H. de Gier, A Falling Horizon; E. Dudik, Road Ends in Water; J. Barnett-Winsby, Mark West & Molly Rose; A. Sewell, The Heath

 
 

Jeff Barnett-Winsby
Mark West & Molly Rose

 
 
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Jeff Barnett-Winsby
Mark West & Molly Rose
J&L Books, 2010
Paperback, 160 pp., color and b&w

Jeff Barnett-Winsby’s book Mark West and Molly Rose has an intense narrative plot, divided into six different chapters. Barnett-Winsby began to photograph in Lansing Prison, Kansas, to document a special rehabilitative program for prisoners and rescued dogs, both affected by problematic behaviours caused by abuse and mistreatment. This program had the goal of establishing a connection between the two parts: it gave responsibilities to prisoners, and helped dogs to regain their trust in humans.

The photographer documented the canine unit in the prison and how the prisoners were changed by this human-canine relationship. The first part of the book shows a series of interiors of the prisoners' cells followed by frontal portraits of the inmates taking part at the Safe Harbor Prison Dog Program. From a certain point the project starts taking shape by the natural development of certain events. One of the dog trainers, Toby Rose, helped one of the inmates, John Maynard, to escape from prison. From this point on the plot becomes better and better articulated.

The second part of the book is a collection of correspondence between the photographer and the prisoner. Maynard escaped from the prison, but it was not just for freedom. He fell in love with his saviour. They organised a trip, and tried to spend a couple of weeks of peace together in a Cabin in Tennessee. They booked their accommodation under the names of Mark West and Molly Rose.

No mystery, no crime, just visual narrative taken directly from reality. Jeff Barnett-Winsby’s book is incredibly fascinating in its structure. The photographer becomes the narrator not only by taking pictures but also by incorporating letters, screenshots, and other non-photographic materials. Is the story he is telling true or is it fictional? Does the power of the story rely in the narrative itself (a romantic, almost unreal, cinematographic story), or in the construction of the book?

I’m very enthusiastic about this book. It is open to many interpretations and questions about the photographic medium and its possibilities. We usually assume that the photographer is only the one who makes images, but he is also the narrator, isn’t he? He sees, and collects, but he especially gives us the story.

 
 

 

Heidi de Gier
Falling Horizon

 
 
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Heidi de Gier
A Falling Horizon
FW:, 2011
Hardcover, 200 pp., color illustrations

A Falling Horizon, is a book by Dutch photographer Heidi de Gier, published by FW: books. FW: is an independent organization founded in 2004. The photographs are accompanied by a text written by the journalist Tracy Metz, entitled “The Sophiapolder: Farewell in Five Acts”.

The book describes the story of Hannie de Vos, who lived for many years with her children on a sheep farm on the Sophiapolder — a small island in the river Noord, about twenty kilometres from Rotterdam. The family was forced to leave their home because the island would soon become a fresh-water tidal marsh. The area of Sophiapolder is destined to become new nature, or a so-called “Delta Nature”.

“I have difficulty with the idea that humans are superior and can construct nature. Should you really manipulate nature, or design it the way you see fit? Because in order to do that, you have to remove something valuable as well.” Hannie de Vos, speaking about this project of re-wilding (“The Sophiapolder: Farewell in Five Acts”, from A Falling Horizon, Act 4, p. 159)

A Falling Horizon is a compact book with a clothbound hardcover, and a small tipped-in photograph. The print is dislocated from its original place, to underline the meaning of the title — a falling horizon, a falling perspective of something destined to disappear. The first pages in the book confirm this feeling of unsteadiness. Hannie de Vos and her children’s house will soon disappear, and all the spaces of Sophiapolder will be redesigned. They will no longer exist as the photographer saw them. Opening the book, after the title page, from page number 2 to page number 6, images fade in the paper, they seem bleached, untouchable. Only after this quick vanishing introduction do we get to enter into the story. The text by Tracy Metz divides the narration in five parts: The Last Farmer; The Other Side; Delta Nature; Cultural Landscape or Wilderness; Farewell.

At certain points the disappearing effect returns throughout the book, reminding us of the sad condition of Hannie de Vos’s family, deprived of its own story and land.

Heidi de Gier closely followed the family and the island's changes for a year, and her photographic story is both a documentation of a place that soon will be completely different, and an intimate-emotional story of a family that wants to live according to nature, respecting the natural system without reshaping it. At the end of the book we can find a few farewell images, especially foggy landscapes. They echo some of Hannie de Vos's questions: are humans allowed to manipulate nature or design it?; is nature (artificially) re-design-able?; is it necessary to do so, ignoring individual stories, like the one of Hannie de Vos’s family?

