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Monday, 3 November 2014

Studio Burning and Book Smoking

First of all I'm a sucker for a gimmick. I scan the children's sections of magazine racks to see what plastic mos they're giving away and I still buy cereals based on the free gifts they come with. It doesn't make for a healthy start to the day.

Photobook world is full of gizmos and gadgets in a paper sense. Foldups, foldouts, posters, gateups, tipped in, tipped up, uncut, double cut, feelorama, double boxed, double-hinged, half-hinged and loose-leaf are just some of the paper designs that you get in your contemporary photobook.

I love all that stuff. It livens things up and sometimes it makes you work for the image.  Sometimes it distances the image and makes it partly unavailable - which in the world of constantly available, online images makes perfect sense; sometimes the point is to make the pictures less easy to see. Then the cleverness lies in giving people a reason to look for the pictures - and to make the act of looking consistent with the theme of images on show.

When a gimmick doesn't quite work, it still adds something and takes it away from being your-run-of-the-mill turn-the-page here's-another-picture picture book. When it does work, it can really add something. On top of that, it questions why should the collection of pictures we call a photo-book
simply replicate the design of the regular text-based word-book. Photos are different content so it should invite a different design to books of words.

Melinda Gibson knows this and is not averse to using the odd gimmick or two. Her book, Miss Titus Becomes a Regular Army Mac is a supreme example of this. It is a beautifully made book of agency pictures where the outsides of the uncut pages are overprinted with the original backs and captions of the pictures. To get to the meat and drink of the book, you have to cut them.

Miss Titus was made using Brad Feurhelm's gruesome archive and after that Gibson worked with Thomas Sauvin's Chinese archive to make Lunar Caustic. So all was well and good in Gibson land.

And somewhere before/in the middle of all that happening, her studio burned down. And there was a flood. Fire and flood! In her studio. So she photographed it.

And she made a book of it. It's Volume VI of the Self Publish Be Happy Book Club Editions series. . and the pictures are all smudgy and black. They show the effects of the fire both on the studio and its fixings, but also on the prints and negatives that were lying around the studio. So the studio and its fixing get mixed with the prints and the warped and blackened negatives get mixed with everything. There are points where you don't know what is what or where is where.

But I'm missing something? What is it? Ah yes, the smell. This is a book that comes in full smell-o-rama. Crack open the cellophane wrapping and you get a mighty waft of damp charcoal coming up your nostrils. It's a strange thing to have these smoky odours drifting up into your lizard brain awakening memories of beach fires, bonfires and conflagrations past and very almost present.

This is what is says in the Blurb.

'In a ritualistic act of defiance, each book is ‘smoked’ by Gibson in hand built smokehouse and sealed in plastic to contain the scent – each one becoming a unique, sensorial object offering an experience that transcends the pages of the book.

Through investigating the event and restaging it in small performative acts of satiation, this book is a way of containing the experience and making it hers.'

I'm not too sure about that. I think that distances the effect from what makes it so interesting - its directness and the manner in which it changes the way you experience the pictures and puts you in the place using very basic sensory tools. So the gimmick here does not change the ease of how you see the pictures, it isn't something incorporated into the page design. Instead it adds something to how you see the pictures. It's a caption that works on a primaeval level. Smoke and its associations is a fundamental smell that has been with us since some woman rubbed two sticks together and came up with fire.

You can see pictures of Gibson smoking her books here.

Buy the book here.

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