Photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Text by Jonathan Safran Foer. Designed by Takaaki Matsumoto.
96 pp., 40 tritone illustrations, 11¾x15½".
Mythical history is littered with peculiar juxtapositions, from Samson and Delilah to Scylla and Charybdis to Mutt and Jeff, but sometimes strange bedfellows are the only way for human nature to express itself. While it may not be known to us how the much-honored conceptual photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto and best-selling experimental writer Jonathan Safran Foer were paired up (Manhattan cocktail party? Mutual acquaintance? Mutual interest in illumination?), it turns out to be a puzzlingly effective combination. Joe is an oversized, abstruse book, an art book that is essentially about artists paying homage to each other's art in an endless loop. Sugimoto's photographs were all made in and around one of Richard Serra's torqued spiral steel sculptures, which is named Joe. Foer's text is broken up to flutter around the images, which are further abstracted by their soft focus. The effect, which we can only assume to be deliberate, can be as disorienting as, say, walking around in the shadow of a semienclosed, multiton
ominously leaning, steel-walled space. Oh yes, did I
mention that Foer's text doubles up on itself, bringing the reader back to where he or she started, but subtly changed? While there's no explanation of anyone's intent, my surmise is that we are intended to accompany the photographer on his exploratory walk through Serra's piece, while listening to a slightly schizophrenic fictional companion, Joe, relate his inner experience, which happens to be amusing, contemplative and tinged with pathos by turns. The result may be a trifle abstract for a general readership, but neither Sugimoto nor Foer seems to be too worried about throwing the audience. Joe probably isn't everyone's cup of chai, but for fans, it will have all the charms of a contemporary dervish dance. PHIL HARRIS
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