Someone was selling firewood.
In a truck.
By the side of the road.
I saw it this morning.
(Winter is coming.)
It’s August 11th, (high summer some places,) and my kids just went back to school.
My daughter is in 5th grade, and when I began this column, in September of 2011, she wasn’t born yet.
(It’s been a wild ride.)
Over the course of my time here, (week in, week out,) I’ve had the chance to travel to some pretty amazing places, and report back to you.
Beyond Derby, London and Amsterdam, all my city reports have come from here in the good old US of A.
Off the top of my head, since 2011, I’ve written about Austin, Albuquerque, Carmel, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, LA, Marfa, Monterey, New Jersey, New Orleans, NYC, Portland, Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco, Taos, Tucson, and Washington, DC.
I’m a lucky guy.
As of now, I’m supposed to visit NJ, Chicago and New Orleans later this year.
So we’ll have plenty more travel content in 2022-3, with the attendant gallery, museum, restaurant reviews, etc.
It’s a far cry from pandemic lockdown, thank goodness, when so many people just stayed home.
Traveling, visiting new ports of call, seeing new cities, tasting new foods…
Few things are better for our personal (and brain) development.
Doing new things makes new neural pathways in your brain, and every moment in a new travel environment counts as doing something new.
(Yes, that was 4 uses of new in one sentence.)
But getting to truly see the world, put my eyes on China and Japan, Australia and Brazil?
Egypt and India?
I mean, to see all of it?
I can’t even imagine.
Yet that’s the feeling I got, when I put down today’s book.
That I’d just taken a wild, elegant, extremely well-seen and well-crafted journey around world in the 21st Century.
The work felt current, fresh, edgy, and smart, with great technique.
But let me back up a second…
I found two boxes at the bottom of the pile today, from March 2021.
Somehow, they’d been skipped, so of course they’re both vaulted to the top of the pile.
The first of them was called “Ibidem,” by Giovanni Del Brenna; seemingly self-published with a professional team.
But I’ll flip the script, for once, and share a bit of info from the back of the book.
One essay, by Carole Naggar was dated 2011, and I thought, that’s odd?
Why publish an essay written so long ago?
Then the copyright on the next page said 2012.
Yet my initial impressions were the book was super current and of the moment, and it was submitted in 2021?
In an excellent footnote section at the end, the artist writes he was born in Genoa, Italy, (but never lived there,) raised in Brazil in a French school, and has lived in many other places.
It seems he comes honestly by his Sofia Coppola/”Lost in Translation,” globetrotting, “In the Mood for Love”/Wong Kar-wai, seen-it-all before, and I know the best noodle shop in 30 cities vibe.
Saying how all cities are alike in some ways.
I love it.
As I turned the page, page after page, the photographs were standout.
The edit jumps at you, like a bored dog seeking affection.
Lots of dynamic use of color and light, with emotional energy.
And the design was on point too, with photos bleeding onto subsequent spreads, with smaller spreads mixed within, so you’re changing paper sizes constantly. While each spread connects to the next through fabulous color, and repeating motifs, like flying fish.
The photos challenge our sense of perception, with lots of figure/ground manipulations, use of repeating patterns, and then optical illusions like advertisements or painted buildings.
The design and photographs also wrong-foot us by reclaiming the gutter space, where most artists fear to tread.
(I mean, it’s literally called the gutter.)
Again and again, the gutter creates a symmetrical split, with vital info right there over the seam.
I found the book to be flawless, right up until the end.
Page after page of nodding my head, saying, “Yes, that’s just right!”
And then towards the back, there was one image, of some guy in a jacket and tie in the light and shadow of a doorway, and it broke the spell.
Like, every single other photo I loved, but then why this guy?
Right afterwards, there were two traditional-type-explanatory-essays, and I felt they, too, were unnecessary.
(The pictures spoke for themselves, meaning-wise.)
I recognized photographs being made in Japan and China, Italy and France, but clearly there were many more locations I couldn’t place. The excellent thumb-nail index, at the end, tells us the book records travels from 2002-8, in those places, plus London, New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, and a host of other locations.
(In fairness, I did pick out a sleeping London banker on a train, and could recognize NYC on my second viewing.)
I kept saying to myself, as I looked, “Is that Italy, France, or somewhere else entirely?”
How do these things feel chic and generic, yet universal?
Which gorgeous city are we seeing in this photo?
Does it even matter?
With the index and footnotes, we get just the right bit of context, if we MUST know which city we were seeing, or what his travels were like, where his brother lived, all from the artist’s own perspective.
Ending there, followed by an insert in French and Italian, the book sticks the landing.
And last page credits Del Brenna, Teun van der Heijden, and Fred Ritchin as editors, and Heijdens Karwei for the design, so major kudos on this one.
So glad I found it at the bottom of the pile.
See you next week!
If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at email@example.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.