This Week In Photography Books: Paul Gaffney

by Jonathan Blaustein

For the first time ever, I ran out of books. It’s been a while since I’ve been to photo-eye, and I’m due there tomorrow. But that doesn’t help me today.

Frankly, I wrote a column yesterday based upon a book I’d previously rejected four times already. It was all I had, and the resulting effort was tepid at best. What to do?

Fortunately, earlier this morning, my wife rustled up a package from our overly-messy mail pile, and showed me that someone had sent us a book. It’s begun to happen more often, lately, as the word has gotten out that I review photo books. So I slit the cardboard, and took a quick look at what was inside.

“We Make the Path by Walking” is a self-published effort by Paul Gaffney, a photographer in Ireland. I’m happy to report that it’s such a cool book, we’ve made a one-week exception to our photo-eye only rule. My book stack will grow again tomorrow, so today we’ll have ourselves a rule-breaking fiesta.

Really, the only reason I’d choose to write an entirely new article is that good books prod good writing. And boring books bring you the kind of reviews that make you wonder if there isn’t someone better for the job. (The line forms in the rear…) Mr. Gaffney has put his soul into this book, and I’ll aim to do it justice.

The delicate, gray, soft-cover book is slipped into a colorful, pink and yellow half-cover. It sends the message right off that muted colors and vivacity can co-exist. It’s not an easy pairing, or more would attempt it, but it works well here.

Begin to leaf through, and immediately we notice the beauty of the color and light. I suspect it’s Ireland, given the artist’s provenance, but eventually it doesn’t matter. The title is instructive, so we take it for what it is. Each photo gives us the sense of a flaneur out and about, albeit one with Zen sensibilities.

If an artist is going to make one more book about lonely wandering, the maker ought to have a pretty interesting perspective on the whole venture. No worries here. Again and again, the misty light seduces, or the pop of earthy color, the luxurious nature of green, or a depression made by a sleeping animal.

Natural structures in the woods are paired off with animal burrows, and man-made over-passes that look like large-scale sculptures leading to nowhere. I busted out the nature walk just yesterday, to clear my mind for writing, and yet these photos make me long for a more humidified environment. No wonder why all those Irish folks have un-wrinkled skin.

Finally, we reach a beautiful poem by Antonio Machado, in Spanish and English, which tells us nothing the photos don’t. (But it does class up the joint a bit.) Only in an accompanying PR postcard did I learn that Mr. Gaffney spent a year walking 3,500 km to make the pictures.

It was the rare case of that extra info being purely extraneous. The photographs communicated the practice, and its purpose. How often does that happen?

Bottom Line: Very beautiful, thoughtful, self-published book

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

    • Fair question, Cynthia. We instituted the rule so that I wouldn’t be inundated with unsolicited submissions. I get a fair bit of emails at this point anyway, though.

      Glad you enjoyed the book.

      jb