Book Review: ALBUM
By Katie Heiserman
Eline Mugaas and Elise Storsveen’s ten-chapter collaborative project, co-published by Teknisk Industri, is a visually schizophrenic collection of found and mass-distributed photographs. Yet, the images achieve cohesion through thoughtful arrangement and juxtaposition by the editors. Mugaas and Storsveen set up a clear dialogue between shots, and the viewing experience becomes more layered and rich for it. We find the curators’ thought-processes are as much on view as the images themselves. Their decisions are distinctive - sometimes humorous, sometimes just odd - though always comprehensible.
Flip a few page into the book’s fifth chapter (entitled On architecture; or man’s journey down from the trees, and the invention of the sleeping bag) and you’ll see a little boy holding up a drawing of a building. To the right is a (somewhat confounding) photograph of a deconstructed building façade that visually mirrors the child’s drawing nearly perfectly. Flip a couple pages further and there are two photos on the left side of a page. The top image shows a man in his kitchen cooking on a stovetop next to a bulky yellow refrigerator. Below is a photograph of a significantly older man, also in a kitchen, eating out of a ceramic baking pan at a counter next to a shiny double-basin sink. Placed next to each other, the images tell a story on the passing of time. A meal uncooked advances to a meal consumed; a young man is supplanted by an older man. Time is both evidenced and mocked. Do men age at the same rate that food cooks? Does it matter?
The jokes continue. To the right of the young man cooking next to the yellow refrigerator is a dim Polaroid of a woman in a robe leaning seductively against a silver refrigerator. Below her, and to the right of the older man eating next to the sink, is a manipulated image of a woman taking a bubble bath in a double-basin sink. So we enjoy the fun and surprising visual interplay between these disparate images, but beyond the humor we see complex questions being asked. What can we make of the gender roles enacted, and their conspicuous reversal? Taken together, there are two men utilizing the kitchen for what it’s for and two women doing no such thing. Album is full of this – the dovetailing of playful visual parallels with subversive and surreal undertones.
The book balances goofiness and profundity with skill, though at times introduces real perversity as well, pushing the combination of those two leading characteristics to its natural extremity. Depending on one’s sensibilities, it can feel off-putting. We see on one page a photograph of a rod-like mushroom growing out of the ground positioned across from a profile shot of a beautiful young woman looking through a pair of binoculars. If the images were merged, the woman would appear to be looking intently at a phallic object. Again, the images gain meaning only by being placed beside each other. Unfortunately, these innuendo shots – of which there are many - impart a narrative of feminine cluelessness and unconsenting sexualization. This poses a stark contrast to the sophistication of many of the other curatorial choices.