Review: What Still Remains by Jessica Backhaus


Book Reviews, Photobooks

“Photographs capture a moment in time,” writes Jessica Backhaus in the afterword of her book What Still Remains. If anything, this sentence contains the essence of its photography: Moment in time. Or at least half of it, since the other, unspoken, half is occupied by a photographer who notices something about a moment and takes a photograph.

Maybe this is where so many misunderstandings of photography arise, because, after all, to a large extent we’ve come to associate art with something that takes time to produce, the result of some sort of “major” effort (where “major” often is associated with the aspect of craft that is contained in many art forms). How then can the results of someone pressing the shutter on what might look like a whim be art?

Just like in the case of What Still Remains, you either get it, or you don’t.

As much as I always resist such comparisons, “understanding” or “getting” the photography in What Still Remains is similar to “understanding” or “getting” haiku poems. But, one might object, while it is easy to see how 17 syllables cannot possibly be extremely descriptive, a photograph is extremely descriptive, isn’t it? No, it isn’t. Just like the words of a haiku poem are not its essence, the photographs in What Still Remains are not the essence of the moments.

What Still Remains was published by Kehrer, a German publisher, which deserves to be more widely known because of the quality of its books.