Transplant by Bradley Peters is not for the sake of accuracy but rather, depiction by photograph. As Peters says in the accompanying statement, “These images were made between 1998 and 2004, while I was a resident of Gaslight Village, a trailer park on the North side of Lincoln, NE” and aside from that bit of setting, these images “…don’t propose to provide any answers.” If photographs are limited, the photo book is even more so. Sequencing can provide narrative or set a tone, but can also give support leading to preconceived ideas or to confirm bias.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time with the photographs that comprise Transplant. Images from the series were included in Strant’s VOL 004, ISS 001 as well as Strant’s print publication Family Faith Food. I saw the work when it was collectively titled Something is Happening as presented in Strant VOL 004, ISS 001 and Family Faith Food and contained more images than presented in Transplant. That is not to say Transplant is definitively the body of work in its final form and its edit of only seven images, staple binding, and saddle stitching, might push it more into the realm of zine than photo book. But regardless of how Transplant is qualified and how inconsequential the distinction might be, it is an intentionally limited edit informed by its printed form but also less about tightening an edit and more about ambiguity, an evidence of absence. Philosopher Irving Copi wrote about evidence of absence to say that, “In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.”
I read somewhere that as a reviewer you should not review what something is not. Doing so unfairly leads to the antithesis of evidence of absence, that is absence of evidence. Absence of evidence implies that something, in this case a book, is ignorant of itself—which is to say lacking proof to support itself. Having spent time with Peters’ work a third time now, it is difficult to not let past experience inform the response I have to Transplant and in doing so support myself and my own conclusions rather than the book. I recollect images that I selected to be included in the two Strant publications—some of which are not included in Transplant. At times I see not necessarily what is present in Transplant but what I want to see or have already seen, a confirmation bias.
Debate as of late surrounding the inauguration of or 45th president and photo evidence in determining who is telling the truth about turn out at his inauguration ceremony was in the news as each side, The White House and the media, made the case that they are right. That search for accuracy backed by photographic evidence is a product of our desire to settle on something truthful. And despite the long debate of the truthfulness of a photograph, there is still a desire in us for something accurate and we just can’t seem to get past the false belief that a good enough photograph will not mislead. But whereas public and national wellbeing is at stake regarding the truthfulness of the current presidential administration, if you get wrong the story within Transplant we’ll be okay. Although we should be wary of the photograph as propaganda, we should be comfortable regarding Transplant and photography as a whole as likely lead to some inaccurate conclusions.
In one photograph included in Transplant—a woman looking up a large curtained window is mirrored by someone on the TV screen in the corner of the room, also looking up—the casual tone of the scene suggests if staged then done so deftly and if not, the precise anticipation of the decisive moment. In another image a boy in a field holding a large knife—his arm as awkwardly tweaked as the snarl on his face—is reiterated by someone else’s blurred arm on the edge of the frame. As beings who desire logical order, when presented questions like these we attempt to deduce answers. But order is subtly subverted in synchronistic details throughout Transplant and we are left to conclude that if “X” were true then I would know it as evidence by the photograph; in fact I do not know it as the photograph does not tell me so; therefore “X” cannot be true. The best argument against a logically sound argument however, is an illogical one and the best way to lead one to more questions, is to not provide room for an answer. Bradley Peter’s Transplant leaves room to explore and re-explore each of the seven included images and enough space to let everything in the frame be seen with longer consideration—it is this act of consideration, that desire for logic and order that is most universal and makes the photograph so compelling. We are beings who seek causation between great differences—amongst the disparities of poverty, class, and social structure.