Friday, May 4, 2007

Harlemville by Clare Richardson

Harlemville by Clare Richardson is an elegant little book.

For three years starting in 2000, Richardson photographed in Harlemville which is a Rudolph Steiner community. Rudolph Steiner was a philosopher, educator and social thinker who developed a schooling system based on his idea of “Anthroposophy.”

“Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe…. Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst.” (thanks to Wikipedia)

These are photographs are mostly of children in what may be perceived as a summer camp setting. They swim, roll in mud and explore river beds absorbed in their duties and generally show no interest or awareness of Richardson’s camera. Richardson gives us a lush description from what I believe is a medium format camera (otherwise it’s 4X5) and the color palette is rich yet subtle and obviously full of earth tones. The photographs for the most part are very well made.

The book itself is the perfect trim size for this work and the printing is very good. It is designed as a one picture at a time on the right hand page, no captions or page numbers. The photos have a nice sized border that defines their edges nicely. There is no superfluous text, we get right into the photographs after the title page and at the end we are provided with a very small statement by Clare Richardson about Harlemville, the place. It was published by SteidlMack in 2003.

For me, the book seems split into two sections (although I do not think this is intentional). First we follow a group of boys for about 25 images and then the last 12 are mostly of young girls but the girls do not engage in nature with the same intensity as the boys. It is also in this last “section” that a couple of adults appear in the photographs.

Because of the lack of adults, the first part of the book seems to allude strongly to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. A group of boys, out in nature, without parental guidance. They hang around and pass time swimming. Then they equip themselves with spears. Conflicts seem to arise. Individuals are cast out of the group. Some images hint at a pursuit for survival. Pain is alluded to and in the end, they go seriously native covered in mud camouflage. I like the way the sequence leads us in that direction. I don’t know that literary reference was intentional.

My problem was that since that reference fit so well, when I got to the last 12 images of mostly girls, it was a jarring departure from the direction the sequence was building. I also just think that several of the last 12 images should have been left out of the edit. Especially the few photographs that include the adults. Even though the book only has 37 photographs, 32 would have made a stronger book in my opinion.

What Richardson perhaps had a hard time with when editing is that you often have to leave your weakest children behind. That is simply another example of survival of the fittest.

Book Available Here

Book Available Here (Beyond The Forest)