The state of contemporary shelter
The fifty-seven photos in the book originated in a New York Times commission to reveal the effects of the mortgage crisis across America (the photos were run in the Times Sunday magazine but because there had been some digital manipulation, which the editors were unaware of, they were removed from the paper's website). Shot in November and December 2008 in eight states they show houses in various stages of construction and abandonment of completed ones
There are some wonderful color images throughout the book but unfortunately mixed in with what I thought were rather bland ones. The color, composition and detail in several landscape photos of newly or partially built houses is quite remarkable and this applies also to several interior images showing, in fine detail, the wooden construction prior to drywall being added (at least five of these could well be used as part of the visual content of a DIY book on house building).
The book really should have included more than fifty-seven photos. The ones that I thought work best are mixed in with an assortment of alternative images. In particular eight where Martins has created, in the corner of a bare room, some small sculptural effects with bits of debris. They hardly seem to add to the story of the recent American housing crisis.
I was disappointed that there are no captions with the photos. Several of them made me wonder 'What's going on here'. The two essays in the book are equally unhelpful regarding the photo's contents. Both are rather long winded works with plenty of obscure elitist sentences like:
'Fictions, like decisions, and crises, are made. However much we continue to accept photography's indexical facility, to photograph something is necessarily to fictionalise it, to select, intensify, to link the abstractions (cut) from the visual continuum into sequences and so on are all acts of fictionalising. Photographs establish not so much a reproduction of the Real, as a relationship to that federation of perceptions and reflections, discourses and simulations that, beyond brute materiality, makes up the Real'. It's a pity editors can't reqire writers to create something in a normal conversational style.
The book's production is excellent. Quality matt art paper, a 200 screen and generous margins create the perfect photo book environment for these images. I thought it was a pity that so few quite remarkable photos are somewhat overshadowed by many that don't fit the brief, a lack of captions or background detail regarding the photos content and two rather obscure meandering essays, so three stars.
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