If not for Charcoal Books, I likely wouldn’t be aware of Gary Briechle. His first, self titled, monograph Gary Briechle was the Charcoal Book Club selection for June, 2018, and this book, Maine, featuring color digital photographs made roughly concurrently with the collodion prints featured in his first book, was the Charcoal selection for February, 2019.
I’m so far behind in reviewing books… Oh well. To be honest, this is my only complaint with Charcoal: two books from the same photographer in less than 9 months. It hasn’t happened since, and both books are really rather good, but still.
And, well, to be honest, when I first looked through Maine, I wasn’t too excited. It took several viewings to come around to his collodion stuff, but I did, and, well, the same more or less happened with Maine. I didn’t like it much the first time, or the second, and just let it sit at the bottom of the pile for a long time, and when I reorganized the to-review stuff and its ticket came up, well, it took a few more flip-thoughs to really come around to it, or to come around to it as much as I’m likely to.
As with the collodion work, Briechle works with his friends and family in Maine. His mother appears again, sitting, laying, unflinching, close ups of her heavily veined and wrinkled hands. And an older man appears too, laying on a sofa, holding a bloody rag to his bloodied nose. These are as startling and disturbing in color as they were in collodion, but in Maine, it’s a baby’s sparkling blue eyes that really grabbed me. I can’t find the picture, but the baby appears several times, and in one, his young, curious eyes are as captivating and strangely disturbing as Briechle’s mother’s eyes were disturbing and strangely captivating.
In an interview with LensCulture, speaking about the book, Briechle says “This is such a sad, bleak book—I super like it.” And he’s right… about the bleak sadness, anyway. Again, and as with the collodion works, Briechle’s subjects are his friends, neighbors, acquaintances in rural-ish Maine, and somehow the small format digital (and, apparently, some Leica-produced slide) pictures feel very similar to the collodion work. These aren’t famous, fancy people; Briechle isn’t a celebrity photographer. His friends aren’t Instafamous influencers or anything. They remind me of a friend/acquaintance/frenemy from my teenage years who bounced between various foster services families and his family home, a broken, tilted single-wide trailer in a forgotten trailer park way down a dirt road buried in some woods that today play host to a rather fancy neighborhood of McMansions. I was told never to go there, and, of course, did anyway. I can only describe him, his family, and their home environment as “dirty.” I don’t have a better word, really.
Sure, they were poor, struggling with joblessness and addiction and who knows what, and I never minded any of that, that’s not (necessarily) what made the whole environment dirty. I mean, I knew other poor, struggling, people who seemed clean, who kept themselves tidy, and my friend kept himself tidy, in a raver/skater punk sort of way, but his family home was something else, and while the environments in Briechle’s photographs aren’t quite so dingy, there’s a poverty of spirit, for lack of a better phrase, that pervades.
What is it about addicts and sad, bleak people and places that fascinates so. For me and my skater/raver buddy—and now I’m remembering an earlier buddy in a different broken trailer (a double wide that tilted to one end), so it wasn’t just one—he was just my buddy, really. We were into some of the same music and he turned me onto some good stuff too, we were into some of the same drugs, ran in the same circles, etc. So I wasn’t visiting him like a tourist or something, nor is Briechle: these are his friends and family. So for Briechle, it’s just his everyday, lounging on a sofa with a young woman and a collection of handguns with high capacity magazines, watching a young friend fix up or another young friend with a skull and crossed revolvers tattooed on her sternum suckle her infant son. I might have made similar pictures of my friends; I know friends made some similar pictures of me. But where Briechle likes the sad bleakness, likes photographing it, I’m not too interested any more.
Maybe it’s the momento mori thing. That’s probably it…
Anyway. Gary Briechle’s Maine… Copies remain available from Twin Palms and you can view at least one of the pictures I mentioned there. If not for Charcoal, I probably wouldn’t have a copy… It’s probably better than I make out and ymmv. The color is certainly harsh, on the way to Alex Webb, but not quite there yet. Slide film and digital with flash, and you can come up with some lurid, dirty scenes, even from the most mundane, and so there’s something there, really, maybe.