The first three photographers awarded monographs in 2005 by Critical Mass, Photolucida's annual juried competition, were Hiroshi Watanabe, Louis Palu, and Sage Sohier. The three small books were published in 2007. There appears to be at least a 2-year time lapse between the announcement of the winners and publication date as the 2006 and 2007 award winners have been announced (see below) but their books have yet to appear. Critical Mass was designed by Photolucida, a not-for-profit photography organization in Portland, OR, to provide emerging and mid-career photographers with the opportunity to have their images reviewed by a jury of 200 internationally known gallery owners, curators, publishers, editors, writers, and collectors. Each year two or more photographers without a previously published monograph are awarded the opportunity to professionally publish their work for the first time. Unlike in-person reviews, which Photolucida also hosts, participants in Critical
Mass do not receive feedback from the jurors, unless, of course, a reviewer wishes to bestow a special favor on a lucky recipient. Critical Mass works by a two-part vetting process. Interested photographers pay $50.00 to register and upload their images and text. A committee comprised of the 17-member Photolucida Board pre-screens all applicants and the top scoring 150 photographers pay an additional $250.00 to have their work reviewed by the full 200-member review panel.
Findings, by Hiroshi Watanabe. Published by Photolucida, 2007
The first book prize went to Hiroshi Watanabe for Findings, with short after-essays by Anthony Bannon, director at the George Eastman House and Kirsten Rian, board chair of Photolucida at the time of publication. The only hardcover book of the first three, a tipped in black-and-white photograph graces the black cloth cover. A single square-format black and white image appears on each page; the titles are listed in the back, a smart design feature that collects the majority of the text in the back of the book in order not to detract from the visual enjoyment of each haunting image. The delicate photographs are exquisitely paired. Nearly each one is layered, permitting a sense of seeing through mist or shadows to something beyond, not clearly revealed but there, tantalizing, beckoning, seducing, evoking a longing to gaze quietly in private meditation until secrets are revealed. To begin to understand these solitary, perfectly captured moments of time recorded on film, one must slow down or miss something deeply beautiful.
Cage Call by Louie Palu. Published by Photolucida, 2007
While Findings is a collection of individual images, each a framed haiku, Cage Call, with photographs by Louie Palu, is a collection of images that build collectively on one another to create a longer, deliberately told narrative. Subtitled, Life and Death in the Hardrock Mining Belt, the essays and interviews for Cage Call were written by Charlie Angus. Together, images and words reveal twelve years of documentary research in the close-knit mining communities of Northeastern Ontario and Northwestern Quebec, Canada, between 1991 and 2003. Each black-and-white photograph is captioned; the accompanying text is, again, at the end of the book. The powerful words are unfortunately printed in a minuscule font size that makes reading difficult; the text is obviously secondary to the images. A few more pages should have been added to the book to give more room for the well-written stories and transcripts of the interviews, making them easier to read. This text shouldn't be secondary — it'll break your heart into more pieces than the pictures of "white hand" (also known as Hand Vibration Syndrome, caused by working the drills), wounded and burned flesh, paralysis, grime covered exhausted bodies, or vacant Alzheimer's eyes — but so too is grief movingly palatable in the images. That said, images and text interweave nicely, reinforcing each other to tell the often bitterly sad and dangerous lives of the miners and their families. Life for these folks, either above or below ground, is not easy, often much too short and ending violently.
Perfectible Worlds, by Sage Sohier. Published by Photolucida, 2007
How people console themselves in an imperfect world is the subject of the photographs in Sage Sohier's Perfectible Worlds. Interested in the tangible manifestations of private passions and obsessions, Sohier catalogues quirky, creative self-absorption. The book is a collected "cabinet of curiosities" of people and their idiosyncratic and sometimes unnerving wunderkammer. For those desirous of more insight into the minds of the people she photographs, Sohier provides brief notes to some of her images. Curator John Beardsley writes a wonderful afterword, observing that Sohier's images "register a desire for control and perfection in a world that - more often than not of late — seems to have slipped into chaos, destined for political and environmental ruin." What the photographs gently reveal with good humor is that there really is no such thing as a perfect world. An intense sense of loneliness pervades the majority of the images, not only in those with single protagonists, but also in those in which people are gathered with a common purpose or interest.
Look for these additional book award monograph winners to be published by Photolucida in the near future: the 2006 Critical Mass Book Award winners: Camille Seaman, Donald Weber, and Amy Stein; and the 2007 Book Award winners, Joni Sternbach (hardbound) and Peter van Agtmael (softbound). More information about Critical Mass and Photolucida is available at www.photolucida.org. If the first three books are any indication of the strength of books to come, Photolucida has met its mission to increase understanding of the world through photography.
Mary Anne Redding, a curator, archivist, arts administrator, and educator is currently the Curator of Photography at the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. Previously she was the director and curator of the Light Factory in Charlotte, NC and the New Mexico State University Art Gallery. While in Las Cruces, she received a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in support of regional artists of the southwest. She has written for various publications including Pasatiempo; Passing Through, Settling In an exhibition at the Rubin Center for the Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso; an essay in Visions of America: Contemporary Art from the Essl Collection and the Sonnebend Collection, New York, a catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Sammlung Essl Kunst der Gegenwart in Vienna, Austria, as well as many other exhibition catalogues. Her current project, Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe will open at the Palace of the Governors in November 2008, with a corresponding book to be published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in early 2009.