THE AMERICA ISSUE
Published by the Social Documentary Network
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ZEKE Book Reviews
edited by Michelle Bogre
Photo by Tamara Reynolds
by Tamara Reynolds
Dewi Lewis, 2022 | 80 pages | £30.00
Reviewed by Glenn Ruga
Your book, The Drake, recently arrived by post, and finally I sat down on a sweltering Sunday afternoon to read it for a book review for ZEKE Magazine, published by the Social Documentary Network. Looking twice at the 25 plus images and reading the three page essay didn’t really take much time.
I almost put your book down and emailed the ZEKE book review editor to inquire why we would consider a book so devoid of context because at SDN we believe that context matters in documentary. Who are these people? No names, no captions, no testimony. Was it you or your editor who insisted on no captions? I like to think that in the age of post-colonial photography, we want to dignify our subjects by at least identifying who they are. But I still liked the photos and the sentiment of the book.
The interview with you by Deborah Artman was engaging and very personal, obliquely mentioning how you also suffered from addiction, but unlike the subjects in The Drake, you were able to overcome it because of a supportive family structure and upbringing. (At another time, it might have been said that you were from a good family.) But you only dropped crumbs of references to your subjects. So when you refer to Strawberry, am I to surmise that she is the attractive subject with red hair, hence the name? You mention Amanda “in full scrubs,” who was just released from the hospital with a swollen eye socket. She must be the one wearing hospital booties.
With SDN, we always say that one difference between documentary and fine art is that with documentary, the work needs to be more about the subject than the photographer. Maybe the point of this work is really about your own journey, not Strawberry’s or Amanda’s or Tim’s or KayKay’s. You even say it in your essay, “I am processing my own grief in the act of photographing it…I am there to learn about life.” What about their grief? What about learning about the lives of your subjects?
But I keep coming back to the photos. Without page numbers of captions, I can only describe them. I really like the image of a hand pouring what appears to be red wine from a gallon plastic water jug wrapped in a thin plastic bag. A Black hand with long painted finger nails and bracelets is holding a plastic cup receiving the wine while another Black hand is raised and stylishly holding a cigarette. The table is red, the liquid is red, the plastic bag has red writing on it, there are some red flowers, and the hand with the cigarette is wearing a sweater with red cuffs. A lot is going on here about an otherwise questionable situation. Bravo.
Eight spreads later there is the photo of maybe Strawberry, but hard to know. This is a stunning portrait: her legs are crossed and one arm rests casually on one leg and her whole body comfortably twists towards you. She would be beautiful with her red hair, blue eyes, mirthful expression, were it not for the signs of addiction—sores on her body and her disheveled hair. Her overt sexuality combined with the theme of the book, can only suggest she has chosen prostitution as a way to fund her addiction. The lingering question remains: what if she had the opportunities you had, perhaps she would not have been a subject in The Drake, but perhaps instead a successful photographer, or doctor, or actress? We don’t know because we don’t hear from Strawberry.
The marginalized need our attention and they need to be seen by us as humans who have taken wrong turns or have been pushed by poverty, racism, neglect or other societal forces into addiction and prostitution, through no fault of their own. You help us see them. Thank you. But next time, let’s have captions that include a name and a bit of information about these subjects.
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