Always remember that you haven't fully experienced a book until you open its jacket. Interior Relations is an outstanding example of this. Its publisher, photographer Richard Renaldi, is a big book fan; the small handful of books released by his indie imprint pay close attention to design (issuing from Andrew Sloat) and to the physical experience of reading. Thus, a Charles Lane Press issue, like that from most quality photobook publishers, begs attention as a sculptural, signifying object, influencing and reiterating the implications of the photographs it carries.
The front cover reproduces one of van Coller's portraits full-bleed, with small, white text burned in across the bottom of the image—classic, modern, succinct. The rest of the cover, including flaps and back panel, are bare white. "Clean" is an apt word here. But remove the cover from the book, open its end flaps, and bam! an explosion of color, pattern, and contrast, Marimekko channeling Africa rather than Finland.
I assumed the bold pattern was found in one of van Coller's portraits, but searching the plates to find it was fruitless. It is a natural exuberance, filtered through a civilizing screen into mass reproduction, and it is not tied to a specific portrait but can be read as a background to them all (though its motif is perhaps a bit wild for the tasteful interiors that contextualize the portrait sitters). The pattern is tied to the book in a different way, however; the stylized, yellow flower vase filled with a half-dozen maroon blooms is embossed into the front and back covers of the book. These covers, like the jacket, are pristine white, and they are exceedingly stiff; the boards are practically double weight, and feel bulletproof.
The whiteness, then, is clean, enwrapping, disguising, threatening to overwhelm the spirit that is color. Nature's myriad forms are reduced to a stencil, almost cartoonish in its naïveté. The book is in constant danger of being smudged and besmirched; retailers advise publishers not to release white books, but Renaldi must have missed the memo. Or willfully ignored it, for the sake of this transcendent fact; Ian van Coller is white, born South African, and his photographs address the ongoing struggle, Apartheid's dismantling notwithstanding, of blacks to gain employment that is liberating or affirming.
This, then, is a white book, by a white man, about the riotous, if suppressed, colors of black, female South Africans who have, because of limited options for advancement, sought shelter as cleaning women within stolid, white homes. It's all there, before you even open the book (though please do that, too; the cake is as good as the frosting).
George Slade , a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be found on-line at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/