“Sandi Haber Fifield’s photographs float on the colors of memory, mood, feeling, and suggestion. They combine the indistinctness of memory with the imperfections of photography to produce elusive, incomplete reconstructions of times, events, and sentiments at the far reaches of perception.”—Vicki Goldberg
Last November I was invited to review portfolios at PhotoNola in New Orleans. It was exciting to get out of New York to view interesting photography. It was something I needed, and of course, It also provided a new avenue for discovering photography and stories to publish in the magazine.
By the second day, I’d seen an impressive series of projects and met some interesting photographers that I’m sure I’ll collaborate with in the future. It was inspiring to be around passionate people dedicated to their photography.
The constant conversations and exchanging of ideas kept my mind swirling. I was starting to get mentally exhausted by the time Sandi Haber Fifield sat down across from me. With her was the dummy for her latest book After the Threshold (Kehrer Verlag).
We chatted for a minute and then I sat silently as she flipped through the book. I was quickly transfixed, intently focussing on the photographs that were flickering before my eyes. The photographs were sequenced in a series of four, sometimes three per page. So each time she flipped it was like looking at a new puzzle, or short story. I watched attentively, studying the way the images played off against each other. It was a real photographic treat.
When she finished I didn’t have much to say. I mustered up a few words of admiration but beyond that I couldn’t find anything to say. The first rush of seeing a good photobook is a wonderful feeling. The work resonated with me so strongly that my mind began racing, flooded with questions and ideas.
“How has diaristic photography evolved in the internet age? Are more photographers digging into their archives to re-interpret their photography? How are photographers using sequencing and multiple photographs to communicate their ideas? Do we focus too much attention on single images?”
The flashes of inspiration were coming quickly. It made me want to get to work. It’s impossible to know when you’ll encounter something that will crystallize ideas floating around in your head and force you to ask new questions. That’s what happened when I encountered After the Threshold. It was the right series of photographs at the right time. Another reviewer might have shrugged them off, but for me, they opened a creative door.
Sandi and I chatted for a few more minutes, and then she and the photographs were gone.
In the months after encountering After the Threshold, I managed to finish editing my first book, Genesee Ave. It changed the way I think about photography. Editing and sequencing are how you unlock the potential from a series of photographs. It’s an aspect of photography that I knew was critically important, but it wasn’t until after I did it myself that I realized how challenging it was to do in an interesting way. You have to make so many small decisions to assure the whole is unified body of photographs.
Sandi’s book and sequencing were consistently on my mind. We exchanged emails and planned a feature for the magazine but I couldn’t figure out the right questions I wanted to ask her. I started to feel that reading her words might change that visceral feeling I had about the book. I wanted it to remain a mystery. I was imagining the book in my head and after seeing some of the spreads I knew it would be one of those books that I look at over and over again for a few months.
A few weeks before the scheduled publication date for Issue 6, Sandi mailed me a review copy of the book. It was thrilling to hold it in my hands and look at the completed version. It’s a beautifully made object.
And this time I was able to page through it at my own pace. I could put it down and return to it a day later. I could live with the photographs for a few weeks. It’s strange how your view of a book changes once you own it. The photographs you live with are the most important.
With each viewing I started to learn more hints about the version of Sandi’s life she wants to show us through her photography. The version I view is serene, calm and meditative. We jump through her travels and daily life. The seasons change, sometimes in the same sequence of photographs. We catch glimpses of the people in her life but we’re never certain about the relationship. They are visually in harmony with the rest of her subject matter.
I laugh when she comes across the odd street scene. It’s not a big deal. It’s something that happens when you have a camera with you. A single photograph is never allowed to stand out. They all have their proper place as equals. Each turn of the book introduces a new story or memory. You want to stop and take a closer look but when you try the moment is gone.
“My work is born of collisions and alignments. I gather images from experiences exceptional and mundane, intentional and spontaneous. A visit to the Louvre might find its place alongside a glance through my kitchen window. I work from an inventory of images created and collected over time and am always looking for the small parts that make the whole. Through the process of combining disparate moments of vision, formal connections reveal themselves and suggest the reassuring possibility of meaning and order in the apparent randomness of experience.”
On the social web, the stream has become the default analogy for the way we view new information. Those of us that spend too much time on Tumblr have grown accustom to the seemingly random photographs that scroll through our dashboards.
Something I’ve been paying closer attention to is the diaristic way many photographers are using Tumblr. It can be fascinating to watch them work out their visual ideas in their stream over a series of months. It’s like breaking down a crucial aspect of their editing process. It might be good enough for the stream, but is it good enough for the portfolio or for the book?
It’s a critical editing question. What photographs do you choose to show, and where?
From one perspective, I view ‘After The Threshold’ as a stream. The subject matter of the photographs jumps around but the sequencing always demands that we view a series of photographs together. Meaning is created through this precision sequencing.
On the web, sequencing often doesn’t matter. It’s the bites, and the killer photographs, that gain traction, but this really isn’t a very interesting way to view photography, and I think most reasonable people in photoland understand this by now.
But there is something intriguing about the concept of the stream, and I think ‘After the Threshold’ is a good example of a photographer that either consciously, or unconsciously is engaging the way we consume photograph on the web.
After viewing the book several times now, I’m left wondering about the pace at which I page through it. I’ve been browsing through like I’d view a Tumblr. It’s a brisk pace. But the process of turning the pages slows me down enough to linger on the photographs. It’s almost perfect.
I pause long enough to reflect but not long enough to get bogged down. I’m still not sure why it resonates with me so strongly. When I think I have the right words, I turn the page and they suddenly slip my mind. I’m lost in the photography, and that’s a great feeling.
After the Threshold.
Photographs by Sandi Haber Fifield.
Text by Vicki Goldberg.
Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2013.
80 pp., 100 color illustrations, 11¾x9½”.
Will be released on April 16th
Book signing at AIPAD Park Avenue Armory
Park Avenue & 66th St Saturday, April 6th, 11:30-1:00
RWFA Booth #117
Exhibition opens at Rick Wester Fine Art
New Address: 526 West 26th St., Suite 417
May 2nd – June 15th
Opening reception: Thurs, May 2nd 6-8
©Sandi Haber Fifield and are courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art.