Old Family Photographs and Deep Sky Objects by Alla Mirovskaya is a book that mixes pictures from Russian family albums with images of space. I might be putting words into Alla's mouth, but the basic premise might well be that your family is as extraterrestrial as the stars you see in the night sky.
The space pictures come via the Hubble telescope and the Chandra Observatory in the USA and they show star clusters, supernovas, spiral galaxies and the like.
The family pictures come from 3 family albums (the Vasilyevs, the Dyomins, and the Mirovskys), as well as the family photographs of a Japanese musician, Kuniyoshi Yamada).
It turns out Yamada drums with butoh performers and makes this kind of music. Which provides a suitable soundtrack for trying to sort out what's happening.
It's not really clear what's happening. Pictures of supernovas are followed by a portrait of Elya Kiselyova, a red-screened image of a work group and a detail from a greeting card. Except the problem is the captions don't quite match. Sometimes they are on the preceding page, sometimes they are not on the opposite page, sometimes they are two pages forward or backwards, sometimes they don't exist.
Old family photos and deep sky objects from Alla Mirovskaya on Vimeo.
It's a very interesting thing to flip through these trying to work it out, in part satisfying, in part infuriating (and it might very well be that I've missed something blindingly obvious to everyone else). And you flick from understanding what is happening to not really having a clue about who or what you are looking at.
And I guess that's the point of the book and the point of family histories and the photographs that represent them. They are hard to pin down, they shift depending on whose story is being told and who is telling it, and ultimately our families can be as distant and unknown to us as the stars.
Family mythologies are created and upheld and photographs play their part, Secrets and lies are covered, uncovered and then covered again depending on whose interests are at stake.
So we see these people photographed in photobooths, in studios, at work, at school, and we're left to unravel who they are and the stories behind the pictures; the people, the politics, the process, the parts that are not revealed.
The family pictures are not that different than the star pictures. While the star pictures have their scientific and objective referents, they are also quite abstract in their representation, pictorial manifestations of data and light that are served up as iconic rather than indexical ideas of what space, the universe and everything really is.
And that ultimately is what the family portraits are, iconic representations of family life that serve an idealised idea that connects to family, politics and the state. What really lies beneath the images, in both the space and the family pictures, we don't know. Something out of our control perhaps, something on the fringes of our consciousness, something unknowable but known in our subconscious?
Maybe that's what the Japanese pictures represent; with their link to drumming, butoh and the dark side of our lives. But then again, as I say so often on this blog, maybe not. It's difficult to tell because the book is enigmatic and mysterious. It's a book that's been made so you half understand it, and then you fill the gaps in with mad guesses. The interesting thing is the book is engaging enough to keep you with that process.
There are many books and projects that use space as a metaphor for life, for death, for the eternal void that awaits us all. This is another one of those books, but it carries the metaphor in the opposite direction, infusing the family with these notions of mystery and uncertainty.
And it's beautifull made. And a pleasure to handle. It's the right size. It's an interesting book.
Buy Old family photographs and Deep Sky Objects here.
Or Buy it here.
This review was written before Gazebook Sicily. And then all of a sudden Alla turned up with Elena Kholkina and Natalia Baluta. Which was really nice.
They are all part of Russian Independent Self-published group (that's some of their books above - they make really interesting books with a different sensibility. Anastasia Bogomolova and Julia Borissova are also members) who you can meet and say hello to at Unseen in Amsterdam this weekend.