Review by Gerhard Clausing •
In these very dangerous times, democracy as well as the human race seem to be on the chopping block – two things at the core of our continuing existence. We find that the principles which we once thought were ironclad and generally permanently accepted suddenly are considered pliable and bendable, and under assault. We find that new warfare has made us very vulnerable, among other things coming very close to two new nuclear disasters in the last several weeks. Nations divided may not succeed.
And suddenly, just at the right moment, a very intelligent, metaphorically elaborate new photobook by Shane Rocheleau appears, using the town Lakeside, Virginia, as stand-in and as a representative microcosm for us to behold, and putting it all together for us in a challenging manner.
Years ago, there was a display at the Bronx Zoo called “The World’s Most Dangerous Animal” – it was simply a mirror, intended for us humans to see ourselves more clearly. Similarly, in this photobook Rocheleau uses a small American town and the fate of a vulnerable little bird known as the European starling as mirrors for what can happen to us: in a reality that is drenched in fakery, egomania, and commercial dictates we may not be able to survive, at least not with the integrity and pride we once treasured as inalienable rights. What about the American dream, what about human dreams around the world, and what about wishful thinking?
Rocheleau takes us on a journey that has seven stations (chapters) and an unusual opening: as an innovation there is a lack of a verbal preface; we are treated to a visual preface sequence of many parts, created by the author in collaboration with Jason Koxvold, labeled ‘American History.’ This section, displaying an abundance of indistinct images, like a movie that is out of focus and produced on super-grainy, outdated, and badly developed film, and printed on semi-transparent linen-like paper, presents the first of many mysteries to contemplate. It is followed by visuals of Lakeside and its surroundings, among which are portraits of some of the ‘old white guys’ of the town. Same as elsewhere, interesting as individuals, some even open to expanded horizons, such as the gentleman with red fingernails, bucking the gender-specific prescriptions of old. Some evidence of economic distress can also be noted. We wonder what the groups of people might advocate and strive for… There is certainly evidence that things are not going as well as might have been expected.
Station IV, titled ‘The Reading Room,’ deviates from the rest, both in the style of most of the images presented, as well as in their printing, which is on rougher, matte, art-like paper. Here we are really confronted with stark reality: along with being placated by pretty initial and intermittent plant pictures, we are challenged with highly enlarged digital representations of commercial visual pressure tactics, weapons details, and more. The stark contrast of this section, which takes a very aggressive visual stance, makes us pay extra close attention; some of the very dark and moody images elsewhere demand our detailed analysis and contemplation as well.
A great sense of loss permeates the various threads throughout the book; some images are ghost-like, as if to foreshadow some kind of disappearance, as we can see below in the double page with the gentleman seated in the easy chair. Things are askew, amiss, or barely ascertainable. Beauty and ugliness are close companions. At the end of the book the starling’s demise is evident, and we are also treated to bits and pieces from modern life, religion, and culture in written notes by Cormac McCarthy. This mirrors the fragments on the front cover, shown in reverse, and elsewhere in the project.
A photobook that is like a primer, with visual guidelines for stirring us up toward having more constructive thoughts, possibly leading to positive change and greater collaboration in every community, gets my vote anytime. Congratulations on this timely and sophisticated project!
The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed two other books by Shane Rocheleau, You Are Masters of the Fish and Birds and All the Animals and The Reflection in the Pool.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Shane Rocheleau – Lakeside
Photographer: Shane Rocheleau (born in Falmouth, Massachusetts; lives in Richmond, Virginia)
Publisher: Gnomic Book, Brooklyn, New York; © 2021
Text: Epilogue by Cormac McCarthy; miscellaneous quotes
Hardcover, fabric, printed, sewn; 148 + 16 pages, paginated, with 70 color and 7 black & white plates, accompanied by a visual essay by Shane Rocheleau and Jason Koxvold; 9.5 x 11 inches (24 x 28 cm); printed in Holland by Drukkerij Robstolk; ISBN 978-1-7338877-8-6
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