Annika Kafcaloudis – BOOK 1
For better or worse, something I think is often true is that most of the photography we see is produced for commercial purposes. Whether it’s a thoughtfully produced series of images or the endless stream of catalogued products on an online store, our collective visual vernacular is, at least in some part, dominated by commercial images. Much has been written about the implications of retouching, airbrushing and the featureless sheen of such images, yet I can find much less about the other side of commercial work: images that reject those trends, resulting in more interesting and authored work.
At least in my part of the world (Australia), commercial images are rarely seen or used in the same context as photographs framed as art. Exhibitions and books produced here both seem to shy away from photographs tied even slightly to commerce. Yet BOOK 1 has really made me reconsider this situation. After all, if commerce does dominate the visual world, isn’t examining those images important? Or perhaps these distinctions just restrict the way we, collectively, acknowledge our engagement with photographs.
After all, if commerce does dominate the visual world, isn’t examining those images important?
Annika Kafcaloudis’ BOOK 1 is a vast collection of images, most of them originally made for commercial purposes, presented without context. Instead of identifying where, when or why images were made, BOOK 1 decontextualises photographs, forming a sort of sketchbook that is exclusively visual. This book is, then, a photographer looking at the way she looks at the world, retrospectively finding a way through her visual language.
Kafcaloudis’ visual language is found through palette, scale, texture and subject. The images in this book are often dark, with muted colours and shadows tinted with blues and purples, the blacks are used really extensively and are key to how this photographer sees. The flashes of red and yellow just jump off the page, fleeting and intense. Scale, too, is distinctive, to Kafcaloudis: close and carved, intimate bordering on claustrophobic. Texture is quite unique, and there’s a softness to each image – the photographs deliberately made less sharp and rougher.
The other element that makes the photography in this book distinct is the subjects themselves: the process of making things (pasta, wine, ceramics, etc), the tools used in that making (machines, hands, etc) and the play an artist can have when exploring someone else’s space and actions.
There is an implicit interactive and playful approach in this book. Early in the book a sequence of two images of glasses filled with water shows how Kafcaloudis is experimenting and pushing different ways of seeing a single subject. Similarly, a longer sequence of wine production seems filled with energy and excitement – so much red, movement and mess. This is not a commercial approach that wants to make images clinical, clean and consistent – completely the opposite – it’s the mess, the hard work and the roughness of making that is constantly the space of experimentation and documentation.
This is not a commercial approach that wants to make images clinical, clean and consistent – completely the opposite – it’s the mess, the hard work and the roughness of making that is constantly the space of experimentation and documentation.
With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that BOOK 1 is without narrative. In so much as I can find a sequence, it is more about connecting texture and colour than anything like a story. It can seem that the photography book landscape is dominated by books that follow stories, are informed by family or history as foundations for reading the images. BOOK 1, on the other hand, is really an attempt to do the opposite: just show photographs that look good and let the audience enjoy how sumptuous and unique an image can be. While this may be a more simple approach, it is by no means easier – editing work without a narrative or theme can often be an impossible task. How does one assemble a collection if it’s not about anything?
Turning to the design of the book briefly, its size and paper choice are really smartly done. There’s enough space on each page that a reader can sink into an image, and the uncoated, slightly textured paper emphasises the softness of the photographer’s approach. However, the layout is completely repetitive, with an image on the right of each spread and in a book of this length I would have liked to see a few different spreads. Similarly, I often have a preference for tighter edits, though the intention behind BOOK 1 is to present a smorgasbord, so this is a gentle critique rather than a cardinal sin.
Similarly, the simplicity of the design worked well, but with such a large and long object I did find myself wishing for just one or two more elements with some punch and drama. However, the sequence chosen does manage to balance such length quite nimbly. At times, it starts to feel like it’s verging on slowing down, and then a refreshing change renews the pace. One such example of this is the movement from dark machine-dominated interiors to a brief section in a garden. For a book with so many pages, injecting life into the sequence is vital.
One of the strengths of this book is that the edit balances elements that are relatable and elements that feel very surprising. An example of this comes through in the many images of machines in the book. While a large industrial mixer is something that feels mundane, Kafcaloudis consistently explores ways to find the interesting and unique elements to these: focusing on things like buttons, chains and texture. Again this reads to me like an experiment in making: can such domineering and personality-less objects feel connected to process and the personality of the products they are creating?
BOOK 1 shows the reader images of making and labour that retain much of the grit and grime of those processes, while finding ways to develop beauty and curiosity.
At the end of the book, I was curious about how Kafcaloudis’ BOOK 1 seems to reach a different place through similar methods: this is a book that is really all about the photographs, yet manages to have more play and texture than many comparable books. BOOK 1 shows the reader images of making and labour that retain much of the grit and grime of those processes, while finding ways to develop beauty and curiosity. Rather than polish and shine an image until a textureless, featureless echo of the original exists, Kafcaloudis takes both a more artful and more honest approach: her images own the labour and are the more intriguing because of this. When so much of our vernacular imagery may as well be computer generated, I found value in seeing commercial photography as a place where something more grounded and fun is possible.
Disclaimer: Annika is a friend of mine and the gallery she works closely with, Oigall Projects, have exhibited my work.
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