Monday, June 9, 2008


Stephen K. Schuster sent me a copy of his new book, Kelly, a personal project that is a study of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. beyond Schuster's images, i really enjoyed the experience of looking through the book and thinking about its meaning and how it was put together.

to that end, i enjoyed the introduction by the ubiquitously delightful Jon Feinstein. not to mention the irony of his statement: "Looking at these photos, you won't know the details of Kelly's past or that she and Stephen's first encounter was a one night stand." of course, now we do know these things (and others). but how do they color a stranger's glimpse into an intimate relationship, and how do they intend to color it?

there are several lovely, fine-arty portraits in Kelly.

and also several provocative ones.

because Subjectify (and my brain) mainly focuses on questions of the interaction between the photographer and the subject, many of the portraits in Kelly beg the question of what it means to publish naked, happy photographs of your ex-girlfriend of two years...after the breakup.

the punctum of these for me is one vivid nude image in the middle of the book that is printed half and half on either side of the gutter—making it become, to me, a kind of subverted centerfold of the book. (my snapshot of this to the left.) Kelly lays on the bed, covering her head with her arms, and only upon cracking the spine firmly can you make out the wry smile on her face. otherwise her face, expression and form are lost in the fold. i found the way this was printed in the book to be very evocative. it works, and it made me think. it's also a beautiful photograph. i asked Stephen about the printing, and he said that the image is central to the book for him as well; and that he was urging his designer to lay it out it differently in the second edition. personally, i like the difficult layout choice (whether the effects of it are intentional or not), and i would stick with it.

because of the intimate nature of the photos, i do think that Stephen's inclusion of a few images of himself along with his subject is a good—and ultimately necessary—self-conscious touch. one place in particular where this holds true is the very last image inside the book; printed smaller, as a postscript, you see Stephen's hand on Kelly's chin, tilting it up, posing her, asserting himself as the photographer and her as the subject. the loved object. as a final image, it made me think of the Roland Barthes quote (not from Camera Lucida for once, but from A Lover's Discourse): "Absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a state of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is by vocation, migrant, fugitive."

as for the lovers' journeys, Jon Feinstein writes in the introduction that because of the nature of Kelly, "the viewer is confronted with a pastiche of photographic asides." in places "pastiche" seems exactly the right word. since these images were taken as, well, part of everyday life and travels and journeys, we see Kelly smiling for the camera on vacation, in a motel room, relaxing nude in a pool, giving her best suicide-girl look in the shower. as Stephen says "We both love to take off and the camera was always there." on their own, these images don't do much for me. but in context, the narrative builds in places into a pastiche of the snapshot, perhaps even a critique of the types of ways—even clich├ęd ways—we (photographers? Americans? lovers?) use and interact with cameras in our personal lives and relationships. i don't know if this is intentional, but it certainly inspired a lot of thought in me.

if you would like to check out Kelly for yourself, Stephen is selling limited edition copies here.

p.s. for blogger/photog Liz Kuball's take on Kelly, check out her post on it here.

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