I do have to confess (with a certain feeling that I'm being disloyal to someone whose work I greatly admire) that this is not my favorite of Gill's books. I own most of Gill's books, and I think that they establish Gill as an innovative, interesting, and challenging photographer and producer of beautiful photobooks. What might be described as 'self-indulgent' (as Jumbo did in his earlier review) could also be described as pursuing a theme-- though a number of artists have clearly gone over the edge after one. I can't honestly decide if this book is at the top or the bottom of the cliff.
There are a number of things I really like about this book. I like some, though not all, of the images very much-- Gill shows himself yet again a master of the evocative image, though some of them evoke drowning or a very bad hangover, neither of which appeal to me much. I like the hand-painted covers very much, and this takes the photobook as objet d'art to a whole new level; it means that, effectively, each book is unique.
If the book provokes a strong reaction, though (even a negative one), I wonder what that tells us. Jumbo's earlier review actually makes me wonder if I've misjudged this book (though not by its cover), and not given Gill enough credit (I don't want to be like one of the reviewers who panned Frank's The Americans-- there were lots of those!). Perhaps with time this will become a favorite-- it just hasn't got there yet for me.
Form over function jumps readily to mind when reviewing this self indulgent work. So pretentiously arty it beggars belief. As my old tutor would say 'this bloke needs a good slap!' The chosen bleed for the images is very distracting and utterly pointless, its bled off of one edge of the paper only..doh? the images are at first very refreshing on the eye being of the amateurish instamatic washed out tones fine art genre and printed on mildly textured watercolourish stock, but by the time a dozen or so out of focus mush images pass ones eye the yawn factor seeps in very quickly. Every single decision made in the 'creative process' in this book are obviously measured to be 'new and cutting edge book design', he needs to stop guilding the lily weaving pretty circles in the six yard box and stick the ball in the damned net! Martin Parr has this bloke at Brighton just now and describes him as 'hot', Martin Parr is a prescriptive soulless image maker who knows what sells and does not know art from elbow so a photographer described as hot by him needs to be approached with care. Ah but he's hot so he must be good? Emperor's new clothes is another phrase that jumps to mind.
A year down the line. Dusted this book off the shelf and had another butchers. First impressions are essentially exactly the same as before. The good pictures really are very good, and there is a foldout tryptych one third in which is very poetic and arresting, so one can find 'soul' nourishment in this book if only there was not so much nutrient free rubbish getting in the way. However the pictures still bleed off that bloody top edge and the design remains extremely pretentious and distracting. Thus Gill shoots himself in the foot. So I stand by first review and I add now that this is a wasted opportunity by the artist. ( PS. I love the paper stock this is printed on now. I am in the process of publishing my own fine art photo books ( early 2013 first tilte 'Angels in the Undergrowth) and shall seek out tactile stock like this.)