When Crumpled, Crushed, and Splayed Books Become Abstract Forms
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” So goes the famous joke by Groucho Marx. Inside the frame of Mark Douglas’s photographs, the lighting and background are bright, but the books that he shoots are too crumpled, crushed, bent, and otherwise artfully manipulated to read. In these works, in fact, reading is beside the point. Instead, the photographs are about shape, color, and form, and according to the artist, our relationship to photography itself: “[They are] about photography presenting an absolute, evidentiary truth, and simultaneously no truth at all. They are about levels of interpretation and understanding and about information revealed, and information concealed.” A selection of Douglas’s beguiling photographs will soon be on view in Duane Reed Gallery’s presentation at SCOPE Miami Beach 2014; books that might be otherwise destined for the dumpster are repurposed by Douglas as eye-pleasing object-lessons on the fiction bound up with fact in photographs and other documentary sources.
While the majority of the photographs feature the edges of pages, bindings, and spines, in Book 30 (2014) hints of text can be just made out on one arching, crumpled page. Too blurry to be legible, it nevertheless serves to entice would-be readers. In Book 1 and Book 7 (both 2014), the artist captures the sides of splayed-open books, with their worn and loosened cloth covers detaching from their spines and forming mouth-like shapes or tunnels that seem to lead to nowhere. The exuberantly crushed pages of the book in Book 78 (2014) fill the frame with a pileup of abstract, sculptural forms; the book’s spine, in this case, is nowhere in sight. Though these bibliophilic visions are full of formal beauty, they are also unnerving. Stepping back, we remember that books, photographs, words, and images are among our most fundamental modes of communication. They are the means through which we convey truth—and yet so easily manipulated and made unrecognizable.