Adrain Chesser in collaboration with ritualist Timothy White Eagle
144 pages, 72 color images
The Return is a collection of quiet, beautiful photographs juxtaposed
with preachy, strident text. Adrain Chesser’s images explore a
subculture of young men and women who have dropped out of
society to embrace the lifestyle of Native Americans—or at least
their romantic notions of it. “Most come in one form or another
from the disenfranchised margins of mainstream America. Most are poor, some are queer, some are
transgender, some are hermits, and some are politically radical,” co-author Timothy White Eagle
writes in the introduction, helpfully enough. Chesser’s images show his subjects hunting, gathering,
and herding goats in the high deserts of the American West. “These willing pioneers are stepping off
into uncertain terrain, searching for something lost generations ago. In their search, they struggle
to be released from old ways of being. Cars, soda pop, cell phones and cigarettes follow them,” the
introduction continues. Chesser shows the struggles and contradictions. His subjects head out in
their SUVs, for instance. They stop at Burger King for a meal. And Chesser cuts through utopian
illusions with images of unforgiving landscapes and occasional brutality. But he’s sympathetic to
his subjects, and shows them on their own terms with an eye for gorgeous light, telling gesture, and
detail. There are several images—“magpie,” “morning,” and “dressing a carcass” to name three—that
are magnetic. But much of White Eagle’s text, which deifies Native American culture while vilifying
modern industrial culture, is naive. For instance, he describes the book’s subjects as “uncommon
heroes shedding layer by layer the learned domestication of the dominator culture.” Yeah? So we
should all decamp to the wilderness with our bows and arrows? Savor Chesser’s images, dear readers,
without mistaking them for a prescription for solving the world’s very complicated problems.
MEN OF FLAMENCO
240 pages, 142 black-and-white images
Ruven Afanador has a love affair with Andalusia.
The southernmost autonomous community
in Spain, it’s the birthplace of a culture that is
internationally thought of as Spanish yet largely it’s
own; particularly the bullfights and flamenco.
Afanador has already paid homage to the
bullfights (Torero, 2001), and the women of
flamenco (Mil Besos, 2011), so with his latest tome,
Angel Gitano: Men of Flamenco, the Colombian
photographer focused on its men. The Gitanos are
Spain’s Romani population, Gypsies who blended
Andalusian song and dance with their own to create
the famous flamenco.
Andalusia is almost as much of a character in
the book as its subjects. Afanador describes it as
“a universe inhabited by Gypsies, musicians, and…
flamenco dancers,” which he plants in the wheat
fields of Sevilla and the bleak landscapes of Jerez
de la Frontera, dressed in dark but flamboyant
outfits, or made up in his signature Italian Neo-realist theatrical makeup. “This is the region where
the deepest roots of flamenco exist,” he said of
Andalusia, speaking to the The New Yorker about
Mil Besos in 2011.
But Angel Gitano stands in stark contrast to his
portrait of flamenco’s women. It inhabits the same
land, visual style and neo-classical esthetic, but
unlike Mil Besos, Angel Gitano is overtly sexual.
Afanador’s lustful gaze is felt throughout the book,
with the often-nude dancers in almost feminine
poses, albeit with muscular, masculine bodies
seemingly carved from marble. While Mil Besos did
not feature much nudity and felt, for the most part,
asexual, Angel Gitano kicks you in the face with sex,
right on the dramatic and perfectly executed cover.
For wardrobe, Afanador mixed his subjects’
own clothes—flamenco-style ruffled blouses and
berets—with his more ostentatious tastes. Corsets,
pants with high waists and wide bottoms, and long
skirts are prevalent.
The 142 black-and-white images are bright and
high-contrast, and mix paint and props to create
his fantastical imagery. He counts Dali and Goya
among his influences, as evidenced by a boy’s
prosthetic horns, or another’s giant demon hands.
But no matter his stylistic choices, it’s clear who are
the stars of the show.
“I have always loved to photograph dancers,”
he recently told Out. “They work so hard on
their bodies, and they are such great artists and
collaborators.” —MATTHEW ISMAEL RUIZ
NOTABLE PHOTO BOOKS OF 2014