Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Eskanzi's Wonderland

I finally got my hands on this book, Wonderland by Jason Eskenazi. The book is one of those titles that has been sporadically popping up in my little world over the last several years. It seems I would hear it mentioned in a positive light (which would pique my interest), and then I wouldn't hear about it for a while. I would forget about the book, and then it would pop up again as a positive mention in an online discussion forum, blog, or in a magazine. The persistence of a thing seems to always be a very good sign, and Wonderland is no exception. This book has instantly become my favorite photo book.

First of all the book is actually called Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. It's a small book, and it has a handmade feel to it. The front and back covers are made of a thick cardboard and the binding is exposed, which allows it to lay flat. That's a good thing, because most of the photos cross over the gutter and utilize both pages. With this binding, you don't lose a goodly percentage of the image, because it doesn't disappear into the crease, and believe me you'll want to see every inch of these photographs. The printing is very good, and the photographs are just incredible. The compositions are tight and every image is strong. This is classic documentary and street-style photography. They remind me quite a bit of Koudelka, because like Koudelka, the photographer seems to immerse himself in the mix of the environment and the subjects. He is so up close and involved that he is seemingly invisible.

The photographer is Jason Eskanazi a New Yorker (and MOMA security guard) who felt compelled to leave his job to travel and photograph the former Soviet Union after the fall of communism. He became intrigued with the concept of a nation suddenly coming to grips with the downfall of communism after almost a century. Eskanazi summed what he was trying to photograph as a nation dealing with the "difficulty of losing what you always thought would be there."

What Eskanazi came away with is an incredibly beautiful collection of some of the strongest images I have seen in a long time. The images are striking in their strength and sensitivity. The compositions are charged and dynamic. I put the images in this book on par with the best of Koudelka. The great lesson that Eskanazi came away with was "the realization that the people I was encountering had a nostalgia for tragedy." That realization is very much a part of the beauty of Wonderland. The sense of that is in every single image.