“Since the early 90s, when the artist began her formative collaborations with cutting-edge British magazine I-D, Sophie Delaporte has remained dedicated to the “play” in photography and fashion in its most straightforward definition, emphasizing freedom and theatricality. ”
Sous Les Etoiles Gallery
The publication of Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph marks the 40th anniversary of French literary theorist Roland Barthes’ renowned work Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire). It is arguably one of the most influential books about photography. Odette England invited more than 200 photography-based artists, writers, critics, curators, and historians from around the world to contribute an image or text that reflects on Barthes’ unpublished photograph of his mother at age five. This snapshot is known as the Winter Garden photograph. It is known as one of the most famous unseen photographs in the world. The book is also a tribute to Barthes’ late mother, Henriette. Barthes discusses the photo of his mother at length, and uses it for philosophic theory, in Camera Lucida, but never reproduces it.
‘Keeper of the Hearth’ features hundreds of images and texts, supported by three essays. Each contributor could submit text or a photograph made specifically in response to the theme, from their archive, or even a found image in whichever format they chose. While paging through the book, I am struck by the range of submitted images. We are presented with literal and allegoric images to reflect the theme, all in a variety of photographic mediums. Some artists’ image response is based from the perspective of Barthes, some are from Henriette’s. Some poignantly, lovingly, and achingly evoke a sense of loss, or explore related themes of memory and family.
The mystery of who Barthes’ mother is, or what the Winter Garden photograph looks like is deepened and multiple layers of meaning are unearthed from the contributor’s mix of invented memories and semi-fictional events. Even without knowing the full background to Barthes’ passages in Camera Lucida, entirely new layers of meaning are applied when viewing the book with the text from the essayists and contributors in mind. This is echoed in the following excerpt from Charlotte Cotton’s foreword:
“What strikes me most about the collective response that is contained within Keeper of the Hearth is the enduring capacity of Barthes’ writing to be a creative springboard for many”.
Odette England shares an especially important and strong thematic tie in her preface – Henriette is the French feminine form of Henry; which translates as the female keeper of the hearth. Knowing the source for the title of the book also reinforces the theme of the invisible guiding hand of Barthes’ mother. The maternal idea could imply a sense of safety, warmth, or a central source of familial balance. With such strong touchstones, the ideas of birth, origin, death – and arguably just as important, life – form a philosophical assertion of sense of purpose and existence. Viewed through this lens, I sat transfixed in a spell while examining hundreds of images with this interpretation in mind. A warm, reassuring undertow is created with this theme flowing across all the related images.
Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph
By Odette England, Design by Cara Buzzell
24 x 28.5 cm
Hardback, 320 pages with approx. 200 photos
Published by Schilt Publishing, 2020
Odette England is an Australia/British artist, writer, and curator. Her work has shown in more than 90 solo, two-person and group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, and Asia. Keeper of the Hearth is England’s first edited volume. She lives and works in Rhode Island and New York.
Essayists include Douglas Nickel, Andrea V. Rosenthal Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University; Lucy Gallun, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, the Museum of Modern Art; and Phillip Prodger, Senior Research Scholar, Yale Center for British Art. Foreword by Charlotte Cotton, independent curator and writer.
Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis, have experienced profound change in less than a century as they transitioned from living in traditional mud buildings to commencing work on the world’s tallest skyscraper. Kingdom of Sand and Cement by Peter Bogaczewicz explores the challenges Saudi Arabia faces today as it rapidly transforms from a conservative and tribal desert culture to an influential world power.
Examining this legacy through beautiful large-format color photographs, Bogaczewicz documents a country and a society in the midst of an unprecedented change; and the clash of its traditional and modern values reveals a society precariously balancing at a crossroads of old and new. His images of the contemporary landscape are contrasted against Saudi traditional buildings, homes, and culture. Bogaczewicz examines the traces of an ancient culture right up to the point of intersection between the built and the natural environment. He presents the question: does this rapid and often careless pace of change run the chance to lose a sense of cultural identity – and a lasting and damaging consequence to the environment?
