Jesse’s Book Review – “Above Else” by Woody Gooch and Quinn Matthews
Jesse reflects on this visually intriguing travelogue of Nepal by young rising stars Woody Gooch and Quinn Matthews. Don’t nobody go nowhere.
Coming off my last photobook review based on travel photography with Haruna Sato’s Tschuss…chose to review yet another.
Above Else is shot in a tandem by Australian based photographers Woody Gooch and Quinn Matthews over 3-week period in Nepal, late 2016. Before this project the two had made a name for themselves rather obscurely through surf photography.
Myself knowing little about surfing developed a heavy visual appreciation of the sport through their work whose minimalist documentation of the sea is rivaled by Hiroshi Sugimoto Seascapes…yet the difference relies in the movement of the former.
But more so the notion of a sub 25 year-old making a name for oneself nowadays in photography that doesn’t involve Instagram or fashion photography is quite unique…and it shows here through the work.
Going in, I expected the photographers to shoot in the style they know. I could easily see minimalists waves with solitary subjects being easily translated to snowy mountain tops of the Himalayas with solitary subjects, yet and in a way like their surf photography there is engagement.
They ended up living with a tribe for the majority of their stay…something that really in essence transcends the Sunday photographer on an extended vacation and enters the realms of photo journalism.
Again they could have easily spent a quiet time in a base camp minimalizing mountain facades while giving the meaning of the work a personal reflective skew, gathered it all and headed home. But instead came up with work that proved much deeper suiting the most important character of any photographer…curiosity.
Curiosity aside, the keyword used in the book’s afterward was in regards to “silence”, but going through it I felt the word to be “contrast”. The basis of the book stemming from two photographer’s work could make up the first layer of contrast, being precisely that between the two photographers’ whose choice in digital (Woody) and medium format (Quinn) offers a compelling approach to similar subjects.
The most obvious example of this contrast are in two pairs of photos featuring a man smoking in the middle of the book. But in general the interactions with the subjects and in particular kids differs between the photographers and conclusions can easily be drawn to the choice of format. Yet on a second level, I then appreciate the contrast in editing between the photos of the crowded city and rural countryside.
There is a consistent engagement in both that mean even when they weren’t living with the tribes in the rural side they were right there with the people despite the locale. The contrast is the atmosphere of both where the city shots really use elements of the city (or vice-versa) to heighten the context of the people through use of the environment i.e. make shift playgrounds, telephone poles, etc.
The book then finishes with the shots in the Himalayas that come off much more serene and majestic completing the books journey, but the photographers’ style full circle.
Finally, on a third level there is the contrast in photo subjects as most are either children or elderly completing this notion. The children are the most dominate, especially in the city as the further into the rural the more the elderly become prevalent.
Perhaps the best photo illustrating this idea is the one above featuring the back of a child’s head in the immediate foreground facing left, an elderly women on the right side of the frame’s mid-ground looking back at the child, and a second child in the distant left side of the frame’s background looking back towards us and the child. Visually it is a scalene triangle heightened by each subjects eyes contact. The child glancing at the other child is indicative of weight of the books editing skewing toward the youth.
With that the book really comes to its apex with the coda at the end of beautiful nature shots that are closest to the photographers’ style that, above else, makes for a really beautiful balance.
The book features both color and black & white photography, clocking in at just under 60 photographs. It is a softcover, off set print released in a limited 333 copies. It can be purchased here for 40 dollars…check it out:
Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
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