It was the press release that aroused my attention for this tome. It is the second title in Schilt’s new Magical Thinking series: “The Salton Sea in Calfornia is a lonely surreal place, especially when one is a foreigner. Nicholas Albrecht, an Italian artist, spent 10 months living in a motorhome by the Salton Sea documenting the small bizarre community, the empty landscape and his own isolation.”
I can’t really be sure why but I expected to be shown a desert-like scenery, vast empty spaces, some loners. Something of that kind. What I got to see was, well, a mix of very varied shots: a dead dog by the side of the road, a naked woman laying face-down on loamy ground, a bodybuilder posing in bathing trunks between trees, a maybe three to four year old girl on a plastic three wheeler, a lonely motel sign, an inscription that says “Save The Sea” (The Salton Sea happens to be the biggest lake in California) … and this picture here to which I felt instinctively drawn:
One of the reasons I warm to this shot (I’m guessing or, differently put, I’m interpreting the feelings that I notice when looking at it) is the combination of desert/single girl. On the one hand, this photo illustrates how lost we are on this planet; on the other hand, it illustrates exactly the opposite: that the young girl belongs to this earth as much as the bushes in the background. Photographs only provide a frame of reference, what we decide to see in them is entirely up to us.
I haven’t the foggiest idea what made Nicholas Albrecht entitle this work “One No One And One Hundred Thousand.” From Google I learned that this is the title of a novel, published in 1926 by the Italian writer Lugi Pirandello, that deals with the question of the true self. I’m not so sure whether the cover shot is an apt illustration of this topic.
“Deserts are strange spaces in Western culture. We don’t really know how to be in them,” writes John Marlovitz in his introduction. I do not think that I agree. I once spent three months in a town in the desert (in 29 Palms, California, where the people say that “this is not the end of the world but you can see it from here”) and my impression was that the people there knew just as well how to be in it as people in other places on this planet.
Nevertheless, living in the desert is definitely not for everybody although the small community that Nicholas Albrecht decided to portray doesn’t really look so terribly different from the rest of us.
The photographer offers no explanation as to why he chose to picture a young boy somewhere outside wearing just shorts or an attractive middle-aged lady sitting on a sofa in order “to document the experience of living in the Salton Sea” (well, maybe not in it), as the information on the back of the cover says. Moreover, I was somewhat astonished that Albrecht’s stay in the Salton Sea area resulted in hardly a pic of the sea itself.
I’m a bit at a loss as to what I should think of this book. Interestingly enough ‘though: the photographs are still with me, I can’t get them out of my head.
One No One and One Hundred Thousand
by Nicholas Albrecht
Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam 2014
To purchase the book: www.schiltpublishing.com
To see more of the book: www.nicholasalbrecht.com/onenooneandonehundredthousand