Halfstory Halflife was Charcoal Book Club’s photobook-of-the-month for September 2018… I’m sorta ashamed that it took me this long to get around to looking at it, but, well, here we are: it’s November 2020, and I’m finally getting around to a review…
Somewhere up in the Catskills is a place where kids, mostly young men, go to take daredevil leaps off of a cliff into a little pond. It’s a place marked largely or only by the movement of teenagers (and, in this case, one photographer) and otherwise little used. There are places like this all over, or I assume so. Back when I was a teenager, there was a little spot on I-20 (or I-30?) where you could veer off the highway onto an abandoned construction or farm road, past the knocked-down “No Trespassing” sign, and around a bend to a wide spot in a little creek where other kids rigged up a rope swing and we’d hang around, swim, and try (and fail, largely,) to get into some trouble. It was a little bit of freedom in a time of changing responsibility and hormonal turmoil, and a sort of rite of passage that we had in common with many generations before us, and that I hope the generations after us also enjoy.
The whole area is either a open-air shopping mall or a gated community now… that, or (more likely) I don’t really remember where it was any more.* Our other hangout spot, the one without a pond or creek, is now a gated community, well, a gated community behind a strip mall, and the spot where we would go watch the fireworks over Fort Worth way off in the distance, where the potholes in the road were deep enough to drive a car into and hide, out of sight, for hours, and where you could see the police coming, and run from them, long before they were even aware of your presence, is now occupied by an near-endless sea of tract homes in what is quickly becoming a food desert…
Meeks captured young men flinging themselves into the void, halfway between (relatively) carefree adolescence—however carefree that might be—and the crushing doldrums of adult responsibility—however crushing and care-imprisoned that might be—and the wildness around the cliff, with its abandoned cars and broken makeshift bike ramps and other adolescent detritus. There are few group shots, more near the end, and only one or two with what appear to be young women hanging around with the guys. My cohort was much more mixed, with roughly equal numbers of boys and girls, but we still quite enjoyed flinging ourselves into the void, or imagining a void into or over which we could fling ourselves.
Shoot. I still enjoy flinging myself into the void. I just tend to hurt myself when I do it these days and have to be much more careful
Overall, Halfstory Halflife is a pleasant little photobook filled with evocative subject matter that tickles a bit of nostalgia in me. Whether it does for you is another story, though most of us were or will be or are adolescents, and many of us have some relevantly similar experiences as we age. I think so, anyway, though I can’t be sure, as I’m only really barely aware of my own background and culture, and don’t really know if other people, with different backgrounds and cultures, have similar rites of passage. I suspect similar no-adults-around-tests-of-mettle happen regardless, and see evidence of such in many photobooks, but would hate to generalize too much. And these days, with iPhones and social media, I wonder…
Overall, I rate Halfstory Halflife a solid 4.2 stars.
By the way, the “furlong: halfstory halflife (with Chris Pickett)” photographs on Meeks’ website are mostly missing from the Halfstory Halflife book, and his whole website is worth a look. He’s actively making small, handmade portfolios and small edition artists’ books that differ from his larger “mass market” books, and they look pretty interesting and worthwhile. His ciprian honey cathedral is out now (and look for an unboxing sometime later this year and a review sometime after), so keep an eye out for more from him.
*Seems unlikely that a popular & well-known teenage hangout spot would require pulling off a major artery, like an Interstate Highway… especially if you were taking a case or twelve of ill-gotten cheap beer or a few dozen bottles of Strawberry Hill. Getting down there wouldn’t be a problem, but getting back on the highway and getting home, well that’s a different story. Still, that’s what I remember from 1994-96 or so.