Wayne Ford has an interesting post up today on Max Pam’s Ramadan in Yemen:
His latest book, or journal, Ramadan in Yemen — which is beautifully designed be Titus Nemeth — draws from a body of work made in 1993; a period marked by the countries first national election, and during what Pam describes as a ‘hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan May.’ Working exclusively in black and white, and with the square format, Pam exposed 60 rolls of medium-format film as he explored the country; translating his experiences into a series of images and diary entries. ‘What could I say about Yemen that did it justice,’ he says, as he travelled across the country, sharing the everyday lives of its people from from the capital Sanaa, through Shibam, Taizz, and Al Mukallah; and over the desert, along its coast and up into its mountain regions.
I found the photographs and the design of the pages shown in Ford’s post to be strangely compelling. Normally, travel-based documentary photography doesn’t do much for me. I have a strong (and I think reasonably well-founded) distrust of documents produced via short-term exploration of surface realities. I don’t know whether or not Pam’s travelogue defies that bias of mine — I’d have to go through the book itself to decide that. But it does do something that I know travel photography as a genre generally is supposed to do but usually fails to do in my case — it conveys a sense of the romance of travel, an air of discovery and adventure.
I’m not sure what it is that imparts that sense here. It might be Pam’s approach to black and white, which is decidedly old school. It might be his compositional style, which eschews the formality of journalism. It puts me in mind of another nice post today, by way of LPV, which quotes Robert Adams: “Only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that beauty is commonplace.” Or it might just be the Indiana Jones of it all.
It should be noted that “the Indiana Jones of it all” is probably a terrible reason to like a set of photographs. In fact, I’m not at all sure of the virtue of being convinced that beauty is commonplace, for that matter.
The PhotoBook had a post last April about the book’s publisher, Pierre Bessard, and the printing and proofing process for it.
The Photobook just put up a proper review of the book. Definitely do read it. This paragraph struck me particularly:
From his writings, the reader becomes aware of Pam’s flagrant and obnoxious violation of local customs, continuing to photograph where the cultural customs prohibit and the social customs of people who do not want to be photographed. It is not his social taboo, thus blithely continuing to photograph while creating a tear in the social fabric of which has little personal consequence to Pam. It is a crude lesson of a voyeur in pursuit to capture a forbidden prize, to obtain what is not allowed and that might reveal some mysterious secret that is cloaked away behind socially closed doors. Pam is present for only a brief time in this place, thus limited in his time to build a meaningful relationship of trust, so instead he chooses to violate a public trust and poison the social well that probably results in this societies increased wariness of the next outsider with professional camera equipment.
Interesting in relation to my ambivalence about the images — and also a bit of synchronicity with Vossbrink today.