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Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura El-Tantawy

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura El-Tantawy Laura El-Tantawy selects Grand Circle Diego by Cyril Costilhes as Book of the Week.
Grand Circle Diego. By Cyril Costilhes.
Akina, 2015.
This week's Book of the Week pick comes from Laura El-Tantawy who has selected Grand Circle Diego by Cyril Costilhes from Akina.

"This book has me sitting on the edge. The cover is an image of absolute horror or unexplainable beauty — I have no idea. This perplexing contradiction is at the heart of my experience of Grand Circle Diego.

I discovered the book at an art fair earlier this year. I initially hesitated to buy it, not out of lacking quality, but because the experience of the images was incredibly dark and surreal. I kept going back to it. I had no idea what the book was about. I purposely avoided reading any text that would clear this narrative hole. I love the mystery of this book — accentuated by a decisive edit, simple yet thought provoking layout and choice of gently textured paper to assert the roughness of the book’s visual journey — a flowing journey left uninterrupted by text, which sits in small fragments — clues — at the front and back of the book.

All around Grand Circle Diego, I feel something really bad has happened or is on the brink of happening. The images offer no answers, but rather an incessant flow of questions — some pale, others subtle and many screaming across sparsely laid out spreads of vibrantly colored images, revealing vast contradictions side-by-side. Mostly I experience life and death competing. 'I wonder how this ends,' I hear myself probing as I anxiously flip through the pages. There are many images that I dare say have haunted/stayed with me: the image of a horned, silhouetted figure starring out in the distance with a cracked window on the opposing spread. So many details and emotions run through this picture, which comes early in the book, opening the door to other emotions to follow. Later, there is an image of a man partially visible through a sheet, revealing his likening to a corpse, maybe a mummified body. It strikes the book with a supernatural twist, immediately followed by an image of a round pavement, almost reminiscent of a UFO sinking down from the depths of another world in a sci-fi film. I have no idea what is going on. Then there is an image of deceptive softness — a woman undressed. I am struck by an immature sense of fragility — a sign something gentle may follow, but not really. Her pose, with protruding shoulder bone at one end and striking veins at another, stabs away at this brief innocence. There follows an image of pure redness — blood, a lot of it. Death kicks me hard in the stomach here, but in a merely noticeable part of the frame sits a patch of breathing green — a frail plant anchoring the sense of confusion I feel is characteristic throughout this book, once again metaphorically pitting a fierce competition between life and death.

Overall, the book carries a sense of finality by a dominant blackness of color and experience. A few pages at the beginning and end of the book are blank and black — they give me room to breathe in cautiously and slowly out again, not too deep, certainly not comfortable, as I struggle to return to reality at the end of an intensely surreal, emotional, claustrophobic yet beautiful and deeply moving experience.

I always find myself circling back to the beginning of this boldly intimate experience. I feel every bit of it even though its preciseness remains unknown.

I must admit even though I eventually succumbed into reading the author’s text and understanding the context of the book, the realm of mystery is where I choose to preserve Grand Circle Diego — one of my all-time favorite books/experiences."—Laura El-Tantawy

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Grand Circle Diego. By Cyril Costilhes. Akina, 2015.
Grand Circle Diego. By Cyril Costilhes. Akina, 2015.

Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photographer. Born in Worcestershire, England to Egyptian parents and growing up between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the US, her work explores memory and identity with a focus on social and environmental issues, particularly those pertaining to her own background. From 2002-2006, she worked as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). She is a graduate of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (USA) with dual degrees in journalism and political science, and also has an MA in Art and Media Practice from the University of Westminster (UK/2011) and a Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford (UK/2009).

Her first book, In the Shadow of the Pyramids offers a first person account exploring memory and identity against the backdrop of her native Egypt’s political turmoil from 2005 to 2014. Released on Jan. 25, 2015 to coincide with the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, it has been selected as one of the best photography books of 2015 across several international awards and by book critics.

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