Jenia Fridlyand‘s Entrance to Our Valley started out as a highly lauded, extremely low edition, self published marvel and a couple of years later, TIS Books reprinted it in a very fine trade edition that promptly sold out.
Quite coincidentally, I’m sure, Charcoal Book Club named Entrance to Our Valley as the photobook of the month for October, 2019, and, well, purchased only-they-know-how-many for distribution to members like me… It’s a beautiful book, filled with beautifully complex landscape photographs and fairly straightforward portraits, and once again, I’m thrilled and privileged to be a Charcoal subscriber.
Despite Best Photobook mentions by Brian Schumaat, John Gossage, and Matthew Genitempo, there are very few reviews of Entrance to Our Valley. Sabrina Mandanici, writing in Collector Daily, is personal and sensitive in her description and review, and a quote-laden discussion on Fotoroom seems to be the source of all other mini snippets about the work (other than those from the publisher). That, or there’s an interview on a website or video or podcast that I couldn’t find, but that many others read and happened to quote the same bits from.
Given that Fotoroom doesn’t provide a source for all these quotes, I guess Fridlyand contacted them or maybe was a member or something, but who knows. Really, there must be something somewhere, as TIS Books links to TOP, where a chunk of that same text is quoted, strangely also without attribution, and TIS Books itself paraphrases one of the quotes in its description of the book “The story of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, transposed and reversed through Fridlyand’s view camera.”
This interview or self-written text must be somewhere. But where? I hunted Jenia.net on the Wayback Machine around the time of the original publication and after, but nothing. Well, there are old, mostly dead links to long-gone exhibitions and appearances, most of which mention the Chekhov thing, but nothing about the origin of the Chekhov bit or any interviews or writings. I suppose it really doesn’t matter that much, but I really hate it when I can’t find the original source for a quote.
I did find what appears to be an artist statement on a Wayback Machine archived page of the Houston Center for Photography, about an online exhibition in 2017:
“Entrance to Our Valley” is a body of work in progress that was conceived as the story of Anton Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” transported to another time, reversed left to right and flipped upside down on the ground glass of my view camera. A century later, on the other side of the globe, descendants of Eastern European Jews, who were not allowed to own land in Imperial Russia, take the place of hereditary Russian aristocrats, and are attempting to create what the characters in the play lost: an inhabited piece of land, a home, an identity. As the project continues to evolve, the narrative of our family as first-generation immigrants starting a new life on a farm in New York’s Hudson Valley becomes entwined with the history of this wondrous region itself.Retrieved from the Wayback Machine 20 April, 2021.
I’m assuming that’s an artist statement, though the archived page lacks any sort of attribution statement. It reads word for word like the quoted text on many other sites, but I’m sure this isn’t the original. Gah. Anyway. This isn’t a rant about lack of attribution, nor an example of my professional internet research skills, which have entirely failed me on this, it seems. Let’s just get on with the review…
As everyone else comments, back in 2014 Fridlyand and her husband acquired a 200 acre farm in the Hudson Valley as a sort of commune for their parents and children. Fridlyand picked up a 4×5 camera and began documenting as a sort of way to get to know the land and come to terms with living in the country after growing up in and always living in cities. Entrance to Our Valley is the result.
The book itself is really lovely, if a bit large.* After a medium weight green cover and a thick, cream colored card stock, it’s almost all pictures, printed on translucent paper so that you see the shape of the picture behind and a ghosts of pictures behind that, and, looking back, ghosts of the images you just flipped past. The original printing was Risograph** and TIS purportedly attempted to model the original as closely as possible with their edition. I’m not sure what any of that has to do with it, but the printing and design of the book are excellent.
The images themselves sorta make it clear that Fridlyand is working through her unfamiliarity with the land. The photographs are made mostly at a remove, above and sorta overlooking the subjects, but there’s a familiarity and intimacy despite the remove. The portraits are sensitive and intimate, even when the subjects sleep or hide themselves or sit some distance away, absorbed in some other task; the landscapes are those of a new occupant, surveying the land they now occupy; the details are twisted and tangled, like the emotions that tug the city girl that now lives in the country, like the tug I, a country boy, feel living in the city.
Fridlyand made the choice herself, well, together with her family, and appears to be thriving: she made this lovely, well regarded book and leads bookmaking courses and workshops, and if the last picture in the book—a self portrait: hair-obscured nose & chin, neck tucked in, shoulders and arms clutching a mass of fresh-picked tomatoes—is any indication, the farm is more or less thriving. GoGo.
Unrated. John Gossage describes it as “Intimate scenes, photographed with great style and grace.” And I concur, more ore less.
Charcoal Books still has a few signed, first editions available, and there’s also a more reasonably priced second edition, also available from Charcoal or at TIS Books. Fridlyand has a website that updates often with her various projects, so if you want to see what she’s up to, check back regularly. She doesn’t share many images there at all, there are no project pages or anything that I could find, so… Her Instagram is a mix of daily life snapshots around the farm and plugs for her book and other things she’s involved in: it’s maybe worth a follow. It’s sorta refreshing to find a highly regarded art photographer that mostly lets her pictures do the talking, that focuses on current activities and lets the past fade away. Good for her.
* At 26x40cm (~10 1/4″ by 15 3/4″) it will go on the “way too tall, must shelve horizontally” shelf and slowly become invisible and hard to find…
**I don’t know what that is.