Sunday, May 08, 2011

photobook review: in almost every picture #2

Article first published as Book Review: In Almost Every Picture #2 by Erik Kessels, Tyler Whisnand, Andrea Stultiens, and Anonymous on Blogcritics.

Collections of found photography - the kind of things you find in flea markets - come along more often than the 42 bus. The angles are various - some are sociological, some merely camp, some aspire to art. The finest purveyor of the last is Erik Kessels, the Dutch publisher who created successful series of vernacular photos like In Almost Every Picture and Useful Photography, as well as one-offs like Photocubes, which as its title says simply reproduces the stock images included in photocube frames.

In Almost Every Picture is now in its ninth volume. The most recent is a collection of failed attempts to photograph a black dog that, owing to exposure difficulties, appears as an amorphous, unidentifiable blob, sometimes with eyes. The appeal of that volume is broader, but under the magnifying glass this Mother’s Day is a more subtle iteration of the series, more indicative of the mundanity faced by the amateur photographer, who nevertheless makes art by dint of sheer persistence (and a remarkable editor).

In Almost Every Picture #2 collects a few hundred photos made by a Dutch taxi driver who took his passenger through various tourist destinations in and around the Alps. But these are not your standard postcard views of picturesque scenery. The driver took a photo of his physically disabled passenger in his taxi at every stop they made: parking lots, rest stops, sunsets, overlooks, congested roads. The majestic Alps, and sometimes less majestic power lines, tower over the taxi. Kilometer markings are indicated across from most photos - one image demonstrates that the driver frequently photographed the dashboard to commemorate the distance travelled. But save for two explicatory images (a second dashboard photos shows that it was too dark to take an odomoter reading), the rest of the book documents a long and strange affection, a road trip cum business relationship cum personal relationship. The driver and his passenger have their travels over a number of years - during which time the driver gets new plates for his Mercedes cab. The photos are not particularly well composed; the passenger lies there usually inert and sometimes is difficult to see at all. Some photos, like the cover shot, are taken from a distance where the taxi is barely visible through foliage; these come off as surveillance shots, and are chilling. But the persistence in documenting this tenuous tourism year after year is touching; and when the tables are turned and you see the last image (SPOILER ALERT!) of the young taxi driver; one wonders: was that his mother? Perhaps not, but this book of mundane vacations photos is more evocative than at first glance.


Joe said...

While I love Shooting Gallery and Black Dog, this one is my favorite in the series. I got to hear Kessels speak last year in San Francisco, which added sone extra magic.

pat said...

Jealous! There is at least one Kessels lecture up on youtube.