Jesse’s Book Review – “Meanwhile Across the Mountain” by Jens Olof Lasthein
Check out Jesse’s audit of the hallucinatory uber-wide images from the latest tome by Swedish photographer Jens Olof Lasthein.
There always seemed to be a lingering melancholy present in the old communist blocks. The ideals of equality to offset the lopsided capitalist systems with their revolutions and jubilation, has now dwindled to something much more dark, uniform, and run down. The wars just years after the fall in 89` lead to further devastation that we only now see improvement upon. This is perhaps an easy summation of melancholia in relation to the fall of the Iron Curtain and current state of the infrastructure, but more so the strange need for it to come back. This was the sentiment I understood reading the Nobel Prize author Svetlana Alexievich and her polyphonic writings on major Soviet catastrophes Chernobyl and the Soviet-Afghan war. In her interviews there was an naive longing for a return back to communist rule. Not that it was better, but the restrictions endured for basic necessities was preferred to the freedoms (for better or worse) now offered….leading us to the free melancholic spaces offered by photographer Jens Olof Lasthein in Meanwhile Across the Mountain, all shot with a Widelux.
The Widelux is a mechanical swing-lens panoramic camera that instead of having a shutter, posses a slit that exposes the film as it pivots on a horizontal arc. Perhaps, since you are reading this on Japan Camera Hunter you already know this, but I will add that my initial understanding of this was more akin to a gimmick lens with extreme distortion but the challenge of holding the camera level with no tilt gets some amazing results. Full page horizontal spreads of single, space filled images of the Caucus region. In all there are just under 100 photographs taken between 2009-2015.
Page by page you see the possibility of such a format and not only are these your essential decisive moment captures but they also have to be shot exactly horizontal for maximum results. The photos work well as physical objects, because the book naturally is divided by its binding, most of the photos are broken up by this that often even feels like two different photographs because of all the space in each shot. This is really heightened when shooting for example a street corner where the diagonal streets coming in, lead to the center offering visually two flat perspectives going down both streets with often a person in the foreground for added depth. The choice of color film leaves an effect similar to Martin Parr but much less saturated due to the lack of flash that really captures that melancholic yet enduring character I mention above. In short, this could of easily been an unnecessary gimmick, but with the subject and his skill, it becomes something quite original and intriguing.
But more than anything it is about the subjects themselves as you get a real impression of these countries. He often stages someone in the foreground for something like a more traditional portrait and because the people in the photo’s background would not be familiar with the camera’s focal length most in mid and backgrounds are unaware creating a more authentic tension that help the photos thrive. Perhaps an example of this through the photo below would better explain. In the foreground is man, boy and dog. The building’s corner is off centered to the left with the dogs chain leading to the mid ground with a woman standing out of the door way. She is unaware she is in the photo offering something more natural. The chain literally connects our eye to her from the foreground and if this were just the image alone, the left side of the page with the chain leading to the dog out of frame alone would be a complete photograph. But then on the right side of the page break there is a whole other world with two woman having a conversation along some steps that our eye is lead to by an overhanging veranda. Also with this, there is a series of triangles repeating throughout. The man and the dog; then the man, boy, and the dog; then the boy, chain, and woman; and the man, veranda, and women on the steps. This book is so full of visual information due to the space afforded by the widelux.
The book can easily be obtained off of Amazon or most photo book retailers for about 35-40 USD. 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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