Oculus represents the fourth book of photography published by Ken Schles, described as a book about images, memory and the metaphor of light. The book is opened with a broad, impersonal philosophy on these topics -- an abstract explanation for the contents. The book is closed with a much more personal explanation of the project, discussing Schles’s motivations and internal struggle. This is ultimately much more powerful, as the introductory text is primarily an amalgam of others’ philosophies; i.e. nothing particularly new. The book is ultimately a photographic exploration of a philosophical idea, and therefore becomes more powerful with the author’s personal interpretation.

He writes:
“And as I write this I think: The images we use to describe our lives are legion; they are nuanced and layered as they mimic and mock life itself.”

With this in mind, the photographic collection is wistful; a collection of images that are not life, but its poor substitute. Schles invokes Nabokov’s idea that memories are the brief separation between the soul’s abyss before life, and after death. If these images are a collection of Schles’s memories, he’s shared them with us, not because we can ever touch his memories, or see them fully, or even understand them; but because we are human, and we can project our own meanings, our own memories.

The series Somnambulism is, in this context, particularly full of longing: Photos of children in the depths of sleep, they’re pictures of guileless peace, the likes of which many of us struggle to ever know after leaving childhood.

Oculus is for sale by publisher Noorderlicht on their web site.
Oculus will be exhibited at Noorderlicht until December 4, 2011.

Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.