“It is not wasted on me that photography and art in general is ceaseless in its need to supply novelty that masquerades as artistic genius for the sake of entertainment on the part of the audience”
I’m not sure where to start with this project. I’ve been aware of this work for some time before it was published. As a collector, from time to time, I would post images from my own snake collection on social media and from time to time I would get an inquiry from Clare asking if certain images were for sale. Having forthcoming plans for my own snake book, I always declined despite being a huge fan of Clare’s work. I guess it was a bit too close and I had not finished my own work with snakes and still haven’t.
So, when I saw Clare’s book was being published, I was quite happy to see she had found what she was looking for and was progressing brilliantly along with her book. I came across Clare’s work first in “The Dead” which was a book about post mortem and death related images from about 2000. I remember Clare had an image in it of a basket filled with paper that looked like innards and I still remember thinking naively “this isn’t blooooddddddy enough”, but had been challenged to read past the literal and grew to really enjoy her and her work. Her work “Signs of a Struggle” is still one of the most impressive uses of the fictitious Evidential format since “Evidence” by Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan.
So, why am I speaking to you through the history of Clare Strand’s work? Because, as much as it behooves me to say so, and as much as I think Clare is an incredible artist, and as much as I want to like this book or claim it as great based on subject matter alone, the truth is…I don’t think its very good. And here is why…
Subjectively speaking, the metaphor of the snake has a long and interesting history both in biblical terms, but also in its use in the subjugation of women as its male metaphor, its Satanic duplicity, and as a general Taxonomic reptilian use as illustration. Clare’s book, in due credit, does play to the personal, her fascination and repulsion towards the general themes of snakes. That is fine, but with such a loaded symphony of metaphors possible, and from a conceptual artist, I sort of expect more. That is perhaps my problem.
“When I say this, I mean that there seem to be a surplus of books made by artists milking the internet for images whom do not understand their contextual arrangements within culture at large and simply see their own culling efforts as finished without due recognition of the process. The artists tend to simplify and fit a shortened agenda without taking the time to understand the agency of an image even if re-contextualized to suit their need”
It is not wasted on me that photography and art in general is ceaseless in its need to supply novelty that masquerades as artistic genius for the sake of entertainment on the part of the audience. What’s wrong with simply amassing a small archive of snakes (girls holding snakes) and to simply make a book from it? Nothing really, but I expect more from an artist that I hold in high esteem. I expect that the use of women holding the snakes and more importantly their images are not dismissed as simple pictorial value. I may not need Clare to expand upon it, but in the one interview I have read and the press release of the book itself, there is absolutely zero affirmation of any of these potential discourses. I don’t understand why the potential of this book has been reduced to simply that of a book about fascination and fear of the serpentine. Perhaps I am missing the point by vocalizing my own interpretation of its simplicity.
As with all things Mack, the book is gorgeous. The faux-scale cover, the elegant inserts of the snake in popular culture by way of song and rhymes are things that sincerely pull up the gift of this book into something that, though I am unhappy with the work within, gives it a place on my shelf next to Clare’s other books. It’s hard to pick the mechanics of a MACK book apart.
In general, I am more and more wary of looking at archival images in the photo book format. Unlike Aaron Schuman’s “Folk”, many of the books I encounter seem to be being fabricated simply because the artists making the book have stumbled into the façade of the historical. When I say this, I mean that there seem to be a surplus of books made by artists milking the internet for images whom do not understand their contextual arrangements within culture at large and simply see their own culling efforts as finished without due recognition of the process. The artists tend to simplify and fit a shortened agenda without taking the time to understand the agency of an image even if re-contextualized to suit their need. That is not necessarily the problem with this book.
My issue with this book is simply that I see something of value within it, a potential if you will, but the author seems to want to deny these possibilities over that of the glib and semi-conscious interest in the subject matter and the nostalgia it forms for her personally. It is also, as mentioned- a failure of my own from which I write this because I have come to expect something more engaging from Clare and the use of archive material that doesn’t just pander to novelty. I feel bad reading what I have written in some ways, but not because I feel I am wrong or because I think Clare whom I value highly will disapprove, more because I know I’m right.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Clare Strand.)