There are photographers that relentlessly pound the pavement, always on the move, looking and observing, patiently waiting to let the flash bulb go off. Esoteric in nature, we find Albert Elm’s collection of photographs to be random but fluid at the same time. Developing a fantasy is no easy task. It takes a moment, sometimes years, the thought and perseverance to keep going. What would all these images really mean if they didn’t have one another? It’s hard to say but the dance they do together feels mythical and wild.
Some sort of strange balance between Teller and Fraser we find Elm blending the coincidental with the direct. There is a killer instinct in Elm that makes his flash laden images feel visceral and quick. Obvious use of 35mm renders some of the images grainy and gives a mysterious ethereal quality to the work. Often leaving the viewer with some bizarre feeling of nostalgia that exists within a postmodern context. Not dissimilar to the work of Chinese photographer Feng Li we find Elm situating himself in the world of fantastic make-believe. The photographs in “What Sort of Life Is This” feel like a reminder that life is passing us by at every second. A sort of photographic YOLO, reminding the viewer that this world Elm has created is not any different from their own but that the surreal exists all around us if we look close enough.
Street, landscape, fashion, Elm can do it all. However, I find this book at its most
interesting when images begin to either stand alone or next to each other making a strong statement. A particular diptych I’m fond of shows a mural of some penguins standing atop a humpback whale positioned behind a dying shrub and blue sidewalk. The shadow work on the mural mimics the golden hour hue leaking in to the image itself. Elm tastefully places a truly bizarre image of a camel’s back adorned with a floral saddle in front of a castle and scaffolding next to the mural of the penguins. It’s moments like these where this book truly shines and Elm’s finesse and commitment to his camera is revealed. Another image of note is that of a young person wearing a zebra print t-shirt sitting atop a coat with some plaid pattern on it, the person wears a silver and gold watch that rides up their wrist. Personifying the Zebra pattern and becoming a blobular object as opposed to a decapitated portrait I find this image mystifying.
Ultimately, Elm’s monograph shows you what they’re really about. What they’re up to.
Traveling, moving, collecting, an obvious archivist and researcher. Revealing the wonder of the everyday and the excitement hidden in the mundane. While at times I feel like there are too many images in this book, I know that Elm just wants to share his experiences and show you where his eye is looking. Truly, this book is highly enjoyable and Elm shows us that he has something to say that’s worth listening to.
website: Albert Elm
Facebook: Albert Elm
European distribution: Idea Books
Us distribution: The Ice Plant
review by Christian Michael Filardo
copyright © Albert Elm and PHROOM, all rights reserved