Change is as good as a holiday.
That’s what my old friend Pappy used to say.
(And I happen to agree.)
Change is most often thrust upon us, as few embrace it willingly.
(Only after the fact, when we reap the spoils, do we begrudgingly admit it was worth the effort.)
That said, change has come to this column, and I’m all for it.
I’ll still be writing for you twice a month here, (which got slightly lost in my announcement last week,) but I went with the hubbub, because the week in, week out endeavor, over the past 11 years, helped define my life.
But now it’s time for something new.
I can (occasionally) be as reluctant to change as the next person, but when we enter a new life phase, we see things differently.
Growing older, experiencing more life, and hopefully acquiring (some) wisdom means we’re able to attack the same problems with different solutions.
Or acquire different opinions from what came before.
And that last bit is motivating today’s column.
I was talking with a client the other day, and referred to my un-reviewable book.
The one book I’ve picked up, time and again, but put down.
Each time, I shake my head and say, “No, not today. I don’t see how to tell this in a way that’s not offensive.”
And so I’d set the book back on the shelf, only to pick it up six months, or a year later.
Frankly, I’ve grabbed it three times in the last month, but think today, for whatever reason, I’ve finally cracked the code.
“Upstate,” by Tema Stauffer, published by Daylight in 2018, turned up in the mail three or four years ago.
As you already know, (having reading this far,) up until now, I’ve had a hard time expressing my thoughts about “Upstate.”
I don’t hate this book.
Not at all.
(Not even a little.)
But it is hard to write about, because I don’t like it that much either.
A few weeks ago, I discussed the idea that sometimes the established, expected format of a book, (essay, plates, essay) can do it a disservice.
(If the creative team takes no chances.)
And for me, these cultural landscape images speak to that even-steven, middle of the road, well-established, Alec-Soth-shooting-style we’ve come to know so well over the last 15 years.
Plus, the poverty reminds me of so many Appalachian books I’ve seen before, or just rural poverty porn in general.
(In this case, we’re seeing Hudson, New York.)
Yet I’m certain some of you will like the photographs a lot. Maybe even love the book.
(Art is subjective.)
For me, a book that is conventional, and reminiscent of so many other projects in its design, shooting style, and subject matter becomes, somewhat by definition, average.
More than acceptable.
But it’s not memorable.
And historically, whether reviewing a book, or writing about portfolios from a festival, I like things to be distinctive.
To stick in my mind.
This book never did, until it finally did, for being something of a cautionary tale.
So there you have it.
Since this is an edgy take, I’m sure some of you will disagree with me.
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.