It will be hard to write this review without seeming biased to my initial impression of Paul Salveston's photo book - Between the Shell. I will do my best to appear neutral to one of the books that has turned photography into a circus of pointless performance however there is always another side to a story. Lets start with Salveson's statement on the work where he describes his process as
'unfolding like a private performance in an empty house, or after everyone falls asleep... my engagement emerges from a perspective that precedes familiarity, disregarding the functions and cultural associations that objects are assigned. I try to process my surroundings with an alien mind.'.
Photography has always worked well with words, it can mean anything what someone suggests it to be. Getting published by MACK is like winning the Premier League or winning the Masters final against Ronnie O'Sullivan. There is an incredible sense of achievement, one that should not be taken away from the work. The situation the work has found itself in is full of excited crowds, stirring glasses as each copy gets snapped up by collectors. Yet the sheer consumption slightly worries me. Working under such an influential publisher deems the project a success and people will now associate the work with the very same. Processing domestic objects with an alien's eye view seems to be a poor excuse for a publication. And this is where my patience for 'contemporary' photography wears thin. He goes on to elaborate
'By creating tiny diversions in an object's prescribed path, I disrupt the normative psychological feedback loop existing between homes and their inhabitants. Meticulous visual arrangements challenge people's automatic associations with domestic objects, imbuing their overlooked facets with an alien, yet vaguely familiar air.'.
This again, seems to be a poor excuse for a publication.
'While my subjects are born of everyday reality, I conceive of forms, engaging abstraction to build new systems of relational logic. What results are declarations of the disconnect between functionality and formalist intuition.'.
Paul is very good with words and does well to pad out meaning and I would need to challenge his intentions. As all still life work is immaculately lit, it certainly is a visual feast. Its eye for colour is impeccable and in an editorial sense this is a publishers dream - but that is also part of the problem. Its aesthetic overthrows the meaning. To put this into context, how would your parents react to the work. Is its meaning comprehensible past artistic circles? Sometimes the straight talking nature of the 'non' artist can call bullshit when they see it. From a brief background in photography, I call bullshit. This work is riding off its aesthetics and its loose intentions are heavily outweighed by its editorial value. It is no surprise this work was published and its unintentional comment on aesthetic driven work of today shows that no one cares about this issue.
It is a sad sensation that photography is partially devoid of content and cares more about its appearance, but that is the way it goes. To fight this work is a useless battle and to state an opinion on it is our only voice. At the end of the day we cannot expect too much from a photograph. How much can it really mean? It is just a set of photographs after all.
'Salveson's world suggests the stories that a solitary child might elaborate. Scale is unknowable, directionality is uncertain, functionality is set aside and every day objects are seen with new eyes, because when function is unknown, all objects are susceptible to play, to test and to re-designation' - Sophie Balhetehet
As each writer makes very elegant statements about the simple fact the everyday objects transform into useless objects, their primary concern seems to be obsessed with the childlike vision taken to adult items. It is playful. It is bold and exciting, visually, and if this were an editorial piece I would understand completely. I wonder when this book tires of its magical aesthetic, perhaps in the first 15 pages, until we realize that our heads are just being filled with colourful air. Is that his point? Is that why it is critically acclaimed and widely distributed last year. I wonder what it is, perhaps I am missing something. Either way it is the path photographic work is choosing to take, in parts, and that in itself should be counted as a discussion point at least.
Images courtesy of MACK books.