jock sturges

Book Review: Alain Laboile "At The Edge Of The World"

One-sentence review: Accessible and flowing street photography style family pictures from rural France that are not Sally Mann.

I first saw Alain Laboile's work on Lens Culture where he was titled as European Sally Mann. An ambitious title and it's whole another story whether the photographer agrees with it or not. I hope he doesn't because the work is not comparable to Sally Mann, there's not nearly as much depth. It doesn't mean Laboile's work is bad, but it sure is different (and I do hope the ambitions are different too).

While Sally Mann's photos are thought out and carefully staged, then Laboile's work is more like street photography from countryside (actually rural France) farm with kids.

There're some exceptionally good photos, and there're some average ones too. This seems to be author's second book within relatively short time and that shows - at least sometimes I wish the edit was tighter. It's a continuation to the body of work and (for me, as I've seen hundreds of Laboile's photos already on Lens Culture) and sometimes has the taste of sequel to it. The motives and places start to repeat themselves - it's no surprise as all these photos seem to be taken in a relatively small area.

I still like how the photographic techniques vary and how the composition is not forced to any frames. The work seems to just flow, it's rather ad hoc, just like the kids' games, thus making it suitable for this type of pictures. It's a celebration of childhood after all and not some cold formalism. 

Some of the pictures make me wonder if they're staged, they seem just too perfect to be random catches, but then - I'm more qualified to notice this as my main work consists of pictures staged with children. Nothing wrong with that if this type of works conveys what you wanted to say.

One can't but wonder about the prevailing nudity in the pictures as it seems a bit artificial and over the top at times, trying to add something to the work that's not meant to be there (as an exercise - try to imagine Sally Mann's most famous and controversial pictures without nudity and see what's left). The author himself has quoted another much disputed photographer - Jock Sturges as his mentor making me draw connections that I'd rather not see. Just for clarification - there's nothing wrong with Sturges's work, I own no less than two of his books and find them beautiful, it's the idea of the connection that creates associations I wish weren't there.

But all this is compensated by the flowing ease with the work is produced. It's best viewed if you just threw away your ideas of what a photo should be and what it shouldn't, try to avoid any connections and contexts (that's why I hate the title 'European Sally Mann'). Then it's definitely an enjoyable experience.