by Jonathan Blaustein

Last night, my wife trudged to bed in her green bathrobe. At 7pm. She looked at me, forlorn, and said, “It feels like it’s always time to make the donuts.” Then she continued down the hall.

Much as I wished to say something witty or helpful, I was at a loss. Our lives are pretty wonderful, all things considered, but she hasn’t slept right in six months. Every day, from wakeup to bed, she’s responsible for helping someone out of a mess, or cleaning one up from the kids.

Some day, she’ll sleep through the night again. Schedules will develop, allowing for some planned “downtime.” Fun will return to her life, and someone else can make those blasted donuts instead.

Drudgery is a part of the human condition, as much as fun. Death never happens without the sex first, right? But Art is one of the best ways to try to cheat said mortality. And when we make it, we preoccupy those parts of the brain otherwise used for neurotic self-criticality, or constant to-do-list-making. (And the prints we leave behind will outlast us, we hope.)

Those negative thought trains are silenced while the hand draws a line, types a phrase, or clicks a shutter. We all know how much fun it is to be focused on both the present, and the matter of creation at hand. Looking at Art does much the same thing, with the additional benefit of giving us new information about the world around us.

When we’re exclusively literal, we miss out on many of the best parts of life. Photography is a literal medium, but we all know it can be cheated. (I was fooled by a fake shark-in-a-Long-Beach-Island-Front-Yard photograph. Even tweeted it.)

Literature and painting are all better known for delivering abstracted realities. Hence the love for writers like Murakami and Garcia Marquez. And Spanish painters like Picasso, Goya and Dali. (Not to mention the not-quite-Spanishly titled “El Greco”.)

Personally, I love the blending of absurdity married to reality that we see in Spanish culture. I speak from the experience of the bastard son. New Mexico has deeply Spanish roots, but our particular kind of lunacy is homegrown.

As anyone would tell you, life is crazy. But that need not be a sorry assertion. Absurd humor can be cathartic and profound, and is rarely seen in modern photography. Much rarer still in Black and White. So I was happy to find a new soft-cover book from Chema Madoz, a Spaniard, published jointly by PHotoBolsillo and La Fabrica.

I’d never heard of the artist, but that’s not unusual for this column. The pin-through-the-cloud cover gives a quick and not subtle nod to surrealism, and probably Photoshop. The pictures within are excellent. Formally, they’re super-tight. The tonality is always well-crafted too, as is the use of light. The subjects are sculptural as well as whimsical.

We see a chair wearing suspenders. A burned match in the center of a thermostat. A set of plates, stacked in a storm grate instead of a dish rack. A cactus made of stone. Scissors with eye lashes. Shoelaces made of braided hair.

Surreal images like these are ideal for expressing the dreamlike world of the subconscious. And for reminding us that life is not all about punching the time-clock.

Given my own work, and my taste, it was almost assured that I’d love this book. But I think most people would. Once you’ve flipped through it, you’ll likely feel a bit better than you did before. I should probably show it to my wife when she gets home from work.

Bottom Line: Formal, Surreal, Black & White photo gems

To purchase PHotoBolsillo visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


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  1. Chema is also an incredibly friendly person, his work is such an inspiration. I still think they have some on display at PDNB.

  2. This guy’s work often gets grief from the “Intelligentsia” for producing one note wonders, the same critique given street photography- which I’ve always thought a one note observation…

    Love ’em! Cleverly thought out, beautifully photographed- and fun to look at. Can’t say that enough these days- and certainly not at that price!

    • Never heard of the guy before but I have to agree with the one note wonder assessment. Maybe that’s a one note observation but then again, maybe there’s just not much more to say about it. A joke can be hilarious the first time you hear it, very funny the second time, amusing the third time but by the fourth time it’s just boring and after that it gets annoying. That’s sort of how I feel about this work. Another problem for me is that the visual pun (or whatever you want to call this sort of thing) is so overused in advertising photography that there’s just no novelty to it.
      But then again, maybe it’s just not my cup of tea.

  3. I want to see a photo of JB’s wife in her green bathrobe walking down the hallway, disheveled, and half-asleep on her way to attend to the kids — now that would be a good shot. As for the book, do we really have to talk about the book? I’d like to talk more about… oh, okay. My favorite of the conceptual still life shots (and since we’re now talking about me — back in my days at FIT — first semester view camera class — conceptual still life assignment — seriously could any conceptual still life ever top the shot of a bagel with a few Masterlocks on top — you know bagel and lox — get it?) is the one with the loaf of bread on the cutting board with the cuts lined up with the boards of the cutting board — that’s clever. My own “That’s a real topper!” (as Charles Nelsen Reilly would have said) conceptual still life was of a pool triangle loaded with fruit instead of balls and and a garlic instead of the pool ball. Shooting conceptual photos and expecting to escape unscathed is kind of like going into a tiny closet, throwing a handful of darts in the air and expecting to exit without injury — ain’t gonna happen. Then I did a shot of a sliced red onion with all those rings next to a rolled up tie — that really was a “topper.” But seriously, the photos as photos alone, forget the conceptual payoff, could be stronger — think Weston. Gotta run, I hear my own wife coming down the hall and she’s wearing a leopard teddy — now that’s a concept.

  4. I think Chema is an interesting personality, she done things very effectively and it created a little bit of wonder in me.It is a very nice work.

  5. Hi
    Chema Madoz is a man not a woman.

    • Well to address the issue perhaps her next conceptual photo should be a spread with a clam on one page and a banana on a plate with a red diagonal line painted on it on the opposite page.

  6. Chema Madoz, if Stephen Wright was a photographer.

    • Good one! :) Here’s one I just wrote in honor of Stephen Wright: I went to a hit Broadway play that was standing room only. When it was over I gave the actors a sitting ovation.

  7. It should be mentioned that this book is actually over 10 years old and the work spans 1990-1999, so while it might be true that photography in advertising now is very similar, it’s over 20 years since Madoz first started this work.

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