Review by Douglas Stockdale •
What initially struck me in reading Kevin Bubriski’s latest photobook, Mustang in Black and White, was the pictorial framing and sequential interweaving of the landscape and portraits photographs of Nepal. In a turn-about, this colorful region is illustrated using higher contrast black and white photographs that border on abstraction. As a documentary photographer Burbriski indeed examines a particular place that is foreign to most, which upon reading becomes a place that we become more aware of its contradictions as a unique place in the world. It is also a master study in using light to reveal form, shape, structure and tonalities that is poetic and beautiful.
Although Bubriski is very familiar with large and medium format film equipment, he has decided to use a mobile phone camera and app that emulates a much older large format and older film process for this body of work. He creates a photographic crossover of new/old processes that presents a contemporary narrative about this well-known region of the world, a place which appears to have its own dichotomy of an old civilization in the midst of modern times.
He, along with writer Sienna Craig, take us on a walking journey of a section of Nepal up towards its northern border of Tibet, in a region known as Mustang. Their visual and written narrative is broken into nine chapters, each named for the principal towns or villages that follows their progression. His urban and rural landscape images reveal a harsh and stark land with an agrarian culture with very utilitarian structures. He frequently includes man-made ladders as a metaphor for a local journey as well as a means to lead the reader’s attention.
The very tight pictorial framing for the majority of his artwork further emphasizes the lyrical forms and shapes of the urban landscape structures. Bubriski’s informal quality of his casual portraits seem to really distill the essence of his subject to highlight the modern contradictions of this region. The fourth set of photographs below is a wonderful example of this regional dichotomy; a pair of women who appear to be still lingering in the past while on the other side of the page spread is a photograph of a young man in his contemporary regalia. Nepal, which appears to have a strong religious foundation and a very basic economy, appears to be undergoing an immense amount of change brought on by the digital reach of the outside world.
An unintended aspect of this book is a narrative about what is occurring in photography practices regarding the push of digital photographic methods forward. Bubriski illustrates the possibilities of using a ubiquitous mobile phone camera to create haunting photographs, a photographic methodology that I imagine that Henri Cartier-Bresson would have loved. How better to blend in with those around you and become an invisible street photographer.
Lastly, the book is bound tightly enough that I need to include my own stone work to coax the page spreads into behaving adequately enough to capture the essence of Bubriski’s book; the stones are not included with the book.
Note: this is a book that I juried for the Los Angeles Center of Photography 2019 Photo Book Competition and Bubriski’s book was awarded First Place for a Commercially Published Book.
Other photobook by Kevin Bubriski that is featured on PhotoBook Journal: Pilgrimage
Mustang in Black and White, Kevin Bubriski & Sienna Craig
Photographer: Kevin Bubriski, born North Adams, MA, resides Vermont, USA
Publisher: Vajra Books, Kathmandu, Nepal copyright 2019
Preface by Charles Ramble, Introduction by Niels Gutschow and an essay by Kevin Bubriski with chapter essays by Sienna Craig
Hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, two-color black & white lithography, printed by Archana Press, New Delhi, India
Book Designer: Thomas Schrom