Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Land Line" by Michael Schmelling (J&L Books)

There are two types of photo books for me personally.  One that is obvious and one's that are not obvious.  Michael Schmelling's "Land Line" is not obvious.  For that reason as well as the brilliant (simple) design of the book makes me go back to it again and again.   At first I picked it up and then put it down again, but I was drawn to this book like Sherlock Holmes looking a the scene of a crime and picking up the clues that is obviously still set in place.

The term land mine comes to mind an object (usually telephone) that is connected to another party through cable or fixed locations.  There is no text in the book except on the credit page where they listed the locations of the photographs, and most of them, as well as beginning and the end of the book takes place at the USA Memory Championships in New York.  One tries to read a narrative here, but then I noticed that the first series of images were taken in 2008, and the others (which are placed at the end of the book) were taken in 2007.  So it is not following a regular time-line, but even that is intriguing to me.   Most of these images are men and some women (here and there) with great concentration on their faces, or giving that long stare to space.  At times it looks like they're at a conference, it is only at the end where one sees a winner holding his award for U.S. Memory Champion, but even that the winner looks stressed and there is something slightly sinister about the image.  Perhaps he is being interviewed by the judges?  In between those two segments are images from a barber shop, inside a federal prisoner transport plane which one has to presume they're police or prisoners, kids dressed up in costumes, and then the oddest image of all is Kevin Bacon, taken in Brooklyn in the year 2011.  When you add these images up, what does it mean or what story is being told?

The book resembles a dream where you wake up and the images are still fresh in your head.  But you can't really make a full narrative.  A doesn't go to B, but A goes straight to D and so forth.   The collection of images have a certain amount of tension, which adds to the appeal of the book itself.  "Land Mine" like I mentioned above, are set locations, but its the viewer that has to make the connections between the images, and that is the fun part of the book.   A highly sophisticated inner-adventure type of work.  Highly recommended for the images as well as what we think they may represent to us. A classic photo book that is artful not only for the photographs by Schmelling, but also for its (mysterious) concept as well as the beauty of the book itself.  Must see it in person.  Please do.

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