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Yesterday: Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson

Book Review Yesterday Photographs by Sal Taylor Kydd Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson "I get a lot of kitsch. I also have a horror of nepotism. Nothing should be gotten through the who-you-know; that’s how culture declines, in my opinion. Why is this relevant? I get sent a lot of kitsch, but my mania doesn’t let me keep any of it — well, almost any of it..."
Photographs by Sal Taylor Kydd

Datz Press, South Korea, 2021. 56 pp.

I get a lot of kitsch. I also have a horror of nepotism. Nothing should be gotten through the who-you-know; that’s how culture declines, in my opinion. Why is this relevant? I get sent a lot of kitsch, but my mania doesn’t let me keep any of it — well, almost any of it.

When I first ordered a Sal Taylor Kydd book for the store about two years ago now, I had no idea who she was or what the work was like or how she had progressed as an artist. The first box of books I received from her had a postcard, not a print, a simple postcard of a work by her entitled, Lola in the Ferns. This was probably my 25th, 50th, or 100th postcard of the year baring an inscription to me on the back that says something like “thanks for stocking my book,” or “What a thrill to have my book in your store.” Such are the comments of these cards… Sal’s says something like that, but it’s not the words that have stuck with me — rather, it’s that singular image, Lola in the Ferns

“Lola” is a girl of about 7-12 years of age. I can no longer tell how old people are outside of a ballpark. They are simply older than me, younger than me, around my age and beyond that it’s half-decade blocks when I try to approximate an age… Her face is downcast, she parts her hair which is inextricably tangled with some fern leaves… I am not drawn to images of children, though many of my favorite photographers have been compelled to capture them, usually their own: Raymond Meeks, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Romualdas Rakauskas — to name a few solely within the vast regions of R… But, what I am drawn to in those images is that they seem to be situated somewhere between the daily and the realm of dream, resting in the subconscious as indistinguishable one from the another. Lola in the Ferns is just this, a work as applicable to the realm of dream as it is to the realm of memory, the one resting its hand in the other so that there are no boarders between what has been experienced in waking and what has been experienced in dream, either possibility is equally likely.

And this is what has stuck with me about Kydd’s work. It’s what I see evolving in her work. The line where what is and what has been imagined (dreamed, daydreamed, fevered-out) blend together, disintegrating even the idea of the primacy of one over the other.

So, typical of me, I have now gotten to the fifth paragraph and have yet to mention a book and this is, after all, a book review. Yesterday, Kydd’s most recent book, is a document of the lockdown. A book of isolation in a time-period dominated by isolation. There’s been so many of these and, in retrospect, the sense of isolation is — I think — what spoke to many of us from the pages of Meeks’ ciprian honey cathedral in 2020. Isolation is, in its very nature, dream-like; it is asphyxiate, homogeneous, spacious, but tightly enclosed… Isolation has a poverty of actors. All of this is contained in Yesterday, which chronicles Kydd’s time with — of all the possible cast members — Lola, of course. Lola sitting by herself. Lola looking through the window. Lola standing in the yard, viewing something far off and out of frame… perhaps staring through the tree-line at another isolated pair of eyes, staring back at her… And the images are spacious, inky, over-exposed, tightly framed and, at times, mysteriously Modern… as in the image entitled, Watching Pins or the one called Spaces.

What Kydd has successfully created here, to my mind, is a fixed point. A unchanging and timeless time. A time capsule, even, of the pandemic. But, not in its anxiousness and jarringness, this is not the pandemic of radio buttons and phone scroll throughs and fear… This is the pandemic of slow hours and uncertain waiting. The Pandemic of empty roads. The Pandemic of being startled to hear voices in the dark. The Pandemic of permissive travel notes, that we have printed and resting on the passenger seat, but never think we’ll be called on to use because to interact would be stranger than not to interact. It is the Pandemic of birds in surplus and Nature’s reclamation.

is an achievement. It shows us Kydd evolving in her book form. There is a master narrative here, though its something more like Walden than Death on the Installment Plan. The narrative ambles, rather than lurches; it whispers... It is a work of tranquility. A work of silences and deep, unhurried breaths. Yesterday is a set of dream-view goggles to transpose upon your waking eyes. It is, as the narrative itself suggests (you’ll just have to get your hands on one) a window.

Some collector specs: Yesterday is a Datz book, which means it was printed in Korea. It contains a signed and numbered print and an acetate dust jacket with a beautifully printed image as the front matter, as well as an embossed back cover. My own copy is # “review” of 200. That’s a joke. But a true, and beloved joke. But, this edition is in a print run of 200 total — minus those, like mine, review copies. Meaning if you can snag a copy, you should do so — right now, because tomorrow Yesterday will be gone.

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Christopher J Johnson is the recipient of The Mountains West Poetry Series first book publication prize (2016). He has written on photobooks since 2012, and has been a bookseller since 2008. He is currently manager of photo-eye Bookstore.