Doggerland was the area of land that connected England to the rest of mainland Europe back in the last Ice Age. In Brian David Stevens’ book, it’s a more a state of mind, a place submerged, beneath, behind.
I found out about Doggerland via an announcement from Another Place Press, the publisher, or maybe, probably more likely, via Twitter. They (Stevens and Another Place) ran a sort of raffle, where anyone who picked up one of the 35 special editions went into a drawing to win the Ricoh GR-D that Stevens used for the project.
Now, I don’t shoot digital. I don’t like the process or the result. But I’ve long been sorta interested in the Ricohs, especially the film GR-1 series, and I do buy too many photobooks anyway, so why not?
I didn’t win.
But then I didn’t expect to anyway, and Doggerland found its way into the to-be-reviewed pile where it languished for a year.
The book opens with an unnecessarily difficult poem thing by John FG Stead. I hate to disparage, and I’m quick to write some incomprehensible drivel myeslf, but I’ve read Kerouac and Burroughs, and Stead is no Kerouac or Burroughs. And, anyway, nobody should even try to write like Kerouac or Burroughs outside of a college creative writing project or something. Write so that someone can understand you! Please!
But I digress. And maybe the text is just right for Stevens’ photographs.
Doggerland is made up of tracks, traces, reflections, double exposures, screens, repetitions, all rendered in contrasty black & white. There’s a flow or general trajectory, like a revisiting or something. Near the beginning, a man sits on a curb next to an overgrown lot, his head resting on a large suitcase in front of him. What follows is a tumbling down of images, like a fever dream or a memory or a history, an excavation of what brought him here or where he’s going from here. There are religious icons, bibles and crosses and a painting of Jesus, but those are mere blips, heavily outweighed by the lingerie models that hover over the street.
When I first looked at Doggerland, I was ready to slam it entirely, but then I looked again, and then again, and it’s grown on me. I appreciate the storytelling aspect of Stevens’s photographs, of their arrangement and ordering, the editing of the book. It’s not too heavy-handed and leaves plenty of room for interpretation. I’m somewhat less a fan of the production, in that I just don’t like the gloss of digital, but that’s largely immaterial: to each their own.
So I’ll just avoid giving it a rating entirely, especially since it’s long out of print and unavailable. Sadly, the edit on Stevens’ website is in a different order, and the spreads from Another Place Press leave out a good bit. But both give you something of an idea, maybe.
The whole time in writing this and looking through Doggerland in preparation, I kept thinking Brian David Stevens was familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place it. But in looking at his website, I stumbled across Beachy Head, which I reviewed some time ago. Remembering that gives me a better appreciation for the newer work. Stevens does know what he’s doing, and while I’m not quite so positive about Doggerland as I was about Beachy Head, I still recommend keeping an eye on him via his website or Twitter.