Review by Melanie Chapman •
Though we may wish that it were not so, now is not the age of poetry. We live in bombastic times. Giant waves crash, rivers flood, forests burn, plagues descend. We reach for metaphor and instead are inundated with product placement versions of morality; superheroes peddle mega merch. Collagen lips have replaced our saints and we consume more and more in hopes of feeling full, satiated, cared for, safe.
Onto this stage waltzes an actor, not handsome or particularly charismatic, but he is mesmerizing with conviction, and we are so afraid of ourselves that we fear one another, any “other” … Friend or foe, who has time or the ability or desire to distinguish good from bad? We just need it to be loud, to drown out the sound of our empty bellies, and the nagging truth that we are pawns in a game we never learned how to play.
BRINK is the new Punctum publication of David Butow’s photographs documenting the January 6th, 2021 riots at the United States Capitol. Any single one of Butow’s powerful images supports the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet taken as a whole, the 100 color photographs that comprise BRINK can render even the most opinionated viewer speechless. BRINK is an important body of images; a historical record of the power of myths. Myths of great countries, of democracies and other assorted political structures, of checks and balances, of elections – that are neither fair nor free.
Like a tragic comedy that’s not so funny, BRINK is divided into three “Acts”- the first Act being images of motel rooms and middle-class homes in the months leading up to the 2016 American Presidential election. ( I will “say their names!”, but not his name.) Lifetimes spent inundated with brand recognition help propel one candidate to rise above the rest. Butow’s sober yet compelling images set the scene for what comes next.
In Act 2, the court jester becomes King, and the joke is on us. ALL of us. Butow gets up close to the bodies of power and we sense the mechanism is working as intended – reporters report, supporters applaud, guys in striped ties stand straight while acting crooked … true believers keep on believin’, because that’s what it means to be an American, right?
Then the symbols crash and we are deep into Act 3, when the lead actor refuses to get off the stage. Just as Robert Frank did in the 1950s, Butow turns his lens to include average citizens and reveals our fear and our anger, be we protesters, proud men, Proud Boys, or shouting youth standing up to shielded police in the rain. Flags become weapons, or perhaps they’ve always been. Butow is our witness to the building tension, and his images of the massive crowds that marched to the Capitol and breached the perimeter are dynamic records of that dangerous day. Somebody kicked the hornets’ nest, and we are grateful that Butow risked being stung so that we could see what rage looks like, how powerful the force an unbridled ego can unleash.
We are also quite fortunate that Butow is such a strong image maker. Photojournalism is a special breed of photography, and in the chaos of these moments, Butow demonstrates artistry with his attention to composition and appreciation for color. The situations he documents are increasingly filled with tension to the point that it boils over and becomes dangerous, yet Butow remains the consummate professional able to navigate an unprecedented situation and to produce painterly images that will stand the test of time.
Succinct essays by Mark McKinnon (“The Warning Signs Were Abundant”) and Cecilia Emma Sottilotta (“The Sights of Democracy in Peril”), as well as an epilogue written by Butow himself, make for worthy reading if one is so inclined towards words. Yet Butow’s powerfully seen images of scenes of power require no explanation. As one recent viewer exclaimed after absorbing all that BRINK has to offer, “I had no idea!” Perhaps those four short words are the highest compliment one can give.
Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and a Southern California photographer.
David Butow – BRINK
Photographer: David Butow (born in New York, lives in Los Angeles, CA)
Publisher: Punctum s.r.l., Rome, Italy; © 2021
Texts: Foreword by Mark McKinnon, epilogue by Cecilia Emma Sottilotta, endnotes by David Butow
Hardback, stitched binding, 152 pages with 100 images; 11 x 8 inches / 30 x 24 cm; printed in Italy; ISBN 978-88-95410-36-4
Photobook designers: Nicola Veccia Scavalli and David Brady
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.