Within Shadows

Susan Burnstine
Charta Books, 2011

Reviewed by Daniel W. Coburn

Issue 32

Susan Burnstine elevates the commonplace and the common places, transporting the viewer to the fringe of reality and the threshold of imagination. Within Shadows presents a series of images that function as a cognitive map, directing the viewer through an enigmatic world that the artist has conceived through her own unique and acute observation of the everyday. Her brand of visual poetry acts as a medium, helping her audience navigate the boundary between waking or dream states, life and afterlife.

Burnstine captures her images with a series of film cameras that she has personally crafted. Her one-of a-kind prints are hand coated with a thin layer of varnish, resulting in an object with a haunting aura. This approach to image making is a welcome respite in a world dominated by photography as it exists in the digital arena. Perusing the pages of this monograph is the next best thing to viewing one of her prints in person.

Her work references the aesthetic of early Pictorialists such as Gertrude Kasebier and Alice Boughton. Like these early artists who embraced photography as a powerful means of self-expression, Burnstine abandons the depiction of an objective likeness, instead revealing a subjective condition that exposes the psychological state of her subjects.

A majority of the photographs contained between the covers of Within Shadows function as a visual conduit between this world and the next. Endless Road and Climbing Through directly represent this type of passageway. These paths or tunnels are often populated by a single figure moving toward or away from a light in the distance. Some figures plead directly with the observer and many appear to be lost in a contemplative state of isolation. The characters presented in Within These Walls and Ascent are visibly transformed by a powerful, unseen force. Burnstine hints at the fleeting nature of this transitory state by creating images that appear as if they are about to dissolve into the chemistry that gave them life.

This 100 page hardbound volume is comprised of 45 images and supporting texts by George Slade and Susan Spiritus. The transcript of a conversation between Burnstine and Russel Joslin of SHOTS Magazine is printed in the epilogue. Within Shadows presents imagery that is simultaneously beautiful, mysterious, and affecting. By owning this monograph you will have the convenience of revisiting its magic at your leisure.

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Daniel W. Coburn is a photographer and graduate student at the University of New Mexico.
To view Daniel's photography, please visit his website. Daniel was featured in Fraction Issue 20