Review by Wayne Swanson •
Around 2006, San Francisco photographer Alan Ostreicher got a simple idea: Why not document life in his apartment? It would be a personal project, not necessarily intended for anyone beyond him and his wife. Who else would want to capture such mundane subject matter anyway?
Jump ahead to the pandemic of 2020, and the obvious answer is seemingly every photographer on the planet. Stuck inside, we’re all turning our lens on whatever is around us. Timing, as they say, is everything, and perception of the images in Ostreicher’s newly released monograph has been co-opted by our strange times. Yet he has created a tender and contemplative body of images that stand on their own and will retain their subtle appeal when sheltering in place is a just a memory.
The idea for the project had stuck with him since his college days, when he spent a summer living in the art-filled apartment of expressionist painter Jason Berger. He was struck by the way Berger’s singular aesthetic sense was reflected in the living space. Ostreicher wanted to see how his own daily environment would reflect his sensibilities.
He and his wife were living in a rent-controlled apartment, but they were considering moving on, so he wanted to document their space before it was too late. He found an old Polaroid Land Camera at a sidewalk sale, and began shooting. Ten years and several hundred photos later he was still living there and still making Polaroids. But his stash of Fujifilm FP-3000B was running out, and there was no more to be had, so it was time to wrap things up.
The result is a gentle, understated celebration of daily life: his wife at the kitchen counter, their cat being a cat, the interplay of light and shadow and shapes and forms. The soft natural light and the soft-focus Polaroid look give them all a subtle, dreamy appeal.
The black-and-white images are reproduced at a size of 4 x 5 inches, just a little larger than the originals. The sequencing creates appealing comparisons and contrasts on each spread. His wife’s macramé is paired with a tangle of electrical cords, the horizontal lines of a staircase match with the vertical lines of a radiator, the wire chairs in the breakfast nook are paired with their cat on one of those chairs (with a similar Polaroid of the cat on the chair at its paws). By capturing seemingly inconsequential scenes of daily life, he created a record not only of their surroundings, but also of the moments that add up to a rich life.
Right now, there’s another layer of meaning imposed on them as we all hunker down inside, forced to look inward. But when the COVID-19 era ends, the gentle intimacy and timeless appeal of Ostreicher’s images will remain.
Apartment 304, Alan Ostreicher
Photographer: Alan Ostreicher, born Huntington, NY, resides San Francisco, CA
Publisher: Dark Spring Press (Tucson, AZ, USA, copyright 2020)
Essay: Brian Paul Clamp
Stiff cover with foil stamping on front, back and spine, perfect-bound with 4.25-inch flaps, 8.5 x 6 inches, 64 pages, 51 black and white images, printed in the Netherlands
The 250-copy first edition consists of 220 trade copies and 30 Collector Edition copies with signed and numbered gelatin silver print.
Photobook designers: Andy Burgess and Dawne Osborne
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