I just tried to write the opening of this column in Spanish. I was trying to be funny, but it didn’t make me laugh. Trying too hard never works. (Except every now and again.)
Books, at their best, are experiential. I suppose that’s why we love them so much. Think of your favorite novel. How old were you when you read it? What did your hair look like?
As we grow, we change. It’s the necessary way of things. But is there a part of us that’s always there? Do our young, angsty, stupid selves still remain down deep, a few levels above the reptilian brain?
Photo books, especially the ones I’ve been writing about lately, can manipulate your experience to give you two versions of the same thing, if done correctly. Clever use of text, at the end, can allow a viewer to go back and look at the photographs again, relating to them in a completely different way.
The pictures just need to hold your attention the first time, when you don’t know what the f-ck is going on. This week’s book is no exception. “But Beautiful” is a new publication by the Spanish artist, Cristina Nuñez, recently published by Le caillou bleu. It’s a strange little piece of work. I’ll tell you that much.
The book doesn’t give you any details until the end, as I alluded. Going through naked, as it were, you aim to put things together. A historical photo? Looks like a dictator. Is that Pinochet? No, definitely not him. Who is it? (Later I learn it’s Franco. Shouldn’t I have known that? How come he’s been depicted so much less often than his Fascist brethren?)
Some cool historical photos are mixed in here and there. We see some guys are lined up along the upper reaches of a clipper ship, like suicidal birds on an airplane’s wing.
A woman begins to recur. She obviously looks different as she ages, but it’s still her. (The big lips are the giveaway.) Then we see her, glammed up, on the cover of a magazine. It mentions Madrid, so we are in Spain. She used to be a model?
Then she’s older. Mannish. And ripping out some seriously “unsubtle” emotions. What was that again about not trying too hard? Sometimes, maximum effort in front of the lens works rather well, thank you. She is gripping to look at, who ever she is. (We can assume she’s the artist? Right?)
On we go, and there are the obligatory nudes, some of the main character, some not. And more portraits, most of them razor sharp and cool. Throw in a few more super-uncomfortable looking self-portraits, a couple of beautiful water and sky shots, one last bout of historical photos, and bob’s your uncle. You’re done.
Who is she? What’s going on here? How does it all connect? You wonder all these things. In the back, each image is described in enough detail to clue you in. So you return to the beginning, and look at each image again, while reading the caption.
A family association with Franco. Drugs and prostitution. Multiple lovers. 3-year-old child self-portraits. It’s as fascinating as your imagination made it out to be the first time. We end with another historical shot: this one has some serious mad dogging going on, and a shoeshiner to boot. And then a final portrait, of the artist’s senile mother, staring daggers through your now emo-braised heart.
Bottom line: Odd but well-done book, very revealing
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Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.