Book Review: The Middle of Somewhere | Sam Harris
Raj Lalwani explores the motivations behind Sam Harris’ practice, and how they influence his intimate family memoir.
Every time I turn the pages of ‘The Middle of Somewhere’, I am reminded of the time I first saw Sam Harris shoot. It had been a quiet few days we had spent in the hills, Sam, dull and subdued, having been struck by a bad bout of the flu. One evening though, as the mountain air nursed him back to health, he started walking. Wandering. Meandering. Gliding, almost. His body, magnetically pulled by the power of the approaching image. I fervently followed, keeping pace. He hadn’t exactly seen something, but was looking to see. His gait was hurried, yet languid, free-flowing, but purposeful.
The diaristic nature of his photographic practice is accentuated by the fact that Sam is ‘The Middle of Somewhere’. With the benefit of proximity, knowledge and friendship, I can say that the man is his work, and the work is the man. Very rarely have I seen a photographer who immerses himself in his own work with such joyous abandon. It’s crucial to mention the fact that the immersion I am talking of, has nothing to do with the fact that his subject matter is his own life.
For when you turn the pages of ‘The Middle of Somewhere’, you see Sam Harris in ‘The Middle of Somewhere’. As the photographs move from one moment to the other, one tends to see Sam peeking in and out of the pages. The visual language flows from his characteristic use of stark, joyous colour to uncharacteristic breaks in narrative, with nervous, in-between moments. This is a photobook that consistently leaves you surprised. Considering that the subject matter itself is rather limited in its range, this is an astounding feat. Sam draws you into his world, and then keeps you hanging for a while. He then lets you in on an intimate secret, but then throws in a picture with a football obscuring a face, hiding identity, keeping you away. It is this push-pull-push-pull emotional rollercoaster that makes this book such a rewarding experience. The book is a conversation, a play between the reader and the photographer, both of who traverse different visual journeys that seem to meet in… the middle of somewhere.
Time comes to a standstill in ‘The Middle of Somewhere’. Watching his daughters grow up is a feeling he equates with sand running through one’s fingers. You want to hold on, but photography ends up being the only refuge to capture time. It is time that dominates his photos, as it seems to alternately race, suspend and stretch within the confines of a Sam Harris frame.
Aside from the delightful photographs, one cannot help marvelling at the intricate craft that has made the book completely unrecognisable, from an earlier handmade dummy that was showcased at Delhi Photo Festival 2013. This photobook is an amalgamation of scribbled memories, with alternative narratives, old travelogues, post-its, hastily scrawled love notes and photo prints. The book has been created from scratch, like a scrapbook of love, by Sam along with Eva-Maria Kunz of ceiba, his publisher. That Eva-Maria is also behind the pathbreaking book design of David Alan Harvey’s ‘based on a true story’ is not much of a surprise.
With the rise of the photobook as an art object, we have been seeing a dangerous trend, I believe, where certain books get celebrated, not so much because of the photography itself, but because of the apparent novelty of a certain bookmaking technique. Form, not necessarily content. Eva’s collaboration with Harvey and now Harris have brought about a beautiful marriage— small aspects that make the book special, but with the bookmaking only complementing, and not overpowering the photography.
This is a book that will connect with everyone, but will speak differently to different people. Photographers would react a certain way, travellers would form their own thoughts. A child may see the story differently, parent would treasure it in his or her own way. The destination isn’t the same, but the journey through the book is always strewn with questions, questions that the photos ask you, questions that the narrative makes you ask yourself. ‘The Middle of Somewhere’ tells you little, but makes you feel.
‘The Middle of Somewhere’ has a numbered edition of 600, which has almost run out now… the last few copies are available at http://www.ceibafoto.com/goodies/the-middle-of-somewhere-the-book/Tags: Raj Lalwani, Sam Harris, book review, The Middle of Somewhere, Photobook. photography, photojournal