Review: Sweet Nothings by Vanessa Winship


Book Reviews, Photobooks

I could be entirely wrong, but I think that as the photography book market has expanded, so have photography books themselves. This, in part, reflects the fact that the photographs in those books typically tend to come in very large sizes.

But just like a photograph tends to have a natural size (beyond which a lot of its impact will simply dissipate), something similar might actually be the case for photography books (or maybe even more so): After all, unlike a photograph, which is typically viewed from a distance, one needs to hold a photography book to look at it. Some books are so big and/or heavy that you need to put them on a table - if not for the weight, then to create enough of a distance that you can actually take in the photographs.

So photography books are not even just objects that we interact with in some way, they also determine how we perceive their contents, and I think that part of the thinking about how to present a body of photography in a book needs to address what the book should feel like (form follows feeling?).

Vanessa Winship’s Sweet Nothings can serve as a wonderful example of what I just talked about. Presenting her photography of rural schoolgirls from the borderlands of Eastern Anatolia (Turkey), Sweet Nothings wonderfully enhances Vanessa’s portraits of those young girls, and it creates a little bit of a bond between the viewer and the work. I’m a bit hesitant to call this bond intimacy, because this word could so easily be misconstrued, but it might just be the right word. It’s what Hellen van Meene tried to explain in our conversation, after I had asked her about her print size: “I think it’s better for some photos to have this kind of intimacy, when you have to look at it getting closer. […] With a small photo, I always spend more time with it, because I don’t want to miss anything.”

In that sense, you can spend a lot of time with Sweet Nothings, and you will then start to notice all the little hints of the different personalities in the portraits of those rural schoolgirls, who, when viewed superficially, look so similar.

Given I missed the book in my list of Best Photo Books 2008, it will be on this year’s for sure.