Alex Harris – Our Strange New Land

Review by Gerhard Clausing

Visual narration is an exciting endeavor in contemporary photobooks. Fact and fiction can reach some artful intermingling in this area. But while the creation of fiction in verbal narration/literature (short stories, novels, folk tales, to name just a few genres) has been widely accepted for centuries, and the creation of fiction in movies has also found universal acclaim for more than one hundred years, people still have a hard time when such a creative license is applied to individual photographs.

Now it is quite true that fact and fiction need to be clearly separated in the case of news reporting and photojournalism. But we are talking about fine art here, which also includes photography and painting (painting was, among other things, a forerunner of photography, and certainly is also a [re]created version of reality or fiction, and often a combination of the two). The inventing of situations and characters for making connections between past, present, and future can serve the purpose of making specific points and telling stories. Hence staged photographs are an artistic way of creating visual narration, and since we know we are traversing the field of fine art, we can accept them as outgrowths of the imagination, a visualization of what our creativity and dreams can generate.

Here we have a photobook that combines all the best features of visual narration discussed above. Alex Harris has captured fascinating moments in the middle of moviemaking on sets in the South of the United States. These are situations that have been constructed or arranged to tell specific stories, and we only see moments from what those films might express. But the individual images, beautifully edited and sequenced by Margaret Sartor, carry their own potential meanings and further impact as you study them in relation to each other.

We see the interesting landscapes of the American South. Against that background, we see people whose daily lives present certain challenges. The situations displayed deal with universal problems: self-confidence or lack thereof, degrees of certainty or uncertainty, difficulties between or among groups of the population, childrearing issues, impacts of economic and other disadvantages, and more. Take a look at the sample page spreads below to start your own discovery process and to begin to figure out what they mean to you.

What is going on in that cop’s mind and what situation needs to be unraveled? What is that young couple dealing with, or those young ladies by a particular house? Is that an undertaker needing to take care of that simple casket? Is there some measure of confidence or hope for the future for those children shown in several pictures? What might be the cause of the exuberance of that young man jumping in the air? Is music a shared passion that can overcome differences? Is cooperation the secret to dealing with current difficulties and proceeding with solid plans for the future? Narration has the function of making us feel and think, and this photobook certainly provides many impulses for that.

The book concludes with essays about dreaming and moments of joy, the author’s experiences on the film sets, and further details about those films, as well as some storyboards. May this project contribute to stirring up feelings and thoughts that lead us to greater things in the future, in the Southern United States and elsewhere as well.

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Gerhard Clausing, PhotoBook Journal Associate Editor, is an author and photographer from Southern California.

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Alex Harris – Our Strange New Land

Photographer:  Alex Harris (born in Atlanta, Georgia; lives in Durham, North Carolina, USA) Instagram: @ourstrangenewland

Editors:  Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor

Publisher:  Yoffy Press, Atlanta, Georgia, USA ; © 2021

Essays:  Roni Nicole Henderson-Day, Alex Harris

Language:  English

Hardcover, illustrated; sewn binding; 144 pages, paginated; 8.75 x 10.625 inches (22 x27 cm); printed and bound in Spain by SYL, Barcelona; ISBN 978-1-949608-20-5

Photobook Designer:  Tucker Capparell

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).          

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