Book Review: Elegy From The Edge Of A Continent by Austin Granger
The Point Reyes, Tomales Bay
Elegy From The Edge Of A Continent is filled with dramatic images and writing based on the landscape to be found in Point Reyes, California. The area’s scenic bays, ridges, inlets, seascapes, and even our domestic detritus, prove to be beautiful subjects for Austin Granger’s camera.
This book is broken into two parts: the first half of the book is a collection of Granger’s writings, while the second half is the collection of images of Point Reyes. In his writings, Granger talks about making a creative space of his darkroom, and events involving his trips to photograph locations around the Point Reyes area in journal-style writing. Each outing is laced with literary and artistic references, metaphors, and dramatic scene descriptions. Granger’s writing style just doesn’t match my reading preferences — there is a significant amount of description put into these “chapters.” I would prefer instead to learn a little more directly about how he came to discover these beautiful locations off San Francisco’s northern coastline. Granted, those descriptions are there — but they’re hidden within the rhetoric of Granger’s life experiences.
Clearing Storm, Drakes Bay, Point Reyes
Austin Granger’s photography is influenced largely by the inspirational work of photo legends such as Ansel Adams, who photographed the American West and the California wilderness with a similar approach of dramatic black-and-white images that exalt the wonders of the natural world.
Grainger came of age in the 1970s and 80s, so he certainly experienced the explosion of Ansel Adams’ work in calendars, posters, notepads; the ubiquitous ‘Moonrise over Hernandez’, images of Halfdome, and Yosemite National Park that all of us in the 1980s saw popping up everywhere. How can one not be influenced by these images, and strive to make our own comment on the natural world around us with those references in our mind’s’ eye?
Abandoned Navy Compass Station, The Great Beach
Many of Grangers photographs in this book are similar takes on the areas that he has photographed. Point Reyes, Chimney Rock, Tomales Bay are all very visually rich places in which to photograph. It would be hard to differentiate oneself, photographically speaking, when walking the same trails as so many others who have come before. But Granger’s work in ‘Elegy’ starts to have its own voice when he documents these areas with blur and a bit of environmental chiaroscuro. His image of starlings flying over a field in advance of a storm gives us a sense of where he was and what was happening — a feeling that I can relate to more directly than an Adams-esque image of waves crashing, or a Weston-esque image of an deer skull amongst the rocks. Perhaps understandably, many of Granger’s landscape images in ‘Elegy’ feel derivative. However, many of the images Granger has featured on his website go beyond the images within ‘Elegy’ and one can see the influence of other great photographers in his work. Granger’s strong body of work is worthy of attention, all criticism aside.
Running Elk, Tomales Point
Upper Schooner Bay
Within ‘Elegy,’ almost a dozen other images struck me as being made through his own vision, his own voice. Through these images, I “hear” Granger more clearly than all the description he’s given us for his photographic method, his journeys to these locations, and the insightful inclusion of poems as they relate to how he frames the backstory to his creative process. His photographs of Duck Island at low tide, and high tide, give us the insight to how Granger sees the world. He has studied it, and recognizes the differences that each static place has in a world that is constantly in flux, whether it be in cycles like tides or seasons, or random occurrences such as quality of light.
Duck Island from Hog Island at High Tide, Tomales Bay
As an influence to my overall impression of the book, the first meaning for the word elegy that came to mind for me was that of a song or lament of sorrow for someone or something that was dead. The term elegy can also be meant as a “pensive or reflective poem that is usually nostalgic or melancholy,” which fits Granger’s work better than one of sorrow. He seems to take a melancholy look at this area for what it means to him, and the way he approaches photographing the landscape around him. His note at the conclusion of the book covers a number of the places and people he encountered during the creation of this project. While some of those places and people are no longer with us, Granger addresses the perseverance that he and many successful artists take: you can’t change the past, it is not in the nature of reality. We continue working… we have successes and failures… and do the best we can.
Born in San Francisco in 1970, Austin Granger has worked as a baker, house painter, naval radar operator and camera salesman. He first began to photograph while studying philosophy in college as a way to get out of his head. Preferring to use traditional film cameras, Granger has come to see his photography as a spiritual practice–a way in which to shape his life and enrich his relationship with the world.
Elegy from the Edge of a Continent: Photographing Point Reyes
Size: 9" x 9"
Pages: 188 pages with over 80 stunning photographs
Publication date: Summer 2016
To see more work by Austin Granger, visit his website — http://www.austingranger.com/
To order a copy of the book, visit Goff Books website: http://www.goffbooks.com//book/elegy-edge-continent
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.