This is a beautiful and intriguing book. Working through it initially raises more questions than it answers. Its large-format pages for the most part feature a photograph of a single object, set on a marble table and against a nondescript and rather shabby background. The sharpness of the images is sometimes questionable and the whole has what one would call, in a moment of charitability, a vintage feel.
And yet, as I said, it’s beautiful and intriguing. The questions it raises are a work of art in themselves, forcing the viewer not merely to ask what they’re looking at, but also why and how. It becomes a visual essay in looking, seeing and understanding; a meditation, even. The sombre nature of the images and those technical limitations make it clear that it’s not about the photography, or even the objects, which are all obsessively mundane – but something else. The puzzle becomes to work out what that is and the answer, I suspect, won’t be the same for all viewers.
Early on, an essay entitled Twilight, by Maggie Barrett – the author’s wife – discusses the experience of looking at an artist’s studio and, briefly, of Cézanne’s use of form and light. This, deliberately, I’m sure, does not explain the book. It’s about entering into an artist’s creative space as a whole, not seeing his everyday accoutrements in isolation. The idea that one can connect with an artist by looking at the objects he touched and sometimes painted is at best teasing but, given the care that has gone into the book, I suspect also deliberate.
It isn’t until the end that we get Meyerowitz’s own explanation. His reaction to the space he found is foreshadowed by Barrett’s piece. It’s short, and tells us nothing about Cézanne’s work, but everything about the interpretive process of creation. Actually, it’s so short that it does none of that, except that, having worked through the book and absorbed the very deliberately presented images, it does exactly that. As I said, it’s a conundrum of understanding.
I’ve never seen anything like this, but I find it deeply and emotionally beautiful. A real eye-opener in a way I’ve never experienced before.
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