Friday, May 12, 2017

Crit: Milnor, ESSAY #1

Daniel Milnor, as always, is putting us all to shame by grinding out book after book. He's making his current series, ESSAY, available for purchase on blurb (that link just talks about #2, he's up to #4 now and counting).

I'm doing a thing of my own, and pulled a test book for myself and threw in #1 and #2 of Milnor's to combine shipping costs. I've spent some time with #1, and here we go.

The pictures in this thing are an ultimately interesting jumble. At first they make no real sense, and it's not clear they'd ever make sense as a unit without the text. One by one they're Milnor-esque photos. Some are a little more vernacular-flavored than his usual, some tend definitely toward the formal end of the Milnor spectrum.

Color, b&w. Colorful mobs of tourists, somber B&W meditations with the Grand Canyon visible behind the safety rail, a color closeup of a kid with an eyebrow piercing, and back and forth. Stew in this mess for a while, glance at the text, and the theme emerges. It's all people at or near the Grand Canyon, all apparently tourists, being tourists, Some of the pictures are quite old (pre digital camera) and some are timeless. A car with JUST MARRIED on the window.

In terms of variety, well, there's a lot. The book almost blows itself apart with the variety. It's balanced, in the sense that there's a bit of everything. The unity, the togetherness is not obvious at first, but ultimately I think it reveals itself. Sequencing? I don't know. It starts out meditative, lands on a jumble of tourist chaos mid-book, returns to meditative, and then ends on a jarring pair of colored tourist pictures that are probably taken in town, not at the Canyon. So, there seems to be a plan.

The overall sensation is mournful. There's a lot of softness, both the softness of things seen through vast masses of air (it is the Grand Canyon after all) and the softness of things not in focus. There are a couple things that might be double exposures, or very long ones, in which people render as translucent blurs standing at the safety rail. There's a sensation of the past, now lost, of sadness and passing away, somehow. A bird, and later an airplane, silhouetted against a pure white sky. Distance. Melancholy. Things past, gone. The Grand Canyon, nature, beauty. These themes are found, later, in the text. In spades.

The text, though, is what makes it shine. Milnor's odd modernist-beat sensibility drives this thing, a sort of mournful, wistful, paen to the open spaces on the American West mingled with a despairing nod to the reality of "development" and "progress" which is inevitably eating it. He is particularly pissed about proposed development in a specfic little town, Tusayan, AZ. This is, evidently, the "gateway" to the Grand Canyon. It's the town you stop in for gas and chips when you leave, I guess. Someone has a plan for developing a bunch of hotels and entertainments and strip malls and condos there, eating another little slice of the west and turning it in to bullshit.

Does it work, in the end? Yes, yes it does. The pictures by themselves strike me as too chaotic to get it together on their own, but I do see his point. With the text, the thing falls together pretty well. Was it worth $10.79? Yep. It strikes me as a modestly successful exercise in moderately radical book making.

There's some nice design work in it, although it is pretty design-light. He has some white text overlaid on dark parts of his pictures, which is something I always forget to think about doing. He's got a couple two page spreads with large text, quotations from some source on the subject of the Tusayan development, in some industrial-damage font laid out in scattered fragments over a mostly pure white photograph. I have to think more about putting text on photos, not just captions, but commentary, and also just pieces of the main text flow.


  1. Hi Andrew,
    It's the Pompous White British Hypocrite again!
    (Thanks to your Indian reader for outing me.)
    Had a look at the preview; very interesting, like what I see.
    And like the way Daniel says the magazine is not about his photography skills, but about showing people how much fun they can have self-publishing.
    Especially when he grades himself a C.
    For me, at least, his style is reminiscent of Willie's, our Australian commenter.
    I'm all for different ways to do things, if only because we see and understand individually, in so many different ways and in so many different worlds.
    Have a good weekend!

    1. I think one of the nice things about blurb is that they print in-country, or at least in-region, so you don't have to have stuff shipped from the USA at enormous expense! Um, maybe?

      Don't feel bad about being pompous. You fit right in with your host, about whom possibly the *nicest* thing commonly said is that I am pompous!

      Daniel is good. And I like that he's taking a position, and stating it. That's a lot easier when you have words, to be fair, and that's where he states it. But he's not pussy-footing around, being coy, in the modern Art School style. He's saying "here is a thing, and it fucking sucks, and I hate it"

      Worth mentioning that, while his tone is one of hopeless acceptance in the end, he DOES end with a set of URLs that you might click on where you might begin to take some action against what Daniel doesn't like.

    2. Hi,
      Thanks milldave, I will certainly take it as a compliment.
      I totally agree with your last sentence concerning doing things in a different way. Can you imagine the result if photograph became homogenous? Actually, It's not hard to imagine it these days. So much is so similar that it can be hard to identify what the creator has intended, if anything.

      (btw, I think the PWBH is a badge of honour considering how it was bestowed - apparently old colonists are fair game, but not those colonised (also, although I may live in Australia, many is the time I've been labeled a pompous Scottish so and so) ) :-)

      Having looked at the previews of the work, I agree with Andrew's comments that Daniel is not pussy-footing around. To me that is somewhat important.
      After all, if one has something to say, then say it as clear or as loud as one can. Lest it be lost the white noise of mediocrity.

      Andrew - where is the link to your effort? Or did I miss it?


    3. My book in this shipment of stuff was just a test bookification of my San Francisco essay:

      Same text, almost the same pictures and sequence, just some formatting and what I humorously call "design"