Image-text photobooks in a nutshell #3: Rémi Coignet on La Résidence by Engström
We asked a pool of international photobook experts to share with us an image-text photobook they find particularly interesting, regardless of its publication date and where text is a fundamental element in the narrative (not a mere introduction or essay on the photoworks). Here Rémi Coignet reflects on JH Engström‘s seventh book, La Résidence, the result of two separate artist sojourns at the Espace Photographique Contretype in Brussels, one in the summer of 2003, the other in the spring of 2006. La Résidence was published by Gösta Flemming’s Journal, Stockholm, 2009 (180 pages, 24.5 x 18.5 cm).
“The play of the light,
a shaking head,
I can’t escape the details.
Not in Brussels, not anywhere.”
JH Engström conceived La Résidence during an artist residency in Brussels. The book is composed of triptychs in gatefold pullout pages at the back of which the photographer presents aphorisms, remarks, interrogations.
While JH Engström openly admits that the residency was a failure, as he was unable to find his subject in the alien city, the book is an aesthetic success in its given form: the alliance between the triptychs and the text. Thus demonstrating a known fact that nonetheless always needs to be reiterated: rather than a succession of “good” photos, it is an interesting mediation between the images what makes a good book.
La Résidence is clearly the best possible introduction to JH Engström’s work because, while he always quite freely exposes himself in his images, the texts reveal an artist filled with doubts, in perpetual search. The reader encounters both the visual experience and the author’s reflections.
Rémi Coignet is the editor-in-chief of the magazine The Eyes. Since 2008 he runs the blog Des Livres et des photos on Le Monde website. In 2014, he published Conversations, a book of his interviews with photographers of the likes of Lewis Baltz, Anders Petersen, Daido Moriyama and Guido Guidi.
English translation by Frédérique Destribats.