Lick Creek Line is an ambitious book. But its ambition is almost predictable at this point when you consider where we have arrived with the photobook in the last couple of years.
This book’s lyrical tone and poetic nature have become almost standard elements in “serious” photobook structure. This isn’t to say that Lick Creek Line has lost some of its surprise. In fact, what I liked most about Lick Creek Line is how Jude uses this poetic language in the transition of the images in order to deliver a subtle yet deft punch at the end.
Lick Creek Line does pretty much everything a photobook can do well. It lures you into an unknown world with just enough recognizable symbolism and context for you to want to go just a little bit further. We find ourselves standing in a forest, living a type of existence that most people today have no doubt entertain periodically in their fantasies: a pre-modern life of subsistence and disconnect, much like living along Walden’s pond.
The theme of escapism is very American and something that has been visited and revisited even within the photobook over the last 30 years. When first flipping through Lick Creek Line Alec Soth’s preoccupation with off-the-grid living comes to find. But Jude’s images and focused, almost horse-blinded narrative about a fur trapper in winter lack the pomposity and singularity of something like Soth’s work. But for this work that’s a good thing. The images are well chosen and the transitions and vague spots in the book create mystery without leaving you rolling your eyes, as some similarly structured photobooks tend to inspire.
An old adage in fiction writing is to know your ending and everything else will come. Jude seemed to have discovered his book’s ending early on and carefully edited together a series of images that quietly rolled towards a surprising yet inevitable place.
When I look at a photobook I ask myself, ‘what is the purpose of what I’m looking at here?’ I also try to establish if there’s a front-to-back linear structure or if we are just meant to peruse the thing as a catalogue. The trend over the last few years in high-minded photobooks has been to get away from the catalogue, but often I find that many books are just trying too hard to be artful without being clear. Lick Creek Line is firmly exploring the former camp. It walks that line of threading curiosity with carefully employed ambiguity as it unravels a life and a story one image at a time.
Like just about every other art, photography is “in crisis” right now. Time and time again, we hear about the “death of photography”. Or, that at the very least, the art form is in decline and that no one could possibly make a new and interesting photograph at this stage in the game.
This is where the photobook has become an interesting proposition. And Lick Creek Line delivers nicely on that promise where many books try and fail. Lick Creek Line is not a simple reading, but it rewards time spent with it, and not just for its nice set-piece ending.
We all like stories. And although we live in a cynical time, particularly when it comes to how we evaluate art and the state of an art, thankfully story still can cut through and triumph. Ron Jude’s latest book has found a way to cut through the fog of cynicism and tell us of a small, quiet tragedy that we all know is out there in the woods — that we are slowly encroaching upon. And of course, the ultimate tragedy here is that feeling of doom and inevitability in Lick Creek Line: that we are causing it, and that we will only encounter it when we cause it.
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