Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Novemberrejse by Krass Clement

Krass Clement is known for his great book Drum from 1996 but did you know that he is a seasoned book maker with 17 other publications under his belt? While at the Fotobook Festival in Kassel I was able to get a hold of two as well as see a few of the others and this larger exposure has me begging the question - Why is Krass Clement not more well known?

Krass's approach can seem traditional at first - it's black and white, small camera, etc - it uses a language which I think people immediately pigeon-hole as old-fashioned or not 'contemporary' and this is a shame because it merits much further attention than it obviously gets.

His book Drum was rumored to have been made with 'three rolls of film and five pints of Guinness' while in a small pub in Drum, Ireland. It is a book which on first glance looks very traditional in regard to its design and format until you start to follow the sequence. People have spoken of its filmic quality due to the repetition of images and concentration on a small amount of time (a few hours? an hour? 30 minutes?) as one character in the bar slowly moves off to drink alone and it is within these subtle (often very subtle) shifts in the pictures that minor changes in body language become all the more meaningful. What is most difficult, is that being filmic wouldn't be enough without each image standing on its own.

A few of Krass's books employ this implied sequential method and his newest book from Gyldendal, Novemberrejse does so beautifully.

The book opens with a prelude of sorts. We enter a town, it is dark and the air is hazy with fog, the interior of a barber shop shows signs of life and we watch from the window a few men finishing their days work. Quickly Clement establishes through just a few photos that we are looking through someone else's eyes. This is not photography as a fly on the wall omniscient observer, whoever this protagonist is, they're made of flesh and blood and like us, they are exploring unfamiliar territory.

Novemberrejse, or November Journey, is an implied narrative of a stranger visiting a small town (Rubjerg in Denmark). You get the feeling he is a stranger first from the general tenor which is a bit dark, lonely and melancholy but also because he (it seems like a man to me) doesn't seem to be able to connect with the natural rhythms of the town. He wanders observing and re-observing the lay of the land and some of the repetition of the images act as a way of establishing landmarks - familiar territory - tracing and re-tracing steps. The white building on the book's cover is seen within the sequence twice as if passed multiple times on the street.

He seems out of sync with life. The stores are mostly shuddered and for a short while the only human connection is observing a few people waiting at a bus stop across from his rooming-house window. When he is invited into the parlors or kitchens of the local's homes the warmth of new connections only lasts as far as the door's threshold before the mist and grey skies dampen spirits.

Towards the end of his stay he is met with different servants or guides; a man in a bowtie, the hotel staff, and finally a haunting image of a ferry worker directing us onto the ship. It is dark and after the implied stasis of the previous sequence, we may be entering a boat that will either provide escape or further loneliness. The tenor is not offering much in the way of promise.

As I mentioned before, the sequence alone would not hold water if it weren't for the prowess of the photographer in making great individual images. They are graceful and finely constructed frames, full of information and tonality that extends into the deep shadows.

Vertical in format, Novemberejse is fairly traditional in design but elegant none the less with fine choices of material. The printing
is well done although perhaps the choice of a finer printing screen might have been wise on the part of the publisher. A very minor criticism for this book but I think a finer screen would better serve the grace of his print tonalities. I know I have already pointed out a few books which are my "best of's" for the year but Novemberrejse has secured a slot very high on the list. This is a new favorite. Perhaps because I find a connection in image making similar to my own or maybe simply because I like being within his photographs

Another of Krass's books I was able to get a hold of is Hvor Ingen Talte. This is an entire body of work shot on one day during a state funeral in Moscow on August 24, 1991.

Again, on first glance the 38 photographs that make up Hvor Ingen Talte will seem to follow in the traditions of a street documentary-style genre except the repetition of form to each image hints at an almost conceptual frame reigning over the whole body of work. Each image describes a few figures within the frame, some aware of the photographer and some not. Photographed from a relatively close distance, they are direct but not confrontational like Klein or Winogrand. These are calmer images that contain a grace common to Clement's images.

Whereas Weegee famously turned from the event towards the crowd for a more human expression of event, Clement keeps from providing
much in the way of information regarding the significance of this event rather his are mostly unguarded moments fully implying a gauge of the inner thoughts of the individuals. Small gestures as simple as the clasp of hands or twist of the shoulders while leaning on a fence - the rewards of each image reveal themselves seductively.

The repetitive form invites perception of the pictures as an on-going train much like the long pan of a newsreel camera. In fact, the observant will notice individuals at the edge of one frame sometimes appear in the next. Only occasionally is this line broken with a vertical or an image that completely breaks from the rest through approach but all add up to a group portrait during a collective moment.

Hvor Ingen Talte isn't the best example of fine bookmaking as the materials and design are so ubiquitous of so many photobooks from the late 1980s early 90s it seems generic, which is a real missed opportunity. It isn't going to be the package that draws you to discover these pictures but take my word for it, it is a fine body of work that again amazes me that this was from one day's worth of film.