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Thursday, 12 November 2015

'I am Vendula and I belong to the big kid's folder.'

It's curious that most of the pictures we look at we see on computers, phones or tablets. We see them on screens. And the way we get to the screen is through desktops and finders and millions and millions of folders.

We have libraries of images, folders of images, and individual images stuck all over the place in a chaos of confusion and bad filing.

And photographers have these things, Borgesian networks that (if the photographer is in any way to be trusted) are weird streams of consciousness of fake starts, false beginnings, suppressed ideas and uttter failures. Dig deep into the folders and files of most photographers, and you'll see a virtual visual subconscious complete with digital defensive mechanisms (denial, anger, displacement), neuroses and avoidance.

The only exceptions to this rule are those obsessively organised, neat and tidy people who can always easily find a file and know exactly where everything is. But these are people whose neuroses are hidden even deeper beneath the surface so... we do not have to deal with them.

But we don't often get to see this netherworld of how people think about their work. Sometimes you do in talks (visitors to the talks Stacy Kranitz and Alec Soth gave in Bristol were both privileged to quick trawls through their computer desktops - which were both chaotic. A good thing.), but most of the time you don't.

And certainly not in books.

Except for Vendual Knopova's Tutorial. This is a book that has as its starting point, the folders on her mother's computer.

This is what the statement says: 'Tutorial is a best-of compilation from my mom's hard drive, which had to go an adequate selection process of pictures of pets and natural disasters. I am Vendula and I belong to the big kid's folder.'

It's a family album then. And it's fabulous. It cracks the sombre myths of the family album by organising the images into numbered sections which don't really have a logic or order to them.

Section Number 11 for example '...is from the series "Lying to Children". I honestly thought that Fanca had but one puppy.'

And there's a picture of Fanca with but the one puppy.

So there's a dark humour in there that is quite cutting in places. It's a vision of growing up that gives a sitcom quality to the family album. And Knopova has the perfect family for this; a large blended affair that 'lives in the country, doesn't have a Tesco Club Card, drinks Coca-Cola only on prescription'.

It's a fun book then, but it also adds something to how we represent the family; it's not all trauma, guilt and the creation of idealised squeaky-clean mythologies. Sometimes the mythologies are more creative than that.

Along with Ivars Gravlejs' fantastic Early Works, Tutorial is a book that brings energy, intelligence and wit into how we understand the visual representation of childhood. It's a very familiar book in that sense, with a cast of characters who are somehow both visually and emotionally recognisable.

It's a book that I both like and enjoy. It makes me think and it makes me smile.

Buy the book here.

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