Brief Photobook Reviews (Week 2, 2013)


Book Reviews, Photobooks


“The pictures from Ahrenshoop,” writes Thomas Sandberg, “show a place that no longer exists. At the same time the pictures […] encapsulate memories of my childhood and youth in East Germany.” Compiled into the self-published Erinnerung an Ahrenshoop (“Memories of Ahrenshoop” - the book is bilingual German/English; order via the photographer’s website), the photographs give a sense of a certain time and space that ends up embedded into that vastly larger time and space, where what we see is just fleeting, not to be held onto (not even with pictures, try as we might) - a meditation on longing. At the same time, the book can serve as a reminder that East Germany was something else - not that horrible communist dictatorship and also not that paradise where things would get taken care of. Places last forever, our ideas of them don’t. Photographs, when done well, manage to show a bit of both. (more)


Migrant workers leave things behind, and often enough, it’s not just things. They might leave behind their children. For Land ohne Eltern (“Country without Parents”; the book is bilingual German/English), Andrea Diefenbach went to Moldova, to photograph children growing up without parents, and to Italy where some of those parents are living now, to earn a living. Goods are being sent back, and there is the telephone, or even Skype - but what good are those substitutes for having a parent, for being able to raise a child, possibly one of the most precious “things” in one’s life? For the most part, we know these people are statistics, or as phrases in the rabid mouths of usually right-wing hate mongers (Europe has as many of those as the US). Diefenbach brings us closer to the very human reality behind all of this.


We might not have much, and we might never have much, but at least we have our Dream. No, not the dreams that everybody has, I’m talking about the Dream with the capital “d,” the idea that one day we could potentially be beautiful, rich and famous: Capitalism’s shiniest export, which has been making it into almost every nook and cranny of this planet. Agnieszka Rayss’s American Dream portrays just that, young, occasionally very young, women in pursuit of the Dream in Eastern Europe: “ordinary girls in an ordinarily commercialised society” to quote a phrase found here. And there is nothing wrong with having big dreams, but everything about the fact that that is the Dream: Beauty, fame and money.