Review by Douglas Stockdale •
While preparing this book review of Regina Anzenberger’s family album titled Under the Apple Tree, I was reminded of the stilted circumstance of taking family pictures while photographing my own family after an Easter Egg hunt. Capturing a family event for ‘posterity’ when attempting to photography ‘candid’ moments of individuals who are overtly posing for their photographic likeness to be captured can be a challenging, frustrating and wonderful experience. An occasion which can be described as a weird mash-up of street photography and formal portraiture.
We are reminded by her photobook that documenting a family is an interactive dance that is preceded by local and family customs. Although these types of family photographic events occur worldwide, it was an interesting comment by Anzenberger to me that she was attempting to create an ‘American’ photo album. That publishing a family album for public scrutiny is not a European tradition, as in Europe these types of family photographs are considered ‘private’. Yet, she had been taking note that in many of her portfolio review sessions with Americans, frequently the family album was considered an open (public) book as an important aspect of someone’s personal narrative and investigation.
Although her book is a personal family album, it is also a collective portrait of ‘every family’ in capturing a group of individuals who are in the mid-stream of life’s events. Her location for this gathering is for the most part ambiguous, with only small traces that this might be occurring outside of the United States. It is an extended family being documented at a specific place and point in time; couples with their children, a couple who are expecting a child, parents, children, grandchildren and grandparents, both singular as well as groups, with a mix of formal poses and candid moments.
I found her diptychs of the same individuals captured during a portrait setting very engaging and more insightful as to the underlying personalities of the individuals being photographed. Such as the playfulness of one couple captured just prior (perhaps after?) to the ‘portrait’ in which they appear more formal in appearance. Including her ‘out-takes’ creates a wonderful informational layering that reveals much more about the couple’s potential relationship than a singular portrait. The pairing is also a narrative about the intersection of photography and time; another reminder that a ‘still’ photograph captures a very specific moment irrespective of what has occurred just before or what might have occurred immediately afterward.
During a family photographic event and having to pose for a camera may or may not be a welcome opportunity for everyone involved. The circumstances for the photographs are usually chosen by the photographer versus the individual who is being asked to ‘pose for the camera’. She reminds us of this with a photograph of the young girl sitting on the bench by herself whose expression appears to be more intent. In a follow on discussion with Anzenberger, the girl’s expression was in response to a question that was posed by the photographer, “if she knows what she will wants to become one day?” (btw, the answer is a pilot) Again, Anzenberger was attempting to obtain a portrait outcome that she was observing being created by many contemporary American photographers; avoidance of the smiley face with one of a ‘gaze’. For me this calls into question; is a pensive expression by an individual any more informative about that person than a pleasant smile? Perhaps the answer relates to the implied narrative that an artist/photographer is attempting to create in conjunction with their subject. Nevertheless, like many family photographs, the resulting image will quickly become family lore and a historical document of this moment in time.
As a family photographic event, similar to street photography, there are unplanned and unscripted moments. Anzenberger includes such moments as when the young boy investigates what’s hidden in his mother’s bathing suit top or the family group is photo-bombed by a pet dog with the odd tail sticking out. The chaos of photographing family events may not be as serve as found on the streets, as Anzenberger also reveals that everything may not go exactly as planned either. Unlike during street photography, everyone knows that they are being watched and thus, prepared for the occasion of the ‘informal snapshot’.
The size of the book does resemble an American album, while she incorporates green text and end-pages that reminds me of the skin of a Granny Smith Apple, with an interesting use of Japanese folded pages. The Japanese folded pages provide a little more spring to the book as an object that has a feel of a family album that has been stuffed with photographs.
Her use of analog black and white film for this series of portraits is another lesson she provides; to not be so quick to edit photographs at the moment in an attempt to immediately eliminate those images which are not perfect composed. A practice that I observe at many of these family occasions (maybe guilty as well); to quickly inspect what was captured and edit the results if not totally satisfied with the photograph. Sometimes memories, such as those captured by a camera, take some time to mature.
Perhaps in a sense, the family album as photographic book is more of an American genre than I had realized. It can be difficult to obtain an outside perspective when you are immersed in the middle of life’s events.
Regina Anzenberger’s photographic books have been featured previously on PhotoBook Journal include; Roots and Bonds, Shifting Roots, and Gstettn.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor (founder) of PhotoBook Journal
Under the Apple Tree, Regina Anzenberger
Photographer: Regina Anzenberger, born and resides in Vienna, Austria
Publisher: AnzenbergerEdition, Vienna, Austria copyright 2022
Essays: Regina Anzenberger and Fabian Knierim
Text: German and English
Hard cover with tipped in print, Japanese binding, 35 black and white photographs, printed by Tea Design, Sofia, Bulgaria. ISBN: 978-3-9503876-5-0
Photobook Designer: Regina Anzenberger
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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