Friday, August 31, 2007

Jesus and the Cherries by Jessica Backhaus

When Jessica Backhaus’s family purchased a farmhouse in Northern Poland, she started to spend her summers and winters there photographing the rural community of Netno. The results of three years worth of work was published in 2006 by Kehrer in a book called Jesus and the Cherries.

This is a land that is in transition. This is Poland after the break up of the Soviet Union, where the creeping influence of the west is doing its best to wash over history and tradition with new commercial enterprise. In this seemingly tight-knit rural community of Netno, the traditions, although starting to fade, are still apparent in the decoration and arrangement of homes. In a few generations, this may all be memory.

It is through the interiors of homes that Backhaus first started describing the lives of her friends and neighbors in Netno. Her approach to photographing the interiors is through repetition. All are formally similar vertical images either made square to the wall or of corners of rooms with the actual corner slightly shifted to either side of the photo’s frame. With the first few readings, the formal rigor of these images was a bother to me but once the repetition sinks in, it feels more like a “type” is being established in similar ways that the Bechers’ had done with their work.

This is a world that has order and cleanliness. The order of the interiors is precise and calculated to be seen as a sign of status. They are interiors that maybe more for the eyes of others than for the occupants.

The community, or at least the way Backhaus has photographed and edited her version of the community seems very homogenous. The people seem warm and friendly; their homes inviting and accommodating. There does not seem to be any sense of danger. Even the streets are spotless. The only piece of litter that can be seen in any of the 96 images is a discarded soda bottle that has gotten entrapped by ice on a frozen lake. Because of this cleanliness and attention to order, the world Backhaus has created seems optimistic and idyllic. One of the pleasures of this book is that view into a Backhaus’s world that is so infectiously pure in its description.

After pursuing her project for a while, Backhaus soon found the need to start a series of portraits of the locals of Netno. Mostly concentrating on the youth, the portraits are well done and a nice compliment to the interiors and still lifes. In these portraits, I like Backhaus best when she seems more like an unseen observer than when the viewer seems wrapped up in having their picture taken. The people are less stiff and more interesting. The images that achieve that relaxed approach are more revelatory and give a sense that all may not right here. Appearances can be deceiving.

The book has a nice and quirky design with its use of actual doily tablecloth material common to Poland used as book-cloth. A belly band provides the title and author as there is nothing printed on the cover material. The page layouts provide wide margins for the pictures to breathe. The margins also accent the sense of cleanliness that is apparent in the images. Backhaus has sequenced the book so that facing page images often share small doses of the same color. For instance, the cherry juice on a plate in one photo is the same tone as a t-shirt that is in an image on the facing page. The exact sameness of these colors at times is an added joy to discover.

One thing that is additionally impressive is that this is a book of 96 images that does in no way feel long or burdened with superfluous images. I was surprised to find that there were so many. It feels like a book of 50. I haven’t had many book viewing experiences where more felt like less.

There is a limited edition of this title that has an almost over the top design feature with the addition of an actual teacup, saucer and spoon affixed to the slipcase cover.

Book Available Here (Jesus and the Cherries)

Go To Kehrer Verlag Here