Kat Wood’s Skudde (Ceremony Press, 2022) is a slow look at the lives of shepherds, sheep and the work that they do. Photographs in this book show the routines and labour that shepherds engage in: watching the sheep, caring for them, observing and even providing surgery. While the book is quite short, it does successfully examine the quiet repetition of this work.
Wood and Ceremony Press engage the book form in interesting and complex ways: sharing a multitude of formats within the same volume.
It bears sharing that this is a very interestingly designed book. A hard cover opens to reveal three different sections: a large section made of photographs, a smaller section comprising of writing and another smaller section containing images of framed wool. Wood and Ceremony are, I think, engaging the book form in interesting and complex ways: sharing a multitude of formats within the same volume. In a way, this is similar to how wool often is turned into something very different from what it starts out as, and it’s interesting to see a book engage with quite a unique layout and construction. In general, it’s unusual to see such experimentation with construction and it’s a welcome addition to the book.
In terms of the photographs, the strongest are those that are very close to a very specific task. In a tight edit, this intimacy is crucial to observing a sense of connection and closeness. A sequence showing surgery in a field clearly shares with the audience something we might guess exists but can’t really imagine. The photos manage to show the physicality of the work without it seeming brutal, troubling or ugly: quite a feat. The images of food are also very well observed, and speak to the routines and community that exists in this work.
I also enjoyed the smallest section of the three booklets that showed fleece displayed in frames alongside photos, which was almost a documentation of an exhibition. This was a complimentary touch that expanded the work well.
However, there are many images that don’t contribute a lot to the book and, when the total number of images is only 30 this does detract noticeably. Furthermore, the inclusion of a piece of writing really threw me. To be fair to Wood, I find that writing in photobooks draws attention away from the reader’s focus on the photographs. In this book, as in almost every photobook, I think artists get it wrong with writing – usually a contributed piece is skipped over, not read or less moving than the images. Writing often takes us away from the photos, obscuring or getting in the way of looking at and enjoying the images. For whatever reason, artists often seem to include writing that feels like it hasn’t been as rigorously edited as their images and, also, often the photos do not benefit from the writing at all. This is certainly my experience in this work, but it’s a larger point as well.
Writing often takes us away from the photos, obscuring or getting in the way of looking at and enjoying the images.
I don’t want to dig in too hard. This is a smaller, softer approach to a project and a book, and I think there is lots of space for that. However, I think that the photographs were not quite intimate or warm enough to carry the book to where it could have gone. I applaud the construction and admire the handwork taken, but the inclusion of the writing seemed a bit lacklustre. Overall, I think the form is the strength of this work, but the content did not quite live up to it.