Words can serve to place one in a particular frame of mind before viewing photographs. That’s what I learned anyway. Ideally, the text encourages the dialogue between the photograph and the individual. Words don’t explain the photograph or repeat the message and where one ferries the dialogue is up to that individual, informed by experience brought to the viewing process. In a gallery, unless you visit the exhibit on a day other than the opening and it is a small gallery where one can look alone, this process is social. The dialogue of exhibitions is more akin to public forum. Usually out loud, sometimes devolving into erudite nonsense. More a showcase of personal knowledge, which can steer the conversation toward pedantic debate with little space for personal and quite response. I prefer photobooks over the gallery.
The Lonely Ones by Gus Powell of course isn’t an exhibit. It is a considered, but unpretentious photobook. It is about the size of a trade paperback, suggesting intimacy. And although like many photobooks as of late that challenge the photobook form, one doesn’t need know the current pulse of photobook trend. Rather, one should simply be willing to engage. Its design does demand the reader sit down, preferably with a clear table, and read taking the time to unfold each gate fold to reveal an image that has been introduced by a short line of text on the outside of the gatefold.
The text that accompanies each photograph of The Lonely Ones reads like a response the photographer might have had after viewing the photographs. Sort of an internal dialogue or meditation on each photograph committed to paper and then given over to the reader, sharing what was once private. The first line of text reads, “This will be our secret” (paired with a photograph of a painting on a wall the entirety of which is partially obscured by either the flash of the camera or some other concentrated source of light reflecting off the painting’s surface, the subject matter of the painting sitting in a chair under a painting of himself. It’s about looking.) And although it is the first text aside from the title and accompanies specifically the photograph with which it is paired, it certainly sets a particular tone of relationship that compliments the intimacy of the book and the solitude of really and truly looking at photographs.
And so one proceeds to think and look, think and look, reading The Lonely Ones in a solitude encouraged by its design. A sort of lonely process in and of itself and with a bit morose even. One text reads “I don’t think too much about happiness” gate folded with a white sedan in a crushingly thick fog (which is fairly prominent throughout). The photographs within aren’t in fact all that happy. But they are a shared loneliness. Each photograph is gate folded which means, unless you want your book to become a mess by leaving each gate fold open and therefore the viewing process to also be a mess, it is best to proceed as follows: read text and think, open gate fold, look at photograph, close gate fold, ruminate and move on to the next lonely one. Take the time to do it alone, perhaps encountering some of one’s own internal dialogue or demons or solace knowing that being alone together is comforting. As one text reads, “Let’s not ruin it by talking” paired with a woman on the periphery of some urban setting staring at a horse in front of a chain link fence.
Sometimes the text that accompanies each photograph is a bit on the nose. Like a cartoon in the New Yorker that doesn’t demand too much to illicit a response. More often however, the pairing are more cerebral, leaving enough space to afford the viewer room for their own perspective. And in each of which most people are in fact alone, and maybe they’re as lonely as the engagement of photography.