Book Review: 1864
By: Ella Corcoran
Matthew Brandt’s latest book release 1864, is a work where the photo’s subject is intimately linked with the materials of the subject itself. Brandt recreates George N. Barnard’s nineteenth century images of Post-Sherman Atlanta, found in the Library of Congress’ website in 2017. Brandt is known for using materials from the site where the photos were taken in his printing process. In his book Lakes And Reservoirs, he uses water samples from the lakes and reservoirs themselves. In his work Dust, he used dust swept off the floor to print photos of statues and architecture.
Brandt makes albumen photos: a printing process in which paper is placed in a combination of egg whites, silver nitrate, and salt. However, Brandt pushes the boundaries of traditional albumen print by incorporating new materials: butter, sugar, peaches, cinnamon, and flower in the emulsion process. This results in what many call his “pie prints.” Unlike Brandt’s other works, he had never set foot in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of this, he draws from external, and arguably intentionally trite, southern stereotypes. For example, peach pie is often associated with southern cuisine, and more specifically to the state of Georgia (once the leading producer of peaches.) To many, thoughts of peach pie awaken feelings of warmth and hospitality. However, these themes of comfort and pleasure, only begin to foil the dark aesthetic his final photographs provoke.
Brandt’s strong focus on materiality allows for Atlanta’s history to be a part of the final product. The book is made up of bleak stereoscopic views of desolate landscapes, many times focusing the top of a building -- leaving more than half of the photo with a nothing but a blank, gray sky. This vacancy withholds many details of the buildings itself -- we can only see the very top of most. However, the scratches, discoloration, and texture of the film are highly emphasized. Because of the severe lack of spatial context, the history of the space is given to us through the materials Brandt used to print the photo (peaches, sugar, cinnamon, and butter.) Seconds after opening Brandt’s book, the viewer is drawn to the peculiar and splotchy texture printed on the back of the front-cover.
Throughout 1864, not only is “place” highly emphasized, but the layout of the book is something to take note of as well. Most photos are left with one blank page next to them -- evoking an empty feeling, and drawing similar parallels to Brandt’s feelings of hollowness. It also gives the viewer a chance to focus solely on the location of the image, without comparing or coupling two different sites together.
Many of the photos give-off a rustic, or perhaps even nostalgic, feeling. If you were to, somehow, transport yourself back to Atlanta Georgia in 1864, it would be hard to locate yourself within Barnard’s photos, alone, because of the lack of context. However, with Brandt’s recreations, historical and spatial context is shown through the texture and emulsion of the film itself.