This Week in Photography: Aliens Among Us

 

Do you know the Spanish word for fun?

 

It’s divertido.

 

In English, we use the word diverting, but that’s a far cry from fun.

To divert is to shift one’s attention.
Diversion is distraction.

To me, that’s a totally different concept from pleasure, or joy, both of which I associate with “fun.”

Right now, however, much of the human population of Earth is looking for distraction.

We want to be diverted from the raging pandemic, or the still-unresolved US Presidential election. (As I write this, on Thursday morning.)

{Ed note: Biden has pulled ahead as I post this.}

People want something, anything else to think about, because there is just so much depressing, bad news out there, and in most of the Northern Hemisphere, the leaves have now fallen, and winter will be here before you know it.

(Last Monday, for example, I awoke to 2 feet of snow, which put a serious crimp in my 5 mile a day walking habit.)

Just yesterday, I wrote my monthly Arsenal column for the English blog Le Grove, and my editor published it within two hours of the time I first began to write.

If the shit is readable, slap it up there, so people have something, anything, to focus on, beyond the uncertainty of this unique moment in time.

So please allow me to divert you today, with a really cool photo-book that arrived in the mail in March, just as the initial wave of lockdowns set in. (Always, I go for the hook. You should know that by now, as I’ve been doing this for almost a decade.)

I got a box from Surrey, England, but as usual, I put it in my review pile without knowing what it was.

Today, as it felt like the right package, I opened it up, and found “Some Kind of Heavenly Fire,” by Maria Lax, published by Setanta Books.

I had no idea what it would contain, but was not surprised to find the perfect book for the moment, because that synchronicity has happened literally more times than I can count.

The book has a hunter green, fabric cover, with the ochre word “heavenly” embossed, but not a hint of what lies within.

On the inside cover, a glued-down text page shows photo-copied newspaper articles, with the term “Ufo” present, and the language appears to be Finnish. (I’m guessing, having learned such things from reviewing hundreds of books over the years.)

Staying here, on the interior cover, you can really see the way the book was bound, both the pages to each other, and the interior to the cover, and I liked the touch of handmade.

The opening text, printed in a hand-written-type font, says, “In this town, we have always waited for someone, or something- God, a millionaire or aliens- to come and lift us from this misery.”

Between the cover, and those words, we can now guess that aliens/Ufo’s are the book’s subject in some way.

Next, we discover a set of vintage images mixed with contemporary photographs, and the idea of spectral lights becomes evident.

(The reindeer with glowing white eyes is a big tipoff to locale as well, in addition to being a badass photograph.)

This is the kind of object that reminds me that a photo-book, being experiential, does not need to be a collection of genius, mind-numbingly good pictures.

The art in here is cool, for sure, and some of the photos do stand out on their own.

But mostly, I loved it for the production values, including taped in pictures, and a copy of a newspaper article, which then had hidden images beneath.

The narrative structure and storytelling were standout as well.

In the end, from the final text, we learn it is indeed Finland, and that the artist grew up in a small town with a history of alien activity, even though she only learned of it recently, from the stories told by her grandfather, who has dementia.

Did the lights really follow people around in the 60’s?

Does it matter?

Maria Lax writes that Finland at the time was in crisis, and people needed distractions.

Sound familiar?

For more information from the publisher about “Some Kind of Heavenly Fire” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

Jonathan Blaustein

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