(Magic Hour Press, 2022)
The thirty-eight pictures in Participation, Jordan Weitzman’s debut photobook, tell us much about the world of their making. We learn that friends and lovers are important, as they never seem too far outside the frame or too many pages away. Interiors have the air of home about them, as spaces inhabited with curiosity and care. The outside world—a city street, say, or a stretch of ocean and sand—is always freshly colored and pointedly arranged, as though an alternate center of gravity had just been discovered. Objects are fully present before the camera—seen for shape and defined by light—just as they provide vivid description of the moments they are part of and from which they take their meaning. This, it must be said, is an abundant world.
A mark of distinction for Weitzman’s book is the drawing by Louis Fratino that wraps around it. Rather than selecting a representative image to condition our expectations, Weitzman trusts Fratino’s drawing to suggest a sensitivity to form in a way his pictures will expand upon. The drawing is a beautiful and evocative creation, a space of moons and flowers, of floating eyes and rippling waves, all left monochromatic save for a few careful accents of yellow and orange. Before we open the book and settle into the rhythms of its sequence, we have already familiarized ourselves with Fratino’s dream of supple line and gentle color. Under the dust jacket is a linen hardcover in lemon yellow, with initials and letters corresponding to the people and places Weitzman has photographed, arranged in a kind of constellation that corresponds to the movement of gestures and shapes in Fratino’s drawing.
It is an uncommon thing for a photobook to use its exterior not to preview the images inside, but to channel them instead. This relationship between the book’s exterior and interior is reflected, inverted even, in the way Weitzman’s pictures of intimate encounters and daily routines within domestic spaces—the juicing of oranges or the caressing of an ear—have the effect of sensitizing us to what he observes elsewhere, in the world outside. For example, even when the body is absent, one can feel it in his pictures, in the way objects seem to gently tangle and overlap, or in the way color seems to breathe on the page. In a picture showing an alley corner, red fabric extends into the picture and up against a vertical stretch of concrete painted pink, with the very tip of the fabric gently rippling and beginning to fold under its own weight. It seems to respond to itself much as a body would.
Elegant and thoughtful design would count for little were the pictures less than Weitzman has made them to be. For all that reads as spontaneous and responsive in them, they are patient and composed in equal measure. In pictures where he plays with negative space, as in one of clothes hangers and foliage that seem to float atop the wall of white beneath them, the edges of the frame seem exact and just as they should be. In those where he emphasizes an atmosphere or a certain sensibility—fleeting, permanent or otherwise—the objects within feel balanced and proportional. One such picture shows a just-eaten midday meal on a small table dressed with a red and white checkered cloth. A man sits across from us, finishing the end of his drink. A half-eaten jar of jam reddens the front of the frame. Behind him, on the far wall, a dance of speckled light is momentarily frozen by the shutter. All is in order. These pictures feel right.
So much of what succeeds in this book can be seen as a result of its sequence. Thirty-eight images is a modest number, especially where the focus is not singular by subject or by place. But Weitzman’s book feels expansive in a way it otherwise wouldn’t, were the sequence more straightforward and less playful, or if it created a clearer sense of geography or narrative thread. Of course, both place and subject are clearly important to Weitzman. Though there are points of connection between images that create a narrative, the images gently resist such a temptation. Weitzman’s photographs stand alone and apart from one another, and it is through sequence that they find a commonality which feels natural and correct with the passing of one page to the next.
In the acknowledgements page, Weitzman notes the contribution made by photographer Jason Fulford to both the edit and the sequence, and even a cursory look at Fulford’s own books makes evident his influence on the process. Along with the contribution made by Fratino to the book’s dust jacket, it is clear that Weitzman approached the making of his first book as a collaboration, beyond the obvious ways one must often work with others to produce a book. This generous relationship during production seems to compliment and reflect the reciprocity between Weitzman and the people he has so affectionately photographed in its pages. Two men touch lips but only just; another pair lay together, one in the other’s lap; a third shows a face full of laughter that has been playfully caught between the legs of another. They are present with one another just as they are open to Weitzman and his camera. It’s not hard to see the enduring reminder of the collaborative possibilities inherent in photography and the making of a book. The book is a token of this communal element, and of its poetic possibilities. It is a welcome gift.