Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Books: A novel, photographs, and poetry

Though it isn't a picture book, Paul Castellani's Sputnik Summer features a great photo by Adirondack photographer Carl Heilman II on the cover, and its author and his wife, Donna, are great modern art enthusiasts who attend a lot of openings, so it caught my attention.

Castellani is a professor by trade, but his academic roots stay pretty well hidden in this coming-of-age novel that takes place in the late '50s in a fading Adirondack resort town where a somewhat typical 17-year-old boy tries to come to terms with the limits of his hick town, the crummy summer resort his abusive dad runs, his own college ambitions, and the need to get laid.

The story is punctuated by news bits and advertising slogans taken straight from the publications of the day, which provides a sort of parallel narrative that suggests political and social commentary without offering it directly. Castellani is an excellent storyteller, and he keeps you interested in the twists and turns of this intelligent but inexperienced young man's rather fateful last summer at home. Put simply: I enjoyed the book and so, probably, will you or the person you decide to give it to.

Another book that recently came into my possession serves double duty as the catalog of the current exhibition at the Photography Center of the Capital District in Troy. Both are titled Structures and feature the work of two photographers: Ian Creitz and Robert Feero.

It is always different to experience a body of photographs in a book as opposed to an exhibition, and this publication offers an opportunity to compare the two experiences, at least until the show comes down on Dec. 15. In this case, the selection is changed, but the real differences between a show and a book are in terms of scale and juxtaposition.

This book uses the page-to-page flow as part of the presentation - not always entirely successfully, but in an engaging way. Creitz is the more traditional of the two photographers, and he works in many formats and styles: color, black and white, panoramic, and straight on. He has a very good technical command of the medium and apparently loves to seek out decrepit buildings to shoot in, bringing back highly detailed and arresting images of his sad subjects.

Creitz sometimes uses heavy-handed digital effects to make his pictures look antique - an unnecessary effort, as the battered places he explores already amply show the effects of time. Feero, a former abstract painter, also applies a certain digital gimmick, in which the image is refracted into four parts to make a kaleidoscopic mandala. But, in Feero's case, he gets away with it because he has a very keen eye for the type of composition that will work well with this technique, resulting in a particular geometric vision all his own.

A few of Feero's pictures use black and white, but he is really a colorist (the painter lives!). His subjects, mainly buildings and bridges, are so transformed by the multiplication as to be nearly unrecognizable, yet they are essential to Feero's approach. The book is very nicely printed, so the pictures hold their power in the reproductions, and it is attractively priced at $15, though for that you do have to put up with a spiral binding. It would make a very nice gift for any art, architecture, or photography enthusiast.

Barry Lobdell and Michael Tucker collaborated to create Pull Over, a collection of poetry and black-and-white photographs that celebrates symbolism, spirituality, and simplicity. Tucker, the poet, worked for decades in special education and describes himself in the book as a "Vietnam War resister who proudly served with the hippies in Boston." His writing is as sincere as expected, and retains some of the hopeful idealism of that era.

Lobdell's photography was already quite familiar to me through exhibitions and a business relationship, but this presentation casts it in a different light, and I find the combination of the two artists' visions to be mutually beneficial. While each stands on its own, the consistent pairing of a short poem and a single picture on every page or spread of the book creates a fine balance and a lovely rhythm.

The book, an oversized paperback, opens out horizontally to provide a 23-inch-wide layout, and many of the photos are bled to three edges to take full advantage of this expanse of space. The images range from domestic moments to landscapes and cityscapes and are nicely reproduced in a full range of black-and-white tones. Each picture accompanies a poem with related subject matter - not illustrating the words so much as augmenting them.

Tucker's poetry is unadorned and direct, but also at times clever. If for no other reason, I can recommend this writer on the strength of his having the courage and humor to rhyme Cheetos with Speedos. He repeatedly targets certain topics, such as the title poem's advice to stop and look and appreciate, not in a cloying way, but in a gently urgent manner that makes it clear he values the Zen approach to life.

Tucker is a searcher - as is Lobdell - and this brings them together quite comfortably. Priced at $19.95, this book is a good value that will make a fine gift. In fact, I'm planning to give it to my mother-in-law for Christmas - but, please, don't tell her! Pull Over is available at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Market Block Books in downtown Troy and Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs.

The Seagull   by Michael Tucker
The warm blanket of dawn,
Pink and billowing,
Draws back across
The first blue,
The moon a blur
Of white,
Nowhere now can there
Be night,
Against the gentle, sleepy clouds,
A messenger of the moment,
Circles high,
Greeting day and us.

This sentinel of morning stillness
Is too a seagull,
Looking for a spilled French fry,
Parking lot leftovers, garbage.
We live in two states at once.
In divinity, in vulgarity,
Two sides of one moment.
Will we see through ourselves?
Will we look up?
What we see
Will be our destiny.

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