Day 21 – The Miniclick Photobook Advent Calendar, 2014

Almost there. Just four wonderful photobook filled days until Christmas and behind the door on the Advent Calendar today, Miniclick team member Joe Conway picks out the latest book from fourteen-nineteen, Daniel Shea’s ‘Blisner, IL’…

Daniel Shea is an American artist, who published his book Blisner, IL this year with publishers fouteen-nineteen. It’s a pseudo-sequel to the similarly named Blisner, Ill (a photobook self-published by Shea in 2012). Both publications document the struggles of a former industrial town in the rust belt of America which doesn’t actually exist. Blisner is a fictitious place, built by Shea from photographic realities and glued together by a post-industrial narrative set in a once prosperous town in Southern Illinois. For Shea this fictive device is less of a tool to comment on the economics of post-recession America, but more a broader, more philosophical exploration of the mythologising effects of history. There are images of human workers paired with statues of workers to question our rose-tinted view of the past, whilst photographs of Blisner’s supposed main street area attempt to emphasise the upkeep of the town is only skin deep. It is a book of dualities, a fiction based in fact, and facts that have become a fiction.

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The book begins with photographs of spreads from Shea’s original project Blisner, Ill which introduces and creates a context for the new work. This also suggests a chronology. Certainly the recurrent diptychs, seemingly taken moments apart, create a sense of time passing throughout the book. In turn this gives a progressive feeling to the work, but no defined narrative emerges and each reader will come to their own conclusions from the fragments of Blisner that are presented. Most of Shea’s images purposefully deny the viewer a wider context. Instead he isolates details, objects, surfaces and people to build his fiction.

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Blisner IL has a satisfying design with a debossed cloth cover (referencing a train-rail anchor) and the alternative title ‘An Index of Work as Labour as Work’ on the spine. On the back the colophon states the genre as ‘Art, Architecture & Photography, Fiction & Literature, History, Travel’ which seems to read as a list of different ways to approach readings of this book. Fortunately Shea’s imagery and sequencing is complex and enjoyable enough to ensure a new interpretation every time you return.

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Blisner IL is priced at £35 and is available from Fourteen-Nineteen

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