Review by Rudy Vega •
In The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow, Douglas Stockdale has produced an artist book which sets out to visually articulate his anxiety felt as a traveler. The book is part therapy, an exercise in search of catharsis. Stockdale uses the aesthetics of the photographic medium as a vehicle to navigate the murky territory of an anxious mind. Measuring 8x 6 inches and consisting of twenty-four color images, The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow is diminutive in size, but punches above its weight, tackling an issue, as Stockdale states in the afterword, afflicting an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. and 284 million worldwide. The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow is not an attempt at addressing the problem as a whole, instead, Stockdale has produced a highly personal and honest look at what ails him during his travels.
The question for Stockdale becomes how to compel viewers of The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow to relate and or appreciate his efforts at untangling the mystery of his anxiety. It is no overstatement to suggest that everyone feels anxiety from time to time with varying levels of intensity and varying triggers responsible. The answer begins with the title itself–The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow is enigmatic, poetic and hinting at what lies beyond the frosted vellum clad cover of the title page. Printed in yellow on a gray field with a pamphlet stitch holding together the pages therein in evidence. It reveals the modesty of the physical construct of Stockdale’s project but evinces the care and dedication to crafting a handmade book. With that, Stockdale extends an invitation for one to turn the page and join him in a photographic journey towards resolution.
The first image sharing the two-page spread with the interior title page depicts an individual–not quite a silhouette- (we infer it’s Stockdale) walking away from us down a hallway of a hotel. Bare walls with only the cast of light creating repeating patterns of light and shadow-symmetrical in a non-welcoming way. An initializing image–an equivalent of the book’s title perhaps. The first full image-as it crosses the gutter almost a full bleed of two pages, is where the real action begins in earnest. If a singular image could encapsulate the idea of travel related anxiety, it’s this one. A muted ochre color palette paints the environment of the airport terminal as if straight out of a late 19th century impressionist painting, only lacking in romanticist appeal. Stockdale employs a slow shutter speed and an out of focus view to create a scene of hyper kinetic activity. Again, placed at the center where the pages meet-providing a focal point-a figure– back facing us as he walks away carry-on luggage in tow. Although meant to evoke anxiety, it has its own aesthetic appeal, Stockdale is able to exploit the beauty the medium offers.
The following image is another take on documenting the undocumentable. Smartly using ambiguity to elicit wonder among his readers, as the “what are we looking at” question takes a back seat. This becomes an acknowledgment of Stockdale’s strategy–to imbue each image with tactical attention to aesthetics, marrying visual tension with beauty to free it up from its obligation as physical descriptor, to a more compelling role as psychological enunciator. Each subsequent photograph ratchets up the visual power of imaging anxiety, as the third image aptly demonstrates. Here, he is in the process of boarding the plane. Blurred and out of focus but recognizable just the same–the emergency door exit. In the context of addressing travel anxiety–nothing more needs to be said.
Throughout the pages of The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow, a balancing act emerges. Stockdale tempers the use of the photographic blur to suggest moments of relative calm, offering up a respite from the hustle of the actual movement of transiting from one place to another. But in Stockdale’s hand the calm is a misnomer, replaced by a different kind of anxiety-alienation creating the impression and contributing to the sense of existing as a ghost–and apparition experiencing a dis-connect between his physical and metaphysical self.
Nowhere in The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow is it depicted better than in the gatefold images located in the middle of the book. Perfectly staged to produce the idea of dislocation and manifesting as a psychological casualty. Spanning four pages in total, it’s clever in its execution. When reaching the center point of The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow, there is one nighttime image of a downtown bathed in the blue light of dawn. But unlike the rest of the pages, here the edge meets in the middle. The reader is therefore compelled to open the two pages outward, revealing the four-page spread. His hotel room serving as an ad-hoc office while away on assignment. He lays out his clothes as if occupying his desk chair with his laptop at the ready. As uninviting as a scenario can be. Here is where Tension in the Air (Stockdale’s afterword) is crystallized–certainly some of the more salient points where he cites feelings of alienation, apprehension, melancholy and isolation.
Almost always a shadowy figure, out of focus or obscured by motion blur, Stockdale succeeds at depicting a psyche under siege. No small feat, to be sure. And to do it with full awareness of the need to succeed as an aesthetic project as well. In the end, The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow is able to stand on its own as a photographic project, which speaks to Stockdale’s experience as a photographer and as someone dedicated to the act of storyteller.
It is time well spent to peruse the pages of The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow. One does come away with an appreciation for one artist’s attempt to understand himself better.
Douglas Stockdale has been featured earlier on PhotoBook Journal: Ciociaria, Pine Lake, Bluewater Shore, and Middle Ground
Rudy Vega is a Contributing Editor and an artist/photographer/writer, working in Irvine, California.
The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow, Douglas Stockdale
Photographer: Douglas Stockdale, born in Butler, PA and resides in Orange County, California
Publisher: Singular Images Press, Rancho Santa Margarita, California, copyright 2022
Afterword: Douglas Stockdale
Stiff covers with vellum French-fold, hand-bound pamphlet stitch, hybrid printing and bound by Douglas Stockdale in conjunction with offset lithographic by Arizona Lithographic, Tucson, Arizona, ISBN: 979-8-9862031-0-2
Book design: Dawne Osborn, Deborah Davis Design, Douglas Stockdale
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