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photo-eye Book Reviews: Ciociaria

Ciociaria, Photographs by Douglas Stockdale.
Published by Punctum Press, 2011.
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins
Douglas Stockdale Ciociaria
Photographs by Douglas Stockdale. Texts by Douglas Stockdale & Marco Delogu
Punctum Press, 2011. Hardbound. 96 pp., 50 color illustrations, 9-3/4x8".

Douglas Stockdale spends a lot of time looking at and thoughtfully writing about books of contemporary photography as a fellow reviewer for this magazine and as founder of The PhotoBook blog among other projects. His own photography has now been collected in his first commercial book, Ciociaria from Rome's Punctum Editions. It contains nearly fifty color photographs born of Stockdale's travels over the course of a year through central Italy, and specifically in the Ciociaria region. Named for the ancient ciocie sandal traditionally worn there, Ciociaria is notable for its paucity of known history. Stockdale's photographs are presented in a spare, conservative design, which suits them, and are accompanied by two short essays that contain some engaging content, but ultimately frustrated me more than they enhanced my enjoyment of the work.

Ciociaria, by Douglas Stockdale. Published by Punctum Press, 2011.
Stockdale and Punctum's Marco Delogu strive to detail how the photographer navigated this largely foreign place as a "photographer-flaneur." A dichotomy is suggested between this variation on street photography and unpopulated landscape or topographical views. In this guise, Stockdale rejects both narrative reportage and the purely picturesque. He instead delves in between – seeking places where the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange – creating touchstones of personal symbolism that transcend the particulars of Ciociaria. Within this realm, Stockdale takes a deadpan look at the human-altered landscape, finding in the banal a cross-cultural link to broader metaphorical meaning. Yet the book is also studded with heavily lyrical images (not least of which is the final view of a misty, open road). How this strategy may ultimately foment meaning is nevertheless somewhat hard to extract from Stockdale's and Delogu's essays that are weighed down by some cumbersome language and grammatical errors. 

Ciociaria, by Douglas Stockdale. Published by Punctum Press, 2011.
Ciociaria, by Douglas Stockdale. Published by Punctum Press, 2011.
What I liked best about these photographs is how simply they capture the relentless and sometimes beautiful, sometimes bewildering encroachment of the natural world on man-made environments. I find Stockdale to be a keen observer of how people attempt to compartmentalize and contain nature for both practical use and domestic enjoyment. Throughout Ciociaria nature is carpet, canopy, curtain – served up as potted plants and rolls of grain. When humans do occasionally appear in Stockdale's photographs, they are on a diminutive scale and more than once seem to be found in perplexed contemplation of the pruned forms and boxed lawns of their own devising. Garlands of laundry, rumpled banners, and fences in various states of dominance over the wild and cultivated string image to image. A theme of the memorial also emerges, wherein nature is shown as an inextricable part of how we commemorate loss and reckon with the passing of time, seen here in wilted bouquets, neglected fountains and shrines embedded in the rolling hillsides. I'm not certain that I took away from this volume an understanding of Ciociaria, but then again, that may not have been the point. I will stay tuned for what Stockdale does to follow up on these enticing images and plan to return to them again to see what I may have missed.—KAREN JENKINS

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KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.