In the center of the Sacramento Valley two rivers, the Feather and Sacramento, flank several wetlands and marshes called the Sutter and Colusa Sinks. Much of this land has been drained and become some of the richest agricultural land for fruit orchards and various grains and rice. The photographer Lukas Felzmann has been drawn to these marshlands and especially the role water has taken to shape and transform the landscape. His new book from Lars Muller, Waters In Between is an empirical archive or as he describes the collection, "a sort of poetry of ruins."
Constructed as part methodic examination and part meditation, Felzmann and his 5x7 camera describe a landscape both naturally formed and manipulated by man. It is a transitional space upon which people have built homes and their presence has turned naturally occurring floods historically common to the area into "disasters." The attempt to control water through canals and underground systems speak of a cultural change and the power of economy on the area. There is a similar feeling behind this work to the moment when you find out Polanski's Chinatown is really about corruption controlling water.
Felzmann's camera is stylistically varied in ways that are refreshing. This book is not just a collection of the formally rigorous but playful with occasional panoramics and exchange between black and white and color. Individually the photographs are well made but it is his sequencing that make this project as interesting as any dealing with place that I have seen in a long while. Short poetic text pieces by John Berger and Angelus Silesius compliment Felzmann's work are interspersed throughout.
Waters In Between is an image of prosperity of natural growth mixed with images of the failure of man to sustain. The ruin left in his wake are ugly blights on the horizon line that one might wish could be wiped clean from stronger waters. Repetitive images that open the book of a whirlpool sucking into a black abyss starts the journey that ends with another set of photographs of an area under a cement overpass as it goes through various states of growth. Feldmann's accomplishment is an expanded dialogue which extends far outside its territory in thought provoking ways. At once we are aware of fragility of lives, the impact on the environment, life in transition, the natural and cultural systems and their effects, while at the same moment realize the irony in that this landscape is traversed by travelers speeding through what may be perceive to be a flat and boring stretch of highway.
Waters In Between is a long book at 320 pages but interest is sustained throughout. It is beautifully printed and designed and the materials used were nicely chosen. Should I venture to guess this may be on my list of "Best books of 2009."
Note: It is really hard to give a good sense of this book through the comps above. My suggestion is to take a look at a local bookseller.