Photographs by Gary Briechle
Twin Palms Publishers, 2012
Reviewed by Daniel W Coburn
Gary Briechle's photographs are poetically disconcerting. He elevates moments of the mundane, showing us a world fraught with despair. So, don't look for an uplifting storyline here. These pictures describe birth, death, deterioration and misguided attempts at redemption. Briechle uses the wet-plate collodian technique, a photographic process invented in the mid nineteenth century. By embracing the artifacts and imperfections of this process, he creates a series of photographs that are equally as damaged as the individuals that sit in front of his camera. We get a compassionate glimpse at a people that seem to be both psychologically and physically wounded.
Like Diane Arbus, Breichle photographs those that live on the fringe of society, but he doesn't transform them into a cast of characters one might view as sideshow spectacle. Instead we get the sense that the artist has an intimate connection to these people. He gives us an image of a young mother, seated in the threshold of a door. Her gaze seems troubled and introspective. The thin and frail body of her newborn baby is sprawled out on a blanket in front of her. The scene is dramatically lit by light pouring into the room. It is an image with a sentiment similar to Dorthea Lange's Migrant Mother.
When looking at these images one might wonder if they are posed. Perhaps a better question: does it matter? It is difficult to describe the power and profundity of these images with words. Breichle has constructed and mastered his own visual language, paying close attention to the details and subtle nuances of his subjects to deliver a series of images that inspire a powerful psychological reaction from the viewer.
Breichle's images are beautifully reproduced in this new monograph published by Twin Palms. Each photograph is printed and laminated on a matte black page, which makes for a stunning presentation. Breichle's personal notes, sketches and drawings are reproduced in the back of the book. This makes for an interesting and revealing supplement to the over seventy pages of photographs presented in this monograph. I would highly recommend this book to anyone but especially for those who are interested in alternative process photography and portraiture.