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Book of the Week: A Pick by Christopher J Johnson

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Christopher J Johnson Christopher J Johnson selects Tall-Maja by Agneta Ekman as Book of the Week.
Tall-MajaBy Agneta EkmanJournal, 2013.
This week’s Book of the Week pick comes from Christopher J Johnson who has selected Tall-Maja by Agneta Ekman from Journal.

"Originally published in 1967, Tall-Maja is an early poetically sequential photobook that explores the legend of the Skogsr√•et (which translates from Swedish to The Wood Nymph or Forest Wife) or, because — according to folklore — she hates that name, Tall-Maja (pronounced Maya) or Maja of the Pines. She is a figure of mythic significance as a spirit of the forest who is a lovely woman from the front, but like a hollowed-out log with a cow’s tail from behind — a tail she wraps around her leg to hide from men she may seek to seduce, lead into endless underground caves or, more simply, suck the life-force from.

The book features double-exposures and high contrast images to construct its visual narrative; the effect of it is a mixture of sensuality, the natural world and its environs, mystery and terror. The figure of Tall-Maja in Ekman’s photographs is shown as beautiful, ghostly and, within the realm of the forest, multivalent; at times she acts as a figure of desire, at others, one of protection and yet still in others as one of warning.

Folklore about Tall-Maja stems from forest laborers (foresters, hunters and others) who claimed to see her among the trees, always seemingly present and elusive at the same time; a woman in a beautiful summer dress in one instant and nothing more than a tree covered with lichen in the next. Though folklore legends like these are not uncommon, Ekman’s photographs do a splendid job of capturing the mysterious quality of the forest — that aspect of it which lends itself to uncertainty and wonder all at once.

Tall-Maja is one of the very first publications that captured my imagination in the realm of photobooks. It taught me that the poetic is not just stanza, assonance, consonance, meter and line, but rather it doesn’t have to do with words and their use at all — it is sequence and the ability to elucidate the half-seen, half-known, half-felt — it is the sense that what is evident is not all, but rather the doorway into a totality we know not."—Christopher J Johnson

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Tall-MajaBy Agneta EkmanJournal, 2013.
Tall-MajaBy Agneta EkmanJournal, 2013.

Christopher J Johnson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a resident writer for the Meow Wolf art collective and book reviewer for Garth Clark’s Cfile Foundation. His first book of poetry, &luckier, will be released by the University of Colorado in November 2016. He is, as of 2016, Manager of photo-eye’s Book Division.