Thursday, January 20, 2022

More on Tulsa, OK

I gave this thing a pretty bad review, earlier, which review I stand by 100%. Perhaps even more firmly, now. My complaint, essentially, is that the book presents itself as a documentary piece, an essentially truthful work, when it seems very likely that it is rather more a construct than you'd think.

This is not, though, to say that it's badly made. The design is a little wonky to my eye, but it is most definitely designed. The book is well-made, the paper is this super thick plastic-y shit that feels sort of luxurious, etc. The narrative, the visual structure, is also very effective and let's think about that some.

If I were to simply describe the photos to you in order, detailing the contents of each frame but avoiding mention of the photographic methods, you might well think it was a book about female exhibitionists. The dominant theme is women, usually modestly attractive, with their breasts exposed, mostly in locations that seem to be inappropriate (alleys, usually, but sometimes kitchens and so on.) The point is always, her breasts are showing, for no particular reason.

The second most notable theme is probably Americana/religious symbols. Is a neon cross Americana, or a religious symbol? There's not a lot of eagles, flags, crosses, but there's enough to catch the eye, and it's incongruous enough to stand out. You might decide it's about Bible Belt exhibitionists, and feel a little frisson of scolding-the-hypocrites.

Despite this, it's clearly not a book about female exhibitionists. It presents itself, and it succeeds as, a book fundamentally about the down-and-out, the drug users, the hookers, the dregs of society. Given that it's literally just a book of very ordinary looking women with their tits out, this feels rather strange.

D'Allant uses a mass of gimmickry to accomplish this. His lighting makes heavy use of car headlights (or simulations,) most of his photos are tilted, or out of focus, or motion blurred, or all of the above. Guns and dogs appear repeatedly, although they do not dominate as a theme, and it's always the same dogs and the same gun (singular) with the same perfectly ordinary looking naked girl somewhere in the frame. (This struck me as particularly lame and is emblematic of the project — you could only find one gun in Tulsa, OK? You couldn't find a single person to smoke a crack pipe or shoot up, in Tulsa, OK? D'Allant was definitely not trying very hard here.)

D'Allant is at some pains to create the impression of multiple guns, dogs, girls, but it's always the same little family. There is, I think, one other dog, but it's so blurry I confess I suspect that it's probably the same god damned dog and the same god damned naked girl.

There are a lot of shots out of car windows, to give some sort of feeling of dynamism, I guess.

The whole thing works. It feels very grindhouse. While there is literally more sex than drug use, one is left with the impression of a bunch of junkies. It turns out that if you take grainy black and white photos of a naked girl posing in an alley, lit by headlights, and talk about drugs and desperation on the facing page, you'll create a pretty brisk impression that the girl is a junkie. I feel like this says something.

I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it feels specifically cinematic. These feel like characters and scenes from movies, and by making these citations D'Allant is able to create a convincing impression while showing us virtually nothing. This doesn't make me any happier about the book, if anything it makes me angrier. He is telling, rather than showing, he's using tics and citations and gimmickry, to say nothing of text messages that I strongly suspect he wrote himself, to create a story which is simply not present in the pictures. This is the opposite of photography.

It's just girls with their tits out, lost in a sea of bullshit.

One more item, as a kind of addendum, a detail from one of the photos:

Fun fact, a cigarette doesn't glow like that unless you're actively dragging on it. Just sayin'.


  1. Replies
    1. I did. Thinking about giving it away.

      Or shredding and burning it.

      Pretty sure I don't want it in my house.

    2. I hate buying books sight unseen, but I suppose your local bookseller don't stock shit like that.

    3. I buy them to see them. It's worth a little outlay, to me. I don't regret buying this fucking thing one bit, it was totally worth it. Look at all the content I was able to generate!

      The fact that it's terrible in some ways and effective on other axes is pretty entertaining and sound grist for the old brain cells.

    4. Trade you for the Stuart Franklin book I've been going on about on Twitter?

    5. Sure! Do you mean Jeffries? I mean, whatever! Trading for anything else at all sounds great ;)

    6. I've seen that before in book shops. The cover alone makes me throw up in my mouth, which is off-putting.

    7. "Lost in a Sea of Bullshit" would have made a much better title. I think I would have bought the book on that title alone!

  2. "This is the opposite of photography. It's just girls with their tits out, lost in a sea of bullshit."

    I think if you look at mainstream photo magazines from the 1960s and 70s, that is pretty much exactly what photography is / was. Still is, if you look at many of the books featured in Photo-Eye.

    This year's New Year resolution is *not* to buy any more photo-books at all. It's over (for now, anyway). It was fun, it was exciting, but we are now at the stage pop music reached in the 1980s: endless pastiche, rehash, and novelty-seeking, where the interest of the packaging exceeds that of the contents. "Bye Bye, Photography books, Dear"...


    1. You have to admit there is more variety of such books now, pandering to every possible fetish (not just Greatest Tits), often in the earnest guise of a 'heartfelt | honest | brave,' etc. political statement.

      I feel this unseen-by-me Tulsa book has more of a balls-out, slumming it with scum vibe, in no small part due to the designer's handiwork.

    2. Well, maybe, but I'm seeing "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)"...


    3. That is an interesting take! I have to admit that it's not something I've *really* picked up on except kinda here and there (Colberg's book as an obvious Schmidt ripoff, e.g.) but I hadn't pegged it as a trend, or as the whole thing.

      But I do not observe beyond bits and pieces, so it's absolutely possible that you are 100% correct!

  3. It's official: "photobooks" are the hard-copy equivalent of NFTs. They represent the ownership of nothing, over-packaged nothing (to paraphrase Mike). It's all grift, grift, grift.

    Want to "mint" your own photobook? Pull out your credit card, there's another how to online every fucking day.

    Photographers, bless our insecure and easily misled little souls, are at the bottom of this greater fool pyramid.

    Shame on us, then.