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In Snow, Vanessa Winship’s latest monograph, we see that what’s not entirely comprehended is far more compelling than what is well understood. Perhaps that’s a truism, but it’s one that is rejuvenated and refreshed by each new and peculiar telling. This book is just such a revelation.
The origins of Snow lie in a commission (this from an artist who very rarely works on assignment, although Winship says she often approaches things “as if I have somehow been sent by someone”), but the photographer’s interest in what she found soon eclipsed anything that could properly be thought of as a “story.” So she made repeated trips to a particular landscape – and, notably, a particular season – in order to fathom what it was that had disconcerted her in the initial making of these photographs.
Winship is well known and highly regarded for her intimate portraits, but in Snow, we experience a noticeable physical distance between the photographer and her subjects. What little the viewer can possibly grasp is the subtle repetition of the humblest elements of the earth. Collectively, the pictures come to embody the artist’s struggle to connect and to make sense of this place while ultimately acknowledging that she, like us all, is nothing but a stranger in this world.
This estrangement is echoed in a piece of fiction – by the poet and novelist Jem Poster – that’s woven through Snow. It tells of a female portrait photographer and her recalcitrant subject. But this character is not Winship, and the sitter is not someone in a Winship photograph. Poster is a fiction based on an imagistic construct – another beguiling layer in a complicated book that seeks always to expose the slipperiness of narrative and to destabilize easy readings.
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