Review by Wayne Swanson •
Planning a photobook and assembling all the images needed to tell your story is a process that can take years. Unless you’re Lukas Birk, who did it all in one day.
Birk is an Austrian photographer, archivist, and publisher. He has travelled the world producing complex books and curatorial projects in places like Afghanistan, Peshawar, Beijing, Yogyakarta, and Myanmar. But this project was simpler and closer to home.
A few years ago he visited his folks in Bregenz Austria, the small town on the Swiss-German border where he grew up. While he was there, he and his father inspected a rental house that was about to be cleaned out so new tenants could move in. Birk brought along his camera, and the result is House No6, a melancholy story about memory and loss.
The former tenants of the house, an elderly couple, had lived there for 40 years, until the husband died and the wife was abruptly transferred to a nursing home. Their children came once to take a few valuables, but otherwise they left the house untouched. “I spent a whole day looking at 40 years of life on shelves and in wardrobes, cabinets and drawers,” Birk writes in his introduction. “I listened to their LPs and cassette tapes, looked through their photo albums and newspaper clippings, lined up their collection of owl figurines and puppets, examined their clothes and the kinds of products they liked and spent time sitting in their reading chair.”
And he photographed it all. He assembled a record of their daily lives in a slender hand-made book. Birk captured the everyday objects and the mementos of their lifetime, sadden by the reality that in a few days all the physical evidence of their existence would be gone. His moody images gently explore the mundane things that make up so much of life — pots and pans, pill boxes, liquor shelf, overflowing closets. And the memories — trophies, photos, knickknacks and such. His soft-focus approach creates a nostalgic atmosphere, and his use of narrow depth of field gives a feeling that you’re intruding on something personal and private.
The book itself has the feel of a keepsake, especially the 50-copy special edition reviewed here. The stiff-cover book comes inside a floral wallpaper sleeve. The pages are hand-stitched, and each copy is individually numbered and hand-signed (there was also a trade edition of 150 copies). The images are presented full-bleed, most filling the entire spread.
It’s a quiet, sentimental book that memorializes two lives while acknowledging the inevitable consequences of mortality.
House No6, Lukas Birk
Photographer: Lukas Birk, born Bregenz, Austria, resides Beijing, China
Publisher: Fraglich Publishing (Bregenz Austria, copyright 2017)
Introduction: Lukas Birk
Text: German, English
Stiff-cover book with sleeve, pamphlet-sewn binding, four-color lithography, 7 x 9 inches, 76 pages
Photobook designer: Lukas Birk
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