Concrete is an amazingly versatile and useful material. It’s very easy to work with. It’s cheap. The ancient Mayans used a form of it for roads. The Romans really perfected it and used it to build important structures like the concrete roof of the Pantheon in Rome. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, the world largely forgot about using concrete as a building material for over a thousand years. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st Century – and the exponential growth of the developed world is critically dependent on concrete and sand. It’s everywhere. No matter what kind of building or office or room you’re sitting in, some part of it is probably made out of concrete. Just like every shopping mall, every apartment building, every office tower and every window, everywhere in the world, from Syracuse to Saudi Arabia, is made out of concrete and sand. The process of extracting millions of tons of sand from the bottom of a lake or the bottom of a river (it turns out you can’t practically use just any sand for strong building materials), in turn creates tremendous environmental damage. Sources of drinking water are disrupted or ruined, ecological systems are spoiled for endangered animals and plants. Cultural changes can be irreversibly damaging as well.
This brings me back to Bogaczewicz’s question – certainly lives are being disrupted or ruined by losses of both natural resources and cultural sources. He captures evocative images of children and families eating and stitting next to an ancient city wall, camel trails switchback across a steep hillside, ancient islamic buildings crumble before our eyes – and structures of glass, concrete and steel rise high above their humble earthen origins. We see the roads carved into, or completely through, previously untouched landscapes. He also shows us images of people living in traditional ways, as well as modern ways: Burqas and bicycles, mosques and motorbikes, a family enjoying their midday meal, sitting on rugs spread out in the shade of a concrete overpass. The current era of globalization has a homogenizing influence on local cultures, which in turn can lead to loss of identity, exclusion and even conflict. Bogaczewicz’s insightful work explores and ultimately highlights the impact made in Saudi Arabia when people don’t fully consider placing culture and the environment at the heart of development.
Kingdom of Sand and Cement by Peter Bogaczewicz
Cloth Bound Hardcover
10 x 9 | 144 pp
58 color photographs
Published by Daylight Books
Jumper is a poignant, transcendent story in an unassuming setting. Athletes train and aspire to the level of olympic champions. They work for years outside the limelight to hone their craft, strap on skis, helmets, and aerodynamic suits to hurl themselves down a ramp at speeds up to 65 mph and jump as far as humanly possible across the sky, attain flight over the Midwestern landscape, and safely land hundreds of yards downhill. The Midwest is the birthplace of American ski jumping – ski jumps in states like Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota give rise to champions who compete on the global stage. In his photographs, Cooper Dodds, a former ski jumper himself, captures vignettes of these aspiring champions and the places where their dreams are crafted in his heartfelt, honest visual narrative of the sport.
Many people have been re-discovering old favorites lately – TV shows from their youth, movies from their halcyon days. The 1979 film Breaking Away is one of my all-time favorites. It’s the story of a young man coming of age in Bloomington, Indiana – home to Indiana University. The main character, Dave, is a local kid who wants to be on a team of champion Italian cyclists; high-performance athletes, winners – ultimately, greater than his humble upbringing. Dave and his four friends just graduated high school, and they mess around for one final summer – hanging out, wasting time, swimming in the abandoned quarries where their fathers had worked – before facing their life-defining choices after high school. Dave decides to emulate his cycling heroes. He dreams of being on the elite racing team, and by proxy he dreams of being Italian. He apes Italian phrases, sings Italian opera, eats Italian food, and re-names the dog ‘Fellini’. Dave exhibits full machismo and even dares to race a semi-truck on his bicycle at highway speeds. He ultimately has the chance to prove himself in the film in a climactic sporting event. Like all great sports movies, that event is not about itself, but about what’s at stake for the competitors.
