If you’re unaware of Andrew Molitor or his excellent Photothunk blog, do yourself a favor and go there now (or, slightly preferably, after reading this brief review). Molitor thinks and writes about photography in a sort of refreshing way that reminds me some of A.D. Coleman. And with Sonata No. I “Clematis” he turns that thinking into something in the world.
Before I get too far, full disclosure: Molitor sent this copy of his book/zine to me as a sort of gift. I bought a copy from Blurb in April or May 2020, but it never arrived. I forgot about it; Molitor didn’t. Thanks, Andrew!
Also, I unboxed this, then went to process the video and realized I never hit ‘record.’ So this unboxing is a re-shoot: there is no knife work or tape ripping or anything, and any shock or delight that I express, while more or less natural, is not spontaneous.
At first glance Clematis is just what it the title claims: it’s a sustained look at flowers from one or another of the clematis cultivars, what appears to be one of the smaller, vining, varieties. There are flowers in groups, growing from the vine; flowers more singly, from macro distances; flowers, fallen from the vine, floating downstream; dew or rain spotted flowers; you get the idea. But stop there and you miss the point.
“Clematis” is not the operand, here. “Clematis” is a subtitle. This zine is Andrew Molitor’s Sonata No. I. Compare to, say, Chopin, or Glass, or Beethoven (though his late piano sonatas are the ones: op. 110, for example…).
I’m not a music theorist, not much of a musician (though I did record a couple of albums a couple of decades ago), but I know a sonata when I
see hear one… well, not really. Beyond the ABA form, the exposition, development, recapitulation, I don’t know anything really, and I’d forgotten that until I looked it up. (If you’re curious, Wikipedia is somewhere to start.)
And a sonata is precisely what Molitor gives us in “Clematis.”
The images dance across the pages, smaller, larger, spanning the gutter or not, mostly basic/straight ahead in the first section, gloomy and somehow violent in the second, all lightness and air in the last, like an apotheosis or something. Each picture acts almost like a note or a section, there’s a rise and fall, a back and forth, movement to the work that suits the theme, and as a study of photobook form, Sonata No. I “Clematis” is important and useful in ways that few others can match.
Overall, I give Molitor Sonata No. I “Clematis” a recommended 4.5 stars.
I’d rate it somewhat higher if it wasn’t a Blurb book, but the fact that it’s a Blurb book means it’s an open edition and available on demand for a reasonable-enough price. Also, news to me, but Molitor appears to make these book/zine things somewhat regularly. Blurb has 9 (or 10, depending on how generously you count) books or zines by Molitor, all available on demand, and I’m tempted to pick up a couple.
If you have the least bit of interest in what photos and/or photobooks can do (and what they can’t possibly do), do yourself a favor and stop reading now… Now… NOW and go spend many hours perusing Photothunk. He has a style and community of readers that I’d try to emulate and capture, if he wasn’t doing such a good job of it already.