Book Reviews
By: Dean Brierly
From Vol. 1 No. 3

Photographische Novellen [Photographic Novellas] By Martin Blume, $60 US, Stuttgart

Martin Blume is a German photographer of some repute who has been intensively involved in the medium since the mid-1980s, both from an aesthetic and technical perspective. He’s developed what he terms “psychography”—a synthesis of psychology and photography—which he defines as reproducing through photographic means his subconscious reactions to the physical environment. Blume presents 61 of these “images of the psyche” in his new book.

Blume is nothing if not eclectic: the subject matter includes semi-abstracts, nature studies, close-ups of urban detritus, and some rather self-consciously symbolic nudes. As if to lend some type of visual continuity, everything is approached in the formal straight on, stopped-down, uncropped manner of the old f/64 school. Indeed, one feels the ghosts of photographers like Wynn Bullock, Minor White and Ansel Adams hanging around the edges of the frames. And therein lies a problem.

Blume positions himself as a seeker after the mystical and mysterious in the mundane, yet for the most part, succeeds only in creating technically perfect but artistically derivative homages to past masters.

To his credit, Blume is adept at capturing a kind of dead-end feeling, whether through discarded man-made objects or forlorn landscapes. There’s also a strong graphic quality to many of the images, especially those that verge on the abstract, suggesting that perhaps here is where the photographer’s strength really lies.

For example, there’s a nice photo of a steel plate that’s been cracked and riddled with tiny holes as if it’s been showered with acid. It effectively conveys the ambiguous beauty that’s often to be found in the process of decay. And an image of an abandoned industrial structure, with collapsed timbers that form a pleasing abstract pattern, likewise makes an ironic, and subtle, comment on notions of progress.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the book is the inclusion of a chart that lists in exhaustive detail the technical aspects of each image — negative size and date, camera, lens, filter, film developer, paper and paper developer, and print size. The reader is also informed that the prints were made with a special cold-light enlarger of Blume’s own design. I’m not sure what purpose this serves, other than to underscore the photographer’s commitment to craft.

Dean Brierly admits to being a former editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine. He is currently a freelance contributor to photography and film journals, and is a lifelong silver-based photographic image maker.