Dodds captures scenes of jumpers in flight: their form silhouetted against sky and snow, as well as training on the ground. Dodds captures the hyper-focused look of concentration of a jumper preparing to jump. The unpretentious bar or tavern with warm glowing neon lights in the cold night, complete with the ephemera of the sport found either in large photographs adorning the walls, or the naively painted ski jump landscape above a urinal. We see athletes posed for portraits in their high-tech gear, holding their skis which tower over their heads, a Midwestern field and tree line (or mobile trailer) as a backdrop. Some skiers proudly display bruises and signs of the physicality and inherent danger of the sport. These athletes who hurl themselves across the sky are resilient, but not invincible. The athletes we see in Jumper want to feel the exhilarating rush, strive to push their limits, fly through icy crosswinds toward their landing zone. Launch, fly, land, repeat. The abandoned quarries where the friends in Breaking Away go to escape and swim set a similar stage: they flirt with danger, push limits and suggest the constant possibility of sudden tragedy. We wait for a terrible accident to happen, but none does, but the looming chance makes all of these characters seem curiously vulnerable, and their lives more precious.
Ski jumping is described by Peter Geye, a contributor to the book, as something devout and as close to a religion as he will ever know. Dodds, Geye, and fellow contributor Chris Lamb (a former USA Ski Jumping team member) all make impassioned comments on the subject of ski jumping, and an analogy to it as a type of faith. The three men tell a thoughtful story as insiders to the sport. They note it’s intersection with the crossroads of their youth, and the way it shaped them. Dodds’ insightful images, and their words, give us a look into the high-performance world of these athletes, their dreams, and their years of hard work. Hubris displayed, vulnerability revealed, endeavoring together – enlightenment achieved.
Jumper: Flying in the Heartland
Photographs by Cooper Dodds
Contributions by Peter Geye and Chris Lamb
122 pages; 45 Color Photographs
10 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches
Published by Daylight Books
JUROR: KRIS GRAVES
View online: http://pcnw.org/23rd-juried-photography-exhibition/
Lisa Ahlberg (Seattle, WA), Jake Alexander (Seattle, WA), Brian Allen (Seattle, WA), Ken Allison (Seattle, WA), Hannah Altman (Richmond, VA), Anastasia Babenko (Seattle, WA), Peter Baker (Los Angeles, CA), David Bartlett (Farmington, MI), Sheri Lynn Behr (New York, NY), Claude Beller (New York, NY), Quinn Russell Brown (Seattle, WA), Michael Cardinali (Swampscott, MA), Clinton Chambers (Los Angeles, CA), Nelson Chan (Oakland, CA), Laurent Chevalier (Brooklyn, NY), Mark Coggins (San Francisco, CA), Barbara Diener (Chicago, IL), Jesse Egner (Brooklyn, NY), Suzanne Engelberg (Tiburon, CA), Gregg Evans (Brooklyn, NY), Jon Feinstein (Seattle, WA), Cheryl L. Guerrero (San Francisco, CA), Keavy Handley-Byrne (Brooklyn, NY), Charlotta Hauksdottir (Palo Alto, CA), Jon Henry (Brooklyn, NY), Michael Hicks + Courtney Asztalos (Syracuse, NY), Tzu Hung (John) Huang (Seattle, WA), Mercedes Jelinek (Brooklyn, NY), Richard Kent (Lancaster, PA), Brian Lau (Issaquah, WA), Jessica Rycheal Lester (Seattle, WA), Nancy Libson (Washington, DC), Joshua Littlefield (Baltimore, MD), Walter O’Brien (Eugene, OR), Alana Perino (Oakland, CA), Jody Poorwill (Tacoma, WA), John-David Richardson (Bellevue, KY), Lynn Saville (New York, NY), Aline Smithson (Los Angeles, CA), Judith Stenneken (New York, NY), Barbara Strigel (Vancouver, Canada), Kiliii Yuyan (Seattle, WA), Sam Zalutsky (New York, NY), Jennifer Zwick (Seattle, WA)
Reframing the Passport Photo uses the passport as a lens through which to view contemporary issues associated with the globalized world: migration, nationalism, access, belonging, and personhood. Showing four artists whose work references the passport photo—Martina Bacigalupo, Tomoko Sawada, Stephanie Syjuco, and Sheng Qi—the exhibition explores the premises that underlie modern identification practices, exposing the growing gaps between personal identity and state-sanctioned identification. Together, the works shed light on the assumptions embedded within the international passport system and the social stratifications they perpetuate.
