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Book of the Week: Selected by Meggan Gould

Book Review The Heart is a Sandwich Photographs by Jason Fulford Reviewed by Meggan Gould "Here in my house, we spend a lot of time projecting human language and emotions onto our dogs. Anthropomorphizing is a fixture of our relationship with these patient canines (see?), doomed to inhabit elaborately spun personae and affectations..."

The Heart is a SandwichBy Jason Fulford.
The Heart is a Sandwich
Photographs by Jason Fulford

MACK, 2023. 320 pp., 5¼x7¾".

If I am to be honest with myself, and you, I should admit that I often avoid reading short stories. Perhaps I commit too quickly to characters and plot lines and resent being ripped from them before a full novel’s engagement has passed; I suspect that short stories will break my heart by ending as soon as I am hooked. This is not a point of pride, rather an acknowledgment that I do a disservice to an entire genre of writing that does not deserve my reticence to shift gears. This is absurd, of course, and Jason Fulford’s newest book is here to remind me of the delight — and clout — that the short story’s episodic engagement can represent.

The Heart is a Sandwich is a collection of capricious photo-short-stories that operate loosely within different photographic ecosystems. A sun-drenched European urbanity and snippets of Italian language throughout ground us geographically in Italy. Several of the stories feel based in loose graphic coincidences, meandering observations that coalesce around a serendipity of found forms and vivid colors. I learn the Italian word for confetti, coriandoli, in the eponymous short story wherein the photographs are treated with casual, colorful joy, and tossed like confetti around the page. Other stories are more specific to a moment that transpired between the artist and adjacent human characters: the cobwebs and brooms inhabiting Guido’s Garage (the fourth story), a workshop with artists, leaning over a table piled with small prints, acting out the universal book-project-sequencing-posture (final story, entitled “Uno Spaghetto”).

As there was in Fulford’s This Equals That (Aperture, 2014), I feel an intense and direct pleasure in the act of looking, matched with a parallel pleasure in the act of finding within these photographs. There is a persistent, and delightful, suggestion of a photographic scavenger hunt. Fulford uses the exclusionary (and always square) frame with virtuosity, centering us in fragments — pointed fragments, often devoid of context. He plays with shifted perspective of both space and time, extending or enlarging moments with the distance of several elapsed paces or breaths. There is an insistence to Fulford’s looking that I relish, an insistence on the photographer as an embodied agent of vision. Subtle optical illusions abound: games of lining a horizon up with foreground architecture, games of spot-the-difference between multiple frames. Moments of superbly controlled — but somehow still casual-feeling — visual serendipity. I recognize that I teeter on the brink of overusing the word serendipity. Also: scavenger, which I even find printed in large letters on an index card, perched in the shadows on a radiator, on one of the final pages.

A few stories shift, instead, toward narrative arc, most direct in “Metamorfosi,” in which we see both dough and metal take form, via human hands, into the exact same enigmatic braided shape. Artisans labor with this singular form, metamorphosis is enacted on materials as they are rendered edible and decorative, respectively. The Italian bakery is rife with banter, the metal shop silent and focused. I am reminded that I may have seen this shape before, many stories back, in cooked bread iteration on the dashboard of a car. I flip back to confirm: indeed. It is a starfish-reminiscent twisted braid, four-armed, that I am sure must have a fancy Italian name. I turn to the internet and search for Borgia’s Braid (the title of the first story in which it appears); while I am reminded of the infamous Renaissance family by that name, I find nothing about a regional specialty of enriched bread. The mystery braid can remain happily twisted and unresolved, a prop to connect stories across space and time.

Fulford delivers a stream of bright, saturated, joyful refusals to allow a photograph — or a short story reliant on multiple photographs — to be predictably or conventionally legible. I find it to be a remarkable juxtaposition of straightforwardness with obfuscation. I even find that I can temper my aforementioned pushback against the brevity of short stories; the serendipitous scavenging, the delight and humor in vision, holds me within these stories, and within the larger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts whole.

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Meggan Gould is an artist living and working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, and Speos (Paris Photographic Institute), where she finally began her studies in photography. She received an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth. She recently wrote a book, Sorry, No Pictures, about her own relationship to photography.