Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lay Flat

I've had a few days now to digest the inaugural issue of Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light. Here are some first impressions:

General Design- Physically separating the text and images bothered me at first but I've grown to like it. The layout, typography, & general design of both sections by Katherine Hughes is very good.

Sample pages from Lay Flat 01: Remain in Light

Looseleaf Photos- The choice to include photographs as looseleaf cards is interesting and original. It took me some time to see the full potential. The photos can be read in order just as with a conventional publication. But unlike a regular book the photos can be further transformed. They can be stuck on a wall, shuffled at random, traded like baseball cards, whatever. The really interesting application is the ability to re-sequence and re-edit the photos and by so doing derive new meaning from them. Take some out, add some of your own. The power is in the hands of the reader and I like that. One sequence I found interesting was to put the artists in birth order. The original order --alphabetical by first name-- is also intriguing. I'm sure everyone will come up with their own favorite. The good news is they'll all lay flat.

Photographs shown in reverse order of area code

Capturing This Moment- I realize that there is no way to sum up the photographic zeitgeist in one project. Still, Lay Flat is as good an effort as any. In the past few months I've heard about this journal from many different quarters. I suspect most photographers of a certain ilk (ambition?) have been perusing Lay Flat this week, and so on some level it has been thrust into the role of community organizer and taste arbiter. Family of Man this ain't, but it comes close to being a version for the Twitter generation.

The Photographs I suppose any selection of images would be open to second guessing. Kudos to Lavalette (pronunciation? \Lā · flat\) and Wildenhaus for making a coherent effort. The general emphasis here is on color documentary work, and that's fine. Many of the usual emerging suspects are included, along with some not so familiar. My favorites were images by Hiroyo Kaneko, Michael Campeau, and Nicolai Howalt & Trine Søndergaard. Ask someone else and they'll choose others.

Kromanns Remise II, 2005, by Nicolai Hawalt and Trine Søndergaard

Great Interview- Shane Lavalette's interview with Mike Mandel is wonderful reading. Great questions, great subject matter. Mandel is a photographer's photographer whose legacy could use a burnishing. So thanks for that.

Academic Writing- For me, the other written pieces (with the exception of clear, concise Tim Davis) were not very compelling. Darius Himes spent a page defining docility. Cara Phillips' attempt to take the pulse of the moment was a meandering stream of generalizations ("We now exist in a world where new is virtually impossible" ???). Eric William Carrol's essay might appeal to those few who enjoy Barthes but for the rest of us it felt needlessly academic. Attention all writers, if you feel a strong need to use footnotes and declare that you went to art school, why not kill two birds with one stone and include the MFA reference in a footnote? * Save us a little time. And the poem at the end? I've read it five times and I'm still lost. I think it might be better to leave poetry to the beret and turtleneck crowd while photographers concentrate on making images, at which Fulford and Philllips for example are both quite talented.

Tone- I've hinted above at my main problem with Lay Flat. It's downright stuffy. If you were a layperson on the street and your only exposure to photography was through Lay Flat, photography would probably seem hopelessly dry, boring, and clinical. Where is the fun? Where is the absurdity? The humor? The games? Making photographs can be a beautiful, spontaneous, creative act. But the articles here (and to some extent the photos) treat it like a butterfly pinned to an examination board. Loosen up, have some fun, explore. Untuck your shirt, give your essays grassstains, pretend it's the seventies again, I don't know. I'd like to think that life is beautiful and I don't get that feeling from any photo journal. Not Aperture, Blindspot, Contact Sheet, Lenswork, nor Lay Flat. Where oh where in Neptune might that beautiful journal be?...

*Made you look! That's what I think of footnotes


Mezz Davies said...

I didn't look!*

*Foot notes bug the hell out of me.

Chris said...

That journal is online, and it's called Flickr*.

*But I'm probably a lowbrow.

Anonymous said...

neptune's still about 1/2 a lightyear away! And it definitely won't lay flat!

Ian Aleksander Adams said...

I think there is a "we demand to be taken seriously" aspect of the emerging photographer outlook. It's interesting to see how some people push it or push away from it.

I'm definitely interested in seeing the middle ground between the zines and the academic publications.

Shane Lavalette said...

Hey Blake,

One good thing about Lay Flat is that each issue will be quite different, with a guest curator helping to steer it a new direction. Perhaps this will change your opinion about the general tone, as we have some pretty playful/experimental ideas in store.

Anyway, thanks very much for the concise review! Glad to see you were mostly pleased.


Blake Andrews said...

It looks like the footnotes comment hit a nerve, but that was actually a pretty minor part of what I meant to say.

Looking forward to the next issue, Shane. Sorry if I came down hard on the writing. I call it like I see it.

Anonymous said...


You called it--the majority of my essay was culled from my MFA thesis, hence the academic feel. I'm not gonna debate the value and purpose of footnotes with you, but I would argue that when trying to discuss photography that it is often necessary to have structured points and definitions. Often people get caught up in the resulting language and never get to the content. I guess that's why I'm an artist as well! Anyway, thanks for the feedback.


Jin said...

I think this is definitely a publication by photographers for photographers, not something many random people would just pick up, and that shapes the content.

Personally, I'm curious about an online system of getting prints from photographers directly to other photographers. Heck, if we can get prints loose, why deal with a centralized publication at all? Why not just go full out into a hub where each person can pick their selection of 10 or so prints? But maybe in a scheme like that, you would never look at and reflect upon work that you don't initially like?