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3 7 2 WAL 3 4 .3 FALL 1 9 99 P h oto a n d W ord. B y D a v id R o b e rtso n . Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1997. W estern W riters Series #128. 40 pages, $4.95. R e v ie w e d by Melody Graulich U tah State University, Logan At the end of section 1 of Photo and Word, David Robertson warns his readers to “be wary. The discussion that follows is neither balanced nor evenhanded ” (6). Photo and Word is an unconventional book, part philosophy, part criticism, part photography, with a long section in which Robertson creates an extended conceit by describing the varied “recipes”—from “Documentation Dinners” to “Ugliness with Deviled Denunciation,” “Sweet-and-Sour Idealism” to “Lean Cuisine”—that make up the genre he names “photo and word.” Yet while Robertson writes in a wonderfully quirky voice, his definition of “photo and word” texts focuses on balance; the “and”— alternately signified as &—is as important as the words frame it. Robertson’s initial point about balance is perhaps an obvious one. Photo and word texts are neither books of words with illustrations nor photo essays with cap­ tions: “combination is im­ portant: photographs and words must have more or less equal weight” (5). But he moves quickly to a more interesting and subtle assertion: that such books focus our attention on interconnection. He titles two sections “Awareness” and “Exchange”: they are, he says, “two ways of consider­ ing how we bring ourselves into relation with what is all about us” (11). Both “are needed for a full descrip­ tion of how human beings negotiate interconnection with all things. Books of pho­ tographs and words are acts of negotiation” (12). B o o k R e v ie w s 3 7 3 I found Robertson’s brief speculative essay on the genre appealing and intriguing. I will assign it next time I teach my “Family Albums” course on western memoirs which include visual imagery. Equally useful is the second half of the book, in which Robertson introduces us to fifteen recent west­ ern photo and word texts, emphasizing their differences and individuality while placing them firmly within the genre. I knew only two of the books, and he made me want to read them all. In this section Robertson displays another kind of balance. While earlier he has acknowledged his attraction to aesthetics, especially in the Ansel Adams tradition of beautiful pictures of nature, and innovation, he also recognizes the “power of the common­ place” (19). So while some of the books he discusses are what I consider to be in the “classic” western photo and word tradition—books which explore the West’s exceptional landscapes—others focus on new western themes, like Wanda Hammerbeck’s Despositions, which contains images of the mod­ ern “petroglyphs” Hammerbeck creates by imposing photographs of objects like hair dryers, Bank Americards, and high heel tracks on sandstone. She then deposits her rock art throughout ----------------------------------------the world, leaving self-addressed \ x postcards underneath for future “archeologists” to send her. “Hers,” says Robertson, “is a postmodern strategy to defeat the alienation of postmod­ ernism” (28). I was most interested in the “skeptical fun” Robertson finds in the work of writer/photogra­ phers like Ted Orland, who once worked with Ansel Adams and now presents us with Scenes of Wcmder & Curiosity from the new West. His “Entrance to [the OneWay ] Bike Trail” offers us a new and ironic view of the old “happy trails” into the West. O N E ­ WAY Ted Orland. Entrance to Bike Trail. 1974. ...


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pp. 372-373
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