Sometimes books, photographs or people have an affect on you that defies simple explanation. New England Days, by Paul Caponigro is such an example. Caponigro is a well-known American photographer (83 years old at the time of writing) whose work didn’t and doesn’t leap out at me. I don’t turn the pages and gasp. I don’t think of any of his images when I mentally scroll through my favourite photographs of all time. I have, however, picked up this book more frequently than most other books in my collection. Why?
I think it’s this: Caponigro’s work possesses a meditative quality. It’s entirely ‘slow burn’ work that resonates very well for a Brit, I think. New England Days feels a little like home. It speaks to me in a language I understand, focusing on the unassuming details, soft light, tangled bushes, while entirely shunning ‘the grand landscape’. Caponigro’s scenes are all recognisable to me. They’re all home. They’re quiet, bored strolls around a secluded pond as a child. They’re cloudy day photographs of solitude, pensiveness and quiet simplicity. And they get under my skin.
Some days I can pick up New England Days and quickly flick through, but most of the time I cannot. The photographs are small and intimate and the book invites you into a particular mental space, together, rather than individually. It’s a place I enjoy precisely because it is so ordinary, familiar and calming. There’s something very honest and humble about his work. It clearly strikes a different path to many North American landscape and still life photographers of the era. It feels very personal and it pushes nothing.
The book itself is very nicely made and quite small, at approx. 24cm square and 1.5cm thick. The paper is perhaps best described as eggshell or, in old darkroom (Forte paper) terms, semi-gloss. The print quality is excellent and the book’s execution is perhaps best described as subtle, elegant and traditional. Imago Mundi is not a publisher I am familiar with, but they’ve done a good job producing a book that removes itself from the viewing experience leaving you able to experience New England Days as one imagines Paul Caponigro intended. There are no double page spreads or fancy layouts. There’s one image to one page, each being given plenty of breathing space. It’s refreshing to see this approach, rather than the tendency of other books to cram in as much as possible, with the images as large as possible.
If you’re a landscape photographer struggling to break away from the big vistas, or far flung trips, I can think of no better book. It’s a book that calls you home.
P.S. I just found this short youtube video of Paul Caponigro that gives an excellent insight into what makes the man tick.