Tony Fouhse sent me the latest book from his Straylight Press, one of the most interesting of the new photobook publishers. For some reason Straylight feels a bit realler than most.
The book's called Same Old Story and features Fouhse's pictures together with a story by his partner, Cindy Deachman. The story is a contemporary stream-of-consciousness of love found and lost. It's a dreamscape filled with tension and anxiety. Nothing settles, nothing is as it seems, life is a constant race to and from shifting threats and possibilities. Life is immediate with a focus that shifts depending on what dreamscape you're in; the multi-roomed house, the chase, the anxiety sequence.
Loosely tied to the story are Fouhse's pictures from Toronto in the early 1980s (and this link will tell you how the pictures were connected to the story). This is old Toronto when it still had empty warehouses and a decrepit waterfront that, though decripit, wasn't devastated by identikit condos. That Toronto was staid and conservative on the surface, but scratch a little and you get beneath the skin. And that's what Fouhse's pictures show. They are offbeat and energised of people looking a little awkward in their skin. Maybe that's because most everybody in Toronto is a little awkward in their skin, either because they are trying so damn hard to make sense of matching the contradictions of living in such a brutally corporate/conformist city or because they see all these other people trying to make sense of matching those contradictions. But I guess that goes for any city with an essentially corporate soul. Or any city.
So the pictures? They are a funny look back at a time when the cracks in the facade were broader. A guy passed out at some outdoor event as a cadet of some sort salutes in front of him, a dog roaming a snowy street (remember when dogs used to roam free in places like Toronto), a racoon and bear. There's Miss Universe, a smoking car and a man in a suit walking along a downtown street. His hair is blown out and in the background there's a man standing against a granite wall with his hand on his head.
One picture shows a man lying on a bed with bandages over his eyes. Another shows a man with a megaphone covering his face. Everyone is fragmented and lost, including Fouhse who we see through a self-portrait in a wall of mirrors.
Same Old Story walks that edge between dream and reality, but in a very public way. These are street photos but they are not street. They are only street in the sense that they show a flip side to a public portrayal. You get two sides of the story for the price of one in other words.
Same Old Story reminds me of Harvey Benge's latest book, some things you should have told me. This is a trawl through Benge's subconscious, a narrative that is told through very direct visual links that make up for an unclassifiable surrealism. Though it's very photographic in some ways and connects to lots of new formalist still-life work, it occupies very different ground. It's almost anti-photographic and perhaps that's why it sticks.
I have trouble placing the work, but somehow it keeps on coming back to me. The book ends with a broken mirror, a fragmented self. And it starts with a trail of footprints in spilt salt next to an attractive women under a black umbrella. Empty facades, a rotten banana (in a plastic banana case) and a plastic snake add to the symbolism. But then there are very literal portraits mixed with blurred landscapes. I think there is something non-photographic happening in there which takes the pictures to a different place.
There are sexual references in there, both direct and indirect, but these are distant, almost unattainable. On his website, Benge says the book questions who we are and is an examination of the inevitability of change. It's also autobiographical and in that sense I'm guessing it might be a meditation on aging, on the distance and the facadism of everyday life.
Joerg Colberg picked some things you should have told me as his book of the week on photo-eye and shared a sense of uncertainty. But still, says Colberg, it "...has everything a great photobook should have: Great pictures, a great concept, and more."
I also like a quote the Benge sent to me to explain his work.
've got nothing to express! I simply search for images and I invent, I invent... only
the image counts, the inexplicable and mysterious image, because all is mystery
in our life. Rene Magritte, 1951
Buy Harvey Benge's some things you should have told me here.
Buy Cindy Deachman/Tony Fouhse's Same Old Story here.