Sunday, April 06, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #95: One Eye by Charles Burns

Art doesn't always translate well in reproduction -- and the more modern and conceptual that art, the worse it does. So a book of art is often not as impressive as looking at the art itself would be -- at the margins, there's some kinds of conceptual or site-specific art that doesn't reproduce at all; it has to be seen where it is or not at all.

Photography isn't that esoteric, usually, but modern work -- particularly more conceptual photography -- can fall flat on the page, looking like just pictures of stuff.

One Eye collects the photographic art of cartoonist Charles Burns -- all of it taken with a cheap Sony camera, during 2004-2006, and left unchanged -- and I'm afraid it falls into that valley: for each of these works, Burns took two pictures and juxtaposed them on the same page, always lined up precisely. But in a book -- a fairly small-format one as well -- they just sit there, looking like the record of someone's junk drawer or mediocre vacation, a sequence of images of things with some visual continuity but no big punch.

In a gallery, you would stop in front of whatever image arrested you, and let it wash over you. But a book is made for browsing, and it's too easy to just keep turning the pages. I found One Eye disappointing, and I don't know whether to blame Burns, his camera, the layout of the book, or myself. (Maybe we all contributed.) Burns clearly has a good eye for imagery, but One Eye just seemed to be unconnected images to me -- I didn't find any through-line, thematic or visual or conceptual. Perhaps there wasn't one to be found. And none of the juxtapositions really spoke to me, either -- none of the pages grabbed my eye or demanded that I linger. (The cover image is the best thing in it.)

if you're as big a Burns fan as I am, you might find this book -- it was published in 2007 -- and be excited to see it. But I suspect its joys will be small for most of us -- though I'd be happy to be wrong.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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