We're really pleased to say that the last photobook review on the blog has inspired a brand new one! Earlier this month, University of Plymouth graduate Lucy Bentham reviewed Tracing a Line Along a Breath Exhaled by Carly Seller, and this time around Staffordshire University graduate Chris Mear has written his own review of an influential photobook.
Photographer & Title: Hide That Can by Deirdre O’Callaghan. Published by Trolley Books (2002).
Genre: Documentary photography
A lone, bearded, ginger man, chewing on the hair of his moustache. Avoiding eye contact by pulling his green, stained and faded hat over his eyes. A thick brown stain on the inside of the collar of his jacket. The blood red of the inside cover, followed by a dedication to Joe McGarry. Is this the stranger that greeted my so warm yet shy on the front cover? I don’t know. Another turn of a page confronts you with a handwritten sign; “We admitted we were powerless against alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” Four photographs of Arlington House, London. Men passing, entering, exiting and lingering outside, lead into a “rant” from the U2 frontman, Bono. He concludes with one of only two mentions of the photographs that follow; “These photographs have a dignity and humour that make them a true record of lives lived… Photography so often pitches the instant against the eternal, and so many beautiful faces are really not… these photographs are true, and the truth is always beautiful and disturbing.”
Men dominate the pages. Some of them seem confident. Playing with me. Joking. Laughing. Others are quiet, looking on from the background. Peering over a shoulder. The combination of image and text allows me to hear their voices. I replace the photographer. I’m there. Intimate moments shared with men with bruises and stitches on their face. Stitches echoed by those that bind the book, sometimes running right through the battered faces of these kind and brutally quick witted men.
Men taking regular toilet breaks behind trees as they embark on a day trip to the seaside. Echoes of childhood by the sea, with Mojo sitting on a horse and cart amusement ride clutching a bottle of super strong lager. A glance down from the end of the pier reveals the violent tide raging towards a child lost in the excitement of chasing away the seagulls, before a moving series of portraits of men in their bedrooms, as they delve into their past and their relationship with alcohol.
The book ends with a series of pictures of the residents on a trip back to Ireland, where many of the men who reside at Arlington House migrated from during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, in search of work. “Some people in life, if they lose out they throw in the towel. You never throw in the towel ‘cause tomorrow is another day.” John explains as we stand at the edge of a beach and look out to sea, watching a lone man float away.
Empathy, compassion, humour and a generous ear. Hide That Can, for me, effortlessly applies the best qualities of both human nature and photography. The photographer is invisible. The medium of photography irrelevant. For me, it offers an outstretched hand, an invitation, to anybody who needs or wants to accept it. Photographer or not, it’s work like this that recognises our common humanity and vulnerability. It not only educates me, but it makes me feel less alone. The ultimate, rather extraordinary, accomplishment for a book, in my opinion.