Jesse Marlow - Dont just tell them show them
I recently received a copy of a new book by Jesse Marlow to review. After recently purchasing his previous book Wounded, I was very excited about the new publication from Jesse. Jesse is a Melbourne based photographer, and this is one thing that I find drew me to his work. From a slightly selfish perspective, its a source of inspiration to see someone roaming the same streets that I search and coming away with such strong work. Its great to see the locations and know where they are. It lets me become just a little more immersed in the images than with a book shot in a location that I am unfamiliar with. This is all well and good for me as a Melbournian, but I have no doubt the book is hugely successful without this locational connection. Maybe even more so, I dont have that perceptual advantage.
Jesse is a member of the international Street Collective In-Public. I am actually completing a masterclass with Jesse at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, something that I am really looking forward to. Jesses style of photography is definitely something that I aspire to. I was lucky enough to make it to the launch for 'Dont just tell them show them' where I heard some wonderful things about Jesse and his work. The book does speak for itself though, so lets get into it.
Jesse has been awarded a number of prizes, including the MGA Bowness Prize in 2012 for the image above. The image opens the books and I think it sends a great message to the reader of what to expect. You can clearly see why the image was selected as the 2012 winner. This is the sort of candid image street photographers search for.
One of the things that is immediately obvious to me as I take in Jesses new book is the wit of the artist that shines through in the work. Being able to make a candid image and also leave no doubt that a small part of the artists personality is present in the photo is such a talent. I get the feeling that were Jesse in concerned its a nice mix between a well trained eye and patience to get the shot. This is especially true in Dont Just Tell Them Show Them. Some of the images in the book are clearly preconceived. Maybe not over a lengthy period of time, but once a location was found when walking.
Other images in the book are quite clearly the opposite. Found items. Found compositions. Found moments of slightly strange occurrences that are able to be seen and captured purely due to the the fact that Jesse knows what he is looking for. This mix of style in the images makes the book quite entertaining. It feels like it is shifting and moving with each turn of the page. Its not a book that has a coherence to it, but this is by no means meant to be a negative statement. The randomness of some of the images in the book keeps the eye interested as you take in the images.
Just as you think you have settled into a flow of some sort youre presented with something that breaks the cycle. Its a great way to keep the reader entertained with a street photo book. It reflects the random nature of what we find in the street in many ways. It keeps the reader guessing. For me, its more interesting viewing than books that have images that match one another so well that you start to get lost from one to the next.
There are also quite a few images in the book that dont contain people. As with all great street work that doesnt have a human form in the frame, the fact that there was human influence on the image outside that of Jesses is quite clear in all of these photographs. The images are a far cry from the work that Jesse undertook in his previous two books that were purely around the human form. In both Centre Bounce, as well as Wounded, the books wouldnt have been possible without people. The people were the subject, this was plainly evident in the images.
Dont just tell them show them is a little different in this respect. There is no cohesive subject of the book. The streets are the subject. This is clear in the images without people, as well as those with. The images without people place an emphasis on the redundancy of human subject matter. Many of them acting as a play on the human form. Its like Jesse is playing a little game. Showing that even lacking a human subject one is able to make an emotional image of a face takes quite some doing, but Jesse manages just that.
In a strange sort of way the images of people enhance the redundancy of the human figure in this form of street work by using the people to complete a composition. By removing the faces from the people. By placing the people in strange locations within the frame. By using colour in such a strong manner that the human form in some of the images becomes just that, a human form. Important to the completion of the image, but redundant in many ways in telling the story that Jesse is playing out in the pages.
In the book there are still these moments that are found in modern street photography these days. Moments where the viewing audience is left a little quizzical about whats going on in the frame. A little taken back by the fact that someone is able to find these things going on, and have the foresight to be able to have a camera at the ready to make an image of it that lasts forever.
For some photographers that aspire to street photography, that slight lack of understanding of how one person is able to find these instances again and again. Time with a camera surely being the defining factor in many of these cases, not to take away from any of the talent involved.
Jesse is able to use simple plays of light in some of the images in the book to be able to turn what would otherwise be something quite boring, into something that is in such a simple way, very interesting. The bare bones nature of some of the compositions in the book are quite refreshing. There is always something in the frame that ties the image together in some way or another.
Even in the simplest of compositions there is an intellectual element that is able to let the reader sit with the image for just a little longer to assess how it was done. What was the process to catch this situation? How did someones eye manage to make that image out of the sparse information that was available to them?
Its really been a joy for me to review this one. I have taken a little more time than usual in writing it. This has meant that I have been able to revisit the book on more than one occasion to really take in the images. I think I have said in the past that there is always a slightly selfish motive to writing these.
I write them on some level to force myself to take in the images in the book. I force myself to really think about the layout and the sequencing and how this impacts the end result. This is a learning process for me as much as anything and I think that it allows me to get much more from the books that I am lucky enough to have on my shelf. Its like writing an essay in high school English really. Not much shorter in most cases, and a whole heap more fun every single time!
I did make images of a few more of the photographs in the book, but I am going to leave you with just one more. The image that I will finish with is probably my favourite image from the book. I love the opening image that won the Bowness prize for Jesse, but this image of a girl running through an open space with a horse balloon is the pick of the bunch for me. There is a slight theme of horses in the book, I dont know if this is intentional, I will have to ask Jesse when I meet him again.
The image below has this strange sore of macabre feeling to it. The fact that the reader is not provided with the luxury of being able to see the girls face adds to this. Along with the tones of the image, and the formal attire that the girl is wearing, it juxtaposes what the mind wants to portray of an image of a girl running with a balloon. For me, it leaves me with a slight feeling of unease about the situation that is presented, and its this mixture of emotions that really keeps me coming back to the image.
Youre still able to grab copies of Dont just tell them show them from Jesses site. I really think that its a bit of a modern day street classic and am very happy that its a book that has a spot on my shelf at home.