Curated by Hannah Morse
Caress is one in a series of books published in a Triptych Series by Yoffy Press. Three photographers, Elinor Carucci, David Hilliard, and Mickalene Thomas, contribute work that supports the common theme. Caress explores intimacy, emotion and connection between people as subjects, as well as the photographer and subjects. The theme is addressed in each volume, both in a compounding way with the relationship from one image building upon another as a whole in the volume, and the singular sense of one image or set of images playing off each other from page to page. The variance of the artists approaches lends to the strength of the triptych series. Each photographer explores the theme through their work in a variety of ways. As with the other books in this ongoing triptych series, I’m drawn to find the common thread amongst the work chosen by each artist.
It feels reassuring to see work focusing on the power, strength and attraction of human touch. In April of 2020, ‘social distancing’ is presented as one of our greatest weapons against the coronavirus pandemic. While the science of this tactic is sound, the approach feels counterintuitive on an instinctual level. We are taught to reach out to those in need, we are compelled to embrace loved ones who are hurt, we draw our loved ones closer whether it is out of a sense of nurturing, or out of desire. There is a palpable sense of worry, or even fear, surrounding the transmission of a disease that relies on person to person interaction. A caress is an aspiration in this moment, which makes the theme much stronger and pertinent now than when the triptych was first envisioned.
Carucci’s work has primarily centered on or around her personal experiences and relationships. Notably she has two major series of works centered around herself and her relationship with her husband, and she most recently received wide acclaim for her project and resulting book, Midlife. Universal experiences are shown through her personal experiences throughout her body of work.
Carucci’s series features a mother, and child who suffers from an acute illness (we aren’t told what). In many of her portraits of the child, he appears vacant and unresponsive to the touch and kisses given by his mother. Only the last few images show both mother and child with happy expressions. Are these images an equivalent of an emergence from illness? Relief? Or a metaphor for the tireless years of caring for a child? The strength of Carucci’s volume is that it presents more questions than definitive answers. It lead me to relate in equivalents of my own experience as a parent. Like a kiss on the top of a child’s head, or their temple, so you can smell their hair, or placing a nurturing hand to cradle the side of their cheek, their ear, the base of the neck with the entirety of their head fitting your palm – when caring for a sick child, sometimes the best thing you can do is hold them in comfort.
Hilliard pairs people in scenes where we see, or feel, the connecting thread between them. Some connections in his work are immediate, some couples make direct eye contact, occupy the same intimate space, or hurl an emotional glance like a line drive hit. His images also carry a sense of desire – from subtle to intense. Hilliard also includes a poem by C.P. Cavafy titled Come Back, which speaks to the memory of a lover’s touch, and how the thought of it is enough to elicit Want.
The scenes included in Hilliard’s volume are those of an outside observer, His work is known to explore themes of identity, tensions, fears, and often conflicting emotions about his sexuality. Hilliard’s works are known for their staging and his use of multiple panels to present the final images of his carefully constructed scenes that illustrate an emotional distance for the viewer. But this was not my experience when viewing his work in Caress. The small scale of the book has much to do with eliminating the emotional distance a large scale work can produce, and the multiple panels of some pieces were effectively reworked into vignettes, which strengthened his sense of intimacy with his subjects. Hilliard is the photographer capturing the scene, and yet I feel his images evoke a sense of immediacy and intimacy that evokes the feeling of firsthand voyeurism.
The images Mickalene Thomas presents in her volume, not surprisingly, visually reference her richly constructed works and complex photographs of black women depicted in portraits, interiors and landscapes which examine themes of identity, gender, sexuality and power. Her work especially concentrates on issues surrounding the ways black women are represented in art and pop culture.
Her series of images include a black woman photographed in a few settings: sitting on a sofa, on a bed, and standing in a room – but the figure has been cut out and isolated from the original photograph. The remaining parts of the image that don’t include the figure are also included in the series. A paneled wall, swatches of color or fabric pattern, flowers cut out of a garden photo, and even the block-color darkness of an interior space show the outline to indicate the absence of the figure.
