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Thursday, 10 November 2016

Three Books on Planes, Trees and Suicide

Here are three nice books from the Eriskay Connection. Enjoy the English while it lasts because next year the reviews go through the filter of a foreign language. The impetus for this was a couple of years ago I was at Paris Photo with a bunch of people who were from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and then there was me. Everybody else had the workings of at least two languages (English and their own) and more often than not, three or four or five. But not me. Which is often the way with English speakers. It was a bit shameful. It will be even more shameful when I start writing five-line reviews in mangled German, Spanish, French, Italian, Indonesian. But maybe I'll learn something even if nobody else will. Anyway here goes...

Aeronautics in the Backyard by Xiaoxiao Lu is a straightforward documentary of people in China who make model planes. And what planes they are; they are real flying planes, helicopters,auto-gyro hopping, propellered contraptions that fly, crash and fail to take off in various combinations.

The book comes complete with illustrations (very Da Vinci illustrations) of plans, footage from film of the flights - and the crashes, and details of the cost, height reached, and years spent making the planes.

There are pictures from back in the day when Mao caps and blue jackets were the order of dress, reaching forward to designers who have turned their hobby into a corporate kit-making reality. It's a really nice project and a different look into the resilience and energy of the Chinese aeronautical obsessive.

Nonni's Paradiso by Martina Marangoni tells the story of the farm where Nonni (  moved in 1950. To Nonni, it was paradise and she lived there the rest of her life. She photographed the farm on an old Rollei and it these yellowed images that are mixed with Marangoni's pictures of the fields, the trees, the undergrowth and the very earth on which the olive trees grow.

The book tells the story of the olive trees, of the farm on which he was born (in 1950, as part of a family of 'nine sharecroppers who worked from dawn to dusk to grow just about everything they need feed themselves and their animals'), of the struggle for life in a place that was both harsh and beautiful.

But it also tells the story of how the land has changed, what it has become. In that sense it's reminescent of Andy Sewell's Something Like a Nest; this was a book that looked at the reality of the British farming landscape that lies beneath the pastoral chocolate box image. In the same way, Marangoni looks at what the Tuscan landscape has become, what his family's farm, and the way of thinking and living that underpinned it, has become; a world-weary, shabby and neglected landscape with not thought for the environment, history or wellness of being.

(un)expected by Peter Dekens. Dekens made Touch a few years ago. This was a really well-thought out accordion book that showed a partially sighted man navigating his way around his house. It was sequence by space, by colour, by touch and was quite something.

(un)expected is a story of suicide. It consists of black and white pictures fromt the streets of Western Flanders, a Belgian province with an exceptionally high suicide rate. Mixed in with these landscapes are small booklets that tell the story of people who have had a loved one who has committed suicide. So we hear of Ime and Hanna. Ime hung himself from a tree in 2013. Ime was left behind and it is her we see in Dekens' photographs, struggling to come to terms with her loss and the nature of it. We see her in the woods, by trees. For several months after Ime's suicide, she would visit the tree where he hung himself. The reason; to feel close to him.

Then there's mother and father, Dekens' mother and father. His mother killed herself in 2008, after his father told her he was going to commit suicide. She believed him and, unable to face a future without him, she 'hanged herself at home.'

The story tells of how his father coped with this; badly at first but soon he fell in love again 'on a bus trip to Paris.'

There's Jose and Steven, her adopted son. Steven had psychotic episodes and was struggling when he threw himself under a train. Grief followed for Jose, but only after initial relief at Steven's death and the release from the pain he was experiencing.

For Kris, the grief is overwhelming. Her child, Ward, killed himself with pills after experiencing a gender-identity crisis that led to his suicide. She's 'desperate and depressed', she's spent time in a psychiatric hospital and she feels as though part of her, the mother part, has been 'amputated'.

The final subject is Anna, the mother of a family who struggle on, and try to talk about her in a 'sensitive, supportive way.' And that is what the whole book is about, about looking at suicide and showing how it affects those who are left behind, how they live in the spaces that were once filled with a loved one's presence but have been emptied of it through the most tragic of circumstances. It's about quiet rooms, quiet moments, about silence that is usually unwelcome and intrusive in its lack.

Buy Aeronautics in the Backyard here

Buy Nonni's Paradiso here

Buy (un)expected here

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