There is no shortage of photobooks dealing with the loss or absence of a loved one but Mariela Sancari’s Moises must be one of the more touching testimonies to the void a person can leave in the lives of others. Growing up in Buenos Aires, at the age of fourteen Sancari’s father, Moises killed himself. Years later the photographer placed adverts in various newspapers from her home city seeking men of the age her father would have been had he still been alive.
Moises consists of portraits of those men that responded, pictured from a variety of angles, against neutral backdrops and often wearing the same knitted sweater that had once belonged to her father. Such a simple concept belies a book of surprising depth. Opening the double cover the viewer is confronted with two interlocking sets of pages, which interlace with one another as each page is ‘turned’. As a metaphor for the fragmentary and unpredictable nature of memory it’s a perfect device.
Despite their simplicity and typological feel, the photographs also manage to prove very moving. Partly, it’s because they work as powerful reminder of the way that many of us use photography to search for, or create, the things we lack in life. It’s also touching in that the men themselves seem so vulnerable and out on a limb. Greying hair and the spots and marks of age are all on show. These photographs won’t just be resonant for anyone who has lost someone, but for anyone who watched a parent grow old, or for anyone who has thought for a moment that they recognised their mother or a father in the face or gait of an elderly stranger on the street.
Unlike many photobooks that drag out their point, Moises ends before you feel that what little narrative there is has resolved itself. There is no happy ending or comfortable resolution, nor any afterword to offer a viewer closure. In a lesser book this would awkward and strange, but given the tragic history underneath it all this lack of a clear ending is fittingly poignant.
All images courtesy of the artist. © Mariela Sancari
Ciarán Óg Arnold
I went to the worst of bars...
The title of Ciarán Óg Arnold’s book says it all; I went to the worst of bars hoping to get killed. but all I could do was to get drunk again is a hazy journey through a series of dive bars and nightclubs in the Irish photographer’s recession-hit hometown of Ballinasloe.
Winner of MACK’s First Book Award 2015 and currently on display at Media Space, this diminutive, diary-like volume with grainy, out of focus photographs reveal a world of furtive glances, aggressive gestures and kisses in the dark. The throbbing intensity of small details in packed rooms merge into drunken walks home through empty streets past derelict houses. It is a catalogue of fragmented moments into memory, waiting to be reassembled in the confusion of the next morning’s hangover.
The men depicted in Arnold’s world are predatory aside from rare moments of what passes for sincerity but could just as easily be inebriation. In one image, two figures embrace in the dark – they might be greeting, fighting or consoling one another but it’s impossible to tell. They are distant, mysterious things. In one of the few direct photographs of a women, she half turns and looks directly at the camera with a mixture of apprehension and revulsion. Her eyes glow red in Arnold’s flash.
Some of these photographs have a subtle poetry to them, befitting the title’s reference to Charles Bukowski – that bard of the bottle while others look like something lifted from a teenager’s Tumblr. The overall effect of this reserved little book though is a strangely moving journey into the nocturnal world of a town wracked by recession, where there is nothing left to do but drink, and wait.
All images courtesy of the artist. © Ciarán Óg Arnold
Peer to Peer
For an artist to toy with the material qualities of photography is a common device, even at a time when that materiality is becoming increasing anachronistic. The great majority of photographs have been abstracted out of existence, transformed into reams of code. The original, material forms of photography, like film, are now almost solely the domain of artists and photographers with a point to make.
Hannah Whitaker’s Peer to Peer published by Morel Books uses a combination of collage, in camera masking and other forms of manipulation to shatter the surface of her analogue imagery, in the process disintegrating them into many parts. This might seem like a well-worn path, were it not for the way these bits are organised to form distinctive patterns appearing to the viewer like a lost visual code. Indeed even the pictures in their arrangement across the pages seem to hint at some form of cypher, with empty areas occupied with an almost imperceptible varnish which echoes the shape of absent photographs.
The subjects of Whitaker’s photographs (a mixture of portraits, still lives, landscapes and nudes) seem in many cases much less important than the patterns, which dominate and overwhelm the images below. The shapes and forms used create a powerful over-riding mood, with mosaics of dots and squares forming a calm, stable pattern reminiscent of Morse code, while the more anarchic triangular breakdowns prove enticingly aggressive. Vertical lines create the effect of a bar code or zoetrope, and the image beneath takes on a strangely powerful sense of motion.
The result of these experiments then is more than a nostalgic exercise in collage and old-fashioned photography. Instead Peer to Peer is a book seemingly with one foot in the material past, and with the other in the ever more dematerialised present. It is a book that plays with the codes and conventions of photography and abstract art, and does it fittingly enough, with the very material of photographs themselves.
— Lewis Bush
All images courtesy of Mörel Books. © Hannah Whitaker
“The world is dominated by photos,” begins the introduction to Anouk Kruithof’s The Bungalow, a book which, despite making some contentious claims, offers an engaging and individual look at the evolving nature of photography, as well as our changing relationship with it. To make the work Kruithof installed herself in a bungalow with digitised images from Brad Feurhelm’s esoteric vernacular photography collection. She then reworked and rearranged her material into visual chapters exploring the relationship between screen and reality, and between the physical and digital image. Each of these chapters is constructed to tell a different ‘image story’ reflected in the selected photographs, their treatment and even in the papers they are printed on.
Taken individually, the selected photographs are a brilliantly odd mix, reflecting in microcosm the breadth of photography’s vernacular usage. They range from children in Halloween costumes to images of medical deformities or bondage scenes where the actors have been skillfully cut out of the print for reasons unclear. Kruithof’s handling and arrangement of the photographs, more often than not, adds something to them, and is invariably visually and intellectually entertaining. The spreads and sequences where she establishes subtle thematic similarities and dissimilarities are the strongest, while those that primarily play on the visual continuities across her selected photographs are perhaps more obvious.
Throughout The Bungalow, the photographs are framed by the crosshairs and borders of photographic manipulation and viewing software, a constant reminder that what we are looking at is not a traditional collage of analogue prints but an electronic arrangement of photography existing in what Kruithof calls a ‘screenshot reality’. With this focus on the new digital environment that most photographs inhabit lying at the core of the book, it might seem a little strange that this project should want to exist as a physical book at all. Really though, this chimes quite perfectly with what The Bungalow seems particularly to be driving at, which is our still largely unresolved sense of what, materially speaking, photography ought to be.
All images courtesy of the artist. © Anouk Kruithof/Brad Feuerhelm Collection