Place has always played a central position within photography. If photographers or artists are lucky, they may find a place, or subject for that matter, that transforms their practice and informs the work they make throughout their lives. In his new book, Eva's Book/Berlin in Pictures, John Gossage returns to Berlin and pays tribute to the fertile terrain that shaped and informed him as an artist. Dedicated to Gossage's friend and artist Eva Maria Ocherbauer, this slim volume is a love-letter and tribute not only to Eva but also to the city and period where he made his own greatest artistic discoveries.
Primarily shot in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the work is a return to black and white and Berlin for Gossage. It is also some of his most frankly erotic work. This may come as something of a surprise to people who only know his recent color photography, his work in Berlin, or the recently reprinted book The Pond, but portraits and nudes have appeared before in his images. The book begins with a dark shot of a landscape painting, then moves on to an image of a woman in the distance who appears to be taking a photograph or perhaps luring us down the dark hallway and into her apartment. After these two images and the title page, we move to a series of erotically charged images of a nude woman, presumably Eva, lying in bed or in various states of undress throughout an apartment. Interspersed throughout these images, are signature Gossage images of cityscapes, buildings, debris and fragmentary details. Erotic tension permeates the book as Gossage circles Eva, explores her apartment, searches under the tables and scrutinizes the odd sculptural quality of her shoes. Although the images often take us outside to Berlin, we are always led back to Eva – the book's guiding force and heart.
Gossage's previous book with Super Labo, The Absolute Truth, can be seen as a companion volume to Eva's Book/Berlin in Pictures. Both books are dedicated to close friends of Gossage, Lewis Baltz and Eva Maria Ocherbauer respectively, and share a similar design structure built on existing or appropriated books. For this volume, a tattered and crudely taped copy of Memphis in Pictures acts as the new cover. The sole alteration is the 'Berlin' boldly scrawled in red across the Memphis in the original title. Books have long served as a source of creative and graphic inspiration for Gossage. In another recent book, The Auckland Project, a tiny field guide to star gazing in the southern hemisphere became the structural inspiration for his contribution. In this case, the Memphis book doesn't so much provide a structural framework for the work, but alludes to one of the central themes of the volume – namely a sense of displaced longing, or dreaming about a place or time far away, but loved dearly.
Measuring a discrete 10"x7", the book only contains 27 images but both the edit and design are excellent. The book also contains one of Gossage's signature design elements - the use of color or actual image fragments to counterbalance the main image. This technique was used to great effect in both The Thirty-Two Inch Rule/Map of Babylon and Secrets of Real Estate. Here Gossage uses colored bars to animate the spreads and break up the image and design. My only criticism with this book is I wish the black and white reproductions were a little better. Ultimately this is a minor criticism, because the slightly rough reproductions seem to lend themselves to the modest book and design.
The book's copy states that it is a "portrait of an artist and a dreamer in Berlin." As with most books, the copy can be deceiving or speak a half-truth. In this work, we can see Gossage revisiting one of the most artistically fruitful periods of his life as a photographer. On its surface, the work is a frank love letter to Eva, but seen in light of Gossage's work, it must also be acknowledged as a loving tribute to a period and place full of restless creativity, growth and possibility.
Adam Bell is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are adambbell.com and adambellphoto.blogspot.com.