Review: Redwood Saw by Richard Rothman


Book Reviews, Photobooks


A good photobook acts very much like a vortex. It sucks you in, twirling you around, mis- and then re-orienting you, leaving you dizzy, a bit bewildered, and excited (A bad photobook just sucks). Richard Rothman’s Redwood Saw is such a vortex. (more)

Photographed out West, near and in a small town called Crescent City, CA, the book features photographs from the region’s ecosystem, from the woods to the sea, with the seemingly rather run-down town in between. I suppose it feels a little weird to think of such a town, in fact any town, as being part of some ecosystem, especially since we humans have done as much as we could - and still can - to ruin our environment. But it clearly is.

The forests in Redwood Saw are what is left from earlier times, preserved for our and future generations. The town itself has seen better days, first as a mining town, then as a lumber town, then as a fishing town. All of those resources have now been depleted. This is a familiar story, of course. The shells of formerly booming towns stretch across the continent, from Holyoke, MA, a few miles down the road from where this review is being written, to the struggling towns of what is known as the rust belt, all the way out to Crescent City, CA, right at the Pacific Ocean. This is not the American story, but it is a prominent one. With Redwood Saw, Rothman shines a light on it.

The book starts out with lush photographs taken in the forest. It then slowly moves to the town - the transition being provided by cut trees, with the bulk of the book consisting of a portrait of Crescent City, showing both parts of the town and some of its inhabitants. At the end, the viewer reaches the Pacific Ocean itself. You’re as far west as you could get.

For me, the photographs taken in the forest and large numbers of the portraits really make this book. I suppose this is just my personal reading, but as much as we can mess up this planet in the end, it’s going to win out, with us just thinking we’re the masters. You see this in the forest with its unrestrained power, and you see this in the city itself: things have fallen into disrepair, people pose proudly in front of enormous bushes of weeds.

Really the only thing that slightly frustrates me about this book is that it could have been edited more tightly. With maybe only 80% of its images the book would be more focused. But that’s my only concern. Having just received the book, I still keep coming back to it. I must have looked at it dozens of times already, and the vortex keeps swirling.

Redwood Saw clearly will be on my “best of” list this year. Very recommended.

Redwood Saw, photographs by Richard Rothman, with a supplement featuring an extended conversation between Alex Stein and Richard Rothman, 136 pages, Nazraeli Press, 2011

Watch my presentation of the book here