Book Review: Mistral
Taking photographs of the wind sounds like a task more likely to end in frustration and smashed cameras than one that ends in a stunning photo book collection, but in Mistral, photographer Rachel Cobb has done just that. Having spent years in Provence, France, Cobb used her dedication and her camera to capture the strength of the invisible force of nature within a frozen medium through the effects it has upon the landscape and the people who bear its front year after year.
The name Mistral comes from the word “master”, and after looking through these photos it’s not hard to see why they did. Cobb’s shots reveal an invisible entity by capturing its brutal and sublime impact on the world around it. Though the wind itself is shapeless, one can see it in the forests of bent trees, in the carved mounds of earth where the wind refused to pass over, and in sideways icicles blanketing an entire wall of stone.
Mistral contains several pages of wide expanses of open sky conveying the sheer power and inhuman force of will that the seasonal force brings with itself. The vast difference between the sizes of the structures and landscapes to that of the sky reminds the viewer that while wind can be blocked at least for a time, it can never be stopped nor contained. The blurs of movements as objects are sent sputtering away by the air conveys just how much force that vast expanse of sky carries with it in these seasons. These shots and their stylistic techniques point to a gentle and terrible majesty of scale of power that paints the invisible shapeless substance captured in the instant of the photo.
Cobb’s photobook even accounts for the more subtle and deep effects of the wind upon everyday life in the region. Mistral includes pictures of statues and figurines, both of which are of human figures shaped with permanently billowing clothes, the impact of the wind made permanent in the cultural artifacts. In almost every single shot of the buildings that line the town, none of the north facing walls have windows, spiders build their webs at specific angles to prevent themselves from being carried away by the wind, and stones line the heavy roof tiles of the houses in the midst of the heavenly onslaught. These up close examinations of the town reveal how the Mistrals have shaped the lives there so thoroughly that it has become ingrained into almost every level of existence there.
The thoroughness of Cobb’s stylization, techniques, and chosen subjects in her photographs all work together to create a thorough and complex portrait of an invisible force. The depictions within the pages so thorough that one can almost hear the whistle of the oncoming storm, and one can almost feel the buffeting force of the air as it breaks down against their face.