The title of Mark Albain’s self-published zine, Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy is a line from The River—a short story by Flannery O’Connor. The high contrast black and white cover image looks to be a conifer tree or its snow dusted candles fallen to the ground. It appears as though the photograph was made with the use of a flash. Diffused light reflects against flakes of falling snow and a bit of lens flare is visible in the bottom right corner which all makes for an abstracted and slightly nonrepresentational photograph framed by a thick white border. Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy like the literature its title references, is set in Southern Gothicism—mundane, mysterious, and presaging.
If Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy is situated within Southern Gothic themes, Albain wastes no time getting directly to one of its most central themes—religion. The first image is of a painted Jesus ascending up an interior wall. Christ’s hands push at the ceiling above as his apostles are left agape nearer the baseboards, house plant, and Peavey speaker below. As in much of Flannery O’Connor’s writing, the world from where Christ ascends is decaying and derelict. Vanity plates and discarded signs indicate that Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy is set at least in part, in Tennessee. A dead bird, tattered things covered in tarps, and overgrown fauna that follow suggest that in Albain’s South, the gospel is less about prosperity and more about the realism of muted tones. Each frame is only part of a longer more painful story that all bleed together in gray. Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy fluctuates between those muted grays, color images depicting a more vibrant South, and stark black and white flash photographs. Landscape-oriented images suffer from what feels like a decision to print them touching at least three sides of the frame to the edge of the page in order to maximize image size. Portrait-oriented photographs, like the cover image, are framed with the thick white border that carries the idea that each scene exists in context. Although the South is anything but concise, consistency would have helped to focus Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy as it evinces the mysterious but colloquial visual language of the South and all the weight that even a single day, a partial story, or handful of photographs can carry.
A line from O’Connor’s The River reads, “The white Sunday sun followed at a little distance, climbing fast through a scum of gray cloud as if it meant to overtake them.” A muddy puddle reflecting the roof of an adjacent building and a sky that feels like that same “scum of gray cloud” appears near the end of Wipe Your Nose Sugar Boy. The scene is almost wholly insignificant if it weren’t for the suggested fate of stepping in such a betokened body of water and descending into the sky below.