Trying to find the ocean, by Michael Ast

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…

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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 ».

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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 :

All images copyright Michael Ast.


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