Review by Brian O’Neill •
Jesse Marlow is a street photographer. You may have seen him on the streets, or on social media, as he is a well-regarded photographer with a list of impressive national exhibits, as well as being a Leica brand Ambassador. In these ways, there is no denying he is the envy of many a street shooter.
But with this new release, and now under his own imprint – Sling Shot Press – Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them reveals just how unique Jesse and his work really is. First, let’s tackle the book itself – it has a very handsome flaxen-yellow linen wrapped cover with embossed silver title, and with its 12 by 9¾ size, it demands your attention – and rightly so for $80 Australian dollars. This is also the second edition, and a wonderful addition to Marlow’s growing body of books and projects.
Across 50 color images, all placed on the right-hand side of the spread, the book is eye catching for its reproductions, all set on an attractive white paper with a very slight veneer. This choice gives excellent depth of color and tonality. For example, it is clear that Jesse is inspired by primary colors and a certain tradition of dynamic framing within the discipline of street photography, but Jesse’s images keep the eye guessing – it is not all just crushed blacks and eye popping color – which says as much about what Jesse cares about in the subjects he finds (or perhaps he might say they find him), as it does about his more properly aesthetic interests. That is to say, when you encounter Marlow’s images, what is striking is that he is observing the context and choreography of the street scene, as well as the mis-en scene (several images might, if not collected in an identified “street photographer’s” book, be called urban landscapes), as he does about the play of the human form in the frame.
To my eye, Marlow’s most successful images are a combination of his clear interest in incidences and abstract forms. For example, the Mondrian style play of color and shape set against a suspiciously missing pane (of what, I don’t know) on page 31 is perhaps the best example. The repeating, but subtly different reds and yellows interact nicely against the separation of whites and blacks as a construction worker shovels some more foundation.
On another page, we see a woman (lab technician?) batting a broom against a fence, exciting a local dog – another example of his tremendous use of abstraction and atypical framing (page 26). Finally, another one of my favorites is on page 25, where a colorful, but somehow melancholic palette interacts in a futuristic structure with an obscured figure – alienated, or in repose, we remain unsure. Across his images, Marlow often withholds information, inviting you into the pleasure of a complex frame that attends equally to color, form, and content.
This brings us to the most interesting facet, for me, of Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them (the title gets its name from the only location text is apparent in the images – a bus hoarding on page 34), which is the relatively unprejudicial nature of this edit, and presumably of the way Jesse shoots his pictures. In other words, the book is not so much a series, as it is a fairly comprehensive collection of Jesse’s travels in and around his home city of Melbourne. Where many photographers might prioritize “people pictures,” especially common among street photographers, Jesse seems to realize the at times tiresome nature of this (à la Michael Fried’s critique). At the same time, he doesn’t swing too far to the other pole – the people-less, i.e., topographic approach (à la Allan Sekula’s critique of the New Topographics).
And so, in this way, it strikes me as very much a book about Jesse’s wandering experience, understood through a distillation of scenes that tell us something about ordinary life in/of urban Australia. Indeed, it is a place I have never been but is in many ways familiar. People hang signs on new, chic apartment complexes (page 48), trim their hedges and pick fruit (smiling for the camera!) (page 46) enjoy a visit to a lake (page 50), shield themselves from the sun (pages 14 and 21), walk the streets in their new attire (page 30), and relax at the park (page 9). And so, I found that in addition to being well constructed frames, these images had a quality of “thereness,” as Gerry Badger has called it, that allowed me to see something of my own city here (i.e., in Marlow’s book) and the perhaps funny and peculiar practices that take place there.
Lastly, there is also some fascinating surrealism throughout Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them, which is a testament to the quality of Jesse’s framing (he often shoots with a 28mm lens). For example, what is falling from the sky, next to a newly planted tree and a strange façade on an urban building – meatballs or something more sinister (page 8)? Did someone lose a phone, or has a tragedy occurred near the sewer on the streets of Melbourne (page 18)? These lovely, ambiguous, playful images are there to entertain the mind of the creative reader.
Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them has been a pleasure to peruse for all the aforementioned reasons. Marlow’s sequence provides us with a rich portrait of a place, but the book doesn’t sacrifice his unique vision. In this way, Marlow nicely aligns himself in the history of street/documentary photographers, but also shows us that the commitment to print, as an investment and dialogue between photographers/artists with their collectors and fans continues to be central, as much as to the collective archive of the discipline. It goes to show how the production of such books continues to be valuable and valued. If you were already enjoying Jesse’s work, you will not be disappointed. If you haven’t yet been introduced to his images, well, it’s time to have a look, that’s I can tell you.
Brian O’Neill is a photographer and sociologist.
Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them, Jesse Marlow
Photographer: Jesse Marlow, resides in Melbourne (Australia)
Publisher: Sling Shot Press, Melbourne, (second edition copyright 2022)
Hardback, cloth cover, 2nd Edition, 112 Pages, 50 color photographs, 12 x 9¾”, Edition of 1000, printed by Adams Print Australia
Book Design: Jason McQuoid
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 copyright of the authors and publishers.
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