Brad Feuerhelm, American Suburb X, 2016
I have this repeating dream in which I am in an urban environment not dissimilar to Berlin. The buildings have a late nineteenth century affect. There is the grandeur of granite and post-art nouveau facades with sculptures adorning the portals of their entrance. The trees look familiar. There are generally no inhabitants on the streets. Somehow, it feels compressed. There is sun, but more like the haze of morning. It is suggestive of an early autumn morning. I stand on the cobbled streets looking between the cavernous and winding roads expecting to hear the sound of horse hooves click-clacking on the road around the corner, but the horse never shows itself, nor the rider.
It is not ominous in the dream. Many of my dreams, when I remember them carry a disturbing element. I guess I am probably suppressing some dark goo in the recesses of my brain that factor heavily in the late hours of my sleep. The city in the dream begins to shift. It is like being at an airport on a flat tract of metal that moves my body throughout. It is like a flat escalator or something out of the Jetsons of my youth. There is a hint of technological progress under my feet as I look at the historic buildings. That is not to say they are incongruent realities, they seem to collide without a tension that one would expect.
As I stand, yet continue moving my body forward, the buildings themselves also seem to shift from their base. The edifices rotate in circular patterns revealing the portals of their entrance bearing the ability to change their direction. It is the same with minor plazas and parks with their metal benches. The whole city, though I am only in a neighborhood seems capable of changing its face as I am carried through it offering possibilities for omni-architectural and urban planning on rails. There are now glimpses of other passengers in the city. There is the man in the fedora and the woman in a 1940’s dress. Everybody seems to be dressed for an age of war held sixty years ago. The sun begins to warm the pavement and the passersby by begin to sweat. There is a glistening forehead, a child opening its mouth in a cry, but no sound is being made, just the slow hum of the traction under my feet grinding along smoothly. The city changes its face, the people perspire and I am able to see the pores of their skin secrete sweat that melts makeup and gives their presence a layer of the psychologically uncanny that I cannot place, but I am sure if I had to give it a name, it would be anxiety.
Satoshi Fujiwara’s “Code Unknown” is a book that gives me anxiety. I don’t think I can place its fore-bearer. Perhaps there is a similarity to Walker Evans Subway series. There is a touch of the grotesque that I see in Bruce Gilden’s aggressive portraiture, but the definition of the images is more direct. I can see crumbs on the corners of mouths. I can see untrimmed nasal hairs and almost feel close enough to smell muesli on the breath of the passengers. It is nearly a forensic investigation into travel portraiture. I am convinced that I am on a human Safari, perhaps what “The Most Dangerous Game” could have been if it were written on Berlin’s transport systems. The pages are laid out in nearly scientific display with the page sizes varying towards fragments of character that elude the simple glance.
The book is something that I have been aware of since late 2015, but I had not received it until recently. For me, this is one of the most interesting publications that I have seen in the past couple of years. It’s a simple concept, but the high definition of the portraits and the use the fragmentary in hyper colour really disturbs and fascinates me at the same time. It is superb. I have seen installation shots of an exhibition from the work where Fujiwara plays on the plasticity or plastic nature of these images. They feel like billboard signs that have been ripped down and placed on gallery walls. I suggest that people check this book out. It feels like what I wish Magnum was doing with imagery in contemporary terms. There is a suggestion of an investigation and I am pretty sure that is what it should be. Photography is too often absorbed into telling a story or shelves itself into some sort of bizarre desire to be understood as linear. This is how to tell a story. To let the viewer come to their own subjective conclusion based on an idea that is not blatant. It has my highest recommendation.