This Week in Photography Books: Griggs & Kwiatkowski

 

Everything is connected.

I believe that’s true.

I often write of my Jewish-American heritage, but like many American Jews, I’m quite taken with Buddhism. And that idea of Inter-being, or Interconnectedness, is a core tenet of Buddhist philosophy.

Growing up in the age of secular Enlightenment, it’s been hard for me to accept the pure faith that religion requires. Especially as a Jew who doesn’t keep Kosher, or dress like one of the Orthodox in a black suit, I never felt like I measured up to the expectations and requirements of my tribe.

So perhaps I took the easy way out, by migrating my status to Jew-Bu, but on the plus side, I do come by it honestly. My wife almost became a Buddhist Nun before she married me, studying under Thich Nhat Hanh at a monastery in France.

Beyond that even, I’ve had the privilege to marvel at many, many a fantastic Buddha and Bodhisattva statue in museums like the Met or the Art Institute of Chicago, so I know first hand the peaceful power that comes off these objects.

And the Kung Fu I study is also based upon a mix of Taoist and Buddhist concepts.

OK. Did I establish my bona fides?

Or did I come off like an insecure jerk who’s obviously sensitive to be seen as just another-hipster-slacker, embracing the trendy ideas of the moment?

(We’ll assume you chose the former, and continue.)

The idea of Interconnectedness is like viewing the human body from a different perspective. We live our lives on the level of a shared, 3 dimensional reality of chairs and doors and mountains.

But in our very bodies, we know that a cellular level exists. It’s something they told all of us in High School Biology.

Mitochondria and shit.

Beyond that, of course, when we move to the code below the chemical level, is the atomic level. Our bodies are made of up electrons and neutrons and protons.

They taught us that in Physics. (Shout out to Mr. Armitrani.)

If you pinch your own arm, (ouch, I actually did it,) you feel pain. Yet you have no idea what your electrons and protons are doing, nor have you or will you ever see a strand of your own DNA.

Humans are like that.

Individually, we’re atomized. We live our own lives, as the protagonist in our own tale, and think these things happen only to us. (Credit card debt, friend loss, petty jealousy, etc.)

These days in particular, it’s each to his or her own clan, tribe, race or ethnic group, in so many ways.

But collectively, as a human race, we impact the planet, (writ large,) and each other, on an individual level. I know I’ve shouted out the Dalai Lama’s Twitter feed before, but really, you should be following this guy. (Is it OK to call him a guy, or a dude? Or is that too callous?)

Daily, he reminds us that our individual energy, positive or negative, impacts others each day. If we’re angry or rude to others, it spirals as each victim of our wrath spreads the energy further out into the world.

Or, conversely, if you’re kind, respectful, and generous to others, they spread that good juju down the line as well.

I know this can sound New Age, so either bear with me, or skip to the photos. (My Dad nods, smiles, and then skips to the photos.)

Religions are really operating systems for reality, when they’re taken literally. Whether it’s about worshipping thousands of deities, as the Hindus do, or a human-like god who sits on a Greek mountain-top, humans have always known that our actions have consequences.

In antiquity, they looked to the heavens, or asked oracles and sages for signs.

For confirmation of these connections.

Patterns.
Symbols.
Invisible webs littered with meaning.

Even our planet, which seems like everything, is only one of billions; our Sun one among countless stars.

Our Universe, even, might just be one unremarkable unit out of the multitude.

Why am I going all philosophical today?

Did I just finish explaining the Big Bang to a six year old, who then asked me what was the Nothing that came before?

Yes, I did.

But really, I’m more motivated by “Ghost Guessed,” an excellent photobook that showed up this summer, by Tom Griggs and Paul Kwiatkowski, published by Mesaestander Editores.

I’m rarely troubled to synopsize for you, but this one’s a bit dense, so I’ll give it a go, and we’ll see how it works.

I believe Tom Griggs, (but I can’t be sure, as it’s a collaborative project,) had a cousin Andy who died in a small plane crash in Northern Minnesota in 2009.

(I think this because on one of the first pages, Sue Griggs sends and email with respect to the search, as the plane was not immediately found in such a massive open landscape.)

The story is told through some particularly excellent writing, and then a barrage of different styles of images from different types of capture. But it’s connected throughout to the amorphous link between the disappearance of Andy’s flight, and the lost Malaysian Airlines flight 370, as one of the artists (seemingly) went to Malaysia just after the plane vanished from the face of the earth.

It’s tricky for me, as I assume because of that email that this is Tom Griggs’ story, his life, because that’s what the book implies. (Or does each photographer add bits from his own experience?) But really, even looking at the back cover right now, there’s no confirmation who’s life this is, or even if it’s real at all.

They make mention of the fact that the flight Vlad Putin’s goons brought down in Ukraine was also Malaysian Airlines, which seems like an impossible coincidence.

And the book wonders if one person’s disappearance and death can set off a negative spiral in someone else entirely?

Watching night-vision war in Iraq for the first time on TV, hiding from reality in flight simulators, or learning about a grandpa who was bitter all his life that he got sick from meningitis, in an outbreak that killed 600 of 800 soldiers, so he could never fulfill his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.

The details weave together, and then spread apart again, like a raven’s wings. (OMG, flipping through the pages just now, I noticed a small plane named Crazy Horse, thereby referencing Native American history as well.)

It bugs me a bit that I want to ascribe these things and stories as real, but I can’t.

Should it matter?

The book’s title comes from a poem, included late on, and all the text is printed in Spanish throughout as well. I know Tom’s based in Colombia, and I previously reviewed another of his books that included both languages, so I’m not surprised.

But I must say, doubling the potential audience that can actually read a text-heavy book is a pretty smart idea.

Overall, it’s an excellent project. The design, structure, photography, and text are all standout, and help the book forge an emotional connection with viewer.

Assuming there was an Andy Lindberg, who crashed on a foggy night, despite having texted that the weather was gorgeous, I hope he’s at peace up there somewhere.

Happy New Year, and see you in 2019.

Bottom Line: Excellent, possibly diaristic book about a plane crash

To purchase “Ghost Guessed” click here

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

Jonathan Blaustein

Comments are closed.