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photo-eye Book Reviews: Emmett

Emmett, Photographs by Ron Jude.
Published by The Ice Plant, 2010.
Reviewed by George Slade
Ron Jude Emmett
Photographs by Ron Jude
The Ice Plant, 2010. Softcover. 80 pp., 40 color and 9 black & white illustrations, 6-3/4x9-1/2".

What do drag racing funny cars, chopping wood, lens flares, horror movies, mountains and woods, and groovy eighties haircuts have in common? Judging from Ron Jude's photographs and the title he's given this enigmatic compilation, the common denominator must be Emmett. This book, while intimate and diaristic, is also cinematic in scope and emotional suggestiveness. It could be the storyboard for a movie; maybe Heart Like a Wheel meets Brokeback Mountain by way of The Deer Hunter? An elegiac air of love and loss is palpable, even some of the inevitable tragedy of Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves.

I do enjoy the suggestiveness, and the challenge of constructing a narrative around the visual crumbs present in Jude's work. Is Emmett someone known, a friend captured in a set of photographs made during various teenage adventures and now being presented in recognition or memoriam? Or is this a random collection of anonymous snapshots found in a box at a garage sale? The open-endedness is intriguing, and narrator Jude plays his hand close to the vest.

Emmett, by Ron Jude. Published by The Ice Plant, 2010.
The mystery of landscape offsets the automotive passion. The woods loom and threaten, though they also seem to be the stage for rapture. There's a queasiness that comes in part from discoloration (time's damage to our drugstore-processed memories), in part from threatened horror movie faces shot from screens, in part from the repeated, close-up attention paid to the main character, an amiable-looking young blonde man.

Emmett, by Ron Jude. Published by The Ice Plant, 2010.
And, finally, the book closes (after an uncommon series of five blank pages) with two disturbing images of a muddy street in front of some low, rustic buildings. The first seems willfully distant, though from what isn't perceptible until the page is turned and what appears to be a rushing flash flood of whitewater seems to be rounding the bend and entering the picture field. The point of view changes between the two images; was the photographer running away? Are we experiencing manipulation, or the last frames before a young photographer, drag racing fan, and nature-lover was inundated in a small mountain village? Whatever, the ambiguity is Hitchcock thick, and we are left with "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" as Winston Churchill once described Russia.

Emmett, by Ron Jude. Published by The Ice Plant, 2010.
One could, I suppose, Google search this and resolve the story. Or read, and read into, the closing copyright page acknowledgments; are the quotes from Sartre and Pink Floyd just red herrings? And who is this shiny Kenny W. character? Sometimes knowing the answers makes the puzzle less interesting. Project your own film into Emmett's pages, or just let Jude's image stream carry you away.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE is the program manager and curator at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, and the editor of the PRC’s magazine Loupe. He maintains an on-line presence at the PRC’s blog, here on photo-eye, and at re:photographica. Occasionally his writing even appears in print.