Review by Douglas Stockdale •
The 2018 dreamy lyrics of ‘When the Ocean Drinks the Sky’ from Lord Huron’s song ‘When the Night is Over’ has inspired a number of artists, most recently when appropriated by Stephanie Duprie Routh’s first photobook. Her modification of the lyrics, changing the ‘When’, signifying time, to ‘Where’, is to change the focus on locations and places, a worldview. For Routh an earlier line in that same song that ‘In every window, I pass your reflection in the glass’, provides a wonderful clue about a visual thread that runs throughout her book, that of using glass reflections that enable the viewer to concurrently look inward and outward.
Through the six chapters in Routh’s monograph, Where the Ocean Drinks the Sky, we are initially confronted with her short essay and then a following a color portfolio as a visual riff on that essay. She states that her book’s narrative is intended to illustrate how we are the same and yet different, thus each chapter’s portfolio shares similarities while the pictorial page layout for the ensuing photographs for each chapter varies (is different). A really nice design concept to echo the book’s overall concept, except the photographic content seems to fail to uphold its end of the promise.
The book opens with a series of stunning abstract images that did not prepare me for the subsequently documentary style photographs. The book is a mash-up at both ends of the photographic spectrum, part heavy abstraction and part photo-documentary, some lyrical and others confounding with a dash of the amusing, which leaves me, the reader, a bit confused and disoriented. The photographic narrative appears to be more about the chaos and tension of life’s events, which if I reframe this book’s intent accordingly, the book then becomes very appealing.
I will admit that there is some evidence of her theme and concept running through this book, but the photographs do not appear to consistently support and narrate her storyline. Many of her photographs are very fascinating, especially the abstractions that frequently employ windows that allow one to look into as well as back out in the reflections, create wonderfully layered metaphors. When these window reflections are framed tightly, we lose track of our frame of reference, while these images become increasingly more ambiguous and complex. What is missing is how these wonderfully enigmatic photographs relate to her narrative about being the same but different.
There are some very magical pairings of photographs across the page spreads, sometimes humorous and other times convoluted and intriguing. These page spreads draw the reader in. The book is Smyth sewn, thus there is nothing is lost within the book’s gutter, which is especially wonderful for the two-page full bleed photographic spreads.
For me, she has missed the mark as to her intended conceptual narrative, that her underlying message does not sing true. Nevertheless, as a monograph that investigates the global diversity of cultures, its complexity and ensuring chaos, this is an intriguing collection of photographs. There is much to enjoy about this book, but just do not expect for it to elegantly press the point of her concept.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal
Where the Ocean Drinks the Sky, Stephanie Duprie Routh
Photographer: Stephanie Duprie Routh, born in San Antonio and resides in Austin, Texas
Publisher: Rene Marcelle Publishing, an imprint of Stephanie Duprie Routh, Austin, Texas, copyright 2021
Essays: Stephanie Duprie Routh
Hard covers, Smyth sewn, four-color, 160 pages, printed by Push-Print (now out of business), London, ISBN 978-0-9975043-2-3
Photobook Designer: Jesse Holborn, Design Holborn
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