Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Hold the Line: A Book About Obedience
Hold the Line by Siegfried Hansen is an eye-catcher of a book. The eye-catching starts with the cover. It's a book of street photography and the front cover shows a man standing on a yellow line painted on what looks like airport tarmac. Whatever it is, it's tarmac that is battleship grey, and as well as yellow, there are black, white and red lines running parallel and in diagonals.
It's a graphic book then, but it's also one that with strict compositional rules. Hansen is an engineer and you get the feeling that he likes things just so. That comes across in pictures that have a lot of New Topographics in them. There are nods to Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams as crossed perpendiculars surfaces mix with profiles in windows.
But it's all in colour, with the bluest of skies and the goldest of yellows. And it's a populated book. There are people in it but not your usual street photography people. They are cut-off and foreshortened, they appear in diagonal views in which foreground structures create little frames for the people of the book to inhabit. It starts with the front edge of a car moving down a highway boxed in green, and continues with a women cut at the waist by an olive fascia. A foot in running shoes is seen in the top of a frame filled with brutalist playground equipment, there's a view of a man walking down an underpass and several pictures of people half blurred behind sheets of perspex and glass.
There are more photographic nods, some of which might be intentional, some not. Traces of Saul Leiter, Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Vivianne Sassen, Eammon Doyle, and Isabelle Wenzel mix with a strong feeling of the early colour of Keld-Helmer Petersen. And those references, incidental or otherwise, are central to what makes Hold the Line such a great book. You're seeing something that you've seen before, but in a style that Hansen has made his own. He's doing the same thing others have done, but he's doing it differently. That's a really difficult thing to do, especially in an arena so laden with heavyweight genre as street photography.
Images are cut with colour pages that take the vibrancy down a notch and this adds to the early feel. Hold the Line is a clinical book (with sentiments that are similar in some ways to Martino Marangino's Alone Together), and in some ways I would like it to lose a couple of the more blurry shots and be even more clinical. But at the same time, it looks fantastic and it's strangely fun to look at; a puzzle book where lines join, lines cross and we all march along their unerring path. So it's a book about obedience?
Buy the Book here.