There’s a saying that probably began out west, people will talk about doing a thing as being not their “first rodeo”. Now, I know for a fact that Ward Rosin’s been shooting rodeo for a spell, including the Hand Hills rodeo, and also that this book literally was Mark Reierson’s first rodeo. But this also makes the duo compelling. Every spread in this book is a dynamic interplay, and every image is sequenced intelligently to follow the last. Since I buy and sell photobooks and cameras as part of what I do for a living, this is not my first rodeo either. I can see traces of Richard Avedon in the portraits, and Allard’s west, although this is maybe because William Allard is the ultimate photographer of “the cowboy”, though this is a feeling of nostalgia, as Allard shot in colour. I find it interesting that while colour is, since the advent of the digital camera, the more descriptive, and therefore more modern choice for photographers, the tonally complex images in this book strike me as more of the moment precisely because they are made in black and white. If you ever get a chance to see it, there is a great illustration of this transformation in digital printing held in the pages of a book of photographs collected by Susanne Von Meiss’ called Allure. On the verso side of a two-page spread, an inkjet print from 2010 by Nicola Contantino print cyborgically mimes another composition made for Izod in 1930 by George Huyningen-Huene on the recto half. Between Dust and Sky uses a similarly advanced, technologically sophisticated tonal range that is exactly made for our time. If you ever get a chance to talk to a master inkjet printers, like the people at Resolve, also here in Calgary, you can get a sense of how new, and exciting this transformation really can be.
I am able to imagine a poetic genre of photographs called “Western”: from the painterly Ghirri-esque landscapes of Bernard Plossu, to the classically composed idyll of Robert Adams, to the postmodern babel of David Campion, and Sandra Shields, at the Calgary Stampede. I have a honky-tonk Mnemosyne in mind, looking through this book. Lately, I’ve been reading Roger Scruton on art, imagination, and empiricism. I am not so sure that experience is paramount in determining how we see, but I do think we make mental models, and make comparisons, as we approach subjects, and as we make art. You can call it an attitude if you like. Mark’s is essentially that of a street photographer. I got to know him while he was shooting black and white film for George Webber’s SAIT course in Calgary. He was working on street portraits, but obtaining consent from the people he photographed, instead of mining the old Arbus/Winogrand vein. I think his attitude has carried over, with an intimacy, and quality of observance, and civility. Ward anticipates motion, and speed, to make components of quasi-realism (if you feel antsy with the word poetry). What works so well in this book is the collaboration, as the back-and-forth of attitude, and experience, makes it seem true. It is like I am there.
The funny thing about that feeling though is it has to do with a mastery of where, and when. The telling thing about a photograph is time. Someone said a photobook a paper movie, and a single photograph is a time machine. A picture of an iPhone held by a hand jewelled in silver and turquoise (on page 41) is like the necklace on a bust of Nefertiti, for all it is worth. When Lee Friedlander spoke about the generosity of the medium of photography, what he meant was all the little things that add up to the whole, all the incidental do-dads, from advertisements for pick-up trucks, to saddle and buckle designs, to missing front teeth, and digital curios, they make up the texture of photographs, like the fine detail of a novel.