This is the first time I have preordered a book. I have been a fan of Trent Parke for some time, but have neither seen his work at an exhibition, nor in book form. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this modestly priced book – after all, Minutes To Midnight is modestly priced at £20. At such a price one tends to get either a large(ish) book with relatively poor quality or a smaller book with better quality. Thankfully, it turned out to be the latter.
Trent Parke is a Magnum photographer, but he’s…. different. Although he shoots in (grainy) B&W, his work has taken a more modern twist. There’s a darkness to it, which I can relate to, but he does not seek out the macabre as some (gratuitously) do. He just looks at the world differently and his ‘documentary’ work (if we can loosely call it that) is quite distinctive. His subject matter is simple. It seems to be ‘found’. And his camera is simply a witness to the playfulness of his senses and the meanderings of his mind. I love the free-spiritedness. It’s just my kind of dark fantasy, borne of a slanted take on reality. The man has to be a dreamer.
The hardback book itself is roughly 30 x 25 x 1.5cm and is covered with linen (no dustcover). The layout is simple and clean. There are no words to distract, only a smooth procession of one ‘image one page’ and a smattering of double page spreads, where the formats of photo and page marry up.
The images shown are of mixed subject matter, ranging from street scenes, rural documentary and still life to his personal life. Day as night has been overdone, but Trent Parke’s technical style is relatively unique. I read somewhere that it was the product of an accident with Ilford FP4+ a long time ago. If I were to venture a guess, I would say underexposure and gross overexposure to get cooked, ‘otherworldly’ whites. It really doesn’t matter, because I really enjoy looking at his photographs and that’s all I really care about.
Print quality is very good and I’d give it about 8/10. The paper base is a warm off white and it works very nicely with the image tone. Its’ a semi-gloss/pearl kind of finish and I did not notice any picking in the blacks (where little bits of black come off leaving white spots, as is so common with photo books).
It’s a book that is rather like Paul Caponigro’s New England Days, in that it gets me all fired up to take more photographs. That’s the beauty of brilliant photography: it isn’t usually that complicated. Sure, there are some spectacular spectacularly complicated pieces out there (often portraits or still life), but the ones that really hold me, over time, are the simplest. They are the photographs we kick ourselves for not having seen ourselves. They are the images that transform the world see and live in every day.
As my eyes passed over the image above, Garry Winogrand appeared in my mind’s eye. Anyway, back on topic….
Trent Parke is arguably like INXS or Midnight Oil. They both produced music that was Australian through and through and I cannot help but feel that same magic is in Trent Parke’s photographs. They bear the indelible hallmark of where he is from and I am talking about the style and approach, rather than flying or deceased marsupials!
I’ll be interested to see where Trent Parke goes in the coming years. He’s 40ish so should have many years of image making ahead of him. In my view, his photographs are absolutely what Magnum needs, yet are sufficiently different as to represent a clear evolution of the B&W reportage/photojournalism we’ve come to associate with the name (and that can at times blur together).
This is a book a heartily recommend and, at £20, it is excellent value.