Book Review: They were my landscape by Phoebe Kiely

Book Review: They were my landscape by Phoebe Kiely

    Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

 

Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

Book Review: They were my landscape by Phoebe Kiely

By Emma Coyle 

The cover of Phoebe Kiely’s They were my landscape is the topography of a face with nails glistening, eyes soft, emerging from the dark. Hidden under a silk screen printed dust jacket, it sets the tone for this lovely Swiss bound book of black and white photography focusing on the small moments in life. 

    Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

 

Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

Throughout the collection the camera tends to focus away from distinctive features, whether that means capturing a close up on water or limiting the frequency of the faces seen–especially in the earlier parts of the book. Kiely creates a sense of anonymity with her use of deep shadows, even when the faces of her subjects are visible. These are people with unfathomable lives moving alongside her own. Only these photographs document the brief moments of overlap and connection between her subjects and herself. As the book progresses there are more portraits but somehow they seem just as intractable, expressions conveying something that we are not meant to understand. 

    Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

 

Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK

She renders the world around her into rich textures and creates a sense of abstraction. The use of black and white photography was a fitting choice for the subject matter and the clear point of view she establishes from page to page. Kiely moves from a white bird diving below the water, to a smeared and entirely unrecognizable surface that looks like something that you would see in the MOMA. The photographs are often taken from a very close distance, removing the context of the shot and allowing a rumination on details that might be passed over on an average day: the water running down the sidewalk, finding pathways along the cracks, or a woman walking, holding her child. 

 Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.

Phoebe Kiely, They Were My Landscape (2018). Courtesy of the artist and MACK.

Through these images, there is no way for the location to become familiar to a casual viewer. The location has been obscured, but that only makes the content feel closer to the small observances that are made in each person’s daily life. There is no foreword and no explantations of the work throughout the book. They aren’t needed. They were my landscape is an exploration of the photographer's sense of self, but it also allows for the readers to find themselves in the work.

Kiely has previously been exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and her photography was featured in Portrait of Britain in 2016, an exhibit by the British Journal of Photography. This year her work will be in Hit the North! curated by  Greg Hobson.

 

They Were My Landscape (2018) by Phoebe Kiely published by MACK [ www.mackbooks.co.uk ]

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