Le caillou bleu, , 2010. Hardbound. 112 pp., Color illustrations throughout, 8-1/4x10-1/2".
Made in Belarus Photographs by Philippe Herbet Published by Le caillou bleu, 2010.
When trying to get my bearings on a book, I just stick with the printed book that is in front of me. Doing that with Made in Belarus by Philippe Herbet was an exercise in frustration. This was the first time I had seen the photographer's work, I went to his website to try to understand how this series fits in his larger photographic output.
Many of the images in the book are dead-pan portraits of women. This was the frustrating part for me. This particular book is weighted so heavily in portraits of women it is as if Belarus is a country populated only by women.
The images of the country and interior details draw me into the work, but I am put off by Herbet's obsession with photographing women. It feels more like he is trying to collect them than say something about the country of Belarus. Maybe his statement is coming through their eyes. I am put off by this chauvinistic view of the world.
I am reading the work from the perspective of a man who has been educated by American feminists. This is the lens through which I am looking at this work. My initial reaction to the book was that in 2010 does the world need a book of portraits of Belarusian women made by a foreign male photographer? This is where I turned to his website to see if this work was an aberration. From what I could I tell, he has been concentrating on women for some time. This work fits within his previous books.
My conclusion is that the book forces me to think about my viewpoint on the male gaze on women. In doing so, I realized I want to explore more of Herbet's work. I asked myself if I would feel this way if it were a female photographer making these image. Probably not. I feel like I am holding Herbet to a double standard in my mind. Needless to say, this book has brought more mixed emotions out of me than any other book in recent memory.
This book feels a bit creepy in the number of images of women, but some are very arresting. His views of the landscape show a country more colorful than I expected. Photographs that pose questions like these to me, are worthy of my effort.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.