In Most Tides An Island
Self Publish, Be Happy
Nicholas Muellner’s most recent publication, In Most Tides An Island, is a rich blend of overlapping narratives, both real and imagined, played out through image and text. Divided into twelve chapters, the work shifts between the personal realities of closeted gay men suffocated by the violently homophobic climate of contemporary Russia, Muellner’s reflections on love and isolation in the digital age, and the fictional tale of a solitary female island dweller. Seemingly disparate, these narratives are unified by an underlying theme of loneliness.
From the coastal paths and beaches of provincial Russian towns and villages, to the steamy depths of a public men’s bath, Muellner offers us a glimpse into the isolation of gay men in Russia. One acquaintance introduces Muellner to his supposed best friend, who later asserts: “If homosexuals arrived in our town, we would kill them”. Isabel, the fictional character, on the remote Caribbean is also alone: “Only the ocean can sea her face”. She exists as an anonymous entity, masked by the island’s scenery in the ethereal black and white photographs that accompany the text. And Muellner himself is detached; divorced from the digital generation, his mediations on photography now feel like “dust” on his lips.
The digital realm as a place to fulfil forbidden desires is touched on. For the same man whose best friend regards homosexuality as punishable by death, the Internet provides a momentary respite from his isolation. But like the stories of these men, the digital sphere too is shrouded in solitude; “We are alone together. Or was it: together, we are alone,” Muellner writes. This sentiment is both echoed and alluded to in the faceless profile pictures interspersed throughout the book; their profiles masked, our eyes are drawn instead to the seductive and expressive poses of these anonymous individuals.
In Most Tides An Island is a worthy addition to Muellner’s critically acclaimed image-text books The Amnesia Pavilions (2011) and The Photograph Commands Indifference (2009). Visually and intellectually engaging, it overturns traditional photographic and literary narratives, existing as an experimental hybrid that encourages new perspectives on the state of the modern world and the individual’s place in it. ♦
All images courtesy of Self Publish, Be Happy. © Nicholas Muellner