This Week in Photography Books: Max Sher

 

There’s a sameness in writing a weekly column.
Each week, another book.

Each week, another deadline.
And another.
And another.

It’s gone on like this for nearly 7 years, and you’d think I’d resent it.

The sameness.
The monotony.
The routine.

Lather.
Rinse.
Repeat.

Surprisingly, though, I don’t resent it at all.
I enjoy my routine immensely.

At the moment, in-between Antidote retreats, with a chicken and corn mole to make, and some bison bolognese to prep, I’m fully out of my daily grind, and out of my comfort zone.

As of next week, though, with the kids back in school and Antidote behind us, I’ll revel in the sameness of it all.

Get up.
Make the kids breakfast.
Get them off to school.
Go for a hike.
Do my work.
Pick the kids up from school.
Make dinner.
Watch tv.

And then do it again and again, until Xmas break.

There’s a beauty in this routine, in that it’s life. It’s what we do. It’s the structure through which we share moments and meals with our loved ones.

Everyday life may not be where we make our most vivid memories, but it’s the meat and potatoes of the days of our lives. (If that’s not the cheesiest sentence I’ve written in this column, maybe somebody can find a better example?)

The truth is, I’m punch drunk at the moment, which you can probably tell. My earlier paragraphs look like a succession of William Carlos Williams poems.

Or maybe ee cummings?

Regardless, even now, half-useless as I may be, there’s always a point.

(I’m keeping it short today, given my life constraints, and the likelihood you’re on vacation anyway.)

“Palimpsests” is a new book by Max Sher, published by Ad Marginem Press, that was sent all the way from Russia. I’m honored he made the effort, and am glad he did, because it’s a very cool book.

And perfect for today.

This group of cultural landscape images was made across the former Soviet Union. It appears to be, and the text and excellent end-graphic confirm, a categorical look across an unimaginably big space.

We Americans like to think about things in comparison to Texas, so let me Google something… just give me a second.

(Pause.)

Nope. I couldn’t directly find how many times Texas fits into the Soviet Union. Though this link from Texas Monthly comes close.

Regardless, my point was simply that the Soviet Union, which Vladimir Putin may be keen to fully rebuild, was FUCKING HUGE. It contained many cultures and sub-groups, yet when the country was built upon ideological, rather than cultural terms, it led to a uniformity of architecture and assembly of public space that is amazing to behold. (Amazingly boring, if you catch my drift.)

I’m surprised these pictures don’t seem bitter, or condescending, though so many of them are bleak. Again and again, the light is flat. (ed note: When I photographed the book, I realized the light quality and quantity were more varied than I realized upon initial viewing.)

The colors, when they arrive, are often in a pastel palette. Oranges and pinks and greens and turquoise.

But mostly things are gray.
And boring.

There are few people in these images, which suggests perhaps the public sphere outside Moscow is under-populated? Or maybe Max just prefers landscapes?

It’s all so much the same, despite the wide geographic spread, and a shot at the beach. (Sochi?)

I’ve squeezed about as much as I can from this brain, but I’ll end with a couple of compliments. The compositions and color palette in this book are really top notch, but so is the volume of pictures.

So often, I find myself reminding you guys “less is more,” and this is not the case here. To create that feeling of the seductive repetition with slight variations, Max Sher was wise to include so many photographs.

I kept flipping the pages, waiting to see the next iteration, like an old Calvin and Hobbes calendar, circa 1995.

I’ll stop now, before my references get more obscure than the People’s Front of Judea.

Bottom Line: Sleek, smart book of Soviet landscapes

To purchase “Palimpsests” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program. 

Jonathan Blaustein

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