American photographer John Gossage is usually someone whose name appears, or is quoted, in the history of photobooks for good reason.
Long before the photobook became photography’s equivalent to the hipster’s beard, he had produced publications credited by many as inspirational, so there is no need to delve any further into his past achievements. Let us look only to his recent achievement, Nothing, published by Mary Goodwin’s Waltz Books.
Behind the unfolding hardback cover, in effortless grey tone with an uncomplicated green title stating ‘nothing’, is Gossage’s project set out in three sections. It is a deceptively simple design structure where the story appears to be physically divided between a beginning, middle and an end. However, the content betrays the initial narrative as the middle which is an unfolding panoramic view split into several individual frames on each side, not only operates as an establishing shot, but could also be the centre stage and indeed the final resting place. Why is this? Because it depicts nothing but open desert, and lies quite literally at the heart of the book.
Nothing, is an artistic interpretation of a book, it is a full-bodied work of art in its own right and as such creates a small sense of wonder with each turning of page and unfolding of section. The form of the tome is as understated as the design, which in turn is as understated as the monochrome pictures and Gossage’s approach to subject. This conceptual interweaving brings moments of surprise and recline, all the while reinforced by masterful image-making.
Both front and back sections face one another so one can hold both open simultaneously with each hand, creating a dual relationship between the reader’s body and the time narrative of the project itself. The images contained within use the desert light as something that equally hides or conceals and opens or exposes. Gossage also pays close attention to those solid forms that are at the mercy of the sun’s radiation and time’s alteration. From scrawled graffiti on open rock to Pop Art inspired advertising; fragile modern frameworks to ancient megalithic constructions; an occasional sensitive portrait contrasts with dried-out bones; there are examples of life and death coexisting in a landscape that dominates though doesn’t altogether obliterate.
With the palm leaves hanging in utter stillness while a camel meanders by, and the debris of human excursions long past lying on the dirt road, there is a sense of abandon while an instinctive need to keep moving is invoked. To counter these feelings there are also included pictures of sinister barbed wire fences securing something unseen, for the wealth in this place as we all know, is buried deep beneath the arid terrain.
The book’s preamble involves Gossage telling a local in Riyadh, in 1985, how he would like to see The Kingdom and photograph there. Abdullah responds, “You know there is nothing out there. ” Gossage retorts “Yeah, that was sort of what I was looking for.” What makes this tale all the more poetic is the idea in physics that there is indeed no such thing as nothing – we are always surrounded by something, whether it is visible to the naked eye or not; there is always some form of matter, therefore everything matters. And as it is with this beautifully demure book, within each carefully crafted photograph there is something that has mattered at some point in time, though it may not be considered so at another. By looking for nothing, Gossage has found everything.
Nothing can be purchased directly from Waltz Books here.