Gary Green – The River is Moving/The Blackbird Must be Flying

Review by Steve Harp •

Gary Green’s monograph The River is Moving/The Blackbird Must be Flying (L’Artiere, 2020) is a beautiful and delicate object.  Measuring 6 ½” by 9 ½”, enclosed between plain white softcovers, the book features a perfect binding with visible spine.  In this exposed Smythe style of binding, the spine remains uncovered, leaving open the folded signatures, glue and thread.  The front coverboard is blank.  Wrapping around the book is a translucent vellum dust jacket with author, title and publisher printed on the front.  The back of the dust jacket has no printing, allowing the viewer to see through the vellum, hazily, an image of a single pine tree printed on the rear book cover.  Or, more accurately, it is a photograph of a reflection of a tree, an upside-down image hovering stilly on a surface of water.

I open with such detail about the physical manifestation of this book for a couple reasons.  First, there is the delicacy and fragility of the presentation, apparent from the moment of encountering the monograph which is central to the expression of the book.  The opening epigraph reads, “To pay attention, that is our endless and proper work,” a quote from Mary Oliver, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner from her poem Yes! No!.  

In a note at the end of the book, Green tells us that this work “began as meditations on nature: quiet observations of the water and what was reflected, refracted and shadowed upon its surface.”   For a book that in itself is and is about delicacy, observation, quiet, the volume is appropriately slim, consisting of 24 photographs across 20 spreads.  Most of the spreads feature a single photograph on the right page, left page blank, although there are three spreads with photographs on both pages.

And this leads to my second reason for writing in such sharp detail about this book.  The photograph printed on the back cover is also printed inside the book, facing the title page, making it, thus the book’s first and last image.  Appropriate, in that of the 24 photographs, fully 14 seem to be of the reflection of this same pine tree.  Green has presented us, with (what seems to be) truly a meditation on a single point of nature in various incarnations and manifestations, a singular object reflected (refracted and shadowed) in stillness, movement, various blurs and ripples, states of clarity and obscurity.  

In fact, I find myself wondering about the inclusion of the 10 images that do not seem to be of this single tree.  Or what seems to this viewer to be a reflection of a single tree.  This wondering, I realize the more I consider these images, the more I give myself over to the subtleties found in each image, actually points to a further observation Green makes in his closing note: “the idea that as nature we are all connected: the flora and the fauna, the air above and the ground below.”  To this we might add, connected also is the tree in its various reflected expressions and the other trees and the other reflections Green visually offers here, and the other flora he photographs.  

And, like ripples on water, the connections radiate outward toward and into each viewer, all is connected, delicately, preciously, in this slim volume.

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Steve Harp, Associate Professor The Art School, DePaul University

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The River is Moving/The Blackbird Must be Flying, Gary Green

Photographer: Gary Green, born New York, New York; resides Waterville, ME

Publisher: L’ Artiere (Bologna, Italy, copyright 2020). 

End notes: Gary Green

Text: English

Softcover with vellum dust-jacket, Tri-tone black and white litho printing, Smythe binding with visible (Swiss) spine. Printed in Bologna by Grafiche dell’Artiere

Photobook designer: Gary Green and L’Artiere Edizione

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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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