Book Review: Series of Dreams: 17/68
By Sarah Sunday
Beauty is a liquid and meandering concept, shifting and re-shaping itself as it passes throughout time and space. It stretches across cultures and generations, and holds a unique meaning for each individual, molded by the respective left and right hands of nature and nurture. In a poetic ode to beauty, the recently published book Series of Dreams: 17/68, features a collection of predominantly black and white photographs captured by various international photographers, showcasing the quintessence of beauty and how beauty can be presented in many forms.
Edited by Russell Joslin, Series of Dreams is an anthology of images selected from 17 years and 68 issues of Shots Magazine, a black and white quarterly dedicated to unusual fine art photography. Beginning in the year 2000, Joslin led the magazine as a one-man chieftain until he stepped down last year. A curator at heart, and in long-standing-practice, over the course of 17 years, Joslin has mastered the art of adeptly collecting and arranging photographs into artful compositions.
“I often liken my approach to editing and sequencing photographs to making a mix tape or CD. I most commonly listened to songs on albums, but when I presented them in a new context and sequence, I found that I would oftentimes hear the songs differently and would even interpret their meanings differently,” Joslin says in an interview within the book.
To turn through the pages of Series of Dreams is to step into a quiet and poetic exploration of capital-B Beauty. Writer and photographer Sally Mars sets the tone for the book with a flowing foreword that touches upon the collectivism of Beauty as well as the uniqueness of how each individual may conceive it differently. The images throughout the collection pull away from beauty as it is popularly recognized in society and instead, the images give the reader a sense of Beauty in a more unconventional sense, visible in the appearance of strange postures and bizarre subjects.
The collection of fantastical and quixotic photographs are mostly rendered in black and white and feature female subjects; however, due to the fact that Joslin compiled the photographs from a great many international photographers over the course of seventeen years, the photographs differ greatly and remain dissimilar and distinctive in their varying compositions.
One particular photograph, for example, taken by Finnish-born and American-raised photographer, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, exudes poise and beauty. Minkkinen’s self portrait taken in Kilberg, Vardo, Norway in 1990, is a culmination of the meeting points between nature, man and the quixotic. Shot in black and white, the photograph presents a literal balancing act as well as an artistic one, bringing together various opposing elements. Minkkinen performs a headstand upon an upside-down row boat beached and lodged upon stones and driftwood. The ocean is faraway in the distance and the man’s lower body is out of frame. It is engaging, odd, and aesthetically alluring; the crunched shape of the man’s neck, the soft line of rope which lays over the bowed body of the rowing boat, and the symmetry of it all tied together.
Another photograph, titled Loup Garou (meaning werewolf in French) portrays a far more outlandish and eerie scene. Captured in 2004 by photography duo Louviere and Vanessa, the black and white image is cast in a yellow/brown tint. Building upon the unnatural, the woman in the image balances upon long stilts made of tropical leaves. Her body is mostly uncovered except for where it is bound by strange strips of dried out plants and unrecognizable materials. The barren landscape bares the appearance that photograph was taken long ago and has undergone years of wear and tear. A seagull flies in the corner of the frame, adding yet another element of abnormality; and yet, there is something strangely beautiful in her loping stance and in the way she is perched far off the ground.
Joslin builds upon cursive paradoxes and prolific contrasts. The book is separated into ten chapters with titles such as “A Separate Awareness” and “Whistling in the Dark Wind”; however, it is unclear whether these chapters serve any purpose or follow any rules, as there is no apparent pattern. On one page there are elements of crispness, distinctness and clarity and then on the next page, obscurity, blurriness and vagueness. The reader is confronted with mysterious portraits, stark landscapes, perturbing animals, ordinary objects and even indiscernible images. There is simply one connection between the photos: there is space to find Beauty in each photograph, as Joslin hopes and believes.
Series of Dreams is one moment lulling and dreamy and next strange and unsettling. Joslin frames an experience for the reader to be moved and delighted, but also challenged and left wanting for more answers as to who, how, why and what is occurring within the photographs.
Through photography and assortment, Series of Dreams entices the reader to step further away from the individual self-conscious and slide deeper towards the subconscious; the art of losing oneself and forgetting the immediate surroundings to delve into the psychology of the mind. Each image is uniquely dynamic and poised to create a reaction in the viewer; a sense of dream-like Beauty present in each subject or scene, awaiting to be perceived and acknowledged.
Series of Dreams: 17/68 is a book edited by Russell Joslin and published by Skeleton Key Press and is available here.