Sunday, June 21, 2009

Landmasses and Railways by Bertrand Fleuret

Daisy, Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage
But you'll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two. - Lyrics by Harry Dacre, 1892

Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles, 1979

When Dr Haywood Floyd, played by William Sylvester in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, first approaches the newly discovered monolith on the moon, he and his fellow scientists do so without the fear and apprehension their ape ancestors had two million years prior. Rather, like a group of tourists, a photo is arranged and snapped. They have evolved to a point and their tools have improved, but faced with the understanding of what stands before them, they are powerless to do anything but snap a photo.

Whatever the name of the planet that Bertrand Fleuret touched down upon in his new book Landmasses and Railways there is much that initially looks familiar but upon closer examination, it is a world drawn from metaphor representing a frightening vision towards the future. I won't belittle this book by describing it as a "message," but it does emit an ear-piercing alarm as unsettling as Kubrick's monolith.

The first chapter, The Meloncholy of Departure describes the touchdown. Our vehicle, an 18th century wooden and glass pod (now preserved in some museum) leaves us far from signs of civilization. Water and mountain ranges will need to be crossed but first our sight will need to recover. The first images have us seeing through a haze in which we make out only part of the landscape leaving it difficult to get our bearings.

Chapter two, we approach a city and the feeling that we have touched down on a familiar planet is slightly assuring but not entirely. Are we home again? Gravity works holding the landscape in place but occasionally there are inexplainable light aberrations that hint at different rules of physics at work on this planet (or have our eyes not fully adjusted to the new sights?). Inside the walls of the city we encounter others who seem to be as new to the environs as we are. They wander almost dumbfounded not seeming to accomplish anything but staring (and take photos) at what has been created - like so many tourists.

A building is encountered, abandoned as if after an apocalypse. Searching among the debris, we see that technology and tools of man have flourished but amounted to a cold, emotionless state while pictorial representations of "civilization" paradoxically depict warmth and vitality. After such discoveries, escape back to "the garden" might be a relief but for the realization that one cannot return home again - consequences have been created and will resound at every turn. A dead bird and monstrous horse signal that the garden is tainted.

A card slipped into Landmasses quotes the photographer William Gedney as stating, "All facts lead eventually to mysteries," which rings a similar note to Winogrand's "There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described." This was my journey in Fleuret's novel in photos and certainly your own will be different. It is a book full of possibilities which for me is the joy like any great work - trying to grapple with its mysteries and discovering what they unlock in you.

Landmasses and Railways is the size of a hardcover novel. Its design is as straight forward and clean as pages of text would be. The matte paper and printing provide a fine foundation. Landmasses and Railways was published by J&L Books. An advanced edition of 100 copies bound in a different color buckram, signed and numbered, is available through