"Photographs should look like they were easily taken. Otherwise beauty in the world is made to seem elusive and rare, which it is not".    Robert Adams

 

One of my earliest memories concerning photography is a story of my uncle Harold. Harold was the one in the family who recorded all of our family reunions, vacations, holiday festivities and the like. When he traveled, say, to the Grand Canyon, one could count on an evening of nodding heads, (some in awe, some dozing to sleep) as the slide projector buzzing on the ironing board shared his travels with us, bridging a physical gap between us and the wide world, a bridge which Harold honestly believed would spare us the hassle of actually going to these places and seeing them ourselves. One day, he and my aunt Francis went to Hawaii and of course we awaited the inevitable slide show. Making small talk, I asked Harold how Hawaii was. His answer was not what I expected, yet follows me to this day. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen the films yet….” was all he said.

How does one define that void which separates our experience making an image and the effect it has (or doesn’t have) on us when we view it minutes, hours, years later?

One of my favorite books of 2008 is the slim, softbound magazine format book from Coley Brown, cryptically titled Jam jelly honey wild rice. 31 images fill 48 pages, and not one bit of text beyond image titles and a short colophon. This is a purely photographic language that walks on that ever-so-narrow edge between poetry and documentation, personal diary and zeitgeist.

Jam jelly honey wild rice has the feel of a road trip. It is the result of several travels to various, nondescript places. These images are about transition and transience. They are riddled with elemental metaphors of those things in life which are magic for a moment and then dissipate. Fog, fire and ocean waves are interspersed among smoke bombs, milk crate bookshelves, unpacked moving boxes, makeshift furniture and my favorite image of a young woman in a motor home, uncomfortable in a domestic setting, day dreaming as she stares out of the windshield, anxious for the scenery to change. Regardless of how grounded you may be, this visual diary will take you back to someplace in your past; a party, a camping trip, a day at the beach, a lover's bed, a backstage pass, a sunset, a late-night jump over a playground wall to climb the slide.

What Coley knows, that my uncle Harold didn’t, is that a photograph can be many things but it can never be the truth about the moment in which it was taken. Harold offered answers, and when each of us in our own time made it to the Grand Canyon or Hawaii, we realized he was wrong. Coley’s images are open-ended questions, and are neither right nor wrong as he has taken himself out of the game of trying to show us what the world looks like. Instead he seems to be on the search for a unifying “theory of everything”, as a physicist looking for the ultimate truth.

I suppose, in the end, Coley is right there with my uncle Harold, driven to bring some kind of order to what they see, and share it. Neither a slide show nor a book is necessary. They both make bold statements saying “look at my photographs”. But where Harold would plan his grand finale to be the postcard image that we had come to recognize and expect from the places he tried to take us, Coley knows that the answers lie in the journey itself and we are all simply waiting for someone to push the button and change the slide.

I was in Dashwood Books when Coley showed up to sign his books so I got this quick photo session with the photographer himself. Yes he is very young, and looks like an angel, but his photographs are way beyond his age.

 

 

Andrew Phelps, December 2008

 

 

 

 

© Photos by Andrew Phelps / Buffet

 
 

© Photos by Andrew Phelps / Buffet

 
 

© Photos by Andrew Phelps / Buffet

 
 

© Coley Brown / Gottlund Verlag

 
 

© Coley Brown / Gottlund Verlag