Jonathan Blaustein – Extinction Party

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Review by Wayne Swanson 

Anyone who has put in time on the portfolio review circuit has probably encountered Jonathan Blaustein. He’s that rather intense reviewer with the moustache and goatee who is never at a loss for words, and always quick with a thumbs up or down on your work. He’s also the guy you see schmoozing his way around all the event venues. Somehow, he seems to remember everyone he has ever reviewed.

I’ve had first-hand experience sitting across from him. He’s liked some of my work, and promoted it in his weekly column at aphotoeditor.com. Other work has left him cold. But I always knew just where I stood with him, and I valued his opinions (even when I didn’t totally agree with them).

What does that have to do with his photobook? Not much, but it wouldn’t be a proper Jonathan Blaustein review without a personal digression to start with.

Extinction Party is a bit like Blaustein. Approachable, yet-in-your-face. Thoughtful, but with an edge. The title is intended to be absurd, but it establishes the book’s focus on the consequences of our culture of overconsumption. Introductory essays by Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan and Blaustein embellish the theme. As Blaustein notes, “The truth is, we humans treat the planet like one big, rowdy discount super-market.”

The book consists of minimalist still life photographs that illustrate elements of overconsumption and over entitlement. The images are drawn from four related projects about consumption in America that Blaustein has worked on since the onset of the Great Recession of 2008. In The Value of a Dollar he shows what a dollar’s worth of various food products — ramen noodles, grapefruit, beef shank, etc. — look like. In MINE he creates simple sculptures or arrangements from natural objects found on his property. Recycling My Junk features accumulated clutter and trash from his studio. Party City Is the Devil showcases party supplies — “possibility the world’s most disposable, least necessary items” — in garish color combinations.

Images from the different series are mixed together. The sequencing plays off shared shapes, colors, or textures to make connections among our modes of consumption. A pile of Party City confetti echoes the shape and color of an organic grapefruit. A dollar’s mountain of flour is followed by a mountain of snowballs from his yard. A shovel’s worth of turf mimics a plastic camouflage helmet on a green plastic tablecloth.

The images are artful in their execution. There are advertising-quality food shots that would never sell the product, like the sorriest McDonald’s double-cheeseburger ever or three piles of naked potted meat products. There’s a nod to John Baldessari in a sheet of red, blue, and yellow dot stickers. Even studio shots of a dead deer’s head and paw have visual appeal, despite the subject matter.

This book isn’t going to save humanity from extinction. But it might make you consider treating the planet with a little more respect. The simple, stark images clearly illustrate our addiction to things, ownership, and consumption. And they might make you think twice about ordering a McDonald’s double-cheeseburger any time soon.

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Extinction Party, Jonathan Blaustein

Photographer: Jonathan Blaustein, born New Jersey, resides Taos, New Mexico.

Publisher: Yoffy Press (Atlanta, GA, USA, copyright 2020)

Introduction: Kevin Kwan. Essays: Jonathan Blaustein

Text: English

Hardcover book, four color options with foil cover inset, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 10 x 7.5 inches, 96 pages, printed in Amsterdam

Photobook designer: Caleb Cain Marcus (Luminosity Lab, NYC)

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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