Photographer: Matthew Thompson (born Fullerton, California, USA; resides Ostrava, Czech Republic)
Publisher: Self-published, Ostrava, Czech Republic, © 2017
Essays: Introduction by the photographer
Text: English and Spanish
Sewn hard cover with dust jacket; 112 numbered pages; 54 images; four-color lithography; 15×21 cm; edition of 500; printed by Printo, CZ
Photobook designer: Jiří Šigut – Concept, 2017, CZ
This is another interesting photo book dealing with pilgrimages (previously, I presented Andrea Huddleston’s East or West). There is a perpetual spiritual and communal fascination with trekking the paths of the past while hoping to find oneself in the company of other kindred seekers, all against a background of those who came before and were striving toward similar self-exploration in union with a mystic environment. In this case we are dealing with the very popular Camino de Santiago that has its destination in Spain.
Matthew Thompson is an astute observer of both himself and others. Having traveled to many places in the world and honing his art of documenting local rituals and customs, he participated in this pilgrimage several times, culminating in his photographing the experience, as shown in this interesting book. It is good to find out that one can even find one’s future wife on such a pilgrimage!
He prefers to work with film, here mostly color negative film, as well as a few slide film exposures. Nowadays, of course, as he reminded me, having a small digital camera along for backup is also advisable to prevent losses, as it not possible any more to get your color film developed around the next corner. And a moderate wide-angle lens is his preferred way of viewing things, for those of you who like some of these technical details.
And so we get a beautifully printed and well-designed volume that is a pleasure to hold and view. The dust cover has a particularly pleasant sturdiness to it, giving a feeling of permanence, as it is of particularly heavy stock and endowed with ridges, resulting in tactile pleasure. The design and layout are nicely done and sufficiently varied, both in regard to the sizes of the printed images as well as the layout of the double pages, thus keeping the viewer’s interest. Several drawings by Aleksandra Sienkiewicz lend a bit of historical mysticism to the volume.
The photographs are both respectful and intimate at the same time. They let the viewer participate vicariously in this endeavor, as they also reflect some ardor and strife. The frequent use of a wide-angle view allows Thompson to include several layers in the images; from the self in the immediate foreground we are privileged to view both the “other” and the environment further in the distance. Close-ups and medium shots of some key structures and of encounters with local individuals (human, canine, et al.) are also included. The volume presents a pilgrimage from beginning to end in the sequencing of the images and creates the impression of a cinematic touch. We get a strong sense of both private and shared parts of the experience. Color is used well, somewhat more muted for more routine moments, while at times more saturated when more emotional scenes are shown. Thompson demonstrates his affection for the participants and the whole experience very well; this is reflected in the refreshing directness and immediacy of his photographs.
A very successful volume; note that the photographer offers very affordable print/book combos!