Review by Douglas Stockdale •
As I write this, spring is now into full swing and summer appears to be fast approaching. We are still in the midst of the fourth surge of the pandemic and half of the eligible Americans have had their first vaccine shot. Hope is in the air that perhaps this summer we might return to normal, perhaps a new normal, but more like the summers of our memories than what has transpired this last year. Perhaps poignant to be reviewing Ken Rosenthal’s narrative, Days On The Mountain, investigating his family’s vacations that has transpired over the past 15 years.
The opening black and white photograph just prior to the title page is an interesting introduction to this book; a hooded individual appears to be standing at a cross road; on one side of the individual is the paved highway, while on the opposing side appears to be a dirt road that extends into the woods. The dark hooded individual is not facing the camera, nor revealing their hands or other telling features, thus ambiguous as to who this person is. The beginning or a continuation of a journey? And if so, by whom, and which road will be taken?
Using a documentary style, Rosenthal takes us on a journey of his annual family holiday. It is a mash up of color and black & white photographic images, a slight departure for Rosenthal whose creative artistic oeuvre is predominately black and white photographs. In sharing his family’s moments, he transports us on our own family holidays or maybe visits to a remote mountain wilderness. This is a personal body of work that is both introspective and reflective. He employs the use of multiple image pairings; family and environmental equivalents; emotion moments, a similar gesture, posing a question, or implying a statement. The juxtapositions across the page spread create wonderful mini-narratives.
As an example, in one pairing there is a pensive gaze by a young girl, eyes looking upward at her father and his camera lens, perhaps not in a happy place, while on the facing page is a gloomy overcast day with darkening clouds, while yet beneath the clouds are three birds in mid-flight. A narrative about youth, hope, parents, perhaps a dad who always appears to be butting into private moments with that darn constant camera, her eyes seemingly saying, “why won’t you just leave me alone?”
Bittersweet memories; Rosenthal’s personal narrative is also a reflection on the passing of time, how young boys and girls have now become young adults, memories of good times and some not so good times, knowing that there are still new challenges for his growing children yet ahead. A photograph has the power to ‘fix’ an individual in a given time and place, but that moment is fleeting at best, while the remaining photographic image can help anchor the memories. We want time to stop, to have our children stay in that playful moment and not grow old as we have now become. Doesn’t seem that it was just a moment ago that we were in that same youthful place? Bittersweet memories.
This is a compact book by American publishing standards, while the Smyth binding allows the book to lay flat, thus affording one to easily pause for a time while investigate the image pairings. This book benefits from a slow and deliberate read.
A wonderful reminder about how time flies and there is no time like the present to take a moment to enjoy one’s family and treasure all of the events that surround us. And to take a quick snap-shot that just might help you remember the occasion.
Days On The Mountain, Ken Rosenthal
Photographer: Ken Rosenthal, born in Los Angeles and resides in Tucson, Arizona
Publisher: Dark Spring Press, Tucson, Arizona, copyright 2019
Essay: George Slade, Acknowledgements Ken Rosenthal
Hard cover, Letterpress printed boards (Letterpress Finesse, Tucson, Arizona), Smyth-sewn naked binding, litho printing by Arizona Lithography (Tucson, Arizona), bindery by Roswell Bookbinding (Phoenix, Arizona)
Photobook Designer: Robert Gallerani
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