Images of Disquiet | Books From Perceval Press

On the heels of his international success starring in the popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen founded the independent publisher Perceval Press, giving himself an outlet for his own work and a platform for showcasing other talented artists.

The conceit of stars—those so ennobled by the public and media to carry such a title—sometimes gets the best of the performer, especially when aspirations of serious art beckon all levels of talent. Nowhere do these desires turn feeble more quickly than in the realm of literary musings. From Ethan Hawke to Jewel, and right through the likes of Madonna; everyone seems to want to publish a book, whether or not they are capable of such work. Occasionally, the crossover manages a success or two. Steve Martin has produced notable fiction and plays while raking in money from the occasional piece of box-office chum; and last year, established indie music star John Wesley Harding published a radiant first novel, Misfortune, under his real name, Wesley Stace.

For others though, like Viggo Mortensen, the art seems to be part and parcel of who he is, the antitheses of the narcissist, a true Renaissance man as adept at carving out a musical interlude as he is putting brush to canvas, eye to lens, and words to poetry. On the heels of his international success starring in the popular The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen founded the independent publisher Perceval Press, giving himself an outlet for his own work and a platform for showcasing other talented artists. Perceval Press specializes in art, critical writing, and poetry, and makes no bones of its political leanings—from its adamant stance against the war in Iraq, to the politically charged home page (www.percevalpress.com), and publications such as Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation, which features contributions from activists and journalists.

Whatever one’s ideological kinship, Perceval Press’ most appealing aspect of the creative endeavors they undertake is the approachability of the work. The small art books are easily held, well-constructed, and beautifully produced, with an affordable arts-for-the-masses verve—all characteristics shared by each of these recent releases from the press:

 

viggo mortensen
linger
(perceval press; 104 pgs; $35)

Mortensen’s previous book, Coincidence of Memory, represented a span of creativity from 1978 to 2002, while Linger naturally picks up with pieces from the last handful of years. A combination of prose, poetry, and photography, Linger is more focused and bare than Mortensen’s recognizable abstract work. As the title of the book suggests, the black-and-white images and the words, be they Mortensen’s own or quotes from Goethe or Rumi, dwell on the intimacy one can share with strangers, whether it is a uneven tranquility of a landscape or the warm shape of a cart-wheeling figure in the “Erfound” series.

The photographs are equaled by the text, short poetic bursts along with longer, heartbreaking pieces like “Letter to Brigit,” which recounts the process of losing a beloved pet with the exacting tone of a minor key: “I could not bring myself to take pictures of any of it, to take anything, although I did for a moment consider grabbing my camera to ensure that later on I’d have an image, some tangible visual record of the process of losing you.” In Linger, Mortensen’s eye pierces everything around him with both stillness and movement, a contradiction never at odds from page to page, or form to form. Like most of Mortensen’s work, Linger is refreshing because the art within is not informed by the actor’s self-awareness of his growing fame, instead remaining grounded in a world of renewal, tucked between moments of disquiet.

 

stanley milstein
furlough 55
(perceval press; 92 pgs; $35)

Furlough 55 is a work of discovery in which bored 11-year-old Hugh Milstein is introduced to a lifetime affinity for photography by his father in the summer of 1976. For the son, learning to print his father’s negatives was an inspiring journey, one recounted through photographs snapped with a used Italian Rectaflex camera by Stanley Milstein while he served at a U.S. army hospital in France, amidst the Europe of post–World War II. Both son and father introduce the book. Hugh recounts his initial brush with photographic art, and how collaborating with Viggo Mortensen on an exhibit led to a discussion of Stanley’s negatives, and Mortensen’s wanting to publish the images. What comes together in Furlough 55 is a portrait of a time and place, a confluence Stanley admits was helped by a “…once-in-a-lifetime access to free film and processing.”

The black-and-white photographs in Furlough 55 have the keen eye of documentary, a mix of portraiture and scenic framing. Some of the images are enticing with their scope, like one photo in which a quartet of chefs is spied amongst the jungle of metal that is the Eiffel Tower, while other pictures are more formal profile snapshots, technically proficient and brimming with a noticeable innocence, the kind left when the pall of war has been lifted. Each image is accompanied by Stanley’s handwritten captions, shakily scrawled announcements like “Stone stairway leading down to Loire River” and “Playtime Paris Streets.” The book is broken up by a conversation between Hugh Milstein and Mortensen, as the two discuss the photographs and the process of creating the book as if they are doing a DVD commentary. With its cross-section of the universal as the personal, Furlough 55 fits neatly into the Perceval Press catalog.

 

david newsom
skip
(perceval press; 104 pgs; $35)

David Newsom, who has graced many a television screen as an actor on popular network shows, has turned inward and crafted an expressive family album in Skip, the effusively colorful photographic story of his developmentally disabled brother Lloyd (Skip) Curtis Newsom Jr. In the concise snippets of essays accompanying the images, Newsome relays his brother’s struggles, giving readers a narrative to fill in the vast spaces of landscape in southeast Idaho that fulcrum the book. Skip’s troubles began early, as Newsom writes, “Excitable and prone to grab or push, Skip more than once placed his baby sister in the doctor’s office, so he was moved to a state facility in south Jersey.” Like it does to so many, such confinement left Skip with irreparable fears and a sense of distrust. “He still keeps nearly all he owns in his pockets—a Bible, the broken flashlight, his flashcards, some breath spray, an old bottle of cologne, his ball cap—the nervous habit of a boy protecting what’s his.”

The photographs in Skip succeed in presenting the vision of a damaged being without any of the fetishized voyeurism sometimes celebrated in documenting broken lives. Newsom, as maybe only a brother could have done, enraptures the images around his brother, so that Skip is perfectly at home in each frame, an organic part of the environment that gives Newsom’s images a distinctive otherworldly feel, like 2004’s “Untitled,”which is colored with hope, rays of sunlight filling the backdrop, as Skip stands with his hands on his hips looking off into the distance. Others, like 2003’s “Untitled,” are brewed with paranoia, as Skip looks off to his right, seemingly ensnared by his own shadow. Skip is a perfect marriage of narrative and picture, a family tale sketched in melancholy hopefulness.

 

lindsay brice | supernatural
(perceval press; 68 pgs; $30)

In the foreword to Lindsay Brice’s alluring Supernatural, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon writes: “As much as we might manipulate dolls to suit our fantasies, they might easily appear able to read our minds. They were to us objects half-human, half-unnatural—supernatural beings with minds of their own.” Gordon’s words are a perfect preamble to the engrossing garish beauty of the dolls that fill Brice’s book. Supernatural is a feast of imagery, and thanks to the inclusion of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” an equally nourishing read. O’Connor’s short story of the consequences of a Catholic upbringing on an adolescent girl is perfectly staged in the realm Brice has conjured through her color and black-and-white images. In Supernatural, the dolls take on a life of their own, preening for classic portrait poses and caught in momentary glances of action, as much alive as any figure in a photograph can be, giving life to the inanimate like overactive imaginations have for hundreds of years.

The picture “Impolite Lisa” shames the viewer for looking while her hands are under her dress, while on the facing page, the doll in “Awake at Night” seems to want reassurance against the darkness enveloping her. Brice’s masterstroke is how she is able to focus the eyes of the dolls outward, as if the figures are aware they are being photographed. Supernatural is a beautifully unsettling collection of imagery, a peek into a strange environment of cloned expectations, where the dolls are living their own lives and know we are watching.

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