Archive of Modern Conflict, , 2012. Softcover. 128 pp., illustrated throughout, 8x11".
Amc2 Journal. Issue 2 Edited by the Archive of Modern Conflict. Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
I suppose it's possible to approach something without expectations yet still be surprised by it, as I was with Issue 2 of Amc2 Journal from Archive of Modern Conflict. A small amount of investigation reveals that this issue is (nearly) an entirely different animal from the first, not simply in form, but also in tone and content. The fantastic design by Melanie Mues jumps out immediately. Unlike the perfect bound Issue 1, Issue 2 has two stitches down the spine with untrimmed pages extending in a significant creep. The layered page edges echo the cover illustration abstracted from one of Martin Parr's beloved postcards of concrete hotels that are shared with us inside. Illustrations grace glossy paper while smaller pages of text are nestled within; matt paper booklets stitched into each section contain an essay or text accompanying the images, each with its own cover design. About half way through, the pages change color -- the white-bordered glossy pages become brown, black and orange, giving the last three image collections their own color schemes.
Where the last issue was exuberant in its show-and-tell of strange and wonderful things, Issue 2 is markedly somber. We begin with elevators and end underground. A booklet from the Marryat & Scott Lifts company informs us of leveling problems, floor plans for architects and their lovely selection of elevator interiors, followed by strange and beautiful images from the 1950s of the pale pristine and unpopulated floors of the KaDeWe department store in Berlin. These photographs are accompanied by the first of several substantial and well-researched essays that provide a wealth of information while rarely analyzing the images, giving context without removing the material from the exploratory nature established here. They give the issue a decidedly journal-like feel. Photographs of sculptures from the collection of the British Museum made by Stephen Thompson, a nearly forgotten photographer working in the late 19th century, are beautifully shot with natural light and joined by the story of Thompson's difficult career and his son's madness. Next comes the delicious collection of postcards from Parr, concrete modernist hotels from the Spanish coast and shockingly blue skies, pools and oceans. With a brief statement Parr, the booklet contains translations of the text on the back of the postcards, predictably general and convivial, yet consistently endearing, as is the 'x' used to mark the precise room of one traveler.
The survey of work by Mark Neville with essay by Liz Adams is an example of the immediate cultural relevance of this journal. With an inclination towards the archival, this isn't a venue in which one would expect to encounter contemporary work, yet its inclusion doesn't feel out of place. In addition to filling in a gap in my photographic education, Neville's photographs and unusual practice are fascinating and so outside the norm as to be illuminating commentary on the current system. The juxtaposition of this contemporary practitioner works well within context, particularly when followed by the poetic portraits of artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the mournful tale of his premature death and wife's resulting decent into madness, a story tipped from romanticism by reproductions of Sophie Brzeska's automatic writing and unsettling pen and ink drawings created while hospitalized. The funeral practices of the Fali, a small Central African tribe with the unusual tradition of binding the deceased in a seated position, arms and legs out stretched, burying them upright, are illustrated with remarkable images taken in the late 1930s, while Jonathan Fogel's accompanying text is educational and notably friendly. Nine days of AMC sponsored archeological excavating concludes the book. Digging small trenches and listing what was found, it is a graphic display of the history packed in every square inch of earth in London. Traces of the past and lives lived over centuries emerge from the mud, extracted by self-professed mudlark Mark Chesterman and photographed by longtime AMC collaborator Stephen Gill.
I've spent several weeks with this collection and I'm not done digesting it. This issue has the distinct feeling of being about something bigger than its parts; leitmotifs of buildings and earth, burial and discovery, madness and loss appear nestled in these articles and images in various combinations, but connections feel intuitive. Are there conclusions to be made? I couldn't say, but my mind is still working over the material (I still haven't puzzled out the Four Stories subtitle), and I expect it will be for sometime. The Amc2 Journals reward curiosity, and from what I've seen of the first three issues, they are nimble enough to continue to do so in interesting ways. Remaining reliable in the right places -- attention to detail and quality of content from selections to essays to concept -- AMC is clearly giving itself enough freedom to avoid becoming predictable or boring. For some, there is strength in inconsistency.
Sarah Bradley is a writer, sculptor, costumer and general maker of things currently living in Santa Fe, NM. Some of her work can be seen on her occasionally updated blog. She has been employed by photo-eye since 2008.