Thomas explores the idea of a visual and tactile sense of caress through her series. The visual caress of the viewer, whether it is male or female, caucasian or person of color, is directed at the woman whose blouse or dress reveals bare breasts, and the woman makes direct eye contact with the camera in all but two of her photos (the woman is looking at herself in a hand mirror in one of the two). The weight of her gaze is palpable. Thomas makes the choice to subvert the male gaze in her empowered portraits. Her images both reference and smartly riff on classic works – variations of Titan’s Venus of Urbino… 486 years strong and still going.
The work in Thomas’ volume feels like it does not deny the process by which it was made. Thus a very direct and tactile aspect of the theme arose in imagining the sensation of physically constructing the series. I know how it feels to cut a photograph, to trace the shape of a figure, to separate it from the different parts of the original image, and then explore how to assemble and construct the final result. It is a very personal action, and Thomas adds layers of complexity with the chosen subject matter.
Artists: Elinor Carucci, David Hilliard, Mickalene Thomas
Softcover, set of three books
8.75 x 6 inches, each book is approximately 40 pages
Edition of 250
Published by Yoffy Press. Released in December, 2019
Federico Aimar is the featured photographer in the April/May 2020 issue. He is primarily a landscape photographer based in Italy. At the time this issue publishes, the people of the world are engaged in a fight against the global pandemic of COVID-19. At the time this interview is being written, over 600,000 confirmed cases and over 30,000 deaths have occurred thus far. The courses of lives are forever being changed and normalcy is redefined each day.
During one of his landscape explorations, Aimar discovered a cache of historical negatives. The negatives date back to the early 1900s; a time when the world was also in the grips of the global pandemic of the Spanish Flu. For me, this unexpected connection made the work even more pertinent. Like some string theory relationship, images of places and people that overlap in time and context become remarkable in their connectedness.
The placid, contemplative nature of Aimar’s work is in stark contrast to the chaotic mess of news that is streaming 24 hours a day. I was drawn to that sense of contemplation and reflection, as it mirrors what many people around the world are experiencing each day as they try to isolate themselves from the virus, and the turmoil. We see majestic mountainscapes, rolling hills, structures, and some of the residents who still call those mountains their home. There is a palpable sense of connection to the places Aimar has captured, and the people who he encountered. Fortunately, we had a chance to exchange questions and ideas about his work this month.
Cary Benbow (CB): There are so many ways to express oneself in a 21st-century world — What makes photography your choice of expression?
Federico Aimar (FA): I was very introverted during high school, and photography helped me express feelings I could not convey in words. The act of research also helped get me out of my shell, and fundamentally helped others to understand me. It may seem like nothing important, but choosing to follow a more artistic study and moving away from canonical classical studies gave me a breath of fresh air. I believe to live a good life, it is essential that everyone finds their own “voice”.
My first experience with photography was finding old darkroom prints made by my dad when he was a student. I was excited by the dichotomy between the person he is today, and what became known about him through his old images. I think this also pushed me to explore photography; this path that seems so real but always leaves you with a halo of doubt.
CB: Let’s talk about the ideas behind your portfolio images featured in this issue.
FA: The idea behind the project dates back to my last year of my photography studies. After a long time away from home I felt the need to rediscover my landscape. I became convinced that through the landscape you can better understand the people who lived it. Their signs left behind are emblematic.
So from 2012 until 2018; I started creating a large and very fluid body of images. The work widely ranges from my current idea of photography, and very different from work now in progress. But as I say: we change every day, and our photography changes with us.
CB: Since you live and work in Italy, has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you view these images, or has it changed the way you think about photography and creating work in the future?
FA: This sad and new situation has driven me to a lot of reasoning. It hasn’t changed the way I see these specific photographs, but a new thought was born in me: we often run all day, every day for work and commitments. Enough time passes to prevent our needs as individuals. And now, here we are: closed in our homes and our individual needs are affected in the same ways, and in different ways.
