Bedknobs & Broomsticks

by Trent Parke
Published by Little Brown Mushroom, June 2010

Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Issue 17

On the morning of June 21 I saw the tweet that simply said “NEW BOOK!!!!” with a link to a post on the Little Brown Mushroom site. Within a few minutes, I completed a PayPal transaction for Bedknobs & Broomsticks a new Trent Parke book from Alec Soth’s independent publishing company. I was not sure what I was going to get. I was glad I ordered it when I did, because the book, an edition of 1000, was sold out in three days.

Soth described the book as “photographic storybook for grownups” on his website. I would not call it a storybook, more of like a long poem in pictures and words. Reading this book literally will be a frustrating experience. The pictures give hints to the words. But it is left to the viewer to fill out the story. I wonder if knowing more about Trent Parke, the Australian photographer and author of the book, might help. There is a disconnect from the rich black and white images and the free verse words. It is the language of dreams. I am sure some will like this book for the mystery and dreaminess of it. It is good to see Parke’s work changing from his previous street based work to his domestic world. I wonder if this is the start of something new, or a quick one-off cycle of images? Maybe the new work is not fully formed yet? Maybe I am expecting too much? When I am frustrated, I am reading it too literally. I am interested to see where this work goes in the future. This series feels like a beginning.

This book is a success for independent publishing by two “name” photographers. Parke’s books are hard to find and expensive. That spurred the sight unseen order of this book. I have been a fan of his work for years. Had I seen this book in person, I doubt I would have bought it, despite the excellent quality of the printing and binding. It is a small sturdy book in your hands.

It is a more personal story. I find the story too personal to get into. Is it a private conversation between two friends in book form? Going back to the book tends to confuse my reading of the book. I feel like there needs to be a little hint that helps me into the story a little more. I do not want it all laid out for me, but without it, I am left frustrated, which makes me not want to go back to the book. It also confirms my belief that still photography lacks narrative ability. It works for poetry, but not a story.

Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas.
Tom was featured in Fraction Issue 13.