Aaron Schuman

MACK, 2019

ISBN 978-1-912339-38-9 Hb


Slant consists of a set of photographs taken around the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts, alongside cuttings from the local paper reporting police activity in the area between 2014–2018. The reports have a ludicrous ‘non-news’ quality suggesting a place where little happens, forcing the paper to scrape the barrel in desperation: ‘Two people sitting on a pile of dirt near the Olympia Place construction site were sent on their way by police. They told police they were just discussing their relationship.’ ‘Police checked the area of the First Baptist Church for a man standing outside it for a long time. He was not located.’ Taking their cue from the bizarreness of these reports, Schuman’s photographs depict examples of strangeness-in-the-everyday (a sign outside a house advertising ‘drive-thru marriage’; a notice next to a farm-produce honesty box announcing that non-payers will be ‘mulched and spread’; a bungalow with a playground slide on its roof).

The book is witty, perceptive and intriguing, but the juxtaposition of reports and images raises questions about the value we set on the kinds of work presented here. The reports seem absurd because ordinary behaviour has been elevated to the status of police news, with a disjuncture between content and the attention it is given. Several of Schuman’s images also depict ordinary scenes which only appear strange, setting stories running in the mind, because they have been photographed (a neat, white-painted house standing next to an empty carpark; tyre-tracks on the surface of a road). Street and documentary landscape photographs have long traded on their unavoidable suggestiveness, however ordinary the subject matter; one recalls Benjamin’s comment that Atget’s pictures resembled the scene of a crime. That brief local news reports like this attract ridicule, and photographs admiration, for doing much the same thing deserves some further pondering – on both media.