Thursday, January 22, 2015

Out There by Bruno Augsburger


My review of Out There by Bruno Augsburger (STURM & DRANG, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.
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Like a receding mirage, the “wild” has always existed beyond our reach. The exact position and nature of this categorical landscape shifts and changes depending on where we stand, but remains a constant trope — teasing us from afar and then slipping away. Journeying out beyond the perceived edge of civilized society and into this untamed space, it is easy to see the land as a foil or test. The nights are long, cold, or hot, and one is left largely to oneself. More imaginary than real, this desire for an untouched landscape has less to do with the terrain itself and has more to do with our desire for utopian renewal in a pristine landscape — a blank slate with which to not only position and redefine oneself but also move forward. Bruno Augsburger’s Out There joins a long tradition of venturing out into the wilderness. Evoking writers like Thoreau and London, Augsburger’s expansive images of the Yukon chart a personal journey and escape into a mythologized landscape.

All images © Bruno Augsburger
All images © Bruno Augsburger

We begin in the arctic. The Yukon. There is no journey, no destination. We’re just there. Thrown into the snow, the mist, and fog, we’re left to plunge through the heath and moss, staring out into the expansive landscape. Moving from winter to spring to summer, Augsburger takes us on a temporal and physical journey through the arctic landscape. Over the course of the book, the landscape is slowly transformed from a veil of snow into a tangled maze of verdant moss. Although the human presence is slight, we see the presence of Augsburger and his companions, either in a makeshift tent and carved out sleeping quarters or a freshly caught fish and slaughtered moose. Their bodies and death are a reminder of the prices paid to survive in this space. In an image that recalls the work of Caspar David Friedrich, we see a lone figure set against an expansive landscape and moving forward into the mist. Recalling Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea (1810), the meager figure is dwarfed by the snow and shrouded mountains, but moves forward into the abyss.

All images © Bruno Augsburger
All images © Bruno Augsburger

While Augsburger maintains this serene, and at times sublime, tone for most of the book, the illusion is broken about one third of the way into the book when we are shown an image of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Opened to show a spread containing one of the book’s most famous passages where Thoreau states, “I went to the woods to live deliberately,” the text immediately draws us out of Augsburger’s world. As if the influences are not clear enough, Augsburger also shows us copies of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Rosseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker similarly opened to a key passages. Unfortunately, these additions are unnecessary explication. Despite this small issue, the book is full of incredible photographs. From the enigmatic image that graces the cover of a man in a tree blind to an image, taken at dusk, of a small camping spot carved out of the snow and illuminated by a lantern, Augsburger’s images evoke an other worldly sublime.

Slightly oversized, the book is filled with beautiful reproductions that capture both the subtle white tones of the snow and the rainbow hued colors of the spring grass and moss. Underneath the dust jacket, the cover is blind stamped with a graphic of twin moose antlers over a fish — a fitting homage to the two animals killed in the book. Created in an edition of 600, the book is clearly a labor of love and result of many trips to the Yukon throughout year. The book begins appropriately with a quote from Thoreau about getting lost in order to find oneself. Followed by a pristine studio shot, taken from above, of all of Augsburger’s gear — knives, fishing rods, worn flannel shirts, cameras, and sleeping bags — these two elements are the only preface we need before we embark on our journey. I just wish Augsburger had trusted us enough to get lost with him.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photoeye on Jan. 22nd, 2015.

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