When I first heard of Aaron Schuman’s Slant, my first thought was “Emily Dickinson… Rebecca Norris Webb” and I preordered it straight away. (Yes, I have a problem.) A couple of months passed and Mack emailed to say that they were nearly sold out so I quickly ordered it, as to not miss out. From the press about the book, I was excited to see Shuman’s use of found text, to add it to my collection of ways photographers use text alongside images.
The premise of Slant is interesting and intriguing. Basically, back in 2014, Schuman noticed the “Police Reports” section of the Amherst, MA Amherst Bulletin newspaper. The strange, surreal, largely nothings of the reports fascinated him, and he began clipping the best ones. Then, from 2016 to 2018, he photographed around Amherst, keeping these police reports in mind, and Slant is the result.
Now. Beyond that, how to talk about this thing… Well, there are the obvious jokes: the woman who phones police about a peeping tom that she may have dreamt near a photograph of a wooden Bigfoot cutout posed next to a suburban window; the man who saw a strange light in the sky near a photograph of X-Files-esque lights coming through the trees. Much of it is fairly straight ahead like that. Some are more oblique, and these are probably the better ones, though, really, the text bits and the photographs are largely separate from one another.
The newspaper clippings appear in groups of two or three on two sides of a thinner, slightly rougher, light grey paper; the photographs appear on thicker, smoother white paper. Flipping back and forth between the quotes and pictures, it’s rarely obvious which bit of text is meant to relate to which picture, and I bet you could make up a personality quiz based around matching the text to the images… I played this game with myself some and judged myself quite cynical.
Also quite unimaginative and dense.
Was Schuman successful? Well, I suppose. The book got a ton of press. No less than Raymond Meeks, Brad Feuerhelm, Mark Power, Martin Amis, Robin Titchener, Jason Fulford, Rebecca Norris Webb and many others listed it as their (or a) photobook of the year for 2019. David Campany recently wrote an interesting, string of random thoughts-type essay about, or launched by, Slant. So it’s unsurprising that it is sold out at Mack, though you can find it easily through bookfinder.
For me, though, and with full humility and readily admitting that I (probably) haven’t spent enough time with it, and also that I only just now realized what all those smart people got already—the fake news angle, and I’d go into it now, but you probably realized it before I even mentioned it—but I’m not quite sure Schumann hit on all cylinders.
He hit, sure. It’s a great book. No question. Could Schuman have done more with it? Could Mack have done more? No question. I’m a bit dense, as I often admit, and trying to review two photobooks a week while holding down a 50/hr/week job and staying more or less happily married, I really need to be hit over the head with it. That, and, well, it’s all a bit easy, really. Small-town newspapers are full of silly stuff, and most police calls in most places are as silly as the ones in Slant. Sure, I didn’t think of it, and, sure, my photography is garbage, and other photographers worth a damn didn’t think of it either, so kudos to Schuman on that score.
But if I could go back in time and nominate a photobook of the year for 2019 (I had to go back and look to make sure I didn’t already), I’m not sure I’d be so gung ho for Slant, probably not as gung ho as Feuerhelm and others, anyway.
Unrated… Well… it’s honestly much better than I give it credit for… probably in the 4.1, 4.2 star range.
As mentioned, Slant is out of stock at Mack, but available through bookfinder. And, if you actually read the opening paragraph, you know I ended up with two copies of it, and at time of writing, one of them is still wrapped in plastic… And the first person who offered me $50 got it. Thanks!
Schumann does more than make excellent photobooks. He also writes for Aperture, Magnum and others, and his website has a link to all his press and selections from earlier and ongoing projects. Check it out, and you’ll probably get more out of it than I have… Feeling a bit off today, I guess. Apologies.