Review by Gerhard Clausing •
“What do we yearn for? What exactly have we lost?” There is something very refreshing about Juan Barte’s new photobook. It is based on his observation that our freedom has been severely curtailed in recent times, both by ever-present technology and by the pandemic. Both of these hold us captive in different ways, making the presence of our physical bodies less significant and our participation in reality less tangible. One could consider this process a kind of disembodiment that needs to be rectified. Real freedom, Barte maintains, requires the participation of each person’s physical being in the actual world, with its actual objects, and with other human bodies. Hence the idea expressed by the title: the taste of freedom is best savored in reality.
To convert this message to a visual narrative, Barte created situational photographs with other artists, collaboratively using their creative imagination to visualize bodies interacting with the real world. Then he applied his background as a graphic designer to create a very interesting sequence of photographs that stimulates our imagination. We are very happy to note that Barte believes in the photobook as an art form. He designed the sequence in a way that counteracts the quick views and standard stereotypical and predictable interpretations that we are accustomed from cell phones and other media. He is asking us to look more carefully and with greater amounts of contemplation.
One of his techniques is to break up an individual photograph into two parts and print them on different pages, either back-to-back or spread out a little bit. Barte uses black and white photography for its greater degree of abstraction and also because the absence of color requires the viewer to supply personal interpretation with fewer distractions. There is only one color image in this entire book, and Barte says that it is a kind of moment of rebellion.
Another technique used throughout is to mostly not show individuals’ faces, so that we are able to project our own individual beings and bodies into those that are depicted. It is also not necessarily always clear whether a body belongs to a male or a female, further facilitating the idea of personal projection by the reader. Some of the situations depicted are a bit bizarre or require leaps and bounds of our own imagination, which is Barte’s intent. As you can see below, there also moments of humor, surrealism, and even absurdity, which could be considered a representation of life itself. There are many delightful visual surprises throughout the book. The physical breakup of the continuity causes the viewers to reassemble content as they create their own more holistic understanding of life’s physicality.
This photobook is printed beautifully on matte paper with deep blacks, whites, and a full range of grays. This gaze is in part a tribute to the 1960s and 1970s, a time in which the body was given greater prominence. The binding is beautifully open (also fittingly known as ‘naked binding’), so that the full-bleed images can be seen in their entirety in a lay-flat manner. The entire project is very appealing in its appearance; the intriguing nature of the images makes you want to go back again and again to see what connections you can figure out. A postscript discussion provides further explanations.
Congratulations, Juan Barte, for this outstanding project! We are looking forward to further photobooks that are this imaginative and creative. The freedom to choose one’s own path may be the best-tasting freedom of all.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, PBJ Associate Editor, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Juan Barte – Freedom Tastes of Reality
Photographer: Juan Barte (born in Logroño, Spain; lives in Madrid, Spain)
Publisher: formidable books, Madrid, Spain; Second Edition © 2021
Text: Conversation between Andrea Genovart i Armayones and Juan Barte
Languages: Spanish and English
Softcover, illustrated, open binding; 140 pages, unpaginated, with 90 images; 20 x 28.3 cm (7 7/8 x 11 1/8 inches); printed in Spain by etcetera graphics; ISBN 278-1-63752-092-5
Photobook Design: Juan Barte
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