Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Spending time with this photobook has some consequences, in spite of the title, which is probably somewhat facetious. What is street photography? What are the implications of observing a photographer’s street observations? And perhaps even more important, what is the photographer’s intent, and what is the viewer’s response to all of that? So many weighty questions – where are the answers to be found?
Roger Bruhn here has created a clever compendium of verbal and visual cues, constituting one photographer’s approach to all those questions. Presenting many examples of his own street photography, he accompanies them with very specific recollections, explanations, and observations. In the process of viewing and reading our way through this book, we get one artist’s impression of moments that inspired him to catch particular street scenes, for which he also provides some hints about the contexts of specific instances in their time frame and location. We also get fabulous lessons about the traditions and purposes of street photography, and benefit from Bruhn’s expertise in the history of this subject and his mastery of the application to particular moments. Bits of wisdom in the form of quotes of other photographers are also included.
For example, on page 23, shown below, Bruhn presents an amusing image of a lady closely inspecting the offerings in a meat display at a supermarket. She also happens to be intently observed by two bystanders in the background. The image is enhanced by Bruhn’s often-used technique of a strongly tilted camera angle. The bonus comes from the short essay accompanying the image, which gives us a chance to find out about the author’s concerns regarding wealth and poverty, observations about American culture, shopping, and the influence of commercial interests. On page 57 we see a street scene taken in Germany. It is one of those “off” moments that I like so much and have subsumed under the term “indecisive moments” – where is all this going? While the scene shows what seems to be formal normality, a child exhibits an indefinable off-action in the foreground that seems out order. Again, we benefit from Bruhn’s explanations and musings. A helter-skelter world, a bit askew.
Further pages allow an examination of many other moments dealing with consumer behavior, cultural trends, engrossing examples of compositional refinement and juxtapositions, and much more. The design of the book is well thought out, in that the visuals are often on one side of the double page, with the texts on the other. Sometimes two images are juxtaposed as a diptych to make a stronger point. A few color images add variety to the puzzle.
A preface by Roger Bruhn claims that the images in the book are about ordinary moments. I would call that an understatement; the images are actually extraordinary observations about private moments in public, about EVERYTHING human, with particular interpretations left to the viewer, assisted by the photographer’s textual support. We would never be able to capture such representative moments that celebrate human behavior if we asked people’s permission before pressing the shutter, as is demanded by some.
I have chosen to only reproduce the images here for the most part, and let you read the author’s explanations on your own if you obtain the book. In contrast to street photographers of the past, such as Vivian Maier, where there is much speculation about their possible intent and manner of proceeding, here we have the artist’s own rationale about the work. This does not prevent the viewer from forming her or his own opinions and reactions; it is welcome additional data in forming a comprehensive picture about the art of memorializing people’s behavior in public.
This book is a highly recommended addition to the library of anyone who finds street happenings worth contemplating in detail. Purchasing books has its consequences, and pondering images that are worthy of contemplation even more so!
Gerhard Clausing, PhotoBook Journal Associate Editor, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Roger Bruhn – Pictures of No Consequence
Photographer: Roger Bruhn (born in Elkhorn, Nebraska, lives in Lincoln, Nebraska)
Publisher: Ginko Press, Lincoln, Nebraska; © 2021
Texts: Roger Bruhn
Hardcover book, with illustrated cover, perfect-bound; 134 pages, paginated; 10 x 10 inches / 25.4 x 25.4 cm; printed and bound in the USA. ISBN 978-1-7368817-1-2
Photobook Designer: Roger Bruhn
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).