“Iris Garden” Stories by John Cage and Photos by William Gedney published by Little Brown Mushroom

“Iris Garden” brings together the work of three artists: John Cage, William Gedney and Alec Soth. This photobook is a visual enigma that contains stories within stories.  Every reading reveals something new and unexpected.

Scan 3

The leaves of the book are not bound together and are seemingly disordered, but there definitely is a pattern at work.  The book cover serves as an envelope / folder that holds everything together.  Tucked inside the front cover is a William Gedney photo of a house with white picket fence. This is followed by a single sheet of white legal size card (240mm x 340mm) folded horizontally. On the “cover” of this card is the first story by John Cage:


Unfolding this card reveals a photo of a reposing man’s leg jutting out the window of a Volkswagen Beetle.  On the back of this photo is another story:

When I told David Tudor that his talk on music was nothing but a series of stories, he said, “Don’t fail to put in some benedictions.” I said, “What in heaven’s name do you mean by benedictions?” “Blessings,” he said. “What blessings?” I said, “God bless you everyone?” “Yes,” he said, “Like they say in the sutras: ‘This is not idle talk, but the highest of truths’.”

We then encounter the first mini book held together by off white card stock.  On its cover is a photo of a bunch of apples / potatoes on a board sitting on a wooden chair. Inside are stories and photos on three more pieces of folded white card stock.

Scan 4

“Iris Garden” is packed with information that is seemingly unrelated and dishevelled.  And yet the artistic sensibilities of Cage, Gedney and Soth find concordance.  The stories and photos are about families, neighbourhoods both near and far, and personal spaces. Through the works of Cage and Gedney, Soth is able to articulately reflect on the role of the artist in the modern world.  To find inspiration one needs to be fearless and not be afraid of being bored.

Scan 5Scan 6The entire sequence of items in “Iris Garden” is as follows:

  • Folded full bleed photo tucked into front cover
  • Folded white card with story on cover, photo inside and story on the back
  • Off white coloured mini book with three folded white cards inside.  All printed with photos and stories
  • Folded white card with stories and photos on inside and covers
  • Folded off white card with story on cover, photo inside and story on the back
  • Folded white card with photos on inside and covers
  • Off white coloured mini book with three folded white cards inside.  Printed with photos and a story
  • Folded white card with photos inside and on covers
  • Folded full bleed photo tucked into the back cover
  • Single card with book details also tucked inside the back cover

“Postcards from America” by Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, Ginger Strand

From the Postcards from America website:

“Postcards From America Box Set

In May 2011, five Magnum photographers –Paolo Pellegrin, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky – and a writer, Ginger Strand, set out from Austin, Texas, in an RV. Two weeks and 1750 miles later, they arrived in Oakland, California.

The resulting limited edition book is a collection of objects – a book, five bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster and five zines, all in a signed and numbered box – that collectively document the experience. Edition of 500, signed by all five photographers and the writer.”

I received my copy this past week and it has exceeded all my expectations of what a photobook can be. It’s like receiving a care package from your college friends who just went on a road trip – but this one is filled with photographic goodies. Aside from the typography the box is unassuming and it could have said Fedex or DHL instead. This sets the overall tone of what’s to follow as you open the box and discover its contents.

Even the sticker where the photographers and writer have signed their names is stuck on in a very non-ornamental way. The “cover page” as shown in the photo above is comprised of high contrast images of the objects and “postcards”. It gives a sense of cohesiveness to the disparate jumble of materials. This is definitely not Robert Frank’s “The Americans” as there is no singular view imposed but instead multiple disparate narratives. Whereas “The Americans” focuses on what can be seen “Postcards” is more about what is absent and searching without finding.

I think what the authors are getting at is that only in America can such contrast exists side by side. That America is a whole bunch of parallel universes both perceived and actual all wound up into one big hodge podge. This reading of the work is strongly alluded to in Ginger Strand’s writing in the various zines. And also in the “I went right, Jim went left; I went left, Mikhael went right” wherein we meet a conflicted character that is both a caregiver and abuser?

One of my favorite photos is the abandoned pool that is filled with turf and grass. It’s about making do and turning contradictions into something that seems almost natural. You don’t see that it’s a pool until you realize where the diving board goes. It’s photos like these that provide the anchors to the entire collection. I’m sure I’ll find some more gems as I digest the work over the next few weeks.  Here’s a link to the official site.