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Book Review: Two Blue Buckets

Book Review Two Blue Buckets Photographs by Peter Fraser. Text by Gerry Badger. Interview by David Campany. Reviewed by Adam Bell A revised and expanded "Director's Cut" of Peter Fraser's first book, with a new introduction by Gerry Badger and an interview by David Campany.
Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser.
Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

Two Blue Buckets.

Reviewed by Adam Bell.

Two Blue Buckets.
Photographs by Peter Fraser. Essay by Gerry Badger. Interview by David Campany. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017. 88 pp., 47 four-color illustrations. 11 x 11 inches.

The world is full of inconsequential stuff we can’t escape. When asked to look at the minutia of everyone’s daily life via Instagram and other social media platforms, we won’t and can’t stop. The refreshed flow is part of the appeal—a meal, a humorous sign, a pile of trash—it moves past only to be displaced, shunted downward in the stack. Yet, examined closely and for long enough, the factness of objects can threaten us in their abstraction, like a word that suddenly loses its shape and meaning. Photographers have long reveled in the medium’s ability to transform the mundane, but few excel at this task. The British photographer Peter Fraser’s work can be located in this storied tradition that stretches from Eggleston to Tillmans and beyond, but nevertheless remains distinct. Whereas some work can be bluntly factual, Fraser’s work is philosophically obtuse and melancholic in its investigative stare. Originally published in 1988, Fraser’s first book, Two Blue Buckets, has recently been reissued by Peperoni Books and gives us an opportunity not only to revisit the beginnings of Fraser’s long career, but also to reassess this prescient and singular book.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

At the time of its release in the late 80s, Two Blue Buckets was a bit of an outlier and perhaps remains so. Color had gained a small foothold within the cloistered spheres of art photography, but Fraser found a path forward that contrasted with his colleagues in Britain (Paul Graham, Martin Parr, and Peter Mitchell) that were also working in color, albeit in a more social documentary mode. It was after an extended visit with Eggleston in the 80s that Fraser embraced the enigmatic clarity of the master’s work as well as his approach to documenting the mundane. Equally important, he accepted color. While Eggleston is an obvious and admitted influence, Fraser quickly found his own position and stylistic approach. The range of this early investigation is on display in this volume.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

Described as a “Director’s Cut,” this new edition of Two Blue Buckets contains three of the four original bodies work—leaving out Towards an Absolute Zero (1986), a project still in progress at the time, but including 12-Day Journey (1984), The Valleys Project (1985) and Everyday Icons (1986)—and adding 19 new images. The texts by Rupert Martin and Maureen O. Paley are also replaced by a new introduction by Gerry Badger and an interview by David Campany. Both editions were designed by Alan Ward, who makes subtle references to the original, like the schematic of the titular buckets, printed on the 1988 edition’s cover, that reappears as a blind stamp on the back of the new edition. Other clues no doubt exist for the attentive observer. The first edition isn’t flawed like so many reprinted and revised books nor is it prohibitively expensive or unavailable, but this expanded and more focused edition gives clarity and depth to the work.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

Rather than presenting a single, cohesive body of work, Two Blue Buckets presents three separate but inter-related projects. In each, Fraser seems to be testing the limits and possibilities of his forthright but philosophically measured approach. Long before the art world embraced object-oriented ontology, Fraser’s images pointed not only to the singular lives of objects and things in the world but also to the necessity and enigmatic possibilities of a scrutinizing gaze. In the book’s most well-known image, part of Everyday Icons, two nearly identical blue buckets shot from above, upon closer examination, reveal themselves to be radically different. Floating on a field of dark linoleum, the buckets seem to be magnetically drawn to each other like charged particles: bound together, yet discrete and defiant. Likewise, in the book’s opening image, a disheveled stack of pale bricks sits in an expansive field of dirt. Individual bricks struggle to break free of the pink plastic tarp and the taut black band that holds them in place. Throughout the book, objects and things are presented impassively, at once familiar, yet also opaque.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

While Fraser holds his cards tight to the chest, clues about the various projects’ meanings peek through. In The Valleys Project, Fraser re-visited his native Wales for a commission and the work feels like a fraught homecoming. In one image, partially deflated balloons lounge on a drab red-brown carpet, and in another, the fogged and lushly illuminated interior of a parked car radiates a ghostly presence. Although full of metaphoric possibilities, the images defy simple reading and force us to return to the act of looking. Yet these are not impersonal or formal images. As Fraser notes in the interview, he is keenly aware of the “delicate interface between being psychologically engaged and intellectually curious about a ‘physical fact.’” Fraser exploits this tension throughout his work. There are also suggestions of the themes that would occupy Fraser for the coming years as his work shifted to examine the physical and metaphysical suggestions of science. From the molecular cluster of the blue buckets to the image of a frozen classroom clock surrounded by celestial notations and artwork, these interests reappear in projects such as Deep Blue (1997) and Material (2002), but also in recent bodies of work such as Mathematics (2017). The original edition of the book even faintly resembles an obscure quantum mechanics textbook with the repeated image of the buckets on the cover and the aforementioned schematics.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

In a genre long since bowdlerized and defanged, Fraser offers us images that are inscrutably transparent. If we’re always pointing at the stuff around us, there is little room to look. Never a simple act, it can be endlessly fertile terrain in the right hands.  —Adam Bell


ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including Afterimage, The Art Book Review, The Brooklyn Rail, fototazo, Foam Magazine, Lay Flat, photo-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. ( and

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