Mark Alor Powell’s first book “V.I.P.” hit my hands this morning in the middle of a tornado warning. Dark clouds blew in and the sky opened-up. A wall of water came down. I sat in a car, paging through Mark’s book, waiting out the deluge.
I don’t know what kind of metaphor was happening all around me, but the experience seemed perfect, a savorable kind of apocalypse. And now, trying to objectively write something about the experience, Mark’s work, or his new book, seems absurd.
Which is fitting. It’s not that V.I.P.’s absurd, it’s that it runs patently against. Against what, exactly, I’m not sure. But if you’re looking for a book that will sit quietly on your coffee table and play nice with others, stay away from V.I.P. It’s not an angry book, it’s just that Powell’s pictures have the power to confound far beyond the typical “street ballet” shot of the Bressonian school. There are no quaint compositions, no easy treats; the more you learn, the less you know.
So how does one introduce something that seems to be going in a different direction from 95% of books I’ve seen in the last few years? Let’s look at what this book is doing.
* Proves that a good picture is a good picture because it reveals something about life (and preferably, the human condition) that you’ve never seen before, and the book achieves this repeatedly, with brief and beautiful pauses of stilled, colorful congruence
* Proves that Mexico City is another planet inhabited by the clear-eyed and the cloudy, and that men who wear baseball hats don’t all worship American sports teams
* Makes you believe that studying photography isn’t something that has to happen in a school, not when there are books like V.I.P. in your friends’ collection, and you can probably steal it from him when he sits down at his iMac to Google himself
* Shows what a sharpened eye has the capacity to see with an early, small-megapixel digital camera
* Depicts a Detroit-of-the-collapsing-infrastructure that somehow survives on the strength of the heartbeats of its own inhabitants
V.I.P. isn’t any of the words above or below. It’s not something I’ve seen before (apart from the galleys), and I can’t imagine seeing anything like it from any other photographer soon. I have a small sense of what went into its creation, and while the low-res noise of some of the images will make purists scoff, the clarity of intent, of emotion, and of the book’s execution will make people stop and stare.
V.I.P. is street photography and heart photography and hipshot photography and look you straight in your eye until you see me photography. It’s here, there, gone tomorrow, and everywhere you want to be photography.
When you get your hands on a copy you can look at it or flip through it or stay-up all night reading it until weird. You can lean back and say what’s the big deal I can’t stand this stuff and you’ll be having an authentic experience which is always something to look forward to.
Objectivity be damned.
Mark Alor Powell is making some of the best photography on the planet. When you get your hands on a copy of V.I.P., lock yourself in a car until the rain comes down and tornados touchdown somewhere. You’ve been warned.
Update Link: V.I.P. has its own site now