Daniel Milnor, as always, is putting us all to shame by grinding out book after book. He's making his current series, ESSAY, available for purchase on blurb (that link just talks about #2, he's up to #4 now and counting).
I'm doing a thing of my own, and pulled a test book for myself and threw in #1 and #2 of Milnor's to combine shipping costs. I've spent some time with #1, and here we go.
The pictures in this thing are an ultimately interesting jumble. At first they make no real sense, and it's not clear they'd ever make sense as a unit without the text. One by one they're Milnor-esque photos. Some are a little more vernacular-flavored than his usual, some tend definitely toward the formal end of the Milnor spectrum.
Color, b&w. Colorful mobs of tourists, somber B&W meditations with the Grand Canyon visible behind the safety rail, a color closeup of a kid with an eyebrow piercing, and back and forth. Stew in this mess for a while, glance at the text, and the theme emerges. It's all people at or near the Grand Canyon, all apparently tourists, being tourists, Some of the pictures are quite old (pre digital camera) and some are timeless. A car with JUST MARRIED on the window.
In terms of variety, well, there's a lot. The book almost blows itself apart with the variety. It's balanced, in the sense that there's a bit of everything. The unity, the togetherness is not obvious at first, but ultimately I think it reveals itself. Sequencing? I don't know. It starts out meditative, lands on a jumble of tourist chaos mid-book, returns to meditative, and then ends on a jarring pair of colored tourist pictures that are probably taken in town, not at the Canyon. So, there seems to be a plan.
The overall sensation is mournful. There's a lot of softness, both the softness of things seen through vast masses of air (it is the Grand Canyon after all) and the softness of things not in focus. There are a couple things that might be double exposures, or very long ones, in which people render as translucent blurs standing at the safety rail. There's a sensation of the past, now lost, of sadness and passing away, somehow. A bird, and later an airplane, silhouetted against a pure white sky. Distance. Melancholy. Things past, gone. The Grand Canyon, nature, beauty. These themes are found, later, in the text. In spades.
The text, though, is what makes it shine. Milnor's odd modernist-beat sensibility drives this thing, a sort of mournful, wistful, paen to the open spaces on the American West mingled with a despairing nod to the reality of "development" and "progress" which is inevitably eating it. He is particularly pissed about proposed development in a specfic little town, Tusayan, AZ. This is, evidently, the "gateway" to the Grand Canyon. It's the town you stop in for gas and chips when you leave, I guess. Someone has a plan for developing a bunch of hotels and entertainments and strip malls and condos there, eating another little slice of the west and turning it in to bullshit.
Does it work, in the end? Yes, yes it does. The pictures by themselves strike me as too chaotic to get it together on their own, but I do see his point. With the text, the thing falls together pretty well. Was it worth $10.79? Yep. It strikes me as a modestly successful exercise in moderately radical book making.
There's some nice design work in it, although it is pretty design-light. He has some white text overlaid on dark parts of his pictures, which is something I always forget to think about doing. He's got a couple two page spreads with large text, quotations from some source on the subject of the Tusayan development, in some industrial-damage font laid out in scattered fragments over a mostly pure white photograph. I have to think more about putting text on photos, not just captions, but commentary, and also just pieces of the main text flow.