I wasn’t inspired to sift through submissions today.
So I dusted off my favorite trick, and stared at the bookshelf.
“What will jump out,” I wondered?
Would any random connections form, giving me a creative star around which to orbit?
First, I saw a book still in its bubble-wrap, but on the shelf, and it was “Glaciers,” by Ragnar Axelsson in Iceland, published by Qerndu in 2018.
“Well,” I thought, “at least I should take it out of the bubble,” so I set it aside, and returned to hunting.
The next book that popped out, kicking me in the subconscious groin, (metaphorically speaking,) was an all-time favorite, Taryn Simon’s “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” published by Steidl in 2007.
“Do they have anything in common,” I asked myself?
Then it hit me like a fist to the solar plexus, the buzzword from five or six years ago: Access.
Access is the key.
I wrote about RAX for the NYT Lens Blog, and he actually flies a plane to get his photographs of the famed glaciers of Iceland.
He’s a part of an airplane collective, a fractional ownership, I believe, so he has the rare ability to actually show us what “Icecaps” really look like, in a world in which they’re melting.
Climate Change is the new Trump, so people who can go into the eye teeth of dangerous, or out of the way places, who can do what photography often did in the 19th Century, and “bear witness,” will be doing all of us a solid.
(For example, this past week, the Washington Post featured Louie Palu’s photos of translators in the war in Afghanistan. It takes A LOT to tell those stories.)
But back to the books.
Taryn Simon goes behind the scenes in America in an absurd, clever, tragic, and addictive manner, showing us obscenely well-composed, and well-researched, formal photographs in places no regular person would/could ever go.
Most of us couldn’t/wouldn’t get in the door in ANY of these places, but ALL of them?
As a wise man once said, “Inconceivable!”
I could write a partial list, but really it would just seem like I’m making it up.
Among many other places, she visits: a nuclear waste facility, the CIA, the KKK, inside an inbred-white-tiger cage, with Jews who don’t believe in Israel, on military exercises, at the site of active explosions, on the Mexican border with detainees, or maybe you’d prefer to see the actual Death Star from “Star Wars?”
From what I know, Taryn Simon’s father was in the State Department, she went to Brown, and is well connected in the Art world, (meaning, Powerful International Rich People,) so throw in a research team, some photo assistants, and I can only imagine a lot of charm… and you get a book like this.
No small feat.
Like RAX’s book required he literally fly over glaciers repeatedly in a small plane, Taryn Simon’s work necessitates a host of very specific skills, abilities, and connections, to make her seminal series possible.
Using all of your talents and contacts, working it to the max in service of your art, is a gutsy, and occasionally risky strategy, but man, when it pays off, you do end up with some of the best stuff.
Just a thought.
See you next week!
Original article: This Week in Photography: Behind the Curtain.