Two Books on Brothers: Oliver Raschka & Chan Wai Kwong

As a child, I remember having a profound unawareness of time, and my ever-advancing place within it. I would spend hours of the summer holidays disappearing off to explore military bases and play in the woods, dedicating days to getting an unlockable weapon in some old PS2 game. As adults, our every moment is measured against a clock, fulfilling amounts or units of time, doing things with efficiency in mind. We often find ourselves caught in nostalgia, trying to relive that now-impossible way of life, where the obligation to break up the day by the hour was something a bell did for you at school, some even resorting to the infamous “Helicopter Parenting” in order to fulfill it vicariously.

Hearing “here’s some pictures of me and my kids on holiday” usually brings about a feeling of dread, but Oliver Raschka’s The World Ain’t Enough (above) is more like a collaboration. As a father, his images don’t tell me that he’s re-living his own childhood, but is very much in the moment with his two sons, capturing scenes that could be planned as much as they could be suddenly walked into, camera in hand. It’s difficult to intellectualise these images — rather, very much like that timelessness, there is really nothing to do but focus on what’s in front of you. In the most captivating photographs, Raschka focuses less on a lone “thing” he’s putting in the centre of the frame, and more on a scene. There, the combination of what the two brothers are doing and the place they’re captured in creates something closer to a tableau — I feel compelled to look about these scenes, search back and forth and study them on their own terms. I don’t see this in photobooks often anymore; so many books work symbolically — they present lone, centre-composed subjects in a sequence, waiting to be linked to one another by the imagination. At its worst, the pictures are merely an obligation in this approach, the result being fairly clever books of very dull pictures. For all the creativity with which this kind of photography has been used, it seldom produces pictures that contain the gaze and maintain visual (rather than conceptual) pleasure.

So many books work symbolically: they present lone, centre-composed subjects in a sequence, waiting to be linked to one another by the imagination; the result often being fairly clever books of very dull pictures.

The design is also worth noting, feeling like a digitally-born version of the family album, even as a capital-P photo-book. Even on the spine is a printed strip of black ink designed to resemble the extra strip binding cloth sometimes wrapped around a traditional book’s spine. In the past, people would stick photographs in, putting them two abreast, or collaging them willy-nilly. There, the hand of the maker plays a role through scribbled notes and multicolour annotations, stickers and drawings. In the absence of any of this, but retaining that familial spirit, I found myself paying attention to how the images were laid out; they have more variety and rhythm than what I would expect of most photobooks, giving it a slightly more personal “digital self-publishing” feel.

Looking at The World Ain’t Enough, I was reminded of another book I picked up some time before: Chan Wai Kwong’s Brothers (above). In addition to having an even more dynamic, “home-edited” feel, Chan also decided to break Brothers up into two zines that come as a pair. As with many of his other books, the result is something more auteurial, which keeps me coming back to his work.

Less focused on moments and more on relationships, Chan is more of an observer, capturing the ups and downs of sibling dynamics through their seemingly chaotic daily lives, often focusing on a harsher, more bombastic style despite the activities usually being fairly mundane. This is likely because, where Raschka shows what his children are doing, Chan seems to focus on the brothers’ intense reactions to things and their casual mannerisms. I get a strong sense of empathy from how much of this emotion Chan is able to distill in a couple of zines — the unfettered energy with which the brothers fight, play, pose with wacky faces for Chan, eat chicken legs or slap one another in the face, makes it special. In these ways, I often find myself looking at these two bodies of work in proximity to one another, not because they compete so much as because they complement each other, one giving the other a slightly different experience by doing so.

Oliver Raschka – The World Ain’t Enough
@Oliver Raschka
Bummbumm Books 2020

Chan Wai Kwong – Brothers (陳偉江 – 兄弟)
Self-published 2017

All Rights Reserved: text © Callum Beaney; images © Oliver Raschka & Chan Wai Kwong