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Book of the Week: In The Vicinity by Ed Panar

Book Of The Week In The Vicinity Photographs by Ed Panar Reviewed by Blake Andrews Ed Panar navigates a remote corner of Mendocino County, an area located within the Emerald Triangle, also known as the heart of California’s cannabis culture. We find ourselves in the midst of a secretive world where clandestine operations take place behind rambling fence lines, locked gates, and dusty dirt roads.
In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar 
Deadbeat Club, 2018.
In The Vicinity
Selected as Book of the Week by Blake Andrews.

In The Vicinity.
Photographs by Ed Panar.
Deadbeat Club, Los Angeles, USA, 2018. 84 pp., color illustrations, 9¼x9¼x6¾".

Viewing your childhood home through the lens of a fine art photographer is a bit like listening to your voice played back on a recorder. It's you, there's no denying it. But something feels off. You wonder, "Is that really how others perceive me?" This was my initial reaction to Ed Panar's recent monograph, In The Vicinity.

In The Vicinity is set in the Emerald Triangle near the border of Humboldt and Mendocino counties in Northern California. The 42-year-old Panar made several trips to the area from 2007 to 2017. Thirty years earlier, I had my own decade there. It's where I spent my formative years, from third grade through high school.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

The land of superlatives, the Emerald Triangle is home to the world's tallest trees and one of its most erosive rivers. Despite the California zip code, it feels more like a West Virginia hollow. The area is rural and rugged, with few flat spots, ever fewer towns, and not a lot happening for youth.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

Out of necessity idle exploration became my primary pastime. By my late teens I was familiar with just about every back ridge and dirt road around. Along the way I also learned which roads not to go down. For underlying every fact of the place was the clandestine crop which gives the area its nickname. The Emerald Triangle is the premier outdoor cannabis growing area in the United States.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

The mix of underground economy, beautiful scenery, and self-sufficient mythology has attracted a steady flow of photographers in recent years. Perhaps spurred by the dawning era of legalization, the pace seems to be picking up. The pseudonymous H. Lee, Curran Hatleberg, and Kenny Hurtado have all poked around behind the Redwood Curtain this millennium, and Richard Rothman's wonderful Redwood Saw was shot just a little ways up the coast in Crescent City.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

Into their midst, and seeing things in his inimitable, slightly askance way, came Ed Panar. If it was marijuana which first galvanized his interest in the area, his photographs dance around the fact. They're devoid of pot scenes, devoid of people even. Nor are there easily recognizable landmarks, buildings, or redwoods that might ground In The Vicinity too closely to the specific. Instead, Panar’s photos float in a haze of distant vistas, fence posts, tools, and totems—the visual fabric that backgrounds any rural locale.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.
"For this project I was interested in the clandestine nature of this world and tried to make photographs that would convey a sense of something just beyond the frame." —Ed Panar
He has succeeded. In The Vicinity has the dreamy, soothing quality that defines the area. To a Humboldt native, however, the effect is slightly unsettling. In Panar's hands, the Emerald Triangle comes across like that voice on the recorder, vaguely familiar, but distant.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

It's been over thirty years since I lived there, but the place hasn't changed all that much. Yet Panar's photos feel somehow alien. Where is Bear Butte? Garberville? Avenue of the Giants? The Sinkyone? Where is my Emerald Triangle?

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

A delicate balancing act between familiar and exotic has been Panar's calling card throughout his career. Golden Palms and Animals That Saw Me took a similar approach. Panar likes to root his photos in the everyday vernacular, while somehow embodying a universalized quality. Through careful sequencing and framing choices, he keeps the reader off balance as he gradually reveals how the place feels. A foggy field shown across a two-page spread is followed by photos of a wood carving, fruit branches, townscape, lettering, an ATV, clouds, a snake, capped by another two-page spread of a foggy field. The cycle continues, all paced masterfully.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.

If the interior photos are sly and mysterious, In The Vicinity becomes revelatory at the edges. The cover photos are so well matched that they appear at first to be a wrap-around image. The front cover shows quiet hills draped in fog. The back cover has a rainbow slicing down to the ISBN number. Inside this cover is a literal pot of gold: an inset pocket containing Flowers, a tiny 16-page booklet of resinous cannabis bud photographs. Holy smokes! The images are macroscopic and in your face, and about as close as a photo can come to being sticky and fragrant.

In The Vicinity. By Ed Panar. Deadbeat Club, 2018.
"The cannabis plant was not only the main event, but actually appeared to be the driving force behind it all, calling the shots and ultimately directing much of the activity and economy of the region." —Ed Panar
So pot was behind the book the whole time— literally. The Flowers booklet is a nice prize tucked in a small pouch, an effect mirrored by the book itself. In The Vicinity is a smallish publication, 84 pages of photos in a 6.5" x 9" volume, but it packs a punch. As the locals might say, it's K.G.B., potent, bomb. Choose your own adjective. Let's just say it'll tweak your reality.
 –Blake Andrews

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at