Landfall is Mimi Plumb‘s first book and what a first book it is! After a couple of decades teaching photography, she began to scan and show her work from the late 1970s through to today on her website. One of the guys from TBW saw some of her earlier work at a frame shop, of all places, they later met, and a couple of years later, they all got together and made this book.
The photographs in Landfall were made during the Reagan era in California and elsewhere, and there’s a visceral sense of menace or disillusionment in them that somehow fits with the second half of the Trump presidency, and even sort of presages the dumpster fire that has been the administration’s response to the Covid-19 virus throughout 2020. From the strange, ominous, storybook-looking cover, with the title suggesting arrival (in a shipping sense) but in my landlocked mind only bringing to mind some sort of crash, the idea seems to be something like “despite our best intentions, here’s where we wound up,” though to say that we ever really had good intentions may be a bit of a stretch.
The images go back and forth between disquieting portraits, largely of the back of women’s heads, groups of people engaged in some kind of patriotic activity, and deserted or burned out landscapes and interior scenes. Together they point to the clarity of description inherent in black & white photography, and it’s this blank stare makes it all the more powerful. In one sequence, a burned out forest gives way to a woman of a certain age, smiling, casually holding a lit cigarette, and a page flip reveals a burned up kitchen. In 1985, say, that woman was roughly the age of my grandparents, and a bit older than I am now. That generation had plenty to smile about while Rome burned, for sure.
Later on, a soldier helps a young boy aim a rocket launcher at his laughing mother, who seems to be almost encouraging him to shoot. If there’s a better metaphor for our current situation here in the United States, I’m not sure where to find it.
It’s a fairly bleak view of the 1980s, really, and one of the best books about the Trump era I’ve seen, despite the images all being made while Ivana was still in the picture and well before Trump took out his lynching ad in the New York Times, let alone descended that escalator.
Overall, Landfall rates a solid 4.5 stars.
Given the 1000 copy print run, I’m a bit surprised to see used copies going for $700-$1600 these days… Shoot. As good as it is, with prices like that, I’m tempted to sell. And I’m certainly sorry to recommend it, as if my ratings drive anyone to purchase a photobook. If I hadn’t bought a copy when it was new, I couldn’t afford one now for sure.
It’s another reminder that I need to get more current with these reviews.
Rather than dropping the money for Landfall, you can see many of the pictures on Plumb’s website, along with many more, and it’ll be well worth it to spend some time with her work. A more recent book, The White Sky from Stanley/Barker is recently sold out and going for high enough that I won’t be buying a copy, so keep an eye out for future books. Her work is excellent, and it seems they make a good investment…
For more on Landfall, Blake Andrews interviewed Plumb around the time the book came out, and reviews in LensCulture and BJP are worth a read. Again, though, at $800, please go buy some film and make some pictures of your family, or open a savings account, get a library card, and study whatever photobooks you can borrow through Interlibrary loan, or buy used copies of American Photographs and The Americans and maybe American Surfaces, and open a savings account with the other $600. Landfall is great, no question, but $800? Sheesh. Plumb isn’t getting any of that money, nor are the people at TBW. Honestly, I should totally sell my copy. Really…
I probably won’t though, not just yet anyway. It’s too good, and I’ll probably want to look at it again when life feels more positive, to see if the undercurrent of dread is really in the photographs, or if it was just me…