Monday, June 11, 2007

The Romance Industry - John Gossage

I first came across John Gossage's Venice/Maghera work in a compendium volume Identificazione di un Paesagio which originated with Sandro Mescola of the Comune di Venezia as a research project on the industrial transformation of the city of Venice. The aim of the project was to photograph “the substantial economic and social changes underway in its industrial areas.” Mescola assemble an A team of foreign photographers to depict the region - Baltz, James, Shore, Gossage, Shibata, Gohlke, Hütte etc

As I understand it, out of the volume of work that John Gossage produced for the project, he went on to put together the (fairly hefty, but not as big as Berlin in the Time of the Wall) book The Romance Industry.

In many ways this is probably my favorite of all Gossage's books (or at least those I've laid my hands on). It's also beautifully put together by Nazraeli

I'd have to say that while irony seems one of the marks of so much contemporary photography, the only seriously ironic aspect of the book is it's title - and while that throws a light veil over the whole thing, it doesn't seem a major preoccupation.

Reading through the book there are times when Gossage’s pictures can seem quite "harsh" (which is the best word I can find- perhaps "unforgiving"?) - although less so than much of the Berlin work, which I also happen to find quite melancholic. And The Pond could almost be defined as pure deadpan - despite the gentle mediation of it's journey. But while The Romance Industry certainly does has something of an unblinking view I find it to be much lighter in touch than both these books - almost gentler. It may not actually be romantic - far from it - but it is certainly poetic. Though the sort of poetry that - as John Berger describes it - does hard labour. It feels as if the deadpan, irony and melancholy have given way to certain level of fondness or affection.

I find I get a real sense of Gossage's intrigue as he delves deeper and deeper into the places and things he discovers in his investigation.

There are a number of pictures in the book which are some my favourites (at best I could only find some of them in Photoeye's booktease - there aren't many pictures online from this project at all - so some here I've plucked from other work) - incongruously, sheep enveloping a mound in the industrial area; the whole series Contents of a Laboratory (which allowed me to make an obvious but previously unmade connection for me between the approach to my museum and archives work and my personal work); an abandoned industrial area seen through a grid; the landscapes of various "wastelands", a man on a bicycle, both going and returning and perhaps the one truly romantic photogrpah in the book - an ivy covered staircase - and several more...

In an essay for the book, Gus Blaisdell uses a sort of via negativa putting forward a series of propositions about what John Gossage's work isn't, linking it to photographers "with whom he shares a similarly, but an even deeper difference" (and I'm going to borrow the whole section...):

NOT(atmospheric erosion like lichen clocks the head of Pan at Versailles; autumn leaves fallen on steps that descend semicircularly to a circular landing and then continue their descent; the archeology of streets and buildings presented after a terminal moraine has melted): Atget
NOT(the American commonplace so quietly essential as to seem beyond the ability of photography or any other medium to capture, within the reach of nothing but admiration): Evans
NOT(the drama of the hard travellin' road after Whitman and Kerouac in outsider eyes where the lights are always going down, leaving only the ghostlighted stage of the photograph): Frank
NOT(still going down, even Beat-ing it down to its basic beat-i-tude, the discovery of structure where mirrors crack the picture planes into what can be seen front and back and behind and beside, or a vegetal equivalent of abstract expressionist scrawl block the picture surface - a genre of delirious possibility, but still anchored in the often rigid permanence of what looks like asides and throwaways): Friedlander
NOT(a gaze as steady as Buster Keaton's wonders whether the industrial parks depicted manufacture pantyhose or megadeath; hip beyond irony or cool; where what passes for the so-called art world bleeds and leaks itself seamlessly in so called-real world): Baltz
NOT(a metropolis constructed by people for their discomfort, and in turn refuse to reflect them in its curtain walls, eyes more alienated than Antonioni's - eyes of an American veteran who returned with Vietnam locked in behind eyes that for years photographed without film or camera- eyes that stare at the traces of homelessness and the violence of wasted shooting sites where doll's heads hang for targets. Whether we edify or degrade we first create ruins, like Olympic sites once the games are gone and the local economy begins an unending hemorrhage): Hernadez
NOT(the outrage rightly registered at the sight of a few trees that survive on the freeway of Laos Angeles or the stupefied faces of people on terms with the thermonuclear unconscious of Rocky Flats): R. Adams

And certainly not the lush monumentality declared only photographically: A Adams.
Nor hermetic beauties of a zen-inspired series of pictures, a variation of equivalences; but equivalent to what in the world: M White

... Not far away from Weegeee's crime scenes with the bodies and gawkers removed. All the stains in the street and the curbside trash remains. Nature for Gossage is a place bristling with the attractive repulsion of armpits and crotches, and it is always alive, about to declare its animation, the shrubbery like David Lynch's trees tossed in a night wind, violated by a motion characteristic of anxiety, dread and agony. Premonition and foreboding settle in around Gossage as atmospherically as Atget's groundfogs in his parks.

I've come full circle hinting what Gossage photographs might be... Like Wallace Stevens in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," I collapse, loaf and invite my soul, unable to decide which I prefer, inflections or innuendoes' "The blackbird whistling/Or just after.""

Gus Blaisdell

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