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Book Review: Element by Yoffy Press

Element is the 5th in Yoffy Press’ Triptych series – a project where three artists collaborate to each create a book under the same theme and title. The books are sold as a set. Element features Matthew Brandt, Chris McCaw and Meghann Riepenhoff and has an essay printed across the back covers by Jon Mooallem. Allowing natural elements to inform and influence the image, these artists move beyond the camera to explore the relationship between the image and the environment.

The works in Element pluck a string in my photographic memory that rings with nostalgia and yearning for the days of experimentation in a darkroom, playing with Polaroid cameras or pinhole photographs, and simply enjoying how the world gets recorded on photo emulsion. The results transcend mere experimentation, and evoke a sense of painting or printmaking with saturated hues spread over the surface, or satellite images printed as cyanotypes, or with intense dyes on cloth or canvas. When I consider these images are all photographic processes, and I imagine the process each artist took to create them, I enjoy them even more.

In previous Triptych series books from Yoffy Press, I’ve broken down each artist’s contributions and related them to the whole. With Element, I wish to simply address the entirety of the series. There is a sense of playfulness and enjoyment with making images which is apparent. The books fit seamlessly together in this spirit. Unfortunately at the time of this review, I’ve not had the chance to interact directly with the books; to see the way the images are printed, feel the cover or the internal pages. I’ve always enjoyed the way Yoffy Press works with designers and printers to create wonderful objects. Nonetheless, I am familiar with work from all three of these artists, having seen it in other books by Yoffy Press, or other publications or projects, and I was delighted to see how they contributed to this project.

Often, forewords or essays included with photo books are the first thing I read. I enjoy finding out how a writer choses to add to the work within, or take a tangent in prose to reveal hidden aspects of the work, or provide insight which comes from their relationship to the artist or the work. But the essay by Jon Mooallem on the back cover came off largely self-serving in light of the strong work contributed by Brandt, McCaw and Riepenhoff. 

It’s been said Alexander Calder truly enjoyed playing with his art well into his late career. With a twinkle in his eye, he would set up his wire circus actors on a tabletop and play music for the scene which unfolded. Miniature monkees would explore the space around the circus ring, and tiny trapeze artists balanced on a wire. He would lose himself in child-like wonder in these little performances, reinforcing the idea that his scriptures were created to be touched, moved and played with. They were active elements in the artistic process – not kept behind glass or beyond a velvet rope. Element has much of that same spirit: take some basic materials, play, experiment and have fun. In the end, the results are transformative.

© Meghann Riepenhoff – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Meghann Riepenhoff – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Meghann Riepenhoff – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Meghann Riepenhoff – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Matthew Brandt – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Matthew Brandt – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Matthew Brandt – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Matthew Brandt – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Chris McCaw – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Chris McCaw – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Chris McCaw – from Element, Yoffy Press


© Chris McCaw – from Element, Yoffy Press


Softcover, set of three books
Essay by Jon Mooallem
8.75 x 6 inches, each book is approximately 40 pages
Edition of 250
Published by Yoffy Press

About Matthew Brandt

Matthew Brandt received his BFA from Cooper Union and MFA from UCLA. Brandt has been the subject of institutional solo shows at the Newark Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah. Recent group exhibitions include works in New Territory: Landscape Photography Today at the Denver Art Museum,The Magic Medium at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Second Chances at the Aspen Art Museum; What is a Photograph? at the International Center of Photography, New York; and Land Marks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In 2014 a monograph devoted to Brandt’s work was published by Damiani. Matthew Brandt lives and works in Los Angeles.


About Chris McCaw

Chris McCaw’s artistic practice is firmly rooted in the history of photography while pushing the medium in new directions. His experimental process recalls the work of photography pioneer, Henry Fox Talbot, combined with the slash and burn paintings of Lucio Fontana. McCaw has taken this notion of simultaneous creation-destruction and harnessed the resulting tension, working with the unpredictable process so elegantly that he manages a polished and highly crafted style, but one that remains dependent upon the brute and visceral contribution of chance and light and the spin of the Earth.

McCaw received the Emerging Icon in Photography award from the George Eastman House in 2014 and two Andy Warhol grants in 2008 and 2007.


About Meghann Riepenhoff

Riepenhoff’s work has been exhibited and is held in the collections at the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), and the Worcester Art Museum. Additional collections include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Yossi Milo Gallery, Jackson Fine Art, Galerie du Monde, Euqinom Projects, the Aperture Foundation, San Francisco Camerawork, the Denver Art Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston).

Publications include ArtForum, Aperture PhotoBook Review, The New York Times, Time Magazine Lightbox, Wallstreet Journal, The Guardian, Oprah Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, Wired Magazine, and Photograph Magazine. Riepenhoff is based in Bainbridge Island, WA and San Francisco, CA. She received a BFA in Photography from the University of Georgia, and an MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. She is from Atlanta, GA.


Yoffy Press is an independent publisher dedicated to pushing the boundaries of phonebook publishing. Working in true partnership with artists, we look beyond the book as a container of images, integrating physical and conceptual design to create distinct art objects. Visit Yoffy Press at www.yoffypress.com/

About Cary Benbow

Photographer, Writer, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine

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