Review by Douglas Stockdale •
“You can’t go home again” is the famous quote by Thomas Wolfe, but what if you do not have any memory or recall of what home might be? Which is the case for Mark Erickson, who was born in Vietnam, then adopted at an early age by an American family shortly after the Vietnam War. For Erickson a return to Vietnam in the early 1990’s was a trip to investigate his identity, born Vietnamese, but essentially an American. For Erickson, Vietnam is a foreign land, a place where he really did not know the language, and that if circumstances were different, he might be looking at himself thru his lens. This documentary project encompasses the Other Streets of his heritage.
At the time of his return to Vietnam Erickson was in his very early twenties, recently graduating from Harvard after studying with the likes of documentary photographers Chris Killip and David Goldblatt. His physical appearance is Vietnamese probably with a very heavy American emphasis in his dress, language, demeanor and personal interactions. This narrative is also a look back in time to 1993; the urban and rural Vietnamese landscape when Erickson created this black and white film project. And a snapshot of a transitional point for the country of his birth.
The resulting monograph reveals a flaneur’s walk-about through a rural and urban landscape of a transitional country. It is obvious that his subjects are aware of his presence, but they appear as questioning in their gaze as perhaps Erickson was in his. In one image of two individuals who are behind a gated enclosure I am reminded of the many photographs of the very end of the American Vietnam war when the American troops had to evacuate Saigon and the American embassy and leave many Vietnamese behind.
Erickson coolly observes social gatherings and events, capturing informal portraits of his traveling partners as well as creating lyrical poems, interspersed with photographs infused with wit and irony. His close and tight cropping, providing a sense of intimacy, reminds me of the work and style of his two photographic mentors.
My gripes with this book are the norm for a Blurb publication; the tight perfect bound binding, though Erickson provides ample classical white margins for his photographs that steer clear of any content being lost in the gutter. The black and white tonality of the printing varies from a slight greenish hue to a light plum, sometime on the same page. The images are printed on a slight creamy matte paper that reduces the overall image contrast of the black and white photographs.
The non-Blurb nicking of this book is that the resulting scanned images required for Blurb printing were not spotted, with white spots, film scratches and other artifacts detracting from the content of the images. The resulting rough appearance also provides a sense of nostalgia for this time and place.
Full disclosure: I was part of the jury that selected this book for exhibition by Los Angeles Center of Photography’s first photobook competition earlier this year.
Other Streets – Mark F. Erickson
Photographer: Mark F. Erickson, born Vietnam and residing Morristown, New Jersey (USA)
Self-published, NY, copyright 2019
Introduction: Mark F. Erickson
Hardcover book, perfect binding, digital lithography, printed by Blurb
Photobook designer: Mark F. Erickson