Review by Karen Jenkins •
Douglas Stockdale spends a lot of time looking at and thoughtfully writing about books of contemporary photography as a fellow reviewer for this magazine and as founder of The PhotoBook blog among other projects. His own photography has now been collected in his first commercial book, Ciociaria from Rome’s Punctum Editions. It contains nearly fifty color photographs born of Stockdale’s travels over the course of a year through central Italy, and specifically in the Ciociaria region. Named for the ancient ciocie sandal traditionally worn there, Ciociaria is notable for its paucity of known history. Stockdale’s photographs are presented in a spare, conservative design, which suits them, and are accompanied by two short essays that contain some engaging content, but ultimately frustrated me more than they enhanced my enjoyment of the work.
Stockdale and Punctum’s Marco Delogu strive to detail how the photographer navigated this largely foreign place as a “photographer-flaneur.” A dichotomy is suggested between this variation on street photography and unpopulated landscape or topographical views. In this guise, Stockdale rejects both narrative reportage and the purely picturesque. He instead delves in between – seeking places where the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange – creating touchstones of personal symbolism that transcend the particulars of Ciociaria.
Within this realm, Stockdale takes a deadpan look at the human-altered landscape, finding in the banal a cross-cultural link to broader metaphorical meaning. Yet the book is also studded with heavily lyrical images (not least of which is the final view of a misty, open road). How this strategy may ultimately foment meaning is nevertheless somewhat hard to extract from Stockdale’s and Delogu’s essays that are weighed down by some cumbersome language and grammatical errors.
What I liked best about these photographs is how simply they capture the relentless and sometimes beautiful, sometimes bewildering encroachment of the natural world on man-made environments. I find Stockdale to be a keen observer of how people attempt to compartmentalize and contain nature for both practical use and domestic enjoyment. Throughout Ciociaria nature is carpet, canopy, curtain – served up as potted plants and rolls of grain. When humans do occasionally appear in Stockdale’s photographs, they are on a diminutive scale and more than once seem to be found in perplexed contemplation of the pruned forms and boxed lawns of their own devising. Garlands of laundry, rumpled banners, and fences in various states of dominance over the wild and cultivated string image to image.
A theme of the memorial also emerges, wherein nature is shown as an inextricable part of how we commemorate loss and reckon with the passing of time, seen here in wilted bouquets, neglected fountains and shrines embedded in the rolling hillsides. I’m not certain that I took away from this volume an understanding of Ciociaria, but then again, that may not have been the point. I will stay tuned for what Stockdale does to follow up on these enticing images and plan to return to them again to see what I may have missed.—
Karen Jenkins earned a Master’s degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century. This review was co-published in the photo-eye blog November 2011
Douglas Stockdale’s Ciociaria builds an “organized” flanerie that goes beyond the topography/street photography dichotomy; he erases the direct human aspect and the need of a nearly scientific witness at the same time, enhancing the concept of how every single human being can become acquainted with a place in varied unpredictable ways and times, as well as readapting the landscape to one’s visions and needs.
Stockdale personalizes Ciociaria, a loosely defined rocky and hilly region with memories of ancient Latin yet without a known history, putting aside all stereotypes and re-launching a sort of “personal anonymity”, very typical to areas that developed due to the middle class explosion. Houses, banners, woods, monuments, cars and the outskirts of little towns, nothing is magnificent and luckily nothing is picturesque. The truly great difference lies here: Stockdale does not overdramatically criticize the Italian landscape per se, perceived as an embarrassing overlap of architectural abuse and ignorance, but then again his flanerie is nothing more than an actualization of the grand tour.
His photographs hint of a street photographer’s reportage yet lacks an obvious narrative, providing many hints of a complex and multi-layered culture, creating an indirect portrait of Ciociaria, while leaving most questions tantalizingly unanswered. The photographs capture a paradox of strangeness mixed with familiarity, mystery mixed with beauty, within a context of color, space, and texture.
This book is an investigation into complexities of ambiguity intertwined with feelings of belonging while yet still not fitting in. Stockdale crosses Ciociaria and looks for answers, adhering to that landscape and photographing it in such a way as to illustrate what it personally conveys to him. It is about being a stranger in a vaguely familiar.
Ciociaria, Douglas Stockdale
Photographer: Douglas Stockdale, born Butler PA and resides in Southern California
Publisher: Punctum Edizioni, Rome, Italy, copyright 2011
Essay: Marco Delogu and Douglas Stockdale
Text: Italian and English
Hardcover book with printed dust jacket, 50 color photographs, four-color lithographic printing, 96 pages without captions or page numbering, print and bound in Rome, Italy, ISBN 978-88-95410-28-9
Book Design: Leonardo Magrelli and Douglas Stockdale