Copyright Max Sher 2013 published by Treemedia
A Remote Barely Audible Evening Waltz (English translation of the Russian title) is Sher’s first book and an investigation of memory and personal experiences; concurrently evokes mystery and nostalgia. A delightful semi-fictional story based on appropriating vernacular photographs that narrate a poignant story of Sher’s making, set in Russia in the 1960’s, 70’s into the 80’s.
I also need to declare up front that this book interests me from my personal interest in creating artist books that explore similar ideas and concepts using found photographs to create semi-fictional stories. Thus this book resonates with me on many levels.
In the Foreword, a poignant quote from Walter Benjamin “The true picture of the past whizzes by. Only as a picture, which flashes its final farewell in the moment of its recognizability, is the past to be held fast.”
Sher’s photobook has two parts, first the found photographs sequenced to narrate a group’s journey in which the authorship is suspected but not entirely known. Interspersed in the first group of photographs are found text extracted from letters that were amongst the photographic archive. Sher has curated a mashup of lyrical landscape, snapshot portraits, obvious mugging for the camera lens, and vernacular documentary moments. This is a personal snapshot story of Russia from the perspective of group who had the affluence of the upper middle class.
The later chapter is an investigation in a lyrical documentary style of the place in which these photographs were found.
The quality of the found 35mm color slides are symbolically a bit off, reflecting what could be obtained in the Russian economy of the 1960’s and 70’s. The colors, like the memories, now fading with the passing time. These photographs are imbued with a dense layer of nostalgia and lost memories. Although the subjects appear to be experiencing relatively happy moments that my knowing that those who created the photographs have passed on, creates a melancholy read. In conjunction with Sher’s documentary of the vacant and empty place, this is also a story about mortality and what we leave behind.
At the transition between the found photographs and his documentary style photographs of the place where these photographs were found, Sher states “An analogy with archeology suggests itself here; you find some evidence and create a tentative representation of people and their lives – or rather, of their live’s external features. Using what remained of personal items of everyday routine, we could ascertain the person’s social standings but could not find their names, thoughts, preferences; neither could we guess whom they had loved. We could only imagine that.”
The book has a case bound binding which regretfully does not allow the interior contents a lay-flat read. Nevertheless, the interior plates have ample margins, thus none of the images have any content lost in the gutter. The text is provided in both Russian and English. The book cover and spine is embossed with the title and as a twist, a tipped-in image is applied to the back cover. The translucent belly band provides the book title in English. The page paper has slight warmth in color, similar to faded yellowed paper, adding a metaphoric background layer to this melancholic narrative.
I selected Sher’s photobook as one of my more interesting photobooks for 2013.