TBW Books is providing selected photographers with a unifying theme for an annual publication of four books co-published as a set. For the Subscription Series #2, the four photographic artists, Marianne Mueller (Noon), Todd Hido (Ohio), Alec Soth, (Sheep), and Abner Nolan, (Away), were invited to present a personal exploration of their work. Each photographer was provided with complete design control of the resulting book, with the only stipulation being that their photobook follow the overarching book size, printing and binding format of the series.
Abner Nolan utilizes found photographs to construct his narrative, which for Away is the remnants of a memory that might affectionately be call a road trip. For Nolan, the road trip is disjointed; a mash-up of fleeting experiences and encompasses fuzzy, fading and inconsistent content. The lead-in photograph of a convertible with the top down hints at unlimited potential opportunities for the ensuing journey, but the faded and poor condition of this photograph has darker undertones. The subsequent photographs narrate the up and down realities of such road trips. The narrative is ambiguous without a defined starting or ending point, which provides many opportunities to make this our own journey. Nolan's narrative tugs at my own memory and triggers recollection of my parent's road trips with my younger brother and sister, and similar to his faded photographs, my memories are becoming more indistinct with time. The family road trip was a seemingly endless journey to visit some majestic destination while intermittently stopping at the homes of relatives or family friends. My recall of visiting older relatives is as vague as Nolan's photographs, an indistinct face, a faint remembrance of a room, or snippet of an experience. I sense that for Nolan, his memories of road trips are now increasing melancholic experiences.
In his photobook Ohio, Todd Hido investigates his experience growing up in the Midwest and coming of age. His narrative intertwines his early photographs with recent images made with the same camera. Although the book has a documentary look, we have been provided clues that the photographed events are not what they appear to be, much like the masks we don and facades we erect to conceal our inner most feelings in order to protect ourselves. On the surface Hido's photographs appear to document an ordinary household, but dark edges and an uneasy undercurrent are present. The older photographs are mottled and deteriorated. In one photograph a wall has clearly been damaged by blunt force trauma, and in another, a man holds up a boy in one hand and a mini-keg of beer in the other, while the boy reaches towards the mini-keg, not the man. The narrative later evolves from the passing of adolescence into sexual awareness of the opposite sex, from a state of guarded anticipation to finally confident and unabashed liberation.
For Marianne Mueller, her photobook Noon is a narrative that could also be titled "Nooner," another word aptly designating a mid-day romance. Her photographs sequentially narrate the ensuing emotions of a sexually charged romantic fling. The rumpled clothes on a floor, although abstract, imply a wild abandon, with people wearing progressively less clothes until everything goes dark, but illuminated by the sparks of intense emotion. Although I find the photographs to be very metaphoric, they do not entice an overly romantic feeling, but elicits coldness and distance, her photobook perhaps saved by the mysterious undertones and unanswered questions.
In his book Sheep, Alec Soth is the only photographer of the four to introduce text with his narrative, which I find to be a humorous running essay that accompanies each progressive photograph in this delightful story. The constructed storyline is about serial experiences, how one event can be tangentially related to another and that due to circumstances many times beyond our control, we can find ourselves in a full circle haunted by our past experiences. Soth's photographs are created as well as culled from previous projects, such as Sleeping by the Mississippi, to create this amusing and personal narrative. Although Soth's photobook has the lighter narrative of the four, it is by no means the lesser of the four and equally profound and rich in context.
The four photobooks have stiff covers with dust wraps, but due to the glued and stapled binding, are very difficult to open and read. Although the books have a printed 2008 copyright, the publisher has stated that the copyright was meant to be a 2009.
Douglas Stockdale is a photographer, author and writer when not working his day job. His photographic projects and stories explore questions from our dreams, experiences and memories. His first self-published book is In Passing and he recently completed his latest photo-project Insomnia: Hotel Noir. He is a photobook critic with his own photo-blog, The PhotoBook, available at www.thephotobook.wordpress.com. Douglas’s web site is www.douglasstockdale.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.