrations, 11-3/4x11".

You probably know that a vixen is a female fox. But did you know that a group of foxes is known as a "skulk?" And that while an encounter with a single fox is a good omen, meeting up with a skulk has ill portents? Ah, the things you can find when you Google "fox as symbol."

John Gossage reminds me of a fox. There's a trickster in his mien, talented in camouflage and cunning in his ability to maneuver and effect subtle change. Just unwrap the dust jacket of the new Pond for an example; the cover design of the original 1985 edition's dust jacket, accurate in all details, is there. You could almost make someone believe you had the first edition by just turning the jacket inside-out. You could almost make someone believe, if they weren't attentive, that the new jacket is the same as the old one.

(That original dust jacket, by the way, turned me into a bibliomane. It was a bit larger than most, and I bought a special roll of DEMCO's jacket-protecting sleeve material to cover it. The manic collector born then was pleased to see the new Pond still has an image adhered to its front board, a detail well worth noticing and protecting.)

The Pond, by John Gossage. Published by Aperture, 2010.
The same, almost, but not. What was once blue is now green, and vice versa. What was white, now black. Back flap copy, then hawking Lisette Model, Larry Fink, Ray Metzker, and Robert Adams, now touts Aperture's books by Takashi Homma, Doug DuBois, Martin Parr-and Robert Adams (another 1980s re-edition, his Summer Nights, Walking). Red detailing has extended a bit. The price, too, has inflated-what was $40 is now $65. An essay by Denise Sines has been replaced with essays by Toby Jurovics and Gerry Badger.

The Pond, by John Gossage. Published by Aperture, 2010.
Although he has added three plates to the mix, sly insertions and replacements, The Pond's essential mystery remains intact. As a first book, it was a home run, a grand slam trip to the moon that could only have been realized as a book. Toby Jurovics' essay offers many delightful and elucidating tidbits, starting with his assertion that this "is a sly and subversive book" and that its "chaotic" structure seemed to undermine our notion of photography's supposed forte-its capacity for straightforward description and transparent meaning. Yet as we turned from page to page, before we realized what was happening, John Gossage convinced us to join him on a walk. Had he first told us where we were headed, we might have declined, but it was too late to turn back.

The Pond, by John Gossage. Published by Aperture, 2010.
 He's a fox with the gift of Socratic dialogue, leading you into his lair with inarguably simple, sequential statements that leave you both scratching your head and wanting more, only to find yourself locked in, fully immersed in a new truth without really knowing how you got there. "In making these pictures," Jurovics quotes Gossage as saying, "I tried to do everything only once. Each stop was specific, and all the pictures interlocked. When you have a destination in mind, you don't double back." This is the unparseable miracle of this book; how can he continue to make so much out of so little. My hesitancy about re-editions, about the honorable though deflating and commercially motivated aspect of providing renewed access to important books, is somewhat allayed by the wisely tuned re-edition of The Pond.—George Slade

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George Slade, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is the programs manager and curator at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. He continues to post content on his blog, re:photographica.