Review by Debe Arlook •
“I love to return to spaces I have already photographed. To see how they change through time. A new crack in the road, a dried bush in the distance…like us, the landscape also changes.” Dino Kužnik’s quote, along with the pastel-pink, card-wraparound cover printed with D I N O, one letter gracing each corner, invites the viewer to an elegantly simple design and a nostalgic view of America.
Born in Slovenia, Kužnik’s perceptive gaze is a product of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia turned into one of Europe’s youngest independent countries. During this country’s westernization in the 1990s, “the goal was to forget Slovenia’s socialist past and make capitalism a success story.” Influenced by American imagery and values on TV, in music and in print, Dino incorporated American symbolism into his work when, as he states, he “moved to the so-called ‘land of the free.’ The dream was realized, but the realities were different from those presented to me as a child.”
Discovering America on solo road trips, the artist records moments that speak to his peaceful state of mind, inserting himself into each scene with the simple act of pressing the shutter. His work imparts reverence and reality with the palette of soft pastels. Dino Kužnik’s subjects are quiet, abandoned or obscure, allowing time to age them without a care. Mined from memory, fantasy and reality, Kužnik’s locations ooze with cinematic flair, echoing productions helmed by David Lynch, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Peter Bogdonavich’s Last Picture Show.
A series of images serve as the script for a desert mystery that begins in a dated motel room. A hint of daylight filters through closed curtains. Unused, covered water glasses meet a freshly made bed that awaits its guests. A neon sign boasting PLAY, EAT, DRINK is revealed through the squinty eye of a parking lot rain puddle. A damaged wall in the foreground of a club that proudly solicits one HOT GIRL foretells the mood. A double-page center spread of Kužnik’s book focuses on a beautifully patinaed, dilapidated billboard at dawn. It is the blurred, solitary cowboy glancing over his shoulder with his past, just as close, that tells the story.
Kužnik’s background as graphic designer and photojournalist is evident, with photographs that converse with shape, color, tone and content. He pairs an iconic neighborhood scene including a red vintage Mustang, white garage door, blue recycling bin and American flag with the aging grey asphalt flowing into a double yellow lined country road. The second image proclaims MOTEL as proudly as the home proclaims America. The silver tip of a vintage Airstream peaks out from overgrown bougainvillea bursting with vibrant red against a robin’s egg blue sky juxtaposed with a seemingly reversed image of an abandoned blue 1950s taxi covered by overgrown foliage. The road’s double yellow lines in the foreground echo the diagonal electrical wires against a blue sky.
With 31 photographs, there’s more to gush about and I will end with one more. On a yellow, dotted-lined, desert highway that seemingly leads to infinity, a lone banana peel takes the place of the yellow line. The comedic implication of this muffled set-up is pure joy. I’ve enjoyed the book so much, the cover has started to tear. With that, I question the inclusion of two other images. Since most of the project was photographed in the American West, these two, made in Louisiana, take me out of the narrative.
I applaud Tom Page and the team at Setanta Books and Open Doors Gallery, for creating delicious nuggets like Dino Kužnik’s book, and their dedication to producing bi-monthly publications that promote emerging and/or unpublished photographic artists.
005 – Dino Kužnik
Photographer: Dino Kužnik (born in Slovenia, Europe; lives in New York City, USA)
Publisher: Setanta Books, London, UK; © 2020
Softcover with card wraparound cover; 48 pages; 16 x 21 cm (6.3 x 8.25 inches); edition of 300 copies, printed in the UK
Photobook Designer: Tom Page, Open Doors Gallery, London
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s)