Monday, October 13, 2014

The Epilogue by Laia Abril

My review of Laia Abril's The Epilogue (Dewi Lewis, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

As a journalist and documentarian, sometimes the most important thing to remember is to let your subject speak. Photographers, and journalists, often forget this and plow ahead with a self-assurance that clouds their subject. Sometimes the best thing to do is shut up and quit the theatrics. From the multimedia presentation A Bad Day to the 2012 zine Thinspiration, Laia Abril has explored the devastating social and personal effects of eating disorders. In her latest book, The Epilogue, Abril focuses her attention on the life of one woman, Cammy Robinson, who tragically lost her life to bulimia in 2005. Striking in its restraint, The Epilogue brings Cammy to the foreground and allows her family and loved ones to tell her story. Although edited and compiled by Abril, her own images never attempt to upstage the more compelling narrative and documents from Cammy’s life. Drawing on transcribed interviews, family photographs, and documents, The Epilogue communicates the sorrow, grief and tragedy of a young woman’s passing with remarkable power and insight that linger long after the book is closed.

 All images © Laia Abril / Dewi Lewis
  All images © Laia Abril / Dewi Lewis

It is difficult to classify The Epilogue as a photobook, although photographs serve as a foundational support. Instead the book reads more like a journalistic scrapbook that brings together the voices from and memories of Cammy’s life. As suggestive and revealing as photographs can be, they are no substitute for text and for the voices of people. Abril’s photographs play an important role, but her real work is in her editorial construction of the story. Interviews with Cammy’s family and friends reveal her past, and old journal entries and photographs provide a glimpse into her personal struggles. These memories lead us through her life — from her rambunctious childhood and adolescent struggles with her weight and self-image to her eventual passing. Despite the narrative arc of the text, the book never conceals Cammy’s passing and it overshadows each event and recollection. Reading the book, we may know the sad outcome of the story, but her eventual death is still a shock.

The book is wonderfully designed and seamlessly combines Abril’s restrained portraits, landscapes and still-lifes, with family photographs, letters, medical documents, maps, and reproduced journal pages. In addition to the reproduced or photographed personal effects and documents, there are several facsimiles of letters inserted in the books pages. The book also contains one unique design element worth noting. Towards the end of the book are several sections that can best be described as concertina foldouts, or individual pages that have been folded inward. When opened outwards, the fold breaks the image revealing new text or reproduced documents beneath. Relaying moments of physical, mental or personal difficulty, the breaks seem to parallel psychic breaks within Cammy’s life, as well as emotional ruptures in the book’s narrative.

  All images © Laia Abril / Dewi Lewis
 All images © Laia Abril / Dewi Lewis

In the end the work is not so much a tribute and remembrance of Cammy, although it certainly does that, as it is a portrait of grief. Despite the dangers of this cliché, The Epilogue works entirely because it gives full voice to the struggle of those left-behind, while also offering a nuanced portrait of Cammy. We hear the anger, frustration, sorrow and regret that come with the untimely passing of any loved one, but there are also memories full of tenderness and love. The multifaceted approach of The Epilogue has become somewhat de rigueur among young photographers. Weaving together appropriated elements with the artist’s images in a loose associative manner, this kind of work is often built on vague ideas and ends up falling flat. You need a strong foundation if you’re going to try and play such free photography. The Epilogue is not an easy book to digest, but it’s an important one, and one you’ll not want to put it down, nor is it one you’ll soon forget.

Please note: This review appeared on photoeye on Oct. 13th, 2014.

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