This Week In Photography Books: Notes from the Foundry

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by Jonathan Blaustein

Dear Melissa Catanese,

Hi. How are you?

My name is Jonathan Blaustein, and I’m an artist and writer based in Taos, NM. I write a weekly photo book review column that’s published right here each Friday, on A Photo Editor.

We’ve never met or spoken, but you might recognize my name. That’s because I’m the a-hole who attacked you earlier this year, right here, on A Photo Editor. (You might have heard something about it.)

I made an example of a book you’d made, presenting it as evidence of the remarkable vapidity of much of contemporary photography. I’m here, many months later, to apologize. It was poor form to suggest your intellectual curiosity was less impressive than your friend list.

I often use this column as a place to sharpen the many axes I choose to grind, and you were the unwitting victim. I hope you accept my apology, because, as my regular readers know, sometimes I just can’t help myself. The taste for controversy is rarely sated gracefully.

For the rest of you, this letter is meant to serve as a reminder, yet again, that we need to keep our minds open. Just because you feel something strongly doesn’t mean it’s true. We’re at the end of 2013, and it’s a good time to make amends, apologize to those you’ve wronged, and clear your head for the New Year.

As a way of proving my positive intentions, let’s take a quick look at “Notes from the Foundry,” a new soft-cover book recently published by Spaces Corners in Pittsburgh, PA. (And edited by… you guessed it… Melissa Catanese, along with the equally-well-connected Ed Panar.)

It’s a strange book, given its inviting Tiffany-esque color palette. Open it up, and you’re met with a postcard insert informing you the publication is a compilation of work by several photographers, including luminaries Zoe Strauss and Todd Hido. (The latter of whom apparently inspired Spike Jonze’s new film, “Her,” if we’re to believe what we read on the Internet.)

Back to the book. That small bit of text on the insert is all we have to go on. Then it’s page after page of photographs, totally unlabeled. No titles, no sections, no essays. Nothing.

I recognized one image by Andrew Moore that I’d seen so many times before, and then the Todd Hido pictures at the end were easy to spot as well. But the rest of it was a bit opaque; a mashup of images by people like Daniel Shea, Nicholas Gottlund and Gregory Halpern. In fact, I had to look through the book a couple of times before discovering the text on the backflap that gives order to the artists’ work.

But what about the photos? Don’t they matter too? Or is this just an absurd attempt to hoover up some of the slime I hurled in Ms. Catanese’s direction earlier this year?

The pictures are so different from one another, it’s hard to say the book is about anything. Unless it’s Pennsylvania. Or Northern Appalachia. Maybe that’s it. The Eastern Mid-West. What would we call that?

The theme might not be super-tight, but the pictures are engaging and well-made, and in their variety, forced me to ask some good questions, as a viewer. What is photographable? Is everything?

Cameras are pointed in all directions, now, all the time. Are we really living in a world that co-exists, brick for brick, in the physical and digital realities simultaneously? If a tree falls on Google Earth, will you hear it through your new-Christmas-present-beats-by-Dre headphones? And if you do, does it even matter?

Sometimes, I find myself drawn to things other than photographs. Hunks of rock, paint on canvas, or a movie that makes me want to give it all up and hitchhike to Hollywood, with a bandanna dangling off a stick like some yokel from the Beverly Hillbillies.

Other times, though, while flipping through a book like this, I’m reminded that it’s insatiable curiosity that keeps us clicking the shutter. Curiosity at what a group of children might look like, in the silhouetted light of a highway overpass? Or why the acrid smoke rising from a chimney resembles a triumphant tornado? Or why some random pieces of plywood are taped together on a city sidewalk?

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Blaustein

Bottom Line: A cool compilation, perhaps about PA?

To Purchase “Notes from the Foundry” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

Jonathan Blaustein

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