DATE: 3/12/2011 | BY THOMAS EVANS
The product shot for Jean Gaumy’s D’Après Nature shows an oversize landscape-format hardcover, with a jacket cover image that might be a photograph or an abstract drawing, like one of Henri Michaux’s scratchy calligraphic ink works. Encountering the volume physically in a bookstore, one would at first fare little better, as the cover only resolves into legibility once your nose is about six inches from it: then suddenly a black-and-white photograph of a snowy mountainscape, striated with bare pines and zigzagging paths, snaps into focus.
D'Après Nature (Xavier Barral, 2010) is one of the most superbly designed and printed photography monographs currently available on the D.A.P. list—from the jacket to the linen binding to the beautiful printing of Gaumy’s beautiful photographs of the valleys and mountains of the Piedmont and the French Pyrenees. With their alternations of snow and rock, these images nudge the viewer into a perceptual gear that at times feels closer to character-reading than image-gazing, insofar as the eye, wandering across these heavily pitted black-and-white landscape views, tends to be scrutinizing “marks.” Lest this imply an extremity of contrast that dispatches each image into poles of black and white, many of the photographs also offer amazing tonal nuance: one somewhat atypical image of a small lake—in fact the scale is weirdly elusive—endows the water with such luminosity that the many shades of grey among the rocks surrounding it come as a pleasant second wave of surprise.
Other photographs transform the contrast of rock and snow into more gestural shapes:
The interplay of black/white abstraction with this virtual infinity of tonal geologic detail exercises the eyes in a very pleasant disorientation, never neglecting to also draw on the sublimity of these mountains and their attendant sense of ancient time scale. The wonders of D’Après Nature are not only for connoisseurs of the photobook (though the volume might convert a few of its neophyte owners into such): all of its elements—image, ink, paper, binding—appeal so directly to the senses that one could show it to anybody as durable evidence of bookmaking excellence.
Jean Gaumy: D'Après Nature
EDITIONS XAVIER BARRALClth, 15 x 12.25 in. / 108 pgs / 42 b&w.