Of all the films I saw last year the one that had the most lasting impact on me was Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse. I’m not saying that it was the film that I most enjoyed, but it’s definitely the one that has stuck with me the longest. The visuals are so powerful and so bleak that they still come to mind months later. Thatcher Hullerman Cook’s Black Apple strikes me as being a visual relative of that film. Granted the setting is different and the cast of characters is larger in Black Apple, but I feel like there is the same sense of struggle in an inhospitable landscape.
In a relatively brief 33 black and white plates Black Apple shows Kyrgyzstan as a place where lives are lived in a way that can only be described as hardscrabble. Landscapes are vast, empty, often ruined places where people are mostly tiny and alone. Interiors, though much closer and more crowded, lack warmth causing people to frequently huddled together. And everywhere there is coal and snow. It’s a landscaped leeched of color. In addition to striking individual images I think the sequencing and use of white space is quite strong.
I also like the notes at the end of the book where Cook writes a few sentences, sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, about various images. For one image he writes, “After the fresh fallen snow, the sticky mud would cling to feet and hooves. After a deep freeze the ground became slippery, making travel, even for the familiar, seem alien. The village boys were left to negotiate this battle between mud and mule.” It’s this struggle and the poetry with which Cook captures it that will keep these images stuck in my brain like a mule in the mud.
To see all the images from Black Apple click here.
I got my copy at Carte Blanche a new gallery/bookstore in San Francisco whose aim is to make experiencing and buying photography more accessible. Check them out.
Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, I’ve started tweeting this year. Follow my shorter more frequent randomness @mpsilva