October 18, 2012 Author: Antoine d’Agata
In this ambitious first art book from fledgling publisher Avarie, Giuliana Prucca brings together the words and images of Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata. His work, though known for its autobiographical vision of sex and drug use, extends far beyond mere titillation or shock, crossing into realms of the exploration of existence itself.
The emphasis of Position(s) is on text, rather than images, which allows this project to stand separately from some of d’Agata’s previous books (see our reviews of Ice and Agonie, for example), offering another mode of expression to his quest in “the inexorable course from void to void.” The book includes writing compiled from interviews and conversations, diary entries and notes for the Ice project, email correspondence, and more. For fans familiar with d’Agata’s blurry process of merging work/life, the text is absolutely fascinating, a collection of his thoughts and commentaries about photography and life, and the way they overlap and interact. For example, he writes, “For years now I systematically forget the nature of my inebriated deeds. I thus become an innocent spectator of the recorded situations I’ve been through, using all possible tricks to watch myself in the mirror in the morning.”
Yet his thoughts like this are not mere epigrams extracted out of otherwise mundane writings — the pieces are organized into short themed pieces, each expressing a train of thought or emotion with poignancy and poetry, always with lucid comprehension, and occasionally carrying the philosophical madness reminiscent of the Beat Generation.
Great attention has been paid to the book’s construction, with matte papers used for the cover and inside pages, nicely designed section titling and text presentation, and a completely monochromatic product, aside from the red dot on the front cover. All of the images have been flattened to their most basic forms. As described by Avarie, “The pictures have been treated in a way inspired by the aesthetics of the Seventies and they have been reduced to the simple black and white contrast, avoiding any grey values.” It’s a bold choice, and perhaps the only element of the design that is a bit unsatisfying. D’Agata’s images are, after all, extremely powerful and beautiful. While the transformed images may, as Avarie describes, “melt into paper or page texture, into the text even, thereby joining writing itself,” this way of presentation seems to reduce the images to design elements, and they do lose some of their force.
However, as many of d’Agata’s images could be considered icons by now, available for viewing through many other venues (online, other books and exhibitions, for example), Avarie is perhaps counting on these minimalized forms as short-hand reminders to accentuate what is essentially a book of d’Agata’s words. For this reason, Position(s) is a book perhaps best appreciated by readers already familiar with his work. The images, degraded to this base form, possibly also elaborate on the viewpoint d’Agata expresses that photography as a medium can only touch the surface of things. “Life remains the only art that is not superficial,” he says in the book. “Photography is a language too rudimentary to render certain sentiments, such as being, existing, or feeling.” From this perspective, while he is a photographer, and this book includes his photography, it’s something of a mixed-media approach to the immersive world that is the life of Antoine d’Agata.
Position(s) is available for sale from publisher Avarie. The book has a primary language of English, but there is a pull-out poster, stylishly enveloped on the back cover, which includes the texts also in Italian and French. To learn more about Antoine d’Agata, you can read our interview with him, and view a selection of images in an online portfolio from his exhibition Odysseia.
Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.