Heidi de Gier was able to fix the last moments of the de Vos’s family, but their past will soon become just a memory.

 
 

 

Andy Sewell
The Heath

 
 
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Andy Sewell
The Heath
Self-published, 2011
Hardcover, 84 pp., 39 color illustrations

Do we need wilderness? Do we feel more comfortable knowing that in our cities there is a small piece of wild nature?

The Heath is a self-published book by Andy Sewell, an English photographer, that lyrically documents the Hampstead Heath - a large, ancient London park which is described in the concise introduction to the book as “managed to feel wild”. The park is a green fragment in the urban landscape, and the book describes the photographer's daily journeys of observation, to recover the senses, and find some (romantic) natural feelings.

Nowadays there are a lot of discussions about the regulation of our urban landscape. Urbanists and architects, among others, have to decide how much green we should protect and preserve in our cities. Do we need more residential agglomerates or more parks (again “managed to feel wild”, not just nice tidy family parks)? And this feeling of wilderness in the city, does it make us feel more relaxed about our environmental problems? How can humans manipulate nature to recreate an illusory wilderness?

Let’s think about Andy Sewell’s position, and his beautiful overview of the Hampstead Heath park. His project not only praises the beauty of this part of the city of London, it also questions our perception of nature in the city, and the need for this chosen portion of regulated wilderness. Sewell is an acute observer, and also a special witness of a contemporary problematic.

The book has a green clothbound hardcover, decorated with a map of the park surroundings. This is for me the very first introduction of the theme, because in the photographs we can rarely see indications of urban landscape, and only in a few of them do we can even see people. It seems, just looking at the photographs, a mere scrap of “Arcadia”, with sublime slices of nature. But to be more precise, we have to pay attention to the small things that Sewell shows in the photographs: a small red tree surrounded by an enclosure made of a white ribbon; ice, cigarettes, and a bottle cap in the lawn; a cross carved in a tree; a bird feeder with seeds. They indicate a human touch in this segment of nature, and they alert us that human activity is still present in this wilderness.

I was surprised to find in the book two photographs with an gathering of people. In one of them we can see many groups of people on a lawn with their dogs (it could be a typical Sunday during Spring), and in the other one there are people around a small lake or pond, seen from a low and distant point of view (maybe from a boat). These two images reveal the role of the photographer as an observer. Without them the effect of quietness would have been too forced by the camera's selective eye.

At the end of the book we can find a poem by Owen Sheers, Heath, that describes as well as the photographs this controversial perception of nature in the city.

 
 

 

Eliot Dudik
Road Ends in Water

 
 
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Eliot Dudik
Road Ends in Water
Saga Publishing, 2010
Softbound, 96 pp., 38 color illustrations

During his college years Eliot Dudik travelled every weekend from Savannah (Georgia) to Charleston (South Carolina). He is from Pennsylvania, but selected these lands of the South as his new home. Road Ends in Water was produced during these trips between Georgia and South Carolina, exploring the landscape, listening to people's stories about these regions. He is a foreigner, and he was fascinated by the enormous amount of emotions that these regions produced in him.

Road Ends in Water is an empathic work, one which confirms the possibility to know better our condition and the spaces we inhabit trough the power of the photographic medium. The project is a sort of “Ode” to this part of the United States and Dudik shares with us his own perception of the land, and his love for it.

Eliot Dudik, in the foreword of the book, perfectly describes all the feelings connected to this book and his personal attachment to the people of this land:

“This collection of images and thoughts is a tribute to, and an acknowledgment of, the respect these modest souls, obscure from the mainstream, deserve for their tenacity, good humor, social commitment, and acceptance of the ebb and flow of the often incomprehensible vagaries of existence.

A photographic adventure became an artistic journey and culminated in a special kind of baptism. While the road ends in water, it began there as well.”

The series has also a mystical and religious quality, and I think that Dudik makes it clear when he talks about “a special kind of baptism”. Baptism to photography, and to the land. Flipping through the book we also encounter a few texts, but two poems in particular underline this unspeakable perception of the two regions. The poems are “Sacred Space” by Brianna Stello, and “The Space Between” by Jerri Chaplin. Dudik's photographs are as much a document of his journey of self-discovery as a respectful view of the South.

 

 

Text by Anya Jasbar

Edited by Daniel Augschoell, Anya Jasbar and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa