Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Ben Brody, 300m, Mass Books, 2022

front cover with plastic holding strip

This is a fascinating and powerful book of panoramic photographs taken in Afghanistan with its title recording the distance between Brody's Afghani collaborator & interpreter and his family's unsuccessful attempt to reach a plane in order to fly out of Kabul immediately after the Taliban takeover.

The photographs were taken with a toy panoramic camera and Brody has included all the technical mishaps that accompany such a camera, and as he writes in the book's introduction "The panoramics weren't meant for any clear purpose, so I developed them sloppily and lots of little air bubbles got trapped against the film. Lots of bright little holes through the people and through the sky. Streaks of light peeking through the cheap plastic camera blowing people out indiscriminately. It was just a toy." Somehow all these imperfections lend a real time feeling of being there as Brody accompanies these American soldiers on their patrols through the Afghani landscape.

The publishers blurb for this book states: "Ben Brody’s latest photobook 300m is a panoramic journey through the height of the American war in Afghanistan, framed in the context of the fall of Kabul and the ties that remain with friends and colleagues who currently live under Taliban rule.

Designed by Kummer & Herrman, 300m is an innovative, tactile accordion book that invites multiple readings and interactions. The accordion can be paged through like a traditional photobook, viewed as a shifting tableau of 360-degree panoramics made with a toy camera, where the reader can create their own compositions. Laid out end-to-end, the accordion is nearly 16 feet long and is printed on both sides Opening the poppy-red cover reveals a WhatsApp chat with the author’s longtime interpreter in Afghanistan detailing his harrowing journey with his family to the gates of Kabul’s airport. Brody and a group of military veterans attempted to navigate them through the desperate crowds in what came to be known as the ‘Digital Dunkirk.’ Drawing a line from photographs of the 2011 opium harvest in Kandahar to the fall of the Afghan government ten years later, 300m also serves as an epilogue to Brody’s critically acclaimed 2019 photobook Attention Servicemember."

The decision to use the accordion format to reproduce these panoramic photographs was a wise one and the two formats complement each other perfectly with the accordion revealing an almost amateur photographer's aesthetic combined with the intimacy of a family photo album.

The book of Brody's, Attention Servicemember, that is referred to in the publisher's text was his first attempt to depict his experiences as a war photographer in Afghanistan and it really experiments with combining all sorts of different visual and textual materials in order to present a more rounded depiction of war and its effects on the soldiers and civilians alike. Three photographs of this book are included at the end of this entry.

There's a lot more I could say about this powerful book and for those interested I'm posting here a link to a wikipedia page about Brody and his books: Ben Brody - Wikipedia

58 double-sided pages, individually 7" x 6", and when unfolded 14ft 6".

accordion with cover

reverse side

back cover

Ben Brody, Attention Servicemember, Mass Book, 2nd expanded edition, 2020

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