Recent Small Press Poetry & Photobooks in Close and Unexpected Proximity
Passengers by John Schabel
Opens Saturday, November 10, 12-8 pm
On view Sunday, November 11, 12-5 pm
Saturdays and Sundays noon- 6 pm
Fridays by appointment.
Through December 2nd, 2018
An overheard bit of conversation, a glimpse of a face on a passing subway car, words exchanged with a stranger on an elevator, or in line. We are placed in random proximities with others on a daily basis, yet how often do we stop to consider them beyond the moment, or allow a deeper connection? Sometimes, when we do, these encounters lead to life altering relationships. Other times, we never see that person again despite being left with a deep impression and possible longing. So much of what we experience of others happens at a distance.
Take for example the photobook Passengers by John Schabel (Twin Palms Publishers, 2011). There is no text except for acknowledgements and publishing information at the very end. About this book, the writer Laura M. Andre writes:
“John Schabel’s series of photographs depicting anonymous airline passengers effectively captures the curious blend of impersonal efficiency and poignant humanity that pervades the experience of contemporary commercial air travel. Like products on an assembly line, the planes carrying Schabel’s subjects churn down the runway; and with the same regularity the individual passengers emerge, identically framed, from his camera and onto the gallery wall. Interestingly, it is precisely this mechanized process that lays bare the active, but often overlooked, emotional and intellectual relationship between human beings and flight.”
As a reader, however, the book creates an intimate space in which I become closer with each individual presented. They must have no idea their image exists in this body of work and the photographer doesn’t know who these people are, so anonymity is nearly assured. Because of this, my gaze- indeed, my stare, is not imposed on them in real time which permits me a voyeuristic, but also sympathetic human connection as I look at each face framed in an airplane window. In flight and on their way somewhere unknown, the image offers up all kinds of speculation, which can be based simply on their expression, or on my projection of all the feelings I’ve had when traveling, which allows me to make that leap to a bond with a complete stranger. Our shared humanity makes it possible to develop the empathy that, in times like these is an important condition made possible through viewing this book.
Another book of random portraits is the unusual and disconcerting Unspeaking Likeness by Arne Svenson, also published by Twin Palms in 2016. Compiled as “a series of images of forensic facial reconstruction sculptures … (made) shortly after an unidentified corpse (or part thereof) is found, a forensic artist constructs an artificial face made of clay or plaster to better aid in victim identification.”
The proximities of each person in this book are arbitrary. Their only common bond is their death, probably through violence, with names unknown and remaining anonymous until a reconstruction of their remains produces a face in a state of frozen animation waiting for someone to recognize the approximation and return its selfhood. Chilling and deeply moving all at once, gazing at these faces engenders a sadness and pain, as each likeness is a story with a fatal outcome and the hope of a prolonged mystery solved for loved ones, or justice for the victim by those charged with seeking it. It’s not easy to view, but I find it profound when considering the meaning of existence.
The photo and poetry books on display in the Reading Room offer numerous chance encounters through various combinations and readings. Curation is given over to instinct and the seeming randomness of the piles of new books on my archive table. Some photobooks contain portraits, some are of landscapes, some are conceptual, some are documentary. The poetry selections are some old favorites with new discoveries to be read and considered in proximity and relationship to each other.
Consider the poem Dear Sir or Madam by Dessa in relation to the above two books:
We changed your name while you were sleeping,
you’ll find your new one on the form that you’ll receive at lunch.
You’ll be given a numbered pound of steam
and a tool which may reveal its purpose to you
in which case it is a handweight.
Please mind it,
we regret that we cannot issue another
in the event that you misplace it.
There will be other people seated at your table,
we ask that you cultivate a fellow feeling.
Toward the people seated at the other tables
you may develop any attitude you like.
Sensation will be almost constant.
Patterns will emerge, some significant, some by sheer and simple chance.
You’ll receive the full agenda at the end of the conference
at which point, you’ll be asked to exit through the second door
and hang your pound of steam on the hook provided.
( From the volume A Pound of Steam, Rain Taxi, 2013)
There are many other possible connections to be made between works published by A Brother in Elysium Press, Gnomic Books, Doublecross Press, Ugly Ducking Press, Rain Taxi, photographers Ronnie Farley, Kate Orne, Raymond Meeks, Tim Carpenter and others. One actual connection is the Hudson Valley, home to several of the presses, writers and artists on display. Come in and take a chance- read, discover and make some new connections of your own.