Nina Berman – Homeland


Photographs copyright of Nina Berman 2008 by Trolley books

I am trying to figure out why Berman’s book Homeland bothers me so. As a political and religious satire I think that it follows too close to a grueling two year presidential election here in the United States. A political book that attempts to ridicule her opposition is just not working for me at this time.

She includes a fictional narrator who provides a very slanted & opinionated viewpoint with “factual” photographs and OMG captions and then wishes that what appears “over the top”,  for “the reader to consider a different interpretation”. Yes, she has a thinly veiled political and religious agenda and it comes off as tedious & repetitious when it has the potential of being some much more.

She no doubt is a very skilled photographer as she can deftly bring into a photograph the elements that supports her point of view. In this case she has provided her expose of those who hold an opposite view point. What comes through is that those on both political/religious extremes have a similar style to their rhetoric in just a slight difference in the actual content.

I could actually enjoy many of the photographs if I could just ignore the OMG sensational captions with each photograph. Many of the photographs are either very humorous or provide viewpoints clearly seen such as the older lady getting prepared for some event wearing her gold gilded glasses above her mask. It appears that her subject is out for a senior social event and we can tell by her yellow shirt and the busy background it is something other than an afternoon tea with her friends.

It is though that Berman does not trust us to use our imagination and she has to be sure that we get the point so we get mentally clubbed over the head with some over detailed captions. These overbearing captions become one of the weakest points of the book and this body of work. Like I said perhaps this book just happens to be published too close to this last presidential election with both parties running for office providing a multitude of innuendos and slanted reporting of the “facts”.

There are three sections within the book; exploring the simulation exercises if a catastrophic event were to occur (Prepare), those who attend Mega churches (Believe) and events by the armed forces  and police units (Defend). These are photographs that reflect an investigative reportage style and appear a little too much subjective in their editing.

The book design does try to provide a solution to present larger photographs in a small book (trim size 7 1/2″ x 10 3/8″). All of the horizontal photographs in this vertical book are printed as a full two page spread which creates large 13 1/2″ x 9 1/4″ photographs. The photographs are a delight to look at as you can take note all of the nuance’s and details within the photographs.

The corresponding risk with this layout design concept is that something might get lost in the middle gutter such as in the second photograph below. You could argue that missing some of letters of the word could impact the image message but we mentally fill in the missing letter and finish the photograph’s intent. This creates a slightly different photograph than if we were to see this as a print in a gallery where everything is intact as it was meant to be seen. Due to Berman’s compositions not many of her photographs lose something in the gutter but it is a distraction when it does occur.

Nina Berman’s Homeland was published in 2008 by Trolley books and is a beautifully printed book in Italy by Grafiche Antiga with 90 color photographs and an image wrap cover over the hardbound boards.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale





4 thoughts on “Nina Berman – Homeland

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  1. Dear Reader,
    I think that what bothers you is the deep awareness that this work is not a political and religious satire, but the strict report of a disturbing reality which developed in the last few years across the Western world. A reality that has developed, through the use of Social Fear by shameless politicians and religious leaders, models of sectarianism, paranoia and belief in force and abuse.
    The photos of Nina Berman are all too true, unfortunately, and they point a finger at a sort of domestic extremism which was at the heart of the Bush administration and which has caused considerable damage to the US and the World, and has inflicted wounds to scores of innocents. Wounds very deep and difficult to heal.

    The captions, they are just as true to the description of what’s going on in the photos. We did not mean to under-estimate our readers, but some photos needed an explanative caption and, for a matter of consistency, we used the same parameters for all of them, even the most obvious ones. I am attaching a few as example, but I can assure that this is the tone for all and it does not seem to be devious or overbearing.
    The examples of the pictures you reproduced:
    Bioterror volunteer, Pneumonic plague simulation, “TOPOFF2” Homeland security $16 million exercise, Lake County, Illinois 2003
    Give war a chance, Bumper sticker on a marine’s pick-up truck, Washington, Illinois, 2006
    SWAT Round up, Orlando, Florida, 2006

    Other examples:
    Parachutes, All-America day with the 82nd Airborne, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, 2006
    9-11-02, Remote TV camera and crowd at 9-11 crash site memorial, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2002
    Law student, Pro Iraq war rally, Times Square, New York City, 2003
    Camouflage, White house communication team during President Bush’s visit to September 11 crash site, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2002
    Homeland Security Advisory Billboard, one of three in the small town of Country Club Hills, Illinois, 2008
    Trainee, Citizen Corps/Community Emergency Response team (CERT) session, Union township Fire Station, Winfield, Pennsylvania, 2006
    A woman waits to be rescued during a U.S. Northern Command exercise where Islamic terrorists have detonated a nuclear weapon, Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC), Butlerville, Indiana, 2007
    A Hazmat team prepares to enter fake shopping mall, Islamic terrorist nuclear attack simulation,
    Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC), Butlervillle, Indiana. 2007
    Terrorists attack Midway Airport, “TOPOFF2” Homeland security $16 million exercise, Chicago, Illinois 2003

    As to the production value of the volume, inevitably the horizontal pictures in a vertical format are bound to create a problem in the gutter, but in the specific case we agreed with Nina that this handicap would have been amply overshadowed bv the power of the images reproduced almost full bleed on the double page.
    The alternative would have been, as you quite rightly point out, an horizontal coffee table book.
    I would like to thank you anyway for the complementary words about the printing quality. It’s something that we take very seriously.
    Gigi Giannuzzi
    Trolley Publisher

  2. Gigi, I think that we can disagree on the opinion that this is a “strict report”, or about “domestic extremism”, but it is my opinion to allow the photographic images make their own case, sans opinionated captions. You don’t seem to give your book buyers much credit to their creativity or imagination as a result.

    As to the book layout, it is a bold design, does work well with Berman’s body of work and supported by excellent printing and binding. Well done.

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