Copyright Carolyn Drake 2014, self-published
This photobook by Carolyn Drake (b. 1971 Los Angeles, CA and currently resides in Mississippi) incorporates an allegory story of the same name, Wild Pigeon, written by Nurmuhemmet Yasin who is a Uyghur author. The Yasin story narrates the Uyghur experience in this remote region of Western China (XinJiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Like much of China the Western region has been undergoing extensive changes to “modernize” the country, with huge scale dismantling of the pre-existing structures.
This dismantling and rebuilding process was very evident to me while visiting Eastern China six years ago and from what I learned, the “modernization” process was occurring simultaneously across this huge nation. The Chinese reaction to this modernization process is extremely mixed. In the Western region of the Uyghur, it takes on another layered meaning, as the Uyghur besides being physically different as compared to the Han Chinese are also predominantly Muslim. The underlying conflict is palpable in her narrative.
Drake’s resulting photobook is an interesting mix of photography; her photographs, found photographs, photographs that have been altered by her subjects within a meandering text from Yasin’s story. The sequencing of the photographs are pared to reveal the region’s contradictions; a fully concealed women across the book’s gutter from the photograph of unabashed men bathing, a lush oasis resplendent with amusement water-toys facing a photograph of an arid and dry desert landscape, a woman who sits in a pose that appears to be in prayer which is across and facing a man who leans over his motorcycle’s handlebars, fingers intertwined and illuminated by the evening light, as might be coming of a lion on the prowl, and whose gaze is directed across the page back at the girl on the opposing spread. The pairing of her photographs creates a subtle tension that runs through out this book.
Drake in an attempt to help facilitate communication and bridge cultures provided opportunities for her subjects to creatively interact with her photographic prints. They in turn created personal and layered messages by means of drawings, text and collages, of which the ensuring results remind me of Jim Goldberg’s photobook Open See.
Her narrative is perhaps similar to the story line in the novel Animal Farm written by George Orwell; that in modern China, not all equals are in fact equal.
The hardcover book has sections of irregular sized pages and continuously shifting photographic image orientations (horizontal and vertical images) and includes a smaller stiff-cover booklet, sewn binding, that is glued to the inside of the back cover. The Wild Pigeon story is by Nurmuhemmet Yasin and translated into English by Dr. Dolkun Kamberi and interspersed throughout the book, with an Afterword by Drake.
As in her pervious self-published photobook, Two Rivers, she has teamed up with the talented Dutch photobook designer Sybern (-SYB-) Kuiper as her collaborator. Carolyn Drake’s Two Rivers was previously reviewed on the The Photobook and was selected as one of my Interesting Photobooks for 2013 that was published in the annual photo-eye Best Photobooks listings.
Note: Carolyn Drake states that Yasin, the author of this story, was imprisoned ten years ago for “inciting separation” (subversive or ideologically corrupting) in the publication of Wild Pigeon and currently his fate is unknown.