Why have I been disappointed by « She dances on Jackson » by Vanessa Winship.

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This post comes from a chat we had recently on Facebook about what blogs on photography should be and, more over, why are they always very complaisant with books : everything is perfectly fine in the world.

So I am going to introduce a slight circumspection about the book and the exhibition by Vanessa Winship at La Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on Jackson

The work « She dances on Jackson » is about loneliness and, overall, melancholy through a large trip in America. The melancholy is really predominating in this series. In the portraits, of course, but maybe even more in the landscapes photographs. In my mind, they could be in relation with Mike Leigh’s first movie called « Bleak moments », when Mike Leigh talked about England and Vanessa Winship talk about America. I could be stuck in front of some photographs staring at them for a long time. What I like in this work is that it is out of any anecdotic attention. In fact, I love bleak moments, and she perfectly depicts some of the wandering feelings that I had experimented in America, including the empathy for people encountered, as it is expressed in the portraits.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on Jackson

The book that comes to accompany the exhibition has been published by Mack, who is one of the current best publisher in the photography world. By best, I mean, it published some of the most beautiful books for the last couple of years. This book is no exception, beautifully printed, even better than the prints exhibited, which are a little too much contrasted for me. A beautiful red linen cover with an image printed in black on it. The book gives more justice to the series, from my point of view (except that the one for consultation in the exhibition is hidden and attached in a dark corner, almost impossible to read because of the lack of light).

Well, everything seems to be perfect…

Not so much. In fact, the most beautiful part of the exhibition is on the second floor, in the center of the room. Here lay glass cases which are filled by what appears to be Vanessa’s diary. It is a large A3 size book that has been made with emails that she exchanged with her sister and some hand written notes. The book is enriched by all the prints that are hanged on the wall in a very small format (around 8 x 10 cm). The small prints are some kind of reading prints on a beautiful warm tone argentic paper. Staring at those pages, you understand why this work is so melancholic with the impregnation of the death of Vanessa’s father at the end of 2011, some reflexions about Diane Arbus, some personal thoughts and many more, of course. Not used as captions, texts give strenght to the photographs and some emphasis to the journey which become some kind of quest.

Vanessa Winship She Dances on Jackson

Once you have seen these glass cases, you can only consider that this is the real entire work and you start to imagine what could have been a book including all those pieces. Whatever the quality of the current monograph is, this could have been of a higher range. I can understand that the Fondation remains on a very common design but it is more surprising that the publisher and the photographer did not jump on this opportunity. In fact, only those who have visited the exhibition could regret this unmade book, but the series would have well deserved a better attention. And even the hanging of photographs on walls could have been a little more innovative and break that old tradion of pictures juxtaposed in the same sized frames to better fit to the diary spirit.

This is why I am a bit disappointed by the book and the exhibition « She dances on Jackson ».

All photos copyright Mack and Vanessa Winship / VU (can be removed on request)

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One Comment on “Why have I been disappointed by « She dances on Jackson » by Vanessa Winship.”

  1. […] a lot about why and when Winship visited many of the places in the book.  Then you may like to read Christer Ek’s blog post which expresses his slight disappointment with the organisation of the show, and the lack in the […]


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