Kirk Crippens – So Long

Review by Gerhard Clausing

When the title of a book has a double meaning, I am delighted from the start. “So long” can mean saying goodbye, particularly to an unpleasant time period, and it can also mean that whatever is referred to has been going on for a long while. Both meanings certainly fit our understanding of the pandemic. Good riddance to the coronavirus, as well as to some social and political problems – that would be on our list of most fervent wishes. In his latest photobook, Kirk Crippens not only artistically documents the early, most difficult segment of the pandemic and its accompanying other events (from early 2020 through May of 2021) through his observations of our surroundings, but he also metaphorically provides visual guidance for achieving recovery and progress.

The project is presented in two parts. The opening section shows his observations as recorded on special Polaroid material stored for a decade, with each of the negatives (as separated from the positives) displayed on the left side of the double page, and the corresponding positive print on the right side. To compare each diptych is in itself instructive, since, as you know, the negative is exactly the opposite of the positive, so light and dark are twins. Are we seeing two sides of some of the issues here? Has sequestering intensified opposing opinions to the utmost extremes? How strange to see an oversized protective mask attached to a fence! Instead of a health issue, masks have become a political statement to some. And how interesting a discovery is it that that light-skinned people have dark skin on negatives? Would George Washington be amused about that dual depiction?

The Polaroid images exhibit lower contrast, probably because the materials, no longer manufactured and stored in the fridge for a decade, might no longer have been in prime condition. But this works well for the statements being made. The pandemic era has been a period of great and fuzzy uncertainties, just to mention vaccines, political developments, and more. So, our vision of things has been far from crisp and clear.

In the foreword by René de Guzman we find a wording that applies to Crippens’ work very well; he is described as having “an ability to squeeze emotions from the still image,” while at the same time he is also providing many signs of hope. The main section of this photobook, sandwiched between a light and a dark blank, is full of observed moments characterized by an absence of people. The project successfully blends the monochrome images of desolation with more formally taken medium-format color photographs of our semi-abandoned environment, and thus expands our point of view. The places we are familiar with are already beckoning us – come on back, this can’t last forever! Some foldouts with diptychs and triptychs hint at the expandable horizons of a greater world opening up again (triptych shown in image 6 below). By blending his vision with two technologies, Crippens gives our situation a expansive, positive slant.

This photobook represents a great example of photographic documentation elevated to fine art. Two photographic techniques are blended in a beautiful design on large-format pages, and contrasting pairs of light and dark, as well as monochrome and color, allow us to see a world that is ready to supply solutions and greater certainty, so that the steps leading to nowhere might again be supplied with destinations, goals, and progress.  Highly recommended.

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The PhotoBook Journal also previously featured a review of Going South. Big Sur by Kirk Crippens.

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Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.

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Kirk Crippens – So Long

Photographer:  Kirk Crippens (from Emeryville, California)

Publisher:  Schilt Publishing and Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands; © 2021

Texts:  René de Guzman, Shannon Perich, Kirk Crippens

Language:  English

Hardcover, with a printed and illustrated cover and illustrated partial wrapper; 128 pages, paginated; 12 x 12.5 inches (30.5 x 32 cm); printed by Offizin Scheufele GmbH, Stuttgart, and bound by Josef Spinner Großbuchbinderei GmbH, Ottersweier, Germany; ISBN 978 90 5330 952 0

Design:  Victor Levie, Amsterdam

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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). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.

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