folded eggs - reviewed

The act of poetry

(the act of photography) ~ Sergio Larrain

folded eggs (edition of 600 copies)

Bruce Connew

Vapour Momenta books

Reviewed by Mary-Jane Duffy for PhotoForum

Bruce Connew,  folded eggs  - cover

Bruce Connew, folded eggs - cover

folded eggs is a modest little book by New Zealand photographer, Bruce Connew. The title is irresistible. As is the artefact itself—an A5 publication inside a brown paper slipcover printed with the title enlarged so that it’s illegible. I turn it sideways and realise I am looking at ‘fold… Inside is the first photo—three women’s camisoles in red, crimson and lavender. The image is cut in half horizontally by a shadow that falls over the garments. Next the beautiful title page with the book’s title and Bruce’s name. And so the narrative begins: first with an image of a pair of women’s stilettos amongst bric-a-brac and children’s clothes. Then, an image of a man standing in front of his car, the bonnet up, a shadow over one side making the car look more damaged that it is. Next the same man in a white shirt and black pants faces the camera with his hand clamped to his ear in that familiar 21st century gesture. And then more clothes, shorts this time, then a typewriter, and some delicious looking bread. Then more women’s clothes in floral patterns and it’s here that the text begins.

Bruce Connew,  folded eggs

Bruce Connew, folded eggs

The images change to landscapes as the text describes a car ride from Santiago to the Andes and the conversations in the car; conversations about Salvador Allende and the military junta that overturned his democratically elected government. It leaps from there to the National Stadium where someone Bruce knows was detained at the time of the coup, to a game of football three years after he goes there to visit family, to Pinochet’s supporters and the views of a Santiago gallery director.

Then the story is off again in the car, this time to Valparaiso and the cultural centre built on the site of a prison where people were ‘detained and tortured during the dictatorship’. Sergio Larrain, Chile’s best known photographer, is invoked as well as the story of Pablo Neruda, the country’s much loved poet who was murdered by the regime.

Above the text, the images run along in a filmic kind of car journey way. At times they echo the words but most often they add another layer of narrative. My favourite page has an image of two ancient hammer drills with tangled chords. The one on the left is like a raised fist and the one on the right like a figure turned towards it with outspread arms. Underneath the text says ‘…director of an art gallery in Santiago tells me she has tired of art referencing the…’

Bruce Connew,  folded eggs

Bruce Connew, folded eggs

About two thirds of the images are from the market in Valparaiso—clothes neatly folded and laid out, as the narrative describes, on ground sheets. These used clothes haunt the text with all the disappeared people of Pinochet’s regime. They remind me of the installations by French artist, Christian Boltanski, whose work documented Jewish people killed in the death camps of the Second World War. But where Boltanski includes photographs of the people who died, the disappeared Chileans are alluded to by the clothes for sale.

Bruce Connew,  folded eggs

Bruce Connew, folded eggs

I didn’t know the work of Sergio Larrain so I looked it up. The act of poetry (the act of photography), the title of this review, is from his book Valparaiso. Larrain is a big presence in this little book. He is not referenced directly in the images but in Bruce’s approach to the project. Folded eggs is both an act of poetry and an act of photography. The repeating patterns of clothes are like the rhythm underpinning the lines of a poem. Interspersed between them are other sort of images—figures and landscapes—and these contrast the repetition with stillness and motion. And throughout the book are dogs lost, loved or wandering like a refrain or the recurring imagery that haunts a good poem.

Larrian of course didn’t flinch from difficult imagery. He haunted all the darkest places of Valparaiso. And this might explain the sudden leap to the Pacific that the text suddenly makes. ‘And Pacific graves?’ it asks. I’m confused. I flick back to find the link but there isn’t one. I read on. The narrator talks of photographing sites in Aotearoa and ‘lugging learned history’ to paddocks where ‘I could smell the fear like rising damp. History? Or the ground’s damp dust of memory?’

Bruce has been travelling Aotearoa photographing the sites of the New Zealand wars. The experience has seeped into this book. I wonder how a non-New Zealander would find this leap and if it’s entirely successful… And then the text ends.

The images continue—more clothes, jeans, camouflage pants, women’s underpants—ending with a magnificent image of a little white dog on the forecourt of what looks like a petrol station in the middle of the night. The dog is dwarfed by the industrial surroundings but looks up hopefully into the night.

This is an innovative project informed aesthetically by a sense of the poem. Each image represents a carefully selected phrase or word with the shorthand and approach of poetry— repetition, pattern, and line break. Sadly the quality of the printing is disappointing. Many of the images are dull and lack contrast and detail. And the text needs a good edit. It is confusing in places and overly wordy in others. But even though this project isn’t entirely successful, I enjoyed folded eggs. Bruce isn’t afraid to try things out

Mary-Jane Duffy is a freelance art writer and poet. She manages programmes at Te Auaha, NZ Institute of Creativity, and moonlights as a tour guide for ArtExplore on weekends.