I wish I knew how to add subtitles to WordPress posts… I wanted to title this review/screed “Caveat Emptor” or, better, “Participem Emptor” (Participant Beware), but that’s just a bit too up front, perhaps.
Full disclosure: I’m a disgruntled supporter of Five Years, Dee Elegia’s successful 2017 kickstarter for her book of photographs with her muse Faye. She publicized Elston Gunn at some point in 2018 or so on her Twitter, I think, and I bought this issue as I still had some faith in Elegia and hoped the income might get her working on the Five Years book again, but alas. So my frustration at the lack of updates on the Five Years project, much less meaningful progress, may color my thoughts somewhat.
But let’s just see…
So what is “Elston Gunn?” Well, it’s, apart from being an early pseudonym used by Bob Dylan, it’s a magazine from Dee Elegia, featuring submitted photographs from multiple photographers, in the case of Issue #3, 17 individuals. The magazine is well printed and limited to 50 copies, giving it some rarity, and the included photographs/mini-projects are… definitely exemplary of the time they were made.
The first two issues sold out before I became aware of Elston Gunn, but Issue #3 is still for sale, now at least 2 years since it was published. (I posted my unboxing video August 8, 2018… I’m writing this review October 14, 2020. Yes, I’m that behind.) So no wonder, I suppose, that the Elston Gunn website hasn’t seen an update since January 2018. (This is something of a trademark of Elegia’s projects… more about that below.)
The content is solid enough: some portraiture, loads of selfies, some nudes, some moody/grainy landscapes and interior shots and the like, most seemingly on rather grainy film and many that have been somehow treated (cross-processed, souped, exposed in two different cameras, etc.). In 10-15 years, if not less, I bet that many of the photographs will look exactly like mid twenty-teens arty Instagram stuff and be a bit passé, and perhaps in 40 years, if film is still around, a group of future hipsters will rediscover the stuff and make it all over again.
Even at time of writing, much of the experimental photography contingent has moved to other pastures, but in 2016/17/18 x-pro/film souping/swapping was de rigueur.
That said, Elston Gunn Issue 3 isn’t just mid-twenty-teens lomography. Nude selfies from moody young women will likely never go out of style, and in that way, much of the magazine is more or less timeless. :eyeroll:
Before I give my recommendation on this, let me back up a bit.
My first introduction to Elegia’s work came from a 2016 post on Emulsive, or, at least, I think it did, though I seem to remember encountering the work earlier than that, I think it was 2014 or so. Anyway. I appreciate the aesthetic and have an interest in my own self portraiture—since March 2020, I’ve probably taken 200 selfies… of any given roll of film I’ve shot in that time, as much as half of each roll is self portraiture: it’s usually the first and last frames of any given roll, and I’ve made some nice ones that harken back, in some sense, to some of Elegia’s work in that Emulsive post—so I kept an eye out for a book or something.
So when I heard about Five Years, and Elston Gunn later, I jumped on them.
Would that I had read the Emulsive post more carefully… “I’m also very much a night owl and with being Bipolar, I experience manic spells which hit mostly in the early hours when everyone else is asleep. … I am very much addicted to having new pictures to work with and feel a bit lost when I’m not working on something.”
I sympathize. I’m not bipolar, but I have trouble sticking to long term things and love the thrill of scanning and processing results to see if I got a few shots I can use for a thowaway post on a blog no one reads. I mean, I can shoot for a long time, as I did for a largely abandoned zine about the long-gone Sanger Harris department stores and their great murals, but when it comes time to gather the work together and edit it into something worth sharing, I stall. I make a zine with 4 or 5 pictures that I can’t even give away. I mean, I have ~10 rolls of pictures from a trip to Disney World last year that I haven’t shared at all because I can’t think of a good title: “My Disney Experience” is great, but that’s the name of the Disney app for managing your resort holiday… and I got stuck on that and couldn’t come up with anything else, because that week at Disney World, 4 parks over 6 days/5 nights, was, more than anything, an experience, and it was my experience, my Disney experience, and my interpretation of it is mine and mine alone… but I don’t want to get into copyright infringement territory with the Mouse, so I’m stalled completely and have largely forgotten about the hundreds of pictures (I shot half frame for most of it) rotting on hard drives and archivally stored in a binder.
I also had a bipolar coworker for a time, and when they were manic, they were great and largely unstoppable, though prone to occasional gross, meth-head-type errors. But when they were depressed, they often failed to show up to work at all, and if they did, they stared blankly at the screen and didn’t produce anything at all. It made it virtually impossible to work with them.
So had I reflected on that bit of Elegia’s Emulsive article, I might have realized that Five Years was unlikely to ever come to fruition, that communication about it would be spotty at best, and that Elegia would probably lose interest after a time and abandon it entirely, as she’s done with Elston Gunn, which came after her Five Years kickstarter. And as she’s done with her apparent website, Elegia.co, which now points to a diabetes monitoring device thing (and looks hacked at time of writing, so I won’t link to it).
I’ve been burned by other Kickstarters: the Hamm Camera NuBox 1; the Darkroom Secrets book; the Obey the Giant film. With all, there was probably something to clue me in that the thing was, if not an outright scam, unlikely to ever come to fruition, be it the name of the company (“Unicorn Publishing”?), the attitude/personality of the spokesman (does Robert Hamm remind anyone else of one of those guys who hawk knives at the State Fair?), or whatever. But I’m stupid with money and just fling it at things that look momentarily interesting, and I’m an easy mark.
So I’m not really mad at Elegia, and, silly me, retain some small thought that maybe a book will show up in the mail one day. (I hold out no such hope for the other three… what’s different about the Elegia book?) But the Elston Gunn magazine, despite it’s actual publication, is disturbing and disheartening in a different way, though maybe it shouldn’t be. The cover price is £10, so 50 copies sold gives Elegia £500, less the cost of printing. The printing and binding is actually decent, and probably cost at least 1/3-1/2 of the cover price, especially given the low print run. It could be more than that. So maybe Elegia pockets £250 for her time promoting and selecting and editing and layout and then shipping. But still, she charges the submitters full price for a copy of the magazine that features their work, and that chafes a bit.
But the submitters knew this going in and did it anyway, so more power to Elegia (and the participants too, I guess). Still, and with apologies to Elegia—I know living with BPD is very hard and I wish you all the best—I have to rate her apparently-abandoned Elston Gunn magazine (and anything else she puts out in the future) a strong
DO NOT BUY.