The way they look

Entrance to Our Valley – Jenia Fridlyand

“Entrance to Our Valley” was one of the picks from Photobookstores as one of the best photobooks 2019. Jenia Fridlyand, a Russian photographer, photographed with a large-format camera the 200-acre farm in the Hudson River Valley that Jenia and her husband bought for them and their entire family. The beautifully poetic black and white images of this place, which was purposed for a multi-generational home – “for our parents, who are now living more than five thousand miles from the place of their birth; for my husband and I, both first-generation immigrants; and for our children, so they could have the privilege of coming back to a place where they grew up.”

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© Jenia Fridlyand, from the book ‘Entrance to Our Valley’; Source @ Fotoroom

Her work reminded me of photographic works by Raymond Meeks, Mark Steinmetz, Bryan Schutmaat, Jonathan Levitt etc. To me, they all possess a similar type of visual aesthetics which is intimate, calm and subtle that feels timeless yet still contemporary. Maybe it’s the everydayness that I like about these works, as it is not context-specific which everyone can easily relate to. I can easily resonate with most of the images here even though I am not a Russian, nor do I have a farm or live in the States.

Other references:


The way they look

Stranger – Olivia Arthur


Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur‘s work “Stranger” is about Dubai, connecting its past and its present days. While she was researching for this project during her artist residency in Dubai, she found out about a shipwreck incident in Dubai in 1961 and lots of people died. One of the families believed that his son never died from the incident and that he is still alive in present days. Using this story as an inspiration, Stranger is about telling the city of Dubai through this imaginative character – what if he’s still alive now, how and what would he see?

Although she was trying to see it from the point of view of this character, the book encapsulated a feeling which is universal for outsiders coming to the place – a sense of isolation and loneliness as well as strangeness to the things that happen and exist in the city. From the book, she also collected quotes and extracts of conversations that she heard. For the final words of the book, she extracted from what she found out from the divers – that people were in their life-vest and pockets full of gold – to use as a metaphor for a city that draws people in with its promises of riches and full of workers on all levels of society, saving something for a life elsewhere.

The design of the book was also carefully thought out to represent “Stranger”. The book was printed entirely on transparent paper creating these new double or sometimes triple compilation images which gives a sense of confusion from the layering of the past with the present. This somehow matches what Olivia imaged the survivor would feel when walking around the city.

image courtesy to Olivia Arthur

The way they look

Bees and The Unbearable – Chen Zhe

Someone shared this book with me earlier this week and I was immediately drawn to the handcraft of the book and the powerful image of the arm. The work can be seen as two separate work.

THE BEARABLE is about how the artist photographs her self injuries. And this collection of “trash” she calls it came to become a body of work after she had to present her self-portraits at a class in University. While this work is about herself, THE BEES is about finding others who are going through similar experiences and her relationship and exchanges with them. These two woven together to become this book with tender, sensual and powerful book.

She said in an interview, “I had a hard time with all the attention, good and bad. Some suggested that I spoke for the people who cannot speak for themselves. That was not my intention. Other media said presented self-harm as a brave thing, which simply made me angry.”

In her point of view, art helps us ask difficult questions about ourselves. And in this work, Chen is glad that she had the opportunity to share these questions with others e.g. How does a fascination come to be? What does it feel like? And how bad is it if the fascination is a dark one? She said, “Why would a poet publish a poem after he wrote it? He can just be satisfied with having written it and then put it in a drawer. But what often happens is that he would read it out. He wants it to resonate with people, even though he must be embarrassed to admit it.”

And then there, her work has a deeper impact on me. Not just the book (which I am awaiting for its arrival), but these questions she imposed. Can what artists want to portray through their work always be understood by readers? And is it important to be able to read what the artist wants to say through their work? Or can art be about having our own interpretation? How does an art become an art? Do artists always want to publish art because they want their work to be resonated?

What is my fascination? How does it come to my attention? Is it bad to have evil thoughts? And is it bad to make these thoughts into art and publish them?

On some level, I do resonate with Chen’s work. And maybe that’s why I like her work.


The way they look

Ray’s a Laugh – Richard Billingham

I don’t own this book. When this book was first introduced to me, I didn’t like it at all. I felt the work was very snappy and in my mind, I felt like this can be done by anyone. But then, few months passed by and I re-read it again while studying for photographers who shoots about family. Actually, the work is amusing! It’s sort of like a picture comic book about this man, Ray.

And Ray happens to be the artist’s father, who is an alcoholic. These pictures are the daily encounters with his family Ray, his mother Liz and his brother Jason. Pictures of Ray are mostly when at his drunk state, you see him falling off, throwing cats and getting hit by a tennis ball without any acknowledgement at all. Billingham was able to capture something hilarious during the drunk state of his dad. Ray’s almost always with a drink in his hand, or with a bottle around nearby; while there are also repetitive cats, dogs and dolls around indicating the life of chaos in this house. Work was intermissioned by greenery nature of birds and ducks, showing their lives still goes on even there are birds chirping and ducking swimming in the ponds. I must applause to Billingham for being able to turn something that can be so negative to something light and laughable.

In an interview with Billingham, he told the editor that this project, these photographs, was his way of making order in this chaos. It was his way of filtering through the negatives and trying to survive during this manic status. But then again, question is raised, what is the moral grounds here for publishing this work? When we are releasing something very private to a public audience, where is the line of ethics? This is not the end of the story between Ray and Liz. Richard Billingham directed a movie “Ray and Liz” which was released in Winter 2018 composed of even more moments of the lives between Ray and Liz. Has this gone too far? Or if something is so intertwined with ourselves, can we call it our own?

The way they look

Halfstory Halflife – Raymond Meeks

This is the first photobook review I make. Well – I wouldn’t say it’s a review, more like my impression and opinions about this book. My way of learning to bridge what I read and verbalising them – reaching a much deeper state of visual literacy, which is to analyse and to interpret what these photographs mean. And – to make sense of the narrative which the artist is trying to write.

I have, never heard of Raymond Meeks before this book came out. And I’ve only started collecting photobooks maybe 1/2 year ago. Through friends and mentors, I’ve got to know about Chose Commune the french publisher and learned about the books they produce.

First I was drawn to Meek’s book by his double black and white photographs of the boys running up the woods. An escape maybe, but also a sense of calm to me. They were timeless images. And then I was totally intrigued by the images of boys falling into these deep dark holes. Reading the synopsis before reading the book is not quite a good a idea, because mentally I would already link that to boys jumping into the water, and I don’t separate that with what the photographs themselves are showing. But when I do detach myself from what information was given before, I can feel these outer-worldly images, of these boys maybe falling off into space, or in some dark galaxy, or maybe into some parallel universe that we don’t know of.

After all, these young men throw themselves into a water that is unseen, a water that we can only presume as the pale bodies glisten with wet droplets. There is only an engulfing blackness, its mystery heightened by these unfolding cycles. In this void, the past, present and future intertwine. There is no beginning nor end.

These photographs shows bravery, courage and anxiety of these boys and few girls. With context of these teenage boys, one would think that they are escaping the reality of growing up. Yet interestingly with the edit of the images, the images follow the jumping were parts of their hometown – the very reality they need to face. The repetitive images of them running up the path, pondering before the jump and jumping seems like a ritual, a ritual to try and try again, until maybe something better comes up. Yet reality is still here, full-frontal facing us.

This work of Meek’s is showing the kind of adolescence phase we all had, and we can easily project ourselves into being one of them, and experiencing that all over again.

Interview with Meeks: