So far, everything I knew about Baltimore came from the TV series « The Wire ». Knowing a place without having ever being there is something very special which can, for me, make a place very attractive. If I ever happen to visit the place later, I often look for some traces of expected views.
Michael Ast’s book is like visiting the city of Baltimore with an already « à priori » about what I am going to discover. This is something difficult for an author or in this case, a photographer to reach virtual expectations. We are commonly disappointed by a film made from a book which destroy all our own imagination.
You may, now, understand that I was over excited when I received « Trying to find the ocean ». It is one of those few books that captures the spirit of a city and therefore becomes a true portrait. What we find in the book is not the best places to visit, neither a traveler’s guide. It is more a sketchbook of a wanderer. The editing and the sequencing make us feel that we are directly plugged to his mind, reading his memories.
There is not any narration but the succession of small instants. The story is minimal : we follow Michael from a place to another without any goals. We meet people in the street, some of them are remarquable, some are not. Our eyes are caught by a detail, a writing, the beautiful legs of a young lady…
Sometimes walking, sometimes driving. Sometimes looking down to a railway, then looking up to find the airplane we hear the noisy reactors…
Then a break… we are now inside a room which may be a hotel room, looking through the window. The view outside is blurry (one of my favorite image in the book). The day after we visit the aquarium with the memorable souvenir of two huge sharks which send me back to my teenage years when I first saw « Jaws ». On the way back, a black man with dreadlocks standing at a corner with a cell phone, a feeling of déjà-vu… we are back in « The wire ».
The book comes with a great essay by Mark Alice Durant, in which he refers to the history of American photography, but one reference is missing in my opinion : Bernard Plossu, particularly with my favorite photo in the book : the bus stop sign !
I have also told you above that the sequencing was very well done, and it is another quality of the book, but I am not convinced that there is one and only way to organise photos in a book. In this case, you can randomly choose you own way to visit the book/city. It will be another voyage, editing your memories differently, but you will end up at the same point : in the car on the bridge, leaving the city with the feeling of a loss in your head ! (or way down in the hole !)
I realize that I forgot something about the book: it is also made of some photos that I really dislike… but do not we have also some bad memories from a place we like? Even with this aspect, the book is successful.
Edition of 300, Signed & Numbered
94 pages, 8.75 x 11 inches
54 B&W Plates, 4-Color Offset Printed
Afterword essay by Mark Alice Durant
More info here : http://michaelast.com/trying-to-find-the-ocean/#1
All images copyright Michael Ast.
Here is a short post which, for once, is not about a published book, but about a forthcoming one, which, so far only exists as an ebook.
Another Twenty-Six Gas Stations by Gregory Eddi Jones can either be called « a tribute to » or « a cover of » Ed Ruscha’s famous book.
When I was first contacted by Gregory, I thought this was about another attempt to create a book with some found footage or to use Ed Ruscha’s style to create a buzz on his name, as many have done.
In fact, the connection with Ruscha’s work is obvious and, for once, successful. The seminal « Twentysix gasoline stations » was part of both, renewal of modern photography, and one of the foundation of new landscape photography. Ruscha in the 60’s was attentive to the recent evolution of the society, which will be shown later in the « New Topographics » exhibition. The world was moving fast, mainly with the help of cars, people were always on the road. It was the peak of oil industry, and with this subject, ruscha showed us a portrait of the society imbricated with a self portrait (the road between his residence and the place where he grew up, kind of emphasizing the passage between childhood and adulthood).
In his own book, Gregory draws our attention to what are the components of contemporary society. Using the same topic, gas stations, he collected some film footage found on internet of which he extracted images. The book is a collection of 26 photos from surveillance cameras showing acts of robberies. We find here the key points of our society : the gas stations seen from inside as representation of the world of consumption where you can almost find everything. A second point is the use of surveillance cameras film footage which reminds us that we are always observed wherever we go and whatever we do ! Third point is the use of internet : the modern tool for appropriation of knowledge. This knowledge had become superficial and everybody has an opinion about everything, but this is the new way to explore a world (I already published a post about Street View) where we can find almost everything if you get enough time for it. Gregory deliberately kept the indications around the picture which indicates the provenance, as a sort of modern caption. The poor quality of the pictures is a metaphor of the poor quality of what we get access through internet.
What is also shown is the growth of violence which also refers to the world of consumption. Capitalism exacerbates the class distinctions which pushes more and more left out people to fall in a lawlessness world. It becomes a representation of what was supposed to be freedom and welfare but became an allienation. Benjamin Franklin once said : “If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both“. Here we are…
The photos also get a high aesthetics interest due the sort of modern choreography operating in front of our eyes. This could have been a recording of some of Pina Bausch spectacles.
Well it becomes an interesting subject and we could discuss for hours, and this is the reason why I like this book to come. Showing a collection of gas stations as a piece of art in the 60’s was probably equally disturbing as pretending that found film footage from internet can now be art in XXIst century. Maybe the weakness of the book is that, according to its contemporaneity, it should rather have become a virtual object like a beautiful app for iPad. Making it a paper book is a bit contradictory !
The book comes with an essay by Lance Speer and will be published in September 2014, you can pre-order it here : http://www.another26.com/