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photo-eye Book Reviews: Brut

Brut, Photographs by Paul Kranzler.
Published by Fotohof Editions, 2011.
Reviewed by Adam Bell
Paul Kranzler Brut
Photographs by Paul Kranzler.
Fotohof Editions, 2011. Hardbound. 144 pp., 15 black & white and 90 color illustrations, 12x10".

 'Home' in all its iterations is a dominant theme within photography. Approached from infinite different angles, it can provide a wellspring of ideas and inspiration for a photographer, or it can be a comforting shelter to confirm well-worn platitudes. Paul Kranzler is a young photographer who has already proven himself unafraid to stare at the darker side of life as seen in his first two books Land of Milk and Honey and Tom. While his first two books are more focused portraits (a struggling alcoholic couple and the life of an adolescent named Tom), Brut is a loving meditation on Kranzler's family - both biological and adopted.*

As Kranzler writes, "these are images of places and people I have known for a long time, whether related by blood or otherwise. And places and people who know those I know, and also people who I don't know in places I have known for a long time. You become the way you are in your own environment. Relatives are an integral part of the genetic environment, and people, to whom you are not related and who become your relatives are always your closest environment."

Brut, by Paul Kranzler. Published by Fotohof Editions, 2011.
Kranzler works in a recognizable contemporary documentary style. Portraits are mixed with still-lifes, color with black & white, and the occasional nude with a landscape to form a loosely structured photo-album and narrative. All the images date between 2004 and 2009, and were taken in Kranzler's hometown of Traun in Upper Austria. Shooting with medium format - often using flash - Kranzler creates images that feel at once staged and captured on the fly. From the haunting portrait of a man bathed in the blue light of a home tanning salon to an image of the Golden Gate Bridge projected on a lonely screen, Krenzler's omnivorous and unflinching eye is exemplary. Faces reappear, but Kranzler never rests long enough to provide a detail portrait of one person, instead we weave ever outwards through his expansive clan.

The book itself is nicely designed and does not overwhelm or detract from the images. Instead, the understated design takes a backstage to the compelling images that are either paired or set one to a spread. Arranged without any text, the book ends with a small pamphlet tucked in the back that offers captions, a short essay and some of Kranzler's insights into the individual images. 

Brut, by Paul Kranzler. Published by Fotohof Editions, 2011.
Brut, by Paul Kranzler. Published by Fotohof Editions, 2011.
 Although not at first obvious, the book also owes a debt to Philip-Lorca diCorcia's masterwork A Storybook Life. Although set to a smaller scale than diCorica's work, which covers twenty-years, the book similarly seeks to draw upon a large archive of personal imagery in order not only to explore Kranzler's own family history, but also to offer some greater insights into contemporary life - and more specifically working-class Austrian life. It may seem unfair to make such a comparison, but the book contains a great number of excellent images. However, given its strength and potential for greatness, I can't help but wish the book had been more tightly edited. Containing over 100 images, the weaker images begin to detract from the stronger.

Despite this minor criticism, Brut is an honest and compelling book. Kranzler has already proven himself to be an important voice in contemporary photography, and this book builds upon that admirable record.

*Brut, translated from German, is not only a brood or clan, but to think, hatch, reflect and sulk.—Adam Bell

Adam Bell Adam Bell is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department.