I began to think a lot about the value of time, about our individuality, even about escape (in a metaphorical sense) and I would like to work closely on those themes. It will be a very different approach than the work on the mountains; allowing me a freedom of operation and spirit that will be a necessity for everyone when this sad story is over.
CB: How did your work photographing the mountain landscapes turn into a book/project idea?
FA: The idea of creating a book with my landscape work and some accompanying text already existed. While I was wandering in the mountains I found an old uninhabited house like the ones I was photographing. I found glass negatives inside dating back to the early 1900s. It was almost as if destiny was bringing together the modern and the ancient. My initial idea was to produce a photo that would capture what I saw, and text to talk about the way I saw it. But the discovery of the old negatives inspired me to find a solution to present both my work and the photos from this archaic and unknown photographer. I created dialogue between the sets of photos, but across two volumes. One volume is mine, and the other features the photographs of the unknown photographer.
I started scanning around a thousand negatives that gave rise to all the stories from that distant time. Thus a dialogue was born. Some of our photographs were exactly reflected: close in space, yet far away in time. This is how the first draft entitled “Between Dust and Sun” was born. You can retrace the landscapes in the first volume through the life of a child who appears in many photos, and you can follow his growth over time. I created some fiction around it; a little novel to create a narrative that evokes some feelings. In the old photos the landscape serves more as a background, but that’s very importance because it is the link with my photographs, where there are many fewer people but the space remains nearly unchanged.
CB: Do you have samples of the text that will publish with your photographs?
FA: Here is a sample:
“You have to look back to understand how, how much, and until you’ve loved.”
“Tra la polvere e il sole/Non bisogna avere paura” is an exploration of the mountain over time. in which I felt it necessary to explores the consequences of the area’s depopulation and the lives of those who still remain there.
Beginning with the houses that collapse as metaphors of memories that slowly fade over time, I photographed the ruins scattered in the mountain landscape; small bastions that still resist, as if the effort spent building them was glue against inexorable time. I collected small objects hidden in the ruins during this journey; modern archaeological finds that tell of the past life on the peaks.
“A sense of romantic nostalgia, of freedom, listening to the precious silence and the whispering voices of those times, when we were different men, accompanied me throughout this journey. And they will stay with me forever.”
CB: Do you often photograph alone, or do you find guides for the areas?
FA: Usually when I photograph, I’m alone because I feel the need to have no distractions around. It’s an almost intimate moment, where time dilates. The mere thought of knowing there is someone waiting on me while I’m shooting would make me nervous.
But a meeting up with a person while shooting in the past fundamentally formed my emotional base to face certain situations. During a heavy storm an old man hosted me in his humble home and said, “You know, don’t be afraid…if you’re afraid, then you don’t dare”. It became the main reason for all my following work, I tried to drive away the fear of both venturing alone and the possibility of failure. If that man hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have continued when failures happened, and also facing the early criticisms of those photographs.
CB: Who are the people that appear in your photographs? Are they more significant in your work than just being a figure in the landscape?
FA: They are absolutely more than just figures. Besides being guardians of that world, they are also the ones who helped me to find information, know paths, or hosted me when I was caught by very frightening storms in the mountains.
The most beautiful thing is to discover a very sweet soul under this tough outer appearance. Being able to photograph them was not easy, but it was also a way for me to grow by facing a stranger in his intimate surroundings. At this point in my life, I am still learning, and they helped me.
CB: You’ve listed some photo influences of yours to include Luigi Ghirri, Guido Guidi and Alec Soth. Do these photographers have qualities that you admire? What are those qualities?
FA: At the end of my studies, which is practically the very beginning of this work, Luigi Ghirri, Guido Guidi and Alec Soth were the great masters to whom I aspired. Their influence was very strong. Today I feel I can say too strong but I am happy to have followed that path.
I admire the sweetness with which Luigi Ghirri looked at things. And I find spectacular the daring shots that Guido Guidi gives with his photographs, while using an 8×10 camera. I admire Alec Soth’s great perseverance and reflexivity in dealing with things, qualities that I feel very much evident from his Sleeping by the Mississippi.
CB: You speak about landscapes and you mention on your website that “the most spectacular element is the placidity of light”. This strongly reminds me of the philosophy of Luigi Ghirri. Time, light, the art of seeing something… Does this inform your creative process?
FA: When I go out with friends, go on holiday or move around for work, it’s often the case that I’m taking pictures of something and who’s with me asks “What are you photographing?” or “Why are you photographing it?”. I photograph those things that are part of our life even if we don’t realize it, because we take them for granted.
The biggest mistake we can make is taking something for granted. It’s certainly a Ghirri approach and yet I don’t define myself as influenced in the true sense of the word: I’m really excited at the sight of certain “banalities” especially when they create a wonderful union with light. I’m particularly expanding on this photographic approach recently.
CB: If you keep a journal, do you keep notes or write about the places and people you see? If so, would you share a meaningful entry?
FA: I keep a lot of notes but I’m a messy person; I have two diaries and at the same time I use phone applications to write down my thoughts. I don’t filter much, I really write down everything!
To share a thought now, I would talk about the idea of closeness with a very simple phrase I wrote in 2015: “It’s nice, during a rainy day, to be two (people) and have only one umbrella”.
For now, we have to stand at a distance for everyone’s safety, but the best thing of all is to be close to the people and places we love.
Noah Kalina’s sculpted bedding photos are a combination of obvious, albeit clever staging and the lucky happenstance combinations of pattern, texture, lighting, and sculptural gravitas. His witty placement of lights, mirrors, camera placement and bedding remind me of Christo’s wrapped Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, or the covered Reichstag in Berlin, or any of his draped landscapes: we are presented with something so very common or accepted to the point of dismissal, but after the artist styles the scene we are surprised at how fresh and completely new our perspective allows the object or setting to transcend the banal and become extraordinary.
A lovely aspect of the artful image placement and pacing in the layout of the book is the ability of the reader to view one of his bedmounds, take in the setting of the scene, then when the page is turned – we are transported to another scene and mound in almost the exact placement as the page before. This allows the strength of repetition in this project to really come across. This déjá-vu aspect of presenting multiple bedmounds gave me a satisfied smile of appreciation of Noah presenting variations of the same subject each time in a different room, different bed, different town, different time of day. There will be no grand reveal or shocking surprise on the following pages; yet I found myself eagerly paging through the book like a child who asks someone to show them a captivating magic trick over and over.
We see a variety of settings in Noah’s scenes. He presents spartan rooms with very little adornment, rustic settings with exposed ceiling beams, the stereotypical hotel rooms in anytown USA, luxurious digs, or a small room with a metal frame bunk bed (complete with upper and lower bedmounds). Each of these rooms contained a bedmound that Noah created. There is something about these scenes that I couldn’t put my finger on. Something akin to the driven behavior of Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – he is driven to make and remake the form, shape and texture of the Devils’s Tower monument after his contact with extraterrestrials. Something unexplained is directing him to form this shape. Dreyfuss’s character is not sure exactly why, but he is still driven to do this repeatedly. Kalina is aware of his intention, yet that fabulous tension of repeated exploration and experimentation is also present in his creations.
I state my enjoyment and appreciation of this book; I don’t often do it so directly. But I stared for a good 10 minutes at one of Noah’s images. A striped quilt bedmound sits on a modest bed in a darkened room with light-colored wood panelling. There is a hint of stained wood café shutters at the left edge of the frame, an antique pendulum wall clock at the right edge. On the back wall of the room we see a framed painting, or lithographic print, or painting (it doesn’t matter) of young woman holding an infant. The woman’s long, exaggerated neckline goes from the base of her head into her bare shoulders and back in a long, slim S-shape. Once I noticed that the bedmound echoes the same curves as the artwork on the wall, the shapes in the fabric transform into the equivalent of a nurturing embrace. Kalina’s Pietå in cotton.
by Noah Kalina
Essay by Zach Vitale
Hardcover, 7.625 x 10.25 inches
Edition of 500
Published by Yoffy Press – http://www.yoffypress.com
Noah Kalina is a photographer and filmmaker. His client list includes Google, Gucci, and Disney, and his photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Le Monde. His two-decade project, Everyday, was parodied on “The Simpsons.” He lives in upstate New York with a rooster named Marcel. In his free time, he makes bedmounds.
El Dorado Freddy’s: Chain Restaurants in Poems and Photographs, as a title, only scratches at the surface of the treasures within. It is described as a literary yet goofy book about American food and identity, and tackles such weighty subjects as Olive Garden, Applebee’s, and the conundrum of Pizza Hut cheese. Poet Danny Caine crafts the poems in the book, which started out initially as restaurant review poems, which in turn found a following via Twitter and independent poetry publishers.
The photographer in the author duo, Tara Wray, has notably worked on the acclaimed project: Too Tired for Sunshine which “documented the beauty, darkness, and absurdity of everyday life, as seen through the lens of my own struggles with depression”. Wray received an overwhelming wave of support and she has used her platform to help people with depression by offering a place for collective creative expression. She also hopes to reduce the stigma of mental illness and open a dialogue about depression and art with her site, Too Tired Project, and the Instagram account Too Tired Project. By way of connection through one of the aforementioned independent publishers, Wray contacted Caine initially to ask if the two could “hit as many chains as possible” and make a fast food project together – photos and verse.
The result is El Dorado Freddy’s: a poetry and photography book that tackles themes in prose like the enduring love of a young married couple, the trials and stress of the pending birth of their first child – and the enduring love of chicken nuggets while driving from one destination to another. Or the codependent actions of wolfing down a burger at Freddy’s in El Dorado, Kansas while your partner sleeps. Then, play some great Tom Petty songs on the radio; hoping they don’t get angry before getting home. It’s that good.
My own disdain for the swamp of fast food restaurants in the midwest is balanced my my long-lost adolescent craving for White Castle hamburgers. You shouldn’t have to explain these things, so perhaps it is best done through poetry and poetic images. The intangible is made real in ink and paper – who can argue with the best description of a dinner outing and relationship served together as in Caine’s Olive Garden:
Nights that felt unlimited like salad n’ breadsticks:
mom’s car, a cashed bag boy paycheck, another exit,
another country. Parking lot Italy, no passport needed,
just a flashing buzzer. This was all we knew of fancy.
We just couldn’t swing that many dates where dinner
cost more than ten bucks each. I see them winking
when they discuss this place, even when they try
to be kind. Okay, fine, they say. The salad is actually good.
Of course the salad is good, it’s America’s national dish.
I don’t have time for their winks because if I don’t
leave now, the line will be too long when I get there.
Good thing the pasta, like the salad, like us, never ends.
Caine’s work has a tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek appeal that is sly enough to fool the people who believe Popeye’s chicken could be considered healthy, and funny enough to make the rest of us laugh, or groan, to ourselves. Wray’s images in El Dorado Freddy’s are understated in their Steven Shore-esque ability to capture the essence of a meal when we’d rather not admit to, but cannot stop from embracing. A plate of hash browns, eggs and toast at the Waffle House in Bonner Springs is either the best thing ever, and/or the grossest display of “truck stop food” you’ve ever seen. It’s complicated.
El Dorado Freddy’s: Chain Restaurants in Poems and Photographs
By Danny Caine and Tara Wray, © 2020
6in x 9in, 122 pages
Danny Caine is the author of Continental Breakfast (Mason Jar Press, 2019), Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah (Etchings Press, 2017), and How to Resist Amazon and Why (Microcosm Publishing, 2019). His poetry has appeared in DIAGRAM, Hobart, Barrelhouse, and Mid-American Review. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he owns Raven Book Store.
Tara Wray is a photographer based in Vermont and the author of Too Tired for Sunshine (Yoffy Press 2018). Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, Vice, BURN Magazine, and the Huffington Post, and on National Public Radio. She has also directed two feature-length documentaries: Manhattan, Kansas and Cartoon College.
El Dorado Freddy’s: Chain Restaurants in Poems and Photographs is published by Belt Publishing. Copies are available through their website.