Behind the big house on the cul-de-sac called “Documentary Photography” there’s a pool filled with every black and white photograph ever made of people in poverty, of people doing drugs, of people wielding guns and committing crime. A crowd clamors around the pool, scratching their chins, taking a look. In a flash, Boogie runs up the driveway, stiffarms his way through the crowd, and cannonballs a big splash, swamping the patio (and everyone’s shoes) with his new book, It’s All Good.
There’s some physical law they teach in high school about displacement. How you can’t fit another clown in the clown car unless one gets squeezed out the window. It’s All Good does just that; it moves a lot of less-interesting work into the spillover. It makes waves in the same way Bruce Davidson’s “Subway” said, “what does this really look like?”
That pool, that deep history of black and white photography that focuses on illuminating those struggling with less, is an abyss. People are attracted to dark water; they wonder how deep it goes. Others want to dive in and touch bottom. Some surface, some drown.
Writing in the back of the book, Boogie explains his need to photograph the three housing projects in It’s All Good as “an addiction”, and he’s not mincing words. Crack or photography or dope or photography. One man’s X, is another’s Y. But if you’re going to stay on task, and stay committed to a project, addiction is as good a pull as any for getting the work done.
While there’s a tendency (in the genre) to over-dramatize subjects, to increase contrast of a particular composition to heighten “grittiness”, Boogie’s pictures have a uniform softness in print that make you feel like they’ve been taken by a sure hand. It’s the hand of a sure selector, not just of which photographs from his 300-roll project made it into the book, but of the situations that led to the photographs. In the chaotic world of guns and crack, it helps to feel like someone’s carefully leaving a trail of crumbs in case something happens along the way.
Feeling guided, not just by the book’s pace, but by the printing, is a pretty subtle touch. Less subtle, but equally effective, is the leavening of the photographs with quotes from the book’s subjects. Some are short, a few are lengthy, and each (in “oral biography” style) lets air into the book, and in doing so, brings the characters to life. They cease being subjects of smartly-composed photographs and begin being people. People you’ve seen if not known, up close or in passing.
And that, ultimately, is the achievement of It’s All Good. Boogie managed to negotiate and gain the friendship and confidence of people living on the knife’s edge of drugs and violence, but he didn’t return from the projects with an exploitative study of their stylized, stark beauty. By using their own words and providing quick quips about the backstories of each photo (in a great section called “Captions” at the back), Boogie shows he’s human, first and foremost, before he shoots a frame.
“It’s All Good” has been on my shelf, my floor, and my desk for the last week or so, its cover looking up at me, pointing a gun in my general direction. Menace sells, and this book will do well, glaring (as well as smiling) its way off the shelf. Some will pick it up only to set it down quickly, because it’s Not Their Thing.
But it’s everyone’s thing. The world of It’s All Good is Boogie’s and Tito’s and Diana’s as much as it is yours or mine. To not want to look is to not want to see that which is all around us. In pursuing the project from inception through book production (I recall seeing a few of these in Hamburger Eyes and on artcoup over the years), Boogie’s given his subjects the respect their lives deserve. As readers, as fellow photographers, we have a chance to sit back and take a look, and in looking; learn, reflect, and admire.
Thanks to powerHouse for facilitating this review. All pictures in this review are from ITâ€™S ALL GOOD, by Boogie Â©. Published by powerHouse Books.
It’s All Good is available on Amazon and at finer bookstores.