Book review by Rudy Vega •
As art mediums go, photography situates itself nicely as a means to aid in recollecting. Photography assists one in filling gaps left by the leaky apparatus known as our memories. Photographic images are still open to interpretation, but placed within the appropriate context can be powerful triggers, enabling one to reconstruct a narrative of one’s past.
Jörgen Axelvall’s photobook And I Reminisce is an attempt to put together two methods of recollecting–reminiscing if you will–the written word and the photographic image. The cover of the book hints at what’s inside. It’s a nebulous image lacking substantive details but nonetheless recognizable as a flower. The flower serves as an important motif throughout the book, creating a scale balancing the dual motivations of self-actualization. The first image inside the book is a non-descript figure in white silhouette. Out of focus, lacking depth or volume but clear as to gender-male. The image can be read as a visualization of the fuzziness of memories and the fog of time passed. But it aptly works to introduce a first-person narrative titled, A Curiously illuminating Discovery (also the book’s subtitle).
Wonderfully written in manner fit for poetry, he recounts the birth of same-sex desire and recollects a time in his life marked by experimentation with both drugs and sex. He writes about the influences on him as a young man and confusion at what he recalls as mixed signals. The essay is an honest, candid reflection of his early adolescence and how it has paved the way to where he is presently. One paragraph begins–and then functions as a template once the images begin in earnest– flowers and plants always dazzled me. The same paragraph ends humorously with the observation: In Sweden, gardening and tending flowers is as masculine as it gets. The essay ends; The day I decided to try LSD.
And I Reminisce then begins to elucidate the crux of the matter-desire, attraction, masculinity. What follows in And I Reminisce are photographs of flowers and nude males. But to offer that as a description of the images is an oversimplification.
Axelvall uses photography to mirror his experience of youthful experimentation. They are not concrete documents but rather expressions of desire. Their strength lies in their power to evocate rather than describe. His images are imbued with a sense of mystery, obscured by various processes at his disposal. Employing techniques, he explores an aesthetic that wants to reveal and be ambiguous at the same time. Both flowers and the nudes are given the same visual treatment thus strengthening their equivalency. Colors bleed parading in a field of darkness, while in others, colors are completely desaturated. Always out of focus and grainy, Axelvall toys with our perception of what a photograph should entail. Therein lies the element of deconstruction in Axelvall’s methods. They indeed work at creating visually poetic juxtapositions obscuring simple interpretations.
Are we as viewers of And I Reminisce viewing his remembrances and present-day desires through the prism of drug induced memories? It’s a compelling question to ponder. One thing is certain, Axelvall effectively exploits photography’s role in reminiscing, illuminating, and discovering, allowing for a full measure of metaphoric possibilities.
The photographic images of the flowers in And I Reminisce never rise to their lofty status as arbiters of beauty, and the male nudes never assume to offer up the definitive masculine. Instead, as foreshadowed in the opening essay, they paint an ephemeral experience, which then collectively is evocative of the greater whole-desire.
At fifty-two photographs, And I Reminisce succeeds at creating visual energy between the flowers and the nudes. The design and layout of the images have a sing/song relationship striking a chord between harmony and asymmetry. The use of a couple gatefolds allows for a disruption in scale permitting those images to assume greater impact. The images ordered on opposing pages are seldom of the same scale or the same aspect ratio. The imbalance created by the design of the book is strategic in compelling the viewer to pause and consider the images both in their singular expression and as one half of a pair. It is in this manner that And I Reminisce can punch above its weight and deliver more mileage per page.
Together with the opening essay, And I Reminisce is an interesting contemplation on memory and the genesis of personal desire. The images work at distilling the motivations of memory-an accurate explanation of life…perhaps. Then they coalesce to show what they really are-an unadulterated look at personal desire.
And I Reminisce works well at describing a sense of discovery, then creating a veil for the viewer to lift back and make their connections. Axelvall searches for a visual language to express memory and desire, to offer the medium as a gateway towards fulfillment. The book is seventy pages, including fifty-two photographs and an introductory essay/narrative.
And I Reminisce details a personal journey while inviting one to engage in an investigation of one’s own.
Rudy Vega is a photographer/writer, working in Irvine, CA
And I Reminisce, Jörgen Axelvall
Photographer: Jörgen Axelvall (born in Sweden, currently lives in Tokyo, Japan)
Publisher: Roshin Books, Tokyo, Japan, copyright August 2021
Essays: “A Curiously Illuminating Discovery” by Jörgen Axelvall, Paul McInnes, Yuki Harada
Text: English, and Japanese
Hardcover, clothbound, 11x 9.25 inches 70 pages, saddle-stitch Chap book, 4 pages, 7 x 10”, Edition of 700, printed by Yamada Photo Process Co. LTD, Japan, ISBN 978-4-909742-01-8
Design: Katsuya Kato
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