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Monday, 10 October 2016

Love Makes Everything Bleak!

There's always something sad about photographic love stories. They are stories that have ended so that makes them sad to begin with; the love arc peaks, declines and then we are left with a conclusion that is either tragic or bathetic.

Throw photography into the mix and the sadness intensifies. The essential nostalgia of photography fixes the past in concrete form. It's what has-been and will never be again, it's a marker of the height of our emotions, a paean to our youth. Photography of the past (which is all photography - duh!) looks times when we were younger, stronger, smarter, sexier. And there it is fixed for all time, a laughing contrast to our present, decrepit, boring, faded selves. The real me is filled with uncertainty, the photographic me is clearly defined in every possible way (as long as it is a 'good' photograph - because that's what 'good' photographs do).

There's that sadness in just about every photographic story going; think Solitude of Ravens, Sentimental Journey, Love on the Left Bank, or, more recently, Yolanda. There is death involved in three of those, so that helps, but you get the idea.

The same sadness infests Alex and Me by James Pfaff. This is a cinematic love story, a road trip love story that goes from Florida through to Ontario and features Pfaff and his lover, Alex. It's shot in the past, so it is of a time, and it's kind of rough around the edges in a nineties kind of way. Which adds to the melancholic air of the piece.

The book has a notebook type cover (Pfaff works a lot with notebooks and diaries). It's covered in notes and is painted over, so there's a nice start to the book, a reason to get you into it. Open it up and there's an envelope with a postcard and a typed summary of the relationship.

It's the summer of '98, there's asphalt, coffee and cigarettes. And Alex:

I'd only been together with Alex for a few short weeks, but I knew she was a special woman. 

Alive and real. 
Carefree, intoxicating.
In full blood, sensual...

Well, it was a beautiful journey.
We burned bright and faded. 
Later, in a gentle moment, I noticed it was autumn.

So you know there's going to be some poetry in there, with the melancholy cranked up (as it should be). The pictures begin with pictures of the road at night; a sign on the highway pointing to Baton Rouge, a coffee, a juke box, a waffle house. There's a nod to Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans and road photography as a whole, but with more road, more darkness, and more paint (some of the images are painted over! I'm still thinking about that).

We see Alex on the bed, followed by a picture from a soft-porn magazine. More road pictures follow, an American flag, gas stations and the detritus of the road. It's a quite barren environment for this love affair to play out against. The barrenness is compounded by how the pictures are laid out on the page, set on what looks like a painted wall, the brush strokes letting the pink of the plaster show, bare bones, bare flesh only partially hidden. That textured feel is echoed by the cover, which is in notebook mode (but a bit too smooth to the touch).

There are nods to the times; a Daily News cover featuring Bill Clinton, phone booths covered in graffiti, and repeated Go-Go bars. Finally, the couple end their trip in Canada - we see a map that tells us this is the end, and we see them crossing the border at Niagara Falls. The book ends with portraits of 'Me' and 'Alex'. Me is shot through the rear view mirror of the car, Alex is shot with her hand across her face. We never really know who they are in other words.

Edited by Francesca Seravalle, Alex and Me is a moody, road-trip of an affair that is tinged with an inevitable sadness. Canada marks the end of the affair, the end of the passion and the burning bright, the return to a more faded life. And such is the fate of photographic love stories, they have a love that is lived in sadness, a serotonin antidote to the bleakness of the backdrop they are played out against, and then they end - and the consolation of passion is gone. All that is left is the bleakness.

Buy Alex and Me here


Buy Alex and Me here

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