Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Another Summer" by Terri Weifenbach

I got this small book by Terri Weifenbach a while ago and although I had looked through it a couple of times I hadn't given myself the time until recently to sit down with it and get to know it properly.

Published by The Thunderstorm Press (based in Japan) Another Summer is a small book (and a small run of only 500 numbered, signed copies) - in a simple grey cloth-covered binding with just the title embossed on the the front in sky blue. It resembles a small volume of poetry rather than a book of photographs and in many ways that's what it is: poetry.

There is no introductory text or essay inside, just the title and forty or so photographs. All of which seem to tell the story of the title - of another summer: a lake, a cottage, children and grandparents, picnics and canoes and back-yards.

In short the summer break of american myth and - sometimes still - of reality. It may be at the cottage or the cabin, or camping or the RV. There is something of the sense that the American Dream still includes Life, Liberty and a relaxing getaway to somewhere "other" in the summer. The idea of escaping (for escape it is) somewhere a little remote, a little wild, a little Walden-ish is still there, albeit it threatened by obsessive workloads, the Protestant Work Ethic, Blackberry addiction, a struggling economy and the threat of the disappearance of the American middle class. Despite which the desire to let children or grandchildren run free by a lake, swim off a dock, hunt for frogs or picnic in a clearing in the woods still survives.

Despite Terri's use of a fairly bright - if not quite saturated - colour palette, her work is a long way from a picture postcard or colour snapshot aesthetic. Or a digital pocket camera print for that matter. All of which would be an easy card for a lesser photographer to play in depicting the 'american summer'.

For one thing Weifenbach continues to use focus as a way of drawing attention away from or towards part of the picture and, to my mind, rendering the picture beautifully photographic in nature - it becomes a photographic picture. In a way these are the anti-HDR photograph, which is the photograph become something else - kitsch among other things.

But more than anything I don't think that this is a book about one summer, or one family or just another summer. Where it could easily tend towards nostalgia and it's associated sentimentality Weifenbach moves much more towards elegy.

And despite the beauty found within the pictures there is also melancholy mingled in with the happiness. Weifenbach doesn't tell us the why or the what of its source. That is up to the viewer, the reader of this book - to make our own meaning as we read it, to make the story our own. Growing up, growing old, loss of parents, loss of the summer idyll itself? It could be all of these and more - or none.

Which is the wonderful thing about photographs - and something so many photographers appear to forget. Photographs have no one meaning. We bring our own meaning(s) to them each time we view them. The inherent ambiguity of the photograph always leaves space for us to imagine and experience in ways which can rarely be foreseen or predicted.

As Edward Hopper said; "I hope it does not tell an obvious anecdote for none is intended", which could equally be said of Another Summer.

(All photographs: Terri Weifenbach - Another